Monday, March 31, 2014

Seeing Red

About ten months ago, I joined a "block of the month" project. As you will see from the pictures, this project has kept me "seeing red" in the literal sense.

Although I've been intrigued by different block of the month projects in the past, this was the first time that I have actually joined one. This particular project is titled, "Saturday Soiree," and features reproduction fabrics from Marcus Brothers from their Gallery and Red and Blue collection. As you may have just surmised, this project can be completed using either red or blue fabrics. Given that I am a 3-time graduate of the University of Utah, I didn't have to think twice about selecting the red option.

For those of you who may not be familiar with block of the month projects, most support the quilter in completing one quilt block each month with the goal of having a set of completed quilt blocks that can be assembled into a completed quilt at the close of the year. Since I began this project last June, I have enjoyed receiving each month's block kit and instructions. The red colors are really quite stunning and feature high contrast between the red and the white. Here are a few examples of the blocks that I have completed.

Now comes the tricky part with block of the month projects. Remember the part about having a set of completed quilt blocks? Just because you finish the year with 12 completed quilt blocks, that doesn't mean that your quilt is ready to be sewn together. This is where the "finishing kit" comes in. 
Depending on the nature of the project, the finishing kit could include components that are more complex than the 12 feature blocks themselves. In the case of the Saturday Soiree quilt, this is sort of the case. In addition to the feature blocks, the quilt also includes six 12-inch chain blocks, four corner capstone blocks, and ten side triangle blocks for a total of 20 additional blocks to put together. 

Just to keep things interesting, this quilt also features 48 pieced sashing strips featuring red and white squares and triangles. Each sashing strip contains 13 individual pieces. If you do the math correctly, that amounts to a total of 624 individual pieces within these 48 strips. Here is an example of what several hundred patchwork pieces look like along with the layout for an individual sashing strip.

Please don't misunderstand this posting as an expression of frustration at this particular project. Even with all of the hundreds of small pieces, it has been a fun project, and I am looking forward to the finished product. 
In many ways, this particular project is analogous to our life's journey. Although our lives include a number of amazingly stunning "feature blocks," much of life is lived in the day-to-day experience of what can be regarded as "the small stuff." Although the work of assembling the small pieces can feel like drudgery and have us "seeing red" in the figurative sense, these are the components that frame and accentuate the "feature blocks." Often it is easy for us to become so focused on these smaller details that we can miss the larger vision of the end goal. Sometimes, we do well to pause, step back, and get a glimpse of the larger goal to which we are striving.

Over the past few weeks, I have found myself "seeing red" and getting caught up in the frustration of some day-to-day processes that have caused me to feel rather defeated. In the midst of it all, I have been reminded, through God's Word, to remain faithful in those aspects for which I have responsibility. My role is not to encroach outside of my assigned scope but rather to remain faithful and persist in what has been entrusted to me. The following verses from Psalms serve as a reminder:
Love the LORD, all His faithful ones. The LORD protects the loyal, but fully repays the arrogant. Be strong and courageous, all you who hope in the LORD. Psalm 31:23-24

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi(e) Day!

If you have followed any of my cooking-related posts to date, you probably have garnered that we are a family who likes to eat. You probably also have sensed that we enjoy finding somewhat "quirky" opportunities for preparing different food items. Today, March 14, is one of those days. 

For those of you who are mathematically inclined, you will recognize, March 14, or 3/14, or 3.14 as bearing a resemblance to the numeric expression for pi, which is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. For those of you who are less mathematically inclined, or just like an excuse to eat, simply add the letter "e" to the end of "pi," and you get Pie Day.

Two years ago, I spent a few days in Columbus, Georgia, in late February. Because we love good down home Southern cooking, we took the advice of friends and had lunch at a place called  Country's Barbecue. While we were there, I was intrigued by an item on the dessert menu called "chocolate chess pie." I had never heard of it before, and we were quite stuffed from the fabulous Southern style barbecue, so we didn't order it. I did, however, resolve to look it up later. I followed through and made my first chocolate chess pie on March 14, 2012. The results were very good so I thought I would share the recipe for this post as well as a few photos from this year's baking efforts.

antique pie chest
The exact history of chess pie is a bit obscure. What is consistent among reports about its origins is that it is a Southern dessert. One report suggests that chess pie may have come from England, and that it may have been served in New England as well as the southern colonies. The origin of the name, "chess pie," is a bit obscure as well. One report suggests that it could have come from the term "pie chest," meaning a cabinet for storing pies. Other reports suggest that the name came about through the slurring of the words, "it's jess pie," when the baker was asked what type of pie it was.

Although I am sharing a recipe for a chocolate chess pie, other chess pies are made without chocolate and actually contain a tablespoon or two of cornmeal. There are actually other variations of chess pies, including lemon, orange, peppermint.

Here is the recipe I used. I hope that you like it.

Chocolate Chess Pie

1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons baking cocoa (I use heaping tablespoons and prefer Hershey's Special Dark baking cocoa) - dark chocolate has healthy anti-oxidants, right?
2 eggs
5 ounces (1 small can) evaporated milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Stir the sugar and cocoa together in a medium-sized mixing bowl and set them aside.
  • Beat the eggs together and pour them into the sugar/cocoa mixture
  • Pour in the evaporated milk, melted butter, and vanilla and mix together using a hand mixer
  • Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until set. 
Pie Crust
I prefer making my own pie crust simply because it tastes better. I've been using the recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook for as many years as I can remember. Some secrets I've learned through the years are that chilling your pie crust ingredients makes for a flakier crust. On days when I will be making pies, I typically put a stick of Crisco in the freezer in the morning so that it is thoroughly chilled when it is time to make pie. Here is the recipe for a single 10-inch pie crust.

1/2 cup shortening
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water

  • Stir the flour and salt together
  • Cut the shortening into the flour and salt using a pastry blender until the particles are about the size of small peas. I will usually cut up the chilled shortening into chunks to make this process easier. 
  • Sprinkle in the water about a tablespoon at a time, stirring the mixture with a fork until all ingredients are blended and stick together. Be careful not to over handle, or the pie crust will be tough.
  • Roll the pastry out on a floured surface until it meets the dimensions of the pie pan. Fold into fourths and transfer to the pie pan. Unfold and ease it into the pan. (Note: this much easier said than done. I frequently need to repair my pie crusts before pouring in the filling.)
You can serve your chess pie with either ice cream or whipped cream. I prefer to use a dollop of whipping cream (the real stuff, of course) rather than ice cream because the pie is rather sweet and rich all by itself. 

By the way, in case you were wondering,  pie are not square. Pie are round; cake are square. (Sorry, bad, cheesy math joke.)