Friday, September 30, 2011

Photo Friday: Handstitched Vintage Block Quilt

I finished this quilt last weekend after just a few short weeks of working on the top. I think I've gotten faster at stitching with all of the wedding dress sewing! The top is made with vintage blocks, so this wasn't actually that much work since I didn't have to piece the top together. And, the best part is that we get to keep this one! It will live in our living room and keep us (me!) warm during the cooler months.
Stay tuned for better photos and a peek at my next quilting project—and have yourself an excellent weekend!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Story Behind the Craft: Wire and Resin Jewelry from Kukla Studio

Elitsa is a jewelry maker of Kukla Studio who works with silver and copper wire, resins, and enamel. Her work strikes me as being incredibly unique—each piece is so intricate and detailed that it nearly demands to be looked at more closely. Here, a bit more from Elitsa about her work, all of which you can see right here.

Where do you live?
I divide my time between Sofia, Bulgaria and Barcelona, Spain. Maybe at certain moment I'll decide on one city only, but for now I feel good changing every few months.

What sets your work apart?
What sets it apart is the use of the material and also the use of colors I guess. I also like to think my work is more sincere and not a cry to be too modern or extravagant, or too contemporary.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration everywhere—in the things I see around, in nature, in my dreams or sudden thoughts. Inspiration is not something to be easily track down but I think it's the combination of what you see, feel, and where you are in life.

How do you balance your creative work with the demands day to day life?
I am careful to always leave some time just to try things out and also some time to turn off and not to work for a while. I've found that this has always helped me. After some time off I'm always with new strengths to work and with new fresh ideas. 

If you are a creative person and would like to share your work, email me to be considered.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Green Tomato Salsa

Green Tomato Salsa
Over the past week, Josh has made two batches of this since we had so many green tomatoes that just weren't getting ripe in our cool fall weather. We love salsa in our house and since it can be pricey, we figured that this could be a great use for all of that fruit—and boy were we right. This stuff is downright delicious, which is surprising since I never knew that you could do so much with green tomatoes. The original recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens, but we increased the spices to give it more flavor. If you are sensitive to heat, seed your peppers. (Also, feel free to fill your pot with green tomatoes if you have that many to put to good use—Josh did that and both of our batches yielded closer to 4 quarts!) We kept a jar in the kitchen after putting all of the others down into the basement for the winter and we've eaten this with chips and spooned on top of vegetarian chili so far. I can't wait to have it with scrambled eggs and with rice and beans. 

Makes 5-6 pints

15 cups chopped green tomatoes
2-3 Anaheim or poblano chiles, chopped 
2 jalepenos, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon pepper

1. Chop tomatoes, removing the core and seeds. Let drain in a colander for 30 minutes.
2. Transfer tomatoes to a large pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Let simmer, uncovered, for 1 to 1.5 hours, until your tomatoes are thickened (to a salsa-like consistency).
3. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. 
4. Ladle salsa into hot, sterilized jars with 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe jar lids clean and tighten lids.
5. Process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes (start timing with water is boiling). Remove from pot and place on wire racks to cool.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Photo Friday: Outtake from a Photo Shoot

Yesterday I had a photo shoot at work, which meant getting to look at pretty pictures of food all day and tweak and adjust until we got each shot just right. I've always loved shoots because they are a huge collaboration, I love seeing recipes and projects come to life in the hands of a stylist and a photographer, and it's a nice break from being at a desk.
But yesterday came with an even sweeter bonus: a barnyard puzzle! One of the food stylists made this over lunch for her grandkids. I find this to be completely adorable and I just have to assume that any kid would love to have this as an activity/snack. So sweet!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: What's Growing (and Eating), Late Sept

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guest Posting on Ktmade

If you want to hear the story of my recent culinary adventure making (or trying to!) gluten free ravioli, pop over to Katie's blog for my guest post. It's part recipe, part story, part effort to share the truth of what happens in the kitchens of even professional foodies (hint: it's not all perfectly styled photos!). Enjoy!

Monday, September 19, 2011

End of Summer Vegetable Risotto with Tomatoes and Feta

Fall is definitely coming (ahem, here), but that doesn't mean that we're quite ready to transition to fall root vegetables and squashes. Despite the recent cold snap, we still have tomatoes and summer squash, which mean that there is still time to make this delicious risotto. The tomatoes are key here. They add a load of flavor (which means you don't have to add a load of butter). So use good fresh ones if you can get them, or experiment with a high quality canned version. Most of all, take the time to stand, stir, and enjoy the smells of the seasons changing.

P.S. I originally posted this on last summer, but since the magazine was closed and this is one of my favorite all time recipes, I wanted to be sure to share it with you here. You're welcome!

End of Summer Vegetable Risotto with Tomatoes, Herbs and Feta
This is more a method than a specific recipe—it's highly variable based on the moisture content of the tomatoes—so my best advice is to stay close to the stove during the process and trust your instincts.
Serves 4-6

2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/2 of an onion, diced
1 lb arborio rice
1/2 of a quart of chicken stock (this may vary- I had a quart box at the ready but only used about half)
3-4 big tomatoes, diced (this depends on the size and how juicy they are- I used three that were about softball sized)
2-3 cups summer squash or zucchini (depending on how much you like veggies)
2 T each fresh thyme and rosemary, finely chopped
1/2 c feta
2 T fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a deep saute pan or a stock pot—I used a pasta pot since I knew I was adding lots of veggies and would need space. Add the diced onion and a dash of salt and stir to combine. When the onion is just starting to get translucent (about 2 minutes), add in your rice and stir to coat.
2. Add a few ladles of stock and half of your tomatoes, let cook until liquid is absorbed. Repeat, adding a bit of stock and more tomatoes stirring often, until you've added all of your tomatoes. As the tomatoes cook they will start to release their juices—stay close to make sure this happens before you hear sizzling...that is your cue to add a bit more stock. Keep stirring.
3. Add in your squash and stir frequently to keep your rice from sticking. (I know this seems laborious, but hang in there!) Watch as the veggies continue to cook, adding liquid as you need it (I didn't need the stock except in the beginning since the tomatoes I used were so juicy). When the rice starts to look done—the outside will turn a softer shade of white, which will spread to the entire grain as it cooks—start testing the rice by eating a piece. Keep testing every few minutes...and stirring.
4. When the rice is nearly done, but still a little firm in the middle, stir in the rosemary and thyme. Continue stirring very often as there is likely enough liquid to keep everything simmering, but not enough to prevent it from scorching if you walk away. Don't walk away!
5. When the rice is done (a little al dente, but mostly soft), stir in the basil, feta, and salt and pepper to taste. Turn the stove off, put the lid on the pot, and let it rest for about 10 minutes so that the flavors combine. Serve topped with Parmesan.

Friday, September 16, 2011

2012 Calendars from Leah Duncan

 I've loved Leah Duncan's work for a while now and I have one of her tea towels (hung on a wall for fear of getting it dirty:) and a print in my house. 

 She just released her 2012 calendars and this 12 Month Calendar is a stunner.

I'm pretty sure that this will be coming to live with me in my home office.

Happiest weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Story Behind the Craft: Whimsical Paintings from Andrea Doss

I'm so excited and thrilled by both the artwork and the story behind today's post that I'm just going to let the post speak (mostly for itself). Andrea's energy is infectious, so I hope that by hearing a bit about her life and what drives her creativity, you'll find a little more inspiration in your own day. If you have a story and a craft that you'd like to share, email me at thingswemake at gmail dot com!

Name: Andrea Doss

Where do you live? 
Home of cattle drives, stockyards and bumper-to-bumper traffic, we call Fort Worth, Texas home. We love the unusual combination of country and city life that we get here. Where else can you walk out your door and see cow pastures on one side and the sky scraper city line on the other? 

Is this your full time work? 
Yes, painting is one of my full time jobs. Along with chasing my two-year-old around the house, home schooling my nine-year-old and folding the heaps of never ending laundry that somehow multiply when I'm not looking.


How did you learn to make this style of art
I've been painting for years and I've tried all kinds of styles, from traditional realism to abstract modern. While I enjoy those styles and can appreciate their beauty, it was something I had to force. Then one day, my daughter wanted me to paint something for her. She helped me with the concept, gave me input on the colors and characters, and before I knew it, I had painted a mermaid. My daughter was more than thrilled and I realized that I really REALLY liked painting in that style. I haven't stopped since.

What sets your work apart? 
Storytelling. Every painting has a little story to go with it (usually invented my daughters). The characters in my paintings are all in the middle of some kind of adventure or mischief.

Where do you find your inspiration? 
I've been telling stories to my nieces and nephews, and now my daughters, for years. Painting is just an extension of that storytelling. I also get lots of inspiration from my nine-year-old. She has a very active imagination. 

How do you make time for your creativity?
I get lots of help. When I'm painting, my girls are doing something crafty, too. My kitchen is filled with crayons, paper, glue and boxes of glitter and paint. I've pretty much given up on having a clean table.

Tell me about the review process that you go through with your work and your kids.
After I finish a painting, they gather around to give it their personal, professional critique. This is the point where they inject story elements that I may not have thought of before. One time, after I finished a painting filled with barnyard animals, my two-year-old gave me the sternest look and demanded to know why there wasn't a hippo in the painting. A hippo? I knew I had forgotten something! 

Did you start these after you had kids or before, and why? 
Having kids changed my perspective on everything, including the way I view art. Kids look at art and they immediately love it. Or not. There's no analyzing, no trying to interpret deeper meaning, no intellectual debate about its symmetry. I would never have realized before my daughters entered my life how amazing it is to get a child's approval on something I created.  

Click here to visit Andrea's shop which comes in a range of prices. Thanks so much for sharing!!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Word Less Wednesday: Early September (With a Few Words)

 There was a picnic by a lake with friends after a football game
 We ate our ginormous watermelon and then made it into agua frescas the next day.

 Josh enjoyed his birthday Huckleberry Cheesecake with huckleberries all the way from Montana.

And of course he also canned more beets. He's been volunteering at our CSA farm and coming home with crates of them, so I'm delighted that he's putting them to good use.

(I thought I might mix up this Wordless Wednesday business by sharing a few words.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Home Canned Applesauce with Cinnamon and Honey

One of our goals for the weekend—in addition to finding some friends with whom to eat our enormous watermelon—was to make applesauce. We have quite a stock of canned foods to enjoy this winter and when we realized how inexpensive apples are right now at the farmer's market, we knew this had to happen. 
Bright and early Saturday morning we hit the market. We got our eggs from Blue Gate Farm first to make sure that we got there before they ran out (in my opinion, they have the best eggs in all of Iowa), then made our way to the apple vendors that we like. We bought 9 lbs of their baking apple (I was a little sleepy and have no memory of what the apple variety was!) at $1 a pound. And yesterday I set about making applesauce, which looked like this:

I like my applesauce very straightforward—just apples, skins left on, with a cinnamon and honey if needed. I simmered 8 lb of the apples, which I cored and chopped, with 2 cups of water in large pot until they started to break down. I had the lid on and only removed it to stir. When things started looking like applesauce after about 30 minutes, I turned off the heat and tasted it to make sure that there was enough cinnamon and to see about the sweetness. I decided to add 1/2 cup of honey to help balance the flavors.

While all of that was happening, I sterilized and prepped my pint jars. I filled 8 of them, with about 1/2 in an overflow jar that's in the fridge (and I am sure will be gone by the time you read this!). I processed them in a boiling water bath in our trusty and huge Ball canning pot for 15, then removed them and waited for the lovely sound of the lids popping.

The filled jars wound up being about $1 a piece, which I think is a pretty good margin for a relatively low amount of effort on my part. And if you are finding yourself scoffing at what I'm calling minimal effort, know that I rather enjoy leisurely chopping and stirring and compared to my limited experience with jam or pickles, this is a very good entry into canning.

Josh loves applesauce with peanut butter on pancakes. I like it for dessert or on top of oatmeal. Between the two of us, I am sure we're going to go through the jars rather quickly, which is why I'm thinking we'll do another batch before the fall is over.

I've never lived in a house with two shelves filled with home canned goods, or a freezer filled with summer vegetables and pesto, but it's already making me feel a little better about the approaching cooler weather. Because I am realizing that even though I will be freezing in a few months, I will have delicious pickled beets (or pickles, or strawberry rhubarb jam, or green beans) to enjoy, and somehow that makes me feel a little bit better.

Friday, September 9, 2011

This is My Wish from Freya Art & Design

One of my very first friends that I made when I moved to Des Moines gave us this lovely card—This Is My Wish from Freya Art & Design—for our wedding. It's 5x7 and I love the sentiment and imagery so much that it's become a fixture on my desk. I'm also glad that the card introduced me to Freya's shop as I am sure that much of her work would make perfect gifts for many in my life. Hope on over and take a peak at her full line of cards. prints and gift.

On the subject of happiness, as the card would have it...
For me, sometimes that just means slowing down to realize that I am in fact happy right at this very moment when otherwise I would have been moving too quickly to even acknowledge it. Especially on weekends, when I sometimes get bogged down with housework. Or during the day when there is a lot to multitask. Last week when we were driving in circles trying to find a turn off towards a campground, with a windshield that was continually fogging up from the low-lying fog, and an inability to find a place to buy water, we saw a rainbow. I can't tell you the last time that I saw one. It must have been years and years. But holy cow it amazing. It pulled me right into that moment of feeling that the world, despite all of our day to day frustrations, is always right there to offer up something stunning. And everything felt okay again. I mean who needs to find water when there's a rainbow in the sky!

So with that, I wish you an excellent weekend filled with small moments of happiness.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Farm Tour and Tomato Tasting at Grinnell Heritage Farm

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fresh Tomato Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Fresh Tomato Salad with Roasted Vegetables
A few weeks ago I made this Fresh Tomato Sauce for and over the weekend I was inspired to take it up a few notches by turning it into a stand alone salad. You do need to turn the oven on, but with the feeling-like-fall temperatures, that shouldn't be an issue. I recommend making this while you still have some delicious tomatoes on hand—and eating it on a porch with your feet up.
5-6 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped into chunks
1 large handful basil, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together into a large bowl and let sit while you prep the roasted veggies. Preheat your oven to 400 F.

2 bell peppers, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 eggplant, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3-4 small to medium potatoes, diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Spray a foil-lined baking sheet (or two) with nonstick spray. Spread out your veggies and potatoes and sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast until tender, about 20-30 minutes (though this will vary depending on your vegetables—check every 5 minutes after 20, shaking the pan to make sure things don't stick).
2. Remove from the oven when tender and let sit for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
3. Add the roasted vegetables and potatoes to the fresh tomatoes and stir to combine. Serve as is or with tahini sauce (particularly the kind from Trader Joe's).
4. Enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Back at It: Starting to Stitch Again

Guess what? After my summer post-wedding hiatus from sewing and general craftiness, I'm happy to report that I'm back at it. I just kept reading books until the urge to pick up the needle struck, and about a week ago, I started working on this guy again. Made with vintage quilt blocks that I found at a local antique mall, it will be the first full size quilt that I make and keep since I started quilting a decade a go.

Did I ever tell you guys about that? I was living in Durham, North Carolina at the time, working for Habitat for Humanity as an AmeriCorps member. I spent my days hammering, building walls, painting, hauling random piles of stuff, working with volunteers, shopping for supplies at Home Depot and Lowes, and even digging holes for trees. It was a fascinating year, but the need for a softer side away from the hammer and nails and trucks was not lost on my friend Hilary and I. She taught me to knit during our lunch hours and we took an intro to quilting class on weekends in a nearby town.

A funny thing happened in that class. When we were given the assignment to choose fabrics and start piecing our design together, my teacher didn't agree with my fabric choices. I am sure that I may have overreacted since I was young (and potentially more stubborn than I am now), but I was completely irritated with her. So I stopped going to the classes. I think I missed the last two as I determined that I'd simply find a good quilting book and figure it out myself.

In some ways, I think that turned out well for me. My style of quilting has always been doing things that make me happy and not paying much attention to design theory or principles. I figure that if I like it enough to spend a year sitting and stitching it, then that means something. My technique has gotten better as I've had more practice, but the decision making and creative control continues to come from gut instinct. Which is rather refreshing and the entire point, if you ask me.

I'm about 1/4 of the way done stitching this guy and I hope to finish it this winter so that we can enjoy it when cuddled up on the couch.

Happy making this long holiday weekend!