Why Didn’t I Think of That?

Pinmoor substitute


When I made my first quilt many moon ago, I found a pattern in a craft magazine for an Amish Roman Stripe quilt and I thought the instructions looked simple enough, so I bought fabric and dove in with both feet armed with plenty of garment construction experience and youthful enthusiasm.  This was back in the day before rotary cutters, so I cut everything with scissors!  Did I mention I was much younger back then???

The top went together fairly well for a first attempt and I was so pleased with it I was ready to tackle what I thought was going to be a quick finish to the project. Since I was nearly at the end of the instructions,  I figured I was nearly at the end of the work and would soon be wrapping my baby in a soft and warm quilt until I read on and all that was remaining of the instructions was, “Now quilt and bind it.”  Wait, wait, there must be another page, I thought.  Nope.  Nice top you’ve got there. Now quilt it.  Then bind it. Huh.  Well, I’d purchased the batting and backing fabric because that was indicated at the beginning of the instructions.  So, I decided I would just put the batting between the top and bottom, pin them together and then stitch them on my sewing machine.  I knew this probably wasn’t what was really expected, but I also knew from my sewing experience that it would work and I would have a usable quilt.  So I stretched everything out on the floor and placed straight pins at every block junction on the top and went to the machine.

You might guess where this is going.  All those straight pins were a nightmare.  They did the job of holding the quilt together well enough…when they didn’t fall out…but I had bloody scratches up and down my arms and even some on my legs from when the quilt rested on my lap.  I might as well have been wrangling wildcats as sewing up a quilt.  I just thought I’d made a silly mistake by using straight pins and went off to learn how REAL quilters did things, which in this instance for machine quilting, was with safety pins, duh.

Now here it is all these years later and I find out (on Craftsy, but more about that later) that the most up-to-date millennial quilters baste for machine quilting with, you guessed it, plain old STRAIGHT PINS, and one very clever person has created the product I needed all those years ago: Pinmoor, colorful, re-usable, easy on, easy off little silicone caps to cover the end of the pins and prevent them from falling out and from piercing your skin as you maneuver the quilt around.  So those look really good, but awfully expensive and only available via mail order.

A little more scooting around the ‘Net reveals that someone else uses                Caulk Backer Rod from the hardware store for the same purpose at approximately 1/10 cost.   Well, I ran out to get some of that caulk backer rod today and have basted up this batik fabric to make a small whole cloth table topper and the backer rod works fine.

My hands are sure happy they don’t have to open and close all those safety pins, my arms are happy they don’t have to endure all those painful scratches, my pocketbook is happy I spent less than $4, and my psyche is happy I was on to something all those years ago by basting with straight pins and my solution wasn’t a mistake, it was just a product waiting to be born.



New tools for an old trade

Applique tools


It’s been a while since hand applique was on the front burner so when I wanted to drag out an old project and finish it up, I decided to look around and see what was new in the applique world.  I found the excellent Craftsy.com class called Machine-Finished Hand Applique taught by Beth Ferrier and took a look.  Oh my, glue basting applique pieces is an amazing step forward from either needle-turn or turn-and-baste over freezer paper!  Beth suggests using regular office supply glue sticks as they are cheaper, readily available and she likes the squishy tackiness they give, but I did like this more expensive fabric glue pen by Sewline better than either the Elmer’s purple or standard office supply water soluble glue stick.

I also found the “Purple Thang” stick a bit more responsive than the cuticle stick recommended in the class for pushing and turning fabric. Yes, again, it’s more expensive and only available from quilt notions suppliers while cuticle sticks are cheap and easy to find, but it really did work better for me and so was well worth the price.  Actually, I use both tools at the same time for these very small circles, one in each hand. My fingers are too clumsy by half.

Those little scissors with the green handles are by someone named Karen Kay Buckley and she calls them Perfect Scissors.  The clerk at my favorite quilt shop insisted that if I was doing applique, I should have these little scissors and I should trust her on this.  They are nice.  Supposedly, their micro-serration prevents fraying and they do cut right to the tips and are very maneuverable to cut around complex shapes.  I can’t speak to whether they prevent fraying since with this technique, the glue accomplishes that nicely.  Sometimes you just have to trust.

You can see above and below how nice and round my circles are using these new techniques, even though I used a slight variation on Beth’s instructions by putting adhesive dots on top of the fabric as a turning guide rather than freezer paper on the inside.  Will all that glue wash out you ask?  Well, once more I’m going to trust and not worry about it.  Better to have a finished project with a little glue left in it after washing than a glue-free never-finished top lurking in a drawer.

Look at those pretty little circles! Bring on the applique berries!  Thank-you Beth!


Glue baste

Surprise Walnut Squares

What is surprising about these chewy, sweet bar cookies?  Only that they taste so rich and yummy you could swear they are larded with fat as well as sugar.  Nope, just lots of brown sugar.  There is no added fat beyond what is naturally occurring in the eggs and walnuts.


Here’s the recipe:

Mix with a fork in a good size mixing bowl:

  • 2 eggs
  • 15 oz. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla

Then stir in:

  • 4.5 oz. flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda

And finally these:

  • 8 oz. chopped walnuts, by hand or carefully in processor with pulses to prevent getting ground walnuts.  You want a fairly coarse chop.

Spread in a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  These are better under-baked than over-baked.  When cool, cut into squares.  Best to cut and serve as needed.  


Keeping score

Most of the time, keeping score makes life miserable since scores beg to be settled eventually, but in baseball, keeping score is the best way to enjoy the game. Never go to a ballpark without your scorebook!


Right tools for the job

There is a special place in my heart for the clerk at our local kitchen specialty shop who gave me, yes GAVE me this little black scraper tool for removing stubborn stickers from things. I asked her if I could buy one when I saw her using it to remove a sticker before wrapping a gift for me and she said to her knowledge you couldn’t buy these handy little tools, but they had plenty since they came along free with some product they ordered for their business. (Presumably those dratted price stickers they put on everything that you can’t remove without this handy tool!)

Sometimes, well okay, ALWAYS after you have used the handy scraper to remove all the paper from the sticker there is glue residue left behind. That’s where the peanut butter comes in. If the item is not going to be used in the kitchen, I use Goo Gone or some other solvent product, but for food prep or serving items, I don’t want to use solvents. They are not welcome in my kitchen. So a little peanut butter on a paper towel works like a charm. Rub that glue residue and watch it dissolve and disappear. Yes, you now have a greasy smear of peanut butter on your glass (in this case), but a clean paper towel easily gets most of that off and a trip through the dishwasher finishes the job. You will never know there was a stubborn sticker there.

Before I learned this trick I had some cups that retained a gummy residue in perpetuity, no matter how long I soaked them in sudsy water or how many times I sent them through the dishwasher.

Radical Transformation Underway

Okay, maybe not so radical, but it sure felt that way, especially while I was doing it.

Sweater transformation1


I knitted this sweater a few years back and found I never wore it even though I was mostly happy with how it fit and how it turned out.  The bright circles are not buttons, but are pins marking the center line for the planned transformation into something I might actually wear.

While they are fast and easy to knit, I find that pullover sweaters are functionally useless for me these days.  I like a cardigan I can pull on and off as needed.  So I decided to try and make a cardigan out of this pullover that had been malingering on a shelf in my closet.

Having done steeks before, I knew a tight zig-zag would secure everything so I did that first:  2 rows of zig-zag stitches down the center front, about 1/4 inch apart.  Then, I took a deep breath and my Gingher shears and started cutting between the machine stitches.  Since the remaining yarn from this project is long gone, the option of picking up stitches and knitting a band on after cutting is also long gone.  I had to think about what to do to control that edge for…oh about 30 seconds.  I chose the fastest, easiest option that came to mind:  zig-zagging one more time over the cut edge, and I just let the stretch happen as I noticed it was wanting to do after the cutting and look at that now stable edge with the lovely ruffle, a happy accident that looks planned, at least to me and especially given the current popularity of ruffles.

Sweater transformation2


Say, Sam-I-Am, I DO like this sweater and I will wear it in a box, with a fox, on a train, in the rain…after I trim off the thread tails.

Secret’s Out

Secret recipes are doomed to die and isn’t that sad? Therefore, I am sharing the secret of my (extremely) locally (sort of) famous “Tennis Tuna” with the wider world: lots of mayonnaise, ditto sweet pickle relish, a little freshly ground pepper, a splash of vanilla and mix with a fork until there are NO CHUNKS of tuna left. Basically, mix ’til it hurts. The vanilla is the real secret, passed down from an aunt who was an amazing cook.

My tennis team wants finger sandwiches made from this tuna at every match, thus the moniker.

Puppy Love Scrubs

Long ago I decided I would never “take in sewing” for money. This has allowed me though the years to take on only projects I want to do for people I care about and is no doubt why I still like to sew.

Here’s a fun example: a scrub top for someone dear to me who works in a veterinary clinic and has to wear scrubs every day.

There are so many cute animal fabrics to choose from it was hard to decide, but this one was sui generis, my phrase of the week, lifted from a biography of Winslow Homer.

How many times will I have to use it to cement it in my vocabulary? Sui generis: peerless, without equal, just like the recipient of the scrubs, in fact!

Comfort Food

Rice pudding, Armenian Style:

In a saucepan over medium to medium high heat, place one quart of whole or extra-rich milk, 1/2 cup long grain white rice, 1/2 cup sugar and (optional) a pinch of salt. Stir frequently as it comes to a boil.

When it is bubbling nicely but not boiling over, set a timer for 45 minutes, lower the heat gradually to maintain a slow simmer and continue to stir periodically while you are doing other things in the kitchen. Do not allow it to boil too energetically or to stop boiling altogether, admittedly a delicate balance to maintain, especially on certain ranges.

As you approach the 45 minute mark, the pudding will start to thicken and develop a skin, which you must repeatedly stir back in. After 45 minutes, evaluate the thickness of the pudding and if it needs to cook down more, keep adding time in 5 minute increments until you like the consistency. This varies according to the milk, the rice, the weather, your mood, your stove, etc.

When your personal private magic consistency has been achieved, spoon the pudding into dessert cups, small ramekins, small bowls, or whatever you have on hand. I like the Crate and Barrel footed glass dessert dishes and for one batch this size, I use 6 of them.

Sprinkle each serving generously and as evenly as you can with cinnamon and pop in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

Now you have a choice: when the pudding is completely chilled, you can cover it immediately with plastic wrap to keep it soft or you can leave it uncovered several more hours or overnight and it will develop a thickened, chewy crust. Then you must remember to cover it or it will dry out too much.

The crust is optional and is both traditional and deliberate in our family, but I do wonder if it was originally a happy accident when someone forgot to cover the pudding after it had cooled. It’s delicious with or without the crust but please, just don’t try to cover your pudding while it’s still warm. The pudding will sweat and the moisture will collect and rain down on the cinnamon and it will not be pretty.

This is my favorite kind of recipe, long on method but requiring just a few simple ingredients which are completely transformed by careful attention into something delightful. Enjoy!

Daily Bread

  • almond bread


Since embarking on La Vida Locarb, what most people know as bread has been off the table for me and it is one of the foods I miss the most.  Mind you, I’m not talking about the pillowy concoctions that pass for bread in the supermarket aisles, but my own homemade bread made from whole grains freshly ground minutes before being transformed into dough.  Sigh. That was my daily bread in every sense.  It wasn’t only the eating of the bread that satisfied, but the enjoyment of the process of engineering the transformation from wheat berries to sticky mess in the mixer bowl to springy dough to fragrant loaf.

Now I have Almond Bread.  It is tasty and satisfying and does make a good stand-in for the old yeasted wheat breads in my diet.  As for the transformation, it’s not so much the actual baking of the bread that satisfies since it’s easy and not much can go wrong there, but it’s the preparation of the ingredients that has taken the place of the complex process required to produce a good loaf of yeast-raised whole wheat bread.  Making this bread has lead me to the making of one of the primary and costliest ingredients: Fromage Blanc, and that transformation from milk to cheese is very similar to the one from flour to loaf.  However, you do not need to go so far.  The recipe for making the bread is really quite simple once you procure the ingredients:

  • 17 oz. finely ground almonds or purchased almond meal
  • 14 oz. Fromage Blanc or Dry-Curd Cottage cheese, or if you must, ricotta cheese.
  • 3.5 oz. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Celtic Sea Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Hulled Hemp Seed
  • 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed
  • 6 eggs

The method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Grease 2 ceramic loaf pans WELL.  I use a release agent I make myself of canola oil and lecithin, but Pam will work if you are generous enough with it.
  • Combine all ingredients in mixer bowl and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes
  • Divide batter evenly between the 2 loaf pans
  • Bake in 350 degree oven for 50-60 minutes, all ovens are different and you don’t want to under (gooey) or over bake (too dry) this bread although it’s best to err on the side of doneness.  Some experimentation will be required until you settle on the optimum time.  For me, it’s 50 minutes.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then loosen loaf with a knife around the edges of the pan.
  • Remove the bread from the pans and allow to cool completely before wrapping in waxed paper and storing in plastic bags in either the refrigerator or freezer.  To thaw, place in refrigerator overnight.
  • To serve, slice thin and reheat in the microwave or conventional oven, or like me, devour in cold slices directly from the fridge.  Butter optional.

Be aware that while this bread is a low carb food (around 3-4 per slice, I think) it is NOT a low calorie food.  It is dense and nutritious, packed with protein and fiber and yes, calories, I have no idea how many.  Also be aware that since it contains no sweetener, it isn’t sweet in spite of its uncanny resemblance to the oh-so-sweet Banana Bread in texture and visual appearance.  That first bite is a surprise!