red flannel pantry

creative pursuits in the kitchen, garden, library and sewing room

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Thanksgiving: Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish

At our Thanksgiving table, there is great debate about what constitutes cranberry sauce. For my husband, it means that gelatinous, ribbed cylindrical mass sliced and served in a glass dish. To be fair, as a child the only way I knew cranberries was out of a can. No wonder I didn’t care for them.

As a young married couple, we were invited one year to share Thanksgiving at another couple’s home. Amelia served a cranberry relish that had a tang and bite that made the turkey stand up and salute. Whoa! She kindly shared the recipe, writing it in her graceful script on an index card I still have.

Amelia attributed it to Susan Stamberg, the renown NPR correspondent. This was pre-Internet days, so I took Amelia’s word for the recipe’s originator. Today I googled the recipe and learned that Ms. Stamberg has been sharing this recipe (her mother’s actually) on the air since 1971–what a generous woman to spread the gospel about what I consider the perfect turkey complement.

The best part? This recipe has five ingredients, is ready in 5 minutes, and can be made ahead.

This relish delights on Thanksgiving Day and sings on leftover turkey sandwiches.

Don’t let the color spook you. As Ms. Stamberg accurately describes it, this relish is a 1950s Pepto-Bismol pink–and it’s still perfect in 2012.

Thanksgiving: dinner rolls

When I entertain, I get befuddled if I have to cook while guests are present. I leave out a key ingredient or I forget to put a side dish in the oven. I find it hard to concentrate on making conversation while wondering what I have left undone or should be attending to. I simply am not a multitasker. Thanksgiving dinner is the ultimate challenge.

To accommodate, I have learned to do as much as possible ahead of time. The food tastes better and is more apt to be ready on schedule, and I avoid becoming frazzled in the process.

These dinner rolls fit into this make-ahead plan nicely. After the final rise, I put the baking sheet in the freezer. Once the rolls are frozen, I place them in a Ziploc bag and put the bag in the freezer. To bake, I place the frozen rolls on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a 325-degree F oven.

One less thing to worry about. You can find the recipe here.

stars upon thars

On SewMamaSew, one of my favorite sewing websites, I came across a link to these lovely fabric stars by Sofie Legarth. She calls them “spændings skyld”, which according to Google Translate means “merged stars” in Danish. Since I don’t know Danish, I thought I would be in for a bit of a challenge, but thanks to Sofie’s instructive photos and Google Translate, I was able to figure the directions out. And despite the mangled translation from Google, Sofie’s charm shines through in her blog.

What is marvelous about this project is that it is no sew–how cool is that?

Sofie’s directions call for four 8 x 30 cm strips. Since I operate in inches and feet, I made my strips 3 x 12 inches.

After I worked out how to make the first one, I can now put one together in about 10 minutes–not bad. I found using tweezers helpful in teasing the folded fabric strips under the folded bands.

Sofie’s fabric stars would make beautiful ornaments and present decorations, or, if attached to a strip of binding, they could be made into a Christmas garland.

The Elements of Expression

As a bookworm, English major, and former editor, I am a sucker for books about language. Arthur Plotnik, the author of The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words, knows his stuff.

He calls on writers to eliminate dead and faded metaphors; throw away “clichés, crutch words (‘really,’ ‘just’), and redundancies (‘completely empty’)”; and reach for language that is fresh, succinct, and inventive.

I found the book slow to start. By Chapter 5 (Steps Toward Expressiveness), Mr. Plotnik picks up the pace and offers concrete steps to take, which he distills to “Read–Listen–Savor–Keep a journal. Pause–Scan–Choose–Invent–Polish.”

Mr. Plotnik himself is a talented, nimble writer. Here are some of his gems:

We stuff verbal straw into the spaces between our spoken statements.

Given the same meaning, the smaller package of words–the grenade–usually delivers more force than a fusillade of blanks.

Empowerment comes from precision, precision, precision; from language that harpoons the exact meaning, the nuance, for the intended audience.

Sincerity requires language that reaches outside the ordinary to signal importance, yet avoids the pitfalls of contrivance, fraudulence, and self-indulgence. . . . It takes . . . language that stands on its toes but doesn’t leave the ground.

And his chapter Make my Day: The Power of Tough Talk made me laugh:

When Americans get going–especially to impress tough-talking peers–they can caulk an entire narrative with the word [f*ck], working it into every grammatical crevice and jamming it between syllables as an infix: “unf*ckingbelieveable!”

This book served as an entertaining, get-back-in-focus language manual for me. Since reading it, I am paying more attention to oral and written language (mine and others), and I am working to avoid the cliché ruts, tired vocabulary, and monotonous structures my brain reverts to when lazy. Mr. Plotnik’s suggestion of keeping a writer’s journal to log expressive words and well-turned phrases is one I’d like to try.

To me, the biggest challenge is finding that authentic voice and feeling comfortable using it. We are taught all sorts of language rules and then we are exhorted to have the courage to express ourselves uniquely. No wonder I feel conflicted about writing!

Soon after finishing this book, I heard Diane Rehm’s conversation with Barbara Kingsolver about Ms. Kingsolver’s new book, Flight Behavior. If you want to hear expressive language, listen to Ms.Kingsolver read pp. 13-14 of her book during this interview. Her writing is exquisite.

amaryllis redux

Last year a wise and resourceful friend told me that he had saved the amaryllis bulb I had given him the year before and repotted it–and it had bloomed! He showed me photos to prove it.

So I thought I’d give it a try. After mine finished blooming last January, I trimmed the stalks and dead roots from the bulb, put it on some paper towel, left it on a counter in the garage and promptly forgot about it.

My husband found the bulb as he was cleaning up the garage this weekend. Although shriveled, it had new green leaves poking from the top.

I gave the bulb a trim and peeled off some of the loose layers around the base.

I found a deep glass vase and settled the bulb inside with a layer of pebbles. I added enough water so the roots can reach it but so the bulb isn’t resting in the water–otherwise it might rot.

After two days, the leaves have straightened and have already begun to grow–thanks, Gregg!

sewing room reorg

It had gotten bad–very, very bad–in my sewing room. I was in the midst of picking out fabric for a new project, when I took a good look around and realized I needed to close down, take stock and clean house.

Here are some before shots. My camera served as dispassionate witness, documenting what I had been avoiding. Seeing the room’s chaos framed in the camera’s tiny shots made me take action. It helped that the camera didn’t nag.

When it comes to fabric, as is true for many who sew, I am a hoarder. So it was hard to face facts and realize that there was some fabric I should release to the wild and let someone else find its purpose–but I did.

Decision fatigue often set in, but I made myself work in NPR segments: once a show was over, I allowed myself to take a break. Grizzie was a tough taskmaster.

I uncovered more projects unfinished and mending undone than I care to admit.

What a difference. Fabric has been culled and sorted, projects put in bins, horizontal surfaces cleared.

Unfinished projects have been winnowed to one shelf.

Books, patterns, trim and tools are all squared away. The calendar is even on the right month!

What is in the wardrobe, you ask?

A boggart (if you’ve read Harry Potter, you know what that is). To me, as a newly organized sewer, it’s my greatest fear: more jumbled sewing supplies (mostly fleece, pillow forms and fiberfill). Oh the shame. I plan to manage that situation by slowly using them up, which should be easier now that I have opened the doors and taken stock of what I had shoved inside.

Doesn’t it look lovely? Now when I walk in here, I get that same delicious feeling I experience when I walk into a fabric store–all of the colors, all of the possibilities! Now that I can get that sewer’s high at home, it might keep my hoarding tendencies in check.

Time to get back to work.

16th birthdays and safe journeys

This week the state of Missouri has issued driver’s licenses to two more 16 year olds we know and love, so Daughter #2 and I designed and made them keychains. We are in full production mode these days.

We added the St. Christopher medals for a little extra spiritual insurance. St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, is rather versatile: he is also the patron saint of gardeners, sailors and athletes–my kind of saint. He is said to have unknowingly carried the Christ child across a dangerous raging river. That’s why the image on St. Christopher medals is typically St. Christopher, staff in hand, wading through water while hoisting the Christ child above his shoulder. I grew up Catholic, and one of my earliest memories is sitting in the backseat of my mother’s station wagon watching the St. Christopher medals dangle from rusty safety pins attached to the car visor. Somehow we were kept safe despite the lack of airbags and seatbelts. I figure that adding this talisman for a safe life’s journey can’t hurt.

And since they didn’t have personalized pillowcases yet, Daughter #2 and I picked out fabric and colors that we thought reflect them and stitched up a couple.

personalized pillowcase tutorial

I have been making personalized pillowcases for my kids and their friends for years. They love them for sleepovers, camp, road trips and college dorm rooms. I personalize them with the recipient’s name, but you could put on camp, sorority, high school or college names and symbols.

I make my own pillowcases based on a pattern my daughters taught me. There are many pillowcase tutorials online–here is a good one. I usually use a complementary solid fabric on the pillowcase cuff for the best visual contrast of the chenille letters. You can also use a store-bought pillowcase that matches existing bedding.

I use a product called Chenille by the Inch from Fabric Cafe and order it from their website. It is basically stacked fabric sewn together with a stabilizer backing. I have tried other brands, but Chenille by the Inch is the best. Fabric Cafe offers a variety of colors and also has confetti chenille with stacks of different colored fabric, like red-white-blue and orange-yellow-pink. Depending on which layer you orient to be the top, you get a different look–very cool.

I start by mapping out the name. Generally, I make the letters 2 1/4 inches wide with 1/2 inch between the letters. The letter I is an exception! If I am working with a longer name, I scrunch up the letters to 2 inches wide.

I determine the center by folding the pillowcase cuff in half, and then I insert a pin at the crease. I measure out from the center and, using a chalk pencil, draw the letters–in this case, JA to the left of center, NE to the right of center.

Chenille by the Inch comes as a panel and must be cut into strips. To cut even strips, I place the ruler so that the next line of stitching is positioned between the 1/8″ and 1/4″ marks on the ruler and then cut with my rotary cutter. Note: I am lefthanded, which explains the goofy backward positioning of my ruler to all righthanders!

Although the product instructions say to remove the stabilizer before using, I leave it on and remove it after sewing the letters. I have found that leaving it on keeps the strips intact.

Position the strip over the letter and cut the strip to length. Some letters you can do in one strip (eg, J); others require piecing (eg, E). I find it best to cut and piece as I go.

Thread color is up to you. In some cases I use thread that matches the pillowcase cuff fabric. That way if I take a stitch or two beyond the chenille when I backstitch, it’s not as obvious. However, when sewing cream-colored chenille to a red pillowcase cuff, I would probably go with a light-colored top thread and red thread in the bobbin.

Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of each strip. Try to follow the center stitching in the chenille strip as you sew, but it is ok if you wiggle here and there. Sewing curves means you will get little pleats–just keep sewing, making sure the needle is in the needle-down position when you stop and readjust. None of this stitching will be visible in the end. Letters with curves (especially the letters B and S) are challenging. My favorite name? Eva (it’s short, and when in all caps, it’s pure angles, no curves!).

I have seam-ripped out a letter when it doesn’t look right in terms of scale, position or shape. But remember–once you fluff up these letters, little imperfections are no longer visible.

When abutting two pieces, I position the next piece as close as possible to the seam of the piece I’ve already sewn in place.

You don’t want a gap.

You can sew two pieces together by overlapping them about 1/4″ and backstitching. Again, this piecing will not be apparent after fluffing.

Here is how it looks once all sewn.

Take a pair of tweezers and gently pull the strips of stabilizer from the backs of the letters.

You’ll have a little pile of white strips to throw away.

For this next step, you need a small brush with clean, firm bristles. I use a chenille brush designed for this purpose, but a clean nail brush would work too.

Spray the chenille with water or dip the brush in water and then rub the brush back and forth over the letters to make the chenille separate, fray and fluff. It takes a couple of minutes per letter.

Here’s a fluffing-in-progress view.

When finished, the letters look damp and fluffy and there will be some loose bits of chenille fluff drifting about.

Throw the pillowcase in the dryer to finish it up.

 Note: the manufacturer says there is a possibility of colorbleed with this product, but I have never had that happen. They recommend relaundering with Shout Color Catcher if it does occur.

If you’d like a PDF of this tutorial, you can find it here!

awko taco seasoning

If you have these spices in your cabinet, you can make your own taco seasoning, which is handy if, like me, you need to feed a horde of teenage girls watching horror movies on Halloween.

I am grateful to Mr. Echols, who posted his taco seasoning recipe on the allrecipes website, because seeing it made me realize I don’t have to buy those packets of taco seasoning at the store. Who wants extra stuff like silicon dioxide and ethoxyquin in their tacos? Besides, it’s nice to be able to control the amount of heat and salt.

If you prefer tacos with a more saucy sauce, add a tablespoon of cornstarch to the seasoning mix to thicken things up.

I triple the recipe and store it in a 1-cup Pyrex bowl with lid.

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