September 28, 2012

Mr. Frosty Mini Quilt!

I finally finished my very first original quilt pattern. I was so inspired to make this snowman that I skipped over Halloween and Thanksgiving and right into winter. It's no surprise, I'm sure, that it's a mini quilt!

I'm a big fan of raw edge applique, so this guy is fused in place and appliqued with a blanket stitch. For some reason, I could never get the blanket stitch to work out right on my old machine. But with my new one, it's a breeze. I love the look that the blanket stitch gives to an applique.

But, now that this one is finished, I have some time to get cracking on a few more patterns... perhaps a spooky ghost or a big-tailed turkey? So many possibilities, so little time.

This mini quilt pattern is available for sale from my Etsy shop.

September 27, 2012

Piper & The Yellow Dog Project

I've talked about my beagle, Piper, here before but she has a secret I haven't mentioned. About a month after my husband and I adopted her, just before last Christmas, she was bitten by an aggressive and unleashed dog in my neighborhood. Thankfully, Piper was not seriously harmed in the encounter, but it terrified her (and it terrified me). I teasingly call her my intrepid beagle now, but in reality, her boldness is just a front.

Piper with her only canine friend, Dante.
Piper, in fact, is quite afraid of dogs because of this experience. Unfortunately, she acts out this fear by becoming aggressive when she's leashed. I've consulted a trainer and I have been working with Piper to ease her fears. She used to go wild just at the sight of another dog. Now she just gets upset when a dog comes within 20 feet or so.

I'm happy I've been able to make progress with her, but there's been a lot of backslides. This is primarily due to other dog owners in my neighborhood who do not understand proper dog greeting protocol. Step 1 is Ask My Permission! They often assume that my cute, floppy-eared dog wants to meet their dog. Even despite my protests (and her growling/barking), some people still come up to us with their dog.

This problem is conflated by the diversity of my apartment complex- there are probably fifteen different languages spoken here, and I only know two (one of them poorly). The best thing I can do in these situations is turn right around and walk briskly away- and I've had to do it. Even if she doesn't act like it with her aggression, Piper is afraid of that dog. She is a Dog In Need of Space (a DINO).

I just heard of a project called The Yellow Dog Project which was created in order to bring awareness to dogs who need space from other dogs "while training, recovering from surgery, or being rehabilitated" or, in Piper's case, for being reactive to other dogs. The idea is that if you see a dog who has a yellow ribbon tied to their leash, they're a dog who needs space and you should not approach them with your dog. You should give them and their owner some space to move away.

What a wonderful idea. It's a movement on an international level, as well, which means if it gains traction, people will know what it means no matter the language they speak (a huge help in my area, for sure). At the time of this posting, 24 countries are represented on their website. The symbol of the yellow ribbon eliminates the verbal element entirely so there is no ambiguity about the situation- it simply means please stay away.

I put my current quilting project aside for a bit this afternoon and made Piper her own yellow ribbon. That strap around her nose is a Gentle Leader (a product I highly recommend) and it not a muzzle. It goes around the back of her head and around her nose, allowing me better control of her so that when she does start acting foolish, I can direct her face away from the dog so she's not looking at it anymore. It's been a godsend in helping me to retrain her dog aggressive behavior.

I'm not expecting any immediate results with the ribbon, but it's something that's easy to explain to people, and something they might even ask about. It almost advertizes itself. The Project is looking into getting ribbons and shirts of their own to sell. I will be first in line to buy a shirt when they come out.

Please help them and pass the word along about this fabulous project. They're on Facebook currently, and I'm sure they'll join Twitter soon.

Basic No-Knead Bread Recipe

   One of my favorite small pleasures in life is taking a bite of really good bread, particularly if I've used it to sop up a little something from my dinner plate. Buying a nice loaf of crusty bread, though, can be quite hit or miss. My local grocery store wouldn't know a baguette if one hit them in the face and sang Frère Jacques- their "baguettes" are a soft and bland.

A nice, big boule.

   But I don't buy that bread anymore because I learned how to make my own at home. I tried a lot of recipes and made a lot of mistakes. Then, I received a wonderful book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day as a gift. I learned a ton about baking bread and why my previous trials had turned out poorly. I use their Master Recipe quite often for a basic bread that's good for any occasion.

   I highly recommend their book for those of you who are looking to try baking bread at home but aren't sure where to start. There are tons of different kinds of bread for you to try, too. It doesn't take very long to make the dough, and there is no kneading necessary!

Basic Bread
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
makes 4, 1lb loafs

What You'll Need:
   3 cups lukewarm water
   1 Tbs granulated yeast
   1 Tbs salt
   6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
   a large container, preferably with a lid

The Process:
    Put your warm water, yeast, and salt into your container. Dump all the flour in at once and mix well. I prefer to do this step with a wooden spoon, but if you have a fancy mixer with dough hook, feel free to go that route. Once all the flour is incorporated, you'll be left with a wet, sticky dough. This is exactly what you want. Loosely cover with your lid (or plastic wrap in a pinch) and let rise for two hours.

September 25, 2012

Shepherd's Pumpkin Pie

I heard about this delightful autumnal recipe through a friend's recommendation. It combines the warm, comfort food aspect of the traditional Shepherd's Pie with my favorite fall food, pumpkin. What's not to love? The recipe passed to me came from My Recipes, but I changed quite a few things about it.

First, I decided not to roast the pumpkin. It seemed needlessly time consuming when I had a perfectly good can of pumpkin puree on hand. I thought that adding cream to the pumpkin was an unnecessary addition of calories (as well as a trip to the store). I also halved the recipe, since I'm cooking for two and don't want a ton of leftovers. Honestly, I made a lot of changes.

Shepherd's Pumpkin Pie
makes 4 servings

What You'll Need:
1 lb lean ground beef
2 carrots, sliced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup red wine (or one of those handy mini187ml bottles)
1 cup beef stock
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp sage 1 Tbs corn starch

The Process:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook the ground beef over medium heat, breaking it up as it cooks. Drain. Add the Worcestershire sauce, wine, half of the beef stock, carrots, onions, garlic, cumin, thyme, pepper, and 1/2 tsp salt to the pan. Cook over medium heat for ten minutes.

While the beef mixture cooks, combine the pumpkin puree with a pinch of salt, sage, and cinnamon. Set aside. Then, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining beef stock and add to pan with the beef. Cook for another minute or two until thickened.

Pour beef mixture into a greased 8x8 pan. Evenly spread the pumpkin puree over the beef mixture. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes. Leftovers can be refrigerated.

September 21, 2012

Slow Cooked Chicken Pot Pie

My neck of the woods has thoroughly fallen into autumn. For over a week, we've had 75 degree days and 50 degree evenings, just absolutely wonderful weather that makes you yearn for a hearty dish. Tonight I just had to make something in the spirit of this weather. I have quite a bit of chicken on hand, so a chicken pot pie was an easy choice.

But I didn't really want to heat up my whole place by turning on the oven to bake one. Where do I always turn in times of temperature crisis like this? To my trusty crock pot, of course. This is a really easy way to make that savory pot pie dish without using your oven, or having to worry about over baking a crust (as I am known to do).

My vegetables were carrots, peas, lima beans, and potatoes.
Slow Cooked Chicken Pot Pie
makes 6 servings

What You'll Need:
 4 boneless chicken breasts, thawed
 2 cans cream of chicken soup
 1 cup sliced celery (I'm not a fan, so I traded it for a diced potato instead)
 1 medium onion, diced
 2 cloves garlic, mince
 1 bay leaf
 1/2 tsp marjoram
 1/4 tsp sage
 1/2 tsp thyme
 1/2 tsp rosemary
 1/2 tsp black pepper
 salt to taste (I added 1/2 tsp)
 2 cups of cut fresh veggies- carrots, peas, corn, etc OR a 1lb frozen bag mixed veggies
 6 biscuits, either prepackaged or homemade (I'm posting a recipe for some soon)

September 14, 2012

Homespun Honey Quilt: The Top

After much delay, I finally finished the top of the Homespun Honey Quilt I've been working on for quite some time. Between the sewing machine death and and other projects getting in the way, this one fell to the wayside.

I haven't quilted it up yet, but it's ready to go whenever I am. I have the backing and I bought some fabric recently to make the binding. There should be some batting laying around with this project in mind, too.

Lately I've been on a project finishing kick and hopefully this one will get sucked up in that finishing fervor. There were a lot of projects I had laying around (something in the vicinity of 16) so finishing things up and not starting new projects has been really good.

September 5, 2012

Eek! A Halloween Mini Quilt

 This mini quilt came from a quilting magazine I like a lot, Quilts and More. In the most recent issue for fall, there were two patterns for cute Halloween pillows. The finished pillows were 22" square, but I really don't have anywhere to use them. Instead, I decided to use the spiderweb applique pattern to make a mini quilt.

The original applique pattern was intended for a 22" pillow, not a 12" mini quilt, so I had to do a little tinkering. I scanned the original applique from the magazine pullout into my computer. I had to do 4 separate scans, because my scanner isn't large enough to capture the whole image at once. I stitched the image back together on the computer, and then shrank it down to fit in the center square, about 8".

It only took about 40 minutes from start to printing out the resized applique. After I cut out the applique, it took about 4 hours to cut, sew, applique, quilt, and bind this little guy. Fall, in my opinion, starts on September 1st, so this Halloween addition to my decor is only a wee bit early.

I've started drafting some designs for other mini quilts- including a fall one and a snowman. I've been a bit under the weather the last few days, but with any luck I'll be able to get them finished by next week. Those patterns will be available on my Etsy shop after I've tested them out and worked out the instructions list.

September 3, 2012

I Pinch! Mini Crab Quilt

After finishing up a large project like the Halloween Circle Quilt, I like to take some time to work on a smaller project. Nothing big or fancy, just something I can finish in a couple hours or an afternoon. I bought a small table-top quilt hanger ages and ages ago along with a small quilt kit to fit on it.

I thought it was about time I finished this quilt up. I cut out the appliques and stitched the top together last summer and then set it aside for other things. With my big quilt finished, it was the perfect opportunity to finish him up.

I changed the applique a little. The crab had eyestalks in the original pattern- but any good Marylander will tell you that crabs don't have eyestalks! So I left those off and placed the eyes on his body. The quilt kit and frame came from the Wooden Bear, they had a booth at a show I attended last year.

They have two sets of "Little Quilts", one for each month of the year (and a birthday cake, too). For the most part, the patterns a little too folky for my taste but the idea of having a small frame to hang interchangeable quilts on really appeals to me. The frame itself will hold a 12"x12" quilt, but I could also fit one that's up to 16" long on it. This frame and several other sizes and styles are available from Ackfeldwire.

Before starting up another large project, I think I am going to design a few of these mini quilts. They take only an afternoon to complete and you don't need much fabric for them at all. I finished up a Halloween one already, but I see Thanksgiving and Christmas ones in my future.
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