Monday, April 30, 2018

Penny (mats) for your thoughts

Although this is a post that I've been contemplating for a while, it's been one that I just haven't been able to sit down to put into writing. Given that we are now at the close of April, this will probably be a rather short post.
As I've shared in several previous posts, I enjoy wool appliqué projects, and I enjoy projects that I can easily tuck into a purse or tote bag to have on hand when I travel. For this month, I thought I would share a couple of small projects that I have complete - one more recently and one a while back. These little mats measure about 8.5 inches across and are "penny mats."
I've come to learn that penny mats aren't necessarily a receptacle for pennies. The name refers more to the size of wool pieces that were originally used to make these mats. According to several folk art-type sites, penny mats date back to about the time of the United States' Civil War. Resourceful homemakers would save even small wool scraps and then sew coin-size pieces together to make decorative mats for their homes. Here is an example of what some of these pieces might have looked like. The person creating the penny mat could stack pieces together and add some decorative stitching.
The pieces could then be sewn to a canvas or burlap back to create a decorative piece that could be used in the home. Here are examples of two different penny mats.

So, back to my two penny mats. Here are a couple of close up pictures. I've placed a few pennies on one of them in part so that you can get a sense of the scale of the wool pieces and in part to keep with the theme of penny mats and penny for your thoughts. Believe it or not, I really do enjoy working with these small pieces of wool, and projects like these are a great way to use leftover scraps from other projects.

Which brings us to the topic of thoughts …
The expression "penny for your thoughts" supposedly dates back to 1535 in England. A paraphrase of the original Old English is as follows, "…when people notice that someone appears disengaged and wish them to rejoin the conversation they ask, 'a penny for your thoughts.'"
Over the past few years, I've found myself contemplating the role of the mind more and more in relation to the Christian walk. So often we think about the role of the heart with an eye to love and compassion. At the same time, both the Old and New Testaments speak to the role of the mind. 
Paul's letter to the Philippians reminds us that God's peace guards our hearts and our minds. Peter tells us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ - growing in knowledge certainly involves the use of the mind. David, in Psalm 1 describes the one who doesn't walk in the counsel of the wicked as one who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates in it day and night.
A verse that has become particularly intriguing to me is in Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth in which he speaks of "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." So then, just what does it mean to take thoughts captive? If we back up a few verses in 2 Corinthians 10, we find that Paul is reminding the church not to walk according to the flesh, that our weapons are not of the flesh, and that we are destroying speculations and lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God - seems somewhat reminiscent of Paul's reminder to the Ephesian church to take up the full armor of God and that their struggles were not against flesh and blood.
So then, how are we to take thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ? From a purely practical standpoint, I don't think Paul intends for us to think of nothing else during the course of the day - I do need to give attention to making sound decisions while on the road, decide what to fix for dinner, choosing an outfit for the day - you get the idea.
That being said, do we have occasion to keep thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ even in these situations? For example, what is my attitude towards the other drivers on the road, what is my attitude in serving my family, what are my motives in choosing what to wear? Where might I give the flesh an opportunity, even in these day-to-day situations?
Some other points to consider in keeping thoughts captive to obedience …
  • How am I "feeding" my mind during the day - what am I allowing to distract me and consume my thoughts and time that keep me away from God and meditating on His word?
  • What are my thoughts toward others with whom I disagree or become easily annoyed?
I certainly don't claim to have all of the answers here, and I am certainly on the journey here as well. I do desire that my thoughts be pleasing to God and that I continue to grow in the knowledge of Him.
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.                   2 Corinthians 10:5

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Green Gumbo for St. Patrick's Day

Ok, St. Patrick's Day was 10 days ago. Just the same, I thought I would share the recipe for this green gumbo that we made during the week prior to St. Patrick's Day.
The story behind this vegetarian gumbo is that it was one that became popular during Lent. It features three different types of greens - collard, turnip, and mustard that collectively contribute to its flavor. It's been a recipe that we've been wanting to try for a while and finally made the commitment to do so. We definitely enjoyed this one, and we hope that you will be intrigued enough to give it a try as well. Before I proceed to the recipe, here is a little background on the greens that are featured in the recipe.
Collard greens
Greens is the general expression given to leaves of plants that are eaten as vegetables. In the southern United States, greens are commonly boiled and served with ham or bacon. 
Collards are loose leaf greens that are actually part of the same family as cabbage and broccoli. In addition to the southern United States, they grown in Brazil, Portugal, the Balkans and even Kashmir. Unlike cabbage, collards do not form a head and the individual leaves can be cut. 
Turnip greens
Turnip greens are simply the leaves of the turnip root vegetable. Turnip greens can be harvested once the turnip root becomes established. If you are picking them before the turnips are ready to be pulled, you just need to take care not to pick so many leaves from a given root, that you are compromising its ability to continue to grow. You can see from the picture that turnip greens are a bit more curled than the collards.
Mustard Greens
Mustard greens round out the assortment of greens included in this recipe. The variety available in most US supermarkets have curled leaves which are slightly smaller than the leaves of turnip greens. Mustard greens are also featured in a number of Asian recipes. 
Each of these types of greens is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K. While this recipe features all three types of greens cooked together, each can be prepared individually as well. We've found that we enjoy the blend of the distinct flavors that each type of greens brings to the cooking pot.

So, let's make some gumbo …
As a quick warning, this recipe will feed a crowd. The recipe book indicated that it would feed 20, and that's probably a fair estimation. Feel free to adjust the quantity (or not) as you see fit.
Here are the ingredients:
1 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
2 cups chopped yellow or sweet onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup minced garlic
6 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp thyme
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp white pepper
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp salt
1 lb mushrooms, smoked (yes, it's worth the trouble if you have a smoker)
1 gallon water
1 bunch collard greens
1 small head cabbage
1 bunch turnip greens
1 bunch mustard greens
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 lb red or kidney beans, cooked

Now, let's put this gumbo together.
1. Rinse and sort the beans and soak them overnight. Drain, cover them with water and cook until they are just tender. If it's going to be a while before you are ready to add them to the gumbo, drain them, reserving the liquid so that they don't get too mushy. Otherwise, if you are close to being ready to add them, just turn off the heat. Here's our pot of cooked beans in their water.
2. To smoke the mushrooms - Use medium sized whole mushrooms. Wash them and trim the stems a little. Place them on a pan in a smoker for about 45 minutes. Allow to cool and cut them into quarters. Reserve the liquid on the pan to add to the gumbo pot. You will like the added smoky flavor.
3. Chop the onion, bell pepper, celery, and shallots so that they are ready to add once the roux has reached its desired color. Quick warning - shallots are very strong. You may wish to have an open window to help with some ventilation.
4. Chop the greens and cabbage into roughly 1-inch squares. Cover with the water and boil until tender. To be honest, I didn't measure the pieces. Just chop to what size looks right to you.
Chopped greens getting ready to simmer 
Chopped vegetables in the roux
5. Now, let's make the roux. Use a large, heavy bottomed pot (we use the bottom of our pressure canner cooker). Bring the oil to a medium high heat and then stir in the flour. Stir until the roux takes on a peanut butter color.
6. Stir in the chopped vegetables. Sauté them until they are tender and are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the garlic, herbs, and salt/pepper. Your house should be smelling pretty amazing at this point. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring carefully.
7. Stir in the cooked greens and the water they were cooked in.
8. Stir in the beans and their reserved liquid.
Gumbo boiling on the stove
9. Stir in the mushrooms and parsley. Bring to a boil and adjust seasonings as desired.
10. Serve over rice.
11. Reheat the leftovers the next day and enjoy - gumbo tastes better each time it is reheated.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Remind me again why I wanted to do this project …

This is a post that has been in the works for a few weeks now. I just haven't seemed to find the time to sit down and get it written. My struggle to find the time to write somewhat parallels my struggle to finish this project. Here's a little bit of the story behind this project.
As with several of my other posts, this one features a Row by Row Experience project. The origins of this one date back to my family's 2016 vacation. Prior to that vacation, I reviewed the Row by Row Experience's website to identify participating shops that were located along our planned route (or not too far off the route). Fortunately, my husband was very accommodating to my plans. (The rows from that particular trip will be a topic for another post.)
The first quilt shop stop on our 2016 vacation was The Quilt Basket in York, Nebraska. What made this stop so memorable was that the shop stayed open after closing time so that I could come by to pick up one of their row kits. In 2016, their vertical row featured a raccoon eating corn in the cornfield. I would go on to sign up to be on the email list for this shop. 
Fast forward to June of 2017 when The Quilt Basket revealed the pattern for their "On the go" - themed row. My immediate thought was that it was very cute, and when I showed it to my husband he concurred. Since my summer travel plans didn't include Nebraska, I needed to wait until November when the Row by Row rules allow the shops to mail their patterns and kits.
When I opened the kit and took a closer look, I started to have second thoughts about the project. I quickly found that I hadn't given due consideration to the multiple small pieces that I would need to trace, fuse, cut out, and machine stitch. The picture below of a portion of the row provides some perspective. You can see the multiple individual pieces involved in the raccoon from his overalls to the white stripes on his tail and from his nose, hands, and feet to his mask and the triangles inside his ears.
Now, multiply some of those extra small pieces by four more raccoons, and you get the idea of some of the distinctions of this project. Also, take a look at the angles on the treads of the tractor tires. Machine blanket stitching around these pieces involved quite a bit of starting stopping, turning, and then starting, stopping, and turning some more. 
On more than one occasion, I found myself asking my husband, "Remind me again why I wanted to do this project?" His answer was invariably, "Because it's cute;" however, even though his answer did ring of truth, it wasn't necessarily the answer I was seeking at the time. 
In time, I would find myself working one step closer to completion. One evening, the task might be tracing, fusing, and cutting out all of the black pieces. Another night, the task might be to stitch down all of the cream-colored pieces.
While this project was proved to be more daunting than I anticipated, it was also one that I willingly undertook. In contrast, I've recently found myself in some seemingly daunting situations that have not been of my own choosing. These are the types of scenarios in which I am made acutely aware of my own limitations in my own strength and the absolute critical necessity of relying on God's strength. This reliance does not mean that the outcome will align with my perceived desire or that the journey will be an easy one. It simply means that the One who promises never to fail me nor forsake me will be with me. This promise that God made to Jacob when he was fleeing Esau is one that has been speaking to me in recent weeks:
And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Genesis 28:15

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Celebrating the Olympics … this time with bulgogi!

As many of you already know, major events such as the Olympics provide us with an opportunity to locate and try out new recipes. Our Olympic tradition dates back to 2006 with the Torino games when we made baked ziti. Other examples include borscht in honor of the 2014 Sochi games and a pork and black bean stew to mark the 2016 Rio games.
With Pyeongchang games, we have been eager to try out some Korean recipes. We found a great Korean food blog site: Kimchimari that has provided a great start to our efforts. The first recipe we tried was bulgogi. I hope that you will consider trying this recipe as well.
First, let's take a look at South Korea and the 2018 Olympics:

1. PyeongChang is located in the Gangwon province of South Korea
2. The venues for the 2018 games are actually located across the area with most events held in the mountain region while others such as hockey and the skating events are being held in Gangneung which is on the country's east coast.

 3. Although PyeongChang is at about the same latitude as southern Utah, its geography makes it the coldest city on earth relative to its latitude. Those of us who have been following the Olympics have noted some of the delays in the skiing events because of the cold and wind.
4. The mascot of the 2018 Olympic Games is Soohorang, a white tiger. The white tiger is regarded as Korea's guardian animal. "Sooho" is the Korean word for protection, and "rang" comprises part of the Korean word for tiger.
Now, let's make some bulgogi!
The marinade:
3 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs sesame oil
2 Tbs minced garlic
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 Tbs chopped green onion
2 Tbs pear puree - the pear serves as a tenderizer. We picked out an Asian pear at the grocery store. Chopped kiwi or pineapple also will serve as a tenderizer.

The meat
1 lb thinly sliced beef - we used top sirloin

Here's the chopped green onion and the pear puree

Here are all of the marinade ingredients stirred together
Now to cut up the meat. This picture gives you an idea as to how thinly we sliced ours:
Now, let's stir it all together and let it set for a few hours. Are you starting to imaging the amazing smells?
Bulgogi can be prepared with or without vegetables such as onions, peppers, or carrots. We elected to include some sliced onion in ours.
We used our wok to stir fry up our bulgogi. We added the onion first to get it nice and soft. 
When adding the meat, make sure that the pan is well heated so that the meat sizzles when it hits the surface. 
 Serve the bulgogi over rice and enjoy!
 What have been your favorite memories of the 2018 Winter Olympics?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Moose in a row, on the go …

With the final hours and minutes of January 2018 slipping away, I'm finally deciding on the content for this post. This is one that, actually, I've been contemplating since the first of the month. For most of the month, I had a very different idea for its emphasis. Now, however, I'm finding that it has taken a bit of a different pathway (no pun intended).
Over the past few years I've shared several rows that I have created using patterns acquired as part of the annual Row by Row experience. I do need to confess that, even with the rows that I have managed to complete, I probably have at least that many more unfinished ones in the designated drawer in my craft closet. That being said, I have been working hard not to acquire new projects, but to focus on completing the ones I have.
For me, the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is a time where I give myself permission to set work aside and to enjoy some devoted days in the sewing room. During this year's break, I decided to pull out a couple of rows that I had collected and to get them completed. These rows happened to be from the same shop, Davidene's Quilt Shop, in Park City, Utah. One was from 2016 and one was from 2017. If you happen to be in the Park City area, Davidene's is a great little shop and well worth your time to visit.
Both of these rows feature moose and involve machine appliqué. Although I do like the moose, I do have to confess that the prep work for machine appliqué is not exactly my favorite. I have to really want to do a given project to put myself through the tracing, fusing, cutting, and more fusing - especially when rather small pieces are involved. Once the pieces are fused in place, however, I enjoy stitching them down and watching the appliqué scene come together. 
For the most part, I use a blanket stitch for my machine appliqué work. My machine is a Brother brand, and the blanket stitch is Q-14. Once you have selected the stitch, however, you still have to decide how wide and how long you want your stitches to be. Over the years, I've come to prefer a 2.5 mm width and length for my appliqué designs. If I am working on a very small piece, I will go as narrow as a 2.0 mm width. Otherwise, I find that the stitch really isn't wide enough to adequately tack down the fabric.

Here are a couple of close-ups of some of the detail on the "Home Sweet Home" row. The row features a printed cloud background. Here are the house and the birdhouse before I added the lace curtains and trim to the roof. One of the things I like about this shop's row designs are the added embellishments.

Here are the three mini-quilts before they were hung on the clothesline. I added some batting and machine quilting to give them a little extra interest.
I do hope that you have had a good start to your 2018. For me, this has been a month of some new and unexpected opportunities - some more challenging than others. It's also been a bit of a season of finding myself experiencing a lack of clarity in some of my projects while also having unanticipated opportunities for future projects. In the midst of these issues, I've found myself needing to slow down, be still, and reflect on some of the simple truths from God's word. The verses that have come to mind and are guiding me through this season are ones that, perhaps, are familiar to you as well. Whatever pathway you may find yourself traveling at this time, keep your focus on God, and allow Him to guide your path.
Trust in the LORD with all of your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all of your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight. 
Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, January 29, 2018

Meat and Potatoes

Although we are not a big "meat and potatoes" meal family, there are definitely times where we enjoy a good hearty meal. During a long cold January, a good filling meal can truly hit the spot. If it involves a chance to use our smoker, even better. Here are a couple of recipes that we enjoyed this past month. I hope you will enjoy them as well and find an opportunity to use them.
The first is Poor Man Burnt Ends. This recipe is adapted from one posted at For those of you who may not be familiar with the expression "burnt ends," here is a little more explanation. The burnt ends are pieces of meat derived from the "point cut" of a smoked brisket. This cut is the fattier portion of the brisket and also takes longer to fully cook so that it becomes tender. If the brisket is cooked as an entire portion, typically the flat portion is removed once it is cooked, and the point portion is then returned for additional cooking. This longer cooking time is what gave this portion of meat the name "burnt ends."
The recipe that I am sharing substitutes a chuck roast for the point cut of the brisket. We enjoyed it and will definitely be preparing it again. 

The meat:
3 lb beef chuck roast
The rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic salt
The sauce:
1/2 cup barbecue sauce - feel free to use your favorite. We used Stubbs Sweet Heat - this brought in a little bit of spice to complement the sweet of the brown sugar. 
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar (yes, I did mention the brown sugar twice)
The steps:
1. Prepare the smoker for indirect grilling at 275 degrees F. We used hickory wood.
2. Combine the rub ingredients and spread liberally over both sides of the roast. Here is what ours looked like.
3. Smoke until the roast reaches 165 degrees at its center. Ours took about XX hours. Remove the roast from the smoker, wrap it in foil and return it to the smoker. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees.
4. Remove the roast from the smoker and allow it to sit for about 15-20 minutes. Cut it into 3/4 inch cubes and place in a roasting pan.  We used our Le Creuset dutch oven. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup brown sugar and most of the barbecue sauce. Toss gently to coat the pieces.
5. Return the pan to the smoker and cook for another 1.5 to 2 hours or until the sauce is becoming bubbly and the meat is starting to fall apart.
6. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and the rest of the barbecue sauce. Stir gently and return once again to the smoker to allow all the flavors to meld together.
7. Serve as a stand-alone meat dish or on buns as a barbecue sandwich. Either way, you will be sure to enjoy!
Now for some potatoes… 
This is a modification of the Potatoes au Gratin recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook that I received as a wedding gift. 
6 medium potatoes
1 medium chopped onion (I'll say a little more about this later)
1/4 cup butter (feel free to use margarine if you like)
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups milk (depending on what you have on hand, feel free to substitute cream or half-and-half for all or a portion of the volume)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1. Peel and slice the potatoes thinly. I like to boil my sliced potatoes for about 5 minutes. I find that this helps decrease the time in the oven. Be careful not to cook too long or you risk having your potatoes au gratin turn out a bit mushy. If you don't mind a more mushy consistency, that isn't a really bad thing. They will still taste good. If you opt to boil the potatoes, be sure to drain them promptly after cooking.
2. Saute the onion in the butter in a 2-quart saucepan until tender. Depending on your taste preferences, you can use less onion or even leave it out altogether. When I went to make this recipe a few weeks ago, I discovered that we were out of onion. I ended up using dehydrated onion instead. I reconstituted the onion in a small dish using 2 tablespoons onion and 2 tablespoons water and let it sit for about 5 minutes before adding to the melted butter. For me, this amount actually worked out pretty well and added some nice flavor without being overwhelming.
3. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Stir until the mixture is well-combined and bubbly. Essentially, you are making a light roux. remove from heat.
4. Stir in the milk (or milk/cream/half-and-half mixture) and 1.5 cups of cheese. We had an extra cup of cream on hand that I needed to use or throw away, so I used it as part of the milk volume. Cook over a low-medium heat until mixture just comes to a boil, stir constantly. Boil for about 1 minute and remove from heat.
5. Place the potatoes in an ungreased casserole dish and cover with the cheese sauce. Bake uncovered at 350 for about 30-40 minutes. You will need to increase the baking time to 60-80 minutes if you did not boil the potatoes. 
6. Mix the remaining cheese with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the potatoes. Broil for about 5 minutes until the top is crispy.
Here's how we served up our meat and potatoes!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas Cuddles

As the final hours of 2017 are ticking away, I hope that you have had a very blessed and happy Christmas season. I was initially hoping to have this entry posted in advance of Christmas, but it will have to turn in to a Happy New Year post instead.
This post features one of the quilt kits that I acquired during the 2017 Shop Hop. I was particularly drawn to the fabrics in this quilt, in part because of the familiarity in the storybook prints. 
I also found some of the fabrics included in the "snowball" blocks reminiscent of Christmas prints from about the 1960s.
I was really pleased with the quilting work that Utah Valley Quilting provided for this project. I picked some all-over swirls for the center and the outer border of the quilt. I decided to go with a snowflake pattern for the white area between the trees. I like the way this pattern filled the space without adding too much "stuff" and "busyness."
Because my goal for this quilt was to have it serve as a cozy, cuddle up quilt for the Christmas season, I opted to use minky fabric for the back. For those of you not familiar with minky, it is a 100% polyester fabric with a soft pile that is slightly stretchy. It is much softer than fleece and is a great choice for baby blankets. Quilters tend to have mixed feelings about working with minky. Because of its stretch, it can be a bit of a challenge to hold in place. On the other hand, some really like it because of how the quilting design shows on the back. You may need to adjust your computer screen to enlarge the below picture to see the details on the trees in the inner border. I've also found that when I'm sewing the binding on my quilts with minky backs, I need to take extra care to ensure that my needle is going through the minky.
As you can see from the picture below, my cat approved of this quilt. If you look closely, you can see the clips that I use to hold the binding in place as I sew it. Perhaps I will use a future post to tell more about these and some of my other favorite quilting notions. In case you were wondering, I opted not to disturb the cat's nap at this point in time. The quilt was, however, finished before Christmas.
I am one who definitely enjoys the comfort in the familiar, particularly around the Christmas season. As much as I enjoy the memories and traditions associated with the familiar, I've been reminded in recent weeks not to allow myself to get so attached to the familiar that I miss out on new opportunities that may lie ahead. The Christmas/New Year's season provides the context for reflecting on the blessings of the past while anticipating the blessings that lie ahead.
As we enjoy these final hours of 2017, I pray that you will look with anticipation to the new year. I will close with these verses that were included on our church's bulletin cover this morning.
The LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you and give you peace. 
Numbers 6:24-26