Monday, October 2, 2017

Celtic Squares: A Link to the Past

I did an Ancestry DNA test recently, and discovered a few surprises.  I knew (or thought I knew) that I was half Finn, as my mother’s family all came from Finland.  My paternal grandmother said she was Bohemian, and my paternal grandfather said he was a mixture of everything, but mostly British Isles.  My DNA test showed I am 56% Finland, including Northwest Russia, 36% Great Britain, 2% Eastern European, 1% Iberian Peninsula, 1% Scandinavian, and 4% West Asia.  A Google search informs me that Bohemia was part of the Czech Republic, which borders Germany and Austria.  Grandma was evidently not so much Bohemian as she thought, but more likely a mixture of many ethnicities. 

Building a family tree on Ancestry has been interesting... I can easily spend hours there and feel as though mere minutes have passed.  I've gone back as far as the late 1500’s with some branches of the family tree, but some of the information is conflicting, coming from other “limbs” of the family tree, so I need to do more research into the actual records. I've contacted or been contacted by a few distant relatives.  I feel fortunate to be old enough to remember many of the great-aunts and great-uncles, and even some of my great-grandparents.  So many stories lie behind the names, and I wonder what those stories were, as I go through the records. Some had few years between birth and death records, while others lived long lives. Some had occupations listed, and some even had titles. All those names belonged to people who lived their lives in other countries and times so very different from the time that we know as normal. 

Even my own life has changed drastically from the time I was a child on a farm in Northern Wisconsin, where we children were bathed in a wash tub in the basement.  We raced downstairs on cold winter mornings, carrying our clothes, to dress near the wood stove where it was warmest. We had no telephone, no television, and only one car in the family, which Dad drove to work every day.  The radio brought us the voices of Gisele MacKezie and Snooky Lanson on Your Hit Parade while we did our Saturday cleaning, and we gathered around the radio to listen to shows like Amos and Andy, Lux Radio Theater, The Shadow, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Fibber McGee and Molly, and Roy Rogers. Our mother taught us all the states and their capitols, and quizzed us as we worked around the house, making mundane tasks actually feel more like fun. Time spent in the car was an opportunity to sing together, and we learned to sing in “parts”, with Mama singing the harmony, we children singing the melody, and Dad occasionally providing some appropriate bass notes. We listened to Little Orley records on a phonograph our uncle gave my younger sisters, and Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians orchestra taught us the sounds various instruments make as they added the sound effects to the stories. My sister found a place to order Little Orley records on CD’s a few years ago, and I was excited to have my grandchildren listen to them... but they held little interest for children who are entertained by electronic games on various devices! Saturday nights, we usually went to Mother’s aunt’s home to have a sauna.  Saunas were social events, and all the little children took sauna together.  (And don’t you dare pronounce it “sawna”... it’s sow’na.)

There were no cell phones or I-Pads... we actually talked to each other!  Children played “school”, and since I was the oldest, I always got to be the teacher. I wonder as I write this, if that’s part of the reason my two sisters who grew up on the farm with me became teachers when they were adults... I never gave them the chance when we were young.  I loved books, and many family members bought me books for gifts.  I had all the books in the Little Women series, and can remember reading those, as well as Peter Pan, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, and others to my younger sisters, before they could read.  Mama introduced us to Thornton Burgess’ Mother West Wind stories from her own childhood, and I have found most of those still for sale online. Thankfully, all of my grandchildren cherish books, as well, and it warms my heart to see them reading the books their parents passed down to them. 

I saw this quilt tutorial using jelly roll strips online... called Pretzel Twist.
 I am making my own version of this pattern, and in honor of my British ancestry, I call mine Celtic Squares.  I make my quilts from my stash, so I cannot give you exact yardage, but I can tell you what sized pieces I am using to make a block.  This makes an 8" finished block.

Since 4 units are used to make one complete block, I cut pieces for all 4 blocks at once.  I cut my own 2-1/2” strips from fabric yardage before I fold it onto the shelves, and keep the strips in large plastic bins, sorted light, mediums, and darks.  I began doing this long before they were coined “jelly rolls” and sold in packages.  

I laid various prints out next to each other on the cutting mat, in 4 rows, about 4 fabrics deep in each row, and used my June Tailor Shape Cut ruler to cut them all at once. Since I left the strips folded in half, 2 cuts gives 4 pieces. This pattern uses most of the strip in each print.  The remaining pieces go into a Ziploc bag of 2-1/2” pieces, to be used in a future scrap quilt.
Cutting instructions:
Cut of each jelly roll print:  4 pieces, each 6-1/2” and 4 pieces, each 2-1/2”.  (36” total)
Cut of background print:  4 pieces, each 4-1/2” and 8 pieces 2-1/2” (38” total)
There are 2 basic strips for each block, and each block requires 2 colors of these 2 strips, so 4 strips per block. 

This pattern is easy to strip-piece.
Sew the 4 print squares to 4 of the background squares, right sides together, using ¼” seam.  Chain piece the units; do not cut the threads joining the units.
Sew one background square to one end of the 6-1/2” print rectangle, completing all 4 rectangles in the same manner.
Without removing all the strips from the machine, just cut off the first 4 squares you joined.  Sew the 4-1/2” background piece to the print square in the unit, so there is a print square sandwiched between a background square and a background rectangle.  Complete all 4 units the same way. 

Then start sewing another print in the
same manner. When I sewed the second print, I cut the thread between the two different prints, but didn't snip the threads between the units sewn in the same print.  That way, there is not as much chance of losing any of the parts.  They can be kept together until you have many different prints sewn.  Then I picked up a string of pieces, cut them apart, and pressed them all at the same time.  After pressing, I clipped them together with a Wonder clip.

Each block uses these same 2 strips in 2 colors.  See photos at right.  

This photo shows the only two strip pieces that comprise the whole quilt.  Top strip consists of a 4-1/2" background strip, 2-1/2" print square, 2-1/2" background square.

The bottom strip is a 6-1/2" print strip joined to a 2-1/2" background square.
This photo shows how the two colors are laid out, forming the block.  Be sure to note that the white square goes in the left on the blue print, and the white square is on the right on the purple print.  The woven square will not look the same if you reverse the order of the strips.  I learned that the hard way... a few of my blocks are reversed, if you look closely at the completed 20 blocks.  I am not going to rip them out and change them... they still form squares, but are simply woven differently.

The photo at the left shows the completed block when the 4 strips are sewn together.  

 The photo below shows 4 blocks set together.  These blocks were sewn correctly, so the error is not shown in this portion.  

This is a very fast and easy quilt to piece.  However... here comes the tricky part.  You will need a design wall or floor to lay out the pieces for each block, and then the segments are built out from the center.

The photo below shows all 20 blocks that are finished.  I see two colors that I reversed, before I realized I was not doing it correctly.  How fast can you spot the errors?  

Do you see how each print is part of 4 different blocks, and how adjoining blocks share the same prints? 
I have that stack of pieces piled on my ironing board to cut apart and begin adding more blocks to these 20.  I'm not sure how big I will make it... I didn't have a plan when I started cutting the 
2-1/2" strips.  This portion is 5 blocks by 4 blocks, and measures about 40 x 32, which would be a good size for a baby quilt, or perhaps for a wheelchair quilt.  

This photo shows the "thread saver" that is used to sew onto instead of cutting the thread between segments.  Dawn and Ida taught me that trick many years ago, when we were making quilts to auction off to earn money for our church. Now, I notice even some of the quilting shows on TV use those little scraps to save thread, but Dawn and Ida did it first!  I miss those Monday sessions spent with friends, stitching and chatting.  Some ladies knitted or made crafted items for our bazaars.  Always, there was an abundance of friendship, coffee and delicious snacks.  

These days, I satisfy my need to interact with friends through quilting groups online.  After all, friends are friends... whether you touch them in person or interact through words echoing across vast expanses, in other states or other countries.  Perhaps change isn't bad... it simply takes some adjustment.  Perhaps you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Star Flower Quilt Block

My Pfaff Quilting Expression 4.2 is in the shop for a tune-up, and I am back to sewing on my old White machine.  At the time I purchased it (probably about 20 or more years ago) it had a lot of features I thought were pretty innovative... such as needle up/down setting, speed control, start/stop button to use in place of the foot control, and automatic needle threader.  Now, those features are standard on many machines.  My Pfaff has no presser foot lever, and that is a huge time saver when I'm piecing a quilt. It is all automatic, but has a knee lift for the presser foot, or a button to raise or lower it if I need to.  It has a scissor function, as well.  It's taking me some time to get used to raising and lowering the presser foot manually, but after I cleaned it all up and took half a mountain of lint out of the bobbin case, it sews like a charm.  This machine will likely go to one of my grandchildren, when they are ready to start sewing.  

I had over a month long bout with bronchitis, so did not feel up to doing much sewing.

I did manage to crochet my first ripple afghan... a baby boy afghan for my second great-grandchild, due in a couple of weeks (shown at left).  I also made him two baby quilts, and finished two baby girl quilts for my first great-grandchild, born in March, in time for her birth.  I'm working on a couple of quilts that will probably be queen sized, if I don't get tired of them before they get that large!  One of them was started several months ago, and I pulled it out again when I got tired of sewing on the current flimsy.  I had 6 blocks completed on this quilt, and several more cut out and ready to sew.  I sewed one more, taking photos as I did, for this blog. 

I saw a version of this quilt demonstrated on Fons and Porter's TV show. As always, I try to figure out a way I can rotary cut and simplify the block. I have a June Tailor Shape Cut ruler that is as necessary to me as my right hand.  I can cut many strips at a time, usually several thicknesses, too, so the cutting goes fairly fast.  It takes me longer to dig out the fabrics from my stash, and then fold the yardage back up for storage again. This is a block with many pieces... 41, if I count the half square triangles made with the 7" square as 8. The instructions on making those speedy HST, 8 at a time, is on a prior blog:  I also have links on the right, to access prior blogs.  

Here is a photo of the 7 completed blocks on my design wall.  I think I will join them with sashing and a print square to match the center of the star between blocks on the sashing. My blocks are mainly made up of florals, so I am calling it Star Flower.  

I also made a sample block for a child's quilt, made of a fat quarter bundle of puppy and kitten prints, with a tiny star on gold for the background on this quilt.  See photo at right.

Star Flower Block:
For each block, 15” finished size:
1 each 7” square of background and Print A, to be sewn diagonally both ways and cut to make 8 HST’s.  (Shown as light blue on block at right)
4 – 3-1/2” Print A squares, to be cut diagonally to make 8 HST’s  
4 – 3” background squares  (Shown as gold star)
6 - 3-1/2” Print B squares, to be cut diagonally to make 12 HST’s (Shown as orange on photo at right)
4 – 4” squares Print C (Shown as light print)
4 – 3” squares Print C

1 – 4” square print D, center square   

For speedier cutting, I cut 7" strips of prints and background, and then cut those strips into 7" segments.  Of the same prints, I cut 3-1/2" strips and cut those into 3-1/2" segments, then cut those squares diagonally to make half square triangles.  These will comprise the "frame" with the 8 HST's.

Background: 3" strips, cut into 3" segments.
Print B: Cut 3-1/2" strips, cut into 3-1/2" segments; cut squares diagonally to make HST's.
Print C: Cut 4" strips, cut those into 4" segments,  Cut 3" strips, cut those into 3' segments.
Print D: Center square; cut 4" strips, cut into 4" segments.
I put each size square into a stack and then chose coordinating prints to make my blocks.  I used a Wonder clip to hold the pieces together. Next, I put a 7" square of print and one of background together, right sides facing, and drew the sewing lines, as shown in the instructions for making 8 HST's at a time.  Because there are so many pieces, it does take some time to sew each block.  I always press as I sew, and have my ironing board at a right angle to my sewing table, so I can simply swivel to press.

This block can easily be broken down into units to be joined like a 9-patch.  Each of my 9 patches trimmed down to 5-1/2” before finishing, or 5” when finished. Sometimes I trim the blocks, but not always. Trimming takes additional time, so it depends on how much time I want to spend on the block, but it does look neater. See photo below to see the layout of the 9 segments of the block.

Sew 4 print B HST’s to center square print D.  Center square-in-a-square is formed.  See photo below.

Sew 2 print B HST’s to same side of 4” print C square (8 HST’s). 
Sew 2 print A HST’s to opposite side of 4” print C squares (8 HST’s)

4 square-in-a-square units formed with 2 colors of HST’s.
See photo at right.

Corners: Join 2 HST of Print A, 1 Print C squares and 1 background square, as shown.  Complete all 4 corner units.

There are now 9 completed units. Join them in horizontal or vertical rows, pinning at intersections.  I found it helpful to sew with the side facing me that had the HST's attached to the center square, so I could more easily match the points.  

Here is the completed block:

I love this block in floral fabrics... my fabrics are all in the blue, green, and pink families for this quilt.  It has a romantic, feminine vibe that feels traditional but modern.  The background is a very pale celery tone-on-tone, that reads white from a distance.

It's been a long time since I took the time to photograph my blocks in progress and post them to a blog, but I will try to do better.  I have some baby quilts I need to write tutorials on, among others. I have some lovely fabrics with an Asian flavor that I've made a large snuggle quilt with... it's sandwiched and ready to quilt.  It was a quick and easy quilt to make, as I wanted to find a pattern that could showcase the beautiful luxurious fabrics.  I have so many ideas for quilts... and so much fabric to make them with!  And another Christmas is just around the corner.

It seems overnight the days have gotten so much shorter already.  Some places have already gotten shots of snow and cold, but here in southern Ohio, it is still hot and humid.  I hope whatever the weather where you are, that you are safe in this season of terrible storms.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sausage Scramble and Jelly Roll Stars

Sausage Scramble and Jelly Roll Stars:
This seems like an appropriate title for something that sounds delicious!  The sausage scramble is something I’ve been making for breakfast or lunch for quite a while… it’s low in carbs and satisfying.  I put a lot of vegetables in mine, which add to the flavor, and occasionally I will make it with hot sausage, or if regular pork sausage is on sale, I add some hot pepper flakes to it.  Here’s my recipe.
Sausage Scramble:
Brown 1# pork sausage in a large pan.  As the sausage cooks, add: 

½ to 1 cup chopped onion
1 green pepper, chopped (use less, if desired)
1 red or yellow pepper, chopped (use less, if desired)
1 to 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (optional)
1 – 2# bag of southern style frozen hash brown potatoes (squares, not the shredded potatoes)
Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Red Pepper flakes, optional)
Cover pan and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes longer, until everything is heated through and potatoes are cooked.  Cool slightly and store in a covered container in the refrigerator.  To serve, put one cup of the sausage mixture into a small frying pan (no additional grease needed), cover and heat through on medium heat, about 5 minutes.  I put an egg in the center when it has heated, turn the heat to medium/low, cover again, and let the moisture steam the egg.  This scramble makes enough for meals for at least a week for me, and doesn’t raise my glucose much. 

The Jelly Roll Stars are not part of my breakfast, although I wish they could be!  I am partial to pre-cut fabrics, and in quilting jargon, a jelly roll is a package of 2-1/2” strips, usually with 40 to 42 strips in a roll.  They often have at least 2 of each color in a complete fabric line of the designer, so they are an easy way to get a variety of fabric for quilt blocks without having to buy a lot of yardage.  I’ve been “playing” with
various ways to use the strips, mostly in more traditional blocks.  Two jelly roll strips can be joined the long way on both sides, and then cut into triangles using a right-angle ruler, like the E-Z cut ruler. The few stitches at the tip of the triangle pull out easily, and when the triangle is opened, it is a 3-1/2” half square triangle!  One strip set will yield about 15 half square triangles.  For this star pattern, also known as the LeMoyne Star, or in some areas it is shortened to “Lemon Star”, you need three different sets of 4 HST’s: the two main colors together and each of the main colors with a background color.  So each of the jelly roll strips will yield enough HST’s for 3 blocks, plus 3 of each color left over for another project.  If you want the blocks to be scrappy, it takes 14” of fabric to make the 4 HST’s, so you would need 28” of each of 2 colors and 28” of background fabric to make a block, plus 14” of a 3-1/2” strip to make four 3-1/2” background squares for the corners.  I cut the corner strips from yardage with the June Tailor Shape Cut ruler, into 3-1/2” strips and then cut
those into 3-1/2” squares.  Most patterns for the LeMoyne Star use y-seams, or inset seams, but by using the HST’s, it can be made in rows and the rows joined to make the stars.  I like to lay the block out on the ironing board next to my sewing machine, and sew the pieces in each row together, then join the horizontal rows to complete the block.  The only pinning I do is joining the horizontal rows… with one pin where the pieces of the star connect, three pins in each row.  By checking to make sure the “points” match as I pin, the stars come together easily, without cut-off points. 
TIP:  Remember to remove the selvedge before you measure the 14”.
There are many different ways the blocks can be set… they can be joined as they are, or with added sashing to separate the blocks.  The 4 corners could be “snowballed” to give it a different look when the blocks are sashed and joined. 

I googled “History of the LeMoyne Star quilt block” and found this information:
“Lemoyne Star” is the name of a traditional quilt design whose earliest known published date is 1911 (according to Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns). It falls into the category of “eight-point/45° diamond stars.” The pattern itself has earlier origins than its published date. Ruth Finley in her book Old Patchwork Quilts and the Women Who Made Them, 1929, states that this particular quilt block was called “Star of Lemoyne”, “Lemoyne Star”, or “Lemon Star” (in New England), and she reveals that the design takes its name from the two LeMoyne brothers who settled Louisiana in 1699.
-Patricia L. Cummings, Quilter’s Muse Virtual Museum,

I was cutting several 2-1/2” strips from my yardage when I purchased new fabric long before they were popular to use, long before they were coined “jelly rolls”.  I sorted them into bins according to color: light, medium, and dark.  I also cut 1-1/2” strips and sorted those into bins of light and dark.  I now cut 5” strips, as well, and cut those into 5” pieces, to make my own charm squares.  Since I learned to make 8 half square triangles from 2 squares of fabric, I also have small bins with 10”, 8” and 6” strips to facilitate cutting those. It’s easy for me to pull strips from the bins when I want to start a new quilt or test a pattern by making a block or two. 

We quilters are fortunate to have so much information at our fingertips on the internet… and so many talented authors of quilt books demonstrating new, modern methods of cutting and sewing the pieces.  Pre-cuts give us instant variety and the luxury of having the strips or pieces already cut and ready for our own creativity to transform them into works of art when the inspiration hits. Quilters truly are artists who use fabric as their medium.  Modern quilters paint portraits and landscapes with fabric and thread, moving far out of the familiar realm of the beginning quilters who initiated us into their society.  Most quilters have generous spirits… many of the quilters I know donate dozens and even hundreds of charity quilts annually to various organizations, and those quilts provide blankets of love for the recipients.  Quilting provides me a marvelous opportunity to exercise my creativity, and the list of quilts I want to make “someday” far exceeds the years I have yet to live, I fear.  Quilts are like dear friends… we cherish the old but always appreciate the color and warmth new ones add to the fabric of our lives.

Sausage Scramble

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bacon and Bootie Slippers:

Bacon and Bootie Slippers:
I like bacon, but I do NOT like cooking bacon!  It’s messy and I seem to have grease everywhere.  I was talking to one of my long-time friends the other day about omelets, and she told me one of her favorites is a bacon and cheese omelet.  I don’t like eggs much, but my glucose numbers appreciate them!  My omelet of choice is usually mushroom and cheese or fresh tomatoes, herbs, and cheese.  I have been visualizing the flavor of Priss’s bacon and cheese omelet… and today I bit the bullet and cooked up a pound of bacon to use for omelets, green salad garnish, and other things. 

I sliced the whole pound, still layered as it was in the package, into about ¾” slices and put them into my “omelet for one” pan on medium heat.  I covered it for the first few minutes until the bacon
warmed and the slices began to separate into pieces.  Then I continued cooking it on medium heat, draining off the fat a couple of times, until the pieces were crispy but not cooked hard.  I drained the cooked pieces and put them on a paper towel to absorb more of the grease.  It worked out very well.  I’ll store the bacon in my refrigerator and enjoy it without having to go through cooking it every time.  I’ll keep the bacon grease to use in cooking.  That pound of bacon yielded EIGHT OUNCES of grease!  My husband used to love bacon grease spread on home-made bread, liberally salted!  I never tried it, and doubt I ever will.  My lunch was a bacon and cheese omelet.  Here’s how I make mine.
Lightly beat one or two eggs in a small bowl with a fork.  Beat in a bit of salt and pepper, and about a
Tablespoon of whipping cream.  Pour into a small non-stick pan, coated with about a teaspoon of butter or bacon grease.  Cook over medium to low heat, lifting up the edge of the omelet and tipping the pan so the egg on top runs to the bottom of the omelet.  When the egg looks mostly cooked, I spread the filling on one side of the middle, then flip the part without the filling over the other half.  Cook a few minutes longer, to melt the cheese and/or warm the filling.  Slide the omelet onto a plate and enjoy!
For a mushroom omelet, sauté the sliced fresh mushrooms in about a Tablespoon of butter, then remove them to a small dish, cook the omelet, and then fill it with the cooked mushrooms and some shredded cheese. 
  For a tomato omelet, sauté a chopped Roma tomato with basil, chives or green onion, sometimes adding other herbs.  The tomato filling is spread on the omelet and topped with shredded cheese.   A Bacon/Cheese omelet is made the same way, with about ¼ cup of cooked bacon bits and a small handful of shredded cheese.  A ham and cheese omelet is made the same way, using diced ham in place of the bacon.  
It turned out great, and I liked the bacon and cheese combination so much I made a grilled cheese sandwich for supper… with a slice of American cheese, a slice of Hot Pepper cheese, and bacon pieces in the middle.  I thought I had invented something new, until my sister told me her friend has been making those grilled bacon and cheese sandwiches for years!
My Minnesota grandchildren were here with me for a few weeks again this summer.  They didn't want to do any sewing projects this time, preferring to just relax and unwind by playing video games and watching movies.  Of course, Charlotte and Quentin had their cheese omelets nearly every morning.  Some things never change! 

I had knit slippers for the children, and they loved them!  It’s always fun to make things when they are so much appreciated.  Here’s the basic pattern I used… I experimented and used more or less stitches and rows to vary the sizes.  The slippers shown at the left would fit a large man, a baby, and a 2 or 3 year old.

Knitted Bootie Slippers:
Size 10-1/2 circular needless (I made two slippers at the same time)
Knitting worsted weight yarn, 2 strands used to knit the slipper.
This pattern makes an adult medium size (about a woman’s 7 to 9), but size depends on type of yarn used and can be varied by using more or less stitches.
Cast on 60 stitches for each slipper.  I used 2 separate balls for each slipper, doing them at the same time.  This way, they will look the same, if you make a striped pattern or vary yarns.
Knit 10 rows.  This garter stitch section will form the bottom of the slipper.  If you want a wider slipper, you could knit 12 rows in garter stitch.  A child size might only be 6 or 8 rows of garter stitch.
Next row: 
Row 1:  Knit to half the stitches, minus 3.  With 60 stitches, that means knit 27 stitches,
Knit 2 together, purl 2, knit 2 together, knit to end of row.
Row 2:  Purl 26 stitches, Purl 2 together, knit 2, purl 2 together, purl to end of row.
Repeat these two rows, always using one less stitch to the center section of each row, until 30 stitches remain (half the original amount of stitches).  For example, row 3 would be 25 stitches before knitting 2 together, row 4 would be 24 stitches, etc.  You are decreasing 2 stitches on each row.
End on a knit row.
Cuff:  Knit every row for 8 rows.  Bind off the 30 remaining stitches on each slipper.  Sew bottom and back seams.  Here are photos of the grandchildren in their slippers... Ava's are lavender, Quentin has the purple slippers and Charlotte has the pink, of course. 


I have wanted a yarn bowl for a long time, but they are not cheap.  I recently saw a wooden yarn bowl on sale, but when I looked at the dimensions, it was only about 6” across.  Then I saw a tip on using the little paper clips on a container to keep the yarn separated… and it works like a charm.  Here’s a photo of my NEW AND IMPROVED yarn bowl (or basket).  I had originally bought the clips to use for sandwiching quilts, but they weren’t big enough… now I have a use for at least a few of them.  
I would rather come up with a unique idea any day than spend a lot of money on something marketed to make me want to buy it! 

I've been marathon watching episodes of Outlander… for the second time.  I watched them when they were first aired, but like a lot of things, much of it was forgotten.  I tend to listen to TV while I am sewing!  On this second time around, I am picking up things I didn’t catch the first time.  It’s a wonderful historical drama about time travel and Scotland in the 1700’s and all the political strife between European countries at that time… marking the beginning of the end of the Highland Scottish clans and their way of life.  The scenery is hauntingly beautiful, as is the background music, and the romance is a bit more graphic than I’m used to, but… it hasn’t given me a heart attack yet!  The series is based on novels written by Diana Gabaldon, and a friend recommended it to me when it first was being aired on Starz.  I just noticed the first season is available on Netflix, but both seasons are still “on demand” on my cable network.  If you are in the mood for some escapism… this might be a good place to start your journey.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuscan Chicken and Kaleidoscope Quilts

Tuscan Chicken and Kaleidoscope Quilts

Summer sun… one of the things I love most about Cincinnati.  We seldom have a day that doesn't have some sunshine, even when it’s stormy.  The humidity is high most of the time, but the central air conditioning keeps me quite comfortable and able to quilt year ‘round.  A couple of quilts I’m working on presently are kaleidoscope quilts.  Kaleidoscope quilts have so many patterns that emerge when the blocks are put together.  My love of kaleidoscopes goes back over 40 years, when I started some kaleidoscope blocks in all colors from my limited fabric stash at that time.  Most of the fabrics in the quilt were remnants from clothing sewn for my family, and pieced whenever I could find some spare minutes… usually at night, after my children were in bed.  These pieces were cut by hand with scissors, using cardboard templates.   
The sections were hand quilted (thanks to Georgia Bonesteel’s wonderful instructions for QAYG… quilt as you go), while I was sitting in PTA and church meetings.  I never did finish this quilt… I think I have 3 sections done… and I have no idea where the shoebox of pieces to complete the quilt is hiding, after the move to Ohio from Minnesota.  Perhaps the sections will be made into baby quilts, instead of becoming another bed quilt.

One “new” kaleidoscope is done with Robert Kaufman’s Tuscan Wildflower fabric line.  Butterflies and flowers flitter across the blocks in purples, pinks, teals, and shades of ivory.  To make this quilt, I joined 2-1/2” jelly roll strips in sets of three, then cut them into triangles with a kaleidoscope ruler.  The ivory fabrics were also Kaufman fabrics from other lines, and joined in strip sets of three, as well.  Each block takes four
triangles of each of the strip sets, four prints and four ivories.  The corners are Fossil Fern fabric in a coordinating shade of teal.

Two blocks form the patterns on this quilt (shown on the right), one with the Fossil Fern Teal corners and the other block with Ivory corners.  The two form pinwheel blocks where they meet, as shown in the photo above.  Only the blocks in the top two rows have been joined, so far,

The third kaleidoscope quilt, shown below, is done with various pastel and medium-range jelly roll strips cut from my stash, which has grown far beyond expectations since my early days of quilting. 

The kaleidoscope ruler is shown at left, and the June Tailor Shape Cut ruler on the right. The alternate triangles are cut from 6-1/2” strips of unbleached muslin, and the corner pieces are cut from 4” strips of muslin.  Those strips are cut into 4” squares, and those squares are cut once on the
diagonal to make the corner triangles.

Sewing the pieces of the block together is really not difficult, even though many of the seams are on the bias.  The trick I learned after sewing a few blocks is to start sewing from the wide end of the triangles and tapering down to the point.  Then when I joined two sets of two triangles together, I again paid close attention to butting the seams at the point.  I joined four of the triangles together at a time, so that I had two halves of the block.  I pressed the halves carefully, pressing the seams of each half in opposite directions so the seams would butt together at the center where all the points meet.  I didn't need to use any pins until I joined the two halves of the kaleidoscope block.  I just put one pin at the center, checking to make sure the “triangle points” met, adjusting, if necessary.  Most of the centers match almost perfectly, but if there is a slight difference, I think that will not be very apparent when it is quilted.  After joining the eight triangles to form the kaleidoscope, I sewed the four corners on the block.   The photos to the left show the four 2-piece sections ready to join, and the completed triangles ready to put on the corner pieces.  The photo below shows how to butt the seams to achieve a better joining of the points in the center of the block.
I did notice that using the thinner muslin required trimming the block after it was sewn, whereas blocks pieced with the heavier Kaufman fabrics didn't need to be trimmed.  Working with the lovely Kaufman Tuscan Wildflower fabrics led me to dream up other Tuscan delights!  

I made this chicken dish this afternoon, as well.  Most of it went into a casserole to be warmed up for mother/daughter night this week, but I did save some out for my own dinner tonight, and it was truly delicious.  I call it scrumptious!  I bought a family pack of boneless skinless chicken breasts, and there were six breasts in the pack… so three went into this recipe and the other three are in the slow cooker tonight, and will be part of the filling for chicken enchiladas.  I also got some tortillas that were low carb, high fiber… 6 carbs per tortilla, to make the enchiladas.

Scrumptious Chicken, Tuscan Style:

Mix in a pie pan or plate:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried Basil
½ teaspoon dried Oregano
Roll 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the seasoned flour mixture, coating them well.
Brown the breaded chicken breasts in 3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil over medium heat.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is fully cooked. 
While chicken cooks, put water on to boil to cook the pasta.  I used a 14-oz. package of brown rice fettuccine noodles. 
Before adding noodles to the boiling water, put about 1 teaspoon of Olive Oil into the water, to prevent pasta from sticking.
Cook as directed on package.
While chicken and pasta are cooking, thinly slice one large red pepper. 
(I cut mine in half, removed seeds, and cut each half into thirds, then sliced those sections into thin strips.)
Remove cover from frying pan and cook chicken a few minutes longer, allowing it to crisp up slightly.
Transfer chicken breasts to a plate and put the red pepper strips into the pan. 
Sauté red pepper strips for about 5 minutes on medium heat until partially softened.
Add 1 large Tablespoon minced garlic to peppers in pan and sauté lightly.  (I use bottled minced garlic)
Add 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour to the pan and stir in thoroughly.
Add 1 heaping Tablespoon chicken broth paste.
Add 1 cup milk. 
Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens slightly, stirring to prevent scorching.
Stir in ½ cup whipping cream
Add: 4 cups fresh spinach, cleaned well
Simmer until spinach begins to wilt, stirring occasionally.
Stir in 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
Drain noodles.  Mix noodles with half the spinach/red pepper sauce in a pasta bowl or casserole.
Slice chicken.  Serve pasta and sauce with sliced chicken on top.  Top with remaining sauce.
Garnish with additional basil, if desired.
To make this entirely gluten-free, substitute rice or other non-gluten flour for the all-purpose flour in this recipe.
Serves 6 to 8, depending on the appetites of those dining!  A tossed salad with cherry tomatoes and ripe olives, and garlic breadsticks complete the meal nicely. 

I think winter will come early this year.  The fall storms seem to have moved in, and some days it feels like fall is in the air.  My daughter laughed when I told her that, telling me that our humidity and heat have not felt much like fall.  This is true… but there is something, perhaps in the cicada song echoing through the dark of night, that resonates deep within me, foretelling the cooler weather and perhaps a harsher winter on the horizon.  The sounds of nature are musical... the breeze ruffling through leaves, birdsong, and even the chirping of insects.  My friend, Nancy, sent a link to a recording of crickets chirping, slowed down 50 times, and they sound like an angelic choir. You can hear it here:   It reminded me of when I was a little girl on the farm in Wisconsin, not so far from the shores of Lake Superior, when I would lie in bed at night and fall asleep to the singing of the frogs.  It was, and still is, one of the most comforting sounds to me… beautiful in its simplicity.  Now, I wonder what they would sound like if their song was recorded and slowed down to allow me to hear the soul of their music.  I wonder if the cicadas, also, have a unique song of their own. There are so many things in this wonderful world that I discover every day… new things, exciting things.  There is poetry and music all around us… we have only to recognize it.   

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Many Trips Around the World

Many Trips Around the World:
Fall temperatures make it feel like soup weather!  I made a pot of Beef Vegetable Barley soup yesterday, and it was delicious!  While the soup was cooking I was working on another variation of Around the World… Many Trips Around the World.  This block is made up of seven 2-1/2” strips, with one contrast colors going diagonally from top to bottom.  These blocks are put together in a way that creates a diamond pattern that appears to be edged with the contrast color, and the design that results seems to be two separate blocks but they are all formed from that one block.  I first decided which seven fabrics I wanted in the quilt, and next sewed strip sets of the fabrics, with each of the fabrics in the same place in the strip set.  Working with two strip sets at a time, I pressed each of them in opposite directions.  I evened the ends, and sewed each strip set into a tube, as instructed in my previous tutorial, Around the World.  Then cut the tube into 2-1/2” segments.  I laid the strips into two stacks, so one stack had strips pressed in one direction, and the other stack contained strips pressed in the opposite direction.  In this way, the intersections butted up against each other without any pinning.  
Open one seam, with the dark or contrast color at the top of the row.  The next strip will be staggered one color down, so the contrast color will be second on the row, and the color that was on the bottom of the first strip will be at the top of the next strip.  Working from left to right and taking strip sets from alternate stacks helps to keep the colors in the right place, plus alternating the way the seams are pressed so there is no need to pin.  I lay the seven strips out, making sure they are in the proper place, and then join the strips, starting at one side or the other.  (See photo at right, with the strip sets laid out, and then joined into a block.)  Just as when you join strip sets, alternate the end you start sewing on so the block is straight when you finish it.  When all seven strips are sewn together, I press all the seams in the same direction from the back, then flip it over and press it from the front.  Lay the blocks out in a way that is pleasing to you.  They can be put together in diamond sections or joined to look like a traditional Around the World quilt.  See photo below.  
My oldest daughter has a super king-sized bed, and I've made up a few samples for her approval for a quilt for her bedroom.  The furniture has dark marble tops, and there is one burgundy wall.  The samples I made so far were not successful.  She doesn't want much white in the quilt, and using just grays and burgundies looked dull and boring.  I finally tried adding a tan background print with apples on it, so the dark red apples blended with the burgundies, and the warm tan and green of the leaves added some more interest.  When she was here last week, she approved the design and colors... she liked it a lot!  It had some black and light gray strips with silver (Stonehenge Winter fabrics), some Jinny Beyer tone-on-tone melon rose and burgundy, and a few burgundy prints, one is a Haversham fabric I've had for a long time, along with the apple print.  (See photo at right.)  Since it will be so large, I think I will quilt it in sections of four, which will be about 28" square, finished, in a Quilt As You Go method.  The photo at right shows 12 blocks finished.  

Bonnie Hunter has a free pattern on her blog for a scrappy version of Around the World, using six strips of various colors without any specific pattern.  Here is my version of the Scrappy Trips, in a blue colorway.  I will make this in a queen size.
Speaking of Around the World quilts, one of my local quilting friends and I are planning to take a short trip in a couple of weeks, to meet one of our online quilting friends, who is visiting the United States from another country.  She will be only around three hours away from us, so we are excited to be able to go and meet her for lunch and possibly take her to visit some Indiana quilt shops so she can check out some American fabrics.  
If you’re in the mood for soup, here are two recipes I made in my electric pressure cooker… they could easily be made on top of the stove, as well, but would just need to be cooked longer.

Beef Vegetable Barley Soup:
Season and brown 1 pound of stewing beef in a very small amount of olive oil.  My pressure cooker has a browning function, so I used that.  I seasoned the beef with Montreal Steak Seasoning.
Add: 1 small chopped onion and a quart of water, with 2 Tablespoons of beef soup base stirred in.
Cover and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes.  Release steam and add:
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables, 10 oz.
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cups water
1 cup pearl barley (mine was quick-cooking)
Cover and cook on high pressure for 18 minutes.  Release pressure.  Season, if necessary. 

Pressure Potted Fall Vegetables & Beef Stew:
1# cubed round steak, lightly floured and browned in about 1 Tablespoon Olive oil
                (more if you want a meatier stew)
Place in pressure cooker.  Add 1-1/2 cups water and cook on high for 45 minutes.
While meat is cooking, prepare the other vegetables:
2 cups peeled and diced rutabaga
2 cups thickly sliced baby carrots
2 medium diced potatoes (if using new potatoes, scrub and do not peel before dicing)
2 cups shredded bagged coleslaw vegetables (cabbage with a bit of shredded carrots)
1 medium onion, diced
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 – 28 oz. can Ro-Tel Tomatoes with green chili (this makes a VERY spicy hot soup… may substitute regular diced tomatoes, if you don’t like it “hot”!)
Add the vegetables to the meat in the pressure cooker.
Add 3 cups water, or amount wanted to obtain the amount of broth you desire.
Add 1 Tablespoon Mrs. Dash’s seasoning
Add 1 Tablespoon beef soup base to enhance the flavor (no need to add additional spices; if it is not seasoned well enough, you can add seasoning when you eat it.)
Cover and cook on high for an additional 30 minutes.
Options:  Can add fresh chopped spinach, frozen corn or canned black beans after cooking, heating until everything is hot.

If you want to make this vegetarian, just cook the vegetables with the water, adding some meatless soup base, optional.  Cook about 30 minutes, and add one can of black beans, one can of white beans, and one can of kidney beans to the vegetables to add protein.  May also add some textured soy protein, mixed with water to soften, if desired, which simulates ground meat.
Enjoy this lovely fall weather before the cold of winter sets in.  I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving season! 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Cold Remedies

There are still a few straggling gold leaves on the bushes beyond my deck, but the trees are looking barren.  It seemed as if one day there were leaves, and a few days later they were bare.  The cast-off colors of gold and brown drifted to the ground prolifically, almost like falling snow, and the green grass is carpeted with brown. Michelle took some photos of the beautiful Japanese Maple at the front of my house last week.  
The night temperatures fall down into the 40s, and daytime temps seldom get higher than the 60's. Daylight Savings Time has switched so that our days seem much shorter, and they will continue to dwindle for another month and a half before they begin to lengthen again.  I do not like winter much, but it does give me a reason to appreciate my quilts... and use them regularly.
This is the time when the cold and flu bugs are running rampant, the time to back up our defenses with herbal remedies.  I've been making a wonderful natural chest rub for the grandchildren for many years, that I call Eucalyptus Chest Rub.  It's great for breaking up congestion with essential oils in a light, natural base; it takes the place of commercial rubs that are petroleum-based.  Also, we have a cold and sinus tea blend that we use, that is potent enough to knock that cold or flu virus for a loop, if you take it at the first signs of a sore and scratchy throat.  That, along with tinctures of Echinacea and Astragalus whenever we are exposed to those winter bugs, help us to ward off any viruses traveling around.  Astragalus is reputed to be even more effective as an immune system enhancer than Echinacea, by some herbalists.  Echinacea is more effective if it is taken in a cycle, with a period of "rest" off the herb, rather than taking it continually.  Here are the recipes for the chest rub and cold/flu relief tea:

Eucalyptus Chest Rub:
2 cups Olive Oil
1-1/2 ounce Beeswax
1 Tablespoon Eucalyptus Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Camphor Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Wintergreen Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Peppermint Essential Oil
1 teaspoon Vitamin E Oil
Melt the beeswax in the olive oil.  Remove from heat, cool slightly, and add the essential oils and Vitamin E oil.  Stir well and pour into salve containers. When the salve has cooled and become firm, cover and label.  Relieves respiratory congestion.  Safer for children than petroleum products.  Note:  If you wish, you can make this with Lard as part of the oil, and/or add Emu oil, which has been proven to be able to travel to the deeper levels of the skin.  Lard has healing properties of its own, but some prefer not to use animal products.  Also, animal products can become rancid much more quickly than Olive Oil, so if it is not going to be used in a reasonable span of time, Olive Oil is a better choice.

Cold, Flu and Sinus Relief Tea:
2 Tablespoons Elder Berries, ground
1/2 cup Elder Flowers
1-1/2 cups Coltsfoot Leaf
1/2 cup Elecampane Root, ground
1-1/2 cups Dandelion Leaf
1/2 cup Dandelion Root
This tea is not good tasting (my children nick-named it Putrid Tea), but honey can be added to make it more palatable.  It does work, so if you can manage to disregard the taste... it will sure make you feel better! It takes some people some time to adapt to liking the taste of herbs.  I put a spoonful of tea in a coffee filter, and make my own teabag.  I flatten the filter, bring two edges together and fold them down several times, then bend it in half so both ends meet and fold that down, then staple the top.  Steep it in boiling hot water for several minutes... you will smell the potent herbal aroma.  Drink a cup of the tea every few hours.  

Another natural remedy that is available to everyone is Garlic.  I use fresh minced Garlic on my salads daily, as well as including it in many other foods.  Garlic supplements are available over-the-counter, if you prefer to take it in that form.  My younger sister told me once that people had been mentioning to her that she smells like Garlic, and offering her breath mints!  She looked at the bottle of Garlic supplements that she was taking, and it was not odor-free, as she had thought.  So be aware that is available in odorless or regular form.

Even though there is a chill in the air these days, I have had a frequent visitor on my deck.  The first time I saw him, he sat on the table and stared at me through the window for a long time, and when I went on with my sewing, he curled up on the back of one of the new chair cushions for an extended nap. He has come back several times... the cushions must be comfortable, and even though the deck is on the east side of my house, that area is usually sunny throughout the day. My deck seems to be a sanctuary for squirrels and cats!  A few weeks ago, I saw three quite large deer amble through the yard and wander off into the woods at a leisurely pace.  I tried to get a photo of them, but was afraid if I opened the door they would get spooked and run.  The pictures through the window were blurry.  It never ceases to amaze me that here in the suburbs of a big city, in an area that is well populated, there is so much wildlife!  We are crowding these animals out of their habitat, I fear.

Stay warm... and stay well!  Wash your hands frequently, as most germs are easily spread by contact on our hands.  Get plenty of rest, so your body can fight off those nasty bugs!  And be sure to stock up on fresh garlic... it will not only help you stay well, but it will ward off the Walking Dead!  If you eat enough of it, it might ward off the living, as well.