2/25/17

A Winner and A Flimsy Start

Before saying another word, I need to tell you how very much I loved reading the stories you all wrote about your start in quilting. Many of them were quite touching, and brought back memories of my own grandmother and her quilts. Thank you for sharing so freely. And now, I need to announce the winner of the book, Our Family Quilt. Thanks go to the book's author Rhonda Cratty for generously agreeing to sponsor this giveaway. Mr. Random number generator chose

#6--Sarah

as the lucky winner. Sarah, I've written you an email, so check your inbox. 

Yesterday was supposed to be an NBS day (Nothing But Sewing). Instead, I ended up typing endless recipes into my database. You might remember that I keep a database of the new recipes worth keeping. It's a pretty good program, and it's searchable. It's particularly helpful with the CSA veggies because I can search for a particular ingredient and come up with a list of recipes I've tried that include that ingredient. When I started with it, I was on the 7th version. Recently, I updated to Version 15.


Version 15 came with a year's subscription to their website, which means I can also find my recipes in my online account. It hasn't worked very well, and so I doubt I'll extend my membership beyond the free year, but I'm not ruling it out either. Once the Resident Engineer quits getting distracted with an actual job, I might hire him to fix my technical problems. I wonder if he'd take payment in bread.

So, anyway...I try so many recipes, and they start to stack up on my desk for entry. 


A few weeks ago, I had about 40 recipes stacked up. And since there's a new one tried nearly every day, they just keep stacking up. Finally, I decided I couldn't take the virtual pressure any more, and so I started typing. I'm down to the last four now. And all of that to say that I probably spent about two hours just typing recipes into my database before making it into the sewing room. Maybe today I'll get caught up on them. Possibly this message from the selvage edge is speaking to me in my quest to tame the recipes.


When I finally got into the sewing room, I went to work cutting out 167 little 2 1/2-inch squares for the sashings and cornerstones. When they were cut, I went to work sewing them onto the blocks. I like to work with each block individually and then sew the blocks together, rather than sewing a long line of little squares together first. Since I don't like pinning, I try to keep the mileage on any given piece short. Also, I kind of wanted to see how the fabrics were going to look framing the block. Here's the first one. It's only sashed on two sides.


And it looked okay to me, and so I sewed the first row together. Cute, huh?


What about me? Do you think I'm cute too?


Not too long after that, I had two rows sewn together, and that's where I left it for the day.


For this, I had plenty of help from my "Cat of Darkness." Even with fill flash, I couldn't get enough light on her little furry face to light her up. I can only think she absorbs the light. 


Speaking of the Cat of Darkness, I wanted to tell you a little story about our very first cat, Benjamin. Here's a picture of Benjamin when we were living in Phoenix. That's his sister cat, Peanut, there in the background. She was a stray who kept showing up at our glass door and looking adorable until we couldn't take it any more and let her inside. We're kind of soft-headed...er, soft-hearted that way.


When Benjamin was a kitten, his favorite game was a ping pong ball in the bathtub. He actually shredded our plastic shower curtain playing ping pong ball in the bathtub. We've had a lot of cats since Benjamin; namely, Peanut, Tom, Willy I, Willy II, Katie, Tabby, George, Gracie, Smitty, Maggie, and Sadie. In all those cats, not a single one would play ping pong ball in the bathtub, and this caused Mike no end of sadness. Until now. 


Sadie is the first cat who has discovered the joys of a ping pong ball in the bathtub. A ping pong ball has resided in our various bathtubs for decades. Finally, a cat will play with it. As you might guess, Mike is overcome with love and affection for this Cat of Darkness.


You can rest easy knowing that the Resident Engineer has dried his tears over the many years of ping-pong-ball-in-the-bathtub-of-neglect.

So today's agenda is to get the rest of those blocks sewn together. Also, I've got another sourdough starter going. The last loaf of bread was so good, that I need to bake another right away. Possibly, just possibly, I can use it to bribe the Resident Engineer to work on some of my technical woes.

2/24/17

Happy National CSA Day!

This morning my friend Sue sent me this image.


Ordinarily we walk on Friday mornings, and we will walk rain or shine. Snow, though...snow is a different animal altogether. We wouldn't mind a walk in the snow, but driving in the snow is another matter. There was just a dusting (plus some leftover from Wednesday) when I got up this morning, but it's been snowing pretty much nonstop for hours. Seems like a good day to stay in and sew.

Yesterday I got to work on the Bee Loving quilt. You might remember this as the Bee-utiful Quilt-along that started on the Moda Bake Shop last June. Pamela Morgan designed this adorable quilt, and it proved to be very popular.


If I'm remembering correctly, the blocks were released two per week over the summer, and I managed to keep up through the end. The embroidered blocks have been finished for months, and they've been lounging in the sewing room awaiting their turn to be sewn into a flimsy.

The original quilt was created using a line of fabrics created by Deb Strain, known as "Bee Creative." The quilt-along was so popular that the fabrics sold out nationwide in no time. I ended up purchasing at least one from the line, but then I went in search of alternatives. There were a few in my stash, and then I purchased a couple more online. These are the fabrics I'm using in my quilt.


The one on the left has been in my stash a long time, and I'll use that for the outer border. The bottom fabric will be used for the quilt back. Above that are the fabrics I'll use for the sashing and inner border. Finally at the top is a word fabric I'll use to frame the blocks.

Smitty appurroves. He's pretty easy when it comes to fabric. Lay them on a flat surface, and he will lay on them.


The original quilt had all the blocks framed in a "word" fabric, and so I decided to use this scrap of Lynette Anderson fabric in mine. It's a leftover from many quilts I've made, and I think when this quilt is finished, I'll have used all but about a fat quarter-sized piece. It has the word "bees" in it, and so I figure it works.


Originally, I used it for the backing in A Gardener's Journal.


So yesterday, I managed to get all 20 blocks framed.


Today I'll get to work making the sashings and sewing the blocks together.

Before I go, however, I need to tell you that February 24th has been designated National CSA Day (Community Supported Agriculture). According to Small Farm Central, February 24th is the most popular day of the year to sign up for a CSA share.


If you've been reading long, then you know we love our CSA veggies here at the Three Cats Ranch. A while back, I wrote a blog post about the many good reasons to purchase a CSA share from a local farm. There's a bit of a learning curve when one commits to a full season of vegetables. We've signed up for our third season this year. Since writing that post, I've learned even more about preparing, eating, and preserving the harvest, and now we are eating CSA veggies almost every night, all year long, even well past the end of the season.

Just last night I tried this recipe for Oprah's Kale and Farro Soup. It was so yummy, and the sourdough bread from yesterday was perfect for dunking.


Farro has become my favorite grain. It has the nicest texture. I used to have to go to a specialty market to get it, but now it's available in our local supermarket. The best thing about the soup was it allowed me to use some frozen butternut squash, frozen kale, frozen tomatoes, and homemade veggie stock all from last season's CSA share.

If you're interested in finding a small farm close to you, there are a couple of resources with searchable databases. You can look here at Local Harvest or check this page at the US Department of Agriculture website. You can search at either site using your zip code.

There's just one housekeeping task to take care of today, and that won't take long. Otherwise, it's going to be an NBS day (Nothing But Sewing). Stay warm and dry, my friends. And thank you to all of you who have left snotty happy comments about the nice weather you're having. It seems as if we're setting weather records all over the country, some good...or, here in Portland, not so good.

2/23/17

Bread By the Book

Okay, so way back there in 2016, I set out to bake every loaf of bread in this book:


Before I could get started with the baking, however, I had to read about 100 pages learning about bread-baking in general. It was interesting reading through all of that, and I learned a lot, but my impatience to start baking grew every time I turned a page. In the meantime, I drooled over some of the breads in this book. 


Then, the other day I saw this new book online, and of course, I needed it instantly. Gotta love Amazon "Buy with One-Click" to keep your bank account always in arrears.


While we were camping last weekend, I went through each page in the book, salivating over the many selections.

And don't even get me started on the yummy recipes in this book, already in my collection:


Oh yes, and don't forget this one. In fact, I blame King Arthur Flour for this whole thing, what with their selection of specialty flours and then opening a baking school in Washington.


Those are just the cookbooks. Then there are the bread-baking groups online and the Breadtopia website. So what's a consummate baker to do but get baking? 

Here's the thing: Baking is just like quilting. There are simply too many breads to be baked and not nearly enough years left in my life to bake all of them. And all of that to say that I'm abandoning my original goal of baking every loaf in the Bread Baker's Apprentice book simply because all of those books and websites and groups I just mentioned have presented too many shiny objects for me to continue plodding through breads I'm not really interested in. I'm just going to bake whatever and whenever the mood strikes...which will be often. So there. I've said it. I'm a quitter, but it's for a good cause; namely, more bread. 

The other thing I've realized about bread baking is that most of these breads have little to no fat or sugar, and so baking bread satisfies my urge to bake something without adding a lot of calories to our diet. After all, we'd be eating bread regardless. With that in mind, you might already know that I started yesterday trying again on the Artisan Sourdough No-Knead Bread that failed several weeks back. Since then I've figured out that over proofing was my problem. Also since then, the starter has matured and become tantalizingly vigorous. I showed you this picture yesterday:

I left the house shortly after that, but had the presence of mind to set it on a salad plate. It was a good thing because in the intervening three hours, it overflowed the jar and made quite a mess...all contained on the salad plate, fortunately. It's the first time that's happened to me, although I've seen it happen to others online. Obviously, this is the most vigorous starter I've worked with to date.

So, when I got home, I mixed up the bread dough and started it rising.


It was supposed to take 10-14 hours (even as much as 18 hours) to rise. It was nearly 4:30 p.m. when I got it mixed up, and (keeping in mind the over proofing issue) I put it in the refrigerator after 5 1/2 hours to be started again this morning. After just a couple of hours this morning, it had risen nicely and was getting bubbly on top. 


I decided to call it quits and move on to step 2, which was folding and resting for 15 minutes (not looking so spunky now, is it?)


and then shaping and placing it in a banneton for a second rise.


The second rise was supposed to take 1 1/2 hours. I checked it after one hour and it hadn't done much, so I ended up giving it an extra hour. By the time the oven had preheated, it had risen for 2 1/2 hours. (The banneton is a nice guide. I simply count how many rings are showing to see how much it's risen.)


Then I tried something new for getting it into the pot. Several sources, including America's Test Kitchens, have convinced me that it's safe to bake in the Dutch oven using parchment. In the past, I've dumped the dough directly into the hot Dutch oven for baking, but it tends to fall sideways and then it isn't as pretty as it might have been. This time, I prepared a sheet of parchment by sprinkling it with cornmeal just as I would the Dutch oven, and then dumping the bread onto the parchment. (It didn't have as far to fall, and the parchment wasn't hot!)


Then, I scored it...I've had varying degrees of success with this, but it doesn't matter that much.


And then I baked it! The recipe says to bake at 500° for 30 minutes, but that's too hot in my oven. I preheat to 500°, and then turn the oven down to 450° as soon as I put it in. It baked for 30 minutes with the lid on, and another 10 minutes with the lid off. When it came out of the oven....bee-utiful!


Using parchment also made it a whole lot easier to get the loaf out of the hot Dutch oven.


Now I can't wait to cut into it, but that will have to wait for a full hour. (Commences drumming of fingers.)

It's a pretty day here at the Three Cats Ranch. We're above the clouds, which always makes us feel very smug. All those valley-dwellers are shrouded in thick cloud cover. Of course, they don't have snow on the ground.


When I left home for my pedicure yesterday, the sun was shining, and it was relatively warm. Somewhere in the 40's, I'd guess. Three hours later, as I drove home, it first started raining, then hailing, then snow and hail, and finally...at the top of our hill, snowing hard. The temperature was dropping like a stone. By the time I got home (scary driving), it was 33° with an inch of accumulation.


 But lookie here...it's a harbinger of spring.


It's coming, my friends. The daffodils are growing, so there's no stopping it now.

As I've been baking this morning, I've been fitting in housework. This afternoon, I'm going to get to work sewing together the Bee Lovely quilt. It's the only other thing I wanted to finish before the end of the month. It's doubtful I'll finish it by next week, but starting on it is the first step.

2/22/17

Speedy Sewing

Before I get started, I wanted to say how much I'm appreciating reading all your comments for the book giveaway. It seems we all came to quilting in similar ways with just enough difference in the mix to make it thoroughly enjoyable. If you missed the giveaway, you can find it at that link I've given you back there. Be sure to read the comments!

Yesterday was an egg pick-up day and a grocery shopping day, and that left me pretty well wiped out by the time I got home. Also, it poured rain. Oregon in February...gotta love it. Anyway, the only sewing that was accomplished yesterday was to barely get started on the newest Hocuspocusville block. Of course, I started with the cat. And then the spider. And then the tree...in case the cat wanted to run up the tree...because of the spider. That's what I'd do.


That was as far as I got before I needed to quit and get on with my day. When I finished working on it this morning,the cat had a much more substantial tree to climb.


Today I'm getting my monthly pedicure and running a few errands. It's possible I'll have more time for sewing today, but just in case, I took some time for some speedy sewing this morning. The tenth block for the Solstice Challenge was released today. It's called "The Coffee Shop." Mine celebrates Black History month with a little nod to President's day too.


This "civil rights fabric" has been waiting its turn all month. For most of the quilt, I'm limiting myself to scraps from my stash. However, doing a "seasonal" quilt has meant purchasing a couple of fabrics. I found a fat quarter of this in somebody's Etsy shop, and I've been waiting for the right block to come along to use it. Since this is the last block for February, phew! Just in a nick of time.


With that finished, I had just enough time left to finish off the square-in-a-square blocks for Kathleen Tracy's Welcome Home Mystery Sewing Along.


These are 3 1/2 inches, and still need trimming. I was digging through my tiniest scraps for these yesterday. You might remember the beginnings of this quilt from yesterday's post. The square-in-a-square blocks are to be used later.


So that's all the sewing I've had time for today. There might be time left over in the day, but I'm usually tired after I've ventured out. The weather is much better today and we're even seeing sunshine on the hill. Sadly, I'm driving down into the valley where there is thick cloud cover.

Nearly all of the tomato seeds have sprouted now. They're sitting in the laundry room window, and since the catio was built, it doesn't allow in as much light. I'm going to set them up with a grow light this afternoon just to make sure the little buggers don't get sad and depressed.


Just before I took this picture, I turned them around so they're facing away from the window. You can see how they're all bent over reaching for the light.

Also, I'm going to get some more sourdough bread dough going again today to be baked tomorrow. You might remember my sad sourdough bread pancake from a couple of weeks ago. Since then I've become almost 100% certain that the dough was overproofed, and so I'm going to try it again. Glutton for punishment...that's me.

There are two starters in the refrigerator right now...one for white sourdough, one for whole wheat sourdough. I've been keeping them alive for about a month now, and when I want to bake bread, I use what I pour off at feeding time to make the starter for the next loaf. When I fed them yesterday, I used what I poured off for this starter. Yesterday morning, it filled only about 1/4 of the jar. When I checked it just how. Whoa, Nellie!

You cannot even begin to imagine how happy this makes me. Look at how frothy it is! That is one vigorous starter. So...it seems my success is assured, right? Well, as always with bread, my fingers are crossed. Wish me luck.

2/21/17

A Giveaway

This giveaway is now closed, but the comments are still worth reading.

Well, I promised you a giveaway yesterday, and here it is! Rhonda Cratty contacted me last week about a book she's written, entitled Our Family Quilt. Rhonda has generously agreed to sponsor a giveaway of her book.


The story is about Grace, a master quilter, sharing her creative gifts with her young granddaughter, Audrey. Together their lives unfold around their family quilt.  The love between grandmother and granddaughter keep a family’s generations turning despite minor setbacks, disappointments and celebrations of life. Friends and family of a charming mountain town in Colorado come together for life’s moments, creating an inspirational, heartwarming story.

Our Family Quilt immerses readers in:
Family Life
Contemporary Women
Quilting ideas
Creativity for everyday living
The secret world of Grandmothers and Granddaughters and the people they love

Rhonda explained to me that the inspiration for Our Family Quilt came alive when a friend first took her to a quilting class. She knew the journey she wanted to take the characters on, and she knew how to sew but not how to quilt. She also went to quilting shows, learning as she went. Eventually, she joined a quilting guild, listening to the inspiring speakers and meeting encouraging quilters. With each new friendship made, she became inspired to add a different dimension to both her quilting and her book. You can read more about Rhonda at her website right here. You can also read more about the inspiration for her book in this article that appeared in Summit Daily, based in Breckenridge and Summit County, Colorado.

So...what do you need to do to win? Well, you know that always means leaving a comment. Any comment will do, but if you need an idea, tell me what inspired you to become a quilter. That's easy for me...I wanted to become a quilter when I saw my own grandmother's quilts. The opportunity to learn didn't come until later in life, but I always knew I'd get there some day. Please make sure I have a way to contact you. No-reply equals no chance to win. If you're not sure, please leave an email address.

I'll leave this giveaway open for comments until Friday at midnight and choose a winner at random on Saturday morning. But if you don't want to wait, you should know that Rhonda will make the eBook version available for just 99¢ beginning Wednesday morning. You can purchase the eBook version beginning tomorrow morning right here. But don't delay. The book price increases incrementally every 32 hours thereafter until it's back to its regular price on March 1st.

Okay then. Good luck!

Presidents Day Pleasures

It was a fairly productive day yesterday, and I managed to tick off most of the to-do's on my list. Unpacking the camper was highest priority, and that didn't take long. It helped that Mike kindly unpacked all of the food and cleaned out the refrigerator. That job is usually mine 100% of the time, and so it was a nice surprise. Once everything was put away, I could get to some of my sewing tasks. First, I needed to make up a new embroidery project. This was accomplished with the help of my cat and several cups of coffee.


That's a new Wafer Lightbox I purchased from Massdrop recently, and I love it. At 11 x 17 inches it's a nice size, very portable, and very bright. It'll be nice to have along when we're traveling because it takes up almost no space at all.

As for the stitchery, it's hooped up and ready to go now. It's almost impossible to see in this image, but I'm showing it anyway just so you'll know I'm not kidding around.


After that, I finished up the "On the Road" block for the Summer Holiday quilt. These are so cute. Lynette Anderson's drawings are charming.


The next time I work on this, I'll be doing a block called "At the Campsite." (I had forgotten about the trailer.)


Finally, I was able to put the half-square-triangle border around the house for the Welcome Home Mystery Quilt Sew Along from Kathleen Tracy. Cute, huh?


I'm in the process of making eight square-in-a-square blocks. The fabrics are selected and cut, but I was getting tired of sewing by that time. Those will get finished today if I have time.