Sunday, February 28, 2016

Stitching Sheep

As I've shared in several of my past blog posts, I like sheep. Whenever I'm in a stitching or quilting shop, I'm naturally drawn to any project that features sheep. My favorite Super Bowl commercial from earlier this month also featured sheep. In case you missed it, here is the link: 
Now that you've had a little smile, let's get back to this post  …

I've mentioned the topic of UFOs in a few previous posts. For those of us who enjoy quilting and stitching objects, this means "unfinished fabric objects" or, more simply, "unfinished objects." Even though I try not to have too many unfinished projects around, sometimes they accumulate. Sometimes I am in the midst of one project when some other project comes along that requires my attention - perhaps something that is to be a gift or some other type of seasonal project. Other times, I get to a part that I find rather tedious or find that I need a given resource, work surface, and/or other condition to keep the project moving along. The project that I will be sharing in this post is one of the latter. 
Three years ago, I was introduced to wool appliqué at a winter quilt retreat sponsored by Village Dry Goods in Brigham City. In addition to the projects that were included as part of this retreat, we had the opportunity to purchase other kits featuring designs by the featured teacher, Lisa Bonjean of Primitive Gatherings. I quickly finished a table mat that included pumpkins, and then eagerly began work on the project that is the topic of this post.
The work began without too much trouble, I started with the houses. Even with the doors, roofs, windows, and chimneys, they were fairly easy and straightforward to complete.

The next pieces to include were the four green hills. They were pretty easy to add as well. I was even starting to wonder if I was working through these new projects a little too quickly. Then … it was time to start working on the trees. The brown tree trunks were narrow, long, and harder to keep in place, even with the fusible backing. I started stitching them down with one shade of brown, decided I didn't like it, and switched to another color. Another challenge with the tree trunks is that I really needed to be still and have a flat work surface. This meant that the project was no longer amenable to toting around to work on while traveling. I also got myself intimidated by the thought of having to draw the branches so that I could outline stitch them and add lazy daisy accents. I also didn't feel eager about working on the relatively small sheep bodies and the even smaller sheep heads (the heads were smaller than a dime). So, this project sat for almost 3 years.
Enter 2016 - and a time for setting quilting resolutions. Last year, my resolutions focused around organizing my quilting resources with a new sewing machine desk/cabinet and a closet makeover. This year, my focus has been to finish projects, specifically those that I have started and then set aside for whatever reason. Around the start of February, it was time to pick this one up again. My resolve was to take it on one small step at a time. First of all, I had to tackle the tree trunks. Step two was to get over my issues with having to free hand draw the branches based on the example and to mark the locations for the lazy daisy stitches. I really didn't mind the stitching; my issues were with being able to replicate lines that would resemble willow tree branches and leaves.
Finally, it was time to take on the sheep. One of the big challenges with very small pieces such as the sheep heads is to be able to trace and cut them out with sufficient detail so that the shapes are recognizable. Here's a closer look at one pair sheep. 
Although this post relates to a sewing project, some of the principles relate to the spiritual walk as well. Last summer, I shared some perspectives from a Beth Moore Living Proof Live weekend. Much like Peter, it's easy to get distracted and weighed down by the circumstances of life that can detract our focus. Perhaps that is why the writer of Hebrews reminds us to set aside these encumbrances and to fix our eyes on Jesus. 

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A warm, winter curry …

Even though the snow and the cold can get tiring, the winter season offers the opportunity for warm and filling dishes. This post features a curry dish we prepared a few weeks ago. Back in October, I shared the curry that we like to fix for our Halloween dinner. The basis for creating this curry is that we found ourselves with extra half and half on hand. I decided that a curry sounded good so we went out in search of curry recipes that included half and half. We found a starting template and embellished from there. We rather liked the end result, and I hope that you will, too.

One of the key adaptations for our recipe is the addition of potatoes. We really like the way that the starch in the potatoes soaks up the curry flavor. 

This recipe also features ginger. Earlier this season, I found this lightly dried ginger for sale in the grocery store. I have found that it is a great substitute for either fresh or dried, ground ginger in recipes. Even though fresh ginger root isn't that expensive, I find that I never use all that I purchase and throw most of it away. This preparation of ginger can be stored in the refrigerator. I like that it still adds a fresh taste in the recipes. During the holiday season, we used it in pumpkin scones and gingerbread biscotti. I found it in the produce section near the fresh herbs. When preparing this recipe, we used 2 teaspoons. You can use more or less - it's a bit of a matter of personal taste.

Here are the ingredients and instructions for our Chicken Curry with Tomatoes and Potatoes:

2 tablespoons cooking oil (add more if needed during the sautéing process)
1 large coarsely chopped onion
2 heaping spoonfuls of finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons of lightly dried ground ginger root
1 tablespoon Hot Madras curry powder
30 ounce can of diced tomatoes with their juices (you may also use a quart of home canned tomatoes)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups half and half
1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
1 teaspoon salt (feel free to use kosher salt or sea salt if you wish)
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes (we used Yukon gold potatoes; russet potatoes would also work well)

1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Note: you may want to consider using a deep pan as you will be using an immersion blender to mix some of the curry ingredients together. We have a heavy aluminum dutch oven that we like to use for dishes like this one.
2. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger. Stir fry until the onion is light with a caramel brown color around the edges.
3. Sprinkle the curry powder over the onion mixture and stir together. Within about 10 seconds, your kitchen will smell amazing. 
4. Pour in the tomatoes and stir into the mixture. Stir in the sugar and baking soda as well. (The sugar and baking soda help reduce the acidity of the tomatoes.) Leave the cooking pan uncovered and stir occasionally to soften the tomato pieces and to allow some of the extra liquid to evaporate. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes or until you see some of the oils from the onion and spice mixture dot the edge of the sauce.
5. Pour in the half and half and stir the bottom of the pan a few times to remove any bits of onion or spices that may have stuck to the bottom. This will help release these flavors back into the curry.
6. Now it's time for the immersion blender to puree the mixture. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can always transfer the mixture to a food processor or blender to puree. We bought an immersion blender a few years ago when we started making butternut squash soup, and it's been a great investment.
7. Stir in the cubed chicken and potatoes and allow to simmer until the potatoes are soft and the chicken is cooked through.

We like serving our curry over steamed rice. Feel free to serve with lentils, naan bread, or however you wish.