Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pillows, pillows, and more pillows

While I've always appreciated how quickly a change of pillow cover can coordinate a room, I've never been a big fan of a pile of decorative pillows. My philosophy is function first, then make that useful item as beautiful as possible.

Since we're doing well with the tiling and grouting, I decided to go ahead and knock off some pillows for the sofa I ordered in red microfiber for the family room. I figure if I don't get it done before baby arrives, it might be put on the back burner for a long time and Savannah deserves a finished playroom of her own.

Pair of sofa pillows and covers for Savannah's playroom in Alexander Henry's Kleo on the front and Esprit stripe on the back. Removable with button and ribbon closure and machine-washable - a necessary feature for young kiddies!

I made the playroom curtains in Alexander Henry's Mocca fabric so I decided to use the coordinating Kleo and Esprit stripe fabrics for the sofa pillows. Both pillows are an easy 20" x 20" square and I made a back flap of fabric with a button (that Savannah selected herself) so I can machine wash them.

The back view of the pillow covers in Esprit stripe with the turquoise ribbon and bright red buttons Savannah picked out for the button closures.

I want a very child-friendly playroom with safe floor space for moving and playing so instead of cluttering up the space with extra furniture, I'm making floor cushions that are 24" x 24" for the kids to sit on. Savannah tested the pillow forms out at JoAnn's and loved the big ones best. JoAnn's is having a 50% sale on all pillow forms this week by the way, including their "Nurture Nest" U-shaped pillow form, which is identical to a Boppy (except it's only $10). Coming up next - two coordinating floor cushions.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pesto is the besto!

I love how easy it is to make a fresh pesto sauce at home. I haven't been able to eat store bought pesto sauce for the past few years now that my taste buds have adapted to the real thing.

Savannah also adores pesto and makes most batches nearly by herself. I should've known at 8 months when she used to crawl around and eat my fresh potted herbs (basil, rosemary and thyme) until there was nothing left of them that she would be a pesto lover too. Savannah won't eat my fresh marinara sauce or my roasted red pepper sauce but she'll eat pesto with a spoon as if it were yogurt. Here's our recipe:

Easy Peasy Pesto Sauce Recipe

1. Wash your sweet or Italian Genovese basil leaves in a colander and use a clean kitchen towel to blot the extra water off (if you accidentally use the spicy Thai Basil leaves, you'll burn your tongue and might swear off pesto for a year!).

2. Add to your food processor:
  • 1-3 cloves of smashed garlic (by taste and size of garlic cloves)
  • 1/4 tsp to a 1/2 tsp of Kosher or sea salt (by taste - you can always add more later!)
  • 4-8 Tb good extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-6 Tb of your favorite nut (toasted pine nuts are the most commonly used but we prefer raw walnuts and raw pecans)
  • and about 2 cups of fresh basil leaves pinched from their stems
3. Pulse together until well blended. Add more olive oil if needed.

4. Add to food processor some Parmesan (about 2-4 Tb or so) or other aged cheese (if you're vegan you can omit cheese altogether, or make it extra cheesy for your kids) and 1 Tb of canola oil (see below). Pulse together, taste for adjustments, and enjoy.

Notes: If your pesto seems to be missing something, try a few turns of the pepper mill.

If serving over pasta, consider adding a side bowl of freshly diced tomatoes when they're in season. The sweetness and juiciness of the tomatoes accents the pungency and saltiness of the pesto very well and gives you an extra serving of fresh fruit and fiber.

If you've never tried it, you might try substituting raw walnuts for toasted or raw pine nuts in your pesto sauce. Walnuts have the best flavor for pesto in my taste buds' opinion. In many Amish communities across America, sunflower seeds are used in place of pine nuts in pesto sauces.

Sara's secrets

When making pesto at home, replace 1Tb of olive oil with 1Tb of canola oil per batch of pesto. The canola oil, while having a higher amount of polyunsaturated fats, will keep your pesto from oxidizing (a natural reaction that many herbs, fruits and veggies have when exposed to oxygen in air) so it keeps its vibrant green color without turning brown.

It took me a long time to discover this and while my pesto always tasted great when I stored summer and fall's bounty in the freezer for winter (or even for just an hour in the fridge before company arrived!) it always turned brown on top no matter how much olive oil I poured over it. Now my pesto is a bright beautiful green without any preservatives no matter how long I store it!

Notes: You could also try using sunflower oil or safflower oil if you're out of canola oil but I don't recommend using these oils based on their fat profiles - extremely high in polyunsaturated fats and extremely low in monounsaturated (aka good) fats. I also don't recommend cooking with canola oil since it easily breaks down into trans-fatty acids when heated.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Labor of love - Nana's memory quilt

I've been working in secret on a memory quilt for my mother in law's birthday. This is my first memory quilt and the fastest I've tried to pull off a quilt of this size.

Smiling faces and poems for the front. And yes, this started out as five large disappearing nine patches. (Guess I'm on a roll with those!)
The back is pieced with a strip of 8" fabric and notes from her grandchildren. They are all cute messages, but I think my favorite is the footprint of baby Evan. That tiny footprint pretty much says it all.

Some details up close.

The practical:
My husband thought purple was her favorite color and I rarely see her without a Vera Bradley bag of some sort usually in purple, blue or green, so I chose fabrics in these colors from my favorite fabric designer, Kaffe Fassett.

It's lap size (50" x 60") because my mother-in-law is a knitter and while knitting warms up your forearms, it leaves the rest of you chilly unless you're sitting beside a warm fire or can knit while walking on a treadmill...

Because of the high recommendations it received, I used Printed Treasures sew-in fabric for the photos and artwork. I haven't had a chance to wash the quilt yet since I just finished in time for her surprise party today, but I've got my fingers crossed that all the positive reviews are accurate when they promise the printed fabric can be washed.

Savannah's picture in the quilt. She was most excited to have been placed in the same row as her cousin Abby - the girls share the same temperament; imaginative, creative, sensitive, affectionate.

The rest:
I really wanted to make something special for her birthday. As I started the project I realized that this was not so much a gift from me as it was from all of her grandchildren - their smiling faces with toothy grins and cute notes of love and appreciation for their Nana. That's what makes the quilt special. Really, it's all these little people that make up her legacy. I hope she enjoys it.

Things I learned:
No matter how alluring the thread-count and manufacturer's name, don't use tightly-woven fabrics for the quilt back. Even though it seems simple and plain to use a quilter's cotton or a muslin for backing fabric, it is easier to baste and quilt and hides needles and threads better.

Don't keep your magnetic pin cushion anywhere near your sewing machine. The magnet can cause your machine to go haywire.

Keep an assortment of sewing needles on hand for troubleshooting issues that arise with different fabrics when sewing. Sometimes the best needle for quilting is not a quilting needle but a denim needle or sharp needle.

EQ6 quilting software can be really helpful, when you have limited fabrics or time and can't "play" around with a design. After using it for a week, I give it an 8-star rating (out of 10) since it is missing some features that would have made it easier to use. Here are some of the designs I considered:

A modified log cabin - I almost made this one but thought I was too short on time. The heart in the bottom corner was an applique I considered adding, but it seemed to draw too much attention away from the grandkids.

Another layout for a disappearing nine patch quilt. In the end I decided I wanted the kids' pictures and art to be the showcase, not a more artistic design.

A straight-forward alternating square block pattern that I still really like, but was worried that my choice of such vibrant fabrics might not blend as well with this design.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Up for air

Between work work (my business), work on the house (renovations and projects), regular home work (cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, etc), and the work of growing of a baby (I'm starting to feel uncomfortable in my body), I've been running pretty ragged lately. Here are some of the quilting projects I've been working on (a few of which are actually completed).

I finished Baby Sophia's quilt yesterday. I've been working on it in bits and pieces between other things and finally had the chance to quilt it over the weekend and bind it yesterday afternoon. I really like the way it turned out. I think a baby would be fascinated by its bright and contrasting colors. I made a mistake in shifting the back fabric while quilting it together and had to piece together another scrap to finish the back but, that's what quilting is all about anyway, using the pieces of what you've got to make something different, whole and useful.

Tacked up to the design wall - can't imagine I ever lived without one.

Here's the back in bright pink and white polka dots. Very colorful!

I've also been experimenting with two different disappearing nine patch quilts inspired by another quilter's work. I've been trying to make one for a little girl who was sick in the hospital and has now recovered but I think it's too bright and cheerful now that's she's home with her family again...

Here are the squares up on the design board, just hanging out until I finish it up.

See what I mean - BRIGHT! BRIGHT! BRIGHT! So, I may put this aside for now and finish it for charity later or for another sick child. I will have to find another quilt to make for this special little girl so the next time (hopefully there will never be a next time but since the doctors don't know what's wrong with her...) she's in the hospital, she will have a warm, bright cheerful thing to take with her.

Here's another disappearing nine patch I started with some Moda fabric from a 5" charm pack. It's not fabric I would normally buy so I've had it sitting around my fabric stash for a long time. It might end up turning into a doll or bear quilt for Savannah.

One minute, you think you're a nine-patch...

and the next you find you've been turned upside down...

In the meantime, I broke my fabric diet and purchased a large amount of Kaffe Fassett fabric to make my next quilted wonder with a special person in mind. Kaffe Fassett is my favorite fabric designer and whenever I need a little winter therapy or rainy day pick me up, I just browse their latest fabrics. Plus, I found a new Kona cotton fabric line with a 200 thread count that JoAnn's is selling for backing fabric. I love it. It was hard to stop rubbing my cheek against it so I think it will be a great addition to a future quilt. Until it arrives though, it's back to home renovations. This weekend we tackle the basement tiling project...