Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How much are you worth?

What are the things you value?  What things do you cherish in your life?  For most of us, the things we list would be intangibles… such as love, family, friends, good health… and those are all valuable.  But seldom do we think of ourselves in that light.  There are perhaps a few who place themselves as a priority above everyone else, whose only concern is what they want or need, to the exclusion of everyone else.  That is the other extreme, and like the first group, it leaves much to be desired.  Age figures into the equation, as well.  When we are children, we are mainly concerned with our own needs, but somewhere along the way to growing up, we begin to think less of our needs and begin to see the needs of others.  Is it part of maturing, or the way we are raised to see?  We learn to be compassionate, caring beings.  When we have serious relationships and begin having children, most of us place our children as our priority, but there comes a time when we need to pull back and let our children test their own “land legs”.  A minister friend once said that we Americans spend too much time preparing the road for our children when we should be preparing our children for the road. 

I think of my grandmother, who had a linen closet filled with beautiful handwork that she “saved” and never used.  After she passed away, those lovely cherished items were relegated to a cardboard box in basement storage waiting to be distributed or donated.  How sad that no one ever was able to enjoy the things she so lovingly created.  Perhaps it grew out of the poverty of depression years, but some of us still “save” our good things.  We don’t use our “good china” and silverware tarnishes in the chest.   I was thinking these thoughts the other day, when I pulled out a tea towel from the drawer, and saw that it was getting holes it in from wear and laundering.  It was one I’d embroidered for my hope chest (does anyone remember having a hope chest?) and actually “saved” the set for probably twenty years before actually using them.  Now, thirty years later, they are wearing out.  The little Dutch girls still are busy with their task for that day of the week, but the towels are disintegrating around them.  I enjoyed embroidering them, and I have enjoyed using them.  I am worth it!  I wish my grandmother had felt her worth and could have enjoyed the sensation of her pretty pillowcase under her head. 

The gifts my grandmother gave me… teaching me to crochet and embroider, I am now passing on to my own grandchildren.  All of them, boys and girls, have learned to embroider skillfully, and I tell them some day they may be sitting with their grandchildren, teaching them things my grandmother taught me, and telling them stories about times they spent with me.  They look at me and smile, because life seems eternal to them now.  They can’t imagine a time when I won’t be in their lives.  They are learning to sew on a machine… simple things, but they feel a sense of pride in their creations.  They don’t realize it at this point, but the time we share is the most valuable commodity I have to give them.  Grandparents have time and patience to listen.  My youngest granddaughter is five, and she rarely shuts up!  She follows me from room to room, talking.  One time my son asked her why she never stops talking, and she said it is because she has so many things to say!  She is a delight!!! 

My children are grown now, and I learn things from them quite regularly.  My youngest son recently made some baking powder biscuits that were the most beautiful biscuits I’ve ever seen!  I told him I’ve been on a quest my whole life to make biscuits from “scratch” that rose that beautifully.  He gave me his recipe, and the only thing that was different is that he used bread flour, because that was the flour that was handy when he was making them.  I have made the biscuits, and they rose, as his had.  I won’t say I can die now that I have made a perfect biscuit, because that would be tempting fate at my age!  But I will say that those biscuits deserved some superb jam!  My sister made some delicious cherry jam that she brought for me during one visit… it was the best jam I’d ever had (well, one of the best, at least) and I thought she’d picked the cherries and made it the old-fashioned way.  She hadn’t.  It was made with rhubarb, cherry pie filling, and jello.  Here are the recipes.

Buttermilk Biscuits:
2 cups bread flour (I haven’t tried making them with half all-purpose flour yet)
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Place all dry ingredients in a food processor and blend for a pulse or two. 
Cut up one stick (1/2 cup) salted butter into small pieces and add it to the dry ingredients in the food processor.  Pulse a few times until the butter is integrated evenly into the mixture.  It will not be lumpy, but will be like a dry texture.  If you process it too much, it will be a lump.  Pour mixture into a bowl and add 1 cup buttermilk.  Buttermilk will separate somewhat, so be sure to shake the container before measuring.  It’s a fairly wet mixture, and flours vary… if it is too dry, add a bit more buttermilk.  Stir with a table fork just until the flour is all incorporated.  Then I kneaded it in the bowl, turning it over on itself as I kneaded it, five or six times.  Don’t over-knead or over-mix or the biscuits will not be as light and tender. Sprinkle a bit of flour on a board or counter and put the dough on the floured surface.  Pat it into a circular shape, and about 3/4” to 1” thick.  Cut into shapes.  You can use a glass that has been floured for your biscuit cutter, if you don’t have a cutter.  Place them on an ungreased baking sheet and bake them at 450 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your oven.  They should be golden brown on top and bottom.  Son Donavon made sausage gravy to go on his biscuits, but I made a batch of cherry jam for mine.

Cherry Refrigerator Jam:
3 cups fresh rhubarb, finely cut
½ cup water
Bring the rhubarb/water mixture to a boil in a fairly large pot, turn down to simmer, cover and cook until rhubarb is tender. 
Add a scant 3 cups granulated sugar, stirring until dissolved.  Add 1 can cherry pie filling, stirring well.  Cook for 8 minutes.  I mashed the mixture with a potato masher to break the cherries up somewhat, but still have large chunks of cherries.  The mixture should be very hot but not quite boiling.  Add 2 packages of cherry jello and stir until well dissolved.  Pour into jelly jars and cover.  Let cool, then refrigerate.  This makes a bit more than three pints of jam. 

Bake some beautiful buttermilk biscuits, split a couple if they are small, and top them with a bit of butter and cherry jam.  Get out a pretty china plate to eat them on, and pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea in that lovely cup you save for company.  YOU are worth it! 



Monday, April 7, 2014

Snack Mat and April Showers

April, 2014, is one week old today, and April showers are in full force, with thunder and lightning in abundance.  One of the things I like best about living in Cincinnati is that we seldom have a day that doesn’t give us sunlight at some point, but today will be the exception, I think.  The temperature is in the mid-50’s, and the grass is green.  Perhaps the rain will bring some early blooms, which often occur in March in this part of the country.   It’s a good day to stay inside and sew!

I recently bought a Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.2… my first Pfaff purchase.  I’ve always been a Viking woman, and perhaps coming from Minnesota, that was appropriate.  This is my first experience with the Pfaff IDT walking foot system, and I have to say that it is an excellent design!  I have sewn blocks for a couple of quilt tops since I got it a few weeks ago… I had to become familiar with my new toy, after all.  All the while I was sewing the tops, I was thinking about the basket of flimsies I have waiting to be quilted. 

My excursions into the world of machine quilting have been less than thrilling… and I am not being modest!  Now, as I stitched,  I was harboring dreams of becoming a fantastic quilter, able to make the most graceful feathers and perfectly even stitches on my domestic machine, now that I had this beauty at my disposal.  After the 2nd top was finished, I decided to make a snack mat and have a small project to quilt, as my first quilting task with this machine.  I worked out an easy design, inspired by the 10 minute table runners, cut the fabric and batting, and sewed it together.  I was ready to quilt.

 I struggled to attach that little free motion sensormatic foot, which I have to admit is a feat in itself.  I’m no stranger to snap-on feet, and usually they are superbly easy to change, but this one is too small for my little sausage fingers to manipulate easily.  I finally got it attached and lowered the IDT device, securing it to the foot.  I was confident… but just in case, I had ordered a spring-type free motion foot for quilting, if the little sensormatic foot didn’t accomplish the feat. The e-bay seller assured me it would work on my machine.  I adjusted my settings and lowered the feed dogs, put on my quilting gloves, and put my foot on the pedal.  It skipped large areas of stitching, broke thread.  I rethreaded, adjusted the tension and pivot height (this machine thinks of everything!) and tried again with the same result.  Finally I took off the sensormatic free motion foot and installed the spring-type foot.  The only change was that now I was breaking needles, as well.  However, this machine came with a handy tool that makes changing the needle extremely easy.  That was something I hadn’t had occasion to try yet… until now.

The manual didn’t give me many details on settings, etc., for free motion quilting, so I turned to Google for assistance.  Watching a video on this machine, I found out the IDT system is NOT supposed to be engaged for free motion quilting.  I made up another practice “sandwich”, struggled some more to attach the foot AND now the ankle, as well, and was ready to test it.  It worked!  It actually worked!!! 

You can call this a mug rug or a snack mat, or a small quilt… your choice.  I call mine a snack mat, and it's about 9-1/2" square.  Here is how I made mine: 
Cut a background piece 12” square.  The edges will wrap around forming your “binding”.
Cut a contrasting piece 8” square.  This will be in the center of your snack mat.
Cut a piece of scrap batting into a 9” square.

Fold the background and contrasting piece in half to find the center of each piece.  Mark that by pinching the fabric to form a crease or using a pin, if you prefer.  See photo at right.

Centering the contrast piece on the background matching creases on each, right sides together, stitch ¼” seam on both sides. Turn right side out.  You now have a tube, and have about 1” of the background fabric showing on each side of the contrasting piece. See photo below.
Press well, with steam.  Insert the piece of batting into the center, between the two pieces, making sure approximately the same amount of batting shows at the top and bottom of the contrasting piece. 
Fold the corners of the background piece in to meet the batting, forming a small triangle on each corner, as shown in the photo, above right.  Press under ¼” seam allowance on each raw edge.  Fold the two ends down over the center contrasting piece, and they will automatically form neat, mitered corners.  Pin at the corners and center of the edges to secure for sewing. 
If your machine does decorative stitches, you can attach both ends with a decorative stitch… no need to stitch it down separately first.  I used a decorative stitch all the way around, removing pins as I came to them.  After completing the stitching, I returned to a straight stitch and sewed the mitered corners down.

You can use a straight stitch to sew corner to corner, or any way you like, if you don’t want to do free motion quilting.  However, this is a great little project to practice free motion quilting on.  I did not use a pattern for mine; I quilted diagonally across the snack mat, then did a freehand tear drop in each space, and echoed that inside the first one.  I was so carried away, I decided to do 3 teardrops in each corner.  It went well until it started skipping stitches on the last corner.  I do not know what went wrong… but for 5 minutes, my stitches were even, whether I sewed slow or fast, or moved the fabric slow or fast.  This machine really DOES make a difference!  Or there was an angel on my shoulder guiding the whole process, and perhaps she gave up when I got to the last corner! 
Friends Sandra and Priss have the same machine I bought… and it is going to be fun exchanging ideas and tips with them.  Priss and I got our machines the same day, and we were burning the phone lines between Minnesota and Ohio, as we encountered problems that were operator error-related, or discovered new things we could do with our new machine.  I'll make a few more snack mats and then I will graduate to quilting actual quilt!  Life is good, even if it is gloomy outside!