Friday, September 30, 2016

A Sampling of Fall

As I've shared in previous posts, fall really is my favorite time of year. It's hard to say which month of fall that I enjoy the most. September brings the hints of colors on the mountainside and cooler evening temperatures. By late September, the passing of the autumnal equinox brings us longer hours of darkness that drive home the message that summer has passed. October brings out the full colors of the season along with children planning their costumes for a night of trick-or-treating. November is a more reflective month; the rich colors have faded, and the bare, brown tree branches remain. We may see a few weeks of Indian summer or some early snowfall as we prepare for the Thanksgiving season.
I thought I would use this month's post to share a wall quilt I made a few years ago. It is fall-themed and features a sampling of different quilting techniques and patterns. The name of this piece is Wonky Fall Foliage and is designed by Sandy Workman of Pine Mountain Designs. Her shop, Pine Needles, is located in Gardner Village in West Jordan, Utah. This shopping center features a number of shops and boutiques, including Archibald's Restaurant which is housed in an historic flour mill.
I began this project as part of a class offered by Village Dry Goods in Brigham City, Utah. I didn't finish the project that day, but I was introduced to each of the techniques featured in this quilt. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures from when this project was in process to illustrate the techniques, but I will do my best to explain as I go.
The first thing we learned was how to make wonky blocks featured on the top and bottom rows. For someone like me who likes to have everything neat and ordered, being tasked with making blocks that were of irregular angles and off balance was a bit unnerving. You can even see that some of my blocks didn't end up as "wonky" as perhaps they could have. For these blocks, you start with the center square, you then add four strips around the center and press them out. You then use a straight edge ruler and rotary cutter to create irregular angles at each of the corner. The next step is to add another row of fabric strips and then repeat the process of trimming the fabric in such as a way to create irregular angles. After you add the third row of fabric strips all the way around, you "square up" the block to the desired dimensions.

The "grass" in this piece is made up of multiple green prints and features a tumbler block. In case you are wondering, a tumbler block is a tall trapezoid that resembles a tumbler glass. these blocks can be arranged in a number of different ways and using different colors to create patterns.
In my quilt, the small green tumblers are simply arranged in a straight row.
Another fun aspect of this quilt was learning how to paper piece hexagons. I've shared some experiences with paper piecing in another post; however, this project marked the first time I had someone show me the process. In this quilt, the hexagons simply form a dividing line between one portion of the quilt and the other. After I pieced the individual hexagons, I hand-sewed them together and then used a blind stitch to attach them to the quilt top.
Working on the center portion of the quilt introduced me to principles of fusible appliqué, including the use of a light table to help with tracing pieces, and then placing them onto the background fabric. I learned a few other things about fusible appliqué:
  • If the paper doesn't want to peel off nicely from the edge, use a pin to gently scratch through the paper near the middle of the shape and then peel it off starting from the middle and moving out.
  • Be careful that the fusible side of the appliqué fabric is not facing up when you go to iron your pieces to the background fabric. Otherwise your appliqué piece will be stuck to the iron.
  • If faced with the above scenario, a dryer sheet is a useful resource for removing adhesive from the iron. Another technique to remove adhesive is to sprinkle some salt on a piece of paper and iron over the salt. (In case you are wondering, I keep a box of dryer sheets in my sewing room.)
We also learned some embroidery stitches to embellish the appliqué pieces and to help "create" the center picture. I've enjoyed learning different embroidery stitches since I was in elementary school, and I had fun adding stitches to this piece.

I had this piece machine quilted at Village Dry Goods. When I brought it in, it was fun to be announced as "someone who finishes projects." Although I have plenty of "in progress" or "not yet started" projects in my repertoire, I certainly seek to be one who sees projects through to completion. Here is the label I added to the back of this quilt to mark its completion:
Whether we're speaking of the season that reminds of a year coming to a close or finishing a project, there is something satisfying about bringing something to completion. The terms "finish" and "complete" are used throughout both the Old and New Testaments. Depending on the context, they can serve as a warning or provide hope. For example, in some cases, the nations are warned of complete destruction because of their disobedience. In other cases, we see the manifestation of God's glory as a work is brought to completion such as the building of the temple. In yet other uses, complete refers to the state of the individual who is surrendered to Christ. I am going to close with the words of Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In this letter, he challenges these believers to be complete and speaks of the promise in response to their being made complete:
Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Potato Leek Soup

One of our favorite things about fall is enjoying the harvest from our backyard garden. This time of year, our attention turns to the root crops. This is the second year that we have included leeks in our garden. Last year, we turned them into some pretty good potato leek soup. Today, I'm working on this year's first batch, which actually a quadruple batch of the recipe that I am sharing. Our style of cooking is to make soup in extra large batches, keeping some for a meal or two and freezing the rest. With our family's busy schedule, we love having a freezer full of ready-to-go meals.
Before the recipe, a word or two about the two key ingredients in this soup …
First of all, leeks.
Leeks have been grown for at least several thousand years. In the Old Testament book of Numbers, the children of Israel grumble to Moses remembering, "… the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, …" Other archaeological evidence also supports leeks being consumed in Egypt and Mesopotamia by at least 2000 BC. Leeks have also become an important part of Welsh cuisine and is one of the national emblems of Wales. One legend relates that a Welsh king had his soldiers wear leeks on their helmets to identify themselves in a battle agains the Saxons that took place in a leek field.
Nutritionally, leeks are a great source of vitamin K, iron, manganese, copper, and folate. They are grown in a manner similar to onions. In early spring, I set out the small seedlings that are rather thin and then leave them to grow throughout the summer and into the fall. In contrast to the bulb of the onion, the leek is more cylindrical in shape. Leeks also have a more complex root system than onions. The edible portions of the leek are its white base and the light green portion of the stalk (similar to green onions). Here is a picture of a few of the the leeks I pulled from my garden.

Second, Yukon gold potatoes.
While you probably could use other types of potatoes in your soup, we are rather partial to the Yukon golds. The Yukon golds are actually a new variety of potato that was developed in  the 1960s in Ontario, Canada, and officially released on the market in 1980. This potato was patterned after a smaller yellow potato that was indigenous to Peru. It is a great source of iron and vitamin C.
Now, on to the recipe …
I am providing an ingredient list for a single batch of soup. This amount will feed our family of four for two meals, provided no one has seconds. We love serving this soup with warm crusty bread.
3 tablespoons butter (yes, just go for the real stuff, it tastes so much better)
4 leeks (This is based on the size of leeks that are typically available in the grocery store. The leeks from my garden are slightly smaller so I will pull enough leeks to equal the amount that I would get from four leeks from the store.)
3 cloves garlic (roughly one tablespoon of chopped garlic if you're like us and just buy a big jar and spoon out what you need)
2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 quarts chicken broth (you can make your own from bullion cubes or base or buy the Swanson's brand quarts)
2 bay leaves
sprig of fresh thyme (about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp if you are using dried thyme)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter over low heat in a large pot. Add the leeks and garlic and sauté for about 10 minutes until the leeks are wilted. Be careful not to have the heat up too high so that the leeks brown and burn. Here is a picture of how we chopped up our leeks for this stage of the process.
Add the potatoes, chicken stock, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Boil over low heat for at least 15 minutes or until the potatoes are very soft.
Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprig. Allow the soup to cool a bit and use an immersion blender to puree the ingredients together. Immersion blenders cost about $30 - 40. If you like making soups like this one, it is a great investment. We bought ours a few years ago when we started making butternut squash soup. We've definitely put it to good use!
Add the cream and bring the soup to a slight simmer. You don't want to bring it to a full boil or the cream will start to separate. Adjust seasonings as desired and enjoy!