Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A yard is enough

Sometimes I buy a yard of a fabric I just can't pass by.  It's only a yard and I can find a way to use it up, right?  Well, yes, most of the time. (And that's what I tell DH...)  But sometimes I just can't find the right project to commit it to.  In the case of the yard of cotton I used for my latest quilting project, the design was too big to cut up neatly and I couldn't bring myself to cut it up in small pieces to utilize it for just the bright colors -- I wanted a project that would take advantage of the design and the colors.  I really liked that yard.

Then when I was searching for just the right design for a baby quilt intended as a gift for a friend's adoption, I came across a book at the library, Joan Ford's Scrap Therapy: Cut the scraps and a project she calls "Once Upon a Scrap".  As soon as I saw the picture, I knew I wanted to make that quilt and I knew exactly which piece of fabric I wanted to use for the three main sections. 

As often happens once I decide on a "dream project" (one that incorporates and builds off favorite fabric, fiber, color, and/or design), the other bits came together without much effort.  I used odd bits of cottons I had on hand to cut out almost all of the 180 2-inch squares required for the two patchwork sections.  It was a lot of fun searching out blues, greens, reds, yellows in my fabric stash.  And I even found a couple of orange prints to use.

Because my mind usually tries to organize things I'm working with into patterns even when I don't want it to, I laid the stacks of colorful squares out on the ironing board and began to play with their layout.  I wanted to keep the patchwork section colorful and free without a discernible color placement order.  To aid that I purposely cut no more than 10 or 12 squares of any fabric so I wouldn't be able to fall back on a coordinated presentation.
I did end up buying a black, horse shoe-patterned fat quarter that jumped out at me on a trip to the local fabric store where I also found the perfect mottled blue cotton used for one of the borders and the soft flannel print used for the backing.  (And what I actually went there to purchase!)  Also, I used a wide green double-fold bias tape for the binding because I think it wears better than the straight-cut quilting cotton which the directions called for and while my best wish for this quilt is that it's worn to tatters by the little one it's intended for, I don't want it to be in tatters due to shoddy fabric or workmanship!
The cotton batting recommended quilting or tying at least every 4" or so and since I used flannel for the backing I planned to hand-quilt.  (I don't machine-quilt when using flannel for backing as I always have trouble with it "ruffling". YMMV)  The simple design encouraged me to just "quilt in the ditch" but the large landscape sections and the long blue border required more coverage. 

DH suggested I do a simple block pattern across those areas but when I attempted that, the white quilting thread didn't look right to me.  Usually I love a simple, primitive quilted design like that but it seemed to distract from the colorful quilt.  The fabric I couldn't bring myself to cut was instead cut up by little white stitches.  Well, not that little -- I average 6-8 stitches to the inch when quilting.  My grandmother, who hand-quilted all her work, considered anything less than 10-12 stitches to the inch to be a hazard as, in her words, "you could get your toenail caught in stitches that big!"

So this quilt features hand-quilting and tying.  I used embroidery floss, blue for the border and green for the design print, to tie the layers together that were deemed not suited to quilting.  DH asked me why I didn't consider hand-quilting with colored thread but I couldn't bring myself to use anything except my usual white cotton quilting thread for the hand-quilting.  Traditions are hard to break, you know?

Monday, January 9, 2012

One lost turkey yields quite a few current and future meals

Trying to clear out the chest freezer before we defrost it later this month and found a turkey. Yes, a 22-lb turkey, in fact. I don't know where it's been hiding but I spotted it under bags of frozen nectarines and strawberries intended for smoothies.

What's worse than admitting I lost a turkey in a large chest freezer? Admitting I haven't bought a frozen turkey in at least 2 years, maybe longer.

The turkey didn't show any signs of freezer burn but our manual-defrost chest freezer will hold well-wrapped meats and most produce in good condition for a long time. Drawbacks? It needs to be defrosted every 12- to 18-months and, if you're short like me, plan on standing on your head to retrieve anything that falls to the very bottom.

Because the outside temperature stayed in the 30s during the day (lower at night), I let the turkey thaw outside for several days. Instead of taking up (a LOT of!) space in the refrigerator, it sat (still sealed in plastic) on the deck in a large enamelware dishpan covered by a laundry tub. When it had thawed enough to allow the giblets and turkey neck to be retrieved from the cavities, DH plunged the turkey into a 5-gal (food-grade) bucket of brine (recipe here), enough to cover the turkey completely and set the covered bucket outside in the cold. Overnight temp was well below freezing but the high concentration of salt and sugar in the brine keeps it from freezing. I swear by brining -- it does wonders for a turkey, especially an aged one.

After brining overnight, I drained the turkey and soaked it in buttermilk for several hours. I did this because I've found with this step the skin will turn the most gorgeous perfectly-roasted brown color, even in a roaster oven, and, perhaps more importantly, the buttermilk soak lessens the saltiness of the pan drippings. Before I started taking this extra step, I didn't like using the pan drippings to make gravy or add to stock.

Rather than use a rack, I put carrots, onion wedges and celery stalks on the bottom of the pan under the turkey. They add good flavor. When the drippings are cooled in the refrigerator, it's easy to lift off the solidified fat that rises to the top. The gelled liquid goes back in the roaster along with the bones, skin and other bits and pieces plus water to make rich turkey stock.

This time, I cut up the roast turkey immediately, while still hot, and readied about half of it for canning immediately. I heated (home-canned) seasoned chicken broth in a pot and added the turkey to it as I carved. Then transferred the hot chunks of turkey to pint jars (ended up with 8) and added the hot broth to cover. Processed for 75 minutes while we had dinner: turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, butternut squash and peas. The rest of the meat went in the refrigerator destined for several days worth of hot turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy, cold turkey sandwiches, turkey hash and, one of DS's favorites, turkey vegetable soup.

As soon as it was stripped, the turkey carcass went into the roaster oven which still contained the warm drippings and roasted vegetables. I added the roasted skin, the still-raw turkey neck and the gizzard from the giblet pack along with some fresh thyme, rosemary and sage leaves and about 3 gallons of water. The turkey stock simmered on a low setting (200ºF.?) for several hours while the canner was going and I cleaned up the kitchen. By then it was nighttime and I was ready to call it quits for the day. So DH helped me strain out the bones, skin and vegetables and set the covered roaster oven outside under the laundry tub till morning.

It was definitely cold enough overnight to chill the turkey stock thoroughly and I lifted off almost 3 cups of white turkey fat the next day. It's great for making pastry or biscuits to top a pot pie. The turkey stock I brought to a simmer, still in the roaster oven, and then jarred and processed in the pressure canner for 25 minutes. I really love the tall AA canner we have as it lets me stack jars so I could do all 11 quarts of turkey stock in one batch -- a definite time-saver.

I used part of the turkey fat to make potpie crackers which we ate with, naturally enough, turkey pot pie made from part of the leftover turkey. DH and DS also like the potpie crackers in their turkey vegetable soup instead of oyster crackers or crushed saltines but I've never been one to put crackers in my soup (served alongside, yes!) so I can't recommend that personally but even plain, as a snack, they're pretty good...

Potpie Crackers
(adapted from Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook and attributed to Doris Brubaker, Mt. Joy, PA)

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup turkey fat, other shortening or lard, or butter
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk, kefir, yogurt or buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in fat. Add eggs and milk, stir lightly and form into a ball. Divide dough into 3 or 4 parts. Roll each out on a lightly floured board, as for thin pie crust.

Either cut and transfer each 1" square or lift dough and lay in cookie sheet before cutting into small squares. Bake at 375ºF. for 10 minutes or until crackers are lightly browned. In my oven, the bottoms brown long before the tops -- check carefully.

Crackers keep well in tightly-covered container so can be made in advance. Except at my house the fact that they will keep is no guarantee that I can keep them. See note above regarding snacking...

Serve with creamed turkey or chicken, soups, anywhere you might think to serve dumplings or saltines.

Creamed turkey or chicken (like a potpie filling)
(adapted from Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook)

1/4 cup turkey or chicken fat or butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups turkey stock or chicken broth
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
2-to-3 cups diced, cooked turkey or chicken
1 cup frozen peas or peas and carrots (optional)

Melt fat in heavy saucepan. Add onion, and celery if using, and sauté until translucent. Sprinkle flour over all, stir, and cook until bubbly.

Add liquids. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add frozen peas and turkey. Heat through and serve with potpie crackers.

Instead of peas, try adding a cup or two of any favorite leftover cooked vegetable you have on hand -- chopped broccoli, diced potatoes, or green beans are ones we like to add.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Last year it was felted hearts,

This year it's stockings -- elvish-styled stockings.

I don't know if it was DS's insistence that I read all four of Paolini's Inheritance Cycle books in late November or just one of those things, but when I sat down to make an ornament for my guild's annual exchange an elf bootie is what I kept coming back to no matter how many other ideas I tossed around. That's pretty much the same thing that happened last year when I made Grinch-styled hearts, from the same felted wool sweater...

Used a stocking template I found in a book, Sweater Renewal by Sharon Franco Rothschild, but have since run across Rothschild's original template in a November 2009 post on the Etsy blog. You can find her version and a link to a pdf including the template at this link.

Even though I think I was channeling elves this year instead of Grinch hearts, I couldn't seem to let go of the color combos that still remind me a bit of Dr. Seuss and the Grinch...

So far I've made three, one for the guild ornament exchange, one for the local homeschool support group exchange and one for my aunt.  Each is a little different as I played with the embroidery stitches but they all share the same overall shape and the feather-stitching (plus beads down the front) following the seam lines.  I used a combination of regular DMC embroidery floss and pearl cottons.

And perhaps it's more than just Paolini's books influencing the elfish choice this year. It also could be I was influenced by these little guys who live in my corner china press. They were my mom's when I was little and she gave them to me a few years ago -- I still like them.

They were always so cheerful-looking when I'd spot them under one of her flower arrangements or just hanging out on a shelf somewhere. I couldn't pass them up when she offered.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Chris' dice bag

Two years ago I made a chulo for my nephew.  It was a surprise but, fortunately, he really liked it.  So much so that he requested a knitted bag to hold his dice -- said the other guys mostly used those velvety Crown Royal bottle bags but he wanted something different.

Nothing I like more than making something I know someone wants so I said, no problem!  And started looking around for a pattern for a knitted dice bag.  Ravelry's pattern library yielded just what I was looking for -- Nina Hyland's Deep Sea Flower Dice Bag made up in Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn.

But when I was all but finished, just in time for Christmas Day 2010, you understand, DH took one look and said "that won't hold enough dice!"  So I told Chris I had to frog my first attempt but would get a larger one finished asap.  The only problem was I really wanted to make the Deep Sea Flower one.  None of the other bag patterns I came across appealed to me at all.

So I decided to adapt the pattern by increasing to six petals instead of four.  That should make the bag about 50% bigger in diameter.  Surely that would hold enough dice for 40k... It seemed easy enough, except as often happens to me, I was in a hurry to get to the part I really liked, the flame-stitch-looking petal. 

The first part of the pattern is all about knitting a small square which is used as the bottom of the bag.  Stitches are picked up around the square to create the sides or petals.  But if I wanted to increase the number of petals, I would need to increase the bottom of the bag, too.  A hexagon instead of a square seemed like the way to go.  But I didn't have a pattern, couldn't find one quickly enough so decided to jump ahead to the fun part.  I could always go about adding the bottom last, couldn't I?

Well, I could and probably should but for some reason, when I was ready to do so, I couldn't get my mind wrapped around reversing the pattern and working my way down to a minimum number of stitches on my needles -- sort of like drawing up a hat at the crown or finishing my favorite knit houseshoes at the toe.  So I was left with this which I carried around in my knitting bag for several months.

Took it out at when fiber-y friends would gather and asked for ideas.  Which I received more than once but, it was like a cruel curse, as soon as I'd get home and try to decipher my notes and remember what seemed so reasonable, and yes, even sounded easy when told to me, wouldn't come together in my head and translate to my needles.  For some reason, I can "think" in crochet but I struggle to convert to a pattern anything knitted.

Finally, it was December again and I still hadn't finished last year's gift.  (This year's gift was to be a set of steampunk-styled dice.)  So I decided to go with another method and knitted a short-row hexagon (using this dishcloth pattern as a guideline), seamed it together and picked up around the edges just as the original pattern instructed but since I had 6-sides to work with I picked up a total of 90 stitches rather than 60.  That went fast and I was soon knitting away on the part I (still) liked best.
It took me about two days to finish the newly-started bag what with all the other holiday stuff going on.  But I'd had 12 months of it hanging over my head.

Am I the only one who does this kind of stuff?  Surely not.

But now I can heave a big sigh of relief that I have that project out of the way and move on to the next project -- when asked what he'd like for Christmas 2012, Chris said hand-knit gloves...