Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Bars

I have a friend who gave me a useful tip pertaining to grocery shopping.  I was lamenting how my husband could go to the store with a list but sometimes forgot a couple things, including, invariably, the thing I needed most.

She said she'd been there, and her solution was to add a few random extra items to the list before handing it over to her husband.  That way, hopefully, whatever he forgot wouldn't be the thing needed most.  She said it seemed to work, and I'm no mathematician, but it made sense to me.

However, it didn't factor into account buying the wrong item, which is what happened when "canned pumpkin" on the list became this:

As you probably know, pumpkin pie mix, or pumpkin pie filling, is different from canned pumpkin in that it already contains the sugar and spices and whatnot.  I have never used it, preferring to add my own level of sweetness and spice mixture to my holiday pie. Call me a control freak.

We did get plain old canned pumpkin in time for Thanksgiving and put the pie filling on the pantry shelf along with the receipt so we could return it sometime.

However, I got bored an idea on Friday for using the can of pie filling to make something other than pie.  How about cookies?  I added a bit of this and that to the pie filling and then changed my mind while stirring it together because the consistency was looking more like cake batter than cookies.  I am known to take the path of least resistance, and thus I settled for dumping it all into a 9-inch pan and hoping for pumpkin cake.

When my timer went off at 25 minutes, I checked it.  The center was still  mushy.  Maybe another six minutes?  Nope, still gooey.  I set and re-set the timer three or four more times.  Ultimately, I took it out after about 46 minutes, when the toothpick test finally came up clean.

By that time, I had begun to lose confidence in how this concoction was going to taste.  Nevertheless, I let it cool while I went and took a nap.  Baking is hard work.

As I cut into it later, I noticed it didn't have the kind of "crumb" a cake has.  It had more the consistency of pie...but not quite.  The texture was kind of a cross between the two.  What would you call that?

Not quite pie, yet not quite cake.  Cie?  Pake?

How about bars.  Bars works.

And, lo and behold, they tasted great!  This morning, they were just as good and maybe even better.  (Disregard the fact that I've just called them great/good/better, in that order, in the space of two sentences.  This food gig is not my usual terrain.)  It stayed well set up and the flavors melded nicely. There's some foodie verbiage for you.

I can see this type of bar appealing to folks who like pumpkin pie but not particularly the crust.  Do you have any of those in your family?  I do.  Maybe it's genetic.

So I'm memorializing the recipe here, in case anyone has a can of pumpkin pie mix lying around, or in the event I end up with one again sometime. If you don't need it to be gluten-free, you could probably use 2 cups of regular flour plus the baking soda, but I'm not sure how that might affect the texture.**  Maybe it would end up more like cake and less like pie, or maybe you'd be able to make those cookies.  If you try it, let me know.

**Edited to Add:  Marei made these and had this to say:

"These bars came out wonderfully.  I used regular flour and about 1.5 tsp. of baking soda.  I actually think I'd drop that down to no more than a tsp.  The crumb was very moist and the texture was a cross between a 'regular' pumpkin bar and a cake-y thing.  I liked it a lot and will use this again next time I buy the wrong pumpkin.  Oh...I would also add in a dash of salt and some vanilla...just because I like vanilla."

Thanks, Marei!

Pumpkin Pie Bars (Gluten-Free)

1 can Libby's pumpkin pie mix (not canned pumpkin)
1 large egg
1/4 c. soft butter (I used ghee)
2 c. gluten-free flour mix as follows, stirred together in a small bowl:
    1 c. almond flour
    1/4 c. coconut flour
    1/4 c. tapioca flour
    Scant 1/2 c. sorghum flour
    1/4 t. xanthan gum
    2 t. baking soda
1/4 c. chopped pecans
1/4 c. chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Stir the gluten-free flour mixture together in a small bowl.  In a large bowl, stir the pumpkin pie mix, egg, and butter together until well mixed.  Add the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Pour into baking pan and top with pecans and chocolate chips.  Bake 40-45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool before cutting.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Starts and Finishes

Getting ready for Thanksgiving here.  

Two gluten-free pie crusts ready and in the freezer, check.

Ducks out of the freezer and thawing, check.

Dad bagged these wood ducks (and a few more) this hunting season.  How about his XXX rating?  Triple X means they're in great condition, as in there are probably no shot pellets in the breast meat and all the parts are intact, etc.  The other end of the spectrum in his labeling system is "GA."  If you are gifted a package of wild duck or goose that says GA, he will tell you it means "Good to Average" (which may be true), but to him it means "Give Away."  Sorry, Dad, if I just busted you, but it is pretty funny.

(Image Source)
My sister will be bringing the turkey.  Norm is relieved to know there will be traditional domesticated fowl on the menu as well. 

We'll have squash in lieu of sweet potatoes.  I like both, but Dad had a bumper crop of butternut squash this year.  

He didn't plant gourds, but these hitched a ride in the tomato plants from the nursery and grew up among (and over and through) the tomatoes.  How long does it take gourds to dry, do you know?  These have been sitting since early September but they're still pretty solid feeling.  Remember when you dried gourds in grade school and they became nature's maracas?  Maybe you need an old-fashioned radiator to help the process, none of this humidity-controlled central heating stuff.

I grabbed some strips sitting off to the side on the cutting table and whipped up another kennel quilt for the animal surgery clinic.  I'm repurposing my daughter's old scrubs for these.

I did free-motion wavy quilting down the seam lines.  I asked my daughter how these were holding up through washings, etc., and she said "surprisingly well."  Guess I better churn out a few more then.

I also finished the borders on the improv corduroy quilt.  I used up all the red corduroy and almost all the blue in the process of bordering it.  You know what?  I really like it!

Not sure how to go about quilting it yet.  I think I want to keep it simple, whatever form that may take.  Feel free to volunteer ideas, if you have any.

I hope you and yours have a very Happy Thanksgiving!  And happy shopping, if you're into Black Friday sales.  I'll be home devising my Cyber Monday plan.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Sundry 11-23-14

It's not often you thank someone for making you feel small, but that's exactly what I did yesterday.  It was all in good fun, of course, an effort on my part to make conversation with the very tall, dark-haired, nice-looking young man shopping for groceries at Walmart.  He was 6'10", which gave him a seven and a half inch advantage on me.  It's rare that I have to look up when I'm talking to someone, brothers, uncles, and nephews notwithstanding.  It felt pretty cool.  And yes, he did say he played basketball, but I didn't get details.  Too busy staring, I guess. ;)

My current tall girl problem is finding pants that fit.  I recently logged onto to do a little pants shopping, only to find out they have discontinued their ultra-tall size. 

Now what am I gonna do?  As if the pickin's weren't already slim.  I haven't sewn myself pants in a long time, but I guess I'll probably have to start again.  I did find a pair of navy unhemmed pants at Land's End and ordered them.  They're just long enough to turn under a quarter inch, basically the serged part, and maybe squeak by—if they haven't shrunk already.  I washed them in cold and they are hanging to dry right now.  We'll see, but I think I will probably have to face facts and fine-tune some pants patterns.
* * * * *

I was pretty stoked to find this item at the store recently.  Gluten-free chicken noodle soup!  What?!  Noodles?!  That I can eat?!  In a convenient can?!

Wait, what is that saying?  Oh yeah.  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Notice anything missing from this picture?  Someone was apparently sleeping at the noodle switch.  There was not a single "whole grain brown rice rotini" noodle in the entire can! 

Faster than you can nuke soup, I fired off an email to the company, complete with photos.  They gave me double my money back at the store, per their policy, which was sort of beside the point, but okay, fine.  Interestingly enough, there were no more cans on the shelf when I went back to the store, which I hope was indicative of a product recall, not more soon-to-be-disappointed soup eaters.

* * * * *
Let's have some happy talk, shall we?  Have you been watching "Finding Your Roots" on PBS this fall?  Love that show.

Last week's episode included an exploration of actress Tina Fey's ancestry, which revealed that her several times great-grandfather was John Hewson, an important quilt textile maker during the time of the American Revolution!  How cool is that?

Link to Article on Hewson in Folk Art Magazine (p. 61-71)
In her inimitable way, Tina admitted she tried to make a quilt once, but apparently "didn't get the quilt gene."  You can watch the entire episode online HERE.

* * * * *
I eeked out a log cabin mug rug this week.  Still playing with the corduroy and flannel scraps on the cutting table, but I'm about done with them now.

My sewing mojo seems to be in a state of semi-hibernation.  I'm trying to be gentle with it and go with the flow, or lack thereof as the case may be.  I'm sure it'll wake up in due time.

* * * * *
What would a random post be without some music to play us out? I found so many interesting options this week, including:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Odds and Ends

When my daughter was visiting last weekend, helping me with the improv piecing, she also arranged a block of her own off to the side using some of the scraps.  I sewed that together this past week and quilted it into a place mat sized mini.

I have never free-motion quilted over corduroy and wondered how it would act.  I'm happy to report that it went well and actually seemed very normal to quilt.  I experimented with some very "organic" clam shells.  Norm called the whole look primitive, and I guess that's about as good a description as any!

I really like the texture of the quilted corduroy.  For the back, I used a soft wool flannel in a subtle herringbone pattern.  

So that's my experiment of the week and pretty much the sum total of what happened in the sewing room the past few days.

* * * * * *
Back in October, I visited my aunt, who showed me two quilts pieced by my great-grandmother on my dad's side.  

My paternal great-grandparents, Max and Esther (50th anniversary, July 1944)
The story was that Great-Grandma Esther had told my aunt and her sister that she would make each of them a quilt, to be given to them when they got a little older (and married, probably).  My aunts regularly helped Great-Grandma in her later years; they lived just across the street.

Unfortunately, however, Great-Grandma passed away in 1952, when the aunts were 16 and 17, and the quilts all but disappeared in the goings-on after her death.  My aunt was fairly certain that my great-aunt had taken them home, ostensibly for safekeeping.  

Over the next many years, as the aunts got married and had children, my aunt asked about the quilts, but for whatever reason, they were never turned over to her and her sister.  

Indeed, forty years passed before the aunts received their quilts.  After my great-aunt passed away in 1994, the quilt tops were found among her things.

They were finished simply for each of the aunts at that time by one of their sisters-in-law, with what feels like a poly batting and tied with yarn.  

Aunt Celia and her double wedding ring quilt
The double wedding ring quilt went to Aunt Celia and the lavender basket quilt to Aunt Mona.  

Celia remembered quite a few dresses in the scraps of her quilt.

My aunt told me that Great-Grandma sewed may things, including the Christmas and Easter dresses made for each of her granddaughters every year.  She also made baby clothes, and the baptismal gown worn by a good number of babies born into the extended family in the last century, myself and my daughter included. (The baptismal gown is a story in itself.  If I can find photos of it around here, I'll post those another time).

This is one of the baby items Great-Grandma made in the 1920s.  My aunt has a Victorian style decor and displays this year-round.

The confirmation dresses worn by two relatives in this photo were made by my Great-Grandma in the 1930s.

It was fun to visit with my aunt about these things.  I plan to go back there again and look through some family photos with her, which I'm sure will prompt a story or two.

I can't recall how I had heard about these quilts made by my great-grandmother; it was something mentioned in passing in the past year or so, but I'm glad I followed up and asked further about them.  It was a treat to learn more about an ancestor I'd never met whose legacy lives on in her handiwork and the memories of those who knew her.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Weekend of Improv

No, not the theater or stand-up kind of improv. I'm talking about improvisational quilt piecing.  Otherwise known as how to feel like a fish out of water.

Seriously, I have questioned my motivation multiple times over the course of the past couple days, as I limited myself to the scraps of corduroy and a couple other fabrics that I insisted on working with.  One was a thrifted plaid shirt fabric that I loved the turquoise-y color of.  The other was a wild card fabric, just to make it an extra special challenge.  It was some of what's left of the only piece of clothing from my late mom that I kept, which used to be a '90s style, poufy-shoulder-padded, slightly over-sized blazer that both she and I wore at various times back in the day.  I think I wore it first, actually, and handed in up to her.  Anyhoo.

Gads, I'm tired.  My brain hurts in a good way, like my usually left-brain dominant side has been in an arm wrestling match with my right-brain.  I think they finally called a truce, but it wasn't without some hair pulling and name calling.

And then—then!—I just had to make a video.  Mostly because I don't know how to put together a simple slide show and upload it.  It probably takes all of five minutes, but no.  Why do that?  I have to make a simple thing difficult (see above).  I had to make a video, including music, including having to download a program to edit said music, and then reading just enough help files to be dangerous and to figure out the least I had to know to do what I wanted to do.  That takes, like, all dang day, y'all.  If you're me.  Just sayin'.

I know a few friends who have less than optimal internet connections so probably can't watch the video (that I slaved over, ahem), so here is the quick and dirty print explanation.

A)  I played with some fabric on the design wall.  

B) I sewed some strips together.  

C) I pushed and shoved and willed the two parts to play nicely together.  I had a lot of self-doubt I kept having to shush.  I pushed and shoved myself onward.  I got things to a certain point and was, like, meh.

C and a half)  I thought about a lot of pleasant and interesting things during the process too.  It wasn't all the Darth Vader Imperial March.  I may do another post about the musings I had while trying to work things out and sew.  My mom and family...the masculine and feminine...Jungian psychology... And because I am a person who thinks about what I think about, I  pondered how we tend to ascribe meaning to things we create, or at least I do. 

D)  Then I had a nice visit Sunday from my lovely daughter who drove home to celebrate her birthday with us.  After we visited and had lunch, she came downstairs to play on the design wall with me.

Oh, you guys, it was so good to have another engaged and interested person to collaborate with!  Especially someone with a eye for things artsy.  She doesn't quilt but she draws for her own enjoyment and commission work and, well, she just knows things.  It was fun to hear her think out loud as we played.  Together we worked at it until we both were happy, and I finished sewing it up this morning! 

Would I change a few things in hindsight?  Probably.  (The old inner critic works overtime, I tell ya.)  But really, the end result is a little beside the point.  This challenge was about the journey, not the destination, as I reminded myself often.  A chance to try something different with a limited palette, use a lesser developed skill set, ponder, learn, collaborate, add, subtract, adjust, and carry on while muzzling that inner critic.  In those ways, it was a success. 

The video shows more of the process sequence, and I hope you'll give it a watch!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Puttering with Purpose

Since finishing the drunkard's path plaid quilt top, I've been getting a few odd jobs done around the house.  We woke up to snow on the ground a few days ago, which has since melted, but it's back in the forecast now as a possibility for the next couple days.  Before things got too cold and cruddy, it was time to get a few odds and ends done.

It's's's heeeere!
I finally painted around the basement windows (one primer coat + one coat of enamel = one more coat than I anticipated having to paint, but it's done).  Then I debated whether to put up curtains on those windows or leave them bare.  They're just your typical narrow basement windows near the ceiling and they don't let in a lot of light, but what light they do let in, especially in the winter, I don't think I want to obscure in any way.  Still, cute curtains in the sewing room might be nice, eventually.

Guard Pheasant says he doesn't need any stinkin' curtains.
I woke up Monday morning looking out some very dirty bedroom windows as the morning sunlight filtered in.  That seemed like a task for the "honey-do" list, as Norm's been off this week, but as it ended up, we collaborated and washed every window in the house straight away Monday morning.  I must officially be an old fart, because the resulting sense of accomplishment made me incredibly happy.

An interesting gluten-free beer I tried recently.  FYI, beer also makes you happy.
Next up is cleaning the light fixtures in the bathroom and ceiling fans.  I can hardly wait.

Recently, I found a cute red quilted jacket* at the thrift store which actually fit my long monkey arms.  For eight bucks, I bought it.  It was perfect for fall, light but warm enough for more brisk days.

(*Norm called it an "old lady" jacket on first seeing it, probably because it reminded him of what our grandmas wore in the 1960s, but I pointed out that it was a classic, if not current style.  Plus it was red.  He ultimately came around to my point of view, or maybe he just resolved to keep his mouth shut on further comment, but either way, I WIN.)

Trouble was, every time I walked into or out of a store in the coat, it set off the security alarm.  (And do you  know, not a single person ever stopped me?  I paused and waited for a while, but when no one came to pat me down or check my bags, I left; one other time, the clerk who had checked me out in line just waved me through.)

It didn't dawn on me that it might be the coat until about the third time it happened.  Norm was along with me and said he'd had a pair of jeans that did that and he finally turned them inside out and found a little wire coil hidden along the seam.  That was the anti-theft thingie, apparently.  He snipped that out and never had a problem after.  So he said when we got home, he'd give my coat a going over.

I saw nothing that looked suspicious myself, but he felt one of the labels sewn into the side seam with the washing instructions, and there was a slight thickness to it.  We cut the "label" out, snipped it open, and sure enough, there was the security tag.  Mystery solved!  Now I wonder if whoever donated the coat had had the same problem?

In other news, I got new glasses, which was no small feat seeing as most trending styles are reminiscent of what I used to wear in seventh grade, or the cat-eyes my grandma wore, or the safety glasses my dad used to have to wear.  Nevertheless, I came away with something that didn't make me look too much like Velma from Scooby Doo.

Well, okay, maybe a little.  Ruh-ro.  But hey, they're navy blue, which matches my eyes!

Sewing-wise, I puttered in the sewing room too, putting away the rest of the thrifted shirt stash and generally cleaning up the mess of scraps, etc. 

This led to me experimenting with an idea for the curved shirt tails I'd cut off the shirts.  What if I overlapped them and then gathered the edge?  Might it not make a cute scalloped ruffle for, say, an apron or curtains?

Maybe.  I'm filing the idea away under "try again when you've forgotten that gathering ruffles is kind of a P.I.T.A."

Soon enough, my attention was grabbed by a small stack of corduroy scraps next to some odd flannel pieces.  I had been thinking of cutting the corduroy into long strips for a sort of 1600-type quilt that I would tie and use as a lap quilt.  One of my coworkers had gifted me the corduroy scraps.  But the flannel seemed to be wanting to play, too, so I started making half-square triangles.

First I lined them all up by color in long rows, but that seemed a little lot too OCD for me, so I started mixing them up, random like.

And then I proceeded to sew those babies together—as you do when you are procrastinating on other things.  I'm looking at you, "Tea Towel Challenge Quilt 2014."  All in good time, my pretty, all in good time.

Not sure if the corduroy/flannel diversion will end up being a small wall quilt more or less as it is, or if I want to add a border or two, or if it may be the start of a medallion type quilt.  It's a humble beginning, and I'm okay with that.

Because you know I'm all about that base (and bass...I really am a sucker for a good bass line).

P.S. - I like this version more than the original!