Saturday, April 30, 2016

Miniature Spring Flowers

As the saying goes, "April showers bring May flowers." As such, a post on flowers seemed appropriate for closing out April and welcoming in May. The flowers that appear in the late spring also are some of my favorites. 
This month, I thought I would share a project that I recently completed.This project is one that took me three years to complete. In all honesty, I didn't work on this project steadily over the past three years, but rather in two major bursts about three years apart. I purchased this Primitive Gatherings project in early 2013 after I was introduced to wool appliqué. I actually finished the appliquéd flowers fairly efficiently that spring. After that, the project pretty much stalled. 
Enter 2016 … I made the commitment in 2016 to buckle down and get back to work on projects that were sitting around "in progress." This project was on my priority list to get finished. To give you an idea as to how small the flowers in this project are, take a look at the picture below that includes a quarter as a frame of reference. Yes, these flowers really are quite small; and, yes, I did hand appliqué around all of the flowers, leaves, and stems.The sashing strips around each of the flowers measure about 1/4 inch wide.
Part of what got me stalled on the project was the half square triangle border. I'm really not a fan of creating half square triangles. This project called for using Thangles, paper strips that are used to help you create more precise half square triangles. This finished project called for more than 90 half square triangles. Here is a sampling below at their unfinished dimensions of 1x1 inch square. That means that in the finished project, they are only 1/2 x 1/2 inch - lots of itty bitty triangles. The thought of creating that many half square triangles is probably why the project stalled.
Here are a couple of additional pictures that provide a more zoomed in look at the featured flowers. In addition to spring flowers such as iris, tulips, and daffodils, the project also includes late summers such as asters and sunflowers.
I thought I would add a few pictures of some of the April/May flowers around my own backyard. I do wish that they lasted longer than just a few short weeks.
Here are some tulips …

Miniature iris, the larger ones won't be blooming until later in May …
And finally, some lilacs that are just barely starting to bloom …
The fleeting beauty of these spring flowers brings to mind a memory verse from my early Sunday school years. Even though the flowers don't last, we can be secure in the constancy of God's Word that does last forever. In today's uncertainty and tense times, these are particularly comforting words. As Isaiah spoke …
The grass withers, the flower fades, 
But the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah 40:8

Monday, April 25, 2016

Cuban Black Beans and Rice

We are always game for a warm, filling meal that will last us several days. A few years ago, we found a recipe for Cuban black beans and rice that we have come to enjoy. I'm not quite sure how true-to-style this recipe is, but we like it just the same. 
The Spanish name for black beans and rice is Moros y Christianos which translates as Moors and Christians. The name of this dish may be a reference to the 8th century Islamic conquest of Spain and then the 15th century re-conquest. Both of these events impacted Spanish language and culture, including food. 
Similar to the red beans and rice, which are popular in the southeastern United States, the black beans and rice are prepared separately and then served together. Some serve the beans over the rice, while others serve a scoop on top of the beans. We tend to go with the former but then stir the two together.
With the blending of cultures from Europe and Africa in the Caribbean, Caribbean cuisine has its own unique flavor and blends of spices. In looking through other recipes for Cuban black beans and rice, I've seen ham hocks substituted for the sausage we use in our recipe. Also, as you will see, this recipe uses turkey sausage, however, I'm doubting turkey sausage is typical of Cuban cuisine. Feel free to substitute another type of sausage or smoked meat if you wish.

A word about black beans … You can use either canned or dried black beans in this recipe. Typically, we just use canned, but we weren't able to find any at our Neighborhood Walmart Market when we went shopping for the ingredients to make this batch. We opted just to go with dried beans instead. I found that one pound of dried beans was the equivalent of about 4 cans of beans. If you opt to use the dried beans, you will need to allow time to soak them and then cook them until tender. 

Please also note that the amounts I am stating below make a pretty large batch. Feel free to cut in half if you wish.
Cuban Black Beans & Rice
Olive oil
1-1.5 pounds turkey sausage - we tend to use sweet Italian seasoned sausage; you can buy bulk sausage or links. If you use links, you will need to remove the casings.
1 chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
8 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 quart chicken broth - you can either buy it in a can or make it using a bouillon cube or chicken base
1 chopped bell pepper
1-2 teaspoons cumin
1-2 teaspoons oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 or 2 bay leaves 
4 cans of drained black beans or 1 pound of dried black beans, soaked, cooked, and drained
Cooked white rice

1. Heat a teaspoon or two of olive oil in the bottom of a large skillet. If needed, remove the casings from the sausage and cook until nearly completely browned.
A few years ago, I purchased this handy-dandy star chopper tool from a Pampered Chef party. It is probably one of our best-used Pampered Chef products. It does look a bit like a medieval torture device, and its taken a few beatings through the years, but it works great at chopping up ground meat for browning.
 2. Once the meat is almost browned, add in the onion and garlic. I had two half onions - one yellow & one red on hand so I just went with them. Feel free to use whatever type of onion you like. 

3. Continue cooking until the meat is cooked through and the onion is soft and nearly translucent. If needed, add a little additional olive oil to prevent the mixture from sticking. At this point in the cooking, your house will be smelling great.
4. Stir in the tomato sauce and broth and bring to a boil.
5. Add the remaining ingredients. Feel free to start with the lesser amounts of the spices and increase to taste. Regarding the bay leaves - if the bay leaves seem particularly strong, I will just use one - again, it's really a matter of personal taste.

6. Simmer for about 20 minutes or so until the bell peppers are fully cooked.
7. Add additional seasonings as desired
8. Serve with cooked rice.