Sweet Violets and Healthy Vegetables

Sweet Violets

One of the requirements of any new home was that it have a place to grow violets.  I guess the new house passes muster.  This is the second display of this magnitude we’ve had since we moved here in February and some of these plants are still sending up new blooms stalks!

Another requirement was a place to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and zucchini.Zucchini Sprouts Garden Boxes 2014

Check, check, check, check and check.  As you might guess, there are a few other things to check off the list, but vegetables and violets are a very good start.  We got the white raised planter boxes from New England Arbors.  We’ll see come July how they perform for raising vegetables.  We know the Tomato Boxes  can raise great tomatoes because we’ve used them before.  And there’s always the Farmer’s Market in case of crop failure on any front, but I do love putting vegetables on the table at noon that were still growing on the vine at half-past 11.

Forbidden Fabric

plaid crop photo

These new crops could use a press, but I just pulled them out of the dryer after wearing them today and it’s late and I’m lazy, so there you are.  You’ve seen this top before.  Now there are crops to go with.  Really, this is a test of a Burda pattern that I want to use for some nice solid twill in a deep khaki/taupe from the ever-diminishing stash.  Okay, I confess I bought some t-shirt fabric when I went to buy the zipper(s) for these 2 pairs of crops, but that’s still an overall reduction and if I sew the t-shirt fabric right away, it won’t ever add to the stash.  And it’s so rare to find a decent t-shirt knit at a local fabric store I buckled under the pressure.

The reason this post is titled Forbidden Fabric is that when I moved and sorted the stash, I had help and my help declared this fabric out of bounds and tossed it into the charity box.  In fact, the last two projects I’ve sewn are of rescued fabric I was forbidden to sew/wear.  Since the garden of Eden, forbidden things are the hardest to resist.

Tourshee

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It’s been a while since we had Tourshee, but I’ve been craving it lately. Last time I made it I burned my hands so severely while pouring the boiling brine over the vegetables that I had to go to the nearest urgent care center and they slathered the second degree burns with cream and wrapped my hands in gauze. What happened was that the brine sloshed over one hand and then my reaction caused it to splash back over the other hand. Then I dropped the pot. I was lucky it didn’t splash back into my face, really.

Next day when I went to my own doctor, he declared all the gauze wrappings to be overkill and introduced me to Aquaphor ointment which quickly became a staple in the household first aid kit. I was ready to get back on the pickle horse right away, but the family was too traumatized and begged me not to make Tourshee anymore and I haven’t until now.

But enough about that, let’s talk about the actual Tourshee, a life-saving Armenian staple. Basically Tourshee is any pickle, but the way we make it, it’s a brined or marinated pickle. It could be a fermented one, or a traditionally canned one, depending on your choice of recipe.

I say Tourshee is life-saving because I remember when there was a terrible earthquake in Armenia I read about a man who was dug out of the rubble that had been his home and rescued 3 or 4 weeks after the event when the hope of finding survivors was virtually gone. He explained that he had been making pickles and carrying them down to his basement when the earthquake struck. He survived all that time by eating the pickles and as I recall, was in pretty good shape when they found him.

I’ve been craving them because they are a perfect low carb food as long as you don’t eat the onions or carrots and I’m bored with my usual fare. Trust me, there is nothing boring about Tourshee! Oh my, the vinegar burn and the heady garlic and onion fumes will knock your socks off. Nothing subtle here. The only other Armenian food I’ve tried that comes close in assertiveness is Basturma, a preserved meat that shares a common linguistic heritage with Pastrami, but let’s just say I’ll never be ordering a Basturma sandwich even though a nice Pastrami on Rye used to be my standard deli order back in the sandwich days.

Recipes abound on the internet for mixed pickles. Nothing too special about this one I got out of an old Sunset book on Canning and Preserving, the vegetables do all the work. So I won’t post the recipe. If you have a hankering for pickles outside of the ordinary, pick the recipe that sounds best to you and get going, just be careful handling that hot brine!

…and the quilt frame

BOM quilt on frame

This project was put on hold indefinitely for a few reasons.  In the meantime, smaller projects have been finished on the frame and the problems/reasons for not working on this beast have been resolved.  Namely, there is now space for the frame with this over-size quilt on it and I have learned to discipline myself to no more than one hour of hand quilting per day to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

What a happy surprise when I uncovered this quilt I hadn’t seen in ages.  Why, it’s lovely!  This project began as a case of “careful what you wish for.”  Rarely do I win anything in a lottery-style drawing, but I had my heart set on winning these Block-of-the-Month entries back when I was a card-carrying member of our local quilt guild, Country Crossroads Quilters.  It was an unusual project in that everyone had a small piece of the same theme fabric and each quilter was to add companion fabrics and use a block design of her own choosing.  Those of you familiar with these types of activities know that generally participants are given a general color scheme and/or one theme fabric and a designated block design.  So the winner gets a number of blocks that generally coordinate color-wise and are all the same design and she sews them together and has an instant quilt top.  That’s the general theory.

Giving people carte blanche on the design of the blocks made for an interesting assortment and giving a theme fabric with so many colors meant that there wasn’t even really a consistent color theme as some quilters opted to bring out the Christmas theme of the fabric and others opted to showcase the purple.

So for once in my life, I did win the drawing.  It may have been rigged by my friends in the group who knew I wanted these blocks and knew I had been a faithful participant in the Block of the Month project for ages and had never won the blocks whilst some had won multiple times or worse, some had won the single time they threw a block in the mix.  Or, it may have been the universe out to teach me that careful what you wish for lesson.  Either way, I “won” the oddest assortment of blocks.  In the end, there were only 13 that were really useable.  Yes, 13.  Hmmm.  So I took the 5 that went together the best (accent on Christmas, no additional purple) and made a medallion out of those, which you can see in the middle of the photo above.  I confess I did add the Celtic Applique myself to the otherwise perfectly serviceable 9-patch block that just needed a bit of a lift and a shift of scale to be placed center front and play well with the rest of the Christmas themed blocks that had lots of white.  The rest of the blocks were used “as is.”  There were a few more that would not play well with the group no matter how I tried to make them settle in.  I waited to set these blocks until the makers of the unused ones were no longer around to see that their blocks were not included.  That took a while.  And the quilting has taken even longer.  Because of the medallion setting, the quilt got huge.  It’s the largest I’ve ever made.  Also because of the medallion setting, there is a lot of design space that cried out for hand quilting, although in retrospect, sending this off for custom machine quilting probably would have been the wiser choice. (Close-up below showing the block I contributed and some of the designs I adapted.)  I am determined to finish this before my hands and/or eyes fail me.  I’m currently more than half-way and it’s only taken me 15 years or so.  And when I’m done I’ll have a HUGE Christmas themed quilt.  But it will be gorgeous.

BOM quilt close-up

Back to the Drawing Board

Poetry book photo2

 

It’s time to get the studio up and running in the new place.  Since it’s been a while with no regular art production, I thought it best to start with some small exercises to get back in the swing of things.  In the move I found this project, a book of nature poems I got at a library book sale years ago that I felt needed “alteration.”  Altered books are a new phenomenon to me, schooled as I was never to write in books or deface them in any way.  I’m not sure I’m quite ready for some of the more radical alterations I’ve seen, but this book seemed to be crying out for more and different illustrations than it was born with upon publication, a sample of which is shown above. There are 3 or 4 more of these, one at the start of each section, and that’s it for illustrations.  The paper is nice and thick, with good tooth but no noticeable texture and it has aged to a lovely cream.  The poems are organized seasonally, so I decided to add little illustrations of my own surrounding the poetry in the generous margins each according to it’s season, like this:

Poetry book photo 1

 

 

Now, that’s more like it for illustrations in a book of nature poems for me. Spring in my new neighborhood means Loropetalum Chinense, also known as Fringe Plant, blooming wildly in almost every yard, including my own.  After bloom, these shrubs provide the red contrast that every landscape designer seeks for relief from overabundance of green.  It used to be only Flowering Plum provided that in these parts.  Happily, we now have many more choices.  My favorites are red Japanese Maples and certain cultivars of Heuchera, also known as Coral Bells.  I’d like this Fringe Plant much more if it wasn’t so ubiquitous all of a sudden.  Plants go in and out of fashion in just the same way that hemlines go up and down on the runways of Paris and New York and this is the must have shrub of the moment, at least in my new neck of the woods.

Fresh eggs

Fresh Eggs

 

The next best thing to having your own chickens is having a friend with a few too many.

Here’s an omelette-making secret I picked up by watching the pros do it at a buffet brunch:  put only the cheese in the middle.  Any vegetables or meat should go into the pan first and be cooked or reheated to your satisfaction first.  Then drop in the beaten eggs and proceed with standard omelette procedure.  When it’s ready to fold in half, put the cheese in.  Give it some time on each side to finish cooking and melt the cheese.   So much better than having a pile of mixed vegetables and cheese 2 inches high inside plain eggs.

Post and Toss

Or, this why I don’t do sculpture.  Or, why moving is good, bad and ugly.

Sawdust cow

 

This little cow was my first attempt at sculpture in at the tender age of 6.  I remember this being an assignment in first grade and that the sculpting medium was starch and sawdust.  Can that be right?  I also remember my poor little hands cracked and bled from working with the stuff.  How we suffer for our art.

Why my mother saved it and gave it back to me 30 years later is a mystery.  Why I kept it for 20 more years is an even greater mystery.  I assure you it is now where it belongs, in the trash.  Why the cow has a dark shadow on it’s back is not a mystery.  I believed at the time that was what the teacher wanted us to do.  It had something to do with shadows from the sun.  I think I got it backwards and we were supposed to shade the under side of the cows darker because the sun came from above.  Perhaps I was fascinated with the hairs growing out of the teacher’s chin and missed the point of the dark shadows lecture.  Who can say?  I do think it serves well as a reminder that 3-d art is not my strong suit and that letting go of things is healthy.  Letting go of things is healthy.  Letting go of things is healthy.

Oh, did I mention that I moved???  And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several months?  It’s good to be back.

Many Thanks

Pida bread

 

There are so many blessing for which to be thankful on this day I hardly know where to begin so I’ll start small.  My new-ish Breville mixer is such a step up from the new generation of Kitchenaid stand mixers that I’m actually thankful my previous mixer bit the dust so I could find this gem.  It powers through even whole wheat dough, although today I’m just making Pida Bread from my 2-2-2 Good Bread recipe:

  • 2 cups All-Purpose Bread Flour
  • 2 cups Bread Flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cold butter
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water, divided

First, notice only one ingredient is not 2 of some standard measurement:  the water.  Now on to the method:

In 1/2 cup warm water, dissolve the yeast.  Measure out 1 cup of room temperature water in another pitcher and set aside.

Combine the dry ingredients in mixer bowl and stir well.  Drop in the butter in small chips.

With the dough hook installed and the mixer running at the recommended setting for kneading bread, slowly pour in the liquids.  Knead for a maximum of 10 minutes in the machine.  Once the dough is formed and starting to become elastic at about 5-8 minutes, I like to take it out and finish the last bit of kneading on my bread board because I have never outgrown the joy of playing with dough.  When the dough is smooth and elastic, form into a ball.  Oil your rising bowl, place your ball top down first to pick up a little of the oil and then turn it upright and cover lightly with a damp kitchen towel.  Allow to rise in a warm spot for about 90 minutes.

Divide and shape.  If making baguettes, I shape 2 of them directly as the shaping into the baguette form adequately deflates the dough. I then place them on a baking sheet dredged with cornmeal and then sprinkle more cornmeal on top.  Next, cover with waxed paper or the kitchen towel again and let rise for 30-40 minutes.  Slash just before placing in oven to allow a good oven spring.

If making pida rounds, I divide the dough, round each half into a ball, gently press flat into a circle to deflate and round it up into a ball again, then let rest for 10 minutes to soften as the rounding and deflating energizes the gluten and it will fight the final shaping unless you let it rest.  After the 10 minute rest, I take each ball and press into a well-greased 9-inch cake pan.  Make the traditional pattern of slices on the top with a sharp knife.  Brush with milk and then sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Cover and let rise for 30-40 minutes.

Bake either style of bread in a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

For easiest slicing and a crustier crust in either style, allow to cool and then reheat in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, but also delicious sliced immediately and always slathered with butter!  I also have it on good authority that the baguettes make nice French Toast.  It makes sense since if there is any left over, it gets stale overnight and stale bread makes the best French Toast.

Most of all, I am thankful for all the wonderful people in my life with whom I love to break bread.  Many thanks and love to you all, wherever you find yourself today.

 

5 1/2 down

Boatneck tee 1
Here’s the problem with stash-busting: if you sew up some stashed fabric but you still have a usable piece left-over, you haven’t really reduced your stash. Sigh.

This is a wearable muslin of Christine Jonson’s Shirred Tee, only I omitted the shirring because as stylish as it looks in all the reviews on PatternReview.com, I realized that the ENTIRE top would be self-lined resulting in a t-shirt that is virtually unwearable most of the time in my climate. Even in winter I wouldn’t wear a double-thick t-shirt because I like to be able to layer jackets and sweaters over tees. But I wanted a boatneck top and this pattern is about all I could find with that detail, so I eliminated the shirring and empire seam, drafted a front and back neck facing and made a simple basic boatneck t-shirt. This could become a TNT (tried and true) pattern with a little more adjustment. It’s a bit snug in this fabric, which has 40% stretch if you really pull and lazy recovery so I need to go up a size for firm knits and keep this draft for the really stretchy stuff above 50% stretch across the grain with lycra to aid snappy recovery. I believe I might also give it a FBA before trying it again, even on a stretchier fabric.

Yes I do see that pucker on the sleeve seam, but this top fits so tightly you don’t see that when it’s on.

Adoption readiness

Kefir strainer
I’m adopting Kefir grains this weekend. Kefir is reputed to be many times more beneficial than yogurt and lower carb to boot. Supposedly, any metal is anathema to the living grains so I laid in this non-metal strainer in order to separate the grains from the milk as directed. This claim is suspect since one of the sites that stridently proclaims that contact with any metal will kill the grains clearly shows photos of a standard metal mesh strainer being used to drain off the kefir and save the grains for re-use. Well, just to be safe. Here’s to my new Kefir grains, slainte!