Friday, October 31, 2014

Pumpkin Season - Part II: Sewing Pumpkins

Since my last post addressed cooking with pumpkin, I thought I would devote this one to sewing pumpkins. Fall colors are my favorites, and I enjoy decorating with them. I have a lot of neutrals and earth tones in my home, making it very conducive to fall-themed decorations. I'm not particularly into Halloween decorating, but I do enjoy pulling out the pumpkin decorations once Labor Day weekend comes around.

Through the years I have accumulated, and managed to complete, a number of pumpkin-themed projects. The picture at the top is the most recent project. It is a row of pumpkins to be included in a future quilt. This past summer, a number of quilt shops from around the country sponsored the "Row by Row Experience." Participating stores designed a row pattern about 36 inches wide. The challenge was for individual quilters to collect rows from different stores and then create a quilt with them. I collected about a dozen row patterns and kits from shops across Utah, but am only in the process of starting to put them together. The row above was designed by Village Dry Goods in Brigham City. I decided to make it first for a couple of reasons - first, because it was a relatively easy pattern to put together, second because I really liked the fabric colors and textures. Watch for future posts about additional rows. 

The next picture features a couple of small decorative pillows that I made a few years back. I usually keep them up through Thanksgiving.  

The final project for this post is a wall hanging that I made about 3 or 4 years ago. Even though I have been sewing and quilting for years, I think this was the first actual formal quilting class that I took. The project is called "Wonky Fall Foliage" by Pine Mountain Designs which is based here in Utah. If you look closely at the log cabin-style blocks (upper and lower rows), you will see where the "wonky" part comes in. If you look closely again, you can see that I had a bit of a challenge creating the wonky look. The lower center block probably is the one that best illustrates the wonky concept. The idea is that as you add strips around the center square, you cut them asymmetrically. I found breaking some of the more traditional quilting "rules" a little challenging, but became more confident with each successive block. 
Another think I enjoyed about this project was the combination of sewing styles within it. In addition to the wonky blocks, I learned how to work with hexagons. I also learned some basic fused appliqué skills. I enjoyed the opportunity to embellish the appliqués with different embroidery stitches. The designer gave some guidelines for the embroidery work, but also emphasized that we also needed to feel free to be creative with our choices. Again for someone like me who tends to be more comfortable sticking with the rules and matching my work to the example, this challenged me to step out of my comfort zone.

In thinking about stepping out of "rules" and "traditions," I am reminded of Paul's letter to the Galatians. In this letter, Paul admonishes the early Christians in Galatia for living as though in bondage to the Law. He reminds them that they have been set free in Christ and that they were to stand free in Christ and not be bound to a yoke of slavery. 
Given that today, October 31, is Reformation Day, in addition to Halloween, it is somewhat fitting that we reflect on the book of Galatians. Through studying the book of Galatians, Martin Luther came to understand the freedom we have been given in Christ and the free gift of salvation that we have through faith in Christ.
As we contemplate our freedom in Christ, Paul reminds us that this freedom is not just for ourselves but is to be an outlet for serving others.

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pumpkin Season - Part I: Pumpkin Bread

My initial statement for this post is that I have liked pumpkin even before the "pumpkin spice" craze of more recent years. Of course, given that I have an October birthday, I'm not sure that I have had much choice. I can probably count on one hand the number of birthday cakes that I had growing up that did not feature a pumpkin in some shape or form.

In addition to pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, one of my favorite pumpkin recipes is pumpkin bread. The recipe that I am featuring is one that my mother got from a friend during the time that we lived in Alaska. We left Alaska in 1971 so you can tell that I have been enjoying this recipe for quite some time. One of the best features of this recipe is that it doesn't include eggs. Within the past few years, I have become friends with a young girl who is horribly allergic to eggs but absolutely loves anything pumpkin flavored. Whenever I make pumpkin bread, I like to be make some just for her. I can usually count on a big smile.

This year, I have found a new pumpkin-flavored treat. A few weeks ago, someone had brought some Pumpkin Spice Oreos to an event I attended. I typically do my best to avoid unusual artificial flavors, but decided to give these a try. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that they were very good. They also make a great late evening treat with a pot of tea (in a pumpkin-shaped tea pot, of course).

In the spirit of the season, I thought I would provide a brief homage to a somewhat famous pumpkin from American literature. Although many of us are familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and its tale of the headless horseman, I would venture to guess that most have not taken the time to read the original text. If you are one of those who has not, you have missed out. I must confess that it has only been in more recent years that I have taken the time to read the original text for myself. I actually enjoyed the detailed description of post-Revolutionary War America in the Hudson River Valley that Washington Irving provided. 

I should also probably interject here that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the first scary story that I ever heard. I remember my second grade teacher telling us the story (I can't remember if she read a children's-type version or just told the story). At any rate, as a seven-year-old who had never heard a scary story, I found it quite unsettling and was troubled by it for weeks to come. I'm also wondering if, perhaps, this stamp that was issued about the same time may have furthered my anxieties. 
So, back to the infamous pumpkin in this story. For good or for bad, its identity is not disclosed until very near the end of the story when the reader learns that when the villagers go out searching for the now missing Ichabod Crane, they find a shattered pumpkin near his hat. The part of the story that I find most entertaining is Washington Irving's choice of words in describing the scene in which the pumpkin takes center stage. At this point in the story, Ichabod realizes that the headless horseman has not disappeared after crossing the bridge, as the local legend had described. Instead, he is now face-to-face with the horseman and perceives the headless horseman about to hurl his head towards Ichabod. Although Ichabod attempts to dodge it, Washington Irving relates that, "It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash." 

However you choose to spend Halloween night, I hope that you will enjoy a fun time of treats, that tricks will be at a minimum, and that no pumpkins will encounter your cranium with a tremendous crash.

Now back to the pumpkin bread recipe:
Pumpkin Bread
3 cups sugar

3 cups pumpkin (one 29 ounce can - Libby's pumpkin is my standby - be careful not to use the canned pumpkin pie mix)
3/4 cup oil
3/4 tsp vanilla
3 3/4 cups flour
3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup walnuts

Beat sugar, pumpkin, oil, and vanilla together. Sift together and add flour, baking soda, cloves, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in walnuts. Pour into 3 greased and floured loaf pans (may use non-stick cooking spray). Bake 45 minutes at 350ºF. As you can see from the picture, this recipe can also be prepared as muffins. I should also add that both the loaves and muffins freeze well.