Friday, December 30, 2011

Swaps, Gifts, and Wraps

I got a little behind (not to be confused with having a small rear end!) on posting a lot of my Christmas activities. First up: swaps. I was in a couple of swaps and posted some of the things I made in the previous post, but here are the lovely packages I received in turn! I somehow got signed up twice in Aunt Pitty Pat's stocking swap (I think the fact that she can talk me into almost anything played a factor...). Here's what I got from the fabulous Regena:
I love this linen stocking with the fussy-cut patches from Sweetwater's Countdown to Christmas by Moda Fabrics. This line is one of my favorites and I used it in a table runner I made for another swap. And look at that Mug Rug! It's shaped like a tag! I love that idea and WILL be stealing it in the future :-) Thanks so much, Regena!
I love how she used the Moda twill tape for the stocking hanger. And among all the goodies she sent, she included some baker's twine - of course, it's all the rage but I didn't have any, so now I do! Wheeeee!

And my sweet Canadian partner, Eleanor, sent me these wonderful things!

I love this stocking with the wide bias tape and what a good job Eleanor did applying all the tape! Among the goodies is a cookbook that has lots of Scandanavian recipes (I'm norwegian) including some of my favorites like Swedish Pancakes, although I make mine a bit different, and my brother's favorite, Lefse. She also included a sweet snowman pin - I collect Christmas pins! I had to laugh when I opened her little sack of personal care items - there was a tube of lip balm, and I had just read an article about people who are, apparently, ADDICTED to lip balm! They actually call it "Chapstick Addiction!" I hope I don't succomb....LOL!
And look at the gorgeous card she made just for me! Soooo pretty and sparkley! I'm going to put this with all my rubberstamping supplies so I can steal the idea next year ;-) Thanks, Eleanor!

Next, I made five Scrappy Daisies quilted table runners (from Gudrun Erla's fabulous book Table Talk) for a group of friends I call my "Lunch Buddies" - we meet every Wednesday for lunch at The Mason Jar in Tumwater. Don't know where I'd be without my Lunch Buddies :-) so I decided I wanted to surprise them with these fun gifts. Ok, maybe the REAL reason is that after making one for a swap, I simply couldn't stop making them! They are soooo fun, fast, and fabulous! Here they are:
Traditional reds/greens/golds
I love these golds and blacks
These blues and silvers were my fave
I like how the solids made this one pop

Rolled and Ribboned and Ready to Gift!

Shirley was very happy with her table runner! And she just HAD to "get back at me" the following week by stealing my lunch bill and paying it herself :-)
After all the swaps were sent, and the table runners finished, it was time to "wrap" the gifts for my family. The girls always get pretty wrappings and Autumn saves hers to use to wrap gifts for her sisters and mom the following year BUT she makes them give the wraps back so she can reuse them again! This year, her sister, Stephanie, didn't even have to be told - she just handed the fabric bags back after unwrapping the gifts. Here's how I wrapped some gifts for Autumn:

I made a 60" scarf from a Jelly Roll of Flurry and backed it with Sew Comfy and tied it around a pacakge. I added a pin made of felt flowers for a festive look.


And here's a bag I made to match, along with a small pouch that contained jewelry.

I made a yarn angel to top one package. I plan on doing a tutorial next week for these, using Valentine's Day fabrics.
I liked this snowman fabric - I think it made cute bags to hold some Bath & Body Works goodies for the girls.
 All in all, it was a very good Christmas! Now to start all over again and NOT wait until the last minute! (Famous last words...)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Blocks and Stockings

I've been up to some mischief  :-) I won't say who gets what, but these are some Christmas quilt blocks and stocking packages I've been working on. Happy to say they have either already gone out the door or will be today or Monday! Then I can work on "wrapping" my family's and friends' gifts! Oh...and FINISH my shopping!

I just wish I could keep THESE and make a quilt for myself...but I'm sure I'll be getting some lovely blocks back from Aunt Pitty Pat's Christmas Block Swap.

It took a lot of looking before I found this cardinal fabric that was perfect for an applique to spruce up the Log Cabin block.

Some stockings I made, and each has its own special Christmas Gift Receipt bag - just tuck it in your purse or bag and it's THE place for all your Christmas shopping receipts so that if something needs to be exchanged or returned after Christmas, you'll know EXACTLY where to find that pesky receipt!

 Of course, there are LOTS of goodies that will go into each stocking!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Groovy Gravy

My son, Adam's, girlfriend (Katie) is a vegetarian...and he's had other vegetarian girlfriends, so I'm used to this. Actually, I am quite excited because I LOVE making vegetarian meals! My other guys are definitely carnivores and think that MEAT HAS TO BE part of every meal. But I do love the occasional meatless fare. I would eat 2-3 meatless meals a week if I were truly in charge. But I'm not. So I have to content  myself with sharing meatless meals with Katie. Now, Katie doesn't ask for Tofurkey for Thanksgiving - thank goodness - because I'm not quite sure how I would do that. So I make extra veggies, I use vegetable broth in the dressing (but don't tell the others!), and I do make her some vegetarian gravy to pour over the mashed potatoes.

How do you make vegetarian gravy? Well, it's easy-peasy!

While I definitely make gravy from the turkey drippings, for the carnivores, I've kinda made up this recipe for NON-TURKEY gravy over the past few years...and I think it's delicious! Here's what I do!

Vegetarian Gravy

1/2 cup finely diced onions
1/2 cup finely diced mushrooms (I usually use the white button, but you can experiment)
2-3 Tablespoons butter
2 cups (or 1 can) vegetable broth
1 cube vegetarian boullion (available at any grocery store!)
1/2 Teaspoon onion powder
1/2 Teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Approximately 3 Tablespoons lightly-browned flour *

* First, make the browned flour: put 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour into a small heavy skillet on medium-low heat. Stir constantly. Note - no oil, butter or anything - this is a DRY skillet. You will find it starts to turn after several minutes. You want a nice LIGHT caramel color - if you get past light caramel, it will turn bitter so err on the side of too light. It will continue to brown after you turn the burner off. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter and add the onions and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are opaque. Add the browned flour, stirring constantly. SLOWLY add the vegetable broth, a little at a time, until each addition is incorporated. Add the vegetarian boullion, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. Continue to stir about 5 minutes until the gravy is nice and thick.

This gravy is delicious whether you are a vegetarian or not. Give it a try!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Crockpot Thanksgiving Dressing

Want a fuss-free Thanksgiving Dressing recipe? This makes a moist, fluffy dressing that is neither baked in the turkey nor in a casserole in the oven. Using a crockpot means freeing up precious oven space as well as not having to scoop dressing out of the turkey after dinner (and is also safer than putting the dressing in the turkey). This recipe was in the little booklet that came with my Rival 5-qt. crockpot many years ago. Since trying it, it's the only dressing I've made ever since - my family won't let me try anything else on the theory that if the dressing ain't broke, don't mess with the dressing :-)

I wish I had a photo for you - I'll try to remember to take some pics this year and add them later.

This recipe fits in either a 3-4 qt. or 5 qt. crockpot - I always use the 5 qt. If I make it for a "regular" family dinner, I use the amounts listed below; if I make it for Thanksgiving or a potluck, or want leftovers, I double the recipe HOWEVER I use the same amount of butter and broth (not double it).

I do have one caveat: I've given this recipe to many people, particularly where I used to work. They all loved my dressing and recognized that "the green crockpot" at our work Thanksgiving potluck was THE dressing to aim for, and get in line early! But most of the people I gave the recipe to have not been able to successfully replicate it. I think I've troubleshooted most of their problems and included them in the recipe.

Crockpot Dressing

Double this recipe to completely fill a 5 qt. crockpot, but note the instructions for the butter and broth.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margaine (but really...butter....I don't even have margarine in my house! IF YOU DOUBLE THE RECIPE, DO NOT DOUBLE THE BUTTER - use just 1 cup)
2 cups chopped celery (about 1/4" dice)
2 cups chopped onion (about 1/4" dice)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (I have used dried in a pinch, but fresh is best)
2 4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, drained (I wasn't sure I would like this the first time, but it's delicious!)
12-13 cups bread cubes (I use a combination of breads depending on what I have on hand. Cheap bread is ok, but I always use a combination of white and wheat. Stack 2-3 slices and cut with a serrated bread knife OR use an electric knife. Try not to squish/crush the bread. DO NOT USE BAGGED, DRIED BREAD CUBES! And do not dry the bread first, although "old" bread can be used as long as it's not all dried out)
1 slightly heaping teaspoon pountry seasoning
1/2 level teaspoon each salt and pepper (If I double the recipe, I use 1 teaspoon pepper but only about 3/4 teaspoon salt)
1 1/2 slightly heaping teaspoons dried sage
1  teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 slightly heaping teaspoon dried marjoram
2 eggs, beaten
About 2 cups chicken or turkey broth (IF YOU DOUBLE THE RECIPE, DO NOT DOUBLE THE BROTH)

Note: if you want to get some of the preparation out of the way ahead of time, you can cube the bread and store in a plastic bag, and chop the onion and celery and store in the fridge.

Melt butter in skillet and saute onion, celery, and parsley until onions are opaque. Add the mushrooms and seasonings and stir well. Put the bread cubes in a very large bowl. Pour the sauteed mixture over the bread cubes. Pour the beaten eggs over. Add about 1 cup broth. Stir GENTLY - sliding a large spoon or rubber scraper down the sides of the bowl and lifting (folding) the ingredients just until mixed. Add more broth if it seems dry. Carefully turn the mixture into the crockpot and sprinkle any remaining broth over the top - DO NOT PACK DOWN - DO NOT STIR. Cover and cook on High for 45 minutes; then turn to Low and cook 4-6 hours. The dressing will rise up (the eggs act as a leavening agent). DO NOT STIR while it's cooking! If you go the full 6 hours, it may develop a crust on the sides, but some people like the crusty part.

I think the problems people I've given the recipe to have had are mostly because they tried to shortcut by using bagged, dried bread (even though I told them NOT to!), they mixed it too much, and/or they stirred it while it cooked. Made according to my instructions, this dressing is beautiful - you can identify all the separate ingredients (in other words, it's not just a brown mush). And it's fluffy, moist, and yummy!

I've also made this dressing for roast beef dinners by using beef broth and changing up the seasonings a bit to better go with beef. Happy Thanksgiving!  

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Flirty Apron Swap - Reversible Table Runner

Flirty Apron Swap Mistress Shawnee stepped out of the "apron mode" for a Table Runner Swap, and I'm sure glad she did! Not that I don't like aprons - I LOVE them! But it was fun to make a table runner for a change. I found this lovely book at one of my local LQSs: Table Talk - Runners, Toppers and Family Treats by Gudrun Erla for Kansas City Star Quilts. I found several patterns I want to make, but decided on Scrappy Daisies, designed to use up leftover scraps of Jelly Rolls. When I got down to making the runner top, I wound up using FQs rather than a Jelly Roll. 

One thing I've been doing differently for awhile - long ago, I learned to press my seams to one side when doing patchwork. But I've noticed a trend on some blogs to press seams open. Sometimes when I'm making up my own designs and don't have the luxury of always knowing beforehand whether it's going to work to have the seams pressed one way or another, pressing them open would just work better, so I jumped on the "press open" bandwagon. I found with this project that it was so much easier to get all my pieces lined up nicely with the seams pressed open, so I guess I'm a convert!

Here's the top - it went together soooo fast and easy! I used September Light by In The Beginning (plus a few other stray fabrics to fill in). This is the "fall" side of the runner, which my partner wanted.

But I had soooo much fun piecing this pattern that I decided to continue it on the flip side. I used Countdown to Christmas by Sweetwater for Moda for the reverse, so my partner would have a "two-fer" runner. This time, I did use a Jelly Roll I had just gotten in the mail. Now, I had no illusions that I would be able to successfully machine-quilt both sides at once and keep the quilting lines absolutely the same, so I chose to quilt each side to its own batting and then put the sides together.

Also, I knew I was "quilting myself into a corner" by using such vastly different fabrics on the two sides, but forged ahead anyways. So I had to search for a fabric for the binding that would look good with both fabric lines. My son, Ben, helped me narrow it down to Masterworks by Kathy Hall for Andover Fabrics - a fabulous, rich pattern that blended well with both sides. Thanks, Ben!

I also made two potholders, one to match each side. I tucked in a magazine, some candy, Starbuck's Toasted Coconut cocoa, and some smelly potpourri. And a Shoop-Shoop Bag I made from the Countdown to Christmas fabric, with the suggestion to my partner that she consider using it for all her Christmas shopping receipts, like I do - I hope she'll be pleased with this idea.

Off in the mail it went today - thanks, Shawnee for another great swap! Now I just have to wait patiently for MY package to come in the mail :-)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Swaps and Stuff

Boy, I'm way behind on posting some of the swaps I've been in lately. First up, here's what I sent in Country Pleasure's Apron Swap:
I used the Four Corners apron pattern (again!) in fall colors. When I make this apron, I usually add ruffles to the foldover at the apron top and the pocket - I think this makes it more "girlie."
I added sweet vintage buttons to both flaps - hard to see in this pic, but they are a grape color with a rhinestone in the center. They were the only two of those style in my vintage button collection, so it worked out perfectly.
I added two ruffled potholders...
...and an embellished dishtowel.
Also, this sweet little basket that I thought my partner could use for tea packets or other small goodies.

Some yummy Seattle Chocolates completed the swap!

Here's one side of the tote bag. I added a floofy flower just for fun. I used a small panel cut from Scribble Monsters II, and in addition to more of that line, I threw in some Eerie Alley and other fabrics - whatever I had on hand in my Halloween stash.

Here's the other side of the tote. I also put some little ties on both sides to cinch the bag in just a bit at the top. I think it added a cute detail.
I put a cute pumpkin pocket on the inside!
Here's the front of the Mug Rug. I love this potato monster (well, that's what I've dubbed him), and I added a "flat" ruffle to the bottom - it's pressed quite flat so it won't upset the coffee cup.
I strip-pieced the back just for fun.
I found this adorable Candy Can Scissor Holder in the latest issue of Simple Quilts, just in time to whip one up for the swap!
I added the required three FQs and some thread, and I also created a 12-strip Mini-Jelly Roll of the fabrics I'd used. My partner said she is going to use it right now!
I also made a Halloween paper wreath.

A rubber scraper, cookie cutter, some candy, and a fun little scuttlebug spider rounded out the goodies.

I added one of my Shoop-Shoop Bags so she could start using it for all her Christmas gift receipts. And then.....
I stuffed everything into a black witches' cauldron, topped it with some eerie green tissue, tied it onto a magic broom, and sent it winging its way to my partner...Bwwahhhhh!

Here's what I received from that same swap, from my partner, Donna! She really spoiled me!
Look at this cute tote! I love the little ghostie she appliqued on the front!
And here's the back...I just love the fabrics she used.
The Mug Rug is adorable, with the same little ghosie, and one of the FQs she included was Scribble Monsters - like minds or what!
She fabulously altered a notebook, and her card was "Priceless." She also included some stickers, and the absolutly cutest candy corn buttons I've ever seen, along with a witches' hat hair clip with floofy purple trim. I used the tote bag and wore the hair clip yesterday! Thank you sooo much, Donna! And thanks to both the swap mommas for more fun swaps!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Fungus Amungus

I love this time of year here in the Pacific Northwest! Yes, the leaves are always beautiful, but there are also some incredible fungi that pop up at this time. These appear on the same old dead tree each year.

I love this shot, with the dew drops clinging in suspension...looks like syrup running off a pancake!

This 'shroom popped up next to our driveway overnight - nature certainly has some beautiful designs!