7/4/20

Happy Fourth!

It's hard to feel very celebratory on this, our American Independence Day. Recently I read a book by David McCullough, entitled 1776, all about the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The challenges and near-miraculous victory of the colonists was very inspiring. Our country is in dire straits right now, and the pandemic is only one item on our list of woes. Still, I continue to feel optimistic that there are better days ahead. And so when I went looking for an image to mark the day, I settled on this one with the superimposed swallow. In the words of Shakespeare, "True hope is swift and flies with swallows' wings."
 

It was a busy day yesterday, and it will be busy again today. I don't have a lot to show for everything I did. On busy days, it's especially important to get in a little slow-stitching time. Yesterday, I started on the last three embroidered blocks for the "I Believe in Snowmen" quilt. It seems a little strange to be stitching snowmen in July, but there you go.


With it being a kitchen day, it seemed like a good time to try a new recipe for Slow Cooker Cream of Mushroom Soup with Sherry. The recipe claims this will serve 12 people, and so I only made half. Besides, it calls for 3 pounds(!) of fresh mushrooms. Fresh mushrooms are kind of expensive, and so I didn't want to shell out that kind of coin for a recipe I hadn't tried. I used a combination of white button mushrooms, creminis, and some assorted mushrooms (shiitakes and oysters). There's just a little bit of prep work, sauteeing some shallots and garlic, and then adding in the sherry. It also includes dried porcinis that have been rehydrated. The broth from rehydrating the porcinis is pretty much all the liquid that goes into the pot. When I was ready to put the lid on the slow cooker and turn it on, the mixture looked like this.


It cooked on high for four hours. I'll show you in a bit how it looked at the end of its cooking time. Meanwhile, I made my mother's version of a Seven Layer Salad (Erik's favorite), and a Key Lime Tart. It isn't much of a looker, but it is delicious.


You might remember when we did the Key Lime Smackdown, comparing tarts, one made with regular limes and one made with key limes. You can find the baking of the two tarts for the smackdown and the discussion of the differences in limes right here. To be clear and to give a spoiler alert, the key limes won the contest, but I'm still using regular limes for this because they're easier.

After all that cooking, I decided to take a walk around the garden. Ordinarily, this would have Smitty yowling to come along, but he was looking pretty chill on his catio.


This is still the only echinacea flower that has opened. There should be more soon enough.


The hydrangeas are really what's happening right now. These two in the back are blooming to beat the band.


The pink one hadn't fully opened last time I walked around. Here's how it looked yesterday.


Around the front of the house, the burgundy one is nearly opened. I'm kind of glad because Erik and Mae will be here today, and this was a gift from them. I'm not sure they've ever seen it blooming except in pictures I've texted them. (Sorry for the blur.)


Also, the deep blue is close to opening.


In the greenhouse, I spied the first tomato. It was the only one I saw, but there should be more. They might be too small to spot easily at this point. 


Interestingly, the little make-up brush I use to help pollinate them has disappeared. Of course, I blame the squirrels, but honestly, I can't imagine why a squirrel would steal the make-up brush. I've looked all around and can't find it anywhere.

The new rouge cardinal clematis is blooming now. In a small way, it makes up for the blue one we managed to kill off. And, yes, I'm afraid the blue one is toast. It looks worse every time I see it. But, hey...this is some consolation. There are three flowers in the process of opening, and lots more buds.



Okay, but what's going on with our cream of mushroom soup. Let's take a look:


After four hours, the mushrooms have cooked down and released their liquid. From here, I scooped out a cup's worth and pureed it in my blender. Then I added it back into the soup with a quarter cup of heavy cream. When I served it up, it looked like this:


It was meaty and good, but it needs something. We tried putting a little splash of marsala into our bowls, and that helped some. I think it needs something to brighten it up a little...possibly a little squeeze of lemon juice. Possibly a sprinkle of fresh parsley would help and add some color...or maybe some lemon zest. 

So, I'm not ready to say this is a great recipe, but it does have potential. Also, what I made here only served the two of us with a tiny bit left over. With the original recipe supposedly serving 12, half the recipe should serve 6, right? (I'm very good at math.) Anyway...I'm going to try it again at some point, but I'd like to add in a quarter cup of marsala at the beginning, and then see how we like it. Maybe serving it up with a wedge of lemon to brighten the flavor would help too.

The after-dinner hour is Smitty's favorite time of the day. He looks pretty comfy on his catio. He sometimes naps there for hours.


For our drastically scaled down Fourth of July celebration, Erik and Mae will be here later. I'll be doing a little more cooking today...making another salad and a couple of easy appetizers. Mike also requested a skillet of fried potatoes the way I used to make them for tent camping trips. I'll tell you more about that in tomorrow's post. Mike is going to smoke a couple of butterflied chickens and we'll have ourselves a feast. No fireworks though. Kitties do not like fireworks.

I'm hoping to have a little time for sewing today, but not counting on it. Luna awaits, and I have not made any more progress on her from my last post. Also, I volunteered to make some themed masks for friends, and now I have an order for 9 masks. They go together pretty quickly. I've been choosing fabrics with certain people in mind, and that part has been kind of fun. 

So there's a full day ahead. Time to get moving.

7/3/20

Happy Feet

After writing yesterday's post, I went downstairs to observe this out the dining room window.


Wait a minute...is he eating the flowers?


He is!!! Little fecker!


Oh yes...by all means...never settle for any bloomed out ones. Be sure to grab the buds and all the most colorful ones. I don't mind at all. Where's a cat when you need one?

Well, kitties are in coyote quarantine for the time being. Sadie doesn't mind. She uses this oppurrtunity to catch up on her purrsonal grooming.


Smitty doesn't like it. Not one bit. He refuses to show you his better side.


Sigh. Well, I'm happy to say I've stitched from one corner to the other on "Mulligan Stew." I can put it away for a while, guilt-free. This morning I'll get started on the last three blocks for "I Believe in Snowmen."


It was time to get ready and go for my first pedicure in many moons. When I got home, I had frazzled nerves from terrible traffic, but also happy feet.


There wasn't much time left in the day, but I hurried into the sewing room. I really wanted to get Luna's pawtrait onto a background piece so I can start the thread work. Of course, my trusty cat was at the ready.


So, before fusing these to a background piece, I always want to check first for any holes in the collage. There was just one tiny one near the eye, but it was small enough I didn't need to fix anything. The white specks above the eyes are just digital noise from my camera. It seems to happen when I'm shooting a shiny surface with a dark background.


Earlier in the morning, I'd dragged out nearly my entire stash of fabrics looking for something I thought would work. I needed to give her a surface to stand on, and I wanted to bring out the color of her eyes. I settled on this pieced background. I'll use that same blue for the binding.


When I first approached this piece, I worried about her ears being cut off in the original photo. I wasn't sure how it would look when it was all put together into a small quilt. When I've done these before, I've always had the whole face in the picture.


So I lined her up with the bottom "surface," sucked in my breath, and fused her down.


So far, so good. And then I added borders.


When I selected that border fabric, I was simply choosing it for the colors. When I had it sewn to the rest, it made me think of a cat sitting at a window looking out. The batik appears like a stone wall. A real artist probably would have figured this out intuitively. But I'm not a "real" artist, and so my choice was just plain dumb luck.

After that, I spray basted it to a piece of scrap batting. Now she's ready for her thread work. She ends up about 15 x 16 inches.


I won't add the backing fabric until all the top-stitching is done. The top-stitching is done just through the batting, which holds it in place. Then, I add just a little quilting when the backing fabric is added. This is the fabric I'll use on the back. I don't know if those are suns or moons. Since there are stars, I'm calling them moons, which is in keeping with her name, Luna.


And that was all the sewing I did yesterday.

Today will be a busy day. I have some things to do in the garden and in the house. Mainly, it will be a cooking day. I'm making one salad and one dessert. Also, I'm putting tonight's dinner in the slow cooker. I'll still have another salad and a side dish to make tomorrow. The kids are coming up to celebrate the Fourth...and just because we've missed one another. I want to have the food prepared ahead of time. Mike will be grilling some crisp-skin chickens, and so I'll want to get those brining too. The brine gives them a nice flavor, but it also gives them a nice crispy skin.

So I doubt I'll get any more done on Luna before Sunday. Also, I received the happy news yesterday that Eliza is back getting serviced, and I can pick her up any time. I'll be glad to get on with my quilting. You might remember I had to stop in the middle of the Shop Hop quilt, and I'd like to get two more quilts finished in July. There is lots to do. I'll be glad to have Eliza back doing her part.

7/2/20

Looking at Luna

The day didn't go exactly as I thought it would yesterday. I've been on the hunt for some new slippers since discovering the sole coming loose on the right toe of mine. It's only a matter of time before I fall flat on my face and knock out my front teeth. We looked while we were grocery shopping on Tuesday, but found pretty slim pickings at our local megamart. Mike was on his way out yesterday morning when I decided to go with him.

You might remember the fancy pet door he created for the catio window of our fifth wheel.


If you haven't been reading for long, just know that the kitties travel with us when we go on RV trips. They have a little catio (basically a kennel that hangs on the side of the RV), so they can enjoy the outside. When the catio is open, the window is also wide open, and that can make for some chilly evenings....or some hot days, depending on whether you're running heat or A/C. So, clever Mike created this plexiglass cover for the window and installed a kitty door. The kitties can roam in and out, and it keeps us warmer (or cooler) inside.

So that's all well and good, but the kitty door doesn't fit the window in our truck camper. We have a trip planned in a week or so, and we need one for that window too. Yesterday's trip was to TAP Plastics, where they will cut plexiglass to shape and size. Mike designed this whole thing, but he'll need for them to create the plexiglass, and then he'll attach the kitty door. Clever, huh? And all of that to say I decided to ride along. 

I wanted to go to Target and look for some slippers there. We didn't find any slippers. Is there a shortage or slipper hoarding I don't know about? On the other hand, we did score some wipes! Yahoo! We've been looking for these since March! Funny how the pandemic is making us aware of how much we enjoy the little things in life, isn't it? Only one to a customer, please.


So, man, if nothing else good happened the whole day, it was going to be a good day. But then, I finished up Luna's pawtrait collage. I didn't expect to get her this far, but there she is.


There's still a lot to do on this. I need to add shading and details with thread, and I need to decide what the background will look like. In her photograph, she's sitting on a table or a counter or something. Or maybe it's just the floor. It doesn't matter.


Usually I make the backgrounds from whole cloth, but I think hers may end up being pieced to create the table. Also, all the pieces will be top-stitched with invisible thread, and then I'll use different colors of cotton thread to "fuzz" her up some. And, of course, there will be whiskers and eyebrows. So there's plenty more to do before she'll be finished.

Sadie huffed out of the sewing room in disgust. She doesn't see why I'd have any interest whatsoever in making pawtraits of other cats when I have such a beautiful kitty right here in my own home.


She forgets I already did her pawtrait some time ago.


Well, what about Smitty? Huh?

Well, yes, I've already done Smitty too.


Smitty might need an update of his pawtrait. He was only about a year old when I did his, and now he's a more mature cat. You should be careful visiting the Three Cats Ranch. Someone might create a fabric version of you and then...well, you know...identity theft.

So finally, finally, finally I'm getting my pedicure today. The last time I had a monthly pedicure was back in November, and so I've missed quite a few monthlies in the meantime. I've missed this little monthly self-indulgence. My appointment is smack in the middle of the afternoon, and so that's probably going to cut into my sewing time today. Also, we're having the kids up for the Fourth of July on Saturday, and so there will be cooking tomorrow and the next day. I'm hoping to fit in some sewing time in all of that, but I may not get back to Luna until Sunday. We'll see how it goes.

What about you? Any plans for this scaled down Fourth of July celebration?

7/1/20

July Already

Does it feel as if the year hasn't really gotten off the ground yet? Sheesh...this will literally be a year for the history books. Of course, they all are. I've found myself interested in the times 100 years ago, which were so similar to where we find ourselves today. I read The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry,. It started out a little dry, discussing the state of medical schools and medical education at the time. When I got past the beginning, though, and started reading about the times and the flu itself, it was fascinating. So much that happened then is happening with the pandemic today, including the refusal to wear masks, spreading misinformation, hiding statistics, and the dead piling up like so much cord wood. Now, I'm reading 1920, by David Pietrusza, which is about the same period of time. It was an election year, as it is now, and the second title is about the same period of time from a political standpoint. In any case, what it has taught me is that technology changes, but people don't. And on that happy note, let me tell you about yesterday's goings on.

There wasn't much time for sewing on Monday, and so I didn't get to my mask-making until yesterday. As I mentioned, I purchased a Creative Grids mask template from Shabby Fabrics. If you click on that link, you'll find an unnecessarily long video explaining how to use it. It's only just a different shape from the tutorial I've been using, and so I sewed it together using the same instructions from Edyta at Laundry Basket Quilts.


The template made cutting so simple. I cut all four layers at once, but I'll share that an 18mm rotary cutter makes it easier to cut that concave curve.


And voila!


So I made three masks yesterday. The black one is for Mike. The Oregon State masks are for Erik and Mae.


Their masks can be reversed to show just their school colors if they like.


Oh yes, and I read from several sources this morning that homemade masks made from quilter's cotton are the most effect at preventing spread of COVID-19, so make your masks and wear them proudly! Here's a link from CNN about an experiment from Florida Atlantic University. Interesting!

From there, I took a break. We're trying an experiment with Smitty. We're taking him out for walks, but trying to train him to stay beside us so that we won't need a leash. The first time I tried this, he was a stinker and ran away from me. When I caught up with him, I took him back in the house immediately. Since then, he's been better behaved. He's been out with Mike, and then I took him out yesterday. He was a pretty good boy, staying close. He still loves grazing on the grass, even though he has some nicely potted cat grass inside the catio. Wild tastes better, don't you know.


Mostly, we wandered around looking at every blooming thing. This is one of the hydrangeas on the front side of the house. Erik and Mae gave this one to me for Mother's Day...or something...it is the most unusual wine color.


Its neighbor is a deep blue, and it's just now forming flowers. This one was growing like crazy when we moved into the house. Then I got the bright idea to remove some branches from a nearby tree. I thought it might benefit from more sunlight. It has struggled ever since. I keep hoping it will perk up every year, but it stays small. Now that the dappled willow is in place and providing more shade, it might perk up.


Beware of tigers.


The one echinacea has opened all the way, and you can see there are lots more flowers coming.


The calla lily has a flower forming. The hottest weather so far this year was happening just as it was peeking its leaves above ground. I think that's why it looks so burned. It was late in its appearance this year, and I'd given it up for dead. I'm just glad to see it blooming.


And here's our sad little Kingfisher clematis. It breaks my heart. There is still some green on it, and so we're hoping it will recover. I'm not terribly optimistic about its chances.


On the other hand, the new Rouge Cardinal clematis is planted now. It's on a north-facing wall, and so it will only get sunlight obliquely. 


By contrast, this next image shows the wall where the Kingfisher clematis was planted. It faces east, and it was just too hot there.


If we can revive the blue one, I have a spot picked out for it on the other side of the house. And, if not, we'll look for another one next year.

Okay, so back inside, I made some more progress on Luna's pawtrait.


Today I'm hoping to get the rest of the face pieced, and if there's enough time, to add the ears. I'll keep working on her until she's finished. And, this being July 1st, I'm claiming this as my July OMG.


It was getting close to dinner time by then, and I was trying a couple of new things. Shown in the image below is the sorrel from my culinary herb garden. It was planted the first year, when we created the garden, and it just grows and grows and grows. It comes back beautifully every year, no matter how cold the winter, but I've never used it for anything. Something tells me I might have used it in a soup once, but I can't recall for sure and certain. It could be used in salads, I suppose. Biting into a raw leaf, it has a slight citrus flavor. This year, I wanted to try making some pesto from it. 


So I was clipping leaves from it, all the while breathing in the heady fragrance of the lavender beside it. Look how pretty this is.


I needed two cups of leaves. This pesto is made using hazelnuts. We grow a lot of hazelnuts in Oregon. In fact, Wikipedia tells me that "in the United States, Oregon accounted for 99% of the nation's production in 2014, having a crop value of $129 million that is purchased mainly by the snack food industry." It was quick to make using my food processor. It's a pretty green. I'm curious to see if it will hold its color better than pesto made with basil.


I wanted the pesto because I was trying a new recipe for Pesto-Stuffed Grilled Portobellos. I was following a recipe I found online, but I made a few modifications to it. For one thing, I cut the recipe in half for just the two of us. The stems are removed and used in the "stuffing." Then the mushrooms are drizzled with olive oil, stuffed, topped with cheese, and then grilled. I used a grill pan on the stove top. I think these could also be roasted, and that would make it easier.


And, wow! Those were really good. They're vegetarian, but not vegan. We try to go meatless at least once per week, and portobellos are surprisingly filling. We each ate one, which was plenty. I served it alongside this Watermelon Salad with Rum and Mint. It was a good choice for this dish, very tasty and refreshing. It's a great summer salad. If you don't want to use rum, you can substitute apple juice or white grape juice. And then, I hadn't used all the pesto, so I spread the leftovers on some crusty bread. It was a delicious way to end the day.


So I linked to the original recipe for the stuffed portobellos, but I made some changes to it. For one thing, there wasn't nearly enough filling for the mushrooms, and so I added some pesto and some pine nuts. Also, I used parmesan cheese rather than get all fancy with an "Italian blend." Really? So anyway...here's how I did it:

Pesto-Stuffed Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

3 portobello mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 splash Chardonnay wine, or as desired
1/2 cup Sorrel Presto, or any pesto of your choosing
3 tablespoons pine nuts
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Remove stems from mushrooms and finely chop stems.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat; cook and stir chopped mushroom stems, shallot, and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Pour wine into the skillet; cook and stir mixture using a wooden spoon until liquid is evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool mixture to room temperature, about 10 minutes.

Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat and lightly oil the grate. (Or use a grill pan on the stovetop.)

Drizzle olive oil over the top each mushroom and place on a grilling pan. Mix pesto and pine nuts with the mushroom stem mixture together in a bowl; spoon into each mushroom. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the filling.

Grill mushrooms on the preheated grill until edges are blackened and stuffing is bubbling, about 10 minutes.

Note: If you wanted to try roasting them, I'd probably roast them at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes. It might even be better than grilling.

* * * * *

Okay, so that brought me to the end of the day. Matthew is off camping with some friends in the Steens Mountains of Southeastern Oregon. Yesterday, he called with the exciting news that he was hired for a new job to start in two weeks. He probably won't be staying with us much longer. He's been getting out camping now that the weather has improved. Later he texted these images. There were wild horses just a few yards from where they were camped.


Interestingly, Mike recognized this herd as the Kiger mustang herd. When he was a working stiff, a project he'd worked on had been code named Kiger Mustang, and that was how his knowledge of the herd originated. You can read about them right here.


And that final link gives me an opportunity to tell you about something I've discovered in the new Blogger platform. You know how when you click on a link, and it takes you away from the page you're reading? If you check the box I've circled in red, you can create links that will open in a new tab, but preserve your page in a separate tab for the reader. The reader can see what's at the link, and then just close it and go back to reading your well-thought-out-and-extremely-wise blogging prose. At least...that's what you'll get when you're reading my blog. Obvi!


Okay, so the weather is crappy again today. As I've said many times and for years and years, summer doesn't really get rolling in Oregon until after that Fourth of July. This year is no different. That doesn't stop me from whining about it. Give it another week and I'll be whining about how hot it is. It's the Oregon way. Oregonians are never happy with the weather.