Channeling My Grandma

14 Jun
A pretty quilting studio for me

A pretty quilting studio for me

In the last few months, both of my adult children moved far away, leaving me with a spare bedroom that I wouldn’t be needing in a while for guests.  They also left me with some old furniture–a student desk and a chest of drawers that I thought I could use in my sewing room.  On his last night here, my son helped my husband dutifully carry these items up to my sewing room.

Chest of Drawers with Maple Stain

Chest of Drawers with Maple Stain

Student Desk

Student Desk


A strange thing happened overnight….I woke up on a Saturday with big plans.  My grandma was not afraid to take a piece of wood furniture and paint it.  I decided I would do the same with this tired-looking chest and desk.    I would sand down and repaint the furniture to fit their new purpose, and make a cutting table for the sewing room.  So the first thing we did was carry the furniture back downstairs and out to the garage.  As we prepared to run to the home improvement store with a huge list, my husband Karl asked how long I thought it would take to build the cutting table.  “Don’t worry,” I said, “we’ll be done with that by noon.”    I honestly thought I could get that part done, sand the furniture, prime it on Sunday morning, paint it Sunday afternoon, and get the whole project done in a weekend.  Go ahead and laugh!

For the cutting table, we bought four cube storage units with 9 cubes each, some angle brackets and other hardware, and a large piece of plywood.  I had ordered a pattern cutting table topper already from Amazon.  We also bought spray primer, paint, paint brushes, and a 4′ by 8′ piece of foam insulation board.  Now, at this point in most blog posts, the author will say, “I did all this for under $50.”  Apparently, I’m not much of a bargain shopper, because my goodies cost a few hundred bucks.

After we got back to the house with our loot, we commenced building the storage cubes.  The first one went very slowly…we had some trouble identifying the pieces which all looked very similar except the pattern of pre-drilled holes was different for a side than a top or a middle.  The directions warned us over and over again to be sure to position the finished edges all on the same side, and I’m proud to say we never messed that up.  Now, in nearly 32 years of marriage I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been encouraged to use a tool.  Generally speaking, Karl likes to do the tool stuff while I read the instructions.  But since we had four of these things to put together, I did get to hammer some.  Here is Karl working on one of the units.

He knows what he's doing now.

He knows what he’s doing now.


When we finished putting the four units into a rectangle and putting the plywood on top, this is what it looked like.

A space to cut, press and measure plus storage for fabric and tools.

A space to cut, press and measure plus storage for fabric and tools.


I took the piece of insulation foam, and cut 2 feet off the long end, making it 4′ by 6′.  Then I used duct tape to attach quilt batting (80/20 blend in a bag from Walmart).  I used 3M picture hangers to attach my new design wall to the wall of the room.  If you ever taught Sunday school and used a felt board, this is like an industrial sized one of those.  My quilt fabric and blocks stick to it so I can layout the design.  It’s far preferable to doing it on the floor where I have help from the cat and the dog.

Design Wall

Design Wall

By now, as you may have guessed, it was past 3 pm.  I did get a bit of sanding done, and a lot on Sunday.  Karl helped a lot with the sanding, but I also did much of it.  So you see, I graduated from hammers to power tools with this project.  Over the course of the next week, we got the furniture sanded.



On Saturday (remember now this is 6 days past when I thought I would be done with this little project), I attempted to prime the furniture.  I say attempted because it did not go well with the spray can.  I would not use that method again, and I ran out after one coat. I expected to layer on several thin coats.  Since the paint I bought was paint and primer together, I decided to move into painting phase.  I shook up the can and when I opened it, I thought it was funny that there was no dot of color on top like they usually do at the paint store.  Well, maybe they don’t do that for plain white, I thought.  So I put one coat of paint on everything and left it to dry until morning.  Karl wasn’t home at all while I did all of this, so Sunday morning he went out to the garage to inspect my work.  “Honey,” he said, “did you know you painted that furniture with the stain sealer we bought for the ceiling?”  Yup, that is what I did.  Okay, so that was kind of a boneheaded move but it turned out to be a happy accident, because after that, the furniture painted up beautifully.  We let it dry all day Monday, and carried it back upstairs Monday night.  Here is how it looks now, with new drawer pulls.  I need to say that I was smart enough to measure the space between the screws on the handles, and write down the measurements, and buy the right ones and the right number of each.  Take that, stain sealer!

Refinished Chest

Refinished Chest

Refinished Desk

Refinished Desk


That’s my “old” sewing machine on the desk.  I use it for some things, mainly winding bobbins and stitching out paper templates.  I did buy myself a nicer chair (it’s purple!) and I’m madly scheming to replace my Wal-mart banquet table turned sewing table with a legitimate sewing cabinet.  However, I promised Karl he could get a new smoker first, so I have to wait a while.  But what a pretty room!  I don’t just have a sewing room anymore, I have a quilting studio.


New chair...old sewing table.

New chair…old sewing table.


Nine Patch and Snowballs

27 Apr


This post is not about food, but I think it’s my blog and I can branch out and do other Home Economics topics if I want.  I took a class in  January to learn to make a quilt.  Everyone in the class selected their own fabric, so even though we all made the same pattern, each one had a different look.  The class was organized by Sew Refreshing, the local quilt shop in town.  I learned a lot from the class, mostly about “piecing the quilt top” which is the part of making a quilt where you make the pretty top using one of hundreds of named block styles, or making up your own.  Although we discussed the remaining steps of the project in our class, we didn’t get hands-on instruction.

The next step in the quilt-making process is to select a backing fabric and purchase batting.  The backing fabric is just what it sounds like–a large piece of one fabric that forms the back of the quilt.  The batting is the stuffing in the middle that makes it thick, and warm.  My husband helped me put the three layers together using spray baste–an aerosol can of sticky stuff that holds the three layers together while the quilt is “quilted”.  We laid a piece of plywood over saw horses in the garage for that part of the process, because you want a well-ventilated area and you don’t want the spray to get on something you care about (like, say, your dining room table).

In the class, I learned that most people make their quilt tops and then send them out to be quilted.  “Quilting” is the process of using thread to hold the three layers of the quilt together.  Sometimes a quilt can be a simple series of lines criss-crossing the quilt in a diagonal pattern.  Other times, the quilting draws elaborate designs that may be even more intricate than the quilt top.  Since I undertook this project to learn new skills, I decided not to send my quilt out but to learn to do it myself on my own sewing machine.

Thank goodness for the library!  I checked out many books on machine quilting and learned many techniques, most of which I was incapable of doing myself.  I kept practicing and finally found some patterns that I could do.  Using my new Singer 9970 (thanks to my hubby for the Valentine’s Day gift), I used one of the decorative stitches on the machine to quilt in the corners.


That looked okay, but it wasn’t really what I wanted.  I marked the quilt top with a design that I traced from a book (library again) and found that I was capable of free-motion quilting this pattern.  Free-motion quilting is like drawing on the fabric.  When you draw with a pencil, you move the pencil and the paper is still.  With free-motion quilting, the needle goes up and down in one place and you move the quilt underneath it.  Your stitches may be long or short, depending on how fast the needle is moving and how fast you move the quilt.  It is hard to do.  But I managed to quilt a nice motif in the open blocks of my quilt.



While I worked on this, I pondered what to do in the remaining blocks.  I wanted to try a design that I could do without drawing it on. That is when I found my new favorit blog, The Inbox Jaunt.  Every Tuesday, Lori Kennedy posts a new free-motion quilting design with instructions for practicing it.  I found that I could reasonably well approximate her design called The Daisy Chain.  I had trouble with the tails, so in some cases I made a spiral in the middle of the daisy to lead to the next one.  In other cases, I created a double petal design.  Mine is not exactly like Lori’s (here), but it is organic looking and pretty.



Sewing on the binding is the last part of making a quilt.  Now, if you watch any quilt binding tutorial on You Tube, the quilting expert will say, “I usually bind my quilts by hand but people wanted to see how to do it by machine so here you go.”   Although I like to do lots of things the old-fashioned way, sewing by hand is not for me.  So, Iwatched a few tutorials and tested the stitches on my new machine, and finally was ready to do it.  I think my mitered corner turned out pretty good.



So there is my first quilt.  I made a second quilt top in a second class, and it will be my bed quilt when I’m done.  But for more practice before I get to that, I’m making a summer quilt, and a few baby quilts (just to have for shower gifts–there’s nothing going on here people!).

Braunschweiger Bliss

1 Sep

Several months ago, I bought a whole pig from Babes in the Wood.  When we buy pork at the grocery store, we all have a few cuts that we focus on…chops and ribs for sure.  When you buy a whole pig, you get some of those popular cuts and a whole lot more.  This summer, I was pretty busy with travel for work and a well-deserved vacation, so I made a “chore list” for the fall and here is what was on it:

  • Watermelon Rind Pickles
  • Braunschweiger
  • Ham
  • Bacon
  • Lard
  • Guanciale

Now that summer is officially over, I have begun working on my chore list.  I decided to blog the most interesting and unusual preparations for my pork, and the first project has gone from freezer to table in three days.  We made Braunschweiger!

Braunschweiger is a type of smoked liverwurst.  I grew up with it in the house (as a kid, I didn’t really eat it).  With a 4 pound package of pork liver in the freezer, I wanted to find a good use for that nutrient dense meat, and I hoped that the smoke, seasonings and other meats in this liverwurst would make it palatable to me.

Of course, Karl helped me quite a bit, but as per the usual in our house, I decided WHAT to make and found the recipe, and then I got him to do the hard part!  We used a recipe from Len Poli that you can find here.  We gathered our ingredients, including a grass fed chuck roast from Dragonfly Farms, and we thawed the meat in our refrigerator.  After it was thawed, we cut it into pieces that would fit into the meat grinder attachment of our Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.


We had a little disagreement on the next step.  I suggested we get up on Saturday morning, stick the meat in the freezer, and then have breakfast and do the dishes before grinding our meat.  Karl thought the meat would freeze too hard, and that we only needed to have it in the freezer for a few minutes while we got our grinder set up.  I won’t tell you who was right, but I will tell you that we didn’t start grinding our meet until much later than we intended!  It all worked out in the end, and our equipment worked flawlessly.  After we ground the meat, we emulsified it in the mixer using the paddle attachment.


The recipe then called for us to load this into our food processor and whip it up more…but it was already so smooth that the food processor wasn’t doing anything, so I would skip that step next time.  When the meat was completely mixed, we loaded it into our 5 lb LEM sausage stuffer.  Since we had about 7 pounds of meat, we had to do this in two stages.  We stuffed the sausage into fibrous clear casings.


Stuffing the sausage is not the end with Braunschweiger.  Next we had to poach the sausages for 90 minutes.  Then we had to put them into an ice bath, and dry them for three hours.


Here is where I would have stopped for the day, except that the directions suggested waiting for 12 hours to eat them after smoking.  So if we didn’t soldier on, we would have to wait until Monday to try our product.  So we took a break, did some shopping, and came home later to smoke the sausages.  The smoked sausages looked delicious when we were done.


This morning, I made the grain-free crostini recipe found in my cookbook, Gather, the Art of Paleo Entertaining.  For lunch, we loaded our plates with things we made ourselves:  Braunschweiger, bread and butter pickles, raw sauerkraut (get the recipe here), fermented carrots, and the last of my dilly beans from 2012.  Our plates looked like this.  Karl put some fermented jalapenos on his plate.

IMG_0192  IMG_0194

I was really pleasantly surprised by how delicious the Braunschweiger turned out.
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Thankgiving Confessions

24 Nov

I know it violates every rule of journalism to write about something in the past tense, after the excitement is over.  However, I needed to wait until the Thanksgiving meal was a “fait accompli” before confessing how it was done.  We had a “pretty paleo” meal.  It was definitely gluten-free, with more paleo foods than not, and with a “beyond organic” turkey from Polyface Farm.  We got so involved in making the meal that we forgot to take pictures.

The biggest dilemma for me at Thanksgiving is the stuffing.  My brother-in-law grew up eating cornbread stuffing.  I’m from Minnesota, and we don’t do the cornbread there.  Our traditional family stuffing, in the best hot dish tradition of the frozen north, starts with a can of cream of mushroom soup.  Word.  It also has wild rice, bread crumbs, celery, onion, butter, sage, and chicken broth.  My brother-in-law has learned to love it, and he requests it every Thanksgiving.  So, there needs to be a way to paleoize this recipe.

Let’s break down the ingredients and see what we can do.  Hint:  you are about to read my brand-new stuffing recipe for the first time and this is my original recipe…one I could legitimately submit to a recipe contest.  Second hint:  if you want to make this you need to plan ahead.

Cream of Mushroom Soup:  No need to use a can of god knows what here.  You can make your own.  My recipe goes like this:

  • Melt two tablespoons of butter in a pan.  Saute one chopped onion and a chopped clove of garlic for 5 minutes.  Add 1 pound of chopped mushrooms (crimini or white).  Cover and cook for at least 10 minutes.  Do not hurry this step…relax.  Drink a glass of kombucha.
  • Stir in 3 tablespoons of dry sherry and 3 3/4 cups of chicken bone broth–preferable homemade.  See you need to plan ahead.
  • Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.  Cool slightly and then puree in a blender or use a stick blender.  You’ll have a smaller mess with the stick blender but if you’re not careful you can end up wearing your soup.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.
  • Pour the soup back into the pan (if you took it out to blend) and add 2/3 cup heavy cream.  At this point, you could reheat and eat the soup or freeze it for use later in your stuffing.  Bonus:  I had enough to make a killer beef stroganoff recipe too, which will be served over zucchini noodles.

Wild Rice:  Make according to box directions and use the salt it calls for.  Wild rice is a permissible food according to Mark Sisson.  (Proof:  You can make this a day ahead (it cooks for an hour people, plan ahead I say).  Drain the water before adding to your stuffing.

Bread Crumbs:  There is no good way to make this paleo.  Just get over it and use the Gluten-free stuffing cubes from Whole Foods.

On the big day, chop 3 stalks of celery and one small onion.  Saute these in a large pot with two tablespoons of butter.  Season liberally with real salt.  Really let the celery get soft…it will not soften in the casserole so you have to be patient here.  When the celery is soft, add a tablespoon of chopped fresh sage and saute until you can smell the sage but don’t let it burn.  Add 4 tablespoons of additional butter and let it melt.  Now add your stuffing cubes along with up to 3 cups of chicken bone broth.  Add the broth a bit at a time and let the cubes soften.  When they are soft but not mush, add your wild rice and about two cups of the mushroom soup.  Salt and pepper heavily.  I had the soup heating in a reduction pan to thicken it up before adding it to my stuffing.

Okay, here is the secret.  Without the commercial mushroom soup, you are missing a lot of  sodium, and addictive secret flavorings like soy.  You need to replace those with something good, and something good is:  1 tablespoon of coconut aminos and 1 tablespoon of fish sauce (Red Boat Fish Sauce is good and you can order it from Amazon…invest in quality ingredients).

Put the stuffing into a casserole dish and bake at 350 for about an hour.

Verdict:  My brother-in-law said it was great.  He said it so many times I wondered if he was just trying to make me feel good, but when I tasted the leftover stuffing the second day, after all the excitement, I agreed it was good.

Leftover Stuffing

Leftover stuffing–gluten free goodness!

Truth be told I think this would make a fabulous casserole without the bread cubes.  Add some larger mushrooms and some cooked chicken and make a main dish.  Wild rice is a very starchy food so don’t overindulge if you, like me, have problems with insulin resistance.



Reflections on the Elections

7 Nov

I realize this is primarily a food blog, but it’s my blog, and I can write what I want. Don’t worry, I will bring it around to food but bear with me.  First, I want to declare that I have never believed in the idea of progress.  Ancient cultures did not believe that mankind was conveying itself toward some type of Nirvana.  Instead, they believed that things were spiraling downward, as in the words of Yeats: “things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”  For those of you who enjoy philosophy and history, I suggest reading The Idea of Progress, by J.B. Bury.  In 1920, he wrote, “To the minds of most people the desirable outcome of human development would be a condition of society in which all the inhabitants of the planet would enjoy a perfectly happy existence….It cannot be proved that the unknown destination towards which man is advancing is desirable. The movement may be Progress, or it may be in an undesirable direction and therefore not Progress….. The Progress of humanity belongs to the same order of ideas as Providence or personal immortality. It is true or it is false, and like them it cannot be proved either true or false. Belief in it is an act of faith.”

 Having established that I do not believe in progress, let me state that I now believe in evolution, or more accurately, devolution.  What is my evidence?  {Geek Alert}.  In the 1960’s a radical tea party activist named Gene Roddenberry dreamed up an idea for a television show about space travel. Okay, he wasn’t really a Tea Party Activist but he did hold some radical views about freedom and our love of it.  Roddenberry made a pilot episode which was deemed “too cerebral” for television audiences, so to save money he incorporated the story from the original pilot into an a two part episode called “The Menagerie”.  Before Captain Kirk takes the helm of the Enterprise, Captain Pike and the crew stumble upon the Talosians, a civilization that tore itself apart in a nuclear holocaust.  The surviving Talosians retreated underground, and became dependent on their ability to create illusions to amuse themselves.  Eventually, they began taking captives to enhance their amusement even further.  The Talosians capture Captain Pike and attempt to use him to rebuild their civilization by having him mate with another of their captives.  Their illusions place him in a Garden of Eden, with a beautiful woman as his mate. When they are unable to tempt him that way, they capture two women from the Enterprise in order to present him with a choice of mates.  Meanwhile, the crew of the Enterprise prepares to blow up the ship and the planet in order to avoid a life of captivity.  In the end, the Talosians are forced to admit their mistake.  The Keeper states:   “The customs and history of your race show a unique hatred of captivity. Even when it’s pleasant and benevolent, you prefer death. This makes you too violent and dangerous a species for our needs.”

 Do you see where I am going here?  Apparently, 50 years after that television show was written, humans are satisfied with a pleasant and benevolent captivity.  In the show, Captain Pike offered to establish trade and diplomatic relations with the Talosians, but they refused, saying that the humans would eventually learn their talent for illusion and would destroy themselves in the process.  Very prophetic!

 Here is the part where I bring this whole rant back to food and cover it all with a giant tin foil hat.  What has happened to change our society?  How are we now so different from the founders of our great nation, who risked their property and lives to gain our freedom?  Well, what if it has to do with the wheat and sugar that we eat?  I know that sounds like crazy talk. Can wheat rob us of our free will?  We have heard people say they cannot stop eating certain foods; we have heard that some foods are addictive.  Rats are more attracted to sugar than heroin.  When I tell people how I have improved my weight and my health by dropping grains, they usually tell me they couldn’t give up bread.  What if the Talosians had given Captain Pike a table full of pasta, pizza, and donuts instead of a mate?  They could have probably left the cage door open.  Oh, he might have tried to escape but after an hour on the run, when his blood sugar plummeted and he felt hungry and shaky, he would have trotted right back into captivity looking for a snack. 

 What do you think?  Is there another explanation for the fact that over 50 percent of us will trade our freedom for the promise of a shiny, government provided health care plan?  How is it that we can’t tell the difference between freedom and free contraceptives?  Why do we expect someone else to take care of us now and in the future?  I choose to believe that wheat has done this to us rather than to believe that we have moved in this direction on our own.  I know that eating wheat sapped my energy, made me sick, made me fat, and left me feeling that I could not accomplish much on my own.

 As for myself now, I will take care of myself and avoid the poison peddled by the U.S.D.A.  Apparently I will also be forced to take care of half of you.  Good luck with that.

The Talosian Keeper

Paleo Police

27 Oct

The Paleo Police came to my house last night to interrogate me.  In the end, I was charged with the following:

  • Not sticking to my 30 day autoimmune protocol
  • Putting cheese on my stuffed peppers – this is actually two violations because cheese isn’t Paleo and peppers are verboten on the autoimmune diet
  • Drinking wine and beer
  • Eating a Charleston chew out of the Halloween stash; and
  • Not keeping up with my blog.

Okay, I made it up.  There are no Paleo Police, but some people act like there might be.  I have heard and read too many people who say, “I’m mostly Paleo but I eat cheese” or “I try to eat Paleo but sometimes I just can’t do it.”  I think that Paleo is what you want it to be.  You need to learn from trial and error what works for you.  For example, I know that I can eat foods with lactose…cream, cheese,etc.  I also know that if I eat too much of those foods, I will gain a pound or two, and I know that those pounds will come off again easily when I go a few days without cheese.  In menu planning, I try to pick only one or two meals per week that might have cheese.  In the past, my favorite meals were things like Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Macaroni & Cheese, or Cheeseburgers with Macaroni & Cheese, so you can see that I have to really try not to plan every meal around cheese.

Last week, we had only three evening meals from the 30 day meal plan I have been following.  I needed things that were easy to make in advance, or that could be cooked quickly on a weeknight, so I improvised.  For the upcoming week, I know I will be very busy at work so most things have to be pre-made on Sunday or cook in the crock pot.  Here is the weekly menu with only two things from the actual 30 day meal plan.  However, we will stick with the “no eggs for a month” program and build our breakfasts around other healthy items like BACON!

Saturday:  Mussels with zucchini fettucine

Sunday:  Roasted Duck Legs

Monday:  Orange Braised Beef in the Crock Pot

Tuesday:  Skirt Steak Tacos

Wednesday:  Pork No Mein (with cabbage playing the role of noodles)

Thursday:  Chicken Enchiladas (cabbage has a heavy load this week as it plays the role of tortillas here); and

Friday:  Ridiculously easy Crock Pot Sausage Peppers and Onions–thanks to this blog which I follow religiously:

Finally, as we prepare for the storm of the century here on the East Coast, we can think back to last Sunday and the beautiful hike on Dobie Mountain.

Days 7 and 8 were Great

16 Oct

Okay, by now you have figured out that I like silly rhymes.   Sunday after the big morning cook-up, we took Greta for a nice walk near the river.  The sun, the water, the leaves and the dogs having fun made it a great time to enjoy some leisure.  After all, life is about more than just cooking.

Our pork ribs with sauerkraut were ready when we came home Sunday afternoon, and we paired them with a white sweet potato from our local farmer’s market.  No pictures were taken because we didn’t have time.  The sound around the dinner table that night was “globb, globb, globb, slurp, smack”.  This is what you want to hear!

Monday was so easy!  I just had to pull containers out of the fridge and pack them for breakfast and lunch.  Our Monday evening meal was another new recipe for us…Chinese 5 Star Lettuce cups.  Karl took a picture of the fixin’s. The meat was ground turkey browned with some Chinese 5 star spice, and I made a sauce out of tahini, coconut aminos, and sesame oil.  These were similar to the lettuce wraps made famous by some chinese food chains, and asian food is a favorite of mine.

So, after 8 days, we have liked every recipe we’ve cooked from Practical Paleo.  We like the menu plans, except I had to learn to do a little adjusting to keep things working with my schedule. 

Let’s walk more!