Monday, November 30, 2009

There’s Power in Trying Again

Man, I tell you, I have certainly been in a dither on this next project. See, I’m trying to finish up a quilt top - a lovely Kaleidoscope (from Quilts! Quilts!! Quilts!!! by McClun and Nownes) in nothing but polka dots. I finished it two years ago, and haven’t really moved it up to the active pile until now because I have been looking for *just* the right backing fabric. I felt the quilt deserved it, because making this sucker was one template-using, individually-cut time-consuming project! I’d been saving up polk dot fabrics for a couple of years, and I worked on the piecing from January to May of 2007. No wonder it took so long, I just counted and it’s comprised of 2,688 pieces of fabric! Yikes!

Well, after finishing the Christmas Present, I thought, let’s start working on a UFO. Still needing the backing fabric, I did a look-see on the ‘net and found a truly delightful Alexander Henry print from the Fashionista line -- It had a range of bright colors that echoed the front. Perfect! But yet, not. The line was from 2005, there were only 5 yards left. “Oh, that’s fine, I’ll only need six yards -- I can piece it together with something else.” Problem solved.

Tra la, tra lee, last Sunday we went to Bainbridge to take the boys swimming at the Bainbridge Aquatic Center, and I snuck off to go to Esther's. I had trimmed the thinnest little sliver of the print (which had sent me in such a timely manner) and merrily began matching some fabrics to flesh out my five yards. I bought three *more* yards of fabric for the backing and created 16 of these:

I thought it would make a lovely sort of ‘blended’ quilt back, fun to look at - interesting! I finished up the Pinwheel blocks and went upstairs to check the fabric length again, I thought I had just the right amount for two lengthwise strips. Tug, tug, pull, pull, I stretched out the fabric on the quilt top to discover, no. Not enough for two lengthwise pieces. Drats! I briefly told John my silly saga and he said, “why don’t you buy one piece that’s big enough?” Why not, indeed. Any suggestions on what might work well with this?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Done Quilting!

Slicing off the excess fabric and batting from a just-completed quilt is a truly satisfying moment. All of a sudden the crisp edge of your design and hard work is revealed. I am thrilled to be done quilting Someone’s Christmas present! Although certainly not challenging, the quilting motif I picked was pretty time-consuming. In the end, I am impressed with the density of the quilting, and also fascinated anew by the way the quilting changes the graphics of the quilt top. Colors seem to merge and blend, the overall crispness of the design is now more muted, more...wavy, indistinct.

The moments after finishing are also exciting, because finally, finally, one can think of moving on to the next project! At first I was having the urge to do something in deep, rich colors, blues, magentas, deep green, or -- I could finally lay out my Polka Dot Pinwheel, or -- start in on another new idea I’ve been kicking around, or -- I could start sewing some more Christmas presents! Aack! Back, back, I want back to the doldrums!

In the end, I started sewing up some cute little fabric balls. The boys enjoyed them quite a bit, they’re fun to throw, fun to twirl and spin if they’re on a ribbon, and fun to sniff if you hide a little bit of dried Sequim lavender inside. I might make more for Christmas ornaments, air fresheners, cat toys, or juggling balls... who knows?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Beef Burgundy Recipe!

NSQ headquarters has certainly been busy quilting lately, but as I am quilting a future present I am not posting pictures of the work in progress. As of today, I calculate that I am 92% done with the quilting! And rare for me, I have already decided upon the binding fabric for this to-be-gifted quilt once I am done stitching the ever-so-tiny 1-1/2" squares. That means today's highly read and commented upon post will feature a recipe hand-written and created by me.

Although I suppose I should be daunted after watching the movie Julie and Julia in which Boeuf Bourguignon featured prominently, I am not. I do not have a copy of Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking, and have not based this recipe on that. *My* recipe is an amalgamation of the one my mom gave me, and of about four others that I found on the Internet. Through trial and error I have made it my own, and it approximates the one my mom used to make me as my most-requested Birthday Meal. (Was that a tradition in your family? where the Birthday Girl --or Boy, got to request the meal for the night?)

I finally got myself a 6 qt. Dutch oven after wanting one for a really long time. I got mine from Target, after reviewing the hefty $200 plus price tags of the Le Creuset ones available. I've used it a couple of times this fall and have really loved using it. I think it satisfies my love for, first of all, baking! And, it's not hard to love the rich, heady aroma of meat braised in wine on a cold, blustery day. I've double-checked this recipe a couple of times, and feel like I've got it down. Let me know how it works out for you, if you try it!

Tracy's Beef Burgundy

4-5 oz. salt pork minced
1/3 C flour
1tsp. kosher salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper
2.5 - 3 lb. beef round roast
1-1/2 t thyme
3-4 cloves garlic
1 onion chopped
1/4 C cognac
3/4 L burgundy wine
5 sprigs Italian parsley
2 bay leaves
2-3 T unsalted butter
1 lb. mushrooms stems removed, then sliced in two if large
3-4 small carrots, or 1-1/2 cups mini carrots
1 can or jar of pearl onions, drained

Try out salt pork in dutch oven over medium high heat until crispy brown and no longer sizzling. Remove to paper towel lined plate. Combine flour, salt and pepper in a pie tin. Cut meat into 1-1/2” cubes, then dredge in flour mixture. Brown beef cubes in salt pork fat in dutch oven in batches; with beef forming a single uncrowded layer for approximately five minutes per batch. Add unsalted butter and/or olive oil to subsequent batches if needed.

Add chopped onion and garlic to last beef batch. Put all beef and any accumulated juices in dutch oven, then add warmed cognac. Light with a flaming spaghetti strand, then extinguish flames with wine. Add 3 sprigs parsley, thyme and bay leaves, bring to a simmer then transfer to 275° oven. Cook for 3 hours. While cooking, brown whole mushrooms in large saute pan over medium high heat stirring or shaking pan occasionally, until mushrooms are uniformly brown. Add carrots to stew 45 min. before serving, add onions and mushrooms 30 minutes before serving. Serve over buttered curly noodles and top with chopped fresh Italian parsley. Serves 8*

*That is, it serves two adults and two young boys age 5-7, twice!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sweet Spot or Doldrums?

It's a windy, gray day here in Port Townsend -- just like 200 more to come! Just kidding. Or not. Facing me today is migraine and back pain recovery and lots of sleepiness. Yesterday's migraine was a doozy. Beyond that, I've got my delightful mystery project to work on. I have been quilting it now for just over a week and am nearly halfway done. The sweet spot of this part of a quilting project, particularly if you are liking the results of your quilt top, is the peaceful meditative nature of simply sewing, sewing, sewing those quilting lines. I am doing an organic all-over grid pattern, so my mind is not too taxed by a complex quilting design, in fact it is rather meditative.

The doldrums part of the equation is that I am missing out on the push and pull of the creative process. I am not continually reflecting on my color and pattern choices, nor am I struggling with mastering the techniques involved in a particular piecing project. It might help if I had a better sense of what my next project should be, so that my mind had a creative challenge to work on as I quilt away. Will it be purple quilt top? (as that is the color scheme I've heard the intended recipient of this mystery project would really like) or should I get cracking on one of my many UFO's? A new project might include some trips to a fabric store or two, something that doesn't seem likely to happen in the near future.

Before I make that decision, I will share a NSQ first --- a recipe! I have created a fabulous new way to use up some of the leftover Halloween candy I bought. Hopeful, or hungry, me, went and purchased a 60 piece bag of Fun-Sized candy bars last Friday only to give out a total of 5 pieces to trick or treaters! I created the recipe below to reduce our inventory of extra candy and it was delicious!

Leftover Halloween Candy Brownie Bites
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
6 oz. unsalted butter - cut into small pieces
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
a pinch of salt
1/2 C, plus 2 T unbleached flour
4 Reeses Peanut Butter cups cut into thirds
4 Fun Sized Almond Joys cut into thirds or in half, depending on your love for coconut

Chop chocolate and place in a microwave-able glass bowl. Melt chocolate in microwave for 1 minute on high. Add butter and microwave for 40 seconds more. Stir until chocolate and butter are melted. Mix in the sugar, and then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add salt and vanilla and stir, add flour and stir until just combined.

Grease two mini-muffin sized pans with Pam, and scoop brownie batter into each cup (I use a cookie scoop that measures about 1-1/2 T in volume) Poke either a Reeses piece or an Almond Joy piece into the center of each brownie cup. It is fine if a wedge of candy sticks up out of the batter, that will actually make it less likely for your brownie to stick to the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, until brownie top is set.

Unmold each brownie bite by running a butter knife around the perimeter and gently prying out with the knife. Cool on wire rack and try not to eat half a dozen in the next ten minutes.

I took my batch to a meeting the night I made them and they got rave reviews. Let me know if you try them and how they turn out!