Saturday, September 21, 2013

School Things and Jam Thumbprints


I haven't forgotten about my blog, I promise!  My semester at school started at the end of August, and BOY AM I BUSY!  Sorry blog, I've gotta cut something out to get my other stuff done!

I found a little time the other night to make a batch of one of my favorite cookies.  Jam Thumbprints courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens.  They taste like childhood and rainbows.  MMM...

Until next time!!  Got a few classes to finish, my comprehensive exam to pass, and classes to finish TEACHING, ugh.  Such is the life of a grad student.

PS:  Christmas is coming!!! :)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Oliver Friday: Some sad news

For part of this summer on this blog, I had instituted a weekly photo of my cat, called Oliver Friday.  When I began this, I did it with the knowledge that it would not last forever.  I did it as a way to pay tribute to the sweetest cat in all the world.  I knew it would be temporary because last February we found out that Oliver has cancer.

One day as Oliver was cuddling with me before bed, I noticed a lump on his ribcage under his arm.  I was unsure what this was, as Oliver is a pretty big cat, and he has a lot of extra body mass rolling around his frame.  It didn't seem right, so I made an appointment with the vet.  After a biopsy, it was revealed that Oliver has a sort of a fibrous sarcoma.  The vet was concerned, as this type of tumor is typically associated with the area in which animals are vaccinated when they are young.  Apparently the vets now vaccinate in a leg or arm in case a tumor starts growing in that area, and they have the ability to amputate a limb if necessary.

You can see his tumor here.

Ultimately, Andy and I decided that we were not going to treat the cancer.  We were going to let Oliver live the rest of his life in relative peace until it was time to let him go.  He's had a long and happy life, and we did not want the end of his life to be full of medical procedures.  Since then we've been monitoring him closely.  It's so difficult to know how he's feeling, but there have been little signs.  His meow sounds a little different, diminished, almost scratchy like he's tired.  He's begun laying primarily on his left side now that the tumor has increased in size.  He has smaller tumors growing under his belly, which indicates the spread of the cancer.  He's eating less, but he's still eating.  We've decided to let him go in a couple of weeks.

A little background on Oliver's life:

When I was about 16, I was coming home from marching band practice, and while stepping onto my front porch, I noticed a tiny gray and white kitty all alone.  I quickly called to my mom and brought him inside.  Concerned that this little guy had wandered away from someone's house, the next day I posted flyers around the neighborhood and surrounding area, looking for his owner.  I'll never know where he actually came from, because no one claimed him.  At that time we had a dog, Abby & another cat, Charles.  My mom was gracious enough to let him stay, and I named him Oliver, because he was just a little orphan!

Certain memories:
-My aunt predicting his eventual size from the size of his paws as a kitten.  "Look at how big they are!  He's going to be a big cat".  Considering he's been about 18 lbs for the majority of his life, I'd say he lived up to that prediction, (and it's not all fat, I swear).
-Having a sleep-over with my friends and Oliver attacking their heads while they slept, haha. :)
-When he was a kitten he'd play tug of war with toys while growling like a dog, play fetch, play so hard he'd pant, and jump so high he'd soar!

In a couple of years, I successfully launched from home with my entrance into college, under the pretext that when I was able to, I'd take the cats from my mom's house (she wasn't too fond of the fur).  Years went by, Abby and Charles passed on, and Oliver was the remaining animal in my mom's house.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to take Oliver until a couple years ago, when I was actually living in a place that I could have my own pet.  As soon as I moved into this current apartment, I immediately drove back to Michigan to pick up Oliver and bring him with me to Chicago.

At this point, Oliver was now 12 years old.  I knew that I'd have him for as long as he had left, and I was determined to make the rest of his life as enjoyable as possible.  Over the past two years, I've seen him grow and flourish in my home.  Although he has remained a scaredy cat till the end with strangers, I have successfully worked with him to eliminate his fear of the sound of traffic, ceiling fans, the outdoors, and much more.  Although he is still afraid of strangers, he is actually a lot better than he used to be and does come out to see people occasionally.  I've also spoiled the crap out of him.  I've got cat grass, fresh & dried cat-nip, a basket full of toys (which he mostly ignores), treats, and the best food for his old, aging body.  I'll leave boxes and tissue paper on the living room floor for days/weeks because he likes to sit on them.

He's always known me and remembered me his whole life (every time I'd go to my mom's house).  However, these past two years, with the absence of a cat-companion, I became Oliver's "person".  He chose me to be his companion, just like he chose our family 14 years ago on our front porch.  Oliver has been such a extremely exceptional pet, it's been hard to imagine him not being here anymore.  I know it will take a long time to stop seeing him out the corner of my eye or to expect him to be right around the corner.  I'll miss him scream/meowing at me for food/comfort/play time.  I'll miss having conversations in general with him:

A typical conversation:

"Who's that kitty?!"
"Who's that little boo boo?!?!"
"What do you want?"

He's such a talkative, loving, and interactive cat.  I keep telling people, they can have their energetic aloof cats, I'll take my old, gigantic, slow & lovey cat every day of the week.  I've never met a cat like him, and I'll never find one like him again.  I'm going to miss him so much.  Here's to celebrating his 14 long years of life.

I'll miss you, little guy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Bob Dylan Quilt Series: The Last Step

So last week I began hand-stitching the border in place, and I am happy to say that I've finished!  It's definitely relaxing to do while watching some TV that doesn't require constant attention, such as a documentary on Netflix.  I sat through almost the entirety of Ken Burns' Prohibition while working on the border.  Here's a quick shot of the front and back of one of the corners:

And here's a look at the original seam where the bias tape edges were put together:

Looking pretty good so far!  Technically, I could probably stop at this point.  BUT.  This is a quilt, I'm gonna finish it like a quilt and make it as good as possible.  Now comes the actual "quilting" portion of the project.  Basically, front and back of this blanket/quilt are not connected anywhere but the border.  Quilting solves this problem and prevents shifting of the material in the middle.  There are a number of options here:

1) You have tons of free time to hand-stitch awesome quilting patterns all over the blanket (not staying on the seams)
2) You could attempt to machine-stitch patterns all over the blanket (at your own risk)
3) You could pay someone to do this for you.
4) You could make this into a "tie" quilt where you tie little pieces of the quilt together in strategic places. (I think this as more for baby blankets, am I wrong?)
5) You could machine-stitch "in the ditch", meaning along the existing seams on the front.
6) You can hand-stitch "in the ditch" (in the seams).

I'm goin' with #6 you guys.  My reasons for this is that I've never done it before (and I'd like to try), I think it'll create a nice looking finished product, and while I may not have a LOT of time on my hands at this point, I'm pretty fast at stitching and don't think it'll take too long.  So far I've stitched across two seams, and it's going fairly well.

A few issues:  I don't have a quilt stabilizer thingy to stretch the quilt out nicely so I can do this.  I'm basically stitching this with it in my lap.  Due to the difficulty in placing each and every stitch perfectly on both sides (I'd have to keep flippin' the dang thing over!), I'm working by only looking at the stitching on the top of the quilt and using my hands (below) and my eyes (on top) to estimate the stitches coming up from the bottom layer.  So, what does this mean?  The stitching on the front will look perfect, and the stitching on the back will be less than perfect.

By the way, I really hate this.  IT'S NOT PERFECT?  AAAAAAAHHHHHCK!

Here, take a look.  Below, the top seam has been quilted.  Hard to see, right?  You can tell compared to the bottom seam, which hasn't been quilted yet.

However, here's the back of that seam.  Straight, mostly uniform, but some of the stitches are a little wonky.  AAAAAACK.  If I had machine stitched, the back would look perfect, but it would be HARD to get the front to look perfect.  At this point, because I would rather the front look perfect with a little back issues, I've gotta just go with it.  This is the side that will be against the person getting warm anyways!!!

One thing to note is how to hide the edges of the thread at the beginning.  I had to call my mom on this one:

"You make a small knot in the thread, smaller than you normally would, about one or two knots.  When you start your stitch you make sure the needle goes through the batting.  Give it a small little tug so it goes into the middle of the quilt, and gets stuck on the batting and doesn't come out the other side."

Guys, I was amazed.  This woman has a wealth of handicrafts knowledge.

Oh, and to hide the thread at the end of the hand-stitched seam:

1) Stitch to the end
2) Make one last tiiiiny stitch as close to under the border as you can, but don't pull it all the way through
3) Loop your needle through the loop of thread two times
4) Now pull it tight.
5) Stitch into the middle of the quilt and out the very edge of the quilt (to hide the little tail of thread) & cut the thread at the edge.

I'll work on getting a video or pictures up on this process, because it can be confusing!  And now I'm off do do some hand-quilting. ;)

Make sure to check back next week, I'll be posting updates about this project!  If you are unsure of anything I'm doing here, please let me know and I'll clarify.  And as always, Thanks so much for visiting. I really appreciate everyone who reads and comments. If you like what you've seen here, please follow me on Facebook and Pinterest to receive updates.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Bob Dylan Quilt Series: Batting & Border

Batting Part Two!!

I had to take a hiatus from the quilt for a couple weeks to deliberate about the batting I bought.  It just didn't seem right to me and I had to consult with the "client" (HI LORI!) about it.  I had chosen polyester fusible batting, but it didn't lay flat, it was too thick, and just wasn't right.  After some consideration, I decided to head back to Joann's and pick up some (as thin as possible) cotton batting.  This is supposed to be a light blanket, and I didn't want it to be overwhelmingly warm, but can I tell you?  It is REALLY hard to find the super thin stuff.  I know there is batting even thinner than the replacement batting I bought, but I couldn't find any.  I went ahead and prewashed the cotton batting (it will shrink) by soaking it in hot water for 20 minutes, then air drying it on low heat.  I then replaced the old batting with the new, cotton batting.  Aaand we're ready to go again.

To construct the border, I made my own bias tape from the same gray fabric as the back and front panels.  I wanted to have a finished bias tape of ½”, so I cut the fabric into strips 2 inches wide at a 45 degree angle (on the bias).  Folding and ironing the two sides into the middle, and then folding it again in half, you have a finished product that looks like this:

You can also buy factory-made bias tape for this process (but then it may be a different color!)  For more detailed instructions on how to construct bias tape, please visit my previous post on bias tape from my Bib Series.

Next it's time to attach the bias tape around the border.  Start by opening the bias tape up and pinning it around the top of the quilt with right sides together.  You'll want to fold the beginning of the bias tape down to make a little triangle.  OF COURSE I forgot to take a picture of it, so I lovingly recreated it for you:

Keep pinning around the quilt.  At the corners, bring the bias tape all the way to the edge, fold it, and continue pinning on the other edge.  It looks like this:

Here's a closer look.  You'll have a little triangle of fabric.

When you get back to the beginning, pin over the other bias tape reserving a couple extra inches of bias tape.

Now it’s time to sew!  Generally, you’ll want to sew on the ½” fold from the raw edge.  However, since we’re working with homemade bias tape and not factory made, here’s a little extra detail.  Fun Fact:  Factory made bias tape has a short fold and a long fold.  The short fold is sewed on first, and the long fold covers the whole thing.  Now MY bias tape is completely equal on both sides.  Therefore, in order for the bias tape to cover the thread I’m sewing on first, I’m going to sew juuuust inside the ½” fold.  See?

Here's a pic of it without the annotations:

To deal with the corners, remember how we had a little triangle of fabric just dangling there in space?  The rule of thumb here is DON'T SEW THAT.  We want that triangle to keep on danglin'.  So when sewing, just go riiiiight up to where the triangle of fabric sticks up, like this:

Then stop, back stitch, cut the thread, and start again on the other side of the triangle.  Understand?

See here's me squishing the dangly triangle down, with the sewn part underneath it.

Here's a pic of the real thing:  (You can kinda see it)

Continue sewing until you go all around the quilt.

After sewing all the way around the border, now what we do is fold the bias tape into it's original shape, which covers the edge of the quilt.  Pin all the way around the quilt, making sure that the thread from the line you just sewed is covered.  Here's a few pictures that demonstrate this process.

This is the edge of the bias tape where we put that little triangle fold at the very beginning.  By pinning down that fabric in the shape we did, we get this attractive little seam where the two edges of the bias tape meet.

Now all we have to do is attach the other side of the border.  There are two ways of doing this. 1) You could top stitch the bias tape all around the border or 2) hand-sew the other edge of the bias tape on without bring the needle to the front of the quilt.  I am opting for #2, because I like how you can't see the seam looks without the top-stitching, and I find it's more precise and neat.  Begin by bringing the needle through the back of the bias tape so you can hide the beginning of the thread.

Sew by bringing the needle through ONLY the back layer of fabric, and through the edge of the bias tape.

Now continue doing this until you get the entire way around!  So I'm gonna go do this now, it's going to take a while! :)  If I get this done next week, I'll be beginning on the last step: QUILTING.  We are so close, I can taste it! 

Make sure to check back weekly on Wednesdays, I'll be posting updates about this project!  If you are unsure of anything I'm doing here, please let me know and I'll clarify.  And as always, Thanks so much for visiting. I really appreciate everyone who reads and comments. If you like what you've seen here, please follow me on Facebook and Pinterest to receive updates.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Oliver Friday: Window Cat.

Thanks so much for visiting. I really appreciate everyone who reads and comments. If you like what you've seen here, please follow me on Facebook and Pinterest to receive updates.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Baking Thursday: Lemon Meringue Pie

Do any of you watch Masterchef?  It's this show on Fox where home cooks compete to be the best amateur cook in America.  Being an amateur cook/baker myself, I find it quite interesting with what these random people are able to come up with.  Some of the competition revolves around coming up with their own dishes, but during something called elimination "pressure tests", the cooks must duplicate a specific item (or two or three) for the judges.  A couple weeks ago, the cooks had to execute a lemon meringue pie.

This episode sparked my interest in trying this pie for a number of reasons:

1) Lemon Meringue Pie used to be my favorite pie (Before Banana Cream Pie took over that title)
2) I've never actually made this pie before, which is a travesty
3) Although I've made pie and lemon curd before, I've never made meringue.  Considering my previous failures with things involving egg whites (AHEM MACAROONS), I considered it a challenge.

A couple weeks ago, I had a couple lemons on hand, and was about to attempt this pie.  SURPRISE, the lemon filling needs corn starch.  So instead of making a traditional filling for this pie, I made a corn-starch-less lemon curd, typically reserved for lemon bars, etc.  I also attempted the meringue, which wasn't THAT bad, but I was surprised on how difficult it was to wrangle when in meringue form.  This is the result:


I'm not even going to show a high quality version of this picture because your eyes might be scarred for life.  Ok, number one, I didn't have a LOT of crust, so it's kind of hidden.  And I tried piping the meringue to achieve the "peaks".  Then when I transported it to it's eating destination across town, the meringue was sliding all over the place on top of the curd and ended up looking terrible.  Upon eating it was TAAAART.  So tart.  Like, I thought I put enough sugar in it to cut the tartness of the lemon, but it sure didn't taste like it!!  I was like, "so this tastes good...maybe?"

I knew that I needed to give this another try, with the correct ingredients, AND a special helper:  MOM!  I knew she'd be helpful, even though she claimed the first time she made this pie, she was 15 and all the neighbor kids were swarming around the kitchen and it ended up in the garden it was so bad.  "The crust had holes in it, so the lemon sank through, and then the meringue was like floating in clumps!"  Good for her, she claims that she has made successful lemon meringue pies since then.

I found a recipe in a cookbook of mine, The All American Dessert Book, which I bought like 3 years ago and have not made one recipe out of it until now!  With expert guidance, the right ingredients, and intense determination, here is the second pie:

Looks better, no?  I did not pipe the meringue this time, and just used a spoon to make the little peaks.  It may have overbrowned just a tad.  And the taste?  MUUUUCH better this time.  The lemon was smooth, sweet, and not overtart.  Just perfect!

The only things to improve on:  The crust needs to be more uniform and maybe not fluted, so the meringue would have less of a chance to separate from the crust.  (It's supposed to be touching)  I THINK the consistency of the meringue is ok, but sometimes it's hard to tell!  It wouldn't cut perfectly like the picture in the book, but it's not too bad.

Have you ever made any meringue pies before?  Any tips or fellow horror stories?  Let me know in the comments!!

Lemon Meringue Pie

courtesy of The All American Dessert Book by
yield: 1 pie
[printable recipe]


For Crust: (or you can use pre-made dough)
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup cold butter (or half butter and half shortening)
4-5 tbsp ice cold water

For Filling:
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar (plus more if needed)
6 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 2/3 cups cold water
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into bits
7 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (plus more if needed)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (or more) grated lemon zest

For Meringue:
5 large egg whites, completely free of yolk and at room temperature
generous 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pastry:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
1. Mix flour & salt together.  Cut in butter with pastry cutter until pea sized.  Sprinkle 1 tbsp of water over the flour mixture & gently toss with fork.  Push moistened dough to the side of the bowl.  Repeat with 1 tbsp of water at a time until all the flour mixture is moistened.  Form dough into a ball.
2. Roll out dough and place into pie pan.  Trim edges at 3/4".  Fold the overhang under to form an edge that rests on the lip of the plate.  Finish by fluting the edges or pressing into the edge with the tines of a fork.
3. Prick the pastry all over with a fork.
4. Spray one side of foil with non stick spray.  Insert oiled side with onto the pie shell, smoothing foil over bottom and sides and folding it out over the rim to cover the pastry.  Fill the foil with dried beans, spreading them so they extend up the plate sides.  Bake for 25 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven.  (this prevents the crust from bubbling up when baking)
5. When finished, transfer pie to wire rack to cool.

Filling:  Reduce heat of oven to 350 degrees F.
1. In heavy saucepan before heating, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, & salt.  Whisk in the water until completely smooth.  Turn on the heat to medium high heat.  Whisk constantly as you bring mixture to a boil.  Lower the heat slightly, and whisk constantly until very thick, smooth, & translucent, about 2 minutes.
2. Remove pan from heat.  Whisk in butter until melted.
3. In deep medium bowl, whisk egg yolks until blended.  Slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot cornstarch mixture unto the yolks, whisking constantly and vigorously (you don't want the eggs to cook & scramble).  Whisking vigorously, slowly add the yolk mixture back to the main saucepan cornstarch mixture until well blended.
4. Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously and scraping pan bottom, until mixture boils for a full 2 minutes.  Don't undercook, as the filling may thin out later.
5. Remove from heat and whisk in the lemon juice and vanilla.
6. If you have any cooked egg chunks in your mixture, strain filling through fine sieve.
7. Whisk in lemon juice.  Taste.  If it needs more sugar or lemon juice, add now.  Cover & set aside.

1. In a completely grease and moisture free large bowl, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt.
2. Using a mixture (with whisk attachment) on low speed, mix until frothy.  Raise speed to medium and continue beating until mixture is smooth, fluffy, & opaque, but still too soft to hold peaks. (check by stopping and lifting the beater)
3. Immediately add the powder sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, beating for about 20 seconds after each addition.
4. Add the vanilla.
5. Raise speed to medium-high and beat for 2 1/2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl as needed.  Raise speed to high and beat for 1 minute longer, until meringue if fluffy and stand in firm but not dry peaks.

Construct & Bake Pie:
1. If lemon filling is too cool, warm over medium heat until hot again.  Turn out filling into the pie shell, spreading to even surface.
2. Spread about half of the meringue over the filling, making sure the meringue touches the pastry shell all the way around.  Add the remaining meringue, mounding it slightly in the middle.  Attractively swirl the meringue with the back of a large spoon.
3. Bake for 12 to 17 minutes on middle rack in oven, or until the meringue is cooked through and evenly tinged with brown all over.
4. Let cool for at least 2 hours and then refrigerate until completely cold before covering, this will reduce the beating and weeping of the meringue.
5. The pie will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.

Thanks so much for visiting. I really appreciate everyone who reads and comments. If you like what you've seen here, please follow me on Facebook and Pinterest to receive updates.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Bob Dylan Quilt Series: Batting

Now that I'm off vacation, it's time to resume the Bob Dylan quilt series! When we last left off, we had finished assembling the front of the quilt, and cutting the back.  Now it's time to put them together with batting.  I put the front and back together without batting just to cut any edges that are off so the front and back are perfectly the same size.

Now here's my batting.  Soooo, I ended up buying fusible batting, which I kind of regret.  It's all stiff and the wrinkles were hard to remove.  I ended up having to steam and stretch it the best I could with my iron (without touching the iron to it!!!)

Here's the batting after doing the best I could to get the wrinkles out.

Now put the batting between the front and back pieces.  Make sure to pin it so the front and back are as lined back up as possible.

Now trim the batting.  And Voila!!  We are ready for the next step!

Coming up  next week, I will assemble the bias tape and attack the border!

Make sure to check back weekly on Wednesdays, I'll be posting updates about this project!  And as always, Thanks so much for visiting. I really appreciate everyone who reads and comments. If you like what you've seen here, please follow me on Facebook and Pinterest to receive updates.

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