Monday, October 31, 2016

Projects for a plane ride and glimpses of Ireland

Here we are at the end of October. I don't know about you, but it's been a full, busy month for us. Most eventful was our recent trip to Ireland. I presented some of my research at a scientific meeting there and decided that bringing my husband along would be a good idea. One of our sons is currently doing an internship in Germany so we had him fly over to tour the country with us after the meeting. Given that both my husband and I have ancestral ties to Ireland, we were eager for this trip.
Many of you probably know that I'm someone who needs some type of project to keep my hands busy - especially when traveling. For this post, I thought I would share some of the wool appliqué blocks that I brought along for this trip. These blocks are part of a row that was created by Sewing Seeds Quilt Co. in New Ulm, Minnesota for the 2015 Row by Row experience. The 2015 theme was H2O, so this Noah's ark-themed row was quite apropos.
As I plan for travel projects, I am now finding that I need to take into consideration the reality of my aging eyes. Even with bifocal contact lenses and reading glasses, I need at least some natural lighting to be able to do really fine cross-stitching. Fortunately for me, wool appliqué projects are airplane lighting friendly. Here are the blocks that will be included in this row.
Of course, we need to start with Noah and the ark itself.
Then we need to fill the ark with animals - two-by-two. Some giraffes. 
Some flamingos. 
Not quite sure how the whale was accounted for, but we will acknowledge him anyway.
Next, we need a dove with an olive branch in her mouth to let Noah know that the floodwaters had receded.
Finally, we have a rainbow as a reminder that God will never again destroy the earth with a flood.
Now that you've seen how I spent my time on the plane, here's how I spent my time touring  Ireland (after the conference, of course). It's somewhat Ironic that my handwork project related to rain, yet we traveled to a country that was anticipated to be rainy and we never opened our umbrellas once. 
This is some street art in Dublin. The picture on the left is an Irish wolf hound. These are HUGE dogs. 1916 was the year of the uprising in Ireland that ultimately led to its independence from the United Kingdom. We saw a number of exhibits marking its centennial year.
Here is the Dublin castle. Dublin has a rather fascinating history beginning with the Celtic tribes, followed by Viking invasions, followed by the Normans.
In the mid-1800s, Ireland was havocked by failure of the potato crops, a period known as "The Great Hunger." Many died from starvation, many died from disease, and many emigrated from Ireland in search of better opportunities. This figure is part of a memorial to the victims of the potato famine. It was a gift from Canada in recognition of the contribution of the Irish immigrants to the country of Canada.
 A visit to Blarney Castle.
 The autumn colors in Ireland were amazing.
Yes, I did kiss the Blarney stone. I didn't realize I would have to hang over the top of the castle. For some reason I had thought it was down in the ground.
Glimpses of the Irish countryside.
An Irish traffic jam. The pink markings are "brands" to help tell flocks apart.
The Ladies' Point. A look out spot along the Ring of Kerry. Queen Victoria visited this area during her reign, and her ladies-in-waiting were particularly enamored with this spot. 
The beautiful Cliffs of Moher.
The Celtic cross. I was able to learn a little about the symbolism within the Celtic cross. Although its exact origins are unclear, tradition suggests that St. Patrick introduced the addition to the ring around the arms of the cross. Initially, the ring was a symbol of the sun which was worshipped by the pagan tribes. The ring was later used as a symbol of eternal life through Jesus' death on the cross. 
This concept of taking something once foreign and hostile to the gospel and giving it a new meaning and purpose is one that resounds through God's Word. In Paul's sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17, rather than berate or ridicule the Athenians, he acknowledges their religious nature, yet is clear in explaining to them who this "unknown God" is and the need for all to come to repentance. In Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church, he reminds them of their new identity in Christ and that the old things are now passed away. I'm glad for a God who doesn't leave us in the "old things," but delights in making us new creatures.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

Saturday, October 29, 2016

How to smoke a tomato

I realize that this is a bit of an odd title for a blog post, but I hope that you will enjoy the associated recipe. This recipe is for a great marinara pasta sauce that has been adapted from my Gumbo Shop cookbook. This cookbook features great New Orleans-style recipes, including ones for turkey sausage gumbo and creole. Of course, we include our own adaptations to make these recipes our own.
This year, we've been enjoying a prolonged frost-free season here in the Intermountain West. This means that we continue to have tomatoes ripening on the vine. Of course, this, in turn, means that we need to find things to do with them. The other night, I went out and picked a nice bunch of them. I didn't have enough to put up in jars, but still needed to do something with them. I decided that this marinara sauce would be a great choice.
This sauce features smoked tomatoes. We always enjoy an opportunity to use our smoker. The flavor that the smoking process adds to this sauce really gives it a nice touch. Start by peeling and coarsely chopping the tomatoes. 

Here is the recipe. I am basing the amounts on what I am used today. You can size it up or down to suit your own needs. The main thing is that you divide whatever amount of tomatoes you use and smoke half of them. You will then adjust the amount of the other ingredients. 

Here is a picture of the tomatoes I used - all peeled, chopped, and ready to go!
Ingredients: 12 cups of coarsely chopped tomatoes, divided (You can use either fresh or canned)
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
8 ounce package of sliced mushrooms
2-3 tbsp minced garlic
4 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried basil
Meat as desired (sausage, chicken, and/or shrimp)
Prepared pasta such as penne, rotini, or bowtie

Step 1: Smoke the tomatoes. To smoke the tomatoes, spread them out on a baking sheet and place in a smoker or covered grill for 20 minutes. We used our smoker and set the temperature at 225. The goal isn't to cook the tomatoes but to impart the smoky flavor. Here they are in the smoker and what they look like after the smoking process.

Step 2: Prepare the sauce. Saute the onions in the olive oil until they are soft. Add the mushrooms, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and basil and cook for about 1 minute or until these ingredients have blended well together. Stir in the smoked and non-smoked tomatoes. Simmer to reduce the liquid a bit. about 20-30 minutes. This isn't intended to be a really heavy thick sauce, but I like having some of the liquid reduced. I also stirred in about 2 tsp of cornstarch that I had mixed in about 1/4 cup of reserved liquid from the non-smoked tomatoes to thicken the sauce just a little. This step isn't necessary, but is an option depending on your preference. 
Here's a look at the volume of the sauce that we prepared. Yum! The capacity of this dutch oven is about 4 quarts to give you a reference.
Step 3: Prepare the meat and add to the sauceFor the meat, you can use shrimp, chicken, or sausage or, perhaps, a combination. If using chicken or uncooked sausage, brown it separately before adding it to the sauce. We used our favorite, Chef Aidell's Cajun andouille sausage, which is pre-cooked; however, we also opted to slice the links into coins and brown them under the broiler in the oven. If using shrimp, you can cook them separately or cook them in the sauce itself. 
Because we made such a large batch of sauce, we will be freezing some to use later. I wasn't sure how the shrimp and sauce would hold up through the freezing and reheating process. As such, we stirred the sausage into the sauce and then cooked a few shrimp to add to each individual serving.

Step 4: Serve over pasta and enjoy