Friday, March 31, 2017

Picking Up Pieces

Believe it or not, I actually had very good intentions of completing both of my March blog posts by mid-month. Now, here we find ourselves at March 31. 
I've been looking forward to sharing this newly-completed quilt and some of my journey in creating it. I first referenced the quilt featured in this post back in January 2014. Fortunately, I do tend to get around to finishing quilts, even if it takes several years. This is a project that had some initial momentum and then took a few fits and starts to get going. 
This project is called Settlers Puzzle and was designed by Pam Buda. You can visit Pam's website and blog at Her designs and fabric lines feature 19th century prairie-style designs and prints.These definitely resonate with someone like me who has always loved pioneer stories. I also have family who homesteaded in South Dakota and Minnesota near the turn of the last century.
Here is a picture of my initial efforts getting started with this quilt. I do love traditional piecing. Even though the measuring and cutting process can be tedious, I do enjoy being able to sit down with stacks of pieces and put them together. I especially enjoy this type of quilting on a Friday evening when I am tired at the end of a long week. I like having the pieces set out in order so that I can relax and de-stress with less risk of making a significant mistake. I definitely do not do complicated measuring and cutting on evenings when I am tired.
This next picture features the basic block unit of this quilt. When I picked out the stripe patterned fabric to use with this quilt, I really hadn't given any thought to some of the potential consequences of working with a stripe.
One of the fun things about this quilt is that the basic repeating block unit is rotated and joined together to create this pattern with a pinwheel at the center. Hence the "Settlers Puzzle" name. I like the way the rotating stripe pattern gives interest to this larger block.
As can be the case, other time-sensitive projects come up, and once-current projects get set aside. Then comes the challenge of re-orienting oneself to the project and the rhythm of putting the pieces together. Finding the bags of the individual pieces and getting them organized sometimes can feel a bit overwhelming.
This picture provides a sense of how the individual strips are composed and then joined together to make the basic repeating blocks.
This picture shows some of my favorite tools in the piecing process: My cutting mat, ruler, and Frixion pen. If you haven't used a Frixion pen, you are missing out. They are great for marking stitching lines, as indicated here. The ink is heat soluble, so when you press the pieces, the marking goes away. One word of caution, though, is to avoid using the black ink on dark fabrics. Not only is the black mark hard to see on the dark fabric, when you iron the fabric, a sort of bleached out line is left behind. For dark fabrics, I tend to use a white Clover marking pen. It is also heat soluble, is visible on the dark fabric, and doesn't bleach out the fabric.
Just as picking up the pieces of a stashed away project can be challenging so can picking up pieces of other aspects of our lives. These "pieces" may represent unfinished work or even a broken relationship in need of repair. While the easier option may seem to be keeping the pieces stashed away, the project or issue will remain incomplete. Picking up those stashed away pieces may represent the need to clear away space and clutter. Picking up the pieces may mean the need to renew and refresh our perspective - or to bring about restoration. 
The gospels provide two accounts of the disciples picking up pieces. In each of these occasions, the disciples had witnessed Jesus feeding large crowds of people, first five thousand and then four thousand. After the crowds had eaten, the disciples picked up basketfuls of pieces - 12 baskets following the feeding of the five thousand and 7 baskets following the feeding of the four thousand. These baskets of pieces served as object sessions to instruct the disciples in Jesus' sufficiency. 
Even so, in scenarios where we may feel that we are picking up leftover pieces or recovering stashed away pieces, Jesus provides the strength to do so and remains our source of sufficiency. As Paul reminded the church at Corinth in his second letter to them:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Baked Ziti - a great pasta dish for a potluck

Even though we like to cook and eat, I do have to say that I don't always feel the most confident when it comes to selecting something to prepare for a potluck or to bring as a meal to someone. 
Here's a picture of the ingredients you will be using:
1 pound dry ziti pasta - If you can't find ziti in the store, feel free to substitute penne or rigatoni
1 pound Italian sausage - You can decide for yourself whether to go with mild or spicy
1 onion, chopped - If the spaghetti sauce has onions in it, you can omit the onion if you wish
1-2 teaspoons chopped garlic - Again, if the sauce is already heavy on the garlic you can omit this 
2 (26 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce - We like the Paul Newman Sockarooni kind; we've also  – mixed and matched two different kinds to blend in different flavors – e.g. a roasted garlic and a peppers & onions
8 ounces of sliced provolone cheese 
1 1/2 cups sour cream
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1.   Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add ziti pasta, and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes; drain.
2.   In a large skillet, brown onion and Italian sausage over medium heat. 
3.   Add spaghetti sauce, and simmer 15 minutes.
4.   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Use a deep 9x13 inch baking dish. Layer as follows: 1/2 of the ziti, Provolone cheese, sour cream, 1/2 sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese and remaining sauce mixture. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
5.   Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until cheeses are melted.

Here are some of the hints for making the baked ziti a bit easier. First of all, is this amazing Pampered Chef chopper tool that makes browning the sausage much easier. I highly recommend it.
Note: for step 3, spread out the provalone cheese slices so that they cover the pasta. That makes spreading the sour cream over the provalone cheese easier.
If you don't have a deep 9x13 inch pan, consider using a regular oblong cake pan and a square 9x9 pan. That way, you have something to bring to the potluck and dinner for yourself for another night. 
This picture shows an oblong pan with the second layer of ziti set down and ready for the mozzarella cheese and more sauce!
Here we have a 9x9 inch pan with the ziti that has been baked and is ready for eating!
Serve with a salad and breadsticks. Enjoy!