Tuesday, June 24, 2008

We Interrupt This Quilt to Bring You a Cookie Emergency!

If you've been hanging around these parts any length of time, you'll know that my favorite cookie recipe is the Molasses Cookie one inspired by the Kick Ass Molasses Cookies recipe on Vegweb.

Today, while attempting to whip up this easy culinary delight I discovered I was out of molasses!! Holy "I'm up against a deadline" Batman! I had waited until the last minute and I needed these cookies to be done and cool enough to pack away in 30 minutes. I thought I was screwed but then I had an idea. What if I used maple syrup instead? Would it work?

With fingers crossed, I decreased the sugar to 3/4 cup since maple syrup is more overtly sweet than molasses. I poured a 1/4 cup of maple syrup and got down to mixing. I told no one of my evil deed. Instead, I shoved cookies in the faces of all my children and my hubby. No one gagged. I took this as a positive sign.

Thirty minutes later, I was driving, cookies in tow, to return a container, now filled with the Maple Cookies, to a friend. The verdict was in my favor when my friend and her coworkers all asked me to email them the recipe.


The moral of the story? If you know your ingredients, you are the master of your substitutions...hopefully!

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Quilting Picturebook

I'm sure I break just about every rule of quilting since I'm largely self taught but read on anyway.

You need a plan to get started! Here's my first plan which doesn't use half squares and my second which does. Do these in pencil to prevent insanity!

Here's my stash of precut denim for the quilt.

Sew your quilt together two pieces at a time. I measure down 1/2 inch and draw a line in red. I attempt to straight stitch on this line but often miss as you can see. I do this twice and them zig zag stitch the seam once to prevent fraying.

Here's what the two sewn together squares look like from the right side of the project.

Here I've pinned on another two sewn together squares.

When I do the second straight stitch, I just flip the project around. To keep things from getting too bunchy I roll the fabric up like this.

Here's what things look like as the roll of fabric gets larger.

And here's the fabric turned around for the second straight stitch seam.

Finally, here's a peek at the progress.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Katie's 5 Commandments of Denim Quilting

Since this is my third quilt like this, here are a few things I learned along the way.

1. Bunched up fabric makes sewing a pain, especially when trying to ram it underneath the small space under the sewing machine.
The roughly translates into start by sewing smaller pieces together first. I look at my quilt as a series of rows. I line up all my fabric pieces for a row first. Once I know I like the color arrangement (remember I'm dealing in varying shade of denim) I begin to pin the pieces together but I only pin two together at a time.

So if my row has 14 fabric pieces in it, I start by pinning them in twos. Once the twos are sewn together, I pin two of these twos together and sew. Now I take the fours that result from this and pin them together. You get the idea. It's a hell of a lot easier than dealing with a 98" row of fabric that's pinned every 7 inches or so.

Once I have two rows sewn, its time to pin the completed rows together and repeat the process described above.

2. Do a good job on your seams.
I straight stitch the seam twice then zig zag stitch the unfinished end. I know this breaks some quilting law but I find its the best way to go when working with heavy fabric like denim. I'll explain more about this later.

In short nothing stinks more than a seam that's opening up so pay attention here and use good quality thread. I actually measure 1/2 inch down and draw a line on the back of the fabric where I want my seam to be. Red ballpoint pen works great on even the darkest denim and it won't bleed through to the other side.

3. If you don't have room to spread your work in progress out on the floor, take it outside on the lawn, driveway or deck.
Sometimes you need to see how things are coming together, if there's no space inside get creative and move it outside. Once you figure out what you need to, head back in with your project. I already know I'm probably going to have to pin the backing on outdoors.

4. Speaking of backing, bedsheets make the best backing.
Check out your local thrift store for a top sheet (flat sheet) in great condition one size larger than the size of your quilt. It's easy to find top sheets (flat sheets) in great condition at the thrift store because its the bottom ones that wear out.

5. Stagger your squares and no one will know that they aren't exactly the same.
This is the best reason for half squares. You don't have to be perfect and it makes the quilt look more complicated than it really is.

Don't be scared, you all can do this. Start with a small one if you're really nervous.

The other day I took my son to the doctor and she remarked on how my log cabin quilt was coming along really well. She said she'd never be able to knit anything like it. I just blurted out, "If you could manage med school, I'm sure you could manage knitting this."

I think its really true. We've all faced much harder challenges than learning to knit or sew and we've conquered them. We can conquer these skills as well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Let's Make a Quilt Together

Start by choosing your material. My material of choice is outgrown or worn out jeans. Decide on the size of your square, rectangle or whatever shape you plan to use. My fabric is cut up as follows:

Rectangles 29" x 7"
These yield a finished 28" x 6" rectangle after allowing for a 1/2 inch seam.

Squares 8" x 7"
These yield a finished 7" x 6" square after allowing for a 1/2 inch seam.

Half-Squares 4 1/2" x 6"
These yield a finished 3 1/2" x 6" half-square after allowing for a 1/2 inch seam.

How did I arrive at these measurements? The rectangles are the largest piece of unmarred denim I can harvest from the back of my hubby's worn out jean legs. The squares are the largest I can harvest from the front without a lot of waste. The half-squares are used just so I can stagger the rows of the quilt because I like the way it looks. They also allow me to harvest small pieces that would otherwise get thrown out. Make your life simple and make a cardboard template once you settle on a size.

Next decide on the size of your quilt. I'm not into reinventing the wheel. I peeked at the label on my winter comforter and discovered it was 84" x 92". Now I had a goal size. With that in mind I got my calculator out and started playing with the numbers. Use the finished size numbers for these calculations.

I discovered that with the sizes of fabric I cut, 90" (15 6" width pieces) x 98" (14 7" squares or 9 7" squares plus 2 half-squares plus 1 28" rectangle) would work best. Don't panic about the stuff in quotes, I promise it's going to make sense soon.

Now it's time to grab your graph paper and sketch out your plan. Use a pencil to do this or you'll go crazy. Write everything you've calculated out, you won't remember why you chose a particular measurement unless you do this. Don't get stressed, this should be fun.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about translating your plan from paper to fabric. I'll also add pictures of my work in progress.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quiet, Quilt Planning in Progress

I've finally made a plan for the denim quilt for our bed. (I've only been talking about it for 2 months!) I'm cutting my squares, which are actually small rectangles but let's not be picky. I'm about 40 squares away from having all my material cut. Then I can check my pattern and, if it doesn't stink, I can share it with you tomorrow!

Hey homeschoolers, there is a lot of math in this project, if you want a real life example of math.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Darn It!

The humidity has finally let up after some rolicking thunderstorms last night. I don't know what insanity posessed me to garden yesterday but I paid for it all day today. Whenever the weather gets that hot an humid and I spend a long time outside, I wind up with virus-like symptoms. I must be a slow learner though, cause I do it at least once every year. Then again, it might have been the three bean salad I made for dinner last night...

Tonight, I've surrendered my cooking duties to my daughter. She can make whatever she wants as long as it doesn't heat up the house or make me feel worse.

Everything looks so lush after a big rain. Our raspberry patch is once again enormous. The berries aren't ripe yet but the bush is just laden with them. The currants and gooseberries are just beginning to ripen as well. It feels good to be growing some of our own food, even in this limited way. I keep looking at my houseplants thinking, wouldn't it make more sense if these were edible rather than ornamental? That's definitely something to investigate. I think the African violets and ivy are scared.

Darn it! Sometimes you have to. Have to what? Darn socks of course! I've put aside my log cabin blanket to sew up the holes in Jim's socks. It's those steel toed boots he wears for work that ruins them but a few stitches and they're good as new. It's not the most challenging of jobs but it is one that is easily accomplished.

Monday, June 09, 2008

It's Hot Enough to Cook Chickpeas Outside, Literally

The forecast called for searing heat in NY today. There was no way in the world I was turning on a stove. I set up a pot of dried chickpeas and a pot of dried kidney beans in my solar oven. Neither type of bean was presoaked and I filled the pots with cold water. I figured the kidney beans would cook and the chickpeas could finish cooking tomorrow.

Imagine my surprise when the chickpeas were fully cooked after 6 hours in the solar cooker! I really was flabbergasted, chickpeas take forever to cook!

I also wanted to make a quick breakfast food. Using the scone recipe from The Tightwad Gazette as my base, I divided the batter into a cast iron muffin tin and topped with cinnamon sugar. Since there was no room to be had in the solar cooker, I put these in a black covered roating pan. Baked goods always come out a little on the gooey side in the solar cooker, its a lot like the slow cooker, but they were clearly cooked. A quick go round in the toaster oven tomorrow morning and I think they'll be pretty good.

So what to do with these freshly cooked chickpeas? I mixed up a batch of Sesame Miso Vinagrette from La Dolce Vegan (of course I was out of rice vinegar and substituted plain white vinegar...), shredded some spinach, finely diced a very small onion and tossed in a few of the cooked kidney beans for color. I mixed this well and served it over lettuce and whole wheat couscous. Everyone devoured it, and the kitchen stayed cool.

I'll bet you noticed the lettuce and spinach. All I can say is horray for the CSA! Now, I'd better start planning for tomorrow's dinner right now since its supposed to be hotter than hell again!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Listen Up All You Big Band Babies!

This is the story of a fourth grade boy who wanted to play an instrument. When the time came to write down his 3 choices, the flute was his first choice(hey no jokes, I dated a guy in high school who played flute.) We got word yesterday that he got his first choice. He was thrilled and I was on a mission.

Way back in the day, I played flute and two of my sisters played flute. Was it possible that this flute was still kicking around at my mother's house?

Sure enough, a quick phone call to my mother revealed that it was. There was just one more hurdle to overcome. Any instruments that weren't rented or bought from one of the three specified companies that the school dealt with had to be inspected and approved by the band teacher.

Rob left the house with flute in backpack. I always felt this was the perk of playing flute, it was small and easy to carry. Perhaps that's the wrong reason to choose an instrument...

Rob came home with good news, my old flute passed inspection. It just needs a bit of a tune up to get it back into playing condition. So let's see which would I rather pay, $20-$95 to have our flute refurbished or $31/month rental fee for the entire school year? In case you're unsure I'll give you a hint, we just got back from the music repair shop a few minutes ago.

So if your kid is at that age, ask around to see if someone might have an instrument taking up space in their attic that your child could use. If your child loves the instrument then you need to talk about a more permanent arrangement. Make sure you know if the instrument has been given to you or loaned to you.

BTW, while we're on the subject of borrowing stuff, be a good borrower. Always return whatever you borrow in good condition. For example, if you borrow a car, return it with a full tank of gas.

Here's another real life example. My brother and his wife stored two bikes with us for the last four or five years and during that time they said we were welcome to use them. My kids used them a lot. This summer they're planning to take them back. But before they do, we opted to have them tuned up and have a flat tire fixed (with coupons at our local bike shop the flat fix was free and the tune up was very reasonable.) Did I have to do that no but I feel better knowing the bikes are in good working order. I'm a borrower, not a moocher!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Random Food & Gardening Notes

Our first CSA pickup is Saturday. I'm so psyched! I can feel the creativity hovering at the edge of my cooking conciousness just waiting to be reawakened. I'm fantasizing about fresh salads and stir fries.

With harvesting beginning, I'm also thinking about canning. Higher gas prices mean higher food prices. I'll be going through the fruit at our local farmers market with a different point of view this season. Frozen berries from some faraway state in the local store's freezer case are likely to be a much pricier choice this winter. Local foods are the way to go. I'm thinking about setting up a weekly goal for myself.

In really local gardening, our currants are just starting to ripen and it looks like we'll have quite a lot if we can just beat the birds to them. I suspect that we really need to think about some kind of netting to protect them.

There's a great article in Mother Earth News about how to plant a peach tree from the seed of one you've just eaten.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Getting Motivated

Motivation comes in many forms. Just a minute ago, my 15 year old tromped up the stairs demanding to know the location of the vacuum cleaner. Figuring something had spilled, she would never volunteer to vacuum otherwise, I ask what happened. Turns out, there's a family of spiders living in a large web under her bed. Nothing says its time to clean up like a big old spider or two under the bed!

Speaking of motivation, I finally got motivated to do the annual clean out the closet in preparation for summer routine with the boys. It took almost a whole week but the clothes for back to school are folded and waiting in the top of the closet, the clothes that no longer fit or won't fit in September have gone to the thrift store, and the summer clothes are in easy reach. Its rewarding when its over but I truly hate doing this job. So if you haven't done it already, get going. You'll feel so much happier when it's finally done.

Then there can be the problem of staying motivated. Some weeks I have trouble staying motivated to bake the bread we need to get through the week, or to plan ahead so the beans I need for a given recipe are ready when I need them or to cook dinner from scratch. Sometimes I don't want to do the laundry, actually a lot of times I don't want to do the laundry, or any one of a million other tasks of my daily life. So how do I stay motivated?

The answer is sometimes I don't but I usually regret it. It's a lot like eating a rich dessert when you're already full. It tastes great but you live with the guilt and the sick stomach for hours. Over the years I've learned, doing one laundry a day will keep me from spending an entire day in the laundry room, baking six loaves of bread at a time will give me a weeks worth of bread, making 4 dozen muffins will give me about 3-4 days worth of breakfasts and snacks, cooking dinner from scratch keeps hard earned money in our bank account...

You get the idea. Doing what I need to do, when it needs to be done is a lot like being granted parole. When its finished, I'm free to do what I want to do.

So now that my blogging commitment is over for the day, I'm going to knit!