Catch Up

 
Happy 2012???
I’ve been a little MIA this year I guess. Suffice it to say that 2012 has not been a super-fun year so far. In between sickness and injuries and unexpected expenses and some other rather seriously not-fun things going on this year, we have managed to work on some projects and make some awesome new recipes. Let’s see if I can do a quick recap to get us up to speed, and then I promise to post here more often. I promise to try at least….In December, way back when we still thought we might have a winter this year, we decided to try cheese-making one beautiful, snowy afternoon. I love, love, LOVE squeaky cheese, also known as Finnish Leipäjuusto. I grew up eating this mild baked cheese at Christmastime. My dad knew a lady who made and sold it; you can also buy it at local seasonal fairs and locations. Even though my husband does not care for squeaky cheese (he has lost his honorary Finlander card over this), he has always wanted to make it for me. So we tried it.

curdin’ up

Making cheese was a relatively straightforward process, if a bit weird. I hate to say it’s “weird” to do something as simple as to make food, but there’s just something about having a sink full of curds and whey that is…WEIRD. Our Juusto turned out pretty well. I ate it for weeks and we also gave some to my parents for Christmas. I also bought my husband a cheesemaking book for Christmas, and he now wants to make mozzarella this summer, and maybe even more cheeses. Stay tuned for those adventures.


curds and whey in my sink

the finished product

Christmas also was a time of frenzied project-making, as we tried to think of homemade gifts and then get them all made on time. I already posted my niece’s Mini Mail Sack. I loved how that one turned out. We also made two homemade teddy bears. I fell in love with the first, and I couldn’t give him up, that’s how we ended up with two of them. They are named Watson and Bertram. Bertram now lives at my mother-in-law’s house.

My smaller niece and her American Girl doll got matching homemade pajamas. The pants were easy-peasy, but the button-down shirt with the collar and pockets was more difficult. The alternate shirt with the hexagon was SUPER easy 🙂 The doll’s jammies were kind of just thrown together (and they look like it).

We made a lot of good food. Particular favorites that have been added to our dinner repertoire include almond-crusted fish with buerre blanc sauce (to die for!!), homemade whole-wheat tortillas (we usually make cheese quesadillas with them), beef-barley stew with spinach, rosemary chicken, jalapeno coleslaw, and white bean soup with rosemary. These are just some that I can think of right now. I’m planning a post for the next time I make the white bean soup – that stuff was SOO good! Most of these recipes are real food approved, too. My husband and I have continued to eat real food most often, and for one week each month, we follow the rules strictly. The only real purpose of this is just to keep us on track, so we don’t eat out too much or get in the habit of eating too much sugar or anything. We actually don’t notice it much at all anymore unless we have to explain it to someone else! We are acutally in the middle of our March real food week right now.

Buerre Blanc Fish

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Mini Mail Sack

 

Someone is getting this little bag for Christmas this year. It is the mini mail sack, pattern by Pink Chalk Studios.
I love this pattern. The mini really is kid-sized. It doesn’t take a lot of fabric to make it. I had extra of the peace sign fabric (I want to make myself a bag out of it), and the pink lining fabric is extra from a skirt. The green was a half yard I got for free – you can’t beat that! My recipient is a great lover of peace signs and the color green. I almost do wish I’d made the strap a bit longer, but it’s tough to tell. I hope it fits. Recipient lately seems to be taller every time I see her (which is often, sometimes multiple times a week). She is suddenly all arms and legs yet has a grace that never seemed to be there before. And I’m also not sure I would use such thick fusible fleece as interfacing next time. Otherwise, I love the results and I hope the recipient will like her first ever custom bag!

my bag model (he’s a bit bigger than the recipient is!)

Real Food Pledge: Lessons Learned

 
I can’t believe 7 days have gone by already! Our 7 day real food pledge is over, and it seems like it went by in a flash. I had such high hopes for our pledge, but I think the biggest thing I learned was that 7 days wasn’t really long enough to take in everything I’d hoped. I was so excited to start our pledge and I looked up so many new recipes. It was really fun. But the truth of the matter is that my husband and I are only a family of two. We don’t eat that much. My new recipes could have fed us for about three weeks, I think, but we just couldn’t get to them all in 7 days. So, hopefully over the next few weeks I will have some new recipes for “Try Something New,” that we just never got to while doing this challenge.One habit we were forced into that I think will stick with us is label reading (ingredients, especially). On Saturday morning as we were cooking breakfast, we were reading the labels on some of the things in our spice cabinet. My husband likes to make scrambled eggs with cheese and also some spinach-herb dip mix from Tastefully Simple which he shakes in the eggs. We had decided not to use the mix, just assuming that it either had more than 5 ingredients and/or probably contained something artificial in it, but we were surprised (and delighted) to realize that it had absolutely nothing fake in it at all! The same could surprisingly be said for McCormicks Salad Supreme Seasoning Mix (romano cheese and 3 spices). Our Wyman’s chicken bouillon, however, had an ingredients list which my chemistry-degreed husband stumbled over and was longer than some children’s books. Who knew? Things like that were interesting to learn about and the knowledge we gained can help us make better choices in the future.We had a major stumble on Saturday night. Saturday was a beautiful, perfect, snowy day. We spent the day together, doing chores and hanging out and attempting to make cheese – a lengthy experiment which I will document later. We had planned on Greg making a crock-pot of chili that night, which would cook overnight and be ready to go on Sunday for football. We soaked kidney beans and thawed hamburger (locally raised, yes) all day long in anticipation. Then it was 10:30 at night and he was getting ready to put the chili together when we discovered we had no homemade tomato sauce and that our normal brand of organic tomato sauce contained added sugar. By that time at night, all the Co-op type stores were closed, and we doubted we could find anything to substitute at the regular supermarket. Also, it was SNOWING OUTSIDE. But what else could we do with all that meat and those beans? So we broke the sugar rule and used the tomato sauce we had on hand. Haha, live and learn – now we know what’s in that sauce anyway. Actually, learning what’s in it made me happy we purchase it because it had only 5 ingredients, nothing fake, and we like it a lot.

Major successes:
I made homemade granola with oats, nuts, coconut, honey and spices on Sunday. This was crazy-easy to do. I just dumped all the ingredients together and baked it. It turned out really well, although not super-sweet. I don’t have a real taste for sweets myself, so we really liked it here. However, some people might want to add more honey for a bit more sweetness. Greg has eaten it plain as a snack in his lunches, and I like it as a breakfast cereal. I chopped a whole banana in it and ate it with some 2% milk (from hormone-free, grass-fed local cows). So good! The fats from the nuts and milk make it have sticking power, something that I love since I’m not a between-meals snacker. We will definitely continue to make this cheap and easy granola.

I had bought pumpkin seeds at Mississippi Market to put in my granola, and my husband wanted us to get extra so he could roast them and have them on hand for snacks. Basically he just dumped the seeds in salt water and soaked them for a while, then baked them and lightly salted them. Ohmyhell, these things are like crack – almost TOO good! Anyway, we both LOVE them and love having them on hand for lunch snacks and just a quick snack here or there. The first batch is already gone – we definitely need more.

Eating with kids: We have two nieces who we are close with and spend time with on a regular basis. Often when we eat together, we order a pizza or go to Noodles & Co. or something easy like that. I am happy to report that doing real food with the girls was easy, painless, and actually fun. I don’t think they knew the difference, since they are accustomed to a lot of decent food in the first place. Both eat most vegetables, and neither had a problem with whole-grain bread, so we had an easy meal of grilled cheese and veggies. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough broccoli! It was cute, too, watching my younger niece helping my husband prepare dinner. She thought it was fun and it was nice to spend time together in the kitchen catching up on our day while making some simple food.

It was nice to learn that a lot of our staples were real food-approved, so we could choose from a nice variety of favorites for meal ideas. For instance, Greg’s French Onion soup (minus the French bread; we just used whole grain that we had on hand), grilled cheese, tomato basil soup, Angry Trout wild rice (minus the craisins – we couldn’t find any without added sugar), mushroom-cheese chicken breasts. Easy staples that we rely on a lot, but I think this also prevented us from trying some new things. Oh well, it’s not really a bad problem to have, I guess.

The biggest benefit for me concerned my soda (and fake drink) consumption. After not having these things for seven days, I find that I don’t really want them very much anymore. I drank a lot of tea during the seven days, and I am continuing to do that. So much better for me, our budget, and everything! My husband did think it was difficult at first, just because the 12-pack of soda was still sitting on the counter, and he would reach for one without even thinking. This just goes to show you how we get into mindless habits sometimes. Maybe just keeping the soda in the fridge or in a more out-of-the-way location would be helpful in curbing that for him. This is also why I think it can be helpful to get rid of something entirely if you don’t think you can say no to it. I am not really emotionally equipped for that myself. I have found that I do a lot, A LOT better if I know I am able to have something if I want to. If things are around and I know I can have them if I really want to, I do a great job of regulating myself around them. Other people I know need to have them gone entirely. For me that can make me sad and a bit emotionally unstable. It’s all about finding what works for you.

Flannel Christmas Trees Quilt

 

When Greg and I participated in Quilt Minnesota 2010, we had a blast traveling to various shops all over Minnesota, collecting Quilt Minnesota fabric and block patterns, and just seeing what we could see. We both work full time, and we didn’t complete the whole state, but we completed the entire North East section, North West section, and South East section. Behind the Seams Quilt shop, located right off the shore of Lake Superior near Tettegouche State Park is one of our favorite places to stop by when we are on the north shore. Their block for Quilt MN 2010 was my favorite one we recieved, and it is the one I used to make this flannel Christmas Trees quilt for my mom last Christmas.
The block is pretty easy to piece, and once I got the hang of it I could whip one up pretty quickly. The only problem I had with this quilt is that some of the jewel-colored flannels I chose were difficult to line up perfectly once they were cut (the ones with lines). If I use this pattern again (and I do plan on it!) I will not use lined fabrics for the tree backgrounds. Otherwise, everything turned out well.

The quilt top (please ignore the Still Life of Swine condition of my living room).

I used a cozy, mottled brown for the sashing and bordered the quilt, but then I decided I also wanted the ring of jewel-colored fabrics around the outside to add more color, size, and interest. Then I had to add yet another brown border and by that time the quilt did get rather large. So, someone could stand to do her quilt math a little better, I guess.

The backing fabric is cream flannel, and we quilted in the ditch using red, green, and purple thread, so you can see the trees on the back of the quilt, too. We gave the quilt to my mom for Christmas last year. I kind of miss it!

the quilt back

Real Food Pledge

 
I’m not really sure this is the place to talk about this, but as it might result in some new (and hopefully yummy and interesting) recipes, I think I will mention it here. My husband and I are starting a Real Food Challenge tomorrow. I was inspired by Lisa at the 100 days of real food blog. I highly encourage you to check out this website, which is a great resource for anyone who is trying to cut out processed food and eat more healthfully. You can sign up for a 10-day pledge on her website, but we are just going to try for 7 days. It’s better than nothing, right? My rationale behind the 7 days is that I have a lot of traditional holiday things planned for this month. And while you could definitely argue that this would be the perfect time to undertake a real food pledge and really think about how many of our traditions revolve around junky food, I am going to do the thinking while also participating in them all! I don’t want to have to wait for the new year, because I am excited to make some positive changes now. So, 7 days it is.So, you may be asking, what does this real food pledge entail? Anybody who knows us already probably is aware that we try to make an effort to eat somewhat healthfully by buying fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables and we eat only locally and humanely raised meats and eggs at home (we do eat conventionally-raised animal products at restaurants and at others’ homes occasionally, my husband more so than myself). We are aware of “fake” foods and try not to consume them. However, we could learn much more and do a lot better. One area where I feel rather uneducated is with whole grains and unrefined/refined grains, sugars, and foods. For these 7 days we will be eating only whole grains, no refined sugars (only honey and real maple syrup will be allowed – even my beloved homemade freezer jam which I use to sweeten practically everything will be forbidden due to its tiny amount of added sugar), and no artificial or fake foods. No foods with more than 5 ingredients on the ingredients list (just because most whole foods have few ingredients – there are exceptions to this rule, but for the next 7 days we will be following it.)

I actually don’t think this plan will be terribly difficult to follow, food-wise. Like I said, we are already real-food advocates. We will just have to read a few more labels and ingredients lists, eat less junk food, and make a few minor substitutions in what we already eat (no more freezer jam in my oatmeal, for instance, or no more margarine on grilled cheese sandwiches just because it is easier to spread than butter). The area where it will be more difficult for me to follow will be drink-wise. I drink a lot of fake crap. There is no other way to put it. I love fake sweeteners in drinks. LOVE them. I have very inappropriately strong feelings for Diet Pepsi. This is actually my main reason for wanting to do the challenge: to force myself off of crappy fake drinks for a while. The sad part of all of this is that I actually LIKE real drinks! Coffee, tea, water – I like them all. And I like them unsweetened. Yes, I drink my coffee black, and my tea without honey or sugar. So why do I have such a taste for these horrible fake sweeteners in diet soda and Crystal Light? Yuck! I KNOW it’s gross. I KNOW they’re terrible for me. I hope getting away from them for even 7 short days will help me get away from them for good. During my first semester in college, I brought a 12-pack of Pepsi with me when I moved into my dorm, and by Christmas, I still had a couple cans left. This is who I once was, and who I hope to be again. Wish me luck!


Look at all that wonderful, fresh food! And that Diet Pepsi! Vices!

I feel like I should note that I don’t plan to cut anything out of my diet indefinitely. Everything in moderation, right? However, when decent substitutes for things are available, there may very well be things that I never consume again. Margarine, for instance. I think margarine is disgusting just because it’s a fake food and if I want a butter taste, why not go for the real thing? The absolute only reason we ever purchase this product is for spreading on grilled cheese, because it spreads more easily than butter. It’s a bullcrap reason, when you really think about it. We can just leave some butter out of the fridge, then it won’t be hard when we want to spread it (at least in the summer…living in a cold climate sometimes does mean the house is so cold that room temperature isn’t spreadable, either.) But that’s nothing that a little heat or 5 seconds in the microwave can’t fix. So things like that – things that there is really no reason we would ever want them – we may never consume again. But the rest – flour, sugar, even the occasional Diet Pepsi – we will continue to consume after the 7 days are up. It’s just my hope that we will view them as the treats that they are, and not staples.

A Tall Order: Grandmother’s Garden Project

 

Our first snow of the year is currently falling outside! I couldn’t be more thrilled, even though I was trying to do a small outdoor photo shoot of my Bricks and Bunnies Quilt when the first flakes (more like sleet balls) started to fall. Oh well, I love snow more than anything and I will never, ever turn it down.So…remember that colorful fat quarter I recently showed you? This one?

I’m ready to reveal what I plan to do with it. I want to document my plans here, because right now this seems like such a tall order that I am not sure I will ever be able to complete it.

I want to make a grandmother’s garden quilt with that fat quarter (and lots of other fabrics, of course). My grandmother’s garden quilt will be a replica quilt, based on this one:

This is a quilt that I came to own when my family’s beloved lake cabin was sold about 5 years ago. There were a couple old, tattered quilts there that nobody wanted. I took them. I had a lot of good memories of cold nights spent under piles of those old cedary-smelling blankets. I didn’t sew at all at that point in my life, and the quilt held little interest for me other than as a really warm, old blanket.

here you can see just how worn out it is in places 😦

Recently, as the weather turned cool this year, I took the quilt out on one particularly cold night. The next day, as I smoothed it over the bed, I realized just how pretty it looked, and how much work someone, sometime, had put into that tattered, old item. Right then, I decided that I would do three things:

1. I would research this quilt. I would try to find out anything I could about it: who made it, when it was made, what fabrics were in it, what pattern was used.

2. I would restore the original as best as I could.

3. I would make my own replica quilt based on the original.

So…a tall order indeed! Of the three items mentioned above, I actually think that #3 will be the easiest to do. Although I have NO IDEA how to make hexagons, work with them, piece them, or anything, I am ready to learn. #1 may be the most difficult part, and I may never know much about the original quilt. I assume my grandmother made it, but that is just an assumption. As my grandmother has been dead for over 20 years, the only people I can think of who *may* know anything about this old quilt are her children, my father and his sister. I have done enough research to find out that the pattern is called “grandmother’s garden,” and that it became very popular in the 1930s. Many grandmother’s garden quilts were made on green backgrounds, as the green symbolized the green grass.

I plan to post about my progress over the next few months (year), so stay tuned. I am coming to realize that this project will be largely HANDMADE, with little machine work at all, so it will take a lot of time. But I am very excited to do this – the same way that my grandmother or whoever made the originial did it way back when.

it really is a pretty old thing, isn’t it?

Raggy Squares Quilt

 
I haven’t sewn in such a long time! Seriously, it’s been 10 or 12 weeks since I’ve worked on any (sewing) projects at all. Life has been busy! Anyway. I am starting a new project. I’m calling it The Raggy Squares Quilt. I’m so excited!!!!
For this quilt I am using just one line of fabric, which I have never done before. I generally don’t care to work that way. But this seemed like the perfect project to change my ways. I am using the Sherbet Pips line by Aneela Hoey. These fabrics are just too cute! I especially love the dogs! I had two layer cakes and some extra of my favorite prints (the dogs) to work with, and I needed to cut 475 (475!!) 3-inch squares. I cut most of them during an especially brutal recent Vikings game.

laying out 475 squares one recent night at “our” Lake Superior condo

Just this weekend I decided on binding and backing fabrics, and I got extra yardage from Hannah Johnson Fabrics in Duluth, MN. This summer, I saw that they carried the entire line there, and I was just hoping they would have some left. I had second and third choices in mind, but they did end up having my first choice for backing fabric, so SCORE!!! And they were having a hunter’s widow sale, and everything was 20% off, so that was great, too. Since everything was on sale, I just had to pick up this adorable Alexander Henry home dec print as well. I took the rest of their bolt, and I am planning to make a large duffel bag with it. (I think….maybe a purse…hmmm…)

My husband and I each chose a fat quarter just because. This was my choice. You’ll never guess what I have in store for this little piece of fabric!! Stay tuned.

Bricks and Bunnies Series

 


These are my Bricks and Bunnies quilts. The bunny is from a Bunny Hill Designs pattern (Binkies on Broadway) which I haven’t made yet. Instead I kidnapped that bunny to applique over the bricks that I sewed together and staggered over the quilts.

The key to (and the absolute funnest part) of Bricks and Bunnies is the fabric choice. Fabric choice is my favorite part of quilting, hands down. This is where you can really make a project your very own one-of-a-kind piece, so have fun with it! I imagine there are myriad ways to go about choosing your perfect fabrics. I generally try to get an idea of what color scheme I want to go with. I might have one particular fabric in mind and work off of that, or I might just have a color or set of colors in mind. Then I go upstairs and look through all of my fabrics (and I have a fair amount of fabric in my stash, so this process can take awhile!) I pull out any fabric that I think I might even slightly want to use. I usually end up with a decently-sized pile of fabric to narrow down. I am generally quite decisive at this stage, too, going through each fabric one more time and giving it a quick yes or no. There are very few that I agonize over, and this I can’t really explain. I just know what I like, and I know what I don’t, and it’s difficult to articulate a process that is much more instinct than anything else.

In both Bricks and Bunnies quilts, I chose my fabrics and then cut my “bricks” with different directionalities, so some of the striped bricks had stripes going horizontally, and some were oriented vertically. I thought this would give the quilts a lot of visual interest, and I was really pleased with the results. I like to make the binding and the bunnies out of fabrics that are not otherwise in the quilt. In the blue/green Bricks and Bunnies quilt I ended up using a navy fabric that has found its way into a lot of projects I’ve made. I love the way it turned out. The Easter Bricks and Bunnies quilt has light green corduroy bunnies and binding. I hadn’t worked with corduroy in a quilt before, so it was a new experience. The color wasn’t ideal – it was a little light – but I still really like the end product. The Easter Bricks and Bunnies quilt also has a pieced backing. The backing is made up of three of my favorite fabrics in the quilt. I love it!

I’ve never been a fan of using collections of fabrics to make a project. I like to pick and choose one fabric here, another there. These quilts are perfect for honing your fabric choosing techniques. Bricks and Bunnies are my own way of playing with fabric and color. I know I will make more in the future, because I just love them so much and they are too fun to make.


Farmers’ Market Bag


This was a little project we took on so I could have a nice shopping bag to bring to the Farmers’ Market on weekends or use to walk to our neighborhood Co-op, Mississippi Market. It’s about the size of a grocery sack, maybe slightly larger, so it’s perfect for the market.

It was actually a pretty easy project to make. There were no pattern pieces involved at all. It goes together rather like a small quilt that gets folded over. I used this adorable chicken fabric that I had and I thought it would look really cute on this bag. Then I just chose fabrics that matched. It’s quilted in small diamonds, which I thought would look nice but also give it strength.

I like the bag a lot and it gets tons of use. If I ever make another one for myself, I think I will alter it somewhat so the straps are longer and able to cross the body, rather than just fit over the shoulders. I think I just might do that someday 🙂

my bag model

Friday Night Spinach Cannelloni

Intrepid readers! You may remember that when we left off last time, the husband and I had walked to the store for ricotta cheese (among other things), and he emerged with feta cheese, an error which was not discovered until we were home. Well. The reason I needed the ricotta cheese was because of the spinach cannelloni. The one that I made last Friday after work. This one:

It was pretty good, if I do say so myself. I ammended the recipe from the Earthbound Farms Cookbook to suit our tastes and budget. It turned out really well. I had previously only eaten spinach cannelloni in restaurants, but it’s not difficult to make at all. Even the husband, who is not a spinach lover, ate several cannelloni for dinner on Friday, several more for lunch on Saturday, and a couple more for lunch today. Success, I’d say.

cooked lasagna noodles waiting for filling

cooking the spinach filling

the ricotta part of the filling

just plop some filling down…

and roll them up!

I realized that many of my new recipes that I’ve documented here are vegetarian. The “trout” chowder has tilapia in it and the chicken wild rice salad has chicken, obviously. Other than that, the rest have been vegetarian. I am not a vegetarian, but I guess you could say that I eat less meat than most Americans. If I had to wager a guess, I would estimate that I eat meat about once every two or three days. And so when it’s my turn to choose a new recipe, I often choose something meatless. Just in case you were wondering 🙂 Some people think I am a little weird that way, but it’s just personal preference.