Monthly Archives: August 2009

Fabric Frenzy

It probably goes without saying that fabric has a strong effect on me. Therefore, an amazing fabric store can pretty much put me into a state of disproportionate ecstasy (it can also seriously stress me out; making choices in this type of situation is painful). So discovering Portsmouth Fabric (portsmouthfabric.com) this past weekend (not to mention the absolutely charming town of Portsmouth, NH itself) was more than a little thrilling. This is one beautiful fabric store.  It’s basically overflowing with gorgeous, contemporary fabrics—and it has to have the best selection of quarter packs I have ever seen. After some seriously indecisive back-and-forth decision making (and the generous financial support of my patient boyfriend who also earned major brownie points by waiting in the fabric store and at least pretending to have strong feelings about the various samples I showed him), I settled on these two:

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One is Kaffe Fassett and the other Anna Maria Horner (garden party). You pretty much can’t go wrong with Fassett, but I’ll admit I was a little surprised to find myself so attracted to these simple stripe patterns. The others were just too wonderfully bright and cheerful to pass up. But the fabric hording doesn’t end there. My next decision was easy since I immediately fell in love with this print by from the Wonderland collection by Momo for Moda Fabrics.

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There’s just something so cute and whimsical about the little patterned circles, I couldn’t resist. And if you’re not yet convinced that I have a bit of a fabric sickness, wait for it; I got so excited thinking about this fabric at about 3 am on Sunday morning that I woke up and started sewing. And I didn’t stop (save for a brief swim) until I had completed this:

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Again, I love those puffy sleeves, and the tie makes it a little more interesting than your average shirt. My apparel-sewing skills are coming along; after the Tasmania jacket, this felt pretty straightforward.

Amazingly, that’s not all I did with my Sunday. Ready for a little break from the sewing machine (though surprisingly not too miserably tired), I spent some time in the kitchen making yet another patchworky pasta for my weekday lunches. Here’s what I started with:

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Cauliflower, broccoli, sweet corn, onion, tuna (not shown), parmesan cheese… and blueberries. I realize the last ingredient on the list may not be the first thing people expect in a pasta but they worked out beautifully. In fact, since I heated them with the broccoli and sweet corn, the berries got nice and soft and infused the pasta with a wonderful soury-sweet flavor (and blue color) that complemented the corn perfectly.

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However, I have reservations about the sauce; blended cauliflower with milk and cheese (mainly motivated by a desire to use the cauliflower that I for some reason purchased). I think I’ll go for a stronger cheese or cream sauce next time and perhaps some goat cheese to give the overall dish a bit more punch. Still, it was a satisfying midday meal all week long. I have big plans for next week’s pasta; stay tuned.

I tend to get into modes and, as may be obvious, I’m currently in a pasta-and-fool mode (which I don’t’ see ending any time soon). So it’s probably no surprise that my other culinary concoction of the week was fool; mango-lime to be exact. I went for a high fruit-to-whip ratio this time, since fool runs the risk of being too mild without lots of added sugar. The lime also helped by adding a penetrating flavor that, after soaking up the mango, distributed it well throughout the cream.

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Yes, I cheated and used pre-squeezed lime juice (I do have a life, after all) but the beauty of fool is how quick and easy it is–and I did get real lime for the garnish! You can literally whip it up (haha; almost as bad as my ‘fool for fool’ pun) in a couple hours, most of which are spent waiting for the fruit to cool.

As for my sourdough adventures, my family’s return meant the air conditioning went back on full-force, and my yeast did not respond well to this. So I was all prepared to start baking last Sunday, only to discover that my bubbly, stinky friend was a little less bubbly than I would have liked. I quickly moved him to the warmer basement where he has come back to life full-force (even exploding out of his class jar a bit and making quite a mess). And, since it’s going to be fiercely raining this weekend (and I’ll have to hold off on fabric dying again; sigh), I think I’m finally ready for my first sourdough!

But amidst all the new fabrics, cooking, etc., I’m still plugging away at an old project, enjoying those finishing stages that always feel so relaxed and satisfying. My essay quilt is now being hand-tied (a perfect activity to do over evening wine with my mom and sister). I made a color choice that for me is utterly shocking and decided that all black ties would be best to complement the different patches and match the black text.

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It’ll be gratifying to have this done, but I’m in no major rush to finish since, like I said, the final touches are fun—and I’m hardly in desperate need of another quilt!

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Culinary Patchwork

So, left to my own devices for a week, I continued to have a blast experimenting in the kitchen. Mainly, my meals consisted of two (very satisfying) things; pasta and fool. I guess you could say that both are fairly humble dishes, but sometimes unadorned and simple is the best. And both leave a lot of room for patchwork-like experimentation. I suppose it makes the most sense to simply go through them all in order.

Encouraged by my lovely sweet potato pasta, I decided to combine smoked salmon, sun-dried tomato and a cream cheese sauce (which was basically butter, cream cheese, milk, chive and dill… I didn’t say this was lowfat cooking experimentation). I finished it off my bowl with a soft-boiled egg. Since this is basically what I’d put onto a bagel, I’ve decided to call this concoction Breakfast in a Bowl:

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Delicious. The egg was a perfect finishing touch; the soft yoke filled up the bowl like a sauce of its own.

I should probably mention that in addition to my one big trip to the grocery store on Sunday, I had the benefit of an overflowing garden and an empty house, so I took advantage of the many fresh veggies. My next cooking adventure was spaghetti and meatballs—but I made the sauce a little more interesting than usual. Starting with a plain tomato base, I decided to add all this:

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Most of it’s pretty standard- zucchini, carrots, tomatoes (all from the garden), avocado… and pineapple. Turns out, that little bit sweet (I even added some of the pineapple juice) makes your average pasta dish much more exciting. And of course, it turned into another wonderfully colorful meal (I also threw in some last-minute Swiss chard, also from the garden):

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Then I took a slight pasta detour and decided to try my hand at polenta. I’ve done this before, but never as the central feature of a meal. I started with the same basics; the polenta, chicken broth, and lots of cheese. Then, once again, I threw together lots of garden vegetables, but this time added a touch of sweet with some cubes of apple. All heated together, it become a wonderful warm sauce. I combined this and some barbequed pulled pork, and voila, a fabulous meal:

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Then, last but not least, I used the one garden product that I hadn’t yet experimented with; pears. Turns out, pears in pasta is divine. I combined them with dates, caramelized onion, feta cheese, prosciutto and ground macadamia nuts (incidentally, the food processor has always been my boyfriend’s favorite kitchen appliance and I now understand why).  

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But like I said, my kitchen experimentation didn’t end with pasta. I also made a few different fools, my new favorite dessert. I’ve decided that fool is like ice cream but better. It’s not too sweet and it’s very fluffy and light (perhaps not calorically, but at least in texture) so you can have a nice big bowl of it and not feel overwhelmed. First, I made a simple red currant fool with berries from the garden:

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Then I decided to go for something slightly more unusual and made banana-blueberry fool. Another success. The mushed banana blended in beautifully and the blueberries gave it a nice tart touch.

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Finally, since our pear trees were overflowing even after my pasta, I made a pear-honey-ground almond fool (thank you food processor, again).

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All and all, it was a week of pasta and fool heaven. In fact, I’m anticipating that this will be the majority of my diet when I move to my new apartment; not bad, since you get pretty much every bit of the food pyramid in there in the end.

Don’t think that I’ve forgotten my weekly breads. Last week’s orange-honey loaf was lovely:

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But I decided to make up for that yeast-less bread by making my own yeast! Yes, I am growing a sourdough starter. It’s been a couple of days, and it’s thriving. I’m rather fond of this gratifying little experiment; just water and flour, fed daily, and kept in a warm place. It’s been bubbling and smelling funny and doing all the things that one would help their homegrown yeast to do:

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We’ll find out tomorrow if it actually makes successful bread.

I’m also starting from scratch in another important way. I’ve decided to try printing my own fabrics. In fact, I spent the morning washing a few yards of solid cotton prints, making stamps, and preparing my dyes…

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…. But now it’s raining so I’ll have to wait for nicer weather to carry this experiment through (my mother is understandably nervous about my using her kitchen table to dye fabric for the first time). Ah well, more time to plan what exactly I’m going to print.

Besides, I got my fabric fix this week in other ways. Having decided to share the wealth of my fabulous antique fabrics and put together a couple of patchwork pillows that are now on sale on Etsy!

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One is made of that 1960s Tasmanian fabric, and the other is old feedsack cloth. I used flannel for the alternating squares so that they’re nice and soft.

Last, but not least, my latest ninepatch. This week has been…hot. Not just hot; broiling. The kind of heat that you don’t even have to move in to break a sweat. This isn’t necessarily my favorite weather, but it’s quintessential Boston summer, so I tried to make a patch that captured that feeling with bright, warm colors (and yes, to continue using up scraps from my feedsack fabric):

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That being said, I’m looking forward to the fall and this next phase of my life. In a couple of weeks we’ll be moving into our new apartment and I’ll be cooking and patchworking all over the place.

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Sewing in the Kitchen

I suppose I can be a little stubborn sometimes. Maybe ‘determined’ is a better word. You see, the moment I saw that funky 1960’s Tasmanian fabric in an antiques shop in Hobart, I imagined a mutton-sleeved jacket… and I just couldn’t get that notion out of my head. Admittedly, though I’ve done plenty of quilting, I’m relatively inexperienced when it comes to complicated clothing sewing. I’ve never used interfacing or lining. I’ve never made pleats or used the buttonhole stitch features on my sewing machine… I’ve never really followed a pattern through to the end. Basically, this wasn’t the most practical project for my experience level.

With my family gone on vacation this weekend (no, I wasn’t abandoned; I opted to stay home to focus on my new job), I decided I’d make use of the free time and big empty house to realize my Tasmanian jacket dream. Fortunately, my mom was there to help me with the initial pattern-laying and cutting. After that, I just took it slow. I ripped out stitches, I Googled every other instruction… I was determined. I also took over my mother’s otherwise clean and beautiful kitchen and turned it into a sewing factory (don’t worry Mom, it’s cleaned up already)! I brought down the iron, ironing board, my sewing machine and supplies. It was certainly a sewing adventure—and it certainly did not go smoothly the entire time. But I’m proud to announce that a couple of hours ago I completed this fully-lined jacket:

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And a few detail shots:

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Sometimes miracles happen. It’s exactly what I’d had in mind. Rare are those times when projects are so close to what you had anticipated. I have to admit, it’s extremely gratifying. I’m particularly fond of the contrasting red lining; I even made covered buttons with matching fabric to complete the look. Too bad it’s a smoldering 90 degrees in Boston. Ah well, fall will come soon enough, and I will be living in this.

It may not be all that original of me, but I couldn’t resist making this week’s nine-patch an homage to my feat. In the end, it’s quite appropriate, because not only did I spend two full days working on this jacket, it brewed in my mind all week long. I even read through the pattern in the evenings to psychologically prepare myself. If anything defined the week for me, this project was it:

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Since I’ve been living in the kitchen, I figured I might as well cook in it as well. And since I’m only feeding myself, I decided this would be a good time to experiment. First of all, I should say that last week’s Anadama bread was, to be honest, only so-so. I come from a family of salt-lovers and this just didn’t meet our flavorful standards:

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No worries, I’m going to give it another go using a different recipe. But this will have to wait for next weekend; my jacket didn’t leave me enough time for lots of kneading, so I’m currently making a yeast-free orange-walnut loaf, again from Bernard Clayton’s book. The oranges and honey are turning into syrup as I write.

I’m also in the process of making a red currant fool, using a beautiful little bunch of red currants from my mother’s garden. At this moment, they are red currant-butter-sugar mush which I will soon be folding into whipped cream. I feel like I should take this opportunity to explain that I’m a total fool for fool (sorry, this pun never gets old to me). It’s underappreciated dessert. True, it’s basically just whipped cream, but you’d be amazed how delicious that can be. Punctuated by these tart little berries, I’m hoping it will be divine…

 As a lover of colors, I can’t help but note that cooking can be a delightfully hue-filled process. The kitchen is a beautiful place. Just look at this lovely fruit:

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And these gorgeous tomatoes, straight from the garden. I keep trying to think of something brilliant to make with them, but for not I’m enjoying popping them in my mouth when they’re still warm from the sunshine.

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I’ve also decided that this week will be full of pasta patchworking (I swear, every good word begins with the letter ‘p’). This began last night with an improvisational pasta that I’m calling “Cream and Crunch.”

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Basically, it’s a cheesy sweet potato sauce, chicken-apple sausage, raisins, candied walnuts, and spinach. The nuts gave it just the amount of crunch. It was absolutely delicious, if I do say so myself. Sometimes the components of a dish are so good, you can’t really go wrong. Another wonderful thing about pasta? Well, just as I prefer the more free-wheeling approach to my quilting, pasta requires minimal measuring and precision. You simply add as you go, a pinch of salt here, an extra glob of cheese there… you can feel it out as you work without major disasters (this is not so true of bread- or jacket-making; sometimes rules are worth following).  Anyway, I’m looking forward to another week of this patchworky cooking. It’s true that this means I’ll be eating a lot of pasta (though I think I’m going to try to make only half a bag this time so I don’t feel guilty making a new one every night) but, like I said, fall is approaching so a little insulation couldn’t hurt.

And as long as I’m hiding from the oppressive heat and enjoying this pseudo-fall in my air-conditioned kitchen, I’ve picked up an old project that I started last summer and I have a confession… it’s a scarf! I know, I know, I admitted that I have far too many already. But in my defense, I already had this glorious yarn (it’s a multi-colored 100% cashmere yarn, Obsession by Classic Elite), and I’m trying to finish all those little projects that I’ve started before spending more money. Also, it’s actually a scarf/hood (this will make more sense when I’m done), and check out the cool honeycomb cable pattern:

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Finally, speaking of kitchens, I finished my patchwork tablecloth. Here it is, lying on the table that I’ll be taking to my new apartment (which is currently stored in our garage so forgive the mess):

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So in conclusion, the kitchen is a fabulous place to pass your time—particularly when you’re alone in the house. It’s avery life-filled room, especially when there are sauce pans simmering, and a sewing machine humming along at the same time.

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A (Patch)Working Woman

This past week has been a wonderful whirlwind of change. Not only have I been reacclimatizing from my trip across the globe, but I’ve started my new job as an assistant editor at Quilting Arts Magazine. Yes, I’m officially no longer a student, but a working woman. And I love it. In fact, I can hardly believe I’m getting paid to spend all days in a busy, joyful office that’s full of beautiful bits of fabric and art- where my job is to write, read and think about quilts all day… this has worked out rather nicely. My two latest nine-patches capture this transition:

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The center square in the first patch zooms in on the good old of USA (using that globe fabric once again), and the plaid patches are actually from a cheap shirt that I bought on my way to scuba  diving in the Great Barrier Reef. I realized a little too late that I’d probably need a cover up (I was right, it gets cold in the oceans depths!) but I didn’t see myself wearing this ever again, so I thought I’d put it to good use! The second patch is a little less obvious, but when I sat down to think about which fabrics would represent this past week, all I could think was bold and joyous, to capture the excitement I feel about entering this next phase in life.

Obviously, working a nine-to-five job doesn’t leave me with quite as much time for my own patchworking. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since 1. It’s so inspiring to look at all the amazing work that comes to Quilting Arts and 2. I appreciate the time that I do have that much more. Plus, I haven’t exactly been unproductive lately. First of all, I finished my neutral domino scarf. Picking up 900+ stitches isn’t any less tedious the second time, but somehow I managed:

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I think it’s safe to say that I officially have enough scarves (in fact, I could have said that a couple scarves ago)- I’m thinking those Australian yarns should probably go toward a hat.

I’ve also been working away, here and there, at my lovely tablecloth, which is even more fun now that my apartment move-in date is quickly approaching. I decided it didn’t need too much quilting since there’s no batting so I just did the border of every other blue square, and now I’m stitching up the seams.  This’ll be a good post-work activity for this week while I catch up with my mom and sister over a glass of wine.

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I also finished the top of my essay quilt, and have ordered some solid colored flannels for the back:

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However, yesterday was devoted to some non-fiber patchworking. As I’ve confessed many times, I’m a hopeless packrat, and I spend vacations hording business cards, brochures, and tickets of all sorts. So I decided to combine all these little ephemera with the best of my Australia and New Zealand photos to make a scrapbook:

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Albums and scrapbooks are best done shortly after the vacation, before you forget where and when everything was. Sure, it’s a lot of work, and I know everyone’s rather fond of digital photos these days, but I’ve made scrapbooks before and I swear it’s worth it to have something concrete that enables you to recall such an amazing trip.

Finally, there’s been some bread baking. Last weekend I made a Buttermilk Rye from Bernard Claytons New Complete Book of Breads. The buttermilk gave it a bit of a sourdough taste but, like many rye breads, it was still quite dense.

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 I was quite pleased (and I’m starting to think that all bread, when fresh out of the oven, tastes good) but I’m hoping to make something a little ‘fluffier.’ The plan for this afternoon is Anadama Bread, using a recipe that I found online at Relish (www.relishmag.com/recipes/view/20976/anadama-bread.html). It’s a classic New England bread made with cornmeal and molasses that I discovered at one of my favorite Harvard Square restaurants, The Harvest (www.harvestcambridge.com). I’ll let you know how it goes.

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