red flannel pantry

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

Archive for the month “October, 2013”

baked brie pumpkinhead


At book club last night, while we discussed King of the Hill by A.E. Hotchner, we would occasionally sneak peeks at the CardinalRed Sox World Series game–it was painful.

As always, food is a wonderful balm. I made an old stand-by, baked brie. It meets my key criteria for company cooking: it has few ingredients, can be made ahead, and tastes great.


Cut a brie wheel in half crosswise and sprinkle dried fruit bits on the middle.


Flip the other half back in place and spoon apricot preserves on top.


Flip the whole thing onto a thawed and slightly rolled-out sheet of puff pastry and trim the corners.


Wrap the pastry around the brie and turn back over. I then use the scraps to cut out decorations. Given my middling artistic ability, I was able to make an especially creepy pumpkin. In this case, lack of talent was an asset! At Christmastime, I cut out holly leaves and berries.

If you’d like the recipe, you can find it here.

Happy Halloween!

pillowcase for Paulina


My youngest daughter is lucky to have a nice set of friends. This year their circle grew with the addition of Paulina, a foreign exchange student from Sweden. At a recent sleepover, Paulina asked D#2, “What is it with all of the pillowcases with names on them? Is it an American thing?” D#2 replied, “No, it’s my mother’s thing!”

With Paulina’s birthday approaching, we knew what to make her, of course: her own pillowcase. D#2 decided on a hipster Dear Stella print with a cuff of green retro floral fabric I had in my stash.

You can read how I make these personalized pillowcases here.

planting buckeyes


When we were at Grinnell College a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I collected buckeyes from a huge tree on campus (you can read about it here). After reading as much as we could find online about planting buckeyes, we decided to give it a try. The most important advice was an admonition: do not let the buckeyes dry out before planting them–we hope we didn’t wait too long. Because buckeye trees have long tap roots, we used the deepest pots we could find in the shed. They need well-drained soil, so I mixed about 3 parts topsoil and 1 part sand. Their germination rate is only about 50%–kind of long odds for this gardener!–and the guidelines regarding planting depth were inconsistent. We decided to plant three buckeyes per pot at about 2 to 3 inches depth.


Several websites mentioned how rodents like to dig up buckeyes. Since the squirrels are fond of doing their own landscape designs in my pots, we cut chicken wire and put it over the top–that ought to do the trick.


I am unsure now where to keep the pots: by the back door, which faces northeast and is in shade most of the day? Or by the front door, which faces south and gets several hours of sun? I plan to throw some leaf mulch on top to protect them. In the spring we will see if our efforts were fruitful.

pumpkins and a wicked weed


As is our family tradition, we went to Rombachs Farms to pick pumpkins last weekend. Many families made the pilgrimage that sunny Saturday, towing wagons, pushing strollers, and taking photos of ruddy-cheeked children among the pumpkins.


We enjoyed walking through the demonstration gardens. The sunflowers were drooping, looking penitent. Most everything had gone to seed–cotton, okra, broom straw–but the bees were still at work among the pumpkins.


In the pumpkin fields we noticed these low-rise plants with purple, squash-like blossoms.


They looked innocent enough, but the seed pods had a menacing appearance.


When we got home, I did some research and learned that, indeed, it is a wicked plant: Datura stramonium, aka Jimson weed, a member of the nightshade family. The name Jimson weed is an elided version of its original moniker: Jamestown weed. Amy Stewart, in Wicked Plants, explains that some of the first settlers of Jamestown Island in Virginia ate this weed and died horrible deaths. Seventy years later, the survivors and their offspring, remembering the effects of ingesting this plant, fed it to unsuspecting British soldiers when the soldiers arrived to deal with Bacon’s Rebellion. According to Stewart, “the British soldiers did not die, but they did go crazy for eleven days, temporarily giving the colonists the upper hand.” The seeds and the leaves can induce hallucinations, fevers and seizures and cause death.

There’s a scary Halloween story for you!

lanyards for friends old and new


I pieced 20 lanyards about a month ago. Over the past couple of days I have begun finishing them up. They will be gifts for Daughter #2’s old friends and gifts for Daughter #1’s new friends when she studies abroad next semester. You can read how I make them here.

between the East of my youth and the West of my future


On our way home last weekend, after drinking far too much coffee at the Frontier Café in Grinnell, I needed a rest stop. We came upon one west of Iowa City and I dashed in, paying attention only to the location of the restrooms. Afterward, no longer distracted, I recognized the literary theme of the design of the place. Each picnic shelter has a steel wall featuring a laser-cut quote by an author or poet. The ones above are my favorites. With the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in nearby Iowa City, Paul Engle’s words here are fitting. With the trees, cornfields and sky visible through the cut-out text, reading “maybe it’s up in the hills under the leaves” had a visual and visceral impact.

This rest area is in Tiffin, Iowa, I-80, mile marker 237.

wonky star pillow


I first saw interlocking wonky stars on Elizabeth Hartman’s Oh Fransson blog–I fell in love. Her Sparkle Punch quilt is on my very long to-make-someday list. More recently, I spied a take on this design in pillow form–inspiration. This project looked manageable for me and a perfect anniversary gift for my sister- and brother-in-law. My brother-in-law is an avid amateur astronomer, so a pillow covered in stars seems fitting.

I followed the instructions in this tutorial to make the wonky star pieces, leaving out the corners and using 2-1/2″ squares from my scrap jar. I made all the stars and nestled them together like puzzle pieces–it was fun playing with the layout.


Like the inspiration pillow, I quilted it with a cross-hatch pattern, which was easy to eyeball on these finished 2″ squares. For the first time, I added binding around the edges of a pillow–an extra step, so it was more work, but I do like the look.


For the back, I used fabric from my stash that suggests constellations, starry nights, suns and stars. I quilted it with a free-motion wonky box pattern, which mimics the design on the fabric. As is my wont with pillows these days, I used this technique for constructing the pillow back. I now make the top piece a little shorter than the bottom so that the contrasting strip is more centered. In this case, I made the top panel 2 inches shorter than the bottom one.

Happy anniversary, T & P!

Details: finished size–20″ x 20″

good-luck buckeyes in Grinnell

While in Iowa last weekend for meetings at Grinnell College, my husband and I took a walk on the east side of campus. When we attended Grinnell in the 1980s, this part of campus was undeveloped; the only building east of the railroad tracks on this block was the health center, a nondescript, low-slung brick building. Now a new row of dorms lines East Street.

We admired the way the architect oriented these dorms in relation to those on North Campus: when you stand in the arch between Rawson and Gates Halls and look east, you can see clear through the arch in Rose Hall down 9th Street to the park on Penrose. The sightline seems endless.


For a moment we puzzled about this bend in the loggia–when everything else is so linear, why the curve here? We looked to the east and realized why.


A giant yellow buckeye tree (Aesculus flava) stands between Lazier Hall and Kershaw Hall. My husband was delighted at the find. Compared to the Ohio buckeye, the yellow buckeye tree is much taller and the leathery husk on the fruit is smooth versus the Ohio buckeye’s spiny, warty husk. The name “buckeye” describes the nut’s appearance, which is said to resemble a male deer’s eye. I checked the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website, and I found this particular tree on their Big Trees of Iowa list. At last measure, it was 74 feet tall, with a 9-foot, 3-inch trunk circumference.


Buckeyes littered the ground and we gathered up as many as we could carry. As my father-in-law and our friend Mary Kate have told us, buckeyes are good-luck charms. When they were kids, they would carry them in their pockets for good luck and rub them on their noses to shine them up. My husband remembers there being another buckeye tree outside the college bookstore. During the fall, he would pocket buckeyes on his way to class. Sadly, that tree is gone.


We brought the buckeyes home, intending only to display them. However, when we showed our find to Daughter #2, she asked, “Why don’t you try to grow a tree?” I am always up for a gardening challenge! The germination rate is only 50%, so I think I will plant several in pots and leave the pots outdoors for the winter, watering occasionally. We’ll see if anything emerges in the spring.

aiming for divestment nirvana

Like many of our friends, my husband and I are trying to help elderly parents downsize both their home and possessions. This on-going experience, in turn, has made us more aware of our own belongings. We now ask ourselves often, “Why are we holding onto that?”

I have begun to make a deliberate effort to ask that question when I am in my sewing room and to be open to ways to divest. As someone who has been sewing and creating for over 35 years, I have an embarrassingly large amount of unfinished projects, underutilized supplies and extra material. Rather than throw anything away, my aim is to gift it to someone who truly wants it and can use it. For the recipient, it’s free; for me, it’s freeing.

photo (29)

A few months ago I sorted through my fabric, pulling out what I knew I would never use. I contacted the home economics teacher at the middle school, who said she would be delighted to have it. I am happy that the fabric is being used to help teach a new generation to sew. My plan is to make this culling a yearly exercise–hopefully it will make me more mindful in terms of future purchases and remind me of what I already have.


Several years ago, an interior designer friend, knowing that I sew, asked if I would like some outdated upholstery fabric samples. I sorted them by color, stashed them in bins, and used them from time to time. However, these bins were taking up precious storage space and I was not using the material like I thought I would. I was loath to throw it away, so I hung onto it. Then a few weeks ago I read a story in our local paper about a young woman with special needs who sews pillows from upholstery sample fabric and sells them on Etsy–yippee! I contacted her mother who was thrilled to receive “new” fabric for her daughter to use. (You can see Holly’s Etsy website here.)

A couple of weeks ago, I had dinner with Jean, an old college roommate. She’s a talented, creative sort, and like me she was plagued with unfinished projects that she could not bear to discard but knew she would never return to. Jean shared with me her guilt-free divestment technique: in a large Ziploc bag, she packs up each unfinished project along with the remaining coordinated supplies, directions, and a note explaining the history of the project, what has been completed, and what remains to be done to finish it. She then donates it to Goodwill, with the idea that someone might find it interesting and “new” enough to take it on as their own and complete it. Brilliant! I follow Tim Latimer’s blog, and I get a vicarious thrill when he rescues an old quilt top via e-Bay or a flea market, repairs it, and brings it to life.


And then this week, Daughter #1 told me how one evening a week she is hanging out with the knitting group at her college despite not knowing how to knit herself (knitters do make awfully good company!). I have tried to learn to knit through the years and have made valiant efforts under the guidance of patient and loving friends/teachers. Although I am a capable crocheter (in my teens I learned to crochet right handed), alas, I have never been able to master knitting. It could be my left-handedness or perhaps my desire is just not strong enough. At any rate, the lovely needles, yarn and half-finished projects have taunted me long enough–I have packed them up with a care package for D#1. Perhaps this is her chance to learn to knit–as a right-hander and a creative soul, maybe she’ll have better luck.

paper lanterns


Last fall my friend, Jackie, admired my arrangements of Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi), both on stems in a vase and the seed pods displayed in a glass pumpkin jar.

Since I didn’t get my act together for her birthday this summer, yesterday, as a belated birthday present, I gave Jackie a jar of Chinese lanterns I collected. They make a lovely fall decoration and keep for several years.


I cut them from their stems, set them on a rack in the garage, and let them dry for a couple of weeks. I am a sucker for their vivid orange hue and delicate papery husks. Be warned, however: this plant is highly invasive. Accept divisions at your own risk!

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