Friday, March 20, 2009

Blooms of the week - 1st post of 2009!

I can't tell you how happy I am that gardening season is here. Every day when I get home from work, I rush outside with my camera to see what's blooming. (Of course, Samantha doesn't appreciate this, and I'm greeted with angry meows when I come back inside.) Anway, here's what's blooming in my backyard this week.

I planted this in the fall, but I have no idea what it's called, but I love it -- looks like a mini iris to me.

The daffodils are finally here after all the cold, wet weather.

A purple crocus.

Here's the quince when it's just starting to open...

... and when it's open all the way.

And here's one last flower that's been taking its time to open up...

... and finally open! So beautiful -- I just love the purple veins.
Hopefully there will be many more blooms to come!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Seedling update

The seeds are sprouting!

Look at all these cute little plants!
Every night I can't wait to check on their progress. Yesterday I planted a bunch more -- tomatoes and some more flowers. It's addictive -- I'm not sure where I'm gonna put all these plants.

Johnny turns seven

Our oldest cat, Johnny, turned seven on Wednesday. Lucky for Johnny, it was his mom's day off, so she could spend the whole day with him. And then when the weather turned unexpectedly warm, we couldn't resist going outside for some gardening and sunshine.

Johnny in the herb garden -- he's still getting used to his harness and lead, and got tangled up a few times.
But most of the time Johnny spent the afternoon blissful, soaking in the sun. His mom planted three packets of beet seeds while he sprawled out on the grass.

Later that night, all the kitties gathered for Johnny's party, and enjoyed the plate of tuna (shaped into a number seven -- his mom is goofy that way).

All in all, it's fair to say that Johnny Cat thoroughly enjoyed his seventh birthday.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Scrap quilting part 3: hand piecing

Okay, here we go, ready to finally start sewing. I decided to hand piece (as opposed to using a sewing machine) because I wanted a portable project that I could easily take with me anywhere. Also, I really don't like all the noise a sewing machine makes. Here's how I do it:

1. With right sides together, insert a pin into one corner, making sure they line up exactly.

2. Insert a threaded needle into the other corner.

3. Continue pinning, making sure the pin lines up perfectly along the guides.

4. Start sewing, beginning with a backstitch (you don't knot threads when quilting).

5. Make little stitches along the guide.

6. Before pulling the needle through, check the other side to make sure you're sewing on the guide.

7. End with a backstitch and snip the tread.

8. Admire your work.

9. Rub your fingernail along the seam to press it.

10. Sew three strips.

11. The seams flip each row (press away from center, press to center, press away from center).

12. Insert a pin right beside a seam along the guides.

13. Check the front to make sure the pin is as close to the seam as possible.

14. Line the pin up with the other strip, again making sure everything is lined up.

15. Insert another pin, so that there are pins in the middle seams.

16. Lining up the seams, continue pinning.

17. Do the same steps with a third pin, and insert a threaded needle into the opposite end.

18. Sew along the guide until you get the the first seam. Make a backstitch right up next to the seam.

19. Sew though the seam. Then repeat the same steps on the other side of the seam.

20. Repeat until you have your completed square.

20. Flip the piece over and push the seams in this complicated pattern. (And yes, I know there are two number 20's but I'm too far along at this point to fix it.)

21. Press gently with an iron, and admire your handiwork!

Cooking the "KAF Guaranteed" recipes: dinner rolls

Ever since I got my KitchenAid stand mixer, I've been trying to find easy & successful recipes for yeast breads. Well, I think I might have stumbled upon a damn good source: the King Arthur Flour Guaranteed Recipes. To quote their website, these recipes don't call for any hard-to-find ingredients, and they've been tested over and over again -- so they're practically guaranteed to come out tasty.

Today, we're baking soft white dinner rolls. The ingredients are pretty simple -- the only 2 things that didn't have in my pantry were dry milk and instant mashed potatoes. But, they were cheap and I didn't mind spending a little money to see how this came out.
You start like you do with any yeast bread, with the yeast. You need to add the yeast to warm water and wait 15 minutes for it to activate. Do yourself a favor, and set the timer. Otherwise, you're sure to rush it. Another hint, if you're making this in a KitchenAid mixer, warm the metal bowl with hot water before you start.

While the yeast is doing its thing, get your dry ingredients measured and ready to go. My favorite method for measuring is with a scale. I bought one of these after my last cooking class, and I really love it. Before, measuring flour was a headache: is the flour too dense, too loose, is it really a proper measurement? No need to worry with a scale: 12 3/4 oz. is 12 3/4 oz. And, the King Arthur Flour recipes have a radio button, where you can choose whether you would like your recipe given in cups or ounces -- brilliant!

Then, add you ingredients all together in the mixing bowl, make sure everything is incorporated well, and then let the dough hook work its magic. (Again, set the timer and walk away -- way less stress that way.)

Then you put the dough in a bowl for its 1st rise -- about an hour or so until it's doubled. If I'm pressed for time, I'll set my oven for 100 degrees and put the bowl in the oven to help it along -- but if it's a sunny day I'll just put the bowl in a sunny spot.

Once the dough is ready, you'll divide it up into 16 pieces. I like to use my handy-dandy dough scraper for this job.

Then you put the pieces into buttered pans for their second rising -- again, about an hour or until doubled in size. Then, you bake them in the oven for about a half hour.

Viola! Hot, freshly baked rolls, ready for butter. I have to say this recipe was really, really good. We ate about half of them the 1st night, and the other half were gone in a day or two. But then again I have a roll-loving husband, who said to me with a mouth full of warm roll: "yeah, you can make these again."

A weekend of firsts

This weekend we had our 1st days of 70+ degree weather, our 1st two barbecues of the season, and our 1st blooms.

Finally! Spring must be on the way, because the crocuses are blooming. Last fall I planted a ton of new spring bulbs, and I've been anxiously awaiting their blossoms.
Bonnie spent some time admiring the new flowers.

But Clyde was happy just to spend some time in the sun on his cat matt.

A beautiful weekend comes to a close.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Scrap quilting part 2: getting ready to sew

Continuing my scrap quilting series, here are the next steps after your pieces have been cut:

Arrange your squares. This can either be the most fun part, or the trickiest part. I guess my approach is to have each little 9-patch have it's own story. Sometimes I just arrange by color and pattern or sometimes I select squares that come from the same time in my life. They're all different, and that's part of the magic of a scrap quilt. 

Once I have my nine squares selected, I use a template to draw a 1 inch square on the wrong side of the fabric. (I found the template at an art supply store.) I use a thin-tip permanent marker, which may be the wrong thing to do, but it works for me.

After all the squares are marked, I pile them up in order (cause there's nothing worse than forgetting how you had them arranged and have to start all over again), and pin them together. 

And after a little trial and error, here are the supplies I've chosen to use. The thread is a Mettler off white 100% cotton thread made in Germany. The needles are tiny, and took some getting used to, but they don't bend -- they're made in England.

My pins are 1 and half inch long, and very sharp -- they're from Japan.

And here's my little kit. I love that I can take my supplies anywhere in this little bag. Once last note -- it's important to have good scissors (I'm using Gingher).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Seed planting

It's about 6 weeks until our last frost, so it's time to start my indoor seedlings. This year I decided to try growing more plants from seed instead of buying plants. I've been looking forward to this all winter!

After a trip to the hardware store, I decided to try the Jiffy peat pellets (1). They only costs 10 cents each, and so far they've been easy and fun to work with. You just add water (2), wait a few minutes until they fully expand (3), and then peel back the netting (4).

I planted a few seeds in each peat pellet. 

I set up a little mini greenhouse in my studio. I cleared off a whole row of shelves to make room for all my new babies: peppers, lots of herbs (dill, oregano, basil, thyme, parsley) and plenty of flowers (mostly impatiens because they did so great last year). All that's left to do now is to wait.