Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Walking in a Winter Wonderland!

Submitted by Linda
I have learned my lesson for once and for all. Throughout the years, I have mentioned that I have a love/hate relationship with sewing on a machine. Over the years, I have sewed pjs for the boys,  craft projects and window treatments, with some success. Knowing how I love quilts, I decided to try my hand at a bit of quilting this past summer. 

Last Christmas, I received a quilt pattern with embroidery patterns for the most darling snow scenes. My mom and I got right to work, each of us embroidering a different scene to eventually be made into holiday table runners. When the embroidery was done, we sat down to figure out a 'simple' pieced border with the help of my friend Liz, who is a wonderful quilter.

Here's a picture of my mom during the summer, when we were working on piecing the borders. At the bottom of the photo, you can see our patterns sketched onto graph paper, and a bit of the piecing.
My design is a 9-patch, with snowflakes in the corners.  The challenging part of this project is cutting strips carefully, stitching them together carefully, and then discovering that the squares don't align. I was talking with my friend Carla (another accomplished quilter) about this, sharing my frustration with these miniscule measurements and how, despite my best efforts, the seams didn't line up.
 Now, I'll admit this was my first quilting project, so I definitely have room for improvement. However, the attention to detail and the thrill of doing whatever it takes to make a project come together with near perfection, is something Carla thrives on. For me, I've learned that I will enjoy my many other hobbies and will coerce my friends who enjoy the detailed focus of sewing to do it for me!

Below, you can see the darling embroidery panel, and my 9-patches, beginning to be stitched together.

Once our panels were finished, we needed a 'long arm' quilter to quilt around the design. This time we called on Carla, who does long-arm quilting as a business, to work her magic. Shown below, is my mom's project, pinned onto the large machine. If you look closely, you can see the white whimsical stitching around the embroidery: swirls and stars and trees, oh my! And don't we just love the snowlady hanging her candy canes on the line?
Here you can see more of the details of the quilting:
And what's not to love about the gold stars hanging on the tree?
And now a close up of mine: more swirls and trees!

And here it is, finally complete! The truth be told, I love it, flaws in all. Even as I type, it happily lies across my big kitchen table, where I will admire it every time I walk by, and where it will be whisked away the second that one of my boys walks in to eat anything.
So, I'm done with my sewing machine for a long while. Even Carla (who like Rachel Lynde of Anne of Green Gables, "prides herself in speaking the truth"), told me to 'stick with embroidery'. And I am more than happy to oblige.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Asian Braised Pork

Submitted by Michelle
After the bounty of Thanksgiving, I always enjoy a meal that is opposite in flavor.  Usually I opt for Italian food; something involving spicy sausage and a hearty red sauce.  This year, upon the recommendation of my friend Eileen, I decided to try an Asian dish.  I don't often cook Asian foods. They tend to require lots of ingredients, many of which I do not have in my pantry.  However, Eileen raved about the dish so much that I had to give it a try.  

The recipe comes from Anne Burrell of Food TV fame.  She has worked with Mario Batali, one of my favs, so I felt confident about the recipe.  The recipe involves pork shoulder, which is an inexpensive cut of meat.  Always nice to have a recipe that is easy on the budget.  The pork is braised in a delicious brown sauce consisting of these all-stars:
Chicken broth, fresh orange rind and juice,  rice vinegar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sambal oelek (red chili paste), fresh ginger, garlic, and star anise.
Star anise is a licorice flavored spice that is essential to the sauce.  Even if you don't like licorice, you MUST include the star anise.  It is relatively mild and you will like it.  Trust me.  You can find it in most grocery stores with all the other spices.
I just noticed that the recipe says to cut the pork shoulder into 4 or 5 pieces and then brown on all sides.  (Somebody didn't read the directions very well when she made it.) Even though the pork was cooked whole, it still turned out well.
Once the meat is browned, the braising liquid comes together quite easily.  The meat is added back to the liquid and cooked for 2 hours in the oven.  
When the meat is cooked and falling apart, it is removed and the braising liquid is the reduced down to a thick, syrupy sauce.  Mmmmm, good!  
I made a Pickled Cucumber and Daikon Salad to go with the meat, also courtesy of Anne Burrell.
Serving everything atop a bed of Jasmine rice was Eileen's idea.  The entire meal was delectable and entirely worth all the chopping and grating.  In general, I find that cooking Asian food at home isn't very hard, it just requires a lot of prep work. 

You can view the recipe for the pork here and the salad here.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pies a Plenty, Pies Galore!

Submitted by Michelle
This year for Turkey Day, David and I were invited to join my friend Teri and her family.  Teri and I met in September of 2011 when we both enrolled in the same Master's Degree program.  Teri and I immediately gravitated towards each other and we've been front row friends ever since.

The fall has been so hectic and harried, between my surgery and teaching a new grade level and curriculum, that I eagerly accepted the invitation. I was more than happy to be a guest rather than a host, and offered to bring pie.

Teri told me her two adult children love pumpkin pie, so I was glad to oblige.  I made the recipe off the side of the can of Libby's pumpkin and it turned out great, as always.
David's favorite pie is pecan, so I knew I wanted to make it, too.  I also found out that Teri's husband likes pecan pie but rarely gets to have it since the kids wishes always trump the husband's wishes.  I decided to amp things up a bit and make a Hoosier Pie (or, as my friend Carrie calls it, Hoosier Daddy Pie.) I've blogged about Hoosier Pie before and you can read it here.
A few days ago I blogged about pie crust and you can see in the photos that the All-Butter Pastry does not hold it's shape, but I can say that the free-form look is worth it because the crust is flaky and buttery every time.  

David and I thoroughly enjoyed our day with Teri and her family and are so grateful that she opened up her home to us.  I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with love and joy whether you were guest (like me) or a hostess.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pie Crust 101

Submitted by Michelle

You may remember me.  I am the gal who used to blog on a semi-regular basis but then went MIA in the Fall of 2011.  It all started with me enrolling in a Master's Degree program. Going back to school consumed my life.  I am happy to report that I have finished my coursework, taken my comprehensive exams, and am now waiting for my degree to be posted. This past September, when school started, I thought my life would get back to normal and I would be a blogging fool.  Unfortunately, my appendix had other plans and decided to poop out in the middle of a staff meeting. I spent 5 days in the hospital and 5 weeks recovering at home.  Not fun.  I had some epiphanies during my recuperation, which I will share at a later time, but for today I think I had best focus on the something very important.  Something I cannot live without during the holiday season (or any other time of the year for that matter.)  I am sure you know what I am referring to.  Yes, it is pie crust.

For a long time I was afraid of pie crust.  I would try to make it and it never turned out right.  Most times I could not even get it off of the counter and into the pie plate.  Then, in 2004, I read an article about pie crust in Gourmet magazine that changed my life.   Both the recipe and the technique worked like a dream and I've been making pie crust ever since. The recipe is simply called All-Butter Pastry Dough.  Some bakers might contend that an all butter crust won't hold it's shape, which is in part true, but I have never been a fan of Crisco so I choose to deal with the edges of my pie crust not staying perfectly crimped when baked.  My motto is that the best things in life are made by hand, and the non-perfect edge says, "This pie crust is homemade and didn't come from a red box in the refrigerated section of the grocery store."  (Not that there is anything wrong with store bought crust. I used it for years before the Gourmet article changed my life.)

The pie crust begins with a few simple ingredients:
Flour, salt, ice-cold water and cold, unsalted butter. I measure out the flour and salt into the bowl of the food processor and then stick it in the freezer to get cold.  Keeping all the ingredients chilled is essential to a flaky pie crust.
I also think using a food processor is essential.  I know people who can use two forks to incorporate the butter into the flour or even their fingers, but it has never worked for me.  And I find that the finger method gets the butter warm, which is not a good thing.  
So I use my Cuisinart and blitz away until the butter gets chopped finely into the flour.  
Then I add the ice water.  I always measure and I always start with the smallest amount that the recipe calls for.  Usually I need more, but it is important not to over do it.  The dough should come together and be slightly moist.
A good test is to pinch some of it together in your fingers.  If it holds, you are good to go.  If it seems dry or crumbly, add a little more water.
The dough mixture easily comes together on my pastry board using the fraisage method I learned from Gourmet magazine.  Basically, you use the heel of your hand to smear the mixture forward and across the work surface, using a light touch so you don't uniformly blend in the butter.
You can see the bits of butter in the dough.  I wrap it and chill it for at least 30 minutes and then roll it out.  
I use my rolling pin to get the pastry off the board and into the pie plate.  
I fold the edges of the crust under and make it look as pretty as I can.
Once the edges are crimped, I freeze the crust until I am ready to fill and bake it.  Freezing helps the crust hold it shape and it allows me to make crust days (or even weeks) in advance.  

Tomorrow I will post the crusts filled and baked.  Until then, here's the pie crust recipe.

All-Butter Pastry Dough
Makes enough for a 9- or 10-inch single-crust pie.  

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

--Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl.  Blend in butter with finger tips, pastry blend or food processor until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea sized) butter lumps.  Drizzle evenly with ice water and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in processor) until incorporated.

--Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again.  (Do not overwork, or pastry will be tough.)

--Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions.  With the heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice with a forward motion to help distribute the fat.  Gather dough together with a scraper and press into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk.  Chill dough, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.  Dough can be chilled up to 1 day. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Whittier Antique Street Fair 2012

 Submitted by Linda
 Somehow, when clicking around the internet, I discovered an antique street fair coming to the city of Whittier. My usual partner in crime, Liz, was booked for the weekend, so I cajoled my new niece Kyan to join me, in the spirit of 'checking it out'.  You may remember that she is the bride of the beautiful burlap and mason jar wedding. She and her man are decorating their craftsman home in all things 'rustic vintage', so she was up for the journey.

After our quick 30 minute drive, we felt like we'd already hit a home run with the parking. Has anyone ever seen a parking garage in So-Cal that only costs a buck?

We found lots of cute booths...
 ..and even cuter people.
 Prices seemed reasonable, and most of the vendors seemed like nice people cleaning out their lives.
We saw lots of linens, vintage clothing, furniture, and a paper dress form!
This sweet old guy sold Kyan a blue mason jar, and then, after wrapping it and putting it into a Wal-Mart bag, said, "Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart!"
We connected with Kyan's brother, who steered us to a fun lunch place, which was followed by a trip to King Richard's. Hailed as the 'largest antique mall in California', we thought we should peek in before we left town. It was BIG, in fact, by the time we were done, our eyes were getting glassy.
I found a few treasures, and a few Christmas surprises. After doing some researching, it appears that the next street fair in Whittier will be in April of 2013. Who's in? Maybe we should plan a Front Row Friends Field Trip!!!!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Bun in the Oven!

 Submitted by Linda
Don't panic people! I'm not making any kind of baby announcement here (except to say that I have pregnant nieces and can't wait to use this stamp set for them)!

I ordered this Lawn Fawn Plus One set after seeing it in a magazine, and don't you just love that little bun in the oven? I decided to get creative and use it for Nick's 20th birthday card. The gray polka-dotty paper is from our new favorite Howlstooth paper, and the tangerine tango (orange) paper is embossed with the new chevron embossing folder. I'm seeing those chevrons on everything these days- home dec, purses, you name it!
I wanted to create my own caption, so I asked Michelle to use her cute writing to write out the sentiment. 
Nick got a chuckle out of the 'loaf you' part. Even a college age boy appreciates a hand made card!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Village Venture and the Fickle Felt Tree

Submitted by Linda
 For many years, now, I've been wishing for my friends to join me at Claremont's annual Village Venture. I kept raving about what an awesome street fair it was, and finally, it worked out for Carrie, Michelle and Liz to join me. Craig happened to be out of town for the whole weekend, so we crafted, shopped and snacked. What could be better?

My rule was that we were at the shuttle stop by Claremont High at 8:45 am so we could beat the rush. It always gets super crowded.
We looked around, ran into some friends, including my former student Barbie and her cute puppy.
 As we were on the last section, thinking about heading back to the shuttle, we came across The Fickle Felt Tree. I was so excited, because it was the only booth where we all got crazy-silly about how cute the stuff was!

Look at these garland made of felt balls! Janelle, the crafter, had them in all the color combos a girl could want!

Just look at this crate full of them!

We made such a fuss that I think we drew a crowd!
These felt balls were even cute on wires for vases!
Michelle loved this wreath made of felt flowers. She thought it would match her colors at home, and we all agreed it was a good purchase. After all, who wants to form all of those flowers and then glue them on a wreath?
When I got home, I strung my garland on my twinkly tree, which sits in my entryway.
On go the lights:
So stinkin' cute!
If you are interested in visiting the Fickle Felt Tree, click HERE.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nick's B-Day at Slater's 50/50

Submitted by Linda
 Our youngest, Nick, just celebrated his 20th birthday. Here he is, when he was about three. I really miss that kid.

 Oh, yeah. He's still around. But bigger. And smellier. And harrier.  Still cute, though. I forced him to take this phone pic, since I wasn't in ANY pictures when both of my boys were little.

 His birthday wish was to go to Slater's 50/50, which is located in Anaheim Hills.
It's funny, me doing a 'restaurant review', since I joke about being 90% vegetarian. I eat meat, and enjoy it sometimes, but usually I find that I prefer meatless dishes. So here I was at 50/50, where the burger sizes are 1/3 pound or 2/3 pound after cooking. You may notice on my 'design it' form, shown below, I chose a portobello mushroom instead of a burger.
Which was probably a big mistake, since the point of the 50/50 burger is that it is 50% ground meat and 50% ground bacon. I sampled Craig's burger, and it was ok, I guess.  Here's Nick, intently choosing his burger and toppings and cheese and sauces.
I did enjoy the big appetizer platter, with all kinds of fried goodness, including fried macaroni and cheese. Each item on the platter had it's own dippin' sauce.
Take a look at this burger! What a biggie! Nick enjoyed it, and we had a fun time celebrating with him.
As for Slater's, it's definitely a fun place to go, especially with hungry boys.