Friday, December 31, 2021

Out with the Old Hotpads, in with the New

This is actually a hotpad post, but hey, it coincides with the end of 2021, so I made the cute title. 

I really enjoy washing my hotpads and keeping them nice-ish. A little kitchen luxury for the cook. My old hotpads had been used and washed so hard that the fabric was splitting.

I moved them to the outdoor kitchen where they will get some more grease and black spots in their useful life before going in the compost. 
For the new ones, I used fabric scraps that were lingering in my stash because they weren't 100% quilting-weight cotton. I tried to mostly stick with darker fabric or with busy prints, and I do love kitchen brights

As filler, I used felted wool sweater scraps that were so thick the hotpads barely fit under my machine's walking foot. The hotpads are wonderfully insulated, if a little thick and stiff, but they are great with the cast iron which gets quite hot. 
Please, if you have insights or reflections for "out with the old, in with the new," leave a comment with your wisdom. Or if you just want to chat about hotpads, I am all ears for that, too. Happy New Year, dear friends!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Welcome Winter Soup

 Welcome, winter, I love you so. The colors of winter are my favorites, the yellowing fields and sharp brown trees. The thin sharp air. The late afternoon light, especially in my pretty city on the old red brick. I love being snug, seeing lights in the windows, making the house smell good with baking and soup. . . .so much soup. 

Let's not even talk about Christmas, ok? That ridiculously overdone thing that needs to stop hogging winter. We're doing Christmas at my house, yes, and my children are all in a tizzy about it, but I'm focused on winter. . . and soup. 

Here's one of my favorites, from Fountain Avenue Kitchen. My photos are mediocre, snapped in the rush of supper and daily life, but I promise you this recipe is a keeper.

With a loaf of homemade bread (also one of my favorite house smells), it's a supper we all love. I have fudged some of the amounts in this recipe or swapped ingredients, depending what I have on hand, and it's always delicious.

Tuscan Lentil Soup

Saute in olive oil in biggish soup pot:

1/2 lb. loose Italian sausage, or ground beef with some sage and fennel

1 large yellow onion, chopped

2 carrots, diced

1-2 ribs celery, chopped

When the sausage is browned, add:

2 tsp. Italian herbs

1 tsp. salt

good sprinkle red pepper flakes, however much heat you want

1 1/2 c. diced canned tomatoes (a 14.5 oz. can)

4 cups stock of choice, chicken recommended

1 cup water

1 cup dry brown lentils

1 potato, diced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

Cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. 


2-3 cups chopped kale or spinach

2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

freshly ground pepper, to taste

Taste for salt. Add a bit more water if needed. I sometimes add some more herbs at this point. Serve in soup bowls with freshly grated Parmesan on top. So so so good. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

A Big Quilt for My Sister

For a few years, my sister talked about the quilt she wanted, and I began to take notes. Teal. Grey. Orange. Modern, not traditional old quilt patterns. Noted. I love making quilts for my family! 

My sister had a big birthday (number, not party) early in the COVID shut-down. I told her my present to her would be her quilt and that it would not be done until it was done. She told me that she wanted it to be a surprise. So I have been keeping the quilt off social media, where we both hang out, and the one time I went down to North Carolina with her and her husband, I sat in the back and quilted and she chose to keep her gaze forward. I think that was a hard time for her, but I could not bear to sit empty-handed on such a long drive with such a big quilt to finish. The quilt also traveled with me by car to upstate New York, to the beach a few times, and camping where it picked up some dirt and smokiness (I washed it when it was done!). 

This is a large queen-sized quilt. I pieced it in rows, slipping four-patches in every other row, and a little piecing on the back. I machine quilted long lines parallel to the row seams. Then I hand-quilted with black perle cotton down the middle of each row, stopping to outline the little four-patches. I adore striped binding, and I do really like my decision to have that as the only pattern on this quilt. 

I finished the quilt a few days before Thanksgiving, and my big kids helped me get photos of it.

Not only were we all happy on Thanksgiving being inside and so very normal together, but then I got out the quilt to give to my sister. So much joy! 

I started her quilt in April 2020 and finished it in November 2021. I already know what my next quilt will be: entirely sourced from my overflowing piece bag. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Two Blue Dresses

In January, deep in covid-cautiousness, my sister got married. It was a delight to dress up again and celebrate! Phoebe was the flower girl, although as soon as she said "flower fairy," the title stuck. My sister said we should choose whatever dress we wanted (I have the best sister and she was never, not even for one second, a bridezilla). I had a delicious deep dive on winter flower girl dresses, developing a vision that suited all parties: dressy but not out of regular church-wear, wintry but not black or white, flexible with whatever other colors appeared at the wedding. . . I used a simple Prussian blue cotton from my stash. I found a gorgeous net sequin fabric for the overskirt at JoAnn's as well as pink satin to line the bolero. For cold weather, she wears the bolero. For warm weather, it's a sundress! I wanted to give Phoebe as many chances as possible to enjoy wearing her dress, but wanted it to look appropriate in any season. At that time, I could not predict when we would be going out in nice clothes again and I did not want any more nice clothes hanging sadly in our closets, especially the handmade ones. 
 I thought I could just gather two rectangles of the net fabric into a black ribbon and tie the overskirt on at the sides, but it ended up being too heavy so I basted it onto the waistline for the wedding. 

Phoebe and I are both so pleased with this dress! She has indeed worn it in all its iterations since January.

The second blue dress is a school uniform dress. I added some light blue topstitching to liven things up. It has a deep hem, so I'm planning to let it out as Phoebe gets taller. I love Peter Pan collars and here with the puffed sleeves, it's such a charming retro look. 
I had all the supplies in my stash! When my older kids were starting school, I laid in a supply of fabric that would work for uniforms. Our district currently does uniforms until 6th grade and I think that is just right: let the little kids scramble into a prescribed uniform, let the big kids define their own style as they fledge into adulthood.

Phoebe is really the only child I sew for any more. I feel like I live with three other adults and a child! In fact, Genevieve turned 16 this week, oh my word. Such is the speed of life....

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Fun With Okra

Without exception, my family loves okra. Okra loves hot weather, which is why it is such a Southern thing, but it is possible to grow it around here and I have found it from some local farmers occasionally. But to really ensure an adequate supply, we have started growing it in our backyard!

green beans on left, tomatoes in back, okra on front right

Our first crop was last summer - we started the plants from seed, mainly my husband driving this with his outsize love for okra, and were astonished at everything about them. The okra plants get about 8' tall and their stalks are woody like trees, so it's not easy to get them out of the garden in the fall. The pods grow from gorgeous hibiscus-like flowers. And the pods grow fast. We try to harvest them at 3-5" long, but even when we miss some and they are longer than that, they have stayed tender and not woody, thank goodness. 

This picture has a funny story. I picked the garden in the morning, and then I wanted a picture of a person with the okra plants to give you some idea of their height. I brought my husband outside to help, and I am struggling to hold all the okra pods he found after I thought I had picked all of them! He called me "okra-blind," oh my word. I retorted that the pods grew big enough in the few hours between pickings! Also, we are getting about a quart of okra pods daily right now from 10 plants. Amazing.

Okra pods keep pretty well in the fridge. My go-to recipe is to slice the pods in coins, toss with some flour and cornmeal and a seasoned salt or equivalent, then fry in a hot oiled pan until they get some crispy, browned edges. We never have leftovers!

Extremely proud to have okra, green beans, and tomato pesto (on pasta) all from our backyard garden!

Another easy method is to oil the pods lightly, salt and pepper, then grill until they are browned in places and even splitting open a little. So so so good. 

When time permits, I make gumbo. And I was astonished to see at this linked blog post that we also grew okra in 2010. I have no memory of that whatsoever! 

This year, I also pickled some okra because there was so much on hand. I used the Ball Blue Book recipe, which is essentially the same as the dilly beans I like to can.

If you have okra recipes to recommend, please do!

Public service announcement: I absolutely re-use my canning lids if they are free of nicks, dents, rust, and the like.  I have been doing this for years. There was (is?) a canning lid shortage due to the pandemic, but I recommend this practice for economical reasons even when there is not a shortage. I have found no difference between lids that went through a waterbath or through the pressure canner. The main thing is to reuse lids in good condition. Iffy lids are used on jars that are used for food storage in the freezer or elsewhere, or recycled in my metal bin that I take to a salvage yard.

A word about how I did those okra pickles: I looked at the recipe one night, pulled the jars from the basement the next morning while waiting for the coffee, washed them later in the morning while on a phone call, stuffed the okra pods and garlic cloves in the jars in the afternoon before picking up Phoebe, mixed the brine and filled the canner after picking up Phoebe, and finally assembled the jars and canned their butts right before we went out the door again to Ben's game. It goes to show that little chunks of time can add up to a finished project. Dogged determination gets everything done, right? We choose what we spend our precious time on, and food preservation is important to me, but dang, family life is busy. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

A Pilgrimage

A friend told me that the Baltimore Museum of Art was hosting an exhibit of Gee's Bend quilts, and I knew I needed to see these quilts in person. This is my third fall with the big kids' sports laid over top of the garden and preserving, laid on top of regular family life which keeps me hopping to begin with. I'm in survival mode right now, but I was determined to see these quilts. I did!

I love these quilts for their beauty and seeing the artistic decisions the quilters made in the urgent utility of using what they had and keeping their families warm.

They remind me of the wholly practical approach my Grandma Weaver had. No time for fussy stitches, matching corners, purchasing coordinating fabric or enough fabric so the whole quilt was the same. That pragmatism is beautiful to me on its own. "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." 

The exhibit notes also explained how the Gee's Bend quilters received Martin Luther King Junior in their isolated community three weeks before "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama, and how they leveraged their quilting fame for racial justice and voting rights after that. And now I connect to the quilts through that lens, too. After George Floyd's murder in May 2020, I began a personal journey of education and activism regarding systemic racism. 

I have mixed feelings about the Gee's Bend quilts (and Amish quilts) being displayed in art museums and called art. Certainly I agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and these quilts are stunning. However, I think of art as made to BE ART. The people who make art think of themselves as artists. They should get paid for that and recognized as artists, and note "artist" as profession when they fill in that line. The rest of us who make beautiful things, accidentally or on purpose, I want respect for us, too. I'm quibbling with art museums being the highest standard of respect for beautiful things. 

It's similar to the mindset that truly beautiful rooms and homes are the ones showcased in magazines. I reject that - those places are often showcases that simply photograph well, not homes where people are happy, industrious, and engaged in life. 

How can we respect the quilters of Gee's Bend, the Amish quilters, the everyday quilters like me? We are often the homemakers whose unpaid work in running our homes and raising children and the like is not counted as economically significant or valuable. And the quilters of Gee's Bend have the added layers of poverty and Black skin as well. It's a lot easier to take the quilts from Gee's Bend and exhibit them in an art museum, to say they are "eye-poppingly gorgeous" (New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, 2002) than it is change attitudes towards poor Black female homemakers. 

 There were only five quilts in the exhibit. I stood in front of them and cried behind my mask (useful for that, isn't it?). And then I drove home and got out my own needle and thread again.