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!