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! 



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