A Winter Soup

Hunter's Minestrone 
(recipe from the Food Network ... but as you'll see, I adapted a bit)
about 6 servings

2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock
1 head garlic, halved
1/2 lb. small rigatoni (pretty sure I used whatever pasta I had on hand, but rigatoni would be fine too)
Extra virgin olive oil
8 fresh sage leaves (I didn't have this.  No biggie.)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme (I used 1 tsp. dry thyme)
3/4 lb. loose sweet Italian pork sausage (I used hot sausage, because that's what I had)
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped (Omitted.  Can't think of the last time I had celery in my house)
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 (28-oz) can crushed plum tomatoes (plum?  seriously?  Just dump in a big can of whatever tomatoes)
1 bay leaf
2 (28-oz) cans cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced

Combine the stock and halved garlic in a big saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes to give the stock a nice garlicky taste, then strain out the garlic.  Keep warm.  (If you're me, you chop up some of the garlic you just strained out and throw it back in.  But that's just me.  We rhymeswithsmilers like garlic.)

Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the rigatoni.

Pour 1/4 c. olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add the sage, rosemary and thyme and warm the oil over medium heat to infuse it with the flavor of the herbs, 3-4 minutes.  Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage until well browned.  Chop the carrots, celery, and onion in a food processor.  Add to the saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes until the vegetables are softened but not browned.

To the pan with the sausage stir in the crushed tomatoes, bay leave, cannelloni beans, and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cook the rigatoni in the boiling water for 6 minutes; it should be slightly underdone.  Drain and stir into the simmering soup.  Add the parsley.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Discard the bay leaf and herb sprigs (if you used herb sprigs).  Serve hot.

It's cold.  Perfect weather for soup.

It's also snowy.  Again, perfect soup weather.

We are waiting on Baby RhymesWithSmile ... it will be here sometime in the next 17 days.  Until then, I am using the pregnancy as the perfect excuse to do all of the following soup-related activities: 
(a) make gallons of soup 
(b) eat gallons of soup 
(c) freeze gallons of soup 
(d) nap after making, eating, or freezing soup
(e) eat donuts (sure, this is soup-related.  One needs dessert, right?  And appetizers?  Of course.)

Whew.  It's been over a month since I last posted.  It'll probably be more than a month until my next post, unless the baby comes on Day 17.  If that happens, you'll be hearing a lot from me.  

The Mr, myself, and Baby RWS at 38 weeks


Nashville's Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup a la Nashville College Friends Who Let Me Spend The Night As I Was Passing Through


Part 1 -
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 cups baby carrots, diced
2 Tbsp. butter
2-3 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

Part 2 -
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper or red pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 vegetable bouillon cube, crumbled

Part 3 -
3 cans great northern beans, drained and divided in half
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk

Part 4 -
1 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped


Combine all Part 1 ingredients except for chicken in a large soup pot and saute on medium heat for 8 minutes.  Add chicken and continue sauteing for 2-3 more minutes; carrots should be soft.
Add Part 2 ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add 1/2 of the drained beans to the pot and the other 1/2 to a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Mash the beans in the bowl and then mix in the milk and flour until blended.  Add this mixture to the pot and simmer, stirring often, until slightly thickened.
Add fresh cilantro and stir.

Serve with tortilla strips, lime wedges, shredded cheese, sour cream, etc.
NOTE: If soup seems too thick or chunky, adding 1-2 cups of water will help thin it out without compromising the flavor.

Can't believe this ... 
Six weeks ago was the last time I posted a recipe.  Yikes!
Six weeks from now, the baby is due.  Double yikes!

Short list of things that have been going on in the past six weeks (and you'll maybe understand why new recipes haven't been top on the priority list ...)
-attend 3 baby showers given by sweet friends
-organize baby stuff
-help plan baby shower for friend
-spend one weekend with my brother visiting from Kentucky, one weekend camping, three weekends on the road (including a four-day road trip to Memphis for a friend's wedding), and one weekend at home
-balance water aerobics, "Prepared Childbirth" classes at our hospital, and dog-walking (all three activities make me very out of breath, for different reasons ...)
-work 32-35 hours a week
-sleep whenever possible
-eat whenever possible
-relax whenever possible

Short list of the things that need to be done before Baby RhymesWithSmile gets here:
-toss clutter in living room (mostly magazines)
-organize fabric stash
-make three baby quilts
-purchase cloth diapers
-celebrate Thanksgiving with awesome family
-throw/co-throw the 4th Annual Christmas Morning Party
-finish working (probably around Dec 13 or 14)
-figure out baby insurance (what?!?  of all the nerve, for a baby to need insurance)
-plan and make approximately 23 Christmas gifts (on a good note though, my side of the family chose the theme "Cheesy and Cheap" and the Mr's side is going with "Under $10" so it will prove to be a fun time)
-make some meals to go in the freezer

I think I need to lower my expectations of myself.  I need a nap just from looking at my to-do list :)



I got this box of scraps from my awesome friend Chantry ... (who also just threw me the loveliest baby shower ever!).  Cute, fun, bold, sweet fabrics!  

I am feeling inspired.  And, I found this - it WILL make its way into whatever comes out of the scraps:

Inspiration is a beautiful thing.  
And now, maybe this will inspire you to do something silly:

Mom, me, Cousin Becky, and Sheri - woohoo! 


Take-It-To-A-Friend Potato Soup

Excellent Potato Soup
from my friend Chantry's friend Meg, both of whom have excellent blogs that are worth checking out ...

6-7 potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 c. onion, diced
8 oz. cream cheese, cut into chunks
1 1/2 c. milk
1 can mushroom or cheese soup
1 can celery soup
6 Tbsp. butter (3/4 stick)
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
salt and pepper to taste
Garnish: bacon bits and shredded cheddar cheese

Cook potatoes and onions together in just enough water to cover.  Once tender, remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients except for garnish.  Heat again until combined and hot.  Serve with cheese and bacon bits on top.

Um.  Yes.  This is now my #1 favorite potato soup recipe.  It really is excellent (why else would that be the name of the recipe?).  My friend Chantry called me earlier this week and said she had doubled a soup recipe and had more soup than she knew what to do with, and would I like some?  Since I'm not one to turn down food of any kind (especially soup), I answered with a resounding YES and received a giant container of this excellent Excellent Potato Soup!  (I know I just used the word "excellent" twice.  I just want you to understand how excellent it really is.  I hope you get the point soon, because "excellent" is a little challenging to keep typing over and over ...)  Thanks so much, Chantry!  I am honored to be the recipient of such a thoughtful meal (maybe I forgot to mention the other goodies she included ... fresh rosemary bread and nutter-butter balls, which I would have taken a picture of because they're so cute, only ... well, they're not around anymore). 

Next time I take soup to someone, you'd better believe it'll be this recipe.  No promise about any accompanying nutter-butter balls, though.  I'm pretty sure that if I were to make anything like that, I'd eat them all before they made it off my counter.


coming up ...

I'm coming up on 100 posts soon.  
What should I do to celebrate?

Cast your vote now:
(a) treat myself to an extra long nap
(b) treat myself to ice cream and an extra long nap
(c) treat myself to ice cream, an extra long nap, and ask my husband to make dinner
(d) other (please give detailed explanation - and it better be convincing.  I love my naps almost as much as I love ice cream and the Mr. making dinner.)


Where have I been for the last three months, you ask?  Well, for one, I've been growing a baby (if this part of it is so exhaustingly hard, I REALLY have a lot in store for once it comes).  I also started tending to the garden a little more (errr ... well ... weeded once, watered a few times, and put up some deer fence).  Along with that came produce.  And more produce.  We've got tomatoes out our ears and are hoping to eek out some peppers before the first frost.  Then work started back in full force and I could no longer continue my blissful experience of sewing for 30 hours a week at work.  My machine got serviced in North Carolina at the end of July, and then it was visiting my mom.  I've got it back now, but still have yet to bust out anything incredible.

But also, I've been working on finishing up commissioned quilts.  I ended up doing SIX commissions this summer - yes, six.  One baby quilt, two large rectangular lap quilts, one wall hanging, one large square lap quilt, and a twin.

Pictures, you say?  OK, fine.  I guess it's the least I can do, since I've left you hanging for months now.  

Here is the large square lap quilt - I think it ended up being somewhere around 50"x50".  I made it for my college friend Lauren F. and was able to give it to her in person, when we had a girls' reunion at Lauren's family's lake house in Tennessee.  She did all the hard work in picking out the fabrics, and I had the fun job of putting them together.  
I opted for a modified "rail fence" pattern - modified because the strips in each block are different widths.  The most challenging part of the whole thing was placing the blocks in such a way that the patterns in each block did not touch the same pattern in any other block.  

And the back - I really love it ...
(feel free to ignore the fold/crease lines.  Whoops.)

And kindly, Lauren sent me a picture of the quilt in its real, live home (which sounds awesome and tempts me to visit):
I have to confess, I am WAY more interested in this inviting rug than I am in the quilt, but that's just me.

I.  Will.  Post.  Again.  Before.  The.   Next.  3.  Months.  Have.  Passed.  I promise.


Appropriate Cake

Sock It To Me Cake - recipe from here

Streusel topping:
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. chopped pecans (optional)
Combine and set aside.

1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Whisk together glaze ingredients until smooth and set aside.

1 box yellow cake mix
4 eggs
1 c. sour cream
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
Preheat oven to 375.  Combine cake ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.  Pour half of batter into a greased and floured bundt or pound cake pan.  Sprinkle streusel filling on top and swirl through batter.  Spoon remaining batter evenly over filling.  Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 25 minutes then invert onto a plate.  Cool completely.  Drizzle glaze over cooled cake.

Your guess is as good as mine as to why this cake is called a Sock It To Me Cake.  I have visions of cake-battered socks being thrown around kitchens by 50s housewives in pearls and heels, but I doubt that's the real origin.  I can imagine, though.  I feel like it's an appropriate cake to make during a busy time ... you know, when life is just socking it to me and I barely have time to catch my breath before the next thing comes around!

The pace of life has been a little wild for the Mr. and me recently with another semester starting, work routines to settle into, a baby to plan for, and weekends of travel.  Oh, and a garden coming in, friends to visit with, a dog to entertain, a new church home group to get to know, and a water aerobics class to attend.  Oh, and did I mention the 5 meals I have to stop and eat per day, and the 9+ hours of sleep I need a night?  Life gets busy, people.  Makes me hungry just thinking about it. 

Just to show that I am still eating enough for both myself and Baby rhymeswithsmile, here's a recent photo of us at 23 weeks:
Warning: if this busy-ness continues, the next picture you see of me will probably show me sprawled out on the couch, asleep.


taking bets

We're starting to take bets now ...

boy or girl?

You have until December 30th to place your bet 
(and contribute to the child's college fund, incidentally).


Only two things that money can't buy ...

Listen to the whole thing.  The refrain is my favorite ... 

And now, drumroll please ..............

World, I present to you the first home grown tomato of our garden! In my fit of excitement I forgot to wait for the Mr. to come home to pick it with me, so I feel really bad and am very very VERY penitent. Can't you see the guilt and remorse on my face?


Freezer Salsa

This picture doesn't QUITE do the overgrown garden justice, but we'll try. 
You can see sweet Mr. rhymeswithsmile hard at work pulling weeds.
As previously mentioned, some of those weeds were 4 feet tall and required some quite vigorous pulling (thankfully, the rain loosened the soil).  The most fun part of the three-day adventure was searching for the purposeful plants under all those crazy wild ones - and actually finding them.
The Mr. took the weedeater and rescued about 30 tomato plants and 15 pepper plants.  We also uncovered 3 watermelons, and in the past week have seen 4 more come out. 
And just think ... we believed the garden was a goner ...

But, back to tomatoes and peppers ... I ended up buying (eek!) the produce to make my first batch of freezer salsa because I wanted to make salsa so badly I couldn't wait for our own tomatoes to ripen.  I found a nice old man with a truck on the side of the road (he was the one who provided the gigantic Tomatolator I got so excited about last posting), and for a whopping $25 ended up with all the ingredients I needed for the salsa.

So, if you find yourself either (a) buying 20 pounds of tomatoes at a time or (b) overwhelmed by your own garden produce, try this recipe for freezer salsa.  It made about 15 pints of salsa (which means, if we ration well, we get one jar of homemade salsa every 3.5 weeks until next summer!)

Diner's Freezer Salsa
from www.food.com - recipe #12275
20 pounds fresh tomatoes
2 cups fresh cilantro
2 large onions
10 garlic cloves
10 medium jalapeno peppers (if you're OK with a little kick in your salsa)
6 habanero peppers (to taste - I actually used a different kind of hot pepper and am satisfied with the results, so feel free to adjust depending on what you like and what you have access to)
2 cups chopped green peppers
2 tablespoons cumin
1/4 cup sea salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
juice of 6 large limes

Chop tomatoes in food processor - do not puree.  Leave some chunks.  (the original recipe says to peel the tomatoes first.  I don't feel that it's necessary or worthwhile to do it ... but whatevs.  Call me lazy, but I don't bother with it.  You can peel if you want before processing the tomatoes).  Pour into a large - very large - stock pot.

Chop cilantro, onion, and garlic coarsely in food processor, and add to tomatoes.

Chop peppers - jalapenos with seeds, habaneros and green peppers without seeds - and add to tomatoes.

Stir cumin, salt, vinegar, and lime juice into tomato mixture.  Combine thoroughly.

Bring to a boil.  Lower temperature and maintain at a low boil for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking on the bottom.  You want the salsa to reduce by about half as the tomato water boils off.

Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse.  I use glass pint jars and metal lids and bands, but the original recipe writer says she used 3-cup plastic freezer containers.  Just keep in mind that you want usable container sizes - so don't pour your salsa into gallon ziploc bags unless you plan on defrosting and eating a gallon of salsa at a time.

Fill jars with salsa, leaving about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch space at the top for expansion during freezing.  Let jars completely cool before putting on lids - this way you avoid condensation and ice on top of your salsa.  Keep in freezer and thaw before eating.

I get a little smile when I open up our freezer and see an entire shelf of salsa.  And, I confess that I will probably end up hiding half the jars from the Mr. because he loves this salsa so much, he'd eat a jar a day.  So, some of the jars are visible.  The rest are nicely tucked away under potato soup, blueberries, and frozen corn, to be pulled out in mid-February when I need a little boost ...



(no, it's not from my garden.  Are you kidding me?  This gigantic beauty is from a nice old man with a produce truck on the side of the road.  He charged me a whopping $0.95/lb for this German Pink.  The Mr. said it looked like an old lady without any teeth.  I said it looked like it would taste really good.  It was absolutely incredible.  You should go find one.)


garden update

The garden was so bad ... 

... that we had to sort through 4-foot weeds to find the metal tomato cages

... we followed the hose to find the sprinkler and pulled weeds around it so the water could shoot up

... we had all but given up hope of getting any produce from the dry, weedy, deer-eaten plot

... my lazy (albeit pregnant) self could not muster the motivation to do anything out there.  Gnats + heat + gnats + dry dirt + gnats + millions of weeds = recipe for sitting inside.

But there's good news: Mr. rhymeswithsmile has a weedeater.  And it's RAINED for the first time in a very long time.  And it's below 75 degrees.  All of this means that we are in the process of hacking through a 40'x40' weedfest to find our precious, sweet, incredible tomato and pepper plants.  We've discovered watermelons too.  I picked a squash and have one more on the horizon (it's ripening for another day or two).  Joy!

Weeding - under the right conditions - is encouraging work.  It's satisfying in a way that I don't know how to explain.

We have food in our garden!  


just squash it

Curried Squash Soup (adapted from a recipe that I found last night but can't find now.  I'll give real props when I can properly locate the source)

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 hot chili pepper, seeds removed, chopped
1-2 Tbsp. curry powder (depending on your taste)
4 6- to 8-inch yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 c. chicken broth

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, and pepper and saute 3-5 minutes or until onion is translucent.  Sprinkle curry powder over onion and garlic, and stir to coat.  Throw in the squash and stir in the broth.  Bring to a boil, cover pot, and reduce heat.  Simmer soup for 20-25 minutes or until squash is soft.

Let soup cool and then puree in blender or food processor.  This is a light summer soup that could be served hot or cold, with sour cream or yogurt stirred in.

I would've taken a picture of this, but if you have ever cooked with curry you know that it can ... well ... turn foods funny colors.  It didn't look very appetizing, though it tasted amazing.  I sound like I'm trying to talk you out of making this soup, but really I'm not.  Just try it.  And wear dark sunglasses if you're highly sensitive to the way your dinner looks before you ingest it.

I've got yellow squash on the brain these days.  Somehow, I have the ONLY garden in the state that has produced a million squash flowers without actually producing any fruit (whoops, that's a lie.  So far: 1 squash out of 18 plants).  So, I've been the recipient of other people unloading squash on me.  Last night, I found that I had 12 yellow squash to process, along with 2 pounds of hot peppers, 10 pounds of apples, 8 green peppers (though they were relatively small), and one pint of cherry tomatoes.  I made a giant bowl of applesauce.  The tomatoes and green peppers aren't a problem.  The squash and hot peppers are a different story, so my goal over the next few days is to hide squash in as many recipes as possible (Chocolate Squash Cake, anyone?), and figure out what to do with two pounds of hot peppers.

Besides Chocolate Squash Cake (substituting shredded squash for zucchini in a recipe like this one), I've been thinking of Squash-Potato soup, Apple-Squash bread, and a stir-fry or two.  That should take up the 8 squash I have left, right?

Any thoughts on the hot peppers?

And now, for something completely different: a Mr. Rhymeswithsmile-themed potluck picture (to welcome him home from his trip out West) ...

... he showed up 5 minutes late for the picture ...



This is the World Cup final party.

This is the Meredith (wearing a white shirt) that hosted the World Cup final party.

This is the recipe for croquetas that I prepared for the World Cup final party that Meredith (wearing a white shirt) hosted.

This is the rest of the Spanish food that others prepared that loaded up the kitchen table for the World Cup final party that Meredith (wearing a white shirt) hosted.

These are the friends that ate the croquetas that I prepared for the World Cup final party that Meredith (wearing a white shirt) hosted.

Feel the intensity among the friends that cheered on Spain during the World Cup final party that Meredith (wearing a white shirt) hosted.

There's no picture of the husbands who came to the World Cup final party that Meredith (wearing a white shirt) hosted.  But they ate the food that we all prepared that loaded up the kitchen table for the World Cup final party that Meredith (and I guess I should mention Danny) hosted.

This is the joyous outcome of the World Cup final party that Meredith (jumping up and down) hosted.

This is a picture completely unrelated to the World Cup final party that Meredith (wearing a white shirt and jumping up and down) hosted.  But based on the awesomeness of Spain winning their first-ever World Cup title, maybe now you can understand why we've decided to name the baby Iniesta Torres Villa Fabregas Puyol.
(15 weeks)


Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #6 - The Last One!

Last week you finished your quilting, right? 
If you (still) need inspiration about what quilting pattern to use, look at Val's quilt here ... check out those groovy grid lines that form a diamond pattern.  I'm so excited about how hers turned out!

Feeling a little more adventurous with quilting?  Look what Andrea did:

Talk about groovy!  I love the swirls! 

Alright, this last binding tutorial is actually going to be a combo my-tutorial/other-blog-site-tutorial.  I don't feel the need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to binding tutorials.  And Amanda Jean over at Crazy Mom Quilts happens to have an excellent, step-by-step binding how-to.  So, check it out by clicking here, then come back to visit me so we can talk through it again.  (By the way, while you're there, look at her other quilts and be inspired!)

The binding is the very last thing you do to your quilt.  It finishes and hides the edges of fabric and batting that are still exposed, so it's worthwhile to do a quality binding.  If you haven't already, read through CMQ's tutorial and then read on:
Step 1: Measure the four sides of your quilt, add it up, and add 12.  Cut enough 2.5" wide strips (she does 2.25" but it's your choice - either width, just be consistent for all strips) to add up to that measurement.  Sew them together on the short sides so you end up with one long strip.
Step 2: Iron the long strip in half lengthwise with wrong sides together.  You should have a very, very long, very, very skinny strip.
Step 3: Match unfinished edge of quilt with raw edge of binding strip, and sew on around all four sides and corners.  (crazymom's tutorial is excellent for this step, especially for the corners.  Haven't read it yet?  You know what I'm going to tell you to do.  So just go do it.)
Step 4: Trim the edges of the quilt even with the binding strip edges.  Fold the binding over onto the other side of the quilt around the edge and sew it down with a needle and thread (by hand!)
Step 5: Enjoy this awesome quilt you just finished, and graciously accept compliments from your friends who can't believe how crafty and cool you are.

Alright, well that's it for this 6 part tutorial on how to make a wonky log cabin quilt!  Hooray for friends and quilting classes!  And thanks to the lovely women who have great taste in fabric and incredible talent - I loved working with you all!

A few more pictures:
Laura's quilt - still in progress
(she was out of town for a couple of weeks without a machine)

Caitlin's quilt (picture from last week)

Caitlin sews on her binding strip

A second wonky log cabin quilt that I'm working on finishing up
(the green border now goes all the way around the quilt)


Name Calling at Thirteen and a Half

We're considering a couple of names for the babe: either Cherry-Vanilla Ice Cream or Yogurt and Berries.  It's now 13.5 weeks old - old enough to learn its name, right?

Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #5

Look at how far we've all come!  This is Val's quilt top, ready for basting and quilting:

For the last tutorial, we talked through the basting process, remember?  Basting is securing all three layers of the quilt together - the quilt top, the batting, and the backing - prior to quilting.  You have basting options - straight pins, curved quilting safety pins, or adhesive basting spray - and your choice just depends on your personal preference and style.  I started out using the basting spray, and LOVED it because it kept all the layers very secure while quilting.  I started moving away from using it because I couldn't afford it for all the projects I was doing.  But, whatevs.  It's your preference - try all three and see which you prefer. 
Check out Caitlin's quilt, all basted and ready to go (she used basting spray):

Alright.  This tutorial is about quilting.  You're probably thinking, "Isn't that what we've been doing all along?  Doesn't quilting mean 'to make a quilt'?"  Well, yes.  But it also means to sew through all three layers (top, batting, back) so they stay together.  A lot of traditional quilting is done by hand.  If you have the patience for that, kudos to you.  I do NOT have the ability to do that kind of thing by hand, so I always machine-quilt my pieces.  Side note: I typically use a regular 1/4" presser foot for quilting straight lines.  I have used a walking foot too, but really I don't see any difference in the quality of the quilting.  There's lots of debate research out there about regular vs. walking foot quilting.  Just do what you want.  It'll be OK.
Basically, you'll take your 3-layer basted quilt, and feed it through the machine, stitching in a pattern of some sort over the entire quilt.  There are a variety of pattern options out there.  Caitlin chose "stitch in the ditch," which means she sewed straight lines in each of the seams.  It doesn't really stand out on the front (because it's in the ditch, silly), but it shows up on the back.  I think that is a fun choice for a wonky log cabin quilt, because it adds some wonkiness to the back of the quilt too.  Just make sure you backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam - you don't want your masterpiece to unravel.

Others have decided on straight lines in a grid pattern - shows up more on the front and makes the quilt look "quilty" from both sides.  I'm a sucker for a soft, awesome quilty-quilt.  The more lines you stitch, the more quilty it'll look. 
You have tons of options - sewing a line down the middle of each strip, quilting a diamond or triangle grid pattern, only quilting the middle strips or outer strips, quilting 1/4" off the seam lines ... and on and on.  If you're not sure what to do, look around at what other people do, find quilts you like in magazines or on blogs, or allow the shape and pattern of the quilt to guide you.  It's fun to come up with new patterns, but it's good to know that you can just do a grid too.
Another side note: if you want to branch out beyond straight lines, and if you feel comfortable with your machine, you might want to try free-motion quilting.  Free-motion quilting gives you more control over the pattern, and you can do loops, circles, meandering patterns, or words.  I won't give you the tutorial on that (because it overwhelms me), but there are lots of good ones on other blogs (like this one or this one).  I will say, however, that you need to feel pretty comfortable with sewing and your machine before tackling a big quilt with free-motion.  Maybe try it out on a few potholders first.
Quilt the entire quilt - some readjustment may be necessary in the basting as you go along, but that's to be expected. 
Come back soon for Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #6 ... the final step!


Gazpacho and the Half-Birthday Chinese Longevity Noodle

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a princess wait.  I got a little carried away.  The title of this post made me think that I needed to make up a children's book or something.  Not so.  Recipe first, then Half-Birthday Chinese Longevity Noodle.

Gazpacho (Cold Tomato and Cucumber Soup) - from Uncle Marvin of Maine
1 large can (32 oz) whole peeled tomatoes OR 3 1/2 cups fresh diced tomatoes
1/2 c. bread crumbs
1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. red wine vinegar (I used white wine vinegar - still good!)
1 very large cucumber, peeled
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 large clove garlic
1 tablespoon salt
Garnish: 1 chopped green pepper, seeds removed (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth.  Top with chopped green pepper if desired.  Serves 6.  (note: don't add the green pepper to the blender, as it will turn the soup a muddy brown).
*Add more vinegar and garlic - to good effect (according to Uncle Marvin)
**This was my first ever gazpacho experience.  It was highly rewarding.  

What does Gazpacho have to do with a Half-Birthday Chinese Longevity noodle, you ask?  Well, not much, except that both are eaten out of bowls, and both happened to me in the past week.  I was given this recipe for gazpacho last summer, after my parents visited Uncle Marvin of Maine, and was told that I just had to try it.  Well, it turned out to be a bad summer for tomatoes so we used them all in salsa instead of soup.  However, this year I've already collected a bag of tomatoes from the co-op I'm a part of, and since I had some cucumbers in there too I was inspired to puree.  That, and the fact that it was a no-cook, cold  option on a 90 degree day.  I highly recommend this.  Love the vinegar.  And next time I'll probably add another garlic clove or two.

The story of the Half-Birthday Chinese Longevity Noodle goes like this: my friends A and T lived in China for a couple of years, and introduced me to the notion of the Longevity Noodle.  According to custom, one must eat this special noodle on one's birthday - all in one piece, without breaking the noodle - to ensure continued progress of life without untimely interruption - er, death.  

I hope this video works ... here's a pretty valiant effort at eating the Longevity Noodle by one andywangduck found on youtube:

Well, our most recent potluck theme was Birthday, in honor of the half-birthday of yours truly.  A and T were kind enough to honor my request for the birthday noodle and produced a tamer Virginia version of the Chinese Longevity Noodle (and no, I didn't make it through without breaking the noodle.  Sorry, fate.  I promise I'm not trying to tempt you).  

A big thanks and shout-out to such great friends, and all the others who made my half-birthday celebration so much fun.  And most of all, I hope this post inspires YOU to connect two things that have nothing to do with each other, throw the word "birthday" in there, and write me a children's book.


Wonky Log Cabin Tutorial #4

Two of five class members were away this week, so it was somewhat of a catchup/mishmash week as those of us who were left were at very different stages of quiltedness.  So, what I'm going to post is what we were scheduled to do this week, which two of the three got to.

Review from last week: finish adding fabric strips to each of the four squares and trim them to exactly 20"x20".  Sew them together - 2x2 - and iron seams.  This is your quilt top, and it is now complete!

This week: Press your batting.  The supply list calls for 1/2 yard of 90"-wide batting - a long, narrow strip.  Our trick is to cut the batting in half lengthwise and place the two halves next to each other to form a large 45"x45" square.  If the edges you line up are not straight, trim them so they are.

Using a zig-zag stitch set to the widest stitch width you can, stitch the batting together along the middle.  Do not overlap the batting, as it will create extra bulk in the finished quilt - just slide the batting pieces up next to each other and feed them through the machine.  Also, take care to evenly feed it through the machine - uneven feeding can cause gaps or bubbles.  If it does bubble, try steam-ironing the seam after sewing to see if it will press out.  And ... tada!  You're done with batting.

The next step is basting the quilt, which does NOT mean marinating it in its own juices during the course of cooking.  It DOES mean putting the back, batting, and top of the quilt together and securing it with pins or adhesive spray.  I've heard this called a "quilt sandwich" ... think of the basting as the toothpick in the sandwich.  (wait, can you tell that I'm getting hungry?  A giant BLT sandwich on toasted sourdough sounds incredible right now.  Toothpick required). 

Press the fabric you're going to use for your backing.  Depending on the size of your quilt, you may have to sew together some pieces to use for the backing.  For this tutorial, you want a square of fabric approximately 45"x45" - bigger than your quilt top by at least 2" on each side.  Most fabric on the bolt is 44 or 45" wide, so you should be just fine and not have to piece anything.  (As you'll see in the pictures below, I am making my demo quilt bigger than 2x2, so don't be thrown off and think you were supposed to be doing twelve squares when really it's just four.)  Because of the size of mine, I had to piece together some green and white fabric for the backing. 

Lay this backing fabric right side DOWN on a flat surface (floor or large tables work great).  Line your batting up about 1" in from the top right corner of the backing, and spread it out evenly over the backing fabric.  Use your hands to spread out any creases or folds or bubbles in the backing or batting. 

You may have some extra batting hanging over the edge of your backing - not a big deal.  It's good to have extra in case things shift.  And you'll always go back at the end and trim things up.  So, just leave it.

One more step to make your quilt sandwich - lay your quilt top, right side UP, on top of your batting about 1" in from the batting.  Smooth it out with your hands, working from the top right corner.  Make sure there are no creases, bubbles, folds, or other funny things going on. 

Now to baste the quilt (which I did not get any pictures of, sorry.)  You can use straight pins, curved quilting safety pins, or adhesive basting spray (all of which are sold at some Wal-marts and all sewing supply stores).  If you're using pins, secure a pin about every 10" in a grid on the quilt.  Make sure you're pinning through all three layers.  Also, you will probably have to adjust both the backing and the top a couple of times during the process, as you want both to be tight and without any slack (this is why it's good to have a little extra wiggle room with the batting and backing fabric).  If you are using the basting spray, follow the manufacturer's directions.

Alright ... see you next week for quilting!