Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye and hello!

2012 mini quilts I know you already know it's that time of year - the mosaic review time! They are everywhere in blog land these days :-)

Last year around this time I promised myself that this would be the year that I too would celebrate with a mosaic of all that I'd made in 2012 and I'm happy to be (kind of) meeting that goal. I looked at my flickr photos but since I feel in LOVE with Instagram I've completely neglected flickr, which made it hard to get everything together that I've done in 2012. That's ok. I'm all ready to be better organized for next year. I consider this blog a work in progress and I'm always trying to improve what's going on here - some days it's more obvious than others :-)

I'm also trying to enjoy looking at what everyone else has accomplished this year and not compare my achievements to those of anyone else. It's so easy to fall into that whole of judging yourself and feeling like you're falling flat. Well, it is for me anyway. But I'm trying to appreciate all I did get done and it feels like a lot! Quilts, bags, clothes - even got brave enough to bust out the serger! Went to Sewing Summit and had such a wonderful time. Made quilts and other samples that went to quilt market. Gotten to know new crafty friends. Been motivated to try new things and get better at others. It's been a busy year, a productive year...a wonderful year.

So my goals for 2013? Trying to narrow them down is so hard! Do everything, faster, better, bigger...except no. I'd like to get better at free motion quilting and serging. I'd like to take better photos and post more consistently here. I'd like to finish more projects that I already have the supplies for instead of just continuously adding to the stash and the to-do list. I'm getting a list together and I'm enjoying the process and that is good enough.

Thanks for joining me here - I hope you'll join me for more fabric, food and fun in 2013.
Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

English Muffin Bread

This is seriously the best and easiest bread recipe I make and it's also everyone's favorite. It makes the best toast you'll ever eat and I always bring it to Christmas brunch at my Mom's house. This year I made a couple extras and gave to people to take home with some fancy jam - I just think it makes a nice way to ease back into real life after the hoopla of Christmas is over. What could be more comforting than a nice slice of warm, crusty toast slathered with butter and jam? Not much.
 This makes a fairly wet batter which you end up scooping or spooning into your greased and cornmeal-ed pans. I just spray my pans with Pam and then sprinkle the bottoms with cornmeal (shake it to spread around). You can also skip the cornmeal and still have yummy bread.
The glorious bread-waiting-to-be-toast! I wish I had some artsy shot of a slice all toasted and spread with jammy goodness but um, we ate it all. With a quickness ;-)

A couple of notes:
- I use my kitchenaid to mix this with the paddle attachment, the dough is wet but you could probably do the first mix with an electric mixer and then stir in the last flour with a spoon.
- I heat my milk, water and butter in a 4 C Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave until the liquids are warm enough that they melt the butter and then I let them cool back down to warm before I add them to the flour mixture
- My loaf pans are on the smaller size (8 1/2 x 4) for this recipe and this makes 2 loaves.
- If you are gluten-free or Paleo, I'm sorry to tempt you this way. Really.


English Muffin Bread

5 1/2 C bread flour
5 tsp instant rise yeast
1 T sugar
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 C milk
1/2 C water
1/2 C butter (1 stick)

Heat milk, water and butter together until butter is melted (microwave or saucepan), then let cool till warm.

In your mixing bowl combine:
3 C flour, yeast, salt, soda, sugar - stir to combine

Add the warm butter/milk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add remaining flour to make a stiff but still wet dough - I usually only put in 5 C of flour total (so 2 additional), mixing well after each addition. Spoon dough into greased and cornmeal-ed pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double - about 45 minutes. I put both pans in my microwave to let them rise - my kitchen can be cool in the winter but the microwave holds the heat and moisture in and I usually get a good rise this way.

Bake 20 - 25 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven. Loaves are done when they're a nice golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

Force yourself to let them cool a bit and then head right on over to toast heaven!


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Is it wrong to play favorites?

With gifts? Because this was hands-down my favorite thing I gave anyone this year. I've been wanting to make some pillows for my sister since she said she liked one I made for myself BUT it took a while to find the right fabrics. Her walls are pale gray and her couch a silvery baby blue, and of course she wanted something that would blend in with the sophisticated color palette she has going on without being too matchy-matchy. So I kept emailing her and texting her photos of fabrics. This one? No. These? No. Those? Maybe but expensive (and I owned none of them). THEN I found this pack of FQ's I'd bought from Pink Chalk a while ago - long enough ago that I can't remember if that tells you anything. I loved these but they aren't really "my" colors and I had no idea what I'd use them for, so they hung out in my stash until that fateful day. "OOH, I LOVE those" she said and I knew I'd found my fabrics. Nine FQ's of the Paradise line from Pat Bravo, which  then mixed with some gorgeous Kaffe shot cottons to stretch them enough to make not only two pillows but also a quilt!

Oh and one of those prints is not like the others...can you spot the one? I think color wise it was spot on though and played really nicely in the mix!
Back was a mixture of three different flannels from Robert Kaufman - I can't enough about how great the quality of these is. Super soft and snugly and no pilling when I washed it. Perfect for a winter lap quilt, to snuggle under on the couch. Straight line quilting on the diagonal and a medium gray Kona binding.
Plus the two originally intended patchwork pillows! I was so happy with how these turned out and my sister seemed equally thrilled and surprised to receive them, always a good feeling when you're giving away something you created. Oh and my fellow quilters will appreciate this - everything here done completely and entirely from my stash!

Hope everyone had a lovely day yesterday and is having a little R&R time today :-)

Also I wanted to say a huge congratulations to Debbie over at A Quilter's Table on winning the  Pink Chalk holiday tutorial contest - it's just fun to see someone so talented and so nice win something that seems well deserved :-) I've been linking up all month (and all year really) with Debbie's Tuesday at the Table - a monthly linky party full of fun food and fabric projects, if you haven't checked it you should!

Back tomorrow with the best/easiest English Muffin Bread recipe - seriously, you'll never eat better toast!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Caramel Corn and Cracker Jacks

I don't know about you but now that we're really on vacation it feels like we've all let out a deep breath and relaxed a little bit. I'm thankful my shopping is done, hopefully after today my sewing will be too :-) We made a little caramel corn last night. Then we made home made cracker jacks, which are a new recipe for me and so so yummy. Caramel on the left, cracker jacks on the right.
I have this sweet air popper that I borrowed from my mom. In case you can't tell, it has been around since the 70's - what are the odds? I know. But it works great! Especially for this recipe. I've read other recipes where people used plain microwave popcorn and that works fine too.
I don't think this caramel corn recipe is unusual - I found several on AllRecipes that were very close. This is the one my mom used so this is the one I always make. My guess is that this is the one that was printed on the back of the corn syrup (or Boy Scout popcorn) back in the day. It also makes me happy to use that big roasting pan more than once a year!
The Caramel Corn is lighter and so buttery, brown sugary yummy - very addictive. I will warn you that sometimes after you bake this it gets a little grainy, might be brought to a boil too fast, might be the humidity, might be a oven baking hotter than you think. It just happens. Candy is really tricky. BUT this is just a texture issue, not a taste one - it's still delicious and no one will care at all as they shovel it in. Just wanted to warn you ahead of time so you don't get nuts about it.
The Cracker Jack variation is darker - can you guess why? Molasses! Plus I added some Spanish peanuts to this mixture. The peanuts never really get stuck to the popcorn but they're still a nice addition.
 Caramel Corn 
6 quarts of popcorn, pop then put a large non-stick (or greased) roasting pan
preheat oven to 250 degrees (if your oven runs hot then 225)

1 C butter, melted
2 C brown sugar
1/2 C light corn syrup
1 tsp salt

In a large saucepan (mine is 3.5 qt) bring to a rolling boil. Boil 5 minutes, I stir constantly. Some recipes say to not stir at all. That makes me way too nervous. So it's up to you, stir or don't stir. Then after 5 minutes of boiling, remove from the heat and add:

1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda

The vanilla will give off some steam and the soda will make the mixture foam up like crazy. You have to stir stir stir and then get that foamy stuff poured over your popcorn quickly. Stir to coat then get it in your oven. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

I let cool in the roasting pan and it works out fine. Some recipes I read said to pour it out onto cookie sheets to let cool. I read that as more dishes to wash so I just skip that. Again, your choice :-)

Store in an air-tight container.

Cracker Jack Variation
6 qts popcorn
1 1/2 C Spanish peanuts

1 C butter, melted
2 C brown sugar
1/3 C light corn syrup
1/3 C molasses

1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp soda

Cooking directions are all the same :-)

Hope everyone is having a good weekend as we wind our way down to the big day!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Color Wheel Quilt

Searching for a few things I can post about this week without giving away any holiday surprises :-) This was a color wheel quilt I made using Rachel's Wheel pattern - you can find it here at Pink Chalk Studio. It's a good pattern for trying out curves if you're looking to build your confidence in that area.
Harper loves rainbows so this first one went in her room and I have another one about half done for my best (art teacher) friend. She already knows so I'm not blowing anything there. It was harder that I expected picking out the colors and getting them to segue nicely but I think it's pretty successful.
The art teacher in me is a little bothered by the fact that there are 16 sections rather than the normal 12 on a traditional color wheel but I fully admit that I'm nutty that way. Otherwise I love it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Teacher Gift Ideas

Just in case you're still looking for a good teacher gift idea, I found this Coffee Mocha mix over at Crunchy Peas and it even comes with the cute label already made! My child was beyond thrilled to help measure and stir the ingredients. I hesitate to reveal this here but I'm not a coffee drinker, like not at all but this mix has enough other goodness that I even like it! A ringing endorsement right? ;-) We also dipped pretzel rods in white chocolate and then my dear daughter sprinkled them to her heart's content. A gift totally fitting with our "year of sprinkles" theme for 2012!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gram's Sugar Cookies

When I think of Christmas cookies these are really the first one that comes to mind and the only cookie I need. These are the cookies that take me right back to dark, snowy nights and kitchens filled with tubs and Tupperware full of delicious treats. They always make me think of my grandmother and her house, all the holiday baking that happened there. We always gathered there on Christmas Eve for dinner, gifts and church. And cookies. Lots of cookies.
My family is from upstate NY, near PA and these cookies are typical of Pennsylvania dutch - soft and cake like, spiced with nutmeg. If you're looking for a crisp cookie these are NOT it. More like the consistency of a whoopie pie but not quite that soft.
This is how I always see them in my memories, vanilla frosting and colored sugar sprinkles. I could eat an entire batch all by myself (and almost have since Sunday, ahem). I don't know about you but after last Friday I was searching for any sweetness and comfort I could find. Baking helped.
 Gram's Sugar Cookies
1 C shortening (I've tried these with butter - good but not the same)
2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 C buttermilk or sour milk (1 Tbsp vinegar  + milk to equal 1 C)
2 tsp vanilla
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp nutmeg
4 - 5 C flour

Cream shortening and sugar, then add eggs, beating well after each. Add buttermilk  and vanilla - mixture will look like it's starting to separate. Add 1 C flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Mix well. Gradually add remaining flour one cup at a time, mixing after each. I always use the full 5 C. Dough will still be fairly soft. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Roll out on floured surface, leaving fairly thick. Bake 10 - 12 minutes at 350.
 
We had our second annual cookie decorating day on Sunday and this was a pre-sugar-high moment. Safe to say a delicious time was had by all!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Linzer Bars

December is the hardest month to blog about your crafting/sewing because you don't want to risk giving anyway any secrets but baking, well that's another story. I can blog about my baking exploits all day long and people will just be planning their visits :-)

I absolutely love anything almond and Linzer cookies, with their almond and raspberry combination are just sublime to me. But have you ever made them? The "real" Linzer cookies? You have to cut out two cookies for each cookie sandwich and then cut out a "window" (or several small ones) out of the top cookie, then wait for them to cool and blah, blah, blah. It's too much work to even TALK about making them ;-) So I was delighted when I found this bar cookie recipe that replicates all the deliciousness with a fraction of the work.
I feel like I've been saying "I could have eaten the whole pan" a lot lately. Maybe too much. But I share people! I share so I won't eat them all. My brilliant, generous plan ;-)

Linzer Bars
adapted from Cake Mix Cookies by Camilla V. Saulsbury

1 18.25 ounce white (vanilla) cake mix - side note, even though all the name brand cake mixes are shrinking I realized the Kroger brand mixes are still a full 18.25 ounce mix and while the flavor selection is limited the quality seems good. That is all.
1 C finely chopped almonds (I pulse in food processor, then measure)
1/3 C veg. oil
1 egg
2 tsp almond extract
1 12 ounce jar seedless red raspberry jam (I use Smucker's)
 extra sliced (or chopped) almonds for sprinkling on top
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Foil line a 9x13 pan and spray with Pam or Baker's Joy.

Mix all ingredients together with electric mixer until crumbly. Set aside 1 1/2 C of the crumb mixture. Press the remaining crumbs into the bottom of the pan. Spread raspberry jam over the crust. (TIP: I sometimes buy the 18 ounce jar of jam and use a little extra, totally up to you). Sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the jam layer. I also usually sprinkle some extra sliced almonds on top at this point. It just seems fancier. And yummier.

Bake 25 - 28 minutes or until crumbs are set (firm to the touch). Let cool on a rack before removing from pan. Sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar once they're cool. Eat three and give the rest away! Or keep 'em and just go for it. They make a lovely breakfast treat.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Big Bold Baby Quilt

I was thrilled to get some sewing done last weekend and this baby quilt was one of the projects I checked off the holiday sewing list. I wanted something fairly simple but bright and fun and I wanted to use what I had at home. The craziness of the shopping situations in December generally make me hide like a hermit at home all month. Or as much as I can manage anyway! The other requirement I had for this quilt was for it to fit on ONE yard of backing fabric, convenient, right? I don't know about you but I have a ton of one yard cuts and it's nice to find a use for them. So the measurements are: 12" x 14" blocks, sewn together in a big nine-patch with a quarter inch seam allowance. I had some really soft, yummy flannel from Robert Kaufman (? pretty sure) that I used for the backing - ONE yard :-D and then I've had this binding in my stash FOR-ever. Mary Englebreit that I bought at Hancock's and so utterly perfect for this project. Binding is four 2 1/2" x WOF strips. I quilted it in diamonds and I love it but I think straight lines at irregular intervals (all one direction) would have been lovely too. Maybe I'll do that on the next one!
I mean, seriously, the binding makes it. I can see doing this again for baby shower gifts using nursery colors and some fabulous, fun binding to contrast with the solids. Gotta love a project that comes together just as you hope and in the time you have :-)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Salted Caramel Mini Donuts

Me, again, the mini donut Queen! If you follow me on Instagram you already know our newest guilty pleasure - the mini donuts. We're making them about three times a week! And when I say "we" I mean my husband (mostly) - my part is the eating (mostly). They're just so quick and easy. And cute. And tasty. So we bought a cookbook that we love but we've changed a couple things - notably adding more flour to each recipe to get a better dough texture and subbing brown sugar for the white, which seems to make them crisper and richer. Oh and we have come to prefer the "medium" sized mini donut pans that we found at Target. So far my favorites have been the Almond with Almond Glaze and Sliced Almonds and these babies - the Salted Caramel. Mmmmm. So here you go, enjoy!

Vanilla Mini Donuts with Salted Caramel Glaze
adapted from Mini Donuts by Jessica Segarra

1 1/2 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

 Sift dry ingredients together in bowl and set aside. Then in a bigger bowl mix wet ingredients together:

1 egg
1/2 C light brown sugar, packed
3/4 C milk (we've used whole and 2%, both work fine)
3 T veg. oil
2 tsp vanilla

Mix to combine and then gently add dry ingredients to wet, mix until there are no lumps. If you stir too vigorously the donuts will be tough. You will eat them anyway but you'll be annoyed with yourself.

Make sure to grease your pans! We like Baker's Joy or Pam.
We pour the batter into a large ziploc, make sure the top is closed and snip off one corner to fill the pans. Fill each indention about 1/2 full.

Bake at 375 for about 8 - 10 minutes, top should be set and if you want to test with a toothpick it will come out clean when they're done. Makes about 20 of the mid sized mini's.

Turn out and cool on wire racks.

Caramel Glaze
16 soft caramels (like Kraft)
1 Tbsp half-n-half

Melt together in a microwave safe bowl in 15 to 20 second intervals, stirring after each until the glaze is smooth and combined. Dip the tops of cooled donuts in the caramel and let set up for a few minutes before sprinkling with sea salt. This glaze won't ever harden, or at least we never had enough left to find out how long it took ;-) This isn't a caramel frosting but a real caramel glaze. Also my picky eater didn't like the stickiness of this glaze which meant for more me. She has NO problem with the stickiness of a half inch layer of Nutella smeared on top though...nutter.


Better.

 That white frame was making me NUTS. It had to go. All it took was one quick trip to Lowe's for spray paint - Valspar Shiny Silver Metallic and Rustoleum Hammered Aluminum - the hammered one first for the texture and then the silver one for the sparkle. Love it. Took a $2 IKEA frame to a whole new level.
Not quite as invisible as before -aaahhh. Better.

Friday, December 7, 2012

December Cupboard

Hi and Happy Friday! I've been working on my December decorations little by little this week and I thought I'd go ahead and share. It feels almost done to me - see what you think. My husband made this sign for me, design whiz that he is.
 One of my smokers - maybe next year I'd an all smoker display. I've been collecting them since, well...since a long time ago. Let's just leave it at that. They come from Germany and I just found a site with so many amazing ones - maybe I need to add to my collection (teehee).
 Mini quilt not quite done but I figured if I made you wait until it IS done I'd be showing you the holiday cupboard in January. I was going for a snowflake but I know it's really an asterisk - I just couldn't wrap my brain around the piecing to get it right. I was happy to read that my friend Ali had a similar experience - if she couldn't work it out it probably just can't be done. Cute sparkly reindeer was an ornament from Target this year.
 Another sweet Target ornament - sparkly paper church with the teeny tiniest bottle brush trees.
 Mercury glass tree with a yummy smelling candle inside. Antique mother-of-pearl inlaid angel.
 Winter in Central Park, of course.
I was going for light and airy, silver and gold...so what do you think? The wreath on top is a straw wreath wrapped in tinsel. I wanted silver but store I was at had a silvery blue and so I went with it. I'm debating whether the white frame would look better as silver - it seems to get a little lost in there. This isn't normally the color scheme I use at the holidays but it just felt right this year and it's a nice change of pace. Maybe I'll get the mini quilt finished this weekend. Maybe. Whatever happens I'm palnning on finding a bit of time to sew and a LOT of time to relax - hope you do too.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lemon Pistachio Biscotti

More baking for the office and we had a request for biscotti, so we went with it. Honestly, I could have eaten this whole batch. In one setting. I normally have pretty good self-control but every now and again I'll bake something that just hits that sweet spot. Literally. So I know I've shared some biscotti recipes here before but here's another. Because you never know when you'll need one more great biscotti recipe ;-)
This was adapted from Good Housekeeping's The Great Christmas Cookie Swap Cookbook - a great book full of large batch cookie recipes made for sharing. I halved this one and changed the mix-ins to get the flavor I wanted.

Lemon Pistachio Biscotti
3 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 C butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C packed, light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/3 C pistachios (you can buy shelled bags at Trader Joe's)
zest of 2 lemons

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, set aside. Cream butter and sugars together, then add eggs and vanilla, beating well after each egg. Stir in flour mixture - mixture will be thick and crumbly. Finally add nuts and lemon zest - I knead in gently with my hands to mix at this point.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment or silpats. Divide dough in half and shape in two rectangles - flatten with hands and slope edges to get traditional biscotti shape. Bake for 30 minutes - toothpick should come out clean. Let cool 10 - 15 minutes and then move to cutting board and slice on the diagonal into half inch slices. Lay on cookie sheets cut side down. Bake 10 minutes on one side, then flip over and bake 10 more minutes on other cut side.

Let cool completely and glaze.

Citrus Glaze
You can make this with lemons, limes or oranges. I used lemon here :-)

1 C powdered sugar
juice and zest from one lemon (or lime, probably juice of only half an orange)

Mix together, add more juice or sugar to get the thickness you want and drizzle over cooled biscotti.
Try not to eat them all!


We also made a Triple Ginger variety: substitute 1 Tbsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp ground pepper and 2/3 C finely chopped crystallized ginger for the lemon zest and pistachios. The glaze on the ginger variety was an orange citrus glaze. Oh and I found an 8oz bag of candied ginger at Trader Joe's for only $1.49!!! Chopped and tossed in sugar I called that just great for this recipe and a total steal.


I love making yummy treats to share during the holidays, still thinking about what else I'm going to make this year. Many of my favorite holiday memories include food, so it's a nice way to travel down memory lane while hopefully creating those same memories with my own sweet girl. Some other holiday favorites you might see around here this month: Mom's Caramel Corn, Gram's Sugar Cookies, Lumberjacks (you know you're curious) and Linzer Bars. Mmmmm. If anyone has favorite recipes to share I'd love to hear about them! Also linking up with Debbie over at A Quilter's Table - Tuesdays at the Table always has an amazing collection of links to check out :-)

All quiet on the homefront...

 NOT! I know it's been a little quiet here but it's because we're covered up in babies (cousins).
 This cutie...
and this sweet guy have been hanging out while their parents bring home the bacon. So when you  add my own sweet/wild child to the mix, we have been busy. And I mean busy. To all you moms who have two or three or...more...my hat is off to you. And now I'm going to go take a nap.

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