Monthly Archives: January 2009

Schnookie’s Progress Report: Jellygirl

After Little Miss Threads-of-Fire finished her Nest quilt like two minutes after starting it, I felt the pressure mounting. I needed to get a quilt project done, or all my fragile feelings of self-worth would be shattered. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but I did really want to keep pace. I’ve proven myself to be, over the years, a fickle handicrafter, undertaking huge, expensive projects and then wandering off halfway through when I get distracted by whatever shiny new object has appeared on the scene. I’m also very susceptible to project envy, where no matter how nice the thing I’m working on is, I feel whatever Pookie’s doing is better. As Pookie made arrangements to take Nest over to meet the quilter for finishing, I started to get flopsweats. I needed to measure up!

And… I did. Behold! I give you Jellygirl!

My First Finished Quilt Top!

My undertaking of this project was actually spurred by Pookie-project envy — she was working with all those funky, cool fabrics on Nest, and I was working with stuffy old grandmother prints on my Figgy Pudding quilt. I kept flipping through the fabric catalogs and looking at the hyper-girly pinks and aquas in Tanya Whelan’s “Ava Rose” collection and wistfully dreaming of working on something with fun fabrics for a change. After a lot of whining, I finally decided that life is too short to resent the project you’re not working on, so I trotted down to PQW and bought a stack of fabrics from the rack with Ava Rose (there are some of Whelan’s “Barefoot Rose” patterns in there too).

Ava Rose Stacks

I opted to use the fabrics in the Fig Tree Quilts Jellygirl pattern, and it went up in a crazy hurry. 29 days after starting, I triumphantly put in the final stitch, just in time to tag along on Pookie’s Nest-finishing appointment to get my magnum opus quilted up, too.

jellygirl-done

I love it. I am so delighted with the almost over-the-top cuteness of the colors, with the way the polka-dot background turned out, and with the quiltiness of the way the design came together. I like that the patterns are just a hair too big for this kind of treatment, that some of the pieces are just hints of the fabric design rather than nice little patches of calico-sized prints. I especially love the quality of the fabric — it was impossibly soft and just a dream to work with.

All of that said, I’m so glad I’m done with this project because it made me miserable. I don’t understand what the problem was. I loved the fabrics, loved the pattern, loved the process of assembling it… but the longer I worked on it, the more unsettled this Jellygirl quilt made me. Even though I never encountered a single problem while working on it and the whole thing came together in a snap, it was just off. We finally decided that somewhere along the way, this quilt picked up a Jonah, like the bad-luck sailors of yore. There was nothing to be done but persevere through the doldrums and hope the Jonah would work its own way out. It never really happened, so I hope the quilter doesn’t have the same problem with it. I probably should have warned her. Heh.

As soon as all my stitching was finished, though, and I unfurled the quilt top to see what it would look like as my cozy curled-up-in-front-of-hockey-on-TV blanket, my Jonah-borne unhappiness disappeared. I guess that’s just a process problem, and now I can’t wait to cheer on the Devils from under my new First-Ever Finished Quilt. (It should be noted that in the days since finishing this, the Devils have won two heart-stopping, amazing, unbelievable come-from-behind games against huge-time opponents. Maybe that Jonah was good luck?)

[Posted by Schnookie]

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Filed under Progress Reports, Quilting

Progress Report: Nest

The first progress report of 2009 is a joyous one! The progress I’m here to report on the quilt top for “Nest” is that… drumroll please… it’s finished! Woo-hoo!

The First Finished Project of 2009

I completed the last long seam last night and pressed it this morning. I’m over the moon with happiness for how it turned out. It went up so much faster than I was expecting — I started cutting the fabric on December 21st or so — and it was so much fun to sew up. The pattern (which can be downloaded for free here ) was a nice mix of short easy seams and slightly longer, more involved seams, and offered just the right amount of getting to use fun new fabrics frequently. I think the pattern does a great job of show casing really awesome prints; in this case, I used fabrics from the Flutterby line, designed by Tula Pink.

Nest Finished

The next step is to call the quilter to make arrangements to have it quilted. Then once it comes back from her, I’ll have to bind it. So really, it’s far from finished, but the first big step is done. I cannot get over how much fun piecing a quilt is. I love that I start with an orderly stack of little pieces of fabric, and then slowly put them together, until finally I have a whole quilt in my lap!

The quilt has already gotten the thumbs up from the member of the household who will probably use it the most:

Rollie Nest

Rollie highly approves! (Whenever Rollie starts acting a little funny, we like to joke that she’s been taken over by a pod kitty. If you look closely at the brown accent triangle by her foot, you’ll see the print is meant to be little green ladybugs, to fit into the Flutterby insect theme. For some reason, when I first saw the fabric, instead of seeing ladybugs, I saw robo-cats. The ladybugs’ antennae looked like cat ears to me, and their spots looked like cat eyes. Clearly, the print depicts pod kitties, which is probably why Rollie loves it so. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’d like me to stop calling it “Nest” and start calling it “Pod Kitty”.)

[Posted by Pookie]

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Filed under Pins and Needles, Pommerdoodling, Progress Reports, Quilting

Partying Like It’s 1939

So the other day at work, there I was killing time, listlessly visiting my usual round of interesting interweb stops, when I decided out of desperation to check out the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. There I found a lively discussion of a cocktail I’d been circling warily for the last few weeks: the Old Fashioned. I don’t know what was compelling me to consider giving this drink a try, but I kept buying oranges on my weekly grocery runs and then using them in something else entirely and forgetting all about my Old Fashioned aspirations. But here — in the Paper of Record, no less — was a rambling series of personal opinions and histories of the drink, and after successfully killing off a huge chunk of my day reading about it, I was ready to give it a try.

The plan of attack was simple. Pookie doesn’t like drinks that taste like “nail polish remover”, so I figured this was not the quaff for her. It had to be done while she was at work, on a Wednesday, while Boomer and I are twiddling our thumbs and waiting for her to get home. I had everything already on hand, including the maraschino cherries, and was ready to go. I explained my motivations to Boomer, and she was excited to give it a try, because she could remember her stepfather, Cowboy Red, drinking them when she was young. And so, with a light hand (it is a weeknight, after all), I assembled it as best I could from the New York Times conversation.

Old Fashioned

I muddled about a teaspoon of sugar, an orange slice, four drops of Angostura bitters, and just enough water to make everything moistened. Then I topped it with ice. Then I topped that with two ounces of bourbon (Boomer’s choice, from her old drinking days before we were born), and then I topped that with a splash of seltzer. I stirred it, and dropped in a cherry.

This is a soothing, mellow, delightful cocktail. It’s something that can easily be played with and improved on, jiggering and rejiggering the components to your tastes. I can see why it’s so enduring, and I can see it being something that I continue to figure out as life goes on. (The next variation I try is going to be the Wisconsin version, using brandy and 7-Up; as soon as I mentioned it to Boomer she said, “That’s it! That’s what Red used to drink!”) What I especially loved about having this one on this day is that I normally spend Wednesdays waiting for Pookie to get home by descending into a dullardly, unhappy false sense of tiredness. I IM with her and space out and play computer solitaire and generally fall into a deep, miserable funk. But tonight, when I settled down with my laptop and took a sip of my drink, instead of feeling like, “Aw, crap. Another Wednesday,” I instead felt like, “Ahhhhh. The weekend is drawing near, I’m home, I’m comfy, and life is really, really good.”

It should be noted, too, that my favorite comments in the Times thread were from people talking about learning to make an Old Fashioned from their father, or their mother, or grandfather, or grandmother, stories about the fabrics of their families and cherished, everyday family traditions. One person talked about how his father would make their mother and himself an Old Fashioned almost every day, and after the father died, the mother asked her son to make them for her whenever he visited. And he knew he wasn’t making them right, but kept working. And finally he hit a consistency with the drink that every time he visited, she would accept the drink, sit back, and sigh happily, “It’s just like your father used to make.” He knew it wasn’t, but what she meant was that it meant just as much to enjoy a carefully-crafted drink with a loved one. As Boomer and I toasted each other with our Old Fashioneds today, we both happily noted how much we love having that sort of thing in our lives, the way we all take the time to enjoy each other’s company and the carefully-crafted things we share with each other.

(Posted by Schnookie)

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Filed under Drinky-Drinky

The State of My Stitching

Normally, I view New Year’s as an excuse for a day off and, maybe, a bottle of champagne, whereas the beginning of September (when school starts and when my birthday rolls around) is a more natural time to think about the year to come. I must be long enough out of school and off the academic calendar, because this year is the first year I find myself taking stock as 2009 gets underway. Of course, because I’m pretty happy with my job, house, and social scene, I don’t have too much to take stock of, so instead of thinking about serious things like resolving to pay off the mortgage sooner or to exercise more regularly, I’m all about contemplating 2008 and 2009 from a stitching perspective.

Whenever I get to thinking of my stitching in any sort of big picture terms, my mind wanders back to this:

First Sampler 1993

This little gem here was my first ever sampler in silk on linen. Prior to this, all my projects were kits ordered from The Stitchery, a pamphlet-sized catalog that arrived in the mail every month, brimming with charts with “witty” sayings about the laundry not being done, or how spoiled the cat is. Many of my middle school years were spent making a series of wizards that featured what I thought were very sophisticated design touches — backstitched backgrounds and shiny metallic thread. The things were hideous. I started with this one, and then moved on to several others. I’m not sure why Boomer or Dad didn’t intervene, even just to ask, “Um, Pookie? Why? I mean, you don’t even like sci-fi or fantasy?!” Why I made those projects will remain a mystery. (I’m fairly certain they were finally and mercifully thrown out in Boomer’s latest move.) Then one day when I was 15 we took a family trip to the Mercer Museum. While this trip is famous in our family for being the time when Great-Aunt Marie saw the very phone that was hanging in her kitchen displayed in a museum with a label declaring it “obsolete”, the trip is special in my heart for being the one where I impulsively chose this from the museum shop when told I could get a souvenir. I remember Boomer distractedly telling me the silk wouldn’t be any harder to use than cotton, and that the linen would be fine, but it still seemed exotically different and challenging.

It turned out to be easy as pie and oh-so-much better looking than another dumb sparkly wizard on Aida. Dad got it finished with a big suede matte and a fancy frame and I was pleased as punch. But then I turned to knitting and didn’t make another serious stitching project for almost 10 years. But that’s not that point! The point is that looking back on it now, could the verse on my first ever serious stitching project be any more appropriate?

Behold This Early Sampler

Show Readers At A Future Day

That I Was Taught

All Sorts of Idleness

Behold this early sampler may…
Show readers at a future day…
That I was taught before too late…
All sorts of idleness to hate.

Not only is it ridiculously apropos, it’s also what I look to now to understand why 2008 wasn’t a total bust of a stitching year.

I finished a grand total of six — count ’em, six — cross-stitch projects last year (and only two in the first six months). None of them was substantial in any way. “1824”, “Live Each Season”, “November Windows”, “When Witches Go Riding”, “Santas and Snowmen” and “Greetings”. None of these projects took longer than 3 weeks from start to finish. That’s pathetic. I should feel shame. I should be beating myself up over the fact that this was the first year since I started committing serious time to stitching that I didn’t finish a single big sampler. I should be looking at the stack of pieces I started this year and didn’t finish and crying. But I’m not! Why? Because this was also the first year that I really truly believed myself when I said, “This is a hobby, and you should do what makes you happy.”

There were two stitching moments that really stood out for me in 2008:

1. Stash shopping at the Attic with Schnookie and Boomer. We spent a day and a half immersed in fibers, linens, and charts, surrounded by stitching friends. We left the shop with bags and bags of projects to last a lifetime, but honestly, the thing I most take away from that weekend is the company I enjoyed.

2. The look of sheer joy on Boomer’s face when Schnookie and I told her we both wanted to start quilting. Her entire face lit up and she all but jumped up and down clapping her hands. She was just so thrilled to have another hobby to share with us, and that just makes me happy beyond belief no matter how many quilts I end up making.

The lesson I’m taking from this is that in the past, I’ve viewed “idleness” and “unproductive” as the same thing. Starting and not finishing “True Wisdom”, “My Town”, “MFB By The Sea”, “MFBville” and a Prairie Schooler santa piece, used to be tantamount to wasting my time. But now I realize that I wasn’t being unproductive, I wasn’t wasting my time. I was spending countless hours with my friends while enjoying my craft. I read once someone referring to “process knitters” vs. “results knitters” and had started joking about being a “process stitcher” as a way to justify starting new projects willy-nilly. But it’s not a joke. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t embrace the process as the important part of the equation. Is it nice to have finished projects? Heck yeah! Is it nicer to look at said finished project and remember fondly the time I spent working on it, even if said time spans months or years? Even more heck yeah! One of the most beautiful projects in our house is a Kay Montclare blackwork sampler that Boomer made. She started it when I was a baby, maybe earlier, and didn’t finish it until about five years ago. When any of us looks at it, we don’t just see the piece — we see ourselves twenty years ago, playing in the pool with Dad after he got back from work, while Boomer sat in a lounge chair stitching away. The experiences that accompany a piece are just as important as the piece itself, and that’s the philosophy I want to embrace going into 2009.

I had intended to declare that I was going to stitch my initials and “2009” on a big sampler come hell or high water, and had targeted finishing “True Wisdom” as a good place to start. I was going to pick it up and promise myself I wouldn’t put it down until it was done. I was going to start on January 1st. Well… Then I went to Pennginton Quilt Works. This time last year, I’d be ticked at myself for being so fickle as to start a quilt instead, tossing my stitching aside with nary a thought. But this time this year, I think, “I don’t want to look at a finished ‘True Wisdom’ and see the quilt I wanted to make instead but didn’t.” Does this mean “True Wisdom” is never getting finished? Of course not! Does this mean I’m over-the-moon happy right now at the prospect of finishing the quilt top for “Nest” this weekend? Of course it does! And when I look at “Nest”, quilted and finished and stretched out on my lap as I sit in front of the tv working on whatever project is striking my fancy, I’ll think about how much fun the process of making it was, and how much I cherished sharing that process with Schnookie and Boomer.

It only took from 1993 to 2009 to realize that the idleness I should be hating is merely the idleness of not taking advantage of my passion for the process of handiwork and the joy I get from sharing it with my friends.

Early Sampler Detail

[Posted by Pookie]

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Wait, The Devils Signed WHO?

So there we were yesterday enjoying a loooooong day of hockey, all ready to break up our monotony by making cocktails, with an eye toward a certain recipe I’d dug up on Absolut’s website, and all of a sudden the news comes down the wire: The Devils have signed Brendan Shanahan.

Yeah, Brendan Shanahan. I know what you’re thinking — surely he died in Vegas? No, apparently he did not. He lingered on, well past his expiry date, with his stink of Whaler-killing, ring-whoring, and being a Ranger, just waiting to bring an extra bitter taste to my 2008-2009 Devils experience. (As if Scott Clemmensen and Bobby Holik weren’t bad enough.) With that news, the Absolut Thanksgiving Cooler got some major tweakage, and I concocted instead a drink we dubbed the Oh Shit Shanny.

Oh Shit Shanny

It’s 2 oz. of vanilla vodka and 2 oz. of fresh-squeezed orange juice, the juice of half a lime, and 1/2 oz. of cranberry syrup*. Shake, then pour over ice and top with seltzer water. Where Shanny is old, musty, horse-toothed and slow, this cocktail is sweet, sassy, delicious and smooth. It’s kind of his opposite, in liquid form. More specifically, it kind of tastes like cake batter soda. A few of these really softens the blow of bad sports news, that’s for sure.

*Cranberry syrup is just one part each of water and sugar, combined as with simple syrup, and then two parts of cranberries added once the sugar has completely dissolved. Simmer for a few minutes and then strain through a fine mesh or cloth. Grenadine would work just as well, though!

(Posted by Schnookie)

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Filed under Bad News, Drinky-Drinky

The New Recipe Challenge: Rancho Gordo White Turkey Chili

I’ve said many a time in this space that I am a really lazy cook for someone who likes to think of herself as being fairly cook-ish. I have a tendency to let myself spiral downward into protracted bouts of lethargy and dullardliness, until Pookie slaps me a few times in the face and says, “Snap out of it woman!” This past December, as it turns out, was one of my bottoming-out periods, and to start the New Year, I have been issued a challenge to cook a new recipe — from one of my many cookbooks — at least once a week, for as long as I can sustain the energy. And to start off the year, I dipped into my Christmas loot, which included Steve Sando’s (of Rancho Gordo) Heirloom Beans cookbook. The recipe of choice? White turkey chili.

january-1-2009

The cookbook itself is a mouthwatering collection of deceptively simple recipes that showcase the ridonkulously delicious heirloom varieties you can get from Rancho Gordo and other such purveyors of fine beans. It also offers up all kinds of suggestions for bean substitutions, so you can easily match recipes to whatever types of beans you might have on hand, which is a good thing considering how not exactly easy it is to find heirloom beans. What I find most appealing about the recipes, though, is that they are all about straightforward combinations of good, stalwart ingredients to make the kind of food that you can enjoy any day, whether it’s a run-of-the-mill worknight or a fancy holiday.

tepary-liquid

Now, before I get into this recipe and my take on it, let me give you a rundown of the ingredients:

12 tomatillos, husks removed
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds ground turkey
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 poblano chiles, roasted and diced
3-5 serrano chiles, seeded and finely sliced
2 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
3 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 bay leaf
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup homemade or purchased chicken broth, or more if needed
3 cups cooked cellini beans, in their broth

See? Nice, straightforward ingredients, the kind of stuff you know is going to taste great together.

ingredients

Of course, somewhere in the course of the last year, I’ve become the kind of person who looks at this recipe and, instead of just trying it once as written, is all, “I have all kinds of little modifications I’m going to make!” Not because I’m trying to make it taste better than I think it would as written, but because I’m lazy and have certain things on hand instead of what’s called for.

For starters, let’s talk beans. Now, up until early 2008, I was terrified of dried beans. I used canned beans for all my bean purposes, and if a recipe really desperately called for dried beans, I just didn’t make it. Then we decided to plant some soup beans in our garden, picked a variety that’s all flashy and heirloomy, and in our research into what they would taste like, we discovered Rancho Gordo. Reading about all the histories and flavors of the heirloom beans they sell, I was hooked. I ordered a hodge-podge of bean types, and discovered that the modicum of extra effort that goes into cooking dried beans pays off in spades with the massive improvement of flavor and texture over canned beans. And if you go the slight extra mile of getting heirloom beans, you get to experience tastes that go so far beyond the standard five or six types of beans that dominate the average American bean-eater’s options. It was a world-altering, mind-blowing discovery, and we decided well before the year was over that BY FAR the best food event in our lives in 2008 was finding Rancho Gordo.

Over the last few months I’ve enjoyed a few Rancho Gordo shopping sprees, and have selected types of beans that sound good, regardless of what I think I’m going to do with them. And what I’ve learned is that beans are beans. They’re interchangeable. They all taste different, but still delicious. So when I read the note about the beans in this recipe, “Any of the white beans such as marrow or runner canellini will work here. For something different, you might try yellow eye or European soldier beans,” the fact that I had none of those beans on hand didn’t faze me at all. Nope. I just riffled through my stack of Rancho Gordo bags and pulled out the only white bean on the shelf: tepary beans.

tepary-beans

To cook them, I just soaked them overnight a few days before chili night (I think you’re supposed to optimally soak beans for, like, four hours, but the only way I can manage to soak them is if I think to do it the night before), then put them in a pot with their soaking liquid, added a little more water to cover them, brought the pot to a boil, covered, and simmered on very low heat until they were soft. These beans were pretty fresh and pretty small, so they cooked in a hurry (about an hour!). When they were done, I put the whole kit and caboodle — beans and liquid — into a large tupperware and tossed it in the fridge for a couple days until I was ready to use them. The “Rancho Gordo way” of cooking beans involves sauteing some diced carrots, celery and onions in olive oil in the bottom of your bean-cooking pot, then adding the beans and water and proceeding with the boil and simmer. Sometimes I do this, sometimes I don’t. Heirloom beans are so tasty, they really don’t cry out for additional flavors, but if I was using regular dried beans from the grocery store, I’d probably want to zazz them up a bit.

(Now, here’s the thing about this recipe: while I love, love, love delicious heirloom beans, you could totally make this with canned beans. Just… don’t tell anyone I said that, okay?)

peeled-poblanos

The next note is the poblanos. I suppose you could use canned green chiles here, but it’s so simple to roast and peel peppers yourself that I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t. We don’t have gas lines on our street, so I have all electric cooking appliances (sigh…), so no roasting peppers over the flame of a burner for me. Instead, I just put the whole peppers all on a baking sheet, stick them under a hot broiler, and turn them periodically until the skins are all blistered and charred. This takes about five minutes. Then put the peppers in a bowl and cover the bowl with a plate to steam the skins off, and after letting them sit for about fifteen minutes, the skins will all just rub right off. Then you can take off the stems and scrape out all the seeds and you’re good to go. It’s simple as pie, and totally delicious!

So, beans cooked and poblanos roasted, we’re ready to get started. The very first thing I did with the recipe was depart from it completely.

bagged-tomatillos

The recipe says this as its first step:

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the tomatillos and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water, and then chop.

Obviously, this is not a difficult step, but I was possessed by some strange demon of productivity in September and actually picked my weekly share of tomatillos at the farm. Since we very rarely eat tomatillos (despite how delicious they are), it was kind of a strange thing for me to do, and even stranger yet, I didn’t just compost them. Nope. I roasted them until they were soft and browning a bit in spots, and froze them whole. I figured the worst thing that would happen would be, next September, digging them out of the freezer and composting them then. But how serendipitous to have found a recipe already that calls for tomatillos! I skipped the boiling and just thawed out my bag, digging out the equivalent of 12 big grocery-store tomatillos, and chopped them up. (They were outrageously delicious, so my advice is if you have a chance to pick a quart of tomatillos at the end of the summertime, go ahead and do so — you never know when you’ll find a use for them.)

The next step I was totally on board with:

raw-turkey

In a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the turkey and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it has lost its pink color. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

cooked-turkey

Then: Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

It should be noted that I used way more than three garlic cloves because I was going with some of the garlic we grew this summer. The cloves are eensy-weensy, so it takes, like, 20 of them to equal one normal garlic clove.

onions

Next: Return the turkey to the pot and add the poblano and serrano chiles, coriander, cumin, cayenne, oregano, and bay leaf.

chili-spices

Okay, I deviated a little here. For starters, I did not toast and grind my own coriander. And the only reason I did with my own cumin is that I didn’t have any ground cumin on hand (I grind my own cumin for chili powder, so I’ve got the spice grinder and whole seeds sitting around. If I had pre-ground, I would have used it here). Also, instead of fresh chopped serrano chiles, I chipped away at the giant bag of minced hot peppers I froze in September. I think it’s safe to say that the chopped chiles of your choice will suffice. Oh, and I only used 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne instead of a full teaspoon because Boomer’s not into super-spicy food.

January 1 2009

Back to the recipe: Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatillos and 1 cup chicken broth.

chopped-tomatillos

chili-stock

Then: Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook, uncovered, until the flavors blend, about 45 minutes.

I… may not have waited the full 45 minutes.

chili-no-beans

Meanwhile, in another pot, I got my brown rice started. I always have brown rice with chili, because it’s a great way to stretch a pot to make dinner for all of us and then lunches for Pookie and me for much of the work week. I am currently deeply enamored of brown basmati rice, which just calls for two parts water to one part rice, and a smidgeon (or heaping slab) of butter.

uncooked-rice

You combine everything in a pot (for three dinners and seven lunches, I tend to do about 2 1/2 cups of rice and 5 cups of water), cover it, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 50 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and the rice is soft. Then fluff with a fork and enjoy!

cooked-rice

Going back to the chili, once you’ve let everything simmer for 45 minutes (or 30, if you’re me): Gently stir in the beans, adjust the seasonings, add more chicken broth if a thinner chili is desired, and cook for about 30 minutes to blend the flavors.

chili-beans

And that’s it! The cookbook recommends serving this with chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, crumbled queso fresco, sour cream and lime wedges. We just ate it straight-up on brown rice. And it was scrumptious. I made it again a few days later, because I only used half the beans I’d cooked up and half the tomatillos, and the second time we topped ours with grated cheddar cheese. That was also scrumptious. Really, though, how can you go wrong with all the stuff that goes in this? I’m looking forward to making this time and again, and trying different beans to see how they work out. So the first recipe of my New Recipe Challenge turns out to be a keeper! WOO HOO!

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Filed under Hearty Meals

It’s A Whole New World!

For as long as we can remember, Boomer has been an aspiring quilter. With an emphasis on “aspiring”. She would get regular shipments of fabrics, bought all kinds of books of patterns, and subscribed to every manner of quilting magazine, even though she never did anything with those materials. As crafty little kids (and then teenagers, and then adults), we would riffle through all these supplies as they made their way into the house, and dream big dreams about someday having beautiful, handmade quilts to call our very own. But since the grand total of quilts Boomer had ever completed was zero, finally, in the summer of 2000, we wised up and realized if we ever wanted that perfect, heirloom quilt, we’d have to make it ourselves.

We aimed low with our first project, opting to do just a simple scrap quilt with ’30s-reproduction fabrics, which Schnookie had decided was the aesthetic she most loved when leafing through Boomer’s quilting magazines. Our approach was just to put together strips of three-inch squares cut from all the ’30s fabrics Boomer ordered from one fabric store.

Old Quilt

Working on this project was absolutely awesome. It stands today, over eight years later, as our very favorite stitching experience of all time. The Devils had just won the Stanley Cup, so we spent an extremely happy summer sprawled around our living room, piecing strips, while reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire aloud to each other. The thing went up in a jiffy, and by the end of the summer, we had a glorious, adorable quilt top all assembled. There were only two problems:

1. When we ran out of fabric we were terribly unfocused. Instead of ordering more of the ones we’d already committed to, we went to a local store (very intimidating) and bought a whole bunch more patterns and colors, because we have really short attention spans and were bored with the fabrics we’d been using. That made the finished quilt a lot less pretty than it probably should have been.

Elephant Squre

2. Our grand plans of also quilting the quilt were a resounding failure. Piecing and quilting are two very different beasts, and when we reached the point where we’d need either a long-arm machine (perish the thought! We were hand-making this bad boy!) or a giant quilting frame that would prohibit working on the project in front of the TV, we lost interest. Boomer found someone through the local quilt shop who would do the quilting for us, but then the shop went out of business, and it looked like we’d never get the quilt back, and then finally, two years later, it was finally produced as a surprise for Schnookie, who had kind of forgotten about it and cried with happiness at how wonderful the ugly, imperfect quilt turned out.

What we took from the whole experience is that quilts take forever to make, buying fabrics sucks, and assembly is really easy as long as you’re doing nothing but making long strips of three-inch squares, but requires way more organization and focus than cross-stitch if you’re doing anything more involved than that. We talked Boomer into spending less money on quilting supplies, and we all committed to our other stitching media.

Until, that is, this past December.

In casting about to think of Christmas presents for Boomer, we settled on the idea of buying her some little bundles of fabrics from our local quilt store, which we’d been into once before and found nowhere near as intimidating as most other quilt stores in the world. Boomer uses the fabrics as backing for little tiny seasonal cross-stitch ornaments, so we figured we’d surprise her with some more seasonally-appropriate patterns for her stash. Pookie went over to the store on one of her vacation days, and was confronted with this:

Basket of Jelly Rolls

Beautiful bundles of cool fabric! Coordinating lines of designs, packaged up together! Approachable displays of fabrics inviting the rank amateur to jump right in! While she was making the purchase of a few pieces of Christmassy fabrics, she felt a weather shift. She felt herself want to be a quilter. She promptly jumped online and started furiously IMing with Schnookie at work, firing off links to fabric designers’ sites and quilt patterns, and within 24 hours of one innocent trip to the quilt store, we were both completely, totally, utterly obsessed. We had plans to spend December doing nothing but Christmas stitching while photographing and blogging about all our seasonal decorations, and instead, we spent the month leaping headfirst into a new, wonderful craft.

It helped that Boomer, the compulsive craft shopper that she is, had projects on hand that we wanted to work on. Pookie dove into a kit for the American Jane design, “Merry-Go-Round”, with jelly roll packs of their “Look And Learn” fabrics.

Look & Learn Jellyrolls

Look & Learn Jellyrolls

And Schnookie tore into a kit for the Fig Tree Quilts design “Figgy Pudding”, made with mostly their “Dandelion Girl” fabrics.

Great-Grandmother Florals

Figgy Pudding Pile

And this time around, guess what we’ve learned? Quilting is awesome. Back when we were impressionable youngsters tagging along on quilting outings with Boomer, quilt stores were just filled with calico prints arranged impenetrably by color, and the aspiring quilter was left to her own devices to know which fabrics would work well together. Nowadays? There are still the old calicos, and those batiks that became popular just when we stopped paying attention to the craft, but there are also tons of funky, fresh, stylish, contemporary, fun, wild, sassy and modern fabric designs to be found. There are pattern designs that run the gamut from uber-traditional to uber-21st-century, and everything in between. And handcrafting has become so much more popular in the last decade that most of the various crafty industries have evolved to make it much easier for a newbie to approach them. There are gorgeous quilt patterns that are simple enough for beginners, and many fabric manufacturers or designers will sell all the materials already kitted (or, if you’re lucky and have a warm and inviting quilt shop down the street from you, they might be kitting projects up for you!). And there is no shame at all in not wanting to quilt your whole project when you’re done assembling it — there is a cottage industry of quilters out there who will happily do the finishing for you, which really isn’t that different than our sending our cross-stitch to a framer.

In the last three weeks, we’ve gone completely under. Not only have we both taken huge chunks out of our starter projects (both giant-sized bed quilts), but we’ve also made great inroads into second projects (both lap quilts).

Finished Squares for Nest

Ava Rose Stacks

So we might not have had the December we expected, craft- and blog-wise, but now here we are in the New Year, with a new craft, crazy excited with our dreams of a house brimming with quilts. Life is full of surprises!

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