Sunday, July 24, 2022

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (for two) to Celebrate Two Utah Holidays

I hope that summer is treating you well. Here in Utah, we've had an unusually hot and dry summer. Just the same, the blooming Rose of Sharon bushes as well as the onslaught of zucchini in the garden serve as reminders that we are now on the downhill side of summer. This is also the time of year where the days become palpably shorter - the sun takes longer to come up in the morning and then sunset is noticeably earlier than just a few weeks ago. 

These changes in the summer season also coincide with our Utah state holiday, also known as Pioneer Day. For those of you who are less familiar with Utah and our local quirks, July 24 is the day that the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Their leader, Brigham Young, declared, "This is the place."

During my early growing up years, I was quite the connoisseur of pioneer stories of any kind. I have memories of teaching myself to read silently while reading Little House in the Big Woods. I had begun by reading it out loud (seemed logical to my 5- or 6-year-old self at the time); however, I think my mother quickly tired of listening to me and asked, "Can't you just read to yourself?" I remember taking the time to figure out the process, and ultimately managed to finish the book. At any rate, my love of pioneer stories translated into thinking that it was pretty neat that we had a Pioneer Day holiday. I even have memories of watching the big parade in Salt Lake City on our 13-inch black-and-white television set and dressing up in pioneer costumes.

So why the pie? On the one hand, it might seem idyllic to think about a homemade treat for a day celebrating the state's pioneer heritage. Around 15 years ago, some groups decided that if one says Pioneer Day really fast, it sort of sounds like Pie N' Beer Day. Some of the local breweries have turned it into a bit of an event. Others of us, who really don't care for anything stronger than root beer anyway, are happy to enjoy a little cheeky fun and enjoy some pie.

So why rhubarb? Because, plain and simple, I have an abundance in the garden right now. Even with giving much away, I still have plenty. It's been a while since I made a strawberry rhubarb pie, so I thought it would be fun to make one; and, I like making pie. My current challenge is that there are now just the two of us at home, so making a large pie becomes rather impractical. Fortunately, I have a 7-inch pie pan that is a great size for a pie that will allow us to enjoy dessert over 3 to 4 nights. If I'm making a pie in this pan, I will typically cut the recipe for the filling in half. I haven't done the calculations; however, practical experience tells me I'm not too far off.

Rhubarb actually is a vegetable that is used as a fruit due to its sweet/sour taste. It was first described in China over 1,800 years ago and made its way to Europe via the Silk Road. Its root was initially used for medicinal purposes. It wouldn't be until the the 18th century or so that its stalks were used more widely for culinary purposes. Apparently, several species of rhubarb exist and may be more predominantly green or red. Here's a picture of the single plant I have in my garden. Note that it's been recently rather heavily harvested.

With that, let's get on to making a strawberry rhubarb pie for two.

1 recipe for a double-crust 9-inch pie crust. (It's just easier for me to make the amount for a double-crust 9-inch pie than to do more math. That way if you end up with a little more filling than your 7-inch pan can hold, you can always make an even smaller extra pie.) I just go to the Betty Crocker cookbook for my stand-by pie crust recipe.

Filling ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup chopped rhubarb (Take a look at the pictures below to see how I chopped up my rhubarb. I opted for smaller pieces.)
  • 1 1/4 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1.5 tbsp tapioca flour
  • 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
Directions
  • Stir the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, tapioca flour, and all-purpose flour together. Here's what it will look like. The stalks on my rhubarb plant are more green than red so they look a bit like chopped celery.

  • Roll out the bottom portion of the pie crust, place it in the pie pan, and spoon in the filling. This recipe made just the right amount for the 7-inch pan.
  • Dot the filling with a few chunks of butter.
  • Roll out the top crust place it over the filling and crimp the edges. (You will see in the photo below that my crust didn't stay in one piece so it's a little pieced together. Artistry is not my strength, but I usually can make food that will taste good.)
  • Poke some holes in the top for ventilation and sprinkle with sugar. (If you like, you can brush the top with egg wash. I prefer to just leave the crust as is.)
  • Lightly cover the outer circumference with foil and bake for 15 minutes at 425ºF. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes or so until the crust is lightly browned and the juices are starting to bubble through the vent holes.
  • Here it is out of the oven. As you can see, the patching didn't totally hold, but you can see how the crust is browned and the filling is bubbling up.

Whether you celebrate Pioneer Day or Pie N' Beer Day or just like pie, enjoy giving this recipe a try, and please let me know if you would like some rhubarb! Here it is served with some vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Hot Cross Buns

While many of us first learned of hot cross buns through the nursery rhyme, "One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns," hot cross buns actually are associated with the Easter season, specifically Good Friday. In essence, hot cross buns are rolls made with an enriched dough and flavored with spices and fruit. They are marked with a cross to commemorate Jesus' crucifixion.

Hot cross buns are said to have originated in England. The first definitive reference to hot cross buns is in 1733 when they were referenced in Poor Robin's Almanac. Recipes for a precursor to today's hot cross bun are said to have originated centuries earlier in the 1300s when a monk from St. Alban's abbey created a recipe for St. Alban's buns which were given to the poor on Good Friday. 

Regardless of their origins, hot cross buns are rather tasty and really can be eaten any time of year. As I mentioned earlier, they are made with an enriched dough. An enriched dough is one that includes milk, butter, and eggs. Given that milk and eggs were typically avoided during the Lenten season, it's not too surprising that a food that marks the close of Lent would include these ingredients. Hot cross buns include more sugar than a typical roll recipe, and they also include spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg along with fruit which may include chopped apples, raisins, or currants as well as some grated orange peel. The spices are said to commemorate the spices that would have been used to prepare Jesus' body for burial, and the orange peel is said to symbolize the bitterness of His suffering on the cross.

The recipe that I'm sharing is derived from Paul Hollywood's (yes, from the British Baking Show). I've made some modifications to his directions, changed the measurements to traditional US-based measures, and made some minor adjustments to the ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3-4 cups flour (see instructions regarding how to add in the flour)
  • 1 packet yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 apple, finely chopped
  • zest of one orange
Paste of flour and water to mark the crosses on the buns
Apricot jam to use for the glaze on top of the buns

Directions:
  • Heat the milk and butter together over medium heat until the milk starts to come to a simmer. Remove from heat and allow the milk to cool to about 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • While the milk is cooling, use the time to chop up the apple and zest the orange. Here is a picture of how finely I like to chop up my apples.
  • Pour the milk and melted butter into the mixing bowl and whisk in the yeast and about 1-2 tsp of the sugar. I like to let the mixture set for about 5 minutes to make sure that the yeast will bloom.
  • Mix in about 2 cups of flour, the remaining sugar, salt, egg, and cinnamon. I'm one who likes to add in the flour somewhat gradually. I like to keep my enriched doughs a little on the sticky side to keep the resulting rolls from becoming too dry. Chances are you will be using close to about 3 1/2 cups of flour if not a little more. Just the same, start with about half and then add additional flour about 1/2 cup at a time.
  • Stir in the fruit and orange zest. This will add a little more liquid to the dough so you may very well end up using about 4 cups of flour total. If you are using a stand mixer, you can use the dough hook to get the fruit and orange zest well combined in the dough. Once the dough has been well-kneaded, place in a well-oiled bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise for about 1 hour or until it is doubled in size. I like to use the "proof" setting on my oven. I don't know that it makes things faster but it does provide a controlled environment.
  • After the dough has risen, divide it into twelve equal pieces. I like using a food scale to weigh out the dough to help ensure that the rolls are as close to uniform in size as possible. You don't have to get that scientific in your approach. I've also found it helps to ensure that all rolls rise evenly and bake uniformly. Here they are all divided out. I like using a silicone sheet on the bottom of my baking pan.
  • After the rolls have risen, make a paste with with flour and water and pipe the crosses on the tops of the rolls. It doesn't have to be exceedingly thick, and you also don't want it so thin that it just drips off the rolls. Here is my most recent effort.
  • Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 to 25 minutes. You can see that when the buns come out of the oven, the cross will have somewhat faded into the bun itself.
  • After the buns have cooled a little, heat up the apricot jam to brush over the tops of the rolls to give them a sticky shine and make the cross stand out. You are welcome to sieve the jam to remove some of the chunky pieces. I just heat the jam in the microwave oven and brush everything over the tops.
  • Because the buns include fruit and sugar, I tend to store them in the refrigerator and then warm them a little before serving.
  • I'm also thinking of trying out some variations on these buns in the fall and around Christmas time. Stay tuned for some variations that may feature dried cranberries and pecans. In the meantime, have a blessed Easter!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Jambalaya for a Mardi Gras dinner and a few reflections on the 2022 season of Lent

This past week certainly has felt anything but celebratory, but here we are at Mardi Gras with Lent beginning tomorrow. While I'm not really one to get into the idea of getting all of one's indulgences in before a season of self-denial, I do enjoy good New Orleans food regardless of the season. Mardi Gras gives occasion to be intentional with foods that have taken on a distinctive North American style. Whether or not your denomination formally observes Lent, this year's season leading up to Easter seems a particularly appropriate time for humility, self-reflection, repentance, and praying for the welfare of others. I will share links to some resources at the close of this post.

For now, let's learn a little about the history of jambalaya. Like many New Orleans-style dishes, jambalaya represents a blending of French, African, and Spanish influences. In its simplest sense, jambalaya is meat and vegetables cooked together with rice. A recipe for jambalaya first appeared in spring in 1878 when it appeared in the Gulf City Cook Book published by the ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church in South Mobile, Alabama. Given its simplicity and flexibility, jambalaya had a brief surge in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s.

Jambalaya typically includes the Creole trinity of onions, celery, and bell peppers; rice; tomatoes; and meat. The meat can vary but is typically chicken, sausage, and shrimp in any combination or singly.

When making jambalaya from scratch, rather than from a Zatarain's mix (which is still pretty good), I've had the best luck using parboiled rice. Parboiled rice is also known as converted rice and refers to rice that has been partially boiled while still in its husk. Parboiling preserves some of the micronutrients in the rice. Most important for jambalaya, parboiled rice is firmer and holds its shape. I also tend to use parboiled rice in soups when I need the rice to hold its shape over time.

Here's how we prepared our jambalaya:

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (Note: You can use bone-in chicken, too you will just need to do the work of removing the meat from the bones. We have also used smoked turkey that we had on hand. If the poultry has already been cooked, you will just need to use prepared broth.)
  • Cooking oil
  • 1/2 lb smoked sausage, cut into rounds (We use 2 links of Aidells cajun style andouille)
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper - feel free to use a little more if you like
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 quart jar of home canned tomatoes (We use the entire jar - juice and all. You could substitute a 30-ounce can.)
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp salt (if using prepared broth, you may need less)
  • 1 1/2 cups parboiled rice
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (from cooking the chicken)
Steps:
1. Cover the chicken with approximately 2-3 cups of water. Simmer until cooked through. Reserve the stock to use for later. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. We like using our LeCreuset Dutch oven. Sauce the sausage until lightly browned and it slightly sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove and set aside.
3. Saute the chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery until tender. You may need to add a little oil. It's okay if they stick to the bottom of the pan a little. This is what helps with the flavor.
4. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, salt, and the 3 types of pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot.
5. Stir in the rice and mix well
6. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, the chicken, and the sausage. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and allow any excess liquid to absorb. The picture below shows that ours still had a bit of liquid after the 20-minute cooking period. Covering the pot and letting it sit for a while got it looking like the picture at the top of the post. Stir, add additional seasonings as desired, and enjoy!
So now, back to the season of Lent. While my denomination doesn't formally observe Lent in the tradition of those that follow the liturgical calendar, I value a time to prepare for the remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection. The following sites provide links to devotions that you may find meaningful during the Lent season as well as this time of global unrest:
For those of you who may wish to pray for the the people of Ukraine as part of your daily devotional time, here is a link to a prayer guide with specific requests.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Steamed Buns to Celebrate the Olympics and the Year of the Tiger

As many of you know by now, I've been a big fan of the Olympic Games dating back to the 1980 Lake Placid games. Although I recall hearing names from the 1976 Winter and Summer games, I didn't get to watch them on television. I think we somewhat unintentionally turned the TV on to find a broadcast of the pairs short program figure skating event, and I was hooked.

Fast forward a number of years now, and we've turned the Olympics into a time to try out new foods representative of the host country such as borscht, feijoada (Brazilian black bean and pork stew), and bulgogi. We tried out hand at tempura vegetables during the Tokyo games this past summer (perhaps I'll write a little more about that later). With early February marking the start of the Year of the Tiger and the Winter Olympic Games being held in Beijing, we decided to try our had at steamed buns. 

The Chinese zodiac features 12 different animals, and 2022 marks the Year of the Tiger. The tiger is associated with strength and bravery, and is regarded as the king of the beasts in Chinese culture. Many children in China wear hats or shoes featuring a tiger image as a sign of good luck. These are some little tiger slippers that I bought during my trip to China in 2000.

So, let's move on to learning how to make steamed buns. Steamed buns or "bao" are bread-like dumplings. The dough is made with a mixture of flour, sugar, cornstarch, yeast, liquid, and baking powder. Because of the sugar, they are typically a bit sweeter than a typical dumpling. Although the fillings can vary, pork is among the most common. The recipe we used is largely derived from one found on the cooking blog, The Woks of Life. I anticipate we will be coming back to this blog for more good recipes. For the present, though, here is how we made steamed buns with pork. Note: Because the meat will need to marinate for 8 hours or overnight, you will need to plan ahead. Just the same, don't be intimidated. The results are worth it.

Part 1: Make the roast Chinese barbecue pork (Char Siu)

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs boneless pork shoulder or butt roast
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice (click here for substitute ideas)
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon red food coloring (optional, but adds nice color)
  • 3 cloves finely minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
Steps
  • Cut the pork into long strips about 2 to 3 inches thick
  • Stir together the remaining ingredients except for the honey and hot water. Here is what your marinade will look like. (Don't let the glare from the stainless steel mixing bowl scare you too much.)
  • Reserve about 2 tablespoons of the marinade (you will be using it for basting later) and place it in the refrigerator. 
  • Place the pork strips in a bag, pour the marinade over the pork, making sure it is all coated. Place the pork in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
All wrapped up and ready for refrigeration.
  • Preheat the oven to 475ºF, and position the rack in the upper third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a cooling rack on top of it. This will allow the pork to roast more evenly. Pour about 1 1/2 cups of water into the pan below the rack to prevent the drippings from burning or smoking
Pork ready for roasting on a cooling rack placed on the baking sheet.
  • Place the pork in the preheated oven. Roast for 10 minutes at 475ºF. Turn the oven down to 375ºF, and roast for another 15 minutes. 
  • After these initial 25 minutes, flip the pork. Add more water to the bottom of the pan if needed, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and roast for another 15 minutes.
  • While the pork is roasting, combine the reserved marinade with the honey and hot water. You will be using this sticky sauce to baste the pork.
  • After the initial 40 minutes of roasting, baste the pork, flip it over, and baste the other side. Roast for a final 50 minutes. Feel free to check the temperature with a meat thermometer. Ideally, the pork should reach an internal temperature of 160ºF.
  • Remove from the oven and based with the last bit of the reserved sauce. Let the meat stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Part 2: Make the dough.
Ingredients:
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast (If you are using packets, this will be roughly 1/2 the amount in the packet)
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Steps:
  • Dissolve the yeast in the warm water (temperature will depend on whether you are using regular or instant yeast) and about 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Adding the sugar will allow you to see if the yeast will "bloom."
  • Stir in the flour, cornstarch, remainder of the sugar, and the oil. I like just having my stand mixer do the work. 
  • Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 2 hours.
  • After 2 hours, stir in the baking powder. Again, I like to let the dough hook on the stand mixer do the work. If the dough seems dry, add in a teaspoon or two of water. 
Part 3: Make the chopped pork filling while the dough was resting. Roasting the pork was just the first step. Now you will need to chop up some of the pork to make the filling for the buns.
Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups diced Char Siu pork
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots or red onion
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
  • 2 tablespoons flour
Steps:
  • Heat the oil over medium high heat. Add in the onion and stir-fry for a minute. 
  • Decrease the heat and add the sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sesame oil.
  • Add the chicken stock and flour and stir until thickened.
  • Stir in the chopped pork and the set aside to cool.
Part 4: Assemble the buns
Steps:
  • Prepare the steamer. We went ahead and bought a bamboo steamer. I anticipate that traditional steamers would work well, too. Ours had silicone mats inside to keep the buns from sticking. You can use parchment paper, if you don't have the mats.
  • Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces. Over the past couple of years, I've come to use my food scale more and more to help with ensuring uniform size. 
  • Roll each piece out into a circle about 4 1/2 inches in diameter, add some filling, and then fold the edges up, pleating them as you go, until they are closed on top. (You can access different videos for help with the technique.)
  • Steam the buns by placing the bamboo steamer in a wok with boiling water. Be sure that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the steamer. you will also need to monitor that the water doesn't evaporate out during the steaming process. Steam the buns for 12 minutes over high heat. (The steaming process really does work!)
We used some of the extra Char Siu pork to make fried rice
Here's another picture of our table before we took the lid off the steamer. Take a look at the little teapot with the handle on the side. This style is believed to have its origins in the Tang and Song dynasties in China.
Although we tend to be fair-weather soccer fans, we are looking forward to seeing what countries will be playing in the 2022 World Cup and may serve as an inspiration for future cooking escapades. We are also looking forward to the 2024 Summer Olympics which will be held in Paris and will inspire French cuisine.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Sunday Pot Roast

 

Who doesn't like a good pot roast for Sunday afternoon dinner? A few weeks ago, we found ourselves with some carrots and potatoes that were on their way out so we decided to put them to use with a pot roast. The term "pot roast" is simply used to describe a tougher cut of meat that is slow roasted in moist heat along with a preferred assortment of vegetables. 
Multiple cultural groups have their own variation of what many of us here in the United States have come to call a New England pot roast. Depending on where you live in the world, you simply add in your own preferred seasonings and vegetables to give it a distinct regional flair.
You will see that we prepared our pot roast in an oblong Le Creuset Dutch oven. Does Le Creuset cookware live up to its hype? In a short answer, yes. In a longer answer, it's not essential to cook a good pot roast dinner. We acquired this one as a 20-year work anniversary gift option. 
Before I go into the description of how we prepared our dinner, here's a little about the herbs we used as seasonings. We tend to like to keep things simple and let the seasonings enhance, rather than obscure the flavor of the meat and vegetables. In addition to the typical salt and pepper, we added in some dried thyme and rosemary from our garden.
Thyme
RosemarySprig.jpg
Rosemary
Both thyme and rosemary are evergreen shrubs that originate in the Mediterranean. Although both are perennials, we've had an easier time sustaining thyme rather than rosemary in our herb garden. Just the same, we have plenty of dried rosemary to last us quite a while. Rosemary leaves resemble pine needles so they do need to be crumbled a bit when added into foods. It is commonly used in roasted foods. in folklore and literature, rosemary has been associated with mourning and remembrance. For those of you who are Shakespeare aficionados, Ophelia remarks, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance, Pray you, love, remember."
Although multiple varieties of thyme exist, we grow a variety with small needle-like leaves that is commonly used along with sage in poultry seasoning. In ancient Egypt, however, thyme was used in the embalming process. During medieval times in Europe, thyme was placed under pillows as a sleep aid and to prevent nightmares. Women supposedly gave thyme to knights to bring them courage.
With that, let's assemble a pot roast dinner.
Step 1: Start with a cut of meat that will fit your roasting pan or Dutch oven. We used a chuck roast. This picture just shows how ours fit in the pan. Remove it before starting the next step.
Step 2: Heat some cooking oil in the bottom of the pan and sear the roast on both sides. This will help lock in the flavor and keep the roast from getting too dry.
Step 3: Prepare the vegetables you wish to use. As I mentioned, we had some fingerling potatoes as well as some carrots that were on their way out. We also had a half an onion in the refrigerator. Don't make this harder than it needs to be. Use what you like/have on hand and is in proportion to your cut of meat. Here's our vegetables before they went into the pot.
We also chopped up a couple of cloves of garlic to add to the mix.
Step 4: Add in a cup or so of beef broth to deglaze the roasting pan. Dump the vegetables on top of the meat. Add in some salt and pepper along with the herbs. We added about a teaspoon each of thyme and rosemary as well as the chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. At this point, you may wish to add in another cup of beef broth to ensure adequate liquid through the roasting process. Note: most broths, regardless, of how prepared, will have a fairly high sodium content so you can go sparingly on the salt up front and then adjust later.
Step 5: Cover and roast at 325ºF for about 3 hours until the vegetables are tender and the meat is approximately 145ºF and is tender.
Step 6: Enjoy! Pot roast also makes great leftovers. Ours lasted us for 2 full meals. We then made up a batch of mashed potatoes and used the remaining bits to make a shepherd's pie that lasted us another two meals!

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Joyeux Noel


A very Merry Christmas to you all. I had grand intentions of writing more this past year, but it wasn't to be. Just the same, I wanted to close out this year with some reflections on the past couple of years. This Christmas quilt is one that spans these past two years. It also represents the last of my international travels and is the one major project I have completed over the past two years. This quilt is by Buttermilk Basin and is titled Joyeux Noel.

In October 2019, I had the wonderful privilege of traveling to Lyon, France, to an international professional meeting. This trip was all the more special because my daughter, who was a college sophomore at the time, came with me. One of the noted landmarks of Lyon is the basilica which sits up on a hillside overlooking the Seine River.

Lyon dates back to Roman times. Its position at the convergence of the Seine and Rhone Rivers made it a natural hub for transportation and communication. The ruins of the amphitheater still stand and are a popular tourist attraction. 
The marble that is featured in this stage area within the amphitheater were transported from many areas of the known world at the time including Greece, Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt. The detail remains exquisite.
Given my fondness for wool appliqué projects, for Christmas 2019, my daughter gave me the kit for this block to commemorate our trip.

Once we realized that this was the first of nine blocks, I made the commitment to complete the larger quilt. I bought the next two blocks later in the spring of 2020. The challenges of the COVID pandemic and then the multiple petals in the second block proved a bit intimidating for a while, but I finished these next two blocks by the fall.

My daughter bought me the fourth block kit for my birthday in October 2020, and then I bought the fifth and sixth blocks. The final three blocks were my Christmas gift for 2020. Here are the fourth and fifth blocks.
Here are the last four blocks.
 

The final stages involved putting the blocks and borders together. I'm not one to do my own machine quilting, but I am very grateful for those who offer their services and make my quilts look so nice. 
We've enjoyed having this quilt hanging in our family room this Christmas season. It has allowed us to reflect on the trip to France that inspired the gift of the initial block. This quilt is also a reminder of some of the challenges since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I don't know about you, but I have had my share of disruptions and disappointments. Working on these quilt blocks has been a bit of a creative respite from other work and life demands. Some of them were more challenging than others and are reminders of the rewards of persistence and even small forward steps. This quilt is also the one major project I have been able to complete in the past two years. 
I hope that you all have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year! In the spirit of a Joyeux Noel, I will leave you with the response of the magi as they followed the star to worship Jesus.
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And after they came into the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary; and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11