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One stitch at a time

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I am making great progress on the scrappy prism quilt.  I only have two sections left to hand-quilt and so far it looks just like I imagined it would. It’s pretty wrinkly, but you get the idea.
Quilting Progress

Quilting Progress
Here’s how it shows up on the back
Quilting Progress
I think I will do an outline of the Dresden plate, just to anchor that center section better.
I can’t wait to finish, trim, bind, and wash!(OK, writing that it really does seem a lot of steps away from being done…) I think the diamonds are going to fluff up wonderfully. And, for all that I worried my stitches weren’t good enough, I think ultimately I am proud of them and how they look.
Quilting Progress
I’m pausing on the Christmas block quilt for now to do another quick project. This one will be a subway tile style quilt, like I’ve made twice before. The main color will be red with pops of turquoise and white so it won’t be so intense and also won’t be red-white-blue patriotic. Here’s what I had in my fabric stash, and I’ll be adding more. (and cutting the blocks shorter.)
Reds

Since I last wrote we enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day. For us that just means we make the full corned beef and cabbage dinner and I also make Irish soda bread (always using my friend Denise’s recipe.)
Irish Soda Bread
Is there anything more delicious fresh from the oven, spread with butter?
Irish Soda Bread
Tabby and I marched in a big parade with our Girl Scout troop, and although it was chilly we had a good time.
@the parade

Irish Daisy
Although you are supposed to plant your snow peas on St. Patrick’s Day that definitely is not happening this week. I suppose I do regret a bit not tidying up the garden better because it definitely will need some raking, cleaning up, and turning over of soil before any peas can go in there. A few mild(relatively) days have had us excited for spring and nearly all the snow has melted. It was so very March out yesterday-brightly sunny, chilly, windy, that I felt sure if I looked I’d find a crocus, and…I did. So here it is, indistinguishable from every other “first crocus of the year” picture, but I can guarantee you this is the 2015 one!
First Spring Flower!!

Good Enough Quilting

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I keep a 5 year diary and now that I am in the second year of it I love to see what I did on that day a year ago. In fact,  probably everyone around me knows this because I frequently am saying “hey, guess what? It was a year ago that we…”  Well, thanks to the diary I recently read the entry that said I began to hand quilt my scrappy prism quilt. A. Year. Ago.  After I did those first center rays I put it away and that was that.  Reading that it’s been sitting for a whole year was the kick in the butt I needed to pick it up again.
2015-03-08 16.15.43
As I sat with the quilt on my lap and needle in hand I started to think about what gave me trouble with it and what was holding me up. And I came to some realizations-quilting is just a running stitch. So just relax and stitch like you’re doing an embroidered running stitch. Also, I thought about my mom’s hand-quilted quilts. Did I ever think they looked terrible because they weren’t stitched with teeny tiny Colonial woman stitches? No, I did not. Did I think they looked boring for not being densely quilted? No, I did not. I liked how they looked and they stayed together (which is the twofold purpose of quilting.) I also, gasp!, did away with my hoop.  After a year of being folded up those layers of top, bottom, and batting are not moving anywhere. I’m stitching on the outer edge of the quilt and it was just easier to manipulate. Embracing those concepts and letting go of what I thought I needed to be doing allowed me to just stitch away. And I think the results are great. Here is the finished first section
Quilted
My stitches are not miniscule, but neither are they giant basting stitches. And I’m pleased that the diagonal lines are creating the look I’d envisioned.
Quilted

I was a little worried that my marking pen might be difficult to remove after a year, but it turns out it had been fading a lot and was very easy to remove with a dab of damp cloth.  I drew on the grid for the next section and have finished half of that.
IMG_1878
I think I will tie the scrappy blocks with matching embroidery floss so that you don’t really see it, but it has the needed stability.
You know, with the trends in quilting now and all that long-arm machine quilting, and devotion to fancy threads and what not, you can feel like you’re not “doing it right”. I am using an old spool of Coates hand quilting thread (which is pretty stiff), a regular quilting in-between needle, and no hoop.  I can’t “pop the knot through” like my Mom does, so I’m doing a messy little made-up technique for securing the end that I ultimately think will not be noticeable at all, so who cares if it’s the right method? My pattern is not intricate, just a grid. But I’m loving this and it will be good enough. And also, it will actually get done! And I will enjoy the process a lot more, and shouldn’t that be a big part of a hobby? Yes, yes it should. :)

Spring, yes spring, Birthdays

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Yesterday was my mom’s birthday, and I always think of it as the start of spring and the birthday season (she’s in March, I’m in April, Paul is in May.) I love to make a nice birthday dinner for her, and often seem to go with a menu featuring, as my friend Liz says, “old skool foodstuffs.” It’s true! London Broil and twice baked potatoes have made appearances on this menu in the past, and because it seems fresh and springy, almost always asparagus. And I do love a good lemony dessert. This year’s menu was: Orange Chicken Kiev, Rice Pilaf, and Asparagus.
classy dinner
The birthday cake was a spectacular roll up cake from my new cookbook, Vintage Cakes (upon receipt of this book for Christmas I declared that all special occasion cakes this year would come from this book.)  Oh, and how do I know what the past year’s menus have been? Because I keep a menu journal, of course.  It’s not only sentimental, but also very useful to have a nice record of what I’ve made for various holidays and birthdays each year. And I love reading really old fashioned menus and imagine that someday it will be fun to look back on these. And actually, I’ve already enjoyed trips down memory lane by looking through it.  I mentioned the great recipe reorganization and clean-up, and that’s how the recipe for the chicken Kiev came to my notice. Buried and overlooked, but no more! I have no before picture of this area, so you just have to imagine that this was full of more binders, magazine holders, and assorted crap from around the kitchen (including boxes of Christmas candy?) shoved atop the books. Behold it now:
Spring cleaning

So, menu decided on and a happy day of cooking and preparing. The cake called for first making butterscotch. I made this at 7 in the morning and Clark and I had no problem taste testing it so early in the day and both of our eyes lit up with how good it was.
Butterscotch Cream Roll-Up Cake
Then you make a lovely airy sponge cake. Then to make the filling you combine the butterscotch with cream and whip it all together until nice thick peaks form. Spread it across the cake and sprinkle with toasted almonds.
Butterscotch Cream Roll-Up Cake
Then the cake gets divided into four shorter sections and you begin rolling, with the additional pieces wrapping around. Isn’t that an unusual and interesting presentation?
Butterscotch Cream Roll-Up Cake
(Note, I didn’t have enough filling to spread around the outside as the recipe called for. I think that would be nice, or maybe powdered sugar so the outside doesn’t look so unfinished. But you definitely keep the top open to show off the spiral.)
Now, in all honesty, I found it harder to cut than a regular jellyroll, but who cares? The question is how did it taste? PHENOMENAL.
Butterscotch Cream Roll-Up Cake
Oh my God, this cake was sooooooo good. Plate-lickin’ good, some would say.
Butterscotch Cream Roll-Up Cake
So, happy birthday to Mom, who is a lovely mom and a wonderful Grandma! We had a wonderful time celebrating with her-presents, cake, board games, and good times.

Grandma and Tabby

Self-Timer Family Portrait

Cleaning Up, Cleaning Out

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It’s been a while since I’ve written! Call it winter doldrums, call it not keeping it up, but we’ll call this post a nice big catch-up. The last entry was for the annual Pie Party. The following week we were set to go to the New Jersey Pie Party, but snow prevented us from making it. [The first pie party ended with us driving home in a blizzard on the PA Tpk, an event which was terrifying and made Paul and I extremely wary about going out in bad weather.] We didn’t make it to the party, but we all got to enjoy the pie that I’d made for it–Sour Cream Lemon Pie.  I’ve made this pie several times before and man is it a winner. Just look how beautiful it is when you swirl the sour cream into the homemade lemon curd:
Lemon Pie

Lemon Pie

The bad weather was followed by a “warm” day, which was so exciting we all went for a walk down to the river. It’s been partially frozen, slushy, melts, re-freezes, and so on. No giant ice floes like last year, but still fun to look at.
O Sunny Day!
Yeah that’s right. Paul is wearing shorts here and I’m not wearing coat. We were giddy with the warmth of 40 degrees.
O Sunny Day!

I’ve also been undertaking some organization/cleaning out projects. Basically I’ve had lots of those projects that I intended to do once school started and have only just started them. It’s almost like a reverse nesting. In anticipation of (hopefully) going back to work this year and a new phase of our lives I need to get the house in order. I know it will never be a tidy, spare type of house, and that’s ok, but really some things were out of control. After the roaring successes of my closet, floor, hall “closet”, and some other areas, I turned my attention to some more fun types of things I’ve been wanting to tackle-fabric and recipes. For the fabric I decided to go for it and try the “Scraptherapy” approach I’ve read about. Basically taking your scrap fabric and cutting it all into squares of a specific size. I had some hemming and hawing-what if I needed a bigger piece? What if I didn’t want it as a square? But ultimately decided that my wadded up scraps weren’t doing me any favors and there’d always be more scraps coming down the line. It took a shockingly long time to just go through ONE bag of fabric (there are more to be tackled)-ironing things took a while. But I’m delighted with my supply of 3 1/2″, 2 1/2″, and 2″ squares. I can save them for a special project, or if I ever just want to use them up just sew them all together into a patchwork scrap quilt, or I’d even happily let Tabby use them to make her own first quilt.
Cutting scraps

Going through all that got me inspired to begin working on a Christmas quilt project. I dithered so much about design and whether or not I really loved the fabric anymore, but a sewed up a couple of blocks as a sample and decided finally on a Sawtooth block, alternating with red and green (it’s really more of a turquoise and coral color palette,which makes this fabric collection so interesting) backgrounds.
Christmas blocks

Christmas blocks

This is the first quilt I’ve made where I’ve calculated blocks and pieces and had to see written out- 240 2 1/2″ squares and find it a bit daunting.

The recipe reorganization was also a more than one day project. As you know, I love to cook, and for many years dealing with my recipes has been a recurring project. This time I sat down, determined to weed the collection down to only things I knew for sure I’d be cooking or were tried and true. I tried to be honest with myself about what I really needed and whether or not there was a recipe in one of my cookbooks I preferred. It was like a little trip down memory lane as I’d paged past some of these recipes what seems like a million times. I was once quite the mad Cooking Light clipper. If you only looked at the collection you would think that I a)often cooked chicken with artichoke hearts b)constantly hosted cocktail parties featuring a variety of tasty little finger foods. Neither one of those things is true. I am thrilled to have gotten the collection down to less than half of its previous size, and the remaining recipes are re-organized for easier, quicker access. It also made me feel very inspired to do some menu planning. And of course it led to a cookie recipe testing. (Consensus-these coconut cookies were a keeper.)

2015-02-27 14.21.22

And meanwhile, like everyone else, we’ve just been trudging along in the winter weather. I usually like the snow to last as long as possible, but I think I’m ready for a thaw. Though I dread the thought of the ensuing mud and puddles. The chickens are pretty fed up with the snow as well. Look how cute Gordon is, basking in the sunshine in a flower pot.
Potted Bunny
I know spring is definitely on the way, though. Instead of looking down at the snow covered ground-look up. I went for a walk on a sunny day last week (still cold, but the sun!) and the whole time a very active pair of red tailed hawks was by me. (the only time of the year they pair up; and bald eagles are laying their eggs now if you check out some eagle cams) I could hear birdsong galore, and in our own coop a little spring fever has gotten into our head rooster. He handily confirmed for me that the young chicken that looks like a Silkie is,in fact, a hen. So, take heart-spring is on its way!

Pie Day 12

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Pie Day 12
One of the most fun parties of the year-the annual Pie Day party! We always love going to our friends’ Pie Day Party and spending several happy hours sampling all the pies people bring. Various pizza pies are usually the heart of the dinner pies and this year I brought one (after looking at previous posts and realizing that I always bring a dessert pie, save the one year I brought a spinach and chicken pie in a phyllo crust.) So, I made a Hawaiian pizza, as that is my favorite homemade pizza to make. And Paul made a sweet potato pie.

Here is the run-down of the other pies.

Savory:
Bacon Explosion-a miniature pie filled with bacon and other meats. These were extremely tasty bites.

Pie Day 12
Quiche
Tomato Pie-the traditional
Italian Easter Pie-this thing weighed over 11 lbs and was filled with various cured meats. It was delicious.
Pie Day 12
Bacon and onion-a standard looking pizza with heavenly bacon and onion on it. I really liked this.
Hawaiian-what I made
Pie Day 12
Kale,  beet pesto, goat cheese-this was definitely the prettiest. The beet pesto was a beautiful color and it was a smooth spread. I don’t care for kale but I couldn’t even taste it on this. The goat cheese was great.
Pie Day 12
Salad on a flatbread-I’m not sure what else to call this. The bottom was crescent rolls, then spread with a cream cheese/ranch dressing mixture, then topped with salad stuff. The lightest thing you would eat all night!
Stilton & mushroom pie in a puff pastry crust-no way would I eat this because of the Stilton, but Paul tasted it and said it was good.
Sausage Pie-meat, meat, meat.
Individual pastries with a hamburger filling that included ketchup and mustard built in

Dessert: There were some heavy duty intensely chocolatey/candy bar like pies this year
Pie Day 12

Rice krispie crust with a chocolate ice cream filling and little peanut butter cups
Some kind of mocha pie
Paul’s sweet potato pie-This was delicious. Both then and the next day when I had a sliver for breakfast and found it even better. This was from my new cookbook and featured a “no roll out  pie crust”, which I have to say seemed more trouble than just making a regular old pie crust.
Pie Day 12
A biscoff crust with a nutella/mascarpone filling and meringue on top. I liked this creative concoction quite a bit.
Individual little heart shaped (it was Valentine’s Day after all) pies with lemon curd in the middle

It seemed like there was not quite as much crazy creativity as in years past, but everything certainly tasted delicious. Another couple is hosting their own pie party in NJ next week so we have the opportunity to try out something else. Pie is perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert-why not make a pie today?

Happy Valentine’s Day

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Happy Valentine's Day

a heap of Valentine's glitter

Happy Valentine's Day
Valentine’s Day, Galentine’s Day. I hope you have a lovely day with moments of friendship and love. And maybe some glitter and candy. Tabby did a great job making Valentines for her classmates this year.
Valentine's Day card making
In Clark’s class they made compliment hearts for everyone. I particularly enjoyed reading this one.
Compliment Cards
No fancy heart shaped breakfast or pink dinner for us today. I made some pink Rice Krispie treats, but we’re in Pie Day mode.  We love this annual Pie Day celebration our friend hosts and are busy making our pies to bring with us.
And note to my two friends who will say that everything looks picture book holiday perfect I can tell you that neither one of my children thought to make me a card this year and I got zip. So, yeah. I pointed out that Valentine’s Day lasts all day and I think at least one card may have been guiltily made. However, I was tickled that Clark gave Tabby a box pink tic-tacs.
Happy Valentine's Day
Happy Valentine’s Day!

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

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It’s no surprise that I love keeping a journal, writing letters, and saving things. It’s partly because I enjoy looking back, partly because when it comes to history I’ve always like reading about ordinary people and therefore it’s fun to think about reading my own stuff many years from now, and partly because my mom was unsentimental and barely saved anything, much to my dismay.  I can fall into a hole of nostalgia by reading past blog posts and wander down memory lane upon finding an old photo or letter. Yesterday, while on a search for an important document, I began opening some boxes of old stuff.  I literally have hundreds of pieces of correspondence that I’ve saved. When I saw it all what I couldn’t get over was how often my friends and I wrote each other actual letters. There’s a delightfully large batch from when one close friend in college did a semester abroad.  There are envelopes with all my different addresses from college, graduate school, and beyond. And there were many, many letters from my father and grandmother, both of whom are now gone and so I especially cherish them.  I picked out a letter at random and it was a densely written double sided letter from a college friend (who is still a close friend) that was a tiny bit scandalous. We email laughed about it, especially the part where she’d written “Do you ever think when you’re writing a letter that it may someday become published if you get really famous OR infamous, and that you’d better 1. try not to sound too vapid, 2. not tell the whole truth, and 3. use proper sentence structure?”  And see? Here it is 20 years later and that letter was found and read! So then email was invented and it seemed like we no longer wrote letters to each other, which is why I was delighted to begin pen-palling with a friend a couple years ago.  So, that was my stuff I found.
And then there was….Paul’s stuff.  Paul’s mother was apparently cut from the same cloth as me. I’ve written before about the marvelous convalescence scrapbook we have of hers.  Well, yesterday I came across the lovely box of every card they received when they got married. And the box of cards they received when Paul was born. And all Paul’s first communion cards. (and then Paul found all the “signing books” from his grade school years and also all the little shirts from his various sports teams. Which we tried on. I have to say they made better t-shirts back then because they were all really nice soft cotton in good shape still. The best is the Little League shirts from the year his team was sponsored by Diamond Liquors. It seems like nowadays they wouldn’t let little kids wear shirts emblazoned with Liquor.) Anyway, I come to the same conclusions about greeting cards from way back as compared to now. So much better variety! Hilariously corny! Sweet little pictures! It also seems like it was likely easier to pick up an inexpensive card-like they were everywhere and you’d pick up a pretty one and send it on its way. (Going back and reading that convalescence post I see I have already made that comment!)
Wedding Cards: 1958
The wedding cards are pretty, religious, sweet, feature many drawings of brides and grooms, and came in such a variety of sizes.
Wedding Cards: 1958
I especially liked the one that explained the “bluebirds of happiness”, a card I can’t imagine finding at the drugstore these days. I was pleased to note it was sent by someone whom we still get a Christmas card from!
Wedding Cards: 1958
Paul’s mom noted on each envelope how much money they’d sent and checked when she sent a thank you note. Usual amount? $10-$25.
One of my favorite finds was a letter sent to his mom from someone who was sorry to have missed the wedding because she’d just had a baby 8 days before. (Though she notes this letter is written a full month letter as “You see with 2 children it took me a while to get a schedule etc and things are just about back to normal now.”)
Wedding Cards: 1958
Listen to this sweet thing she writes: “Well how does it feel to be a Mrs? Heavenly I’m sure! I know this sounds corny but I truly still feel a special thrill when I realize that Ron and I are married and that nothing and no-one can come between us. All this mush after 2 children, so you can see I haven’t changed a bit.” I mean, really. Thank you lady for writing those words 57 years ago for me to enjoy today. I think it’s charming you felt that way and wrote it to your friend. I guess that’s what really comes across in all these different greeting cards-there seemed to be an absolute ease or simplicity in the sending of a little message.
Wedding Cards: 1958
Then I came across the box containing all the cards received when Paul was born. I found their style less charming, mostly because they are more modern, but still being from 1969 they had a definitive style.
Baby Cards: 1969

Baby Cards: 1969
As noted from the convalescence cards, people had a weird habit of using unnecessary quotation marks. “Son”, for example. Paul really was their son, no need to quote it.
Baby Cards: 1969
I like this dreamy looking romantic 1969 mother.
Baby Cards: 1969
I am grateful to Paul’s mom for saving these mementos and hope someday my children or grandchildren enjoy looking through the boxes of wedding and baby cards that I’ve saved (though I can’t imagine them being so charmed by the greeting card styles of 2004-2009.)

And hey, after reading this, why not write someone an actual letter? I’m sure they’ll love to get it!

 

 

 

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