Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to make a quilt...

Did I tell you that I stopped at Nancy Zieman's store while I was in Wisconsin? I figured I had to, I mean, I was right there and it would have been a cardinal sin not to! Nancy was there (in the form of a lifesized cardboard form) and so were all of her glorious notions and fabrics etc.  But, because we were traveling, I didn't get buy a whole bunch.  I didn't want to walk away empty-handed so I bought two Moda charm packs ("A Walk In The Woods" by Aneela Hoey) and a yard of coordinating light blue cotton polka dot.  I didn't know what I was going to do with them, but I did know that I had to have them!  I didn't even think to put them together until today, actually.

Once I realized that the charm packs and the yard of polka dots were a good combination and that they could be the perfect quilt for The Roo, I went over to my "Quilts" board on Pinterest for inspiration.  I knew which one I wanted but I didn't know how I was going to get it from this:

To this beautiful creation by Red Pepper Quilts because I have only made two quilts in the 29 years that I've been sewing.  It's kind of a trip to have to convert my head from thinking about armhole curves and hem allowances to geometric shapes and 1/4" seams!

My first quilt was a gift for my then-boyfriend/now husband back when we barely had two dimes to rub together.  I worked at a fabric store, and there was inspiration all around me.  When it came time for his birthday, I decided that a quilt was a logical, simple, easy choice for a gift.  Having never, ever made a quilt before, I thought "How hard can it be?"  So, I went around the shop and cut swatches of the fabrics I wanted to use.  Then, I cut them all into 1/2" squares.  Next, I drew my own 1/2" grid graph paper and arranged all the little fabric squares into a pattern that I liked, then glued them down.  Once I figured out how many squares of each fabric I needed, I was able to figure out how much fabric to buy.  This next part is the kicker...I used a ruler and a ball point pen to draw squares onto the backs of each fabric and then cut them out with scissors.  Seriously, I didn't know any better.  Rotary cutter and a self-healing mat?  Who needs 'em?  I was able to use my homemade mini quilt map for directions and assembly of the real deal.  After I had a row completed, I simply folded the map to the back until finally I had a completed quilt.  I have to say that it was a darn good job given all the reasons that it could have been a big failure.  But you know, I'm proud of it and for the most part my seams all match up.  He still has the quilt and he even uses it!  That's the part that makes me especially proud.  I love that man!  Here is his quilt:

PS These hideously ugly and totally awesome wingback chairs are a post for another day, stay tuned!

My mind cannot compute the whole geometric conversion thing.  I'm really bad at math, I need help!  Thankfully, I have a few friends who know a thing or two about quilting and I was able to put out a distress call.  Katy of I'm A Ginger Monkey so very thoughtfully came to the rescue with not only advice but also some extra fabric that she suggested I needed!  Isn't she the grooviest?  (She also admitted to "pulling me over to the dark side of quilting" which is hilarious.  I'm coming willingly!  No kicking and screaming here, haha.)  I'd also like to say a great big thank you to my other instagram friends for being so very kind and offering up lots of good advice and suggestions: @goingsewcrazy, @ramsamania, @kristastitched, @shinergirltx, @ladyashley and @cupofjoy.  As this quilt comes together, I will post pictures.  Who knows, I might even try my flickr account out again!

Happy sewing!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Recipe: Blueberry Sour Cream Pie

If you follow me on instagram, then you know that I have spent the last week on my feet and in front of the stove.  After all of the berry/fruit picking that I did last week, I have a lot of jam, jelly and pie filling to show for it.  I started with the Strawberry Lemonade Jam and continued on with Lemon Blueberry Jam, Old-Fashioned Raspberry Jam, Triple Berry Jam, Raspberry Compote, Cinnamon-Spiced Strawberry and Peach Preserves, Blueberry Pie Filling, Old-Fashioned Peach Jam and finally, today, Watermelon Jelly.  It's a hard call to say which one is my favorite, but I think I have it narrowed down to the Peach Jam and the Strawberry Lemonade Jam.

One thing that I made with all those berries was a Blueberry Sour Cream Pie and oh, man was it delicious!  It was creamy, smooth, perfectly sweet and had that fresh juicy taste of blueberries in every bite.  I'm normally not a fruit pie fan at all, but there was something special about this.  It was almost like cheesecake, but it definitely had that sour cream flavor to it.  It was divine.  I made it for a group of friends who came over for a barbecue and not a single person was disappointed.  In fact, I think it was the only time all day that no one had anything to say!  That's a sure sign of a good pie!

Blueberry Sour Cream Pie
serves 8


Graham Cracker Crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 9 full sheets, pulsed in a food processor)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar


3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups fresh blueberries 


3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons butter


Preheat oven to 400*.

In the bottom of a pie pan, combine graham cracker crumbs and brown sugar.  Stir in butter until thoroughly mixed, press up the bottom and sides of the pie pan.  Place crust in the freezer while you work on the filling.  (or at least 15 minutes.)
Combine sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl; set aside.  In the bowl of your mixer, beat sour cream, egg and vanilla until blended and smooth; scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beater during mixing at least once.  Slowly add sugar mixture to sour cream mixture and stir until thoroughly combined.  Fold in blueberries by hand.  Pour into frozen crust and bake for 25 minutes.

While pie is baking, combine flour and sugar in a medium sized bowl to make the topping.  Using a pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until butter is rice-sized.  Some bigger chunks are ok.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the pie and return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes.  You may need to broil the top of the pie for even browning (and to avoid overbaking the pie) but be careful to watch it so it does not burn!

Chill pie before serving.

Happy baking!

Click here for the original link for the blueberry pie, and here for the graham cracker crust.


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Recipe: Homemade Strawberry Lemonade Jam

I wish I had a picture of this jam on a piece of fresh-baked bread but I don't. I don't because I only just now finished canning this jam. Holy cow, I think I died and went to Summer Breakfast Heaven. 

I started off thinking that I was just going to make regular ol' strawberry jam, but then I started poking around in the produce drawer of my refrigerator.  I spied the lemons and thought..."Hmmm...I've made marmalade before, I bet I can combine...I KNOW!!!!" Voila.  Strawberry Lemonade Jam was born.  Well, conceived...I guess it was "born" a couple of hours later.  Anyway, while I was in the house making this lovely jam, my husband was outside building a vegetable box for me.  Would you like to see?

Daddy-O and Remy are working together on my new veggie garden box.
What a productive day we had!  By the time I was done with the jam, Mr. Cool was done with the box!  When I'm finished here, we're off to the dirt store for some dirt (obviously, right?) and the nursery because they have some gorgeous veggie starters for $3 each.  I'm so excited.  Anyway, back to the jam...

Grab yourself some berries and a strawberry huller (or a paring knife as one Mrs. McPorkchop, self-proclaimed "Laziest Girl Ever", prefers.) And let's get started.

Start by washing all of your fruit, lemons included.  I try to buy local and organic produce as much as possible, especially strawberries.  Strawberries are on that Dirty Dozen list (scary stuff, that!) so wash the heck out of those little nuggets of joy!  Click here for more information on it.

I, personally, love the Environne product Fruit & Veggie Wash and I use it as much as possible.  I buy it at Trader Joe's, but I bet you can find it anywhere that has a decent organic foods section.

Once your berries (AND LEMONS! heh heh heh) are washed, you can hull them with your nifty strawberry hulling gadget or simply slice the tops off with a small, sharp knife.  Mr. Cool gave me the huller for Mother's Day and I swear it was the best gift ever! 

See how it removes the white cone thingy from the inside along with the leaves?  I love that!

Put all of your berries in a big bowl and mash them up as best as you can.  They will soften and break down as they cook, so don't worry if some of them are too firm to break up.  Besides, everyone loves a nice juicy berry in their jam. 

Transfer this to a large, nonreactive (choose stainless steel or enamel instead of Teflon) stock pot and add six cups of sugar to it.

Now for those lemons and the reason I made you wash them: finely grate two lemons, avoiding the pith and add to the pot.  You might as well grate the rinds of two more lemons because in a couple of days I'm going to give you a recipe to use with this very jam and you'll need the lemon zest for it.

Cut two of the lemons in half and squeeze all of the juice out of them.  I used to have a nifty device for just this purpose.  But about a month ago, on one of those record-breaking bad days, it snapped in half and went flying across the kitchen after taking a chunk out of my forehead first (of course).  It was a bad day, did I already say that?  So, now I just squeeze the lemons over a bowl and then dump the bowl into a sieve to catch the seeds, which is what I did here.

Next, remove the rinds and pith of the last two rind-grated lemons, coarsely chop them and throw 'em in the pot.  It's starting to look good in there, isn't it?

Now, thinly slice two lemons about 1/8" thick.  Quarter these slices and then add to the mix.

Give it a good stir, then set your burner to low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to medium and stir occasionally until the mixture has reached 220*.  Use a candy thermometer to be sure you have reached this temperature.  Jam sets at 220* and you definitely want to avoid scorching it.  It'll take between 40-60 minutes, so set your timer!

It's really hard to get a good picture when there's tons of steam coming out of the pot!
In the meantime, you should have your jars sterilized and ready to go on the back burner.  Sterilize your jars by placing them sideways or upside down in a pot and cover completely with water.  Be sure to put the lids in the same pot.  It is not necessary to sterilize the rings, so leave these out.

Boil the jars/lids for about 10 minutes and then turn the burners off.  The jars should be hot when you fill them up, so just leave them in the water until you are ready to use them.

Now, how's that planter box going?

Since I was working by myself, I didn't get a picture of the jam going in to the jars.

  You kinda have to work quickly, so it was fill, lid, ring.  Fill, lid, ring. Repeat until you have used up all of the jam.  Be sure to soak that pot right away!

And now, you should have five lovely little jars of Strawberry Lemonade Jam to hoard give generously to your friends and family!

If I was at all computer savvy, this is the part where I would offer you a free printable label but that is way beyond me so instead, I offer you something I found on Pinterest.  I hope you're okay with that.  These are really pretty, so I'm willing to bet you like them!

Thanks for reading through my little how-to!  Please come back and let me know what you think about the jam.  It is my very own recipe, and I'm awfully proud of it.  Enjoy!

Happy Canning!

Strawberry Lemonade Jam
(makes 5 pints)

4 pounds strawberries, washed, hulled and mashed
2 lemons, washed, zested and juiced (approximately 1/2 cup juice)
6 cups sugar
2 small lemons, washed, sliced and quartered
2 lemons, washed, zested, peeled and coarsely chopped

In a large stainless steel or enamel stock pot, add strawberries, sugar, lemon zest, chopped lemons and quartered lemon slices.  Stir over low heat with a wooden spoon until all of the sugar has dissolved completely.  Turn the burner up to medium and continue to cook until mixture has reached 220*, approximately 40-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Immediately transfer hot jam to clean, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2" of space from the top of the jar.  As soon as a jar is filled, immediately cover with lid and ring.  The ring should fit snug, it does not have to be super tight.  Once all jars are filled, process them in a water bath.  For more information, click here.

PS Check this out:

Come to mama, my little vegetable sproutlets!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Tutorial: Flour Sack Snack Bag

I made a deal with my friend before I went to Kansas City for Quilt Market.  If she could watch The Roo before and after school for a few days while I was gone, I'd trade her for a sewing project or two.  She didn't even hesitate.  In fact, I'm pretty sure she said "Can you make me a few reusable snack bags?" before she even agreed to watch her.

At first she asked if they could be made out of vinyl or plastic so that they could be wiped out, but after discussing food safe vs. chemical laden plastic etc, we both decided that just plain ol' fabric 'n velcro bags would be the best.  Then I decided (on my own) that I was going to make the bags out of a flour sack towel because well, shoot-they had to be food safe that way, right? 

At first I was going to make these bags lined, but then decided against it for a couple of reasons.  I figured that an unlined bag would be easier to keep cleaner longer (no crumbs and food dust to get caught between the lining and outside layers, gross!) and also, I didn't want the bag to be too bulky.  (It needed to stay lightweight and compact enough for your child's lunch bag or your pocket.)

Before I set to work, I thought of just one more thing...French seams.  I definitely didn't want loose threads or trapped lint to get all wrapped up in her grapes so I knew I had to finish the raw edges but skip the serger.  As soon as all of the details were worked out, I sat down to complete my first snack bag and about twenty minutes later I was done!

So are you ready to make your own? 

Finished Snack Bag size: 9 3/4" x 6"

What you will need:
-Flour Sack towels (I found mine in a four-pack at Target for about $5)
-Scrap fabric about 3"x13"
-Pen and Grid Ruler

What you will do:
Fold towel in half, then in half again (creating four equal squares) and press.

You can see that the towel was probably not totally square to begin with as you may have wonky edges.  This is okay, use your grid ruler to draw a straight line on both UNFOLDED edges; trim carefully on the straight line.  You may want to pin the layers together to prevent sliding. (I decided to skip that step.)

You will have four separate towel squares, but you will only need one.

Fold the square in half and press.  This will create a center guideline for your scrap fabric strip.

To finish the fabric strip, fold the long raw edges of the strip to the inside 1/2" and press.

Pin the strip carefully to the center of the square, using your center fold line as a guide.

Carefully edge-stitch the strip in place, 1/16" on all four sides.

Now, this is where it's going to "feel" strange.  With WRONG sides together, fold square in half, pin both short sides together and stitch, using a 1/2" seam allowance.

Very carefully trim the bottom corners off the bag.

Turn bag wrong side out and press.

Stitch the sides again, this time using a 3/4" seam allowance.

Without turning the bag right side out yet, press seams towards the sides.

Now, turn the top edge under 1/2", all the way around, and press.  (Again, the bag has not yet been turned right side out.)

Cut a piece of velcro the length of the bag opening minus 1/4".  For example, if the bag is 10" long across the top, cut your velcro 9 3/4".  Pin or glue the soft side velcro in place, then carefully edgestitch along all four sides.

Repeat the last step for the hard side velcro on the other side of the bag.

Turn bag right side out, poke out the corners and voila!  You're done!

If I wasn't giving this one away, I would have filled it up with snacks to show you how awesome and useful it is.  No more landfill plastic baggies, no more wasting your money on a throw-away item.  Doesn't that feel good? 

Happy sewing!

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

Over the years I have perfected the method for making the best chocolate chip cookies.  I know, I know...that's quite a bold statement.  But just listen: these never come out flat, they never spread out and they don't get crunchy.  They're perfectly golden brown, fluffy and chewy in the center and ever-so-slightly crisp on the edges.  Absolute perfection!  (And pretty darn tasty dough! Although, please don't tell my sister because she hates when I eat raw cookie dough.) 

2 1/4 cup All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 sticks salted butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
12 ounces mini-chocolate chips

What To Do:
Preheat oven to 350*F.
Combine flour and baking soda in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of your mixer, add brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla and butter.

Blend on low speed just until butter is broken up:

It looks weird and goes against every other recipe's instructions, but just trust me.
Add both eggs:

Combine until this is barely blended.  It'll be slimy and chunky and really gross looking, but I swear it'll be fine.

Looks a bit oogie, right?
Now add the flour mixture about a half a cup at a time:

Until it's all blended nice and smooth:
See?  No butter chunks, perfectly blended, nice and firm!

Now, add your chocolate chips:

Mix until well combined.  I usually put my chocolate chips in the freezer for a few hours before mixing them in the dough.  Otherwise, they break up and clump in the dough and that's no good!

Don't you wish you could stick your spoon in and get a bite?
Place rounded teaspoonfulls on a cookie sheet about 2" apart and bake for 10 minutes. Transfer immediately to a rack to cool.

Now, go!  Bake cookies for the masses!  Your friends will want the recipe so be sure to send them this way, okay?  Happy baking!