Monday, January 23, 2012

Mmm Chili!

I hated chili until 2 years ago. Really I hated all beans and because chili is essentially a tomato-bean soup, I by extension hated chili. When mom would make it should would leave out a handful of spaghetti noodles (yes she puts spaghetti in her chili) for me to eat with some butter.

On the day of my sister's sixteenth birthday (I know it was some birthday, sixteenth might be wrong...) I tried some refried beans and to my astonishment I didn't absolutely hate them. I wasn't going to go as far as to try some black beans but it was a start.

Slowly over the years I started putting beans in my burrito at Qdoba and then eating them in salads and now I actually like beans (minus pinto beans. I'm still working on that one) and have developed a love for the food I so adamantly despised, chili.

This is my absolute favorite recipe for chili. My sister gave it to me last year and I frequently make a whole crock pot full and eat on it for a week. So delicious and so darn easy!

1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn (make sure its not creamed! Everyone in my family has done this at least once!)
2 cans chili beans (I do one mild and one medium)
1/2 packet taco seasoning
1 T chili powder
1 t cumin
1 lb lean ground beaf
1 yellow onion diced

Open all cans and dump into crock pot (drain corn first).
Add spices

Brown  onion in a sauce pan before adding it to the crock pot
Brown meat. Add to crock pot.
Simmer on high for two hours or so before cutting back to low.
Don't be tempted to just eat it after an hour. I know it smells good and it is very tempting but I promise the longer it simmers the better it is! I give you permission to take tastes along the way but no more than that! 

See! Look how much it changes!

0 hours into cooking

1 hour into cooking

 4 hours into cooking

NOW its ready to eat. So amazingly yummy! And this coming from a girl who hated chili until crazy recently! I would definitely suggest the frito, sour cream, cheese combo.

I resisted the temptation to lick the bowl... but it was hard.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Thursday Book Review?

I was hoping that I could read fast enough to be able to post a Monday book review every week... But alas, today is Thursday and in case you hadn't noticed I haven't put up a book for the week.

BUT! To make up for it, I not only finished the book I was hoping to finish by Monday but I also read another one and started on a third!

First things first- For Monday I finished another World War II book called The Lost Wife. It was a very different side of the war than I have gotten in the other three books (guernsey literary and potato peel pie society (GLPPPS), the soldier's wife, and sarah's key). GLPPPS and The Soldier's Wife both took the viewpoint of gentiles in occupied Britain. They came into contact with Todt prisoners who were sent to the Island to work. In the Soldier's Wife the main character even hides a Todt in her attack hoping he'll be able to be sent to a safer location. Sarah's Key was written about a young jewish girl who was sent to a holding camp but was able to escape. This was the first book I had read that detailed what life was like inside of a camp.

The main character, Lenka, lives with her family in Prague. They are sent to a concentration camp called Terezin. Hitler informed the world that it was a "city for the Jewish." People were misled and told that it was a wonderful place where the Jewish people could embrace their religion and live in peace. The city, which was originally a fortress for soliders, was built to hold 11,000 people at fullest capacity. At the height of its use during World War II, Terezin held 55,000 people in terrible conditions. Terezin was not a death camp but was a work camp. Each inmate was given a job to do and if they failed to meet the guards expectations they were "sent east."

The Lost Wife was an eye opening story that painted a gruesome but beautiful picture of life inside the walls of Terezin. I was glad to get another perspective on the war and would definitely suggest reading the book.

As for my next book... I was done with World War II for a while. I didn't mean to get on a WWII kick and fought the desire to pick up the Kommodant's daughter as my next read (although it did make my list of books to read).

Instead I bought a book that I had picked up, perused and written down the title of while in a small bookstore in Vermont. It's called "The Dirty Life" and is about a woman who gets swept away but a young farmer as they begin a life building up a CSA farm in "The North Country."

The book confirmed my desire to one day live on a farm. Their days are long and tiring and if a single summer is too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry then its much worse than having a higher grocery bill. I'm not convinced I'm ready for that big of a commitment and that much uncertainty. I think I'll dream about a small farm with a few chickens (not the 100s they have), a milk cow and perhaps a few goats.

I would definitely suggest reading The Dirty Life but not if 1) you have any inclining that you might like to live on a farm and don't want to be convinced or 2) if you are extremely veggitarian (although I'd still suggest the book, you might want to skip over the cow, pig and chicken killing parts)

Lastly, I think Orange Juice companies have been lying to us! I don't get sick very often but I started drinking more and more OJ about 2 weeks ago and NOW I get sick. Not cool Florida's Best. Not cool.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ow. My Brain. It hurts.

Too many colors. Too many patterns. Too much thinking!

Piecing together this quilt is like trying to solve a puzzle with no answer. You know those puzzles where you put the squares together so that all four sides match with the pieces next to them? Its like that. Ow. My brain. I gave up and left it lying (laying? really I need to just look up the rule for this) in the middle of my living room.

On Saturday night I went to a friend's wedding. At the reception they had this really great idea of having a "photobooth." Really it was a photographer with all sorts of props so you could dress up and take pictures that you could download later. Our sunday school class was all there together and we got some really great pictures.
Isn't that such a fun idea?

Friday, January 13, 2012

The little pieces are making friends and becoming blocks!

About this time yesterday I was thinking "man this quilt is flying along!"

Then I started thinking... things aren't adding up. I shouldn't have this many triangles left. This is only going to make 20 blocks, I need 40. What's going on?!

I still haven't figured out what went wrong but I know one thing, I was too trusting in my quilting book. It was being very vague on what to cut and so I was unsure to begin with but I went with it anyway. I should have checked the math, but in the end, no harm no foul.

All that to say that I had to go back and cut another 30 colored strips and another 30 off-white strips so that I can have the 40 blocks I need. Pain in the butt.

But that's all done and I have finished piecing 30/40 blocks!

This is the quilt 1/2 way done. In the end it will be a 5 block x 8 block quilt. (Note: in the picture below the blocks are just lying (laying? this is something my dad has tried to drill into my sister and me since we were about 5 and I still can't ever remember which one is correct) on the carpet, not sewn together. So if they look a bit crooked that's why)

One thing I can tell is going to be hard with this quilt is getting the colors to balance out. Even with this half the quilt I had to do a lot of swapping around and moving blocks to make sure there wasn't too much of one color in any one area.

I talked to my sister last night and she goes "Why in the world have you watched so many things on netflix in the last two days?!" I explained that when I quilt I have some movie or tv show playing so I can listen while I work. I looked back and realized I have done some serious tv watching in the last 3 days (although I haven't exactly been a couch potato...)

I have watched:

No Strings Attached
Love and other diasters
Bed & Breakfast
Journey into Amazing Caves IMAX
2 episodes of Life (nat geo)
3 episodes of Bones

I think I was on a romantic comedy kick...

I would definitely recommend Love and Other Disasters and Bed & Breakfast. Both really cute movies. Currently I'm watching Play the Game, which I might suggest. Not sure yet.

Well I have a meeting at 4 and actually have to leave my apartment at some point today... so bye for now!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So many little pieces...

140 to be exact. 

Cutting fabric is not one of my favorite things to do. It can be frustrating when you slip and slice through a piece or your rotary cutter doesn't cut all the way through and you having to go back and snip threads. 

But I survived AND I learned the amazingness of a new rotary blade. Seriously, a new blade was SO nice. Its kind of like when you shave your legs (or I'm guessing like when you shave your face, I wouldn't know) and you've had an old razor for a while and then you switch to a new one. You know that amazing first shave? When you're like "Woah! I forgot my legs could be that smooth!" That's what having a new rotary blade is like.

140 pieces breaks down into...

8 (x5)       5.5" x 5.5" squares of each color
6 (x5)       2.5" x 7" strips of each color
40             5.5" x 5.5" squares of off-white
30             2.5" x 7" strips of off-white
140 pieces

Needless to say, it took a while. But now I am all ready to quilt and only have a bit more cutting left to do. Each of the squares will get turned into two triangles, bringing my piece count up to 220! And that's before any backing, binding or bordering!

Unless I get really motivated when I get home from tutoring, I think I may be done for the day. Not very exciting, I know, but I promise to actually get to some sewing tomorrow morning. I think I'm going to like this not having a real job thing.

Bye for now!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hmm... to quilt or not to quilt?

I became a bit more of an adult today. I went to target to spend a gift card and bought my very own ironing board and bathroom scale... and I was excited about it.

On another note! I drove super far today to go to one of my favorite places: Jo-Anns fabric and crafts. It's probably too soon after my last quilt to start another but I just couldn't help myself. I am about to get much busier with work, babysitting and thesis writing but I figured I can start my quilt and work on it when I need a break. No threat at all of it becoming procrastination material. Right?

Our couch just looks so sad with no quilt on the back and the only quilt I have in Nashville is a blue one. Considering our couch is brown with orange and red pillows that one probably won't work.

Don't worry. The blue quilt doesn't just get shoved in a closet. I get to curl up with it every morning when I do my bible study.

I had already picked out a quilt that I wanted to make. This is called both a candy jar quilt (supposedly the blocks look like wrapped candy... I don't see it... but that's what I'm told) and an autograph quilt. For an autograph quilt you make all the center bars white and then people can sign their names in each box! Cool concept. Maybe I'll get around to that some day.

Picking the fabric is great when you find the perfect combination but getting there is not easy. For me, choosing fabric almost always requires about an hour of wandering around, picking one fabric, putting it back, getting two others, switching them around, and walking up and down the aisle until I am finally content.

Usually I have to find one fabric that I really like and then go from there. For this quilt I knew I had to do something orangy-red but I couldn't find an orange or red fabric that jumped out at me. So believe it or not, for this quilt my inspiration fabric is the light blue one. It has orange, navy and red cherries (?) so I wasn't WAY far off from my target colors. After I have one fabric it's much easier and the rest just sort of fall in line.

Fun times at Joanne's Fabric
I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of my pillows did have a little tealish blue in it so the blue in my quilt won't be lonely.

The one fabric that I forgot to include in the pictures is the background fabric. (aka the white in the candy jar photo). I really didn't think that doing a white white would look good with these colors. The light color in the orange fabric (which is the backing as well as one of the detail pieces) is an off-white so I was hesitant to pair it with a white white. In the end I branched out and got an off-white background fabric as well.

Now that I have my big girl ironing board and my fabric has taken a trip through the washing machine and the drier I am ready to begin!

P.S. While I will keep writing about the progress of the quilt, I can promise this one is going to take me a while.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Monday Book Review

For some reason I have gotten on a kick reading books about life during world war II. One of my all time favorite books is the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is a series of letters to and from a journalist who is learning about life on the Island of Guernsey during the German occupation there. The next book I meant to read is A Paris Wife, which is about Hemingway's wife. Accidentally I picked up "The soldier's wife," which to my surprise was also set on the island of Guernsey during the German occupation. How weird!

The book I just finished this morning is called "Sarah's Key." My boyfriend's aunt and I were talking about books when I was visiting and it was one she had suggested. To my surprise, when I picked it up I found it was once again set during World War II! This time I escaped from Guernsey and instead was located in France. The book flips between 2002 and 1942 following two characters, a journalist and a young Jewish girl who gets taken to a holding camp in France. Usually when I read a book that flips back and forth I find that I really like one of the characters more than the other or one of the story lines more than the other. I tend to read quickly through the sections I don't like as much so I can find out what happens in the parts I like more. Not the case in this book. I couldn't put the book down on the parts about Sarah, the young Jewish girl, because I wanted to know if she would escape, survive, find her brother and I couldn't put the book down on the parts about Julia, the journalist, because I wanted to know if she would stay with her husband, if she would find out what happened to her father in law 60 years before, if she would share the truth with her family.

I'm not a night person but I was up until 1:30 last night reading. Very good historical fiction account of the French roundup. Definitely one I would suggest reading (along with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Soldier's Wife)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Quilt = Done-zo!

I officially love my free motion quilting foot. It is the coolest thing EVER. It made my quilt go from an average "Oh cool... you sewed some pieces of fabric together" to "Woah! that actually looks like a quilt! Well done!" and I owe it all to that new foot.

I quickly got the hang of stippling. You kind of just have to wiggle your way around and every once in a while pause to think about where you will meander next. I did notice that as I stippled I couldn't help but move my head around in the same pattern. I am so glad I was the only one home because if someone walked in they would have thought I was nuts. Although I guess I just shared that tid-bit with the world so now my secrets out- I'm a head moving quilter... 

My sister asked today if I had to follow a pattern and I am so glad to say that there is no pattern, just random curvy lines. Maybe a pattern will be my next endeavor now that I have the basic hang of it.

 Half way done! It looks like it would take hours and hours to do but I finished half of it in about 40 minutes or so.

Have I mentioned how much I like this free-motion quilting foot?


On my second half I started getting creative and trying to write things. I was shocked how easy it was! I swear my cursive in sewing is better than my written cursive! I hid words in different places around the quilt. I wrote "love" once and "Owen" (the baby's name) twice. The design of this quilt is so simple and uncomplicated that I think these tiny details add some complexity and craftiness to it that was missing before.

 I also started making hearts hidden in the design. I wish I knew how many there were. It could be like "Where's Waldo" of the quilting world.


I was stippling away when a visitor came and jumped up in my lap! Apparently she wanted to try some of my coffee.  Needless to say it was a bit difficult to sew around her so she didn't get to stay for very long. :)


Backing = finished

I was really not looking forward to the backing but I have to say, I think I liked doing the stippling way more than anything else! It just made the quilt look so much better and more sturdy. I'm really excited about it! But now for the binding. I really really really don't like binding.

At the point when I was starting to yell at the fabric my moral support came to the rescue. I swear, my dogs have frustration detectors. Brio started rubbing against my knees and being all sweet and loving. Then she sat herself down by the ironing board and just watched. Probably to make sure I didn't have a melt down. :)

I decided that I had better take a break from the quilt before I just chopped of the binding and gave the couple an unfinished quilt. When I came back, the binding was being much more cooperative and in the end I am not displeased with how it turned out.

I finished the binding and literally on the very last stitch of the binding my needle shattered into pieces- the middle piece flew into my chest! Ouch! I think its a sign from up above that both my needle and I were ready to be done with the quilt! I had read somewhere that stippling is really hard on needles, which makes sense because, I mean, just think about the thousands of stitches that make up a quilt even this small! If I were a needle I would be ready to break too!

Luckily I have a spare pack of needles because I wasn't quite done. With my new awesome free motion quilting presser foot I was able to make a "made by Claire" tag for the back. I'm still kinda amazed how easy it was to write in cursive with my sewing machine! With a normal foot that would be soooo much harder and would look way worse.


The front of my finished quilt!

The back of my quilt! (with the label in the bottom right corner)

And this is why I should wear shoes around my sewing stuff. I'm quite glad I'd left my shoes on today. This could have been quite a bit more painful.

Also, please ignore the fact that this particular pair of shoes already has a hole in the bottom. I keep meaning to duct tape it because my feet get wet when it rains but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Monday, January 2, 2012

PDFS, Snow, Quilts, and Puppies.

I just need a moment to rant about how much I really hate PDFs. Really, why would you ever create a form in a PDF? No one is going to hand write the form, scan it, and email it back in. No! I want to type my answers all pretty on the line and send it back in but instead I am stuck trying to make the font go where I want it to go and then I accidentally hit delete because thats what you do when you want to backspace and instead it deletes the whole thing and you are left starting over. Four times! I hate it. I hate it. I hate it! STUPID PDFS!

I do, however, like snow, quilts and puppy dogs. :)


Okay so you're going to have to take my word that it was in fact snowing in this picture... 


Today I started backing my baby quilt. I have to say, I really like working on this small of quilts. It makes handling them really easy. I was even able to tape the backing to the table which saved my knees the trouble of crawling around on the floor. Backing is my least favorite part of quilting. Actually binding definitely beats backing but I don't really like either.

I also haven't shared what my quilt looks like! Its a really simple 9 patch quilt that I made out of scraps of fabric I had laying around. It's for a baby boy so hopefully it has enough blue in it. I couldn't stay away from pinks altogether but I did my best. So, backing (upside down), batting, and finally quilt right side up. Then lots and lots of safety pins to keep everything sandwiched together.

Getting your finger under the safety pin to buckle it without A) poking yourself or B) completely shifting the layers of the quilt can be really hard. You can pay for a tool that helps close safety pins but I'm not willing to shell out money for a tool that dumb. So instead I grabbed a crochet hook out of my sewing box and it worked quite splendidly.

Many, many, many safety pins later and its all pinned together and ready for sewing!

 BUT... before I start free motion quilting, I have to learn how. In case you're wondering, free motion quilting is where you make pretty designs with your stitches to hold the three layers together. If you look at almost any old quilt they have elaborate and beautiful free motion designs all over them. In essence you move your quilt under the machine needle in the pattern you want your stitches to be. This method is different than "stitch the ditch," where you sew straight lines along all or some of your seams so that the layers are held together but the thread is less visible. You can also just knot the quilt, which is where you pull a longer piece of string through all of the layers in a few different places and tie them into knots.

The pattern I am planning to free motion quilt is called stippling and is supposedly a good place to start. It kind of meanders around the quilt. Because I wasn't about to start stippling on my actual quilt, I threw together a mini quilt (aka two pieces of fabric sandwiching a piece of batting) to practice on. Good thing too because I realized I have the wrong presser foot for my sewing machine and need to make a stop to the sewing store tomorrow.

So I started practicing and the front was looking great!

And then I turned it over...

Ya... its not supposed to look like that. I played with the tension settings on my sewing machine for about an hour and did some google searching to determine the problem. In the end I decided I need a different foot that has a spring to keep your fabric from bouncing around between each stitch. And that is why I didn't start out free motion quilting on my actual quilt. I would have cried if I turned my quilt over and this is what I saw.

Last but not least...


I have such patient dogs. They even put up with hats. :)