Saturday, July 5, 2014

Soup and Soccer

If you haven't figured it out by now, our family enjoys coming up with some rather quirky rationales for the meals that we prepare. While we are not exactly what one would consider a sports fanatic-type family, we do tend to use sporting events as opportunities to explore new cuisine.
My husband and I are also the types of parents who like to ensure that our children have opportunities to enrich their learning over the summer break. (Insert eye rolling here.) I decided that the World Cup provided a great context for a summer enrichment activity. 
Our daughter's initial task was to look up the three teams that the US played in the first round of the tournament. She then selected one of the three countries as her focus. Her selection was Portugal. 
Over the course of five days, she learned different aspects about Portugal. For example, on Day 1, she learned about Portugal's geography. Her "aha moment" was learning that Portugal was located in Europe and not South America. (Insert my eye rolling here.)
Other enrichment activities included learning a little about Portugal's history, its major industries, and its arts and culture. As it turns out, Portugal is noted for some impressive tile work known as azulejo. Here is a picture:
Her final learning activity had to do with, you guessed it, food. Her assignment was to learn a little about Portuguese cuisine and then find a recipe to prepare. She was told to keep in mind the availability of ingredients, the ease of preparation, and whether she would actually be willing to eat it. Her choice was a soup called Caldo Verde, which essentially means green soup. This soup is traditionally made with potatoes, collard greens or kale, and linguica sausage. Linguica sausage is made from pork and looks like a Portuguese bratwurst. 
We couldn't find linguica sausage in our local stores so we substituted chorizo sausage. It turned out great.

Here are the ingredients:
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium sized onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
6 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 quarts water (I would imagine that you could substitute chicken broth if you wanted to. If you do, anticipate using less salt).
6 ounces linguica sausage, thinly sliced (as I already mentioned, we substituted chorizo sausage)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound kale, rinsed and julienned

  1. In a large saucepan, cook onion and garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until onion starts to become transparent. 
  2. Stir in potatoes and stir constantly for about 3 minutes. Pour in the water, bring to a boil. Allow to boil for about 20 minutes or until potatoes start to become mushy. 
  3. While the potatoes are boiling, brown the sausage in a skillet over medium-low heat until cooked through. Drain the fat.
  4. Use an immersion blender to puree the potatoes in the saucepan.
  5. Stir in the sausage, salt, and peppers. Allow soup to simmer for about 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in the kale and allow to cook until it is tender. I found that it took about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add any additional seasonings to taste.
  7. Serve with warm, fresh bread.

Here is a picture of how we sliced the potatoes.
Here is a picture of how we chopped up the kale. The next time, I will probably chop it a little more finely. This was actually the first time I have used kale in a recipe.
We actually enjoyed this soup quite a bit and will be making it again. Now we will have to see what other types of international cuisine we wish to attempt in honor of the teams that are continuing on in the World Cup.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sewing at Sea - Part I

Just a few short weeks ago, I had the wonderful privilege of cruising to Alaska. For my husband and myself, this was a 25th anniversary celebration cruise. It also happened to be a quilting cruise. Cruising to Alaska was something we had talked about over the past few years but had never really looked very closely into the process until about 10 months ago. 
Our daughter is one who enjoys seeing cute animal pictures on Facebook. One evening my husband called her over to look at a picture featuring an Alaskan flat tire. Probably this one:
After taking a look at the picture myself, I responded with, "You know, I just got my new copy of Quiltmaker magazine, and they are sponsoring a quilting cruise to Alaska in June 2014. To make a long story short, after some investigating into cruise lines, ports of call, and pricing, we opted to go. Neither of us had been on a cruise before, and we had both decided that if we were to ever pursue a cruise, we prefer a scenic cruise such as one to Alaska over a Carribean cruise. Although I was born in Alaska, I hadn't returned since we left in the summer of 1971. We didn't visit places where I had lived, but I was excited about returning to my original home state just the same.
Although we were part of a group of quilters, and I had quilting classes during the times we were at sea, we still had plenty of time to enjoy the cruise together and to share some wonderful adventures at each of our ports of call. Because there is just too much to share in just one entry, I have decided to make this entry Part I.
Now, where to begin …
I'll start with the wool appliqué candle mat since that is the one project from the cruise that I have actually completed. The candle mat was designed by Margie Ullery of Ribbon Candy Quilts which is actually based here in Utah. One of my reasons for selecting this class was because the project had an Alaskan theme to it. This project features the forget-me-not flower, which is the state flower of Alaska. Forget-me-nots can be blue, purple, or pink, and these colors are featured in the project.
As you can see, the project began, as one might anticipate with appliqué, with lots of tracing, cutting, and securing pieces down. Rather than using fusible, we used freezer paper and glue sticks. This was the first time I have been successful using freezer paper for tracing and cutting appliqué shapes. 
 To get this project started, I centered the large blue forget-me-not on one side of the mat. I elected to complete one side first before proceeding to the second side for fear of losing small pieces.
Once the first flower was secure, I then proceeded with arranging the other pieces around it. I waited to add the yellow centers until I had stitched around the larger pieces.
Here is the completed project
The next project that I am going to share in this blog isn't so much of a "project" as it is a design practicum. I picked this class because it was a new technique to learn and was totally unrelated to the other classes I had selected. The title of this class was "Let's Get X-centric" and was taught by Anita Grossman Solomon from Manhattan. 
This class involved working with striped fabric to create some unique patterns. The fun part was that the techniques involved basic quilting techniques, namely working with half square triangles. 
For the purpose of this post, I won't go into the additional details of symmetric vs. asymmetric stripes or regular vs. irregular strip patterns. When we were talking about the possibilities of regular symmetric or irregular asymmetric stripes, I felt like I was back in school talking about  cardiac arrhythmias. If you are interested in learning more, here is a link to Anita's online course that includes the X-centric technique.
To make a long story short, the X-centric technique involves cutting identical squares from striped fabric and then making half square triangles with them. In this picture, if you look closely, you can see a faint black diagonal line running from the upper left to the lower right of the top block. This block actually has another identical block under it. You sew 1/4 inch from both sides of the black diagonal line and then cut the square in two on the diagonal line. When you press the two half squares open, you get a block that looks like the one in the lower right corner. The one in the lower left is identical to the one in the lower left, it is just reversed so that you can see the pattern that is created when you press the seams open.
Now for the next part, you take the two new blocks you created and line them up with the center seams matching. If you look closely at the top center block in this picture, you can see a faint black diagonal line running from the upper right to the lower left corner. You sew 1/4 inch from either side of this line and then cut down the black line. Now, instead of getting two identical blocks, you get one that is X-centric (lower left) and one that con-centrlc (lower right).
If you use a fat quarter with a stripe pattern, you are able to cut four identical 8 1/2 inch starting blocks which will result in two X-centric and two con-centric blocks. When you put the four finished blocks together, they look something like this.
I did another set of four blocks using a reproduction fabric. It was fun to see what this more modern pattern looked like when applied to an historic print. I liked it. 
Here is what this set of four blocks look like on the reverse. I like this pattern, too.
Now for a few scenes from Alaska. For this post, I will include some images from around Juneau, our first port of call, and Alaska's capital city. The fascinating part about Juneau is that you can't drive there. Juneau can only be accessed by air or by water.
The outing we selected for Juneau was a photo safari that included water-based and land-based routes. It probably won't be surprising to you that the water-based route featured whale watching. This is the season when the humpback whales are returning to Alaska. Here is the tail of one of the whales as it was diving down into the water.
The land-based route took us to the Mendenhall glacier. The picture really doesn't do it justice. The blue of the glacier is an absolutely amazing color that is hard to fully appreciate unless you are there.
After completing our photo safari, we were able to walk around Juneau for a while. We decided to venture away from the tourist shops to see what we could find. We enjoyed finding the St. Nicholas church which was established in 1894. What is particularly fascinating is that it was established after Russia had sold Alaska to the United States. The native Tinglit people were instrumental in establishing this church and worship services were conducted in the native Tinglit language.
As much as I love the mountains of the Intermountain West, Alaska's mountains have a mystique all their own. I loved their rich, rugged, purple color interspersed with the green of the trees.

As you can see from just these few pictures, Alaska's majesty is truly captivating. One of our favorite aspects of the cruise was sitting on our verandah and marveling at the beauty of God's creation and the privilege of viewing it. The psalmist spoke truth in declaring:
Great are the works of the LORD; 
They are studied by all who delight in them.
Splendid and majestic is His work;
And His righteousness endures forever.
Psalm 111:2-3

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strawberry Season

One of the best things about early summer is the onset of strawberry season. We are fortunate to have a strawberry patch in our garden. We are even more fortunate that the birds seem to be leaving it alone this year. This time of year finds us looking for creative ways to use our strawberries beyond just sweetening them and serving them over vanilla ice cream. Don't get me wrong, fresh strawberries and ice cream are a wonderful treat. Just the same, I enjoy identifying new strawberry-related treats. Here is a recent sampling of berries from the garden.
This particular recipe allows me to use a torte pan that I have had for well over 20 years now.  Although I enjoy "pretty" desserts, my efforts more often than not come out looking like a preschool art project gone very bad. If I can manage to keep the cake from sticking in this pan, however, I can typically succeed in putting together something that at least looks nice. At the same time, if the center does stick a little, a little extra fruit or filling can cover a multitude of flaws rather nicely.
I have also mentioned in some of my posts that our family enjoys Southern cooking. I have been known to say that if we were to relocate, it would have to be to the South where the people are friendly and the food is always good. This cake capitalizes on our love of down home Southern cooking by including cornmeal as one of its ingredients. It is essentially a sponge cake. The inclusion of corn meal adds to its texture and flavor. Here are the ingredients and instructions:

Cornmeal Cake with Strawberries
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup milk

  • Cream together the butter and sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl using medium speed
  • Beat in the vanilla and eggs until well mixed using medium speed
  • Stir the flour, baking powder, salt, and cornmeal together in a small bowl.
  • Mix in the flour mixture and milk alternately to the butter, sugar, and egg mixture using low speed
  • Pour the mixture into a prepared torte pan or 9-inch cake pan. I like to use non-stick baking spray that includes flour. 
  • Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean
  • Allow to cool on a wire rack
  • Invert cooled cake onto a plate (feel free to cross your fingers that the cake won't stick to the pan)

Here is a picture of my cake, which, fortunately, didn't stick this time.

Now it is time to prepare the berries. I don't exactly measure the berries but just cut up what looks about right or what I have available from my strawberry patch. For those of you who like to measure, a typical volume of cut up berries is probably in the neighborhood of 2 cups. I like to put my berries in a somewhat shallow pan and sprinkle them with about 1/4 cup of sugar and let them sit while the cake is baking and cooling. This lets the sugar penetrate through the berries and I don't have to stir them too aggressively and break them up.
Once the cake has cooled, I will gently stir the berry/sugar mixture and pour it over the cake.
The final step is to slice up the cake and serve it with a dollop of whipped cream. I like going for the real stuff mainly because it just plain tastes better. A common saying around our house is that, "Mama doesn't do fake."
Here is how I prepare my whipped cream:
Using the wire whisk on my electric mixer, I beat 1/2 cup of whipping cream until stiff peaks form. I then add a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar and about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.
Happy Summer Everyone!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What's your perspective?

Last summer, I had the opportunity to go to quilt camp. This "camp" was sponsored by one of my favorite local quilt shops, K&H Quilt Shoppe in Kaysville. This was more of a day camp rather than an overnight-style camp. My fellow "campers" and I came to the shop for three consecutive days to work on our quilts.
What made this particular project fun was the very nature of the quilt pattern itself. This is what is called a "scrappy" quilt, and it combined different colors and patterns that one might not typically consider when putting a quilt together. I typically like order and planning so allowing myself to throw caution to the wind and be totally random was a bit of a challenge for me.
Each of us was instructed to bring a specified number of dark- and light-colored fabric strips to the first day of class. Once we got to class, we combined the fabric strips together which further increased the variety, and each camper could pick and choose those she wished to use in her quilt. Although the finished quilt looks as though it is made up of multiple tiny squares, the process for constructing the blocks really isn't that complicated. You can order the pattern for this quilt online at Animas Quilts.
Here is a quick summary of the process for sewing this quilt:
The process begins by selecting three dark or light fabric strips and sewing them together. This picture illustrates three different dark colors. The project involves wider and narrower strips of fabric. In this picture, the strips are arranged in a narrow-wide-narrow pattern. When putting the 3 strips together, the point is to be random and not worry about what may or may not "go" together.
Once the three strips of fabric have been sewn together, they are sub cut into narrower strips. This picture illustrates the process with some strips that have been created with light fabrics. You can see that the two outer strips were created from fabric strips that were sewn together in a narrow-narrow-wide combination whereas the middle one was created from strips sewn together in a narrow-wide-narrow combination. When selecting the narrow 3-piece strips to sew together into a block, the point is again to be random - just keep the lights together and the darks together.
This picture illustrates three strips that have been sewn together. Sorry that it is a bit blurry, but you can still get the idea.
Now, the block is cut in half diagonally. Each light triangle is then, you guessed it, randomly matched up with a dark triangle.
The paired up light and dark triangles will look something like this when sewn together. This is the basic block for the quilt. These blocks are simply rotated within the individual rows to create the larger quilt pattern.

Here are a few close-up pictures of sections within the completed quilt that allow you to see how the basic block unit is repeated and how the rotation of the block within the row helps create the larger image.
A few months ago, my husband purchased a new camera. I've been enlisting his help in taking some higher quality pictures of my finished quilts. These next two pictures feature the feathering in the outer border. I am very grateful to have found a wonderful machine quilter to do this work for me. 

Each of the quilt camp participants received a label to be signed by all of the campers as a fun way to commemorate our time together.
While working on this quilt, I found myself contemplating the nature of what seem to be "scraps" in our own lives. During the course of life's journey, we often experience events that  may seem to be out of place. We may even question how these events could possibly have a purpose. We also experience events that stand out as markers in our lives, both positively and negatively. Other times, we feel that we are experiencing one random event after another and seek to understand how these events all tie together.
For us as believers, we can rest secure in trusting a God for whom nothing is random. While we are often limited to visualizing what is present, God is constantly aware of the larger work He is creating within us. We may wonder how that red flowered fabric is ever going to go with the black and gold plaid, yet God can bring these pieces together in a way that results in a work of beauty that more than exceeds our expectations. 
With this particular quilt, if we keep our focus on the individual squares and triangles, we miss the larger image that is created. In our lives, if we keep our focus solely on individual events, we miss the opportunity to see the larger work that God is creating. God doesn't promise the believer that all things are good, but He does promise that He can work all things together for good.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His promise. Romans 8:28

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cassoulet (or what to do with the last of your Easter ham)

Please rest assured that I am not just now finishing the last of my Easter ham. It has been long gone for some time now. I am just now, however, finding the time to get this post written.

The story behind this recipe does date back a few years ago when Easter happened to fall late in April. With Kentucky Derby weekend falling in early May, I still had the Easter ham bone with the final remnants of meat on it. I was looking for Kentucky Derby-themed recipes, and I found a recipe collection that included cassoulet. I had never heard of cassoulet before so I was rather intrigued. As I read through the list of ingredients, I came across one called "duck confit." I had never heard of duck confit before either so I looked it up. It turns out that "confit" refers to a process of cooking and preserving meat in its own fat, so sort of a congealed duck product. I didn't exactly find myself feeling particularly keen about incorporating duck confit into my recipe so I did some additional searching for other variations on cassoulet. Here is a little of what I learned. Trust me, I will get back to the Easter ham.

Cassoulet is a French slow-cooked casserole dish somewhat akin to America's Boston baked beans. It is presumed to have originated in the Languedoc province of France and more specifically in the towns of Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Castelnaudary.
Much like the baked beans that are cooked in an earthenware pot on the hearth, traditional cassoulet is prepared in an earthenware dish called a cassoule. The conical shape is typical of the cassoule. The first picture below shows a cassoulet being prepared in a cassoule. The second shows a cassoulet that was prepared in a single-serving cassoule.
Although a number of variations on the precise cassoulet ingredients exist, the inclusion of white beans is consistent throughout. Cassoulet recipes also tend to include poultry such as duck or goose and sausages. Other recipes may include pork, mutton, or bacon. Here is where the Easter ham comes back in. I liked the idea of using sausages and decided to replace the duck confit with the remaining Easter ham. 
I'm not entirely sure whether someone with a taste for French cuisine would venture so far as to call my revised recipe "cassoulet" or not. At any rate, we think it tastes pretty good. We also think that the flavor of the honey-baked ham adds to the overall flavor of the cassoulet. You will also see that we include black-eyed peas and large lima beans in addition to the small site beans. We like the variation.
Here is the recipe. Feel free to provide feedback.

Cassoulet (or our version of it)
½ pound each of black-eyed peas, small white beans (navy beans), and large lima beans
Cover the beans with water and soak them over night. In the morning, drain the beans. 
Return the beans to the pot and add the following:
  • 2 quarts of chicken broth - you may need to add more while cooking
  • One large sweet onion, chopped
  • Sliced carrots and celery (I never measure these exactly; I just add in what looks about right in proportion to the beans.)
  • Chopped ham. (As I have already mentioned, I like using the leftover ham bone from our Easter honey-baked ham. We tend to leave extra ham on the bone just for cassoulet. I just put the whole bone along with the ham in the pot.)
  • Sausage (We prefer to use andouille sausage which adds a little heat to go with the sweet of the ham. I have used both Chef Bruce Aidells Cajun Style Andouille pre-cooked sausage links and uncooked andouille. If using uncooked, we grill them before adding to the soup. With either type, we slice them into coins before adding them to the pot.)
I find that the flavors meld together really well so I don't add a whole lot of extra seasoning. I tend to stick with the basics of:
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Thyme
  • Garlic (just a little; this is one time we go light on the garlic)
  • Parsley
Cook until the beans and vegetables are tender. Remove the ham bone. Cut off any extra ham and return the meat to the pot.
Serve with salad and warm, fresh bread.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Contemplating Projects

For those of us who enjoy sewing and quilting projects, acquiring fabric can be as much of an art as the process of piecing and sewing it together. No matter how many projects we are working on at the present, we always seem to be able to justify the purchase of more fabric - often for some yet-to-be-determined project. The cartoon below provides a rather clever illustration of this practice.
Earlier this month, I need to confess that I acquired fabric in contemplation of some future project. I had a meeting in Seattle, and used the handy-dandy quilt shop finder app on my iPhone to locate quilt shops in the area. Fortunately I was able to locate a shop, Undercover Quilts, within walking distance of my hotel. This is a somewhat small shop, tucked away in the famous Pike Street Market, but I very much enjoyed the feeling of being in a local shop, visiting with the owners, and browsing the fabrics and patterns unique to the shop and the Pacific Northwest, in general.
I picked up a pattern and kit that was designed by one of the shop owners. I love polar bears and am becoming more adept with machine appliqué, so this seemed an appropriate kit to try. I will post pictures when I finish it.
The fabrics that particularly caught my eye, however, were these beautiful ones, designed by a Seattle-area artist, featuring wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. The artist has done a beautiful job of incorporating native art styles into the outlines of the sea-based and land-based wildlife.
Although I only lived in Alaska for a very short time, I do have images of the totem poles and other native art and am still very much fascinated by them. It's hard to say which of these images I like the best, so I will go ahead and share pictures of the wildlife featured in these fabrics.

The challenging part now is going to be to determine how to combine and arrange these  fabrics into a quilt that showcases their beauty. At the present, the fabrics are already amazing and beautiful, however, their full potential of being placed into a larger project that can be used for decoration or warmth (or possibly both) has not been realized.
As I contemplate what that future larger project might be, I also find myself reflecting on my own state as a project in the works. In his final book of the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis penned a chapter titled "Farewell to the Shadowlands" in which the characters come to realize that their lives in this present world had been only a shadow of the greater "real" world that they were experiencing as they followed Aslan "further up and further in."
Even so, our lives are yet an image of what is to be experienced in heaven. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul likens this present world to an incomplete image seen in a mirror. He also gives instruction as to what our conduct should be as we look ahead to the complete reality to come.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully know. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.       1 Corinthians 13:12-13