Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quilts: Fabric Cutting Tools

Continuing with quilting tips, as promised in Throwback Thursday : Wall quilts    
Last week I promised that I'd address designing next, but I know I have photos that would be helpful to share and haven't located them yet.  So we'll sub in a short discussion on cutting tools.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Fiskars 95217097 45 mm Rotary CutterMy favorite cutting tool for quilt fabrics is a rotary cutter.  Good quality, sharp scissors are a must-have in sewing (my faves are the Gingher knife edge 8" dressmaker shears), but not the most efficient tool for cutting quilt pieces.  A rotary cutter looks like and is used similarly to a pizza cutter, and can cut several layers at once.  It is important to use sharp blades, so I keep extra new ones on hand, and save old ones to use on paper projects.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
OLFA 9891 RM-MG 24" x 36" Self-Healing Double-Sided Rotary MatThe use of a rotary cutter requires a special mat, which protects both the blade and the work surface.  I don't mess with smallish mats and recommend the 24" x 36," so you don't have to move the fabric as much and can deal with larger pieces when you need to.                                                                                                                                                    
I recommend a good quilt ruler that is about 6" wide and at least 24" long, so it can span over 22", which is the crosswise measurement of 44" or 45" quilt fabric, folded in half.  The transparent, lined ruler enables you to see through so you're sure of cutting at a 90 degree angle to the folded edge.  The 6" width gives you good stability (prevention against slipping) as you cut, and the lines on it will help you in cutting squares.  Also, it's helpful to get the ones that offer some angled lines as well, for cutting diagonals, and if you get more adventurous than I, other angles.                                                                                                                   
I cut across the fabric, creating strips, then cut the squares from there.  More specific cutting instructions and hints will be given in a later post.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Day 1: What's good for the closet is not necessarily good for the living room!

The closet doesn't look pretty, but there is now room for coats to hang...and for a curious cat.

The good news is that when Princess Artiste put a lot of the photos in album pages, she also put them in notebooks.  The bad news is they weren't in any order.  The kids started helping by organizing the albums...and enjoyed looking through old photos along the way.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A New Favorite Snack: Pumpkin Seeds

At the urging of Princess Sassy, I ordered a substantially sized bag of raw pumpkin seeds from Azure Standard.  The princess told me they were nutritious and made a great snack.  After she mixed up and roasted the first batch, she had me hooked...Crunchy and flavorful.  Just right for a muncher, like me, especially one who needs high protein snacks.                                                                    
I researched the nutrition facts about these today, so I could share more specifics with you.  The World's Healthiest Foods website says that, not only are they a good protein source, they offer good amounts of Vitamin K, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.  They are supposed to be good for bone health, may have anti-inflammatory effects in arthritis, and support prostate health in men.                                                                                                                                                                 
There are many recipes available, and about as many ways to season them as there are spices that you like. has a long list.  This is the way we prepare them:                                                                              

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat oven on Convection to 275 degrees                                                                                                               
In a bowl stir together
2 cups pumpkin seeds
1 Tablespoon olive oil                                                                                                                                      
Sprinkle on
chili powder
garlic powder 
dash of Cayenne pepper                                                                                                                                         
Spread the seeds in a roasting pan.  Bake/roast for approximately an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so.                                                                                                                                                                                 
They should be slightly golden brown.  Add further seasoning if needed.                                                                         
They will crisp as they cool...if they get the chance! 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Cleaning?

I've been meaning to get to these closets for so long, it might be delayed Fall Cleaning...or maybe last year's Spring Cleaning!  Whatever it is it needs to be done, and it will definitely keep be busy away from the computer.                                                                                                                   
I have been motivated most recently to tend to these closets by 2 things:  
The closet cleaning and renovation blog posts I've seen on 
Beauty 4 Ashes' Spring Cleaning - Boys' Closet
Sugar & Spice in the Land of Balls & Sticks' Coat Closet Organizing
Domestiphobia's I’m Finally Out of the Closet
and, primarily...
my own need to find certain photos and home supplies buried deep in these messes.                                            

Exhibit 1, the Entry Closet.  

Where photos and other memorabilia were stashed, 'temporarily,' when we first moved in 3 years ago...So Spring Cleaning 2008.  A little embarrassing when a guest wants to hang up a coat.

Exhibit 2, the Closet Under the Stairs.
Supposed to be where we keep school books and supplies neatly along one wall, with toy bins, leftover cans of paint, and pieces of flooring tucked in the back in the wide spot under the landing.   When Prince CuddleBunny needs some non-video entertainment, it'd be nice if he could at least scoot sideways to reach his Lincoln LogsWooden Train Sets, or Wedgits.  Not in this mess!

Now that I've shown you, I should feel an obligation to make improvements and report back.  My own disciplinary plan.     


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blogging...Bad for my Health?

This is not me.  ;-)
Whiplash injuries, I'm discovering, change your life forever.  I've had 2 of them...A comparatively minor one a little over 3 years ago, and one in 1989.  For that one, I was pregnant with Prince Stoic, so had all the hormonal muscle/ligament relaxers going through my system, and we were hit pretty hard, off-center, so I would hate to see a slow motion video of what happened in my neck.  Plus, I didn't get any treatment for it, other than permission from my OB-Gyn to take Tylenol.                                                                              
Anyway, I don't want to sound too dramatic, because neither accident left me with major physical disability, so I'm thankful.  However, as years go by, I am aware that neck injuries do play a part in my everyday life, and can cause more problems without care.  In that care, I include regular help from an amazing chiropractor, and caution in how I do things.                                                                                                                                                            
Because of those injuries, my neck is very sensitive to trauma, and it doesn't take much to fit that definition.  Inflammation flares up and I have all sorts of symptoms, including pain, headaches, dizziness/imbalance/nausea, and just an overall unwell feeling.                                                                                                                                
Since a lot of the symptoms are similar to those of low-level anxiety, I think I was sometimes confusing the two.  After chiropractic adjustments took 'anxiety symptoms' away enough times, I realized the physical symptoms were sometimes due to what was going on in my neck and upper back, not just hormones.  I looked up "neck injuries and anxiety" on the internet and found other whiplash victims with the exactly the same complaints.  Some doctors try to say it's the pain that brings on anxiety, but those of us experiencing this know that's not the order of things, and that it must be related to inflammation around the nerves.  So many of us can't all have the same complaints, and have it be "all in our heads."                                                                                                          
The biggest culprit in flaring up my problems is computer overuse....Likely bad posture, having my mousehand stretched out in front of me, tension as I search and write, etc.  I am trying to limit my time sitting in this chair, jaw set and shoulders if, for the next while, some of my posts seem brief and light, or spaced farther apart, this is why.  Just another component to my life's balancing act.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Not-so-secret Problem: A Bowl Addiction

One of my cyber friends said I should not refer to this as an addiction, but instead refer to myself as a "Vesselarian."  That, in fact, might be more accurate, because I also love pitchers, canisters, and other interesting and artful containers...but today we'll concentrate on bowls.                                                                                                                                                                                             
Tupperware Modular Mates Rectangle/rectangular #4 Blue SealI am not talking about all bowls, as I am also a bowl snob.  I really can't get into plastic bowls...Not the Melamine kind, nor the soft, smarmy silicone ones that lack structural integrity.  I never liked Tupperware bowls much either, even though I admire some of their storage solutions, like my beloved Tupperware Modular Mates Rectangular #4 Containers that hold up to 37 cups of baking staples like flour and sugar, and fit so perfectly in my upper cabinets.  
But, I've digressed...                                                                                                                                                                                                           
13 Quart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl (13-0811) Category: Mixing BowlsI'm also not passionate about stainless bowls, for the most part, but do love the usefulness of my four giant (13-quart) ones for mixing up grand batches of granola, and mixing and serving large salads or pasta dishes.                                                                                                      
It is glass and, especially, ceramic bowls that have me hooked.  Larger ones and certain graceful shapes increase my interest.  (I first said they 'raise my lust level to its peak,' but although it was more descriptive, seemed slightly suggestive in a way I didn't want to go!)  Mason Cash mixing bowls seductively call my name. (There we go again...)                                                                                                               
Budget limits my collection of such things, but here are a few of my favorites:                                                                                                                                                      
A feature corner in my kitchen...Fresh fruit & handmade bowls, an unbeatable combo!
The largest (about 7 qts) doubles as my bread bowl

A housewarming present from our ceramics instructor friend.
A gorgeous color,  besides such a thoughtful and wonderful gift.

A cool one found in my in-laws' house.
We think it originally belonged to Hubby's grandmother.
The more commercial entries in my collection.
I like these for their shapes and colors.
They look great in my hutch and are useful sizes, too.
A sentimental favorite.  This was part of the set in which my
grandmother always used to give us ice cream at every visit.
I had wanted to display it in some special manner.
But it sits simply and quietly on my windowsill,
as a reminder of love & hospitality...
and it's as if Grandma holds my rings for me while I bake

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Birthday Treats

An amazing Shrimp Salad dinner...

I had my birthday this week, with 2 nights of celebration.  The first one was on the weekend, when our 2 big-city kids could be home, and I also got a dessert on my real birthday.  
...followed by Chocolate Mousse
for dessert

The kids were actually fighting over who got to make me a birthday dessert...So I 'let' them make me two!

The bakers who made me German Chocolate Cake
and flowers from Hubby

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quilts: Fabric Basics

My quilt fabric 'stash'
In last Thursday's post, Throwback Thursday : Wall quiltsI promised to come back with tips for making your own simple quilt, whether it be for bed or wall.                                                           
I am not a master-quilter, by any stretch of the imagination.  I am impatient.  I am the person who is sewing a baby quilt the night before the shower.  I need the projects to be quick and fairly easy, with the fabric color combos, and chosen design as the star.  You won't find me hand-quilting, or even using any machined, all-over quilting methods.                                                                                                                                                                                        
If you've ever been intimidated by quilters or quilting books, maybe this series of hints and instructions will be for you.  I hope to share the basics, as well as the tips that have made quilting faster, easier, and that help construct a great looking quilt without painstaking detail work.                                                                                                                                                                                                             
One of the soft flannel
It's important to start with 'square fabric,' which has straight, not angled or twisted, grain. 100% cottons work best, and it doesn't pay to 'go cheap.'  Cottons meant for quilting are usually of a nicer weight, have minimal shrinkage and fading/bleeding, and offer stable, straight 
grain.  They are available in the more traditional finish, or in flannel, which can make a particularly cozy quilt.  These nicer quality fabrics make nice clothing, too, because most wrinkle less than a lot of cottons.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
Printed plaid...Not the same on the
 back and not through to the edge
Even with special quilt fabrics, though, I hesitate to choose a printed-on stripe or plaid, 
because the lines are often not quite exactly in line with the grain of the fabric, requiring you to cut the pieces off-grain in order to work with the printed design.  
Woven plaid.  Shows on the back
and all the way through to edge
When using stripes or plaids, it's best to choose those that are woven in.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

In many designs, when using prints, choosing a variety of tiny prints can give the same effect as solids, but with some added interest with visual texture.  For the prints themselves to have more impact, it's good to choose a variety of print sizes...some tiny, some medium, and some larger scale designs that can mix together for a better balance. For example, all medium or large prints can be visually demanding and uncomfortable to view, and will also overwhelm the pieced design.                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Tiny prints can work as solids

Medium and large prints
compete with each other

Mixtures of different sized prints can be really pleasing

It is best to wash all of the fabrics first, so the different pieces don't shrink later, at possibly different amounts.  For wildly bright colors, or any fabrics seem to bleed a lot of their color, you might want to investigate color-setting methods or use a different fabric, rather than taking the chance of ruining a finished quilt on its first washing.                                                                                                             
I think this advice may have come a little out of order, as you have to create or choose a design before selecting appropriate fabrics, and knowing how much to buy.  I apologize for that, and will try to address that next.  It's the fun part.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

In the last week, I've seen bunnies, bees, and *twitterpated robins, so today I went on a search for signs of spring:
Flowering shrubs and vines...

Reawakening rhubarb...

Young wildlife exploring the yard (and chasing the cat)....

...And the yard turns into a baseball diamond!

Bambi (Two-Disc Diamond Edition)
*Friend Owl to Bambi: "Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the springtime. For example: You're walking along, minding your own business. You're looking neither to the left, nor to the right, when all of a sudden you run smack into a pretty face. Woo-woo! You begin to get weak in the knees. Your head's in a whirl. And then you feel light as a feather, and before you know it, you're walking on air. And then you know what? You're knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head!"  From "Bambi"  

I know a couple of princesses and their special princes who fit this description!

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baked (Cheez It) Chicken

Several weeks ago, over at Sugar & Spice in the Land of Balls & Sticks, Laxsupermom posted a recipe for Oven-Baked Crispy Fried Chicken.  She had her own healthy version, using gluten-free spicy falafel chips over Ranch dressing for the coating.  In the post, she mentioned having previously made this recipe with crumbled Cheez Its.  I am not a fan, usually, of Ranch dressing, nor do I often buy Cheez Its, but I couldn't get this recipe out of my mind.  It sounded so good!                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
I finally gathered the ingredients and came up with our own healthy version.  Truthfully, I hadn't really planned to 'healthify' it, but the nutrition aspect did bother me a bit.  The fear I'd run out of the specific ingredients (before coating the 10 pounds of chicken I had) gave me the opportunity to work on that a bit.                                                                                                                                                             
Baked Cheez It Chicken
Ingredients I used:
Chicken pieces, patted dry
1 box Cheddar Jack Cheez Its
1 box Hot & Spicy Cheez Its
1 package Wasa Multi Grain crackers
1 large bottle Ranch dressing
1 quart plain yogurt
Pam (of course!)                                                                                                                                                
Preheat the oven to 375.                                                                                                                                
Using the food processor to crumb the crackers in a mixture of equal parts of all 3 types of crackers, then dump in a medium bowl.                                                                                                                              
In a separate bowl mixed equal parts of yogurt and Ranch dressing. (Add a bit of milk if too thick. It should be like pourable salad dressing, or thin batter.)                                                                                                                                                              
Laxsupermom shook her chicken in the dressing, then in crumbs in separate ZipLoc bags, but I just dipped mine in the open bowls.  First into the yogurt/dressing mixture, scraping off the chicken with my fingers, as necessary, to leave a thin coating before dredging in the cracker crumbs.                                                                                            
Place, skin side up, separated so not touching, on foiled-lined shallow baking pans that have been sprayed with Pam or spritzed with an oil of your choice.  Spritz the tops of the chicken with the oil or Pam.  Bake for 45 minutes.                                                                                                             

All in all, a big success with the family.  But there are definitely changes I will make next time:                                                                                                                                                       
 - Instead of mixing the types of Cheez Its, I will use all Hot & Spicy or all Pepper Jack flavored Cheez Its. I will also season the sauce a bit, since I cut the flavor by adding yogurt.  I hadn't tried the Hot & Spicy Cheez Its before, and was afraid of making it too spicy for Prince CuddleBunny.  But if anything, this first try was a little bland.                                                                                                                        
 - I also plan to try this recipe with skinless chicken, as ours was too fatty.

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