Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Practice Makes Perfect

We all know this phrase:  Practice makes perfect.  Everything in life takes practice, especially things like cooking and quilting.  Some things come more easily than others, but they do all take practice.

Take the photo of the quilt at the top of this post.  In the border, I used a technique called McTavishing on it, named for the creator of the technique, Karen McTavish.  It's a beautiful and wonderful filler texture that is reminiscent of the Art Nouveau movement.  It worked beautifully on this quilt, don't you think?  But you want in on a little secret?  It took me quite a while to learn that technique.

First I practiced on a dry-erase board, looking at pictures of the technique in Karen's book "Mastering the Art of McTavishing."  Boy was that a dismal failure.  I just couldn't get the hang of it.  I tried for weeks!  It was only when I finally pulled out the DVD that came with the book and WATCHED her doing it that it started to click.

Back to the white board I went.  It went a bit better.  I went over my lines time and time again until I felt confident enough to try it on fabric.  So I loaded up some cheap fabric with a scrap of batting, and I began.  I started with contrasting thread so I could see what I was doing.  This was my first attempt.

Ugh.  Not so hot.  The contrasting thread doesn't help any either, every last little mistake stands out.  Yikes.  So, I practiced some more, and here is my second attempt.

Getting a little better, I'd say.  The flow is coming more easily, I don't have to think quite as hard, and I'm starting to get into a groove.  OK, let's see how it goes with matching thread.  I rethreaded the machine with white thread.  Let's see what happens now.

Aha!  Success!  It's working!  Oh, how I danced across the room when I finally got it.  I'd been admiring this technique for so long, and struggling for so long, that it was definitely a sweet victory when I finally figured it out.  You can have sweet victory too, just be willing to practice.

Get a dry-erase board and start doodling.  Whether you're practicing a technique developed by another quilter or coming up with your own design, it doesn't matter.  Try it again and again until it looks the way you want it to look.  Then go back and follow your line over and over again until you start to develop a muscle memory of the movements you need to take in order to get the desired look.

Then it is time to move to fabric and thread. Use cheap scrap fabric, or even do it on a charity quilt.  If it's a children's charity, the kids won't care how the quilting looks, they'll be thrilled with their quilt no matter what.  It's a win-win situation for both of you.  :)

Just give yourself time, and be patient with yourself.  You'll get there!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Our Favorite Salsa

Yesterday we had a bit of an emergency... we were out of salsa.  My husband uses it as a condiment, much in the same way that the rest of us use ketchup, so I keep it in the house at all times.  So of course, I had to make more.  :)

But not any salsa recipe will do.  This, my friends, is our favorite salsa, MUCH better than anything you can get in a jar at the store.  It is a fantastic salsa recipe and so easy to make!  It's a variation of the Pioneer Woman's Restaurant Style Salsa, which can be found here:


Valerie's Salsa Variation

* 1/4 tsp sugar
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/4 tsp ground cumin
* 1 lime, juice freshly squeezed
* 1 whole jalapeno pepper, stem removed, quartered and roughly chopped
* 1 whole habanero pepper, stem removed, quartered and roughly chopped
* 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
* 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes, drained
* 2 cans (10 oz) Original Rotel (diced tomatoes with chilis), drained
* 1 bunch cilantro
* 1 clove garlic


In an 8 cup (64 oz) sealable container, combine the sugar, salt, and cumin.  Squeeze the lime juice directly into the container and swirl to mix the spices into the lime juice.

In your food processor, combine the two peppers and the onion.  Drain the can of peeled tomatoes and add to the food processor.  Process until the mixture reaches your desired texture.  For me, that's about 3-5 seconds of processing, with a couple pulses afterwards to catch any errant pieces.

Pour the mixture from the food processor into your container with the lime juice/spice mixture.  Mix with a rubber spatula.

Return the food processor to the base.  Chop the tops off the cilantro, roughly chop it, and add to the food processor.  Press the garlic into the food processor as well.  Finally, drain the two cans of Rotel and add to the food processor.  Process just as before, then add to the container.  Mix well with a rubber spatula and refrigerate.

This salsa keeps well in the refrigerator and works fantastically for so many things.  Top your scrambled eggs with some salsa.  Take some with you to Subway or Big Town Hero to use as a condiment on your sandwich.  Of course, make chips and salsa.  It's so versatile!  :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Potato Chowder with Bacon and Sausage

Potato Chowder with Bacon and Sausage
Serves 6-8

This is super tasty and is made in the microwave.  It takes about 30 minutes or so to make.  You'll need a deep covered microwave-safe 3 Qt dish.  I have a stoneware one from Pampered Chef (their Deep Covered Baker), but glass (Pyrex) works just as well.  The recipe is adapted from a Pampered Chef recipe.

* 3 russet potatoes (about 2.5 lbs)
* 3.5 cups 2% milk, divided
* 4 oz cream cheese (regular or reduced fat, but not fat free)
* 2 Tbsp butter or margarine (I always use butter)
* 2 green onions, with tops
* 4 oz (1 cup) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
* 6 slices bacon, cooked and diced
* 0.5 pound mild italian sausage, cooked and drained
* 1.5 tsp salt
* 0.5 tsp pepper

Set cream cheese on counter to come to room temperature.  Cook bacon, drain on paper towels, and dice when cool.  Set aside.  Cook sausage, drain, set aside.  Slice green onions thin and set aside.

Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and score skin with knife.  Place in a deep microwave-safe covered dish.  Pour 0.5 cup milk over potatoes, cover, and microwave on HIGH for 10 minutes.  Remove from microwave and rearrange potatoes so the outside ones move to the inside and vice versa.  Cover and return to microwave and cook on HIGH for 10 more minutes or until potatoes are soft.  Coarsely mash potatoes and skins (scoring the skins makes this easier).

While potatoes are cooking, whisk cream cheese until smooth.  Slowly add remaining 3 cups milk, whisking until smooth.  Add salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

After potatoes are mashed, add butter and milk/cream cheese mixture to the dish.  Cover and microwave on HIGH for 3-5 minutes or until hot.  Stir to combine.

Add grated cheddar cheese, sliced green onions, bacon, and sausage.  Stir to combine.  If the cheese has trouble melting, cover and return to the microwave and cook on HIGH for 1-2 minutes.

Note that there is broccoli in the chowder in the picture above.  You can add anything you want to the chowder after it's been cooked, this was leftover broccoli I had in the fridge from another meal and it was OK.  It's all up to you and your taste buds.  :)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's Almost Racing Season!

I'm so excited, it's almost racing season again!  I'm not talking running (though I do that too), I'm talking car racing.  It is SO MUCH FUN to go on that track and to push your car harder than you ever have before, going around corners faster than you ever have before, and to pass other cars like they were standing still.

Yes, I'm a bit of a speed demon.  Yes, that's me in the photo at the top of this post, taking Turn 12 at Portland International Raceway so fast my tires are squealing.  And if we were close enough, you'd see a big grin on my face, spanning from ear to ear.

Here I am, on the front straightaway, trying to catch the Porche that's ahead of me.  I never did catch him, but I did pass a Ferrari!

When I was younger, I had dreams of being an astronaut.  What kid of the 70's and 80's didn't dream of blasting off into space?  Obviously I didn't become an astronaut, nor did I become a fighter jet pilot (another dream of mine), so car racing is the next best thing.  :)

Here is a video of me from my last track day last Fall.  It was my first solo run, I had been cleared by my instructors to go without supervision.  It was a complete blast!!

The fantastic thing is that this is something that my husband and I do together.  He has former racing experience so he's been a fantastic teacher.  He was even my instructor for a day and our marriage survived!  LOL!  He's a wealth of information and I'm thrilled that we can enjoy this together.  So here's to a great racing season in 2012!

Is racing something that you're interested in?  Even if you're not, it's a great way to learn your car and to learn better driving skills even if you never plan on going on a track ever again in your life.  I highly recommend it. If you live in the Portland, OR area, I suggest taking a class through the Cascade Sports Car Club.


Their instruction is fantastic, both the evening before in the classroom and the day on the track with an in-car instructor.  I was always put at ease by my instructor and he gave me excellent direction and advice.  My husband and I both want our daughters to go through this training when they get their drivers licenses as it will make them better drivers in their daily life as well.

If you don't live in the Portland, OR area, you might look around to see if there's anything available near you.  It's amazing what you can have hiding practically in your backyard.  :)

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Binding

Are you a new quilter?  Have you made your first quilt, even quilted it, and are stuck with those dauting instructions to "bind to finish"?  Do you even know what the binding is?  :)

This is a close-up view of the binding on the quilt at the top of this post.

If you have never bound a quilt before, or if you have experienced problems while working on your binding, then you should take a look at my tutorial.  (Please be patient, it's a large file with LOTS of photos, but well worth the wait.)


In this tutorial, I go over all the steps of binding your quilt from making your own straight-grain binding, to sewing it on the quilt, to the final hand hemming for that beautiful finished look.

To be honest, binding is not hard.  It may take some time, but I love to do it in the evenings while watching my favorite TV shows or movies.  And in the end, you'll have the satisfaction of having beautifully finished your quilt.  What could be better than that?  :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Ramekins

Pumpkin pie isn't necessarily all that bad for you.  It's the crust and whipped cream (or Cool Whip) that make it so unhealthy.  So if you're looking for the flavor and the texture without having to resort to "fake food" (i.e. filled with additives and fillers), give this a try.

ALSO: Because there is no crust, this is a Gluten Free recipe!  Yippee!

(I use the pie recipe from the back of a Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin can)
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 1 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp ground ginger
* 1/4 tsp ground cloves
* 2 eggs
* 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
* 1 can (12 oz) Lowfat 2% evaporated milk

1) Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F (218.3 degrees C).

2) Mix together the first 5 ingredients.  Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then add the pumpkin and spice mixture.  Lastly add the evaporated milk.

3) Prepare 8 ramekins.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray or wipe down with a small amount of canola oil.

4) Spoon equal amounts of the pie filling into each of the ramekins.

5) Place in your preheated oven.  Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F (176.6 degrees C) and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of one ramekin comes out clean.  Place ramekins on a rack to cool.  

6) Once cool, cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  The flavors develop in the fridge, so I suggest waiting a full 24 hours before eating... if you can resist.  Otherwise spoon a small amount of whipped cream or Cool Whip on top and enjoy.  :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Glowing Polka Dot Jars

I was inspired to make these glow in the dark polka dot jars by this article I found on Pinterest:

(Sorry, I just don't know how to get a photo of these things glowing. You'll just have to imagine that part in your head LOL.)

My daughter is going to have a sleepover birthday party soon, and I thought that these would be a fantastic and fun way to add to the atmosphere of her party.  She heartily agreed.  :)  However, I didn't like the idea of flicking paint... it's just too messy for me.  And then it hit me... polka dots!!  We had our idea, so now I was off to get my supplies!

You can use whatever jars you may have on hand.  I didn't have any on hand, so I bought some.  They must be very clean so the paint will stick, so be sure to wash them well and let them thoroughly dry.  I chose to get wide-mouth jars, so that I have more space to work with.

I got some glow in the dark paint and little round foam brush things to do the painting.  I quickly realized that the handles on the brushes were way too long, so I cut them to only about 1/2 inch long.  That worked much better.

Edit: Unfortunately, this paint really didn't glow at all.  I would recommend using a different brand of paint, and test it on a scrap piece of paper or something first before painting your jars to make SURE it glows the way you want it to.

Here you see the jars after the first color is done.  And you can see the stubby little foam paint brush after I chopped off the handle LOL.  After each color, you need to let the paint dry for a few hours before doing the next color, otherwise you WILL smear the paint all over.  Ask me how I know.  :)

Once you're done with your colors and all the paint has dried, screw the lids on and voila!

I did learn an important lesson while working on this project, however.  Test your paint before you dive into the project.  I'm sorry to say that of these three colors, the yellow glows brightest, the green next, but I have a hard time seeing any of the orange glowing.  Make sure you're getting the results you want before you get all your jars painted.  (Oops!)

Even though they might not glow quite the way I want them to, they do glow at least a little and my daughter is thrilled with them.  In the end, that's all that matters, right?  :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Easy Sashing For Your Quilts

Sashings in quilt patterns always used to bother me.  Yes, they look lovely:

Yes, they can add a new dimension to your pattern, even creating a secondary pattern:

Yes, they can bring widely varied blocks together into a cohesive quilt:

But they can be a royal pain to deal with sometimes.  I don't know why they do this, but almost every quilt pattern I've seen has you sew a large strip of your sashing pieces and setting squares together, to be sewn to your rows of blocks during assembly.  But what happens if your blocks aren't QUITE the right dimensions?  You end up with a sashing/setting square strip that is longer than your row of blocks, and that can be a pain to work with... especially if you're wrestling with a King size quilt!

I've written a tutorial on how to make working with quilt sashing easy.  IMHO, it's just so much easier this way and it's how I do all my sashing these days.


I hope you find this tutorial useful!  Happy quilting!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Perfect Pinwheels

Well, at least "nearly perfect".  :)

Have you struggled with getting your pinwheel blocks to come out looking nice?  Are they off square?  Do the points get cut off in the middle?  Are they the wrong size when you add them in with other blocks, making you struggle to use them?  There are ways to make this a less stressful process and make your pinwheels turn out lovely.

I have written a tutorial on making pinwheels as perfectly as possible.  This will also help you with any half-square triangle units you use in your quilting projects.  Here is the link to the PDF:


Happy reading!

Edited because I forgot to make the link clickable.  Sorry about that!  Thanks to Linda for pointing that out.  :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gluten Free Pumpkin Spice Scones

This recipe is the result of my taking three different recipes, which all had elements I liked, and combining them together.  Of course, if you do not have to be gluten free, simply use all-purpose flour instead of the GF Blend below and omit the xanthan gum.  I do think this is a fantastic recipe and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do.

Yield: 8 scones

GF All-Purpose Flour Blend:
* 2 cups brown rice flour
* 1.5 cups sorghum flour
* 3 cups tapioca flour or starch
* 2 tsp xanthan gum

Scone ingredients:
* 2 cups all-purpose flour (regular or GF blend)
* 1/2 tsp additional xanthan gum for GF scones
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1/2 tsp nutmeg
* 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/4 tsp ground ginger
* 1/4 tsp allspice
* 1 tsp baking powder
* 1/4 tsp baking soda
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
* 1/3 cup buttermilk
* 1/2 cup pumpkin
* 1 tsp vanilla extract

Glaze ingredients:
* 8 oz (1/2 lb) powdered sugar
* 1/8 to 1/4 cup milk (start with less)
* 2 Tbsp butter, melted
* Dash of salt

Spiced Glaze ingredients:
* 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
* Dash ginger
* Dash ground cloves

1) In a large bowl, mix together the dry scone ingredients: flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2) Cut butter into small pieces and cut into flour mixture with two forks or a pastry cutter.  Mixture should look like crumbs or sand.
3) In a medium bowl, mix together the pumpkin, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Add this to the flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together into a rough ball.  If the dough seems too dry, add a splash of buttermilk and mix some more.
4) Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead 4-5 times until a cohesive ball is formed.  Flatten into a disk about 1.5" thick.
5) Cut the disk into 8 wedges, transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
6) Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
7) Transfer baked scones to a cookie rack to cool completely before icing.
8) When the scones are cool, make the icing.  Combine all icing ingredients into a bowl and stir until smooth.  You might want to start with the smaller amount of milk indicated, and add a bit more as you go until you get the texture you want.  It should be somewhat thick, but able to drizzle or spread.
9) Spoon some icing onto each scone and encourage it to cover the whole top with the spoon.  Use about 1/2 to 2/3 of the glaze for this step.
10) To make the Spiced Glaze to drizzle over the top, add all the Spiced Glaze ingredients to the remaining Glaze and mix well.  Transfer to a plastic baggie, then cut a small bit off one corner of the baggie.  Use this to pipe a drizzle of Spiced Glaze across the top of each scone.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gluten Free Granola

I want to share some of my favorite recipes with you, here on my blog.  I have gluten sensitivity so all my recipes will be gluten free, and they are all super tasty!  If you don't have to be gluten free, you can substitute your regular ingredients in place of any specifically gluten free ingredients.

This is a fantastic recipe for making granola.  It's tasty and hearty, it'll fill you up and keep you going.  A 1/2 cup serving is about 300 calories, so be aware of that.  Enjoy it with milk or yogurt.

* 5 cups Bob's Red Mill GF Oatmeal
* 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
* 2/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds
* 2/3 cup chopped pecans
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1/4 cup unsalted cashew pieces
* 1/4 cup shelled sunflower seeds
* 1/2 cup maple syrup
* 1/2 cup water
* 1/4 cup canola or grapeseed oil
* 1 cup mixed dried fruits

1) Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

2) Combine all ingredients from the oats to the sunflower seeds (all the dry ingredients) in a large bowl.

3) Combine the maple syrup, water, and canola oil in a small bowl.  Whisk until well combined.  Pour over the dry ingredients and stir until well combined.

4) Spread the mixture evenly onto a large rimmed baking sheet.

5) Bake for 45 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

6) Remove from the oven, stir well, then return to the oven and continue baking until golden brown and beginning to crisp, about 40-45 minutes more.  Stir once or twice while baking.

7) Remove from oven and stir in dried fruit.

8) Allow to cool completely, at least 1 hour.  Store in an airtight container.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Owl Planner Cover

I thought I'd post this project to give you some eye candy until I get my next project worked on.  This is a planner cover that I was commissioned to make for a very lovely client.  She loves owls and wanted something pretty to cover her day planner.  This is what I made:

It is a quilted cover that slides onto the planner's front and back covers.  The owl fabric was so lovely that I chose to recreate it as an applique in the center of the planner's front.  I cheated a little... the eyes are cut from a black and white polka-dot fabric!

This is the interior of the planner.  You can see the two panels under which the planner's front and back covers slide, as well as the quilting detail.  The whole planner is bound like a quilt would be bound, though I stitched it into place by machine on the back and hand hemmed to the front.  This is so that the dimensions of the inside of the planner were not compromised.

Also note that I stiffened the panels that hold in place the planner's front and back covers, I figured they would do a better job if they weren't floppy.  I wrapped a piece of duck canvas inside a cover of the green fabric and stitched that in place with several parallel lines of stitching.  I then basted them in place, and they were sewn in place when I sewed the binding on.

I don't really have a pattern for this project, though I did take notes so that I can do it again in the future if needed.  The basic steps aren't that hard.

1. Know the dimensions of your planner.  How tall and wide the covers are, and how thick the spine is.

2. From this you can determine the size your planner cover will need to be.  Don't forget to add seam allowances for the binding!

3. Have fun playing with the design of your planner cover!

I finally made it!

Well, I sure took my time getting here, but at long last... I have a blog.  :)  I hope that you will find my posts entertaining, informative, inspiring... well, at least I hope they don't put you to sleep LOL.

So, I bid you adieu until next time...