28 November, 2008

Océane's Quilt Finished

The final pictures of this quilt are long overdue. It was delivered to the precious girl a few weeks ago and the pictures have been sitting on the camera. I was quite relieved to find out that they painted her room a bright yellow. It's not often that I actually get a quilt to match well.

This is a close-up of the quilting on this one. I went along horizontally, creating a wave pattern. Once washed, it created a wonderful effect with the crinkles.

I loved making this quilt. The colours were bright and soft at the same time. It was also nice practice to hand applique.
Océane's quilt became Hippocampe pour Océane. Hippocampe means seahorse in French. Sure, it's not that creative of a title, but it fit.

26 November, 2008

The Emotional Eater

The perfect brownie can make anyone feel better. I've been feeling the need to eat a lot of brownies lately. Not that I need more things brown in my life, what with the mud flat currently surrounding the house. And the mud piles in the backyard and the muddy paw prints and footprints littered over the hardwood... But these brownies really do make you feel better.

They are dense yet still a bit cakey. They are fudgy but not heavy. They are a hug in a square crumbly package. With a glass of milk at lunchtime or a stiff scotch at bedtime they fill you with love. Sure I have a great Hubby and the girls can do that too, but the perfect brownie is just for me.

It's hard to not feel better when you start with chocolate and butter. Seriously, not much gets better than that, on their own or melted together in fantastic richness. I need to make them without the Monster around or else she takes them both and messes up my measurements.

Okay, maybe it's not just her who snitches tastes along the way... Somehow it is naughty when I dip my finger to lick the chocolate, and just messy and fun when the Monster does it.

When all is said and done and the oven brings out the chocolate scent the hugs begin. It is almost painful to wait for them to bake and cool. Warm brownies are more fudgy, but I prefer them cool and dense. A good brownie can make you feel comforted and warm, a bad one leaves you cold and cranky.

About 13 years ago I worked at a health food store with a bakery in it. Beyond the granola and ultra-healthy food, we specialized in items for people with restricted diets. At one point that summer the chef and I took on a mission to create a healthy brownie. We tried multiple substitutions like carob for chocolate, fake eggs, brown rice syrup, and more. None of them worked. This was before some good gluten free recipes were readily available. Eventually we decided that we would go back to basics and make a recipe with real food - butter, eggs, chocolate, brown sugar, and unbleached flour. This was before the slow food movement or Michael Pollan. You know what? They were amazing brownies! Sadly I lost the recipe in the post-university moves.

After experimenting with many recipes I finally found The One. It never fails me, it's fast, has only a few ingredients, and results in a perfect brownie. The recipe comes from a cookbook I picked up on a trip to New York. Broke and spending an afternoon with a quilting friend in Brooklyn I picked up The Brooklyn Cookbook. Really just a hardcover community cookbook, the book is filled with personal anecdotes and recipes from locals. The perfect brownie comes from this book.

What makes a bad brownie? To me that means anything that is not chocolate related inside. No nuts for me, I hate the sudden change in texture when you bite into a brownie with nuts. I don't like glaze or icing because it changes the mouthfeel. On a cupcake yes, but not on a brownie. I've added chocolate chips, even mint ones, and raspberries before, but it's not my favourite. Just a plain, simple brownie, thank-you.

The Perfect Brownie

(adapted from The Brooklyn Cookbook)

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8 inch square baking pan.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. When melted set aside and let the mixture cool.
3. Beat the eggs with the salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla, beating until the mixture is creamy. Quickly stir in the cooled chocolate mixture, then the flour. If you are going to add anything like chocolate chips or nuts (!) this is the time to do it.
4. Pour into the greased baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center is set but still a bit giggley. Cool before cutting.

25 November, 2008

Scroll Down

Hmm, I am having a blogger moment. I finished my binding tutorial, but it is publishing on the date I started it, not here. Scroll down to November 13 to see it.

24 November, 2008

Sushi Night - Taste Adventure

It was a surf and turf weekend. After a crazy week with the renos and lots of mess the family - meaning me - was in no mood for cooking. Out for steaks one night and then Hubby and I decided we needed sushi. Time for The Monster's first sushi.

We chose to go to Kinjo, a sushi bar in an old Tim Horton's. We've been there before, and been quite happy. On the plus side, it's close. It isn't the best sushi we've ever had, but it's good. And after our adventure on Saturday we'll be back.

The gregarious owner, Peter, greeted us with a carved orange and melons for the Monster, a forced (by knife) declaration of love from Hubby to me, a couple of boxes of Pocky candy for the table, and a free treat of four pieces of sushi rolls, a Japanese amuse bouche. It was quite the welcome and good start to the night.

Hubby and I decided to simply order what we liked and let The Monster taste as we went. We've also learned in our restaurant ramblings with her to make sure there is at least one thing on the table we know she will eat. Usually that's bread and butter or some snacks we brought from home. At the sushi bar that is edamame.

She devoured her fruit, attempted to use chopsticks (giving up and spearing fruit with toothpicks instead like they were chopsticks), ate a whole lot of edamame, and opened wide for the sashimi we fed her off our chopsticks. She happily ate her tuna, salmon, snapper, tuna belly, and even tobiko. In fact, the tobiko was quite fascinating to her. After her first bite she swallowed and then had a little shiver, like it went down a bit wrong. We thought we were done with that but she asked for more. About the only thing she wouldn't touch were any kind of rolls. That wasn't surprising to us because she has never been a fan of rice.
Did I mention that she liked wasabi?

This isn't a restaurant review, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the service at Kinjo. The kids were welcomed warmly. In fact, one thing that struck us was just how many children were there. All the kids are welcomed with a carved orange and the Peter told us that they'd served at least 30 oranges that night. It made us, as a young family, very comfortable. Sushi bars can have a lot of reverence and formality associated with their hospitality, making you feel welcome but hushed. Not Kinjo. Kids are encouraged and entertained. It keeps the parents happy (and coming back) and the kids a bit more adventurous.

Kinjo Sushi 403-255-8998

20 November, 2008

Backseat Adventure - Glamorgan Bakery

When you return to the memory of tastes it is easy to be disappointed. Too often the memory is linked heavily to the event or the circumstances of the taste. The brioche aren’t as rich as they seemed when they were a luxury in your days with a limited student budget. The meringue cookies you cherished on your bakery visits are more sweet than blandly crisp, more cloying than any adult should enjoy. Then there are the dinners, marked by romance, birthdays, or trips that can never be replicated. But sometimes, just sometimes, something is as good as you remember.

My brother-in-law, B, and I had this discussion over the weekend. A birthday present for my mother-in-law brought Hubby’s family to Banff for a weekend of eating and laughing at the children, with some swims and a hike thrown in. With a need to get my girls out of the house I decided to take them to Glamorgan Bakery, to stock up on B’s favourite cheese buns for the weekend.
Glamorgan Bakery is a Calgary institution. Since 1977 the owners have been churning out buttery goodness to Southwest Calgary. Hubby’s family grew up a relatively short bike ride away and took advantage of that quite regularly. It wasn’t until B and his then girl-friend and now my preggo-sister-in-law came to visit us shortly after we moved that I was properly introduced.

All I can remember B talking about was the cheese bun. How it was filled with cheese and butter to such an extent that the bread dough involved seemed superfluous. For a man who practically survives on any variety of cheese on bread – pizza, grilled cheese, melted cheese on bread dipped in ketchup – the Glamorgan Bakery cheese bun was his idea of perfection.
Then came the sugar cookies. We came for the cheese buns and we will return again and again for the sugar cookies. He says that he remembers eating them as a child, although I find that hard to believe because my mother-in-law is a fantastic baker. But then, fueled by a childhood memory, he went back to bakery and tried the sugar cookies, . Shockingly, they were better than he even remembered.

The Monster was enthralled by the selection of the bakery -colorful cupcakes, the overwhelming scent of butter and chocolate, and too much selection in the cookie department. I went straight to the counter for the cheese buns and she went straight to the sugar cookies. More precisely, the brightly coloured dinosaur cookies. How can you say no to a happy 2 year old? She got her cookie, promptly sat down on the floor, and took a bite. And then another and another. Two men were enjoying their coffee at the tiny counter for that purpose, oblivious to the joy of a sugar fueled toddler at their feet.
The dinosaur cookie was bigger than the Monster could handle so sadly I had to help her finish it. Let me rephrase that, I thought the cookie was too big and too good so I forced her to share it with me. Seriously, these are the best sugar cookies I’ve ever had. Not so much cookie as sweet butter that someone like Ferran Adria or Heston Blumenthal decided to serve in a crispy form. So I went back yesterday and bought more. Some for me and some for a girlfriend who was hosting us for tea in the afternoon as Little Miss Sunshine and I escaped the mess at home. By the time I got to her house the butter had stained the brown paper bag they came in and one cookie was missing. Good thing I bought more for dessert.

Will I Make It?

I'm referring to more than getting the baby quilt done on time, although I am making progress on that.

The renovations have bathed the house in a fine layer of dust and a not so fine layer of mud. Hubby is working so hard to get the basics done so we can actually finish the basement. At some point in the future this space will be my sewing studio. At some point...

Back to the quilt. I went with triangles. And some circles, of course. Are you surprised? I'm trying to work on it in the midst of the mess. Not in the basement - the state of that space means I'm even afraid the laundry isn't getting clean - but in the dining room. That's the joy of a baby quilt, it doesn't take up much space when you are working on it.

13 November, 2008

A Break

Because this is what my house looks like right now. Because this picture hides the 8 foot moat surrounding the house. Because the mud is filling my house as we make our way in and out. Because our lives and house are topsy turvy at this moment. Because this week was filled with sleepless nights, sick kids, city hall, dog walks, and driving to and fro. Because of all this I have not been quilting and not able to get to my tutorials.

Hopefully next week...

Bindings - Attaching, Mitering, and Hand Sewing - A Tutorial

You've got your quilt squared up, you have your binding pieced and ironed, now is the time to attach the binding. First, by machine, and then by hand to finish.

To review, I use a double fold binding. Simply put, I iron a strip of fabric in half - wrong sides together - sew it down by machine on the raw edge, flip it over the edge of the sandwiched quilt, and stitch it down by hand through the fold. I do not do a continuous binding. Rather, I attach each side individually and mitre each corner once all the binding is attached.

In this tutorial I will show you how to attach the binding, especially at the corners, mitre the corners, handstitch the binding, and finish the corners and binding. Sit back and get a thimble, this one's picture heavy.

1. Sew down your binding, from corner to corner. Overhang the binding by at least an inch at the top and bottom - check your length before you start sewing. Line up the raw edge of the binding with the edge of the quilt top. Start sewing 1/4 inch from the top edge, thus leaving 1/4 not sewn down. Backstitch for a stitch or two. Using a walking foot or an even feed (like my Pfaff has) sew down with a straight stitch, using a scant quarter inch seam allowance. I don't pin the binding before I sew, preferring to hold it down and line it up as I go.

Stop your seam 1/4 inch from the bottom of the quilt top edge.
2. Go around the quilt, sewing all the bindings down. To attach a new piece, take the already attached piece and fold back the end at a 45 degree angle.

Pin the new piece to be attached, with overhang, on top of the folded back piece. I like to put the pin in at 1/4 inch from the edge so I know where to start sewing.

Start sewing 1/4 inch from the top and 1/4 inch from the edge. Sew down the binding as you did your first piece.

Finish the final seam the same way you started. Fold the underneath piece back at a 45 degree angle and sew to 1/4 of the edge.

3. Mitre the corners. Measure from the folded edge of the binding to the seam. This measure will change from quilt to quilt depending on the thickness of your fabric and how large you cut it. Divide that measurement in half and make a mark. Don't worry about what you mark it with because these marks won't show. Well, don't use black felt on a light coloured fabric, but otherwise don't worry about it.

From that mark measure the same distance straight up. By up I mean perpendicular from that first mark towards the dangling ends of your binding strips. Mark this spot as well. For example, my overall length was 9/8 of an inch. I made the first mark at just over 1/2 inch. From that mark I measured and made a mark at just over 1/2 inch up.

Now, draw a line from the folded edge of the binding, in line with the seam, to the second mark you made and back to the seam. It should look like a right angle triangle.

This is now your sewing line. Stitch on this line, backstitching for a stitch or two on each end. When you get to the point of the triangle stop with your needle down, lift up your pressure foot, and pivot the quilt. Be sure to fold back the quilt itself so you don't sew through that.

This is what it looks like when you're done. Repeat with all four corners.

4. Handstitch the binding down. First, thread your needle. This is the best way to do it, leaving you with a single strand thread on your needle. The goal of your first stitch is to hide the knot underneath the binding. I make the stitch inside the seam line of my binding - the straight stitch in the picture below. (The zig zag stitch is from squaring up the quilt).

Pull the stitch through the fold of your binding. First stitch done!

It goes without saying that you should pin your binding down. Do not pin the whole way around, rather pin a few inches at a time. Move the pins as you go.

Here is where it might get confusing for some. I do my hand stitching (and hand applique) backwards from most. I sew right to left. I was taught left to right, but it never felt natural to me. If you are having troubles with handstitching try switching directions and see if that helps.

Put your needle in the backing fabric, at an angle, just catching a few batting fibres. Come out in the fold of the binding. I keep my stitches small, so they are about 3 millimetres apart. Start the next stitch directly below where your previous stitch ended. In other words, right below where the thread lies.

Continue around the quilt, moving the pins as you go. I like to have at least an inch pinned down in front of where I am.

5. Sew down the corners. First, trim the excess fabric. I tend to trim to about 1/8 of an inch seam allowance. You want to minimize bulk in the corner.

Now you need to turn the corner right side out. I take my small applique scissors, but anything with a blunt point will work, like a pencil or a stick. Place it in the point of the corner and push it through, turning the fabric right side out. Use your turning object to ensure all the fabric is flat and the corner is as sharp as you can make it.

Pin the corner down and sew down as you've done the rest of the binding. I put a few extra stitches right in the corner.

6. Last stitch. For the last stitch - and every time you finish a length of thread - this is what to do. It hides your knot yet is quite secure.

Start your stitch as normal. Before you pull it through wrap the thread around the tip three times.

Pull the needle through, holding the thread against the binding fold. The knot should end up snug against the fold. Clip the thread right next to the knot and it will end up being virtually invisible.

And you're done! Personally, I find putting to the binding quite satisfying. The quilt will still need a label, but it is effectively finished at this point. Beyond the relief of finishing a project, it is about realizing the vision I've had and the excitement of passing it on or snuggling under it that night.

12 November, 2008

Was It Really Worth It?

Some things are just more trouble than they're worth. I now put homemade ketchup in that category, along with transplanting houseplants you already hate, arguing with a toddler over green socks versus white ones, and trying to keep the dog hair off the new couch. Is it better than your bottle of Heinz? Hell yeah, but it still isn't worth the expense or the effort.

I blame you, Jamie Oliver. You and your ridiculous enthusiasm for gardening, food, and making sure people eat well. I blame you, Safeway, for having Jamie at Home on sale in the book bin. I blame you, Calgary weather, for making sure I had loads of tomatoes ripening in stages on my kitchen counter in September and defeating my efforts to make a large batch of tomatoe sauce. I even blame the Monster - just a tiny bit - for having the common desire of any toddler to dip everything in ketchup. In that case, I blame you, Hubby, for fueling that desire in her by never growing up yourself.

Ultimately, however, I have to blame Michael Pollan. He and the Slow Food folks are encouraging me to reduce the amount of processed foods coming into the house. We go through a lot of ketchup and I thought I was being a good mom/wife by introducing another homemade staple.

The recipe* itself was time-consuming, but not difficult. The toughest part was reading through the Jamie Oliver style of recipe writing. And there were a ridiculous number of ingredients! Who knew?

So I spent an afternoon chopping, simmering, reducing, and pureeing. The house smelled wonderful. Two pounds of tomatoes and I got little more than 1 bottle of ketchup. Then the Monster decided that she liked mustard better. Seriously, every time I tried to serve it to her she cried for mustard instead.

Now the ketchup sits in the fridge. This is good stuff. I can't wait to try it on Hubby's famous hamburgers. For now, and post root canal, I will savour it on some scrambly eggs. But next time I'm just making tomatoe sauce.

*Let me know if you want the recipe and don't have the book. I followed it exactly so I won't repeat it here.

06 November, 2008

Another Baby Quilt

Thanks Jacquie. I went to the store for you and came home with these. So much for stash busting with my current projects.

Yet another baby quilt to make. I've left this one a bit late, the baby is due any day and there might be a bris that I'll need to attend with a present in hand. Good thing I haven't actually decided what I want to do yet.

My friends are very vibrant people - an engineer and a speech pathologist who write music and play (he) on the side. Yet their home is subdued, letting art and music take center stage. It is a challenge for me to tone down and design a quilt that maybe isn't so bold. I thought I could do the no darker than sand concept, but it was too much (or too little) for me. But these fabrics, while bold in design, are softer in colour. They've become a perfect jumping off point.

Because Hubby is making me to get all my stuff out of the basement this weekend I braved the chill (he took out a window the other day) and went to pull fabric last night. Anything and everything that remotely went with the starting fabrics came upstairs. We'll see what makes it into the quilt. Some of these seem a little too bold.

Now, to just figure out what I want to do... Triangles are winning right now, but I've also thought of some interesting (and easy) linear designs. What to do, what to do?

Taste Adventure - Bok Choy

There are sleep regressions well documented for babies and toddlers (and we know all about them lately), but are there eating regressions?

The Monster's voracious appetite was called into question lately. A few bites of her dinner and then on to playing with her placemat or milk. A couple of rounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider and The Alphabet Song and she declared herself done with dinner. While this makes for a loud and entertaining dinnertime, it frustrated us because a half hour later she asked for a snack. She wasn't proclaiming the food bad, just that she was done eating. What were we to do?

It turns out that feeding her is the thing to do; actually putting the food on fork and directing it to her mouth. Happily she lets herself be fed bite after bite of food she seemingly didn't want. This from a girl that downright refused to be spoon fed once her fingers discovered how to pick up food and shove it in her mouth.

In the past week we shared dinners of spicy Tex Mex beans and avocados, moose chili, and stir fry. She ate more meat than she's eaten in a month with us feeding her. And she very happily ate the rice and baby bok choy from the stir fry the other night. She's never happily eaten rice before.

The baby bok choy was a taste adventure for her and a cooking adventure for me. It's been years since I made it, stir fry taking a backseat in my repertoire for some reason. It was a weekly staple in my univerisity and early co-habitating days. On Sunday I couldn't resist the bright green and white crisps, knowing they would taste fantastic with a load of garlic and ginger. There was some leftover pork tenderloin to add and a few carrots and peppers to round out the dish.

The Monster ate one pepper and carrot, then declared herself done. Uh uh, little one, you need to eat more than that. So, after she serenaded us, Hubby started loading up the fork. Bite by bite she ate it all, even declaring the slightly spicy stir fry yummy. Did she know she was eating anything new? I doubt it, but I'm happy she ate it.

My only question is this, how long do we have to keep feeding her? Little Miss Sunshine started solids this week so I don't want to spoon feed two kids.

04 November, 2008

Squaring Up a Quilt - Tutorial

Okay, time to 'fess up. How many of you go through the process of squaring up your quilts? I'll admit that I didn't think about it for the longest time. All the methods I had seen seemed like they required a ridiculous amount of floor space and the ability to block the quilt, like you would a new knit.

Squaring up a quilt really isn't that hard, but it is a step that slows you down when all you want to do is get that binding on and see what you quilt is going to be. It always helps to stay as square as possible along the way. Check each block as you go, and fudge seams if necessary when putting tops together. If you are using borders there is also a way to help bring a skewed quilt into square or ensure it stays square, but that's another tutorial!

I've always done my best to stay as square as possible during construction, but the evolution of my design aesthetic now sees the majority of my quilts finished without borders and not necessarily square blocks. That same evolution has led me to the following technique. See if it works for you.

You don't need any special tools to do this. Your sewing machine, thread, a large table top, self-healing cutting mat, rotary cutter, and a ruler at least 12 inches square.

Before you get started decide on how much extra batting, if at all, you want your binding to contain. I cut a quarter inch from the edge of my quilt top. My binding is then attached flush with the quilt top's edge with a quarter inch seam allowance. Folded over I can then hand sew the binding and it perfectly covers the seam from attaching the binding. If you want a less substantial binding then you could cut closer to the top's edge and use a smaller binding.

Here's how I do it.

1. Set your machine to a zig zag stitch that is small in width but long in stitch length. Stitch around the entire perimeter of your quilt, through all three layers. This essentially turns your quilt a solid piece of fabric, reducing the potential for movement when you attach your binding.
Ensure you stay as close to the edge as possible. If you have a walking foot, use it. I have an even feed foot on my machine and that's what I use. Oh, and take it from me, ensure that you have a throat plate in your machine that can accommodate a zig zag stitch! I nearly lost an eye when my needle broke. This stitch will be entirely hidden by your binding.

2. With your quilt supported on the table (if it hangs over the weight may pull you out of square as you cut) get ready to cut. The whole quilt doesn't have to lay flat, so don't worry about having a giant table. As long as your cutting edge and about 12-20 inches to the side of that edge stays flat.
3. Start in one corner. Line up the corner of the quilt top with the corner of the ruler, a quarter inch in from the edge. This is where the actual process of squaring begins. From the corner you will want to keep the quarter inch markings in line with your quilt top's edge. To do this you may need to pull the quilt into square. Hold the ruler down firmly but not so hard that you can't pull the fabric with your cutting hand. I find that my thumb holds the ruler more firmly, and thus holds the quilt in place, and that I can move the fabric near the top of my ruler. (see picture below). Pull the quilt, holding on to the batting and backing fabric until it is in line with the quarter in marks. You may have to pull the inside of the quilt in, rather than the edge out. Just go slow and pull as necessary. When you have it lined up with your ruler, cut it for the length of the ruler only.
This is what it looks like.
From the first cut, move your ruler up. Overlap up the cut edge by a few inches with the ruler, keeping the cut edge and the ruler's edge in line together. Then line-up your quilt top's edge with the quarter inch mark.

As you finish one cut, move the ruler up the edge of the quilt (keeping the quilt on your cutting mat). Constantly realign the quilt top's edge with that quarter inch mark. Pull the fabric as necessary to bring the quilt top's edge into alignment. Always hold the ruler firmly as you cut.
Continue around the edge of the quilt until you get to the next corner.
4. When you get to the corners ensure your quilt top edge lines up in the same way as the edge you are currently cutting. In other words, you should be cutting your vertical edge, As you approach the corner - at least 8 inches out - line up your ruler on the current corner as you did the first one. Square your top, or horizontal, edge by pulling into alignment prior to finishing the vertical cuts. Cut both sides of the corner at the same time.
Turn the quilt and continue around all edges and corners.

This technique has worked very well for me. And when all is said and done, it doesn't take more than a half hour to do a large quilt.
Once you have it all squared away attach your preferred binding. I'll show you that in my next tutorial.