Thursday, September 25, 2014

Gluten-Free Popovers and Speedy Half-Square Triangles

I’m a creature of habit.  I like what’s familiar… familiar appliances in my home, familiar surroundings… even familiar people.  When I cook something on my stovetop, I know there is a “hot spot” on one side of the burner, even though I can see the red all the way around under the ceramic stove top.  Someone coming in to cook on my stove wouldn’t know that… just as they might not know it takes a long time for the hot water to reach the faucet and which telephone has the old battery and cannot be put on speaker without disconnecting the call.  In this world where everything has become disposable, I appreciate my old things.  I don’t want to buy new just because something may have a quirky way of working… I understand the idiosyncrasies of my home, and perhaps they just mirror their owner.  

My friends know me and love me, in spite of my idiosyncrasies.  They are familiar to me, as I am to them, and that is comforting in my old age.  Too often, people assume they know us, and we don’t always feel the need to correct them. They might think they know me, but may not know which chair is the one I find most comfortable, or how I like my coffee, or what time I get up in the morning.  The older I get, the more I appreciate what is familiar.  My children, busy with their "new" families, don’t know the thoughts that ramble through the night, keeping me from sleep.  My old friends understand my thoughts, for they have the same thoughts…  thoughts that come from living long and learning much about ourselves.  They have wept the same tears and hold the same laughter in the corners of their memory.  As we age and learn, we gain a realization of how much there is we do not know.  My 5-year old granddaughter recently was tested in school to see if she should be advanced a grade.  She told the teachers they didn’t need to test her, because she already knows she is the smartest child in school.  She is, indeed, smart… she is in the 99th percentile of her age group.  But even she will find as she grows in maturity that she will never know everything, and with that comes the awareness that no matter how intelligent we are, we never stop learning and the Universe presents questions that we may never know the answers to. 

I’ve been quilting and sewing for well over 50 years, but there are still many things I am learning… it’s an ongoing process.  I have advanced from laying cardboard templates on fabric, drawing around them, adding a seam allowance and cutting around them with scissors... to rotary cutting and strip piecing… from a simple straight-stitch machine to those that have a myriad of decorative stitches and even a machine embroidery module on one!  Sergers speed up the process of sewing pajamas for my grandchildren with seams that look professional and won’t easily pull out.  Television shows featuring quilting and sewing, as well as internet videos, demonstrate many different methods and tools that simplify our task.  Recently I watched an older episode of “Quilt In A Day”, with Eleanor Burns teaching methods to speed up the quilting process, and she demonstrated how to make eight 2-1/2” half-square triangles at a time from two 6” squares of contrasting fabric, when piecing her Rosebud pattern.  Of course, I had to try it, being a fan of easy half-square triangles! 

I decided to make a Crown of Thorns block.  Cutting strips that are 6” wide with my June Tailor Shape Cut ruler is a snap.  Those strips are cut into 6” lengths, as well, yielding 6" squares.  Several layers of fabric can be cut in one cutting.  Using the same ruler, I also cut 2-1/2” strips each of the light and dark fabrics.  One block, which finishes at 10”, takes 16 half-square triangles, 4 dark 2-1/2” squares, and 5 light 2-1/2” squares.  If the quilt is only in two colors, the center strip of light and dark squares could easily be strip pieced and then cut into 2-1/2” lengths, but if you are making a scrappy quilt, it is probably best to cut the squares individually and chain-piece them. 

Place one dark 6” square right sides together with one light  6” square.
On the wrong side of the lighter square, draw a diagonal line both ways. 
I use a ruler that is ½” wide,
and match the center line on the ruler with the diagonal corners.  Mark on both sides of the ruler to have a line to sew on.
The ruler comes in a set of three lengths, and I use it often.  It's one of my favorite tools.

Sew on all four lines, making an “X” across the square.
There will be ½” between the lines both ways.

I did put two pins in the squares to hold them in place while I sewed.

Cut square in half vertically and horizontally.

It works best if you have a rotating mat for this step.  Alternatively, you can use a small mat that can easily be turned.
You have cut your square into four equal 3” square pieces.

Cut between the sewn lines on each diagonal, cutting each of the 3” squares in half diagonally.  Each one will be a perfect  2-1/2” half-square triangle, and it only took a few minutes to make all eight! 
There are a myriad of patterns that utilize half-square triangles, and now they can easily be made from only two 6” squares of fabric, eight at a time!  Thank you, Eleanor.  You have simplified quilting for so many people through the years.
Lay the triangles out on your ironing board, dark side up, and set the seams by pressing on your sewing line.  Then flip the dark half of the triangle up and press from the front.  The seam will automatically be pressed to the dark side. 

The eight completed half-square triangles are shown at the right.
This Crown of Thorns block is also called a Single Wedding Ring.  It has been on my “wish list” for over 40 years, but I never wanted to tackle all those half-square triangles (16 of them in each block) until I saw Eleanor’s version.  

The Crown of Thorns layout is shown on the left, and there is an alternate layout on the right, creating a totally different look.  There are many other layouts, I'm sure.
Here is the completed Crown of Thorns block, which was made very quickly using these streamlined methods, and will be a 10" finished block.  I pressed the seams on each strip in alternate directions so that they nested together.  I did pin the intersections, but in my hurry to finish my blog, some of the corners do not meet perfectly.  This doesn't bother me... it usually is not noticed once the quilting is done.  This is another lesson I've learned... don't sweat the small stuff!  Most often, they really don't seem that important in the final analysis.  Press your block from the right side, and trim it, if you feel it's necessary. 
One of my old, familiar friends (Thanks, Priss!) recently introduced me to some specialty gluten-free flours.  My grandson is intolerant to gluten, so I’ve been experimenting with some of the recipes she shared with me.  Here is one of my favorite flour mixes, and a recipe for Popovers that are simply delicious.  Of course, they are best if slathered with butter… isn’t everything? 

Four Flour Mix:
2 cups Garfava bean flour
1 cup Sorghum flour
3 cups Cornstarch
1 cup Tapioca flour
Mix the flours well and store in a covered container or Ziploc bag.

Gluten-Free Popovers:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place the muffin pan in the oven to heat while you are making the batter.
Combine the following dry ingredients in a food processor or blender. (I think the Food Processor works best):
2 cups flour mix
1/2 teaspoon Xanthan Gum
2 Tablespoons Almond meal or Pecan Meal
1 teaspoon salt
Add the following wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  You may need to scrape down the sides a few times to blend everything well.  I just zap it for a minute or two in the food processor to blend the batter well.
2 cups milk, heated to room temperature… NOT HOT
4 eggs, added to milk to warm them slightly
Remove hot muffin tins from the oven.
Spray muffin tins liberally with butter-flavored spray.  I used the large muffin tins for this, so got 6 from a batch.  A regular sized muffin tin would make 12 Popovers.   Pour batter into muffin pans.  They will be pretty full, but don’t worry… they won’t run over. 
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, depending on your oven.  Popovers will puff up and look golden brown.  Remove from muffin tins and let them cool on a baking rack so they don't get soggy.
They can be reheated in a 375 degree oven for 5 minutes, if you feel the need to have them warm.  Can fill with chicken salad or other filling of your choice.  This batch can be made in 12 large muffin tins instead of 6, and be flatter to make good sandwich buns.
Option: For Cinnamon Breakfast Buns, add ¼ cup sugar and one teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients.  Make as for regular Popovers. 
I neglected to take a photo of the Popovers... they look good enough to eat, however... take my word for it! 
I couldn’t find the flours in my local supermarket, so I’ve been ordering then online… they are sold on several websites, including WalMart and Amazon.  Check your favorite stores for availability and the best prices.  If you have loved ones who are not able to eat regular wheat products, this is a good start.  Gluten-free bread in the store is not exactly delicious!  I find that the gluten-free products do not cause me to feel as tired as wheat products do, so that is a plus for me.  They do raise my glucose, however, just as regular wheat products do.  Another note… it may create some digestive disturbance for a day or two, until your body adjusts to the new products, but it passes soon.

My family room is strewn with fabric, my kitchen table is piled high with various packages of specialty flours, and in these areas I feel as wealthy as a queen!  I’m becoming adept at ordering many things I need online, even many groceries, and I discovered I can send flat-rate packages by priority mail and I can arrange for pick-up at my front door, so Quentin’s box of flour mixes and recipes are on the way to Minnesota, along with some fresh bread and Popovers.  There is even a price reduction over going to the Post Office in person.  I learn something new every day!  I am blessed to still have the sight to sew and the hands to bake.  Old age is not what I expected… but it sure beats the alternative! 



Friday, September 12, 2014

Bring out the Designer in You with Designer Pillowcases!!

The weatherman tells us we have a cold front moving in… temperatures will drop to the 60s.  Facebook pop-ups tell me I have only "X" number of Fridays until Christmas.  It’s difficult to think about Christmas when the humidity and temperatures feel like summer!  Days are getting shorter, however, and soon we will not have many daylight hours to enjoy.  People with jobs will be going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark.  I remember those days and didn’t like them much!  Even the heavens seem to object… grumbling thunder and flooding the earth with massive tears.  The cicadas continue to chirp their song, and the leaves and grass are still adorned in their green summer colors.  Fall has not yet made its appearance in Cincinnati, but Winter is Coming.

September is a month of birthdays in my family.  My father celebrated his 93rd birthday, my oldest son celebrates 53 years today, my youngest daughter will have a birthday next week (I will keep her age a secret!) and my granddaughter, Madelyn, just turned 16.   I wracked my brain trying to think of what to get her that would be a special gift from me for this very special young lady, and I decided to make her some pillowcases for her bed.  She just painted her bedroom a shade of orange, so I wanted to tie into that color.  I watched a couple of video tutorials on the internet: by Jenny Doan of Missouri Star Quilt Company and by The Crafty Gemini.  I didn’t make mine exactly like theirs, but I did make it in the “burrito” method, and made French seams so there are no exposed seams.  I have also made them using a serger for the seams in the past, and that is a bit faster method.  Here are Maddie's pillowcases, shown above. 
Choose three coordinating fabrics and cut all pieces the width of the fabric, which is usually 42" to 44".  The main body of the pillowcase was cut 27” long, the cuff was 10”, and the contrasting strip was cut 1-1/2” wide so that it looks more like piping.  Press all pieces to remove any wrinkles.  Fold the contrast strip in half, wrong sides together, and press.  You will have a piece that is ¾” wide when it is doubled. 
Lay the cuff out, right side up. 
Place the wrong side of the main part of the pillowcase against the right side of the cuff (right side will be facing you).
Place the folded strip on top of the main pillowcase fabric. 

 Pin all three pieces together, matching the cut edges.  
I put the pins in parallel to the edge, so it holds the layers firmly.

Fold up the main pillowcase fabric until it is all folded into a small tube. 
You will see the right side of the cuff showing beneath it.

Bring the cuff up to match the raw edges of the other layers.
Remove the pins, one at a time, and pin through all four layers. 
Again, I place them horizontally but remove them as I am sewing the seam.
Sew a ¼” seam through all layers, being careful not to catch your “pillowcase roll” in the seam and taking care not to sew over any pins.   I used a smaller stitch for sewing all of the pillowcase seams, a “2” on my machine, and used the needle down feature.
Pull the pillowcase roll out of one end of the tube.  The raw seam will be enclosed in the cuff.
Smooth the cuff from the wrong side first, making sure there is no fold or tucks in it.
Press from the right side.
Fold your pillowcase in half, wrong sides together, with the selvedge edges together. 
Cut the selvedges off using your rotary cutter to give a smooth edge.
Sew the pillowcase edges, wrong sides together, in a 1/8” seam.  You might want to place a pin where the cuff edges meet, to make sure they are even with each other.  When you come to the bottom of your pillowcase, swivel the fabric with the needle down and sew across the bottom edge.  Turn your pillowcase wrong side out.  Press the edges of the seams you just sewed.  Sew the seam again, right sides together, with a generous ¼” seam (probably closer to 3/8”) so that this seam encloses the seam you sewed on the right side, swiveling when you get to the bottom of the side and sewing across the bottom.  Because you trimmed your selvedges with a rotary cutter, there should not be a problem with threads peeking through the seam.  By sewing the edge and bottom in two steps, you have no raw edges in your pillowcase.  This method is called a French seam.  Turn your pillowcase right side out and press it well. 
This set of pillowcases is shown with a log cabin quilt that includes the same fabrics, from Robert Kaufman’s Luxe and Far East lines.  Think of the beautiful cases you can make to complement the quilts you fashion so lovingly. 
 You could do a patchwork cuff to match the quilt, or do an applique cuff covered with organza with decorative stitching through all layers to accent the design (I saw that demonstrated at Seams Sew Easy in March and it was gorgeous).  The possibilities are endless… you are the Designer with a capital D!  Incidentally, Miss Maddie loved her paisley pillowcases!  Her mother, my youngest daughter, wants a pair for her birthday, too.