Reverse Applique Progress

This is how my piece looks so far; I’ve reverse appliqued 11 cloud shapes so far, 8 more to go. If you look carefully you can see 3 white cloud shapes, those are pattern pieces which I’m “auditioning” to see where clouds will look good on the remaining available quilt surface. This is a better view:

The surface looks a bit crooked because the fabric isn’t lying flat against the wall; the fabric that’s laminated is stiff and has no drape, so I have to really smooth it down to get an accurate read on the surface. I’m feeling confident it will quilt well, though.

I was distracted for a day with the 12 pounds of cherries I got at the store on sale recently; I used them to make a pie with the last of the lard from Prairie Pride Farms, it is THE best lard and it’s worth every penny:

It took me a few hours, it seemed, to pit all the cherries; in the end, enough for 3 pies. I had to freeze 2 pie’s worth because I don’t have any more lard, and according to the Prairie Pride website, they aren’t shipping until September, when it may cool down after the hottest summer on record.

It’s good I didn’t bake 3 pies or I probably would’ve eaten them all myself. I can’t tell you how good it turned out: check out the flake on the crust:

Recipe:

Pie crust for 2 pies

4 1/2 cups pitted cherries tossed with 1 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice and 4 pinches cinnamon. Toss these ingredients, then add 1/2 cup flour and 2 Tbsp cornstarch. Put in pie crust, use egg wash to anchor down the lattice strips cut from the second pie crust. Bake for 1 hour at 350. Cool on a rack to keep crust flaky and firm.

Latest Fabric Designs

I don’t mind the trial-and-error involved in art making; I just prefer the trial part, it always seems more open ended at least. The error part stinks!

Last weekend I made some fabric that didn’t turn out as well as I hoped. Drat!

I had this idea to make fabric with a large mountain motif. Here in Tucson, the Catalina Mountains are a familiar sight, so I drew a large shape of the mountains and then traced it onto contact paper (what you’d use for kitchen shelving) using my “light table” a.k.a patio door:

Here is a rather dim view of what the contact paper shapes (white) look on white fabric out on my patio on a hot day when the glare from the sun, even on my patio, made everything seem very white:

Here are the same shapes with dye screen-printed on top. Warm weather is very good for dyeing. The 4% ambient humidity might frighten some folks who dye, but I find that by adding enough urea to my dye solutions, that seems to be just enough of a wetting agent. As I’ve said before, I don’t batch my dyed fabric. It’s usually sun-dried and tossed in the washer within hours of being dyed.

I usually have better luck, but the above fabric didn’t turn out very well. I was planning on getting a fabric that I’d screen-print again, but what I got isn’t worth it. Sigh.

Though before learning the outcome (before it went in the wash) I made some foccacia, following a recipe in The Olives Table cookbook which I just got as a gift from my Aunt Mary. I find making some yummy food in the middle of a day of art making feels very luxurious. The focaccia recipe in that book is fantastic, here are how mine looked, slathered w/olive oil and peccorino romano and about 5 minutes from being done:

Anyway, a whole work week went by and today I picked up from where I left off, this time trying a different spin on the whole mountain theme. Here we have a panorama view of the Catalina mountains, made from color photographs photocopied and then taped together. I burned the edges of the bottom one and will do the same for the top one, as I like the effect:

Here they are on top of some previous screen printed fabric, also of the Catalina mountains. My plan is to laminate these photocopies onto silk organza, and then to layer the silk over the original fabric:

This is the roughly 20″x30″ piece of organza, pinned down on foam core with one of those contact-paper mountain shapes stuck on top. Not giving up on that idea! This fabric was screen printed this afternoon but not washed. Since it’s a sheer, and since the yardage is smaller, I’m hoping for a better outcome since the effect is supposed to be subtle. We’ll see tomorrow!

Bread Baking and Paper Shredding

I started working on the collage fabric I’m making for my new quilt project about the January 8 shootings; above are ripped up photocopies of photographs I took of the memorials to the victims.

In between bouts of paper ripping I made a batch of bread with the stand-mixer I recently found on Craigslist for a steal.

I used this recipe I got from my mom:

place 1 cup whole oats and 1 cup polenta in a bowl, pour in hot water until grains just covered, allow to stand, then:

2Tbsp fresh yeast and a bit of sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water; allow to stand in a warm spot for 20 minutes or until nice and bubbly, then add:

oat/corn mix, 1 Tbsp salt, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup good quality olive or safflower oil, 1Tbsp lecithin dissolved in a small amount of water, mix:

then, slowly add 4 cups organic whole wheat flower, mixing with a dough-hook. Add up to 1/2 cup more flour if needed until dough in mixer is nice and smooth to the touch, not sticky, but still moist. I’d say 7 minutes for sure in the mixer once the flour is added. Then place dough in a large greased bowl, brush top of dough with oil, cover with a cloth and let raise in a warm place for an hour or until double. Punch down, divide, knead each piece a minute and shape into loaves and place in loaf pans, brush with oil, let raise for 45 minutes or until loaf-sized, almost, then bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. This is what my bread looks like:

I was surprised how good it turned out. Very yummy.

Cheese Danish Primer

Probably my favorite food period is a well-made cheese danish. These are hard to find, though, because almost no one makes danish/croissant dough from scratch any more.

In my quest to develop proficiency in making a good danish dough, I went to Sonoita today where my mom graciously shared her danish making skills with me. She made a sweet dough earlier that morning; a sweet dough is simply a simple bread dough with butter and eggs that is NOT kneaded. This is a 3# sweet dough recipe that will make 28 cheese danish, or 28 croissant:

5 Cups flour, 1 cup scalded milk (cooled), 1/2 cup warm water, 1/2 cup melted butter (cooled), 1/2 cupt sugar or honey, 3 ggs, 1 teaspoon salt (I think 2 teaspoons of salt is better, but, this is my mom’s recipe).

Place melted butter and cooled milk in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the flour, 2 Tablespoons fresh yeast and 1/2 cup warm water; let rest for 20 minutes in a warm place. Then add sugar, eggs, salt and stir till smooth. Add all the flour and work into a smooth dough. Do not knead. Refrigerate overnight, though just for a few hours will be OK in a pinch.

Take half the dough and roll out into a 2 foot wide, 1 foot high rectangle (the shape below is not a very good rectangle, it’s an oval, but you get the idea); then take ONE stick butter and a cheese knife and slice the butter over one half of the rolled out dough:

Fold the dough in half over the butter to make a smaller rectangle, then fold the new smaller rectangle in three:

Roll out this new small rectangle into another 1 foot by 2 foot rectangle…

…then fold it the same way and roll out again:

Then cut the dough so that you have 4 rows five inches wide, then cut 5 inch squares from these rows.

In a separate bowl mix cheese filling: 1# cream cheese, half a cup flour, 1 Tablespoon vanilla. Place 2 Tablespoons of filling in the center of each danish square. Brush all four corners of danish square with egg wash, then bring 2 opposite corners to the center and FIRMLY press down to seal. Do the same with the 2 remaining opposite corners to create a danish:

I made scrappy little croissants out of the leftover pieces of dough:

Set danish on a parchment lined cookie sheet and let raise, covered, in a warm place about 40 minutes:

After raising they should look bigger, and if you look closely you might see the dough bubbling a bit:

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Here are our danish!

Yum.

White Bread

Good white bread is as close as I get to junk food. I would fail at giving up refined foods because of this. Instead of buying stuff I think of as not-quite-very-healthy, I decide if I want to eat it I have to make it from scratch: it’s fairly easy, after all, to pick up a bag of Newman-Os or an OK loaf of sourdough from Trader Joe’s. Making it takes some effort.

I started a loaf of bread this morning and let it raise during the day while I was at work. By 10:oo tonight I had a nice loaf:

That’s my pope bottle-opener there on the bottom.

I haven’t baked bread in years. I took the recipe from the Treasury of Newfoundland Dishes, it’s the second bread recipe called “White Bread”. Yes, I did spend much of my life in a bakery; but I can’t always remember proportions. I think the recipe called for too much salt.

I just had a hunk. Yummy. But not as good as the white bread my cousin Pat’s wife, Betty, makes every week in Newfoundland.

Finished Quilt Top

Every minute I spend posting to this blog, I could be working on my art quilt….which is due January 11th at the local quilt guild meeting if I want it to be in the January Quilt Show.

This is what I had to work with around Thanksgiving: I was arranging the poppy appliques and trying to figure out where they looked best. There was an awful lot of pinning and re-arranging going on before I settled on where each flower looked best.

After looking at it for a while, I realized I was going to need a couple more poppies for the design to feel balanced. I made a couple of appliques at the dining room table; here you see the pieces cut out, but not yet sewn together:

And here’s the finished applique:

If I worked on this before dinner time, I got this look from the corgis in the house:

They are staring at the dining room table. Where I am sewing. Not eating, and not making them dinner.

This is how dinner looks:

Baxter eats about 1/4 cup of wet food and then conks out for a bit while Bearbear attacks his kibble and peanut butter filled Kong toy.

I lost a whole evening of sewing at Thanksgiving time making pies with that super-special lard I blogged about a few weeks ago; yum yum, here are 2 sweet-potato pies and an apple pie and they were DELICIOUS:

Then, upon further inspection of my art quilt, I decided that the satin-stitching wasn’t dense enough: in certain places, because I was using light thread on dark fabric, you could see the fabric through the stitch. So. I put stabilizer under all of my reverse applique poppy shapes and put down another layer of satin stitch on top of the existing stitch. It took FOREVER. I was going crazy. But, the end result is much better: you can’t see it too well here, but, the orange thread on the right side of the sewing machine needle is 2 layers of satin-stitch and the orange thread on the left side is just one layer:

In the photo, it looks insignificant; but trust me, the real thing looks greatly improved with my sewing due-diligence.

My goal was to have the quilt top done–absolutely done–by the end of November, so I could spend all December quilting. Which I hope will be enough time. Here’s the finished quilt-top: pressed, all bits of thread snipped, and looking pretty darn good:

I met my deadline! I’ve already sewn together my muslin backing for the quilt, gotten my batting; I’ll put the quilt sandwich together Friday and get quilting this weekend.

Wish me luck. And just a few chiropractic visits.

Best Pie Crust Yet!

Yes, that is a 4# tub of lard. But it’s really good lard, which I had shipped from Prairie Pride Farms in Minnesota; they are one of the few sources of lard with no trans-fats. Lard makes the BEST pie crust, but sadly, all lard you buy in the store now is shelf-stable:  the pig fat–which normally would need to be kept cold to preserve it–is instead pumped up with hydrogen to keep it “fresh” and also full of trans-fats.

It’s bad enough to eat saturated fat, but can you imagine eating saturated fat that is also artificially hydrogenated? Yuck.

Plus, that kind of lard comes from industrial pigs. Pigs full of chemicals; and chemicals tend to be stored in animal fat.

Now that it’s finally gotten cool, and the holidays are around the corner, I thought I’d brush up on my pie skills. Above, my pie crusts; the 2 on the right are going to be the top-crusts.

I must say, the crust rolled out like a dream and it was really easy to lift off the counter and deposit in the pie tin: nothing broke.

I chopped up 10 average-sized organic granny smith apples.

I then tossed the apples with flour, cornstarch, sugar, lemon juice and just a pinch of pumpkin pie spice. I’m not a big fan of lots of spice in my apple pie.

Above, the assembled pie; an egg wash was used to brush the top and help squish down the sides. I didn’t pre-cook the pie filling, something my mom and dad were amazed at when they tasted my pie (they loved it). It’s such a gamble, making fresh fruit pie, unless you really know your fruit and how it cooks down.

I was feeling adventurous, though, knowing what a risk it is! But the pay-off, if it turned out….yum.

Below, the finished pies. When I cut into them, the filling was a little bit runny….but not much.

Yum.

If you want great pie crust, you need great lard; and that, gentle readers, cannot be found in the grocery store–even the local Mexican grocery stores here in Tucson–anymore.

Summer Cooking Frenzy

I had a shaman come to my house (a real shaman–as opposed to a faux shaman– and, a good one) last weekend for a ceremony. It was very positive. I know it probably sounds a bit woo woo for many of you readers; but I’m sure you’re none the worse for reading this.

For several days after the shaman came I didn’t feel like doing much, though I did some good cooking and for some odd reason had a craving for…..tzadziki sauce.

So, I was compelled to make it; and something to go with it, too. A pretty good recipe for tzadziki sauce is here; I followed it, mostly, though I added fresh mint to mine and substituted dried dill. The steps are pretty simple, you strain some regular yogurt (I prefer full-fat organic) overnight in the fridge; just put a few cups in a coffee filter and set it in a sieve over a cup:

The next morning I took the strained yogurt out of the fridge; it was crazy, there was 1 cup of liquid for 2 cups of yogurt!

Then I peeled and seeded cucumbers my mom gave me from her garden, yum, and pureed them w/garlic; the fresh mint is on the side:

This appears to be the consistency you want for your cucumbers once they’re chopped:

Then I added the yogurt, mint and dill: this is how it looked, in the end:

I have a book from the library which is very good, Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey. I’m sure the author would prefer that I say I bought it; but, I’m saving for Newfoundland, so, the library is my new friend.

I made a recipe called Ground Turkey or Chicken with Peas; it’s very yummy in pita bread, with homemade tzadziki sauce and chopped fresh tomatoes. It’s a bit cross-cultural but I got 4 dinners out of this:

I then had some fresh apricots that were quickly taking a turn for the worse; I made an apricot upside-down gingerbread cake, the idea and the recipe are sort-of based on this recipe I found online, which I slightly modified (I used less sugar, for example).  Kind of an odd combination of flavors, you’d think; I made it for the nurses at work, and the reviews were good.

Aunt Mary’s Biscuit Recipe (from Newfoundland

When I came home from Boston last April, my insufferably long and cramped flight (and I had an aisle seat!) was made infinitely more bearable because I had half a dozen of my Aunt Mary’s super-fresh biscuits in a Ziploc bag.

Recently I tried making these biscuits. Now, I’m a competent cook, but a good biscuit is not easy to make and I think I’ll need some more practice after this.

The recipe is: 2 cups white flour, 2 cups whole-wheat flour, 2 Tbsp (yes) baking powder, 2 sticks butter, and about 1 3/4 cups milk (exactly how much milk will depend on the type and grind of flour) and 3 Tbsp sugar. Mary said the recipe calls for some salt, but she never adds it. There’s probably enough sodium in the leavening.

Here’s how you start: flour, sugar and leavening a bowl with the butter cut in:

I used my pastry cutter and my fingers to get the butter/flour mixture to have the consistency of coarse crumbs, then made a small “well” in the middle, where the milk went:

The secret to biscuits, scones or pie pastry is simple: hardly mix the dry ingredients with the wet ones, just barely toss dry and wet together to combine, and handle the dough as little as possible. In this case, I poured the milk in the well, and just “folded” the ingredients together (this is my aunt’s word); I then turned the (sticky) dough out on the lightly floured counter top and kneaded just 8 times (this exact number is per my aunt); after that, I rolled out the dough; you can see the pale bits of butter in the dough, evidence of the dough being handled minimally:

I rolled it too thin, though; I guess I was instinctively thinking I was making pie crust. Anyway, I cut biscuit-shapes with a mason jar lid, and slid them onto a greased cookie sheet, not realizing the biscuits were too thin until they were done:

The biscuits bake for 12 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 425; though my 1978 model electric oven runs hot and I set my oven to 375 and baked for 12 minutes. Every oven is different, so…..Know thine oven!

My biscuits tasted good, but since I rolled out the dough too thin, I wound up with a shape more reminiscent of Eucharist than biscuit; flat, but tastier than any religious wafer (thankfully!).  Next time I’ll make my biscuits twice as thick and resist the urge to roll out the dough much. One day I’ll have this recipe down!

Rainy Day Minutiae

Rainy days are rare here in Tucson. Last year was a drought. So far this year, there’s been lots of rain due to an El Nino weather pattern; it’s been unusually wet.

I started my rainy day by making some yummy chocolate chip/dried cherry/walnut scones:

Then I swam laps in the rain, something I don’t get to do too often; and as it was cold, no one was in the pool.

Then I learned a new fiddle tune. I wrote it down, not because I’m note-dependent, but because I’m making myself a tune-book of super tunes I’ve gotten from friends, it’s a tribute I suppose: I’m very lucky in that some great players have shared tunes with me over the years. Plus, some of these tunes I really don’t get to play with anyone around here. So, this helps me remember them. Maybe one day I’ll live in a place where I can play these tunes with someone, or play them at a session. How cool would that be?

Today’s tune is the Leitrim Lilter by Charlie Lennon. This blog is in the public domain, and while it’s unlikely Charlie would ever see it, I just want to apologize to him anyway for my transcription. There’s a tune-book of his that goes with his CD Musical Memories, in which he’s transcribed his tunes, and it’s a given he’d do a much much better job than me in writing down his own compositions! Now that I think about it, I’d like to get Charlie’s CD and book. I’d like to know the story behind the tune.

Then…the day just disappeared. Why does time go so fast? Suddenly it was dinner time. I cooked up some polenta; one part water to one part organic polenta. I brought the water to a boil, slowly poured in the polenta, and stirred at a boil for 3 minutes. Then, off the burner:

I added chopped scallions, garlic, salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp olive oil and turned it into that pyrex dish above, which I’d brushed w/olive oil:

That baked for 30 minutes at 350. I then washed yesterday’s kale and beet greens from the River Gardens farm stand:

The greens in the colander got dumped into a pot of boiling water, and they cooked on medium-high for 5 minutes. I saved the water the greens were cooked in; I’ll use it for soup or just drink it–it’s not that disgusting sounding, it actually tastes pretty good with a dash of salt and it’s good for you, too! I’ve always done this, but then I heard Michael Pollan talking on CSPAN (yes, I am a dork) about his new food book and apparently this is one of his recommendations, too; so maybe more people are now doing what I’ve always done.

Anyway. The cooked greens I rinsed w/cool water, squeezed a bit, and then tossed them in the wok with a bit of bacon schmalz. Just a tablespoon. But even that was too rich; I think I’ll stick with plant-based fats next time. Here is my rainy day meal: polenta, beet greens and salmon: