Monday, March 4, 2013

Sunshine, Soup, and Microwave Potholders

The sun is shining in Cincinnati today.  Sunshine makes me feel happy!  As I sit at my sewing machine, I can look out over my deck and see squirrels doing their high-wire act in anticipation of spring.  The birds are singing merrily in the sun.  My Christmas cactus is beginning to bloom again… I think it likes the sunshine, and doesn’t realize it is only supposed to bloom at Christmas.  The strange thing I have noticed is that it seems to bloom before my children come to visit.  It bloomed in January when my youngest son and his family came down from Michigan to have our “Christmas” a few weeks late.  And it bloomed again last weekend when they came for another visit.  Now, new blossoms are forming, and my oldest son and his family are planning a trip here from Minnesota during their spring break from school in less than two weeks.  The cactus evidently likes to have the grandchildren here as much as I do!   My Cincinnati grandchildren are all teenagers or beyond, and I seldom see them anymore.  I don't remember growing too old to want to spend time with my grandparents, but times are different now, and the world seems to move at a much faster pace than it did sixty years ago when I was a child.
Last weekend, I made clam chowder and pea soup. It was not fancy company fare, but it was good food, and filling.  I also made flat bread (a Finnish treat I remember my mother making when I was a child) and breadsticks to go with the soup.  And I made caramel rolls and cinnamon twists for our breakfasts.  I haven't baked much for quite a while, and it was good to work with the yeast dough again.  My mother-in-law taught me how to make her version of caramel rolls many years ago when I was a young bride... with lots of butter and whipping cream to make the caramel for the rolls to rise in.  I think of her when I make the recipes she so lovingly made for her family.  And my younger sister taught me how to make the cinnamon twists when she visited me a few years ago.  I am always excited when I learn new things!

It’s very easy to put a pot of soup on, and especially welcome when the weather is gloomy.  Healthy vegetables can be “sneaked” in, with the help of a food processor.  And it doesn’t have to take all day to make, either.  It smells delicious, along with the bread, and says “WELCOME” to those entering your home.

Pea Soup:
Boil the ham bone with very little ham for a couple of hours, in a big pot of water.  Chop the following vegetables in a food processor:  a large onion, several stalks of celery, and a couple of handfuls of baby carrots.  Add the finely chopped vegetables to the ham bone and water and continue to simmer for another half hour or so.  Take out the bone, and add two one-pound bags of split peas. Simmer until peas are tender, a couple of hours, covered.  When the peas are almost done, add as much diced ham as you want… I put several cups of diced ham in it.  Cook, covered, until the soup thickens.  It will not be really thick, but as it cools it will get very much thicker.  The reason I add the ham last is to prevent the flavor from being boiled out of it.
Clam Chowder, Alaena’s New England Style:
Peel about 6 to 8 potatoes and dice into small chunks.  Cover with water and finely chop one large onion and a few stalks of celery in the food processor.  Add to the potatoes.  Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, or about an hour on low heat.  Add whole milk, at least to double the amount you have in the pot already, and carefully heat over medium heat almost to the boiling point, stirring frequently to prevent scorching.  Add two 10-oz. cans of chopped baby clams, juice and all.  Heat thoroughly.  This is not a thick soup, and if you want to thicken it, add a flour/water mixture about the consistency of heavy cream, as you would if you were making gravy.  Cook until the soup thickens.  This would be very pretty garnished with finely chopped cilantro, chives, or parsley, also.  This started out to be potato soup, but when my son called as they were coming in to town to see if I needed him to pick anything up, I jumped at the chance... and had him stop at the local Kroger's and get the canned clams.  Clam chowder is one of my favorite soups!  So, thank you, Donavon. 
Now, unless you are feeding a small army, you will have leftover soup, and soup is almost always better the second time around.  If you heat it in the microwave, it’s always difficult to lift the hot bowl out without dipping your potholder in the soup or burning your hands!  I have discovered a wonderful alternative, and it’s especially handy for those of us who live alone and eat a lot of leftovers… a microwave bowl potholder!  You put the bowl of food in the bowl potholder before you put it in the microwave, and it not only protects your hands from getting burned on the hot bowl, but it keeps the soup hotter for a longer time. 

Microwave Bowl Potholder:
You will need a cotton batting… I used Warm and Natural, readily available online or at a fabric store.  It is not quite 100% cotton, but it worked fine for me.  It is on sale for 40% off right now at JoAnn’s Fabric, but if you are on JoAnn’s mailing list, they often have 50% off coupons for one cut of fabric or one item.  A twin sized batt will make a lot of bowls. 
Be sure your fabric is also 100% cotton.  Man-made fabrics of unknown content could catch on fire in the microwave.  Cotton thread is best, but I have used polyester thread and it worked fine and didn’t ignite when heating it in the microwave.  NOTE:  I do stay nearby and watch to make sure the fabric doesn’t get too hot and start smoking!
I’ve made the bowl in two sizes:  10” square and 12” square.  The 10” works fine for most soup bowls, and the larger square works for the rimmed soup bowls, a serving bowl, or a dinner plate.  Cut 2 squares of the batting, ½” smaller (so I cut the batting 9-1/2” or 11-1/2”.  Cut one square of your focus fabric for the outside and one of a contrasting fabric for the inside of the bowl.  See photo above. 
Place one piece of batting on the wrong side of the outer fabric and the other on the wrong side of the  inner fabric.  Put one pin at the center of each of the four sides, and sew diagonally across the square in both directions to secure the batting.  You now have a big “X” in the center of your square, as shown in the photo above left.   
Fold the square in half and pin to hold it in place, pinning through all layers.  Draw a “dart” where your fold is.  Mark ¾” from the fold, and then holding your ruler at that point, draw a 2” tapered line, as shown on the photo to the right.  Sew the dart along the line.  Repeat at the center of all four sides.  Your fabric will now be bowl-shaped.  Repeat this with the lining material, so you have two fabric bowl shapes, as shown below. 
 Place them, right sides together and batting side out, and pin at the four corners and where the darts meet.  I do not clip the darts, and I pin them so that they are facing in opposite directions (see photo below).  Mark one end, about an inch in from the corner, and put another mark about an inch before the dart on one side.  Start sewing where you put the second mark, sewing in a ¼” seam, all around the “bowl”, ending where you put your first mark. 

This leaves a space to turn the bowl right side out.  I thought this was the hardest part of making the bowl potholder… turning it right side out! Use something fairly pointed to push out each of the 4 corners well. 
Turn your bowl right side out where you left your opening, and stitch all around the outer edge of your “bowl”, making sure to fold in the open edges and enclose them in your seam. 
Push the darts into place, and you will see you have a bowl-shaped potholder.  Put your bowl of soup or plate of food in the bowl potholder, then into the microwave and heat.  Take it out, leaving it in the potholder.  It will keep your soup hot while you eat.
 I make sets of the different sizes, along with a matching quilted envelope for baking potatoes in the microwave.  Instructions for that potato bag will be on my next blog! 
Enjoy your soup or reheated plate of food.  And smile while you’re enjoying it, nice and hot to the last spoonful!  These would make great gifts for the person who has everything… and especially for the person who has nothing!  Where does your imagination lead you?  What cheerful colors can you pick out?  I have one granddaughter who collects owls, so the owl bowl potholder was made for her, of course. 
The photo above shows a completed 10” bowl potholder, as well as the 12”, to the left.  These could be made in any size you wish, just by making sure the both the inner and outer fabrics are the same size and the batting is ½” smaller.

I’ve made some in a bird fabric.  The birds will go to my mother who used to love bird-watching when they lived on Pelican Lake in the very northern part of Minnesota. Our children learned to recognize various birds when they stayed with my parents at the lake.  I think her love of birds goes back as far as I can remember.  I grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin, and remember holding my hand out, filled with birdseed, and the chickadees would perch on my hand to eat it.  Here in Cincinnati, I occasionally see a cardinal or blue jay in the trees that border my yard.  Their color stands out easily against the greenery.  Where ever you are, I hope the sun is shining and the birdsong is filling your heart with joy.


  1. Love all of your projects and ideas! I'm a major potholder maker/donator/gift giver and yet I'd never heard of one to go into a microwave like this..amazing and wonderful fun! Thanks, Alaena!

  2. So glad you have the search feature on your blog. I forgot the measurements for the microwave potholder so its a good thing you have SEARCH. Thanks Alaena, Priss