Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quilt – Pinning the layers and starting to sew

I suppose I ought to do a little catching up on my quilt progress. I haven’t been blogging much lately because our internet has been bad, but we have actually been busy with different things. My quilt is progressing. I had finished piecing it in September, and then had to wait a bit for some supplies to come through the mail, but I did get to work on it. Here’s what I’ve done and what I’ve learned along the way.

First, it helps to have a large flat area in which to pancake the layers for pinning. I had my pieced top, a layer of batting, and a bottom layer… not an easy job to get the three aligned and flattened properly. A few extra hands is helpful for this task.. extra paws are not so helpful. I pretty much had to just throw everything out on the floor so they could get their exploration needs sated before I dared start any work on it. I didn’t even try to iron before letting the cats have their turn.



What does this “Get off and stay off!” mean??


Ok… eventually, all the layers went together, pinned with some nice brass (no rust) safety pins, and I gathered up my gear to plan the actual quilting. I rolled up the ends so I could begin sewing in the middle of the quilt. I will work my way out to the edges (to make sure any bulge-y bits can be pushed out from the center as I go).


The next step is to eat the pattern.


…If you’re a cat. If you’re a cat owner, the photo above is just an example to show you why you should have scanned in all of your pattern pieces so you can make copies in case of unplanned ‘incidents’. (yes, I did)

Actually, my next step was to organize all the little motifs I plan to quilt. There are 96 5x5” squares in this quilt and each one will have a different cat motif. Some I found as gifs or jpegs on the internet, some I made from photographs. I used Corel Paint Shop and my Wacom tablet to make line drawings.

        DSC08703 cat38

Also, I plan on tracing all of the yellow and blue ‘stars’ on the quilt.


Some motif pieces I can cut out and trace directly on the front of the quilt, but tracings on the cat pattern fabric are too difficult to see and sew, so I have been working on the ‘front’ of the quilt when I have a square of the brown fabric, and then flipping the hoop over to work the motifs that go on the cat fabric squares from the ‘back’ of the quilt. In order to line up my motifs properly, because the piecing is on the other side and all I see on the back is the solid fabric!, I baste around the patterned fabric squares with a bright color so I know where my square is supposed to be.

Actually, ‘trace’ is probably not the right word when it comes to transferring these motifs. I trace the outline, and then freehand the details from the drawing… I didn’t use any special paper or tissue… these motifs are printed on plain printer paper.

Don’t forget to taste your erasers. Or, you know, not. I’m finding that a good chalk pencil is handy on the brown fabric in front, and a silver pencil is good on the cream colored backing fabric.


Below is a finished motif. Actual cat used to show scale. I decided to use a blue quilting thread and it shows up nicely on the brown fabric. The sewn motifs do not really show up on the cat pattern squares, on the front, but they show nicely on the back.

Before I started sewing, I laid out all of the motifs and organized them. Some pictures are more detailed than others, some are more cartoonish, some more realistic. Five of them have names that I will embroider (front only) as well. I wanted to make sure I had them spread out in a pleasing manner. I decided to keep the orientation of each motif the same. I numbered the motifs according to row and column, and the stack is kept neat in a baggie with the rest of my supplies.


The fun part…hand quilting. And it is fun. I was worried that 96 motifs, plus all of the stars, might be a bit much, but each one is different and I am having fun with it. I get a lot of encouragement from my family and felines too, not to mention very close supervision…


Sometimes too close


It is fascinating.


and cute.


Besides, as inconvenient, and sometimes painful, as my ‘helpers’ might be at times, they have good input… all quilts should be made with love.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Beef and Cabbage Pie with Civil War Macaroni and Cheese

This evening, when Brad came home, he found total chaos in the kitchen. The kids and I were in process of making… pretty much everything…

Our main dish was a simple beef and cabbage pie.

1 frozen pie shell

1/2 kg ground beef

olive oil for cooking

onion – medium, diced

garlic – 3-4 cloves minced

carrots  - a good handful of then slices

3-4 cups chopped cabbage

salt, pepper, parsley, italian spice mix (oregano, thyme, basil, etc), chili powder

1-2 tbsp dijon mustard

1-2 tbsp bbq sauce

1 cup water

I preheated the frozen pie crust for the base, for about 8 minutes @350F. In a large skillet, I browned the ground beef in the olive oil. As that finished cooking, I tossed in the onions and garlic. Next I added the carrots, and all of the spices. I don’t like most beef and cabbage pie recipes I’ve read because they tend to be boring… most recipes call for salt and pepper! I like spice … go with what you like. Next, I stirred the dijon mustard and bbq into the meat mix and piled as much cabbage as I could fit in the pan and still get the lid on. 3-4 cups is a guess. I cooked it for about 20-30 minutes, until the cabbage reduced quite a bit… removing the lid towards the end so that the water could evaporate.

At some point during the cooking process, I realized that I had a LOT more meat filling than was going to fit in the pie crust, so I quickly made up a batch of simple pizza dough. Some I cut into strips to use as a cover on the pie, and the rest I rolled fast, spread the remainder of the meat down the center, and rolled it up into a loaf.

I cooked the pie for about 10-15 minutes until the top crust looked good. The loaf took longer, and again, I went by the color of the bread (nicely golden) and sound (it had a good thump when tapped). Sorry I can’t be more precise, but I have two excuses. One was I was just making it up as I went, and two, I was busy helping the kids with about three other recipes.

Brian started making some vanilla ice cream, we have a nice Cuisanart 2qt ice cream maker and it does a wonderful job freezing our ice cream recipes. At the same time, he started mixing up the ingredients for his favorite treat in the whole world, Guinness Molasses Bread. Getting the kids to dig through the cabinets, find ingredients, measuring utensils, etc. is part of the whole process of learning to cook, so when Brian looked for the beer, he found that there were only two left in the box. Rather than leave one in there all alone, he decided we should just have two loaves of bread and he took it upon himself to double the recipe. Even better for learning to cook!

In the meantime, Honor, who has started to help me with the dough for the pie, caught sight of this recipe I had pulled out for a side dish: Civil War Macaroni and Cheese I hadn’t even had a chance to check and see if we had the ingredients for it and she decided that this was HER dish! We were missing half the cheddar cheese, so we substituted mozzarella, and we didn’t have bread crumbs, so we crumpled up Ritz crackers. We cheated with step two. Rather than use a separate sauce pan (by this time we were in a hurry) after the mac and milk mixture was ready, we just stirred the cheese and spices into the same pan. We also stirred the chili pepper into the bread crumbs before spreading the crumbs on top (to make sure it was well scattered) and Honor decided that we also needed a sprinkling of parmesan… why not? Parmesan and mozarella go well together. We had the oven at 350F for the pie, so we just put the macaroni in at the same temp and it worked out just fine. It cooked a little longer than the pie, and browned nicely on top.

With all these recipes going on at once, our kitchen table and counter tops were very full! Because I had to hop here and there to help Brian and/or Honor at different times, we had to hand off spoons and stirring implements all over the place… meaning that although each kid picked their own projects, they both helped with everything to make this meal happen.

We managed to get everything done before and for dinner except the bread. I even got most of the dishes done and the kids helped clean up the kitchen too. The beef and cabbage pie was amazingly yummy, and so was the macaroni. The bread is now done, the ice cream is in the freezer… and we are too full to sample either one! There’s always tomorrow for dessert (unless we fill up on leftover pie and mac!)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Not Saffron Rice

I found a container of Safflower at the store. I didn’t need safflower, but it was there in its cheery round tubular box, and I remembered how safflower was considered a substitute for saffron, and I was then struck by the realization that I’ve never cooked with safflower before, so you know I had to buy it! I wanted to make non-saffron, saffron rice!


I looked at a number of recipes online and got some ideas. Here is what I did, plus notes gleaned from other recipes:

4 cups water

2 tbsp butter (or olive oil, I used butter, even though I usually use the oil because butter sounded good last night)

chicken bullion (for your amount of water, or substitute chicken broth for part of the water – you need 4 cups liquid, flavored chicken!).

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 tsp curry powder or tumeric (tumeric can be bitter, so I went for curry)

1/2 tsp chili powder

1-2 squeezes of lemon (or a 1/2 tsp or so of lemon concentrate)

few dashes of soy sauce (or fish sauce, or 1/4-1/2 tsp of salt, depending on your taste in rice. 

3-4 tsps safflower (I used 4 big ‘pinches’. The recipes for saffron rice generally called for about 1/2 tsp of saffron threads, those who talked about using safflower said to use about 8 times as much. Some people also talked of using tumeric and/or cardamon to boost the flavor of ‘non-saffron’ safflower as safflower has very mild flavor.)

2 cups white rice (or basmati, etc. brown rice was not recommended)

Add the water, butter, and all the rest of the spices, bring to a boil. Add the rice and stir. Lower the heat to simmer, cover tightly, and cook for 15 minutes. Then, turn off the flame and let it sit for 5-10 minutes, do not remove the lid, as you finish preparing the rest of your meal and it will continue to steam inside the pot.

I had made a chicken vegetable tomato sauce mix to roll into tortillas with black beans and this rice on the side was a very good match. Brian put the rice into his tortilla with the meat. The rest of us ate it plain on the side. It turned out very good! It was not saffron rice as the flavor was milder and the color a little muted, but it was still very good! There was definitely a similarity to the flavor of saffron rice. I think we’ll be making this again, and besides, safflower is supposedly good for you according to and according to the label! I love the claims on package labels here! Apparently, it can heal our freckles(!) among other things (if we had any freckles) and measles!

DSC01657 “Safflower:

Usage: in all kinds of meals that contains rice.

Benefits: It’s used to heal freckles and pruritus (itches) and as refreshing for azostomia (bad breath). It’s flower is used to calm the pain of period for women. It heals measles. It reduce the rate of cholesterol and stimulates the immunity system. “

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween! (aka… Wow, it really is Autumn, isn’t it??!)

We aren’t having any snow like many folks back in the US, and the temps have been pleasant and mild, but we are definitely feeling the change in season here. There’s a nip in the air that tells us that summer has definitely packed up and left us for awhile. It is rather nice to be able to snuggle in fleece jackets and comfy blankets again. Especially when reading… there’s something nice about burrowing into a cozy blanket with a couple of cat friends and a good book.


Contentment is… snuggly cats!




And no, I can’t believe it is Autumn already, but Fall has definitely fallen, because, surprise, here it is the end of October. How’d that happen? Brad was away for a couple weeks TDY, and we managed to decorate the house while he was gone. We used some of our old costumes on toys to get into the spirit of things.

DSC01587  For their school celebration (before Halloween) Honor chose to wear her leopard costume again. She’s definitely got a lot of use out of it! Brian wanted to be a wraith, or grim reaper. We discussed making a costume, but material is so expensive, esp. compared to the price of simply buying the ready made costume, so we found this one for him at We’ve found this online store to be very fast and reliable for costumes and accessories. We couldn’t find a kid or teen costume that he liked so we got this one in adult size (had to belt the waist), so it’s a useful addition to our costume/Halloween stash for future use!




Hiissss … pffft!!


Did I mention how it’s getting chilly and we’re enjoying the chance to snuggle in blankets with cats?DSC01592

Honor has been playing with the camera a lot. I’m finding some odd photos on my camera. Here, she was trying to take a picture of the decorations, but she ended up liking how the flash turned into a ‘magic ball’ instead!


Self-portrait :)  (pretty good job too) … it took us awhile to convince her to wash off the cat whiskers.


For the embassy Halloween celebration, Brian wore his Reaper costume again and got a lot of attention from the guards… he’s on a number of cell phones now… and Honor decided to be a character from her favorite movie, Avatar. Nevermind that some people didn’t know who she was … she was *not* a blue tiger ;D !!




Deathly bunny ears


We had a fun time with the trick-or-treat haunted houses … the embassy really does go all out on this event! Thank you volunteers!! :) … and we even went trunk-or-treating as a number of decorated cars were set up in the parking lot for kids to visit. Afterwards, we had dinner in the club (very crowded, I might add, but it was a big success!) and ended our evening with a pasta dinner!


Hope you all had as much fun as we did!