Monday, December 22, 2014

Checking It Twice

If it seems like there was a bit of a gap between the last couple of posts, well, there was.  One might think I've been scurrying around with my Christmas list, but as far as holiday prepping goes, this has been a most laid back year.  Most shopping has been done from the comfort of my office chair.

As far as getting the house ready, we take the plastic bag cover off the four-foot pre-lit tree, bring it upstairs, and plug that sucker in.  It's pre-decorated too, if that's what you call it when you leave all the bits and bobs on the branches from one year to the next.  Pre-decorated sounds better than lazy.

I do some other decorating on a minimal basis.  Each year it seems to get minimal-er.  Maybe change out the plates on the kitchen rack to the Santa Clauses, throw down a holiday table runner, pin up a festive wall hanging, bring out the vintage blow-mold snowman, a candle or two, and call it done.

I do like visiting with people who go all out at Christmas. Love to ooh and aah.  If that's your thing and you like to do it up like Liberace (or the Griswolds), then your joy is my joy.  Likewise, if you prefer to keep it simple, I'm cool with that. 

One year, I found this in one of my daughter's old notebooks and decided to frame it and hang it during the holidays.  It must have been an assignment to write a letter from the perspective of her future self in 10 years.

She was probably in fourth grade when she wrote this.  Amazing that she already knew what she wanted to do at that age.  She does indeed work with animals now, not only giving injections, but monitoring their anesthesia during surgery and their treatment and care afterwards.

(Click to enlarge)
As it turned out, she never lived with her girlfriends Alex and Sam during school, but I like how she anticipated having roommates wasn't going to be all fun and games. 

"How can a girl work when she has a bunch of horse for roomies!?!"  Indeed.  You have to read that sentence in the context of the previous one.  Horse.  As in horses, the animals. 

All is well by the end of the letter, though. "Alex and I bought a book and sipped on warm coffee which soothed our winter-frosted souls."  There's some poetry right there.  Pretty sure she didn't know about Starbucks yet, but books and coffee certainly can do wonders for the winter-frosted.

Checking It Twice
What has occupied some time lately, and what we did have to check twice, as in test drive, was a car.  

Recently we've had to do some car shuffling, owing to an incident a couple weeks ago which involved the deployment of an airbag.  Everyone is completely fine, thankfully, but daughter needed a vehicle so we sold her one of ours.

Thus began the search for a replacement for ourselves, and we finally settled that on Saturday with another Toyota Avalon, like the previous two.  It's a few years old but has very low miles and still a new car feel to it.  A total "grandpa car," except it's not a Buick.  I wish I could say it was as fun to drive as the Camry, which seemed zippy and sporty, but at the end of the day, I guess we're built for comfort.

Poor Everett.  I neglected him for weeks and didn't even cut the tape on the box until the car thing was resolved.  Now that he's been busted out, I'm looking at him, realizing I haven't a clue how to thread the machine or wind the bobbin.  So between familiarizing myself with the car's bells and whistles and getting to know Everett, there will be some serious reading of manual(s) in the weeks ahead.  Looking forward to learning new things!

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday!

Plaid Circles Quilt

I'm still mulling over a name for this quilt, as you may gather by the generic post title.  Meanwhile, I finished binding it yesterday and, other than a proper name and label, it's done!

It's from a pattern called Dad's Plaids by Elsie Campbell in her book String Quilts.

It started with sewing strips of thrifted plaid shirts into a strata, then cutting that into the drunkard's path block and border pieces.

I really enjoyed making this quilt, working with such a variety of plaids, assembling light and dark strips into the strata, and pretty much every step in the process.

Quilting it, though?  Well, I left that to an expert, Melissa of Sew Shabby Quilting.  She did a wonderful job of an overall interconnected squares pattern, which you can see a little better on the back.
I think it complements the plaids very nicely! 

It's hard to photograph a quilt in the house on some of the darkest days of the year.

Nevertheless, I gave it a shot (or a dozen and a half, as the case may be).  I like what the "Lomo-ish" effect does in Picasa.  You can really see the red and orange hot spots pop.  Hmm...another quilt name idea?  Hot Spots?

Norm has claimed this quilt for himself.  He says it reminds him of circuit boards.  I think we will have to share it, though.  Maybe whoever gets to the couch first calls dibs.

Cross the Drunkard’s Path Quilt Along
This was the quilt I made during the Cross the Drunkards Path Quilt Along, so I'm linking up over at Field Trips in Fiber.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fan-Tastic Finish

In looking back over my previous posts about this quilt, at some point I must have decided its name was "Fan-Tastic."  That is, of course, giving a nod to the name of the block, which is known as Grandmother's Fan. 

Fan-Tastic sounded better than Fan-O-Rama or Granny's Fanny, but I guess it depends on your mood.

Like the Drunkard's Path block, there are so many interesting ways you can set a Grandmother's Fan block quilt.  You can get some idea by doing a Google image search for Grandmother's Fan quilt, like HERE.

It's basically a quarter Dresden plate, which I cut using the EZ Dresden ruler and then drew the pieces for the outer setting and inner quarter circle, as described in this post.  Then I roughly sketched out a setting (emphasis on rough).  I had the top put together a year ago last November.

After it had been appropriately aged (i.e., neglected) for a year, it was time to send it off on holiday to my local longarm quilter, Sandy.

I left the quilting design to her discretion, and she chose a cheery overall floral-ish and swirly kind of thingamajig.  Technically speaking, that is.  I like it!

This quilt started as a challenge to use a piece of dress fabric yardage my sister gifted me (the darkest navy blue with white flowers).  Do you know, when I showed her the finished quilt, she didn't even recognize the fabric?  Not that it blended in well or anything, she just didn't remember ever buying that fabric.  Ha!

It's bound in a bright lime green check, from the clearance bin of a big box store, as was the backing.  Because, as we say here in the rural Upper Midwest:  "I ain't that way."  We're proud of our humility around here.  Our grammar, not so much.

Well, it's Friday and Sarah is again giving us a chance to show what we're doing the happy dance about, so I'm linking to Can I Get a Whoop Whoop?

Speaking of dancing, Bruno Mars is always fun to watch.  "Too hot!"  Yep.  Also, "smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Scrappy Sixteen Finished

Binding this bright 16-patch quilt has been the perfect antidote for a cold, wet, gray winter day.  
Well, that, and pretty much any music this artist, Michael of Cologne, Germany, uploads to SoundCloud under his user name, relaxdaily.  I know, I usually listen to a ton of rock, soul, and funky stuff, but this guy's music is great for work or home when you just want to roll from one calming instrumental to the next. I've been sort of on that kind of jag for a couple days now.

Anyway, quilt:  I finished it in a neutral diagonal stripe from the April Showers collection by Bonnie & Camille for Moda.  Michelle had gifted me a half yard of this, and it was perfect!
These dreary days do not lend themselves to quilt photography, but I think I managed to get an adequate representation.
It may have looked better sprawled on the lawn in August than on my bed in December, but we work with what we have.
Here's a glimpse of the backing, seen on the left in the photo above.

This is one of two quilts I recently got back from my local longarm quilter, Sandy.  I really like the curvy all-over design she chose for this.
More bright binding to come.  I'm about to start on the second quilt this afternoon.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Oh Brother

Welp, I did it.  I caved to a "Lightning Deal" on Amazon yesterday and am now awaiting the arrival of Everett.

As in Ulysses Everett McGill, my new Brother sewing machine.

Don't be confused by the photo of Mr. Project Runway there on the front.  

Imagine instead, if you will, Everett.

I truly hope Everett is all he is cracked up to be, but honestly if he can do two things, that's all I'm asking.

(1)  Automatic buttonholes.

(2)  Blanket stitch for applique.

I have neither capability on my vintage machines or the Juki, all of which have names as well, viz:
  • Tammy, the Singer 603E Golden Touch 'N Sew.
  • Viv, the Singer 301.
  • Jane, the Juki TL98Q.
Also currently visiting are two machines of my daughter's, which I bought for her over the past few years:
  • Kenny, the Kenmore.
  • Silver,  a Singer 600 Touch 'N Sew.
For those unfamiliar with the film,"O Brother, Where Art Thou," Ulysses Everett McGill is the main character, played by George Clooney.  

"O Brother" is one of my favorite Coen Brothers flicks, in part due to the clever dialog between the characters, beginning with the first lines uttered by Everett in the movie, as he attempts to hop a box car full of hobos while still in irons from the chain gang from which he escaped (clip).

Ulysses Everett McGill:  Say, any of you boys smithies? Or, if not smithies per se, were you otherwise trained in the metallurgic arts before straitened circumstances forced you into a life of aimless wanderin'?

It may seem silly to have a name before I even have the machine, but I'm okay with that.  I'm looking forward to getting to know Everett in the months ahead, and putting him to work alongside the rest of the gang, no chains attached—but those buttonholes and basket stitches better be awesome.

"I've spoken my piece and counted to three."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Bars

I have a friend who gave me a useful tip pertaining to grocery shopping.  I was lamenting how my husband could go to the store with a list but sometimes forgot a couple things, including, invariably, the thing I needed most.

She said she'd been there, and her solution was to add a few random extra items to the list before handing it over to her husband.  That way, hopefully, whatever he forgot wouldn't be the thing needed most.  She said it seemed to work, and I'm no mathematician, but it made sense to me.

However, it didn't factor into account buying the wrong item, which is what happened when "canned pumpkin" on the list became this:

As you probably know, pumpkin pie mix, or pumpkin pie filling, is different from canned pumpkin in that it already contains the sugar and spices and whatnot.  I have never used it, preferring to add my own level of sweetness and spice mixture to my holiday pie. Call me a control freak.

We did get plain old canned pumpkin in time for Thanksgiving and put the pie filling on the pantry shelf along with the receipt so we could return it sometime.

However, I got bored an idea on Friday for using the can of pie filling to make something other than pie.  How about cookies?  I added a bit of this and that to the pie filling and then changed my mind while stirring it together because the consistency was looking more like cake batter than cookies.  I am known to take the path of least resistance, and thus I settled for dumping it all into a 9-inch pan and hoping for pumpkin cake.

When my timer went off at 25 minutes, I checked it.  The center was still  mushy.  Maybe another six minutes?  Nope, still gooey.  I set and re-set the timer three or four more times.  Ultimately, I took it out after about 46 minutes, when the toothpick test finally came up clean.

By that time, I had begun to lose confidence in how this concoction was going to taste.  Nevertheless, I let it cool while I went and took a nap.  Baking is hard work.

As I cut into it later, I noticed it didn't have the kind of "crumb" a cake has.  It had more the consistency of pie...but not quite.  The texture was kind of a cross between the two.  What would you call that?

Not quite pie, yet not quite cake.  Cie?  Pake?

How about bars.  Bars works.

And, lo and behold, they tasted great!  This morning, they were just as good and maybe even better.  (Disregard the fact that I've just called them great/good/better, in that order, in the space of two sentences.  This food gig is not my usual terrain.)  It stayed well set up and the flavors melded nicely. There's some foodie verbiage for you.

I can see this type of bar appealing to folks who like pumpkin pie but not particularly the crust.  Do you have any of those in your family?  I do.  Maybe it's genetic.

So I'm memorializing the recipe here, in case anyone has a can of pumpkin pie mix lying around, or in the event I end up with one again sometime. If you don't need it to be gluten-free, you could probably use 2 cups of regular flour plus the baking soda, but I'm not sure how that might affect the texture.**  Maybe it would end up more like cake and less like pie, or maybe you'd be able to make those cookies.  If you try it, let me know.

**Edited to Add:  Marei made these and had this to say:

"These bars came out wonderfully.  I used regular flour and about 1.5 tsp. of baking soda.  I actually think I'd drop that down to no more than a tsp.  The crumb was very moist and the texture was a cross between a 'regular' pumpkin bar and a cake-y thing.  I liked it a lot and will use this again next time I buy the wrong pumpkin.  Oh...I would also add in a dash of salt and some vanilla...just because I like vanilla."

Thanks, Marei!

Pumpkin Pie Bars (Gluten-Free)

1 can Libby's pumpkin pie mix (not canned pumpkin)
1 large egg
1/4 c. soft butter (I used ghee)
2 c. gluten-free flour mix as follows, stirred together in a small bowl:
    1 c. almond flour
    1/4 c. coconut flour
    1/4 c. tapioca flour
    Scant 1/2 c. sorghum flour
    1/4 t. xanthan gum
    2 t. baking soda
1/4 c. chopped pecans
1/4 c. chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Stir the gluten-free flour mixture together in a small bowl.  In a large bowl, stir the pumpkin pie mix, egg, and butter together until well mixed.  Add the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Pour into baking pan and top with pecans and chocolate chips.  Bake 40-45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool before cutting.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Starts and Finishes

Getting ready for Thanksgiving here.  

Two gluten-free pie crusts ready and in the freezer, check.

Ducks out of the freezer and thawing, check.

Dad bagged these wood ducks (and a few more) this hunting season.  How about his XXX rating?  Triple X means they're in great condition, as in there are probably no shot pellets in the breast meat and all the parts are intact, etc.  The other end of the spectrum in his labeling system is "GA."  If you are gifted a package of wild duck or goose that says GA, he will tell you it means "Good to Average" (which may be true), but to him it means "Give Away."  Sorry, Dad, if I just busted you, but it is pretty funny.

(Image Source)
My sister will be bringing the turkey.  Norm is relieved to know there will be traditional domesticated fowl on the menu as well. 

We'll have squash in lieu of sweet potatoes.  I like both, but Dad had a bumper crop of butternut squash this year.  

He didn't plant gourds, but these hitched a ride in the tomato plants from the nursery and grew up among (and over and through) the tomatoes.  How long does it take gourds to dry, do you know?  These have been sitting since early September but they're still pretty solid feeling.  Remember when you dried gourds in grade school and they became nature's maracas?  Maybe you need an old-fashioned radiator to help the process, none of this humidity-controlled central heating stuff.

I grabbed some strips sitting off to the side on the cutting table and whipped up another kennel quilt for the animal surgery clinic.  I'm repurposing my daughter's old scrubs for these.

I did free-motion wavy quilting down the seam lines.  I asked my daughter how these were holding up through washings, etc., and she said "surprisingly well."  Guess I better churn out a few more then.

I also finished the borders on the improv corduroy quilt.  I used up all the red corduroy and almost all the blue in the process of bordering it.  You know what?  I really like it!

Not sure how to go about quilting it yet.  I think I want to keep it simple, whatever form that may take.  Feel free to volunteer ideas, if you have any.

I hope you and yours have a very Happy Thanksgiving!  And happy shopping, if you're into Black Friday sales.  I'll be home devising my Cyber Monday plan.