Thursday, May 28, 2009

Food - Banana Bread

My mother died when I was eight years old and some of my fondest memories of her are when she's in the kitchen cooking. She made everything from scratch and it seemed as though there was always something either on the stove top simmering or in the oven baking. Like her, I love to cook. Whether it is making a big pot of soup with some hot crusty bread or baking cookies for my grand kids. It seems as though I am always cooking something delicious for family and friends.

My earliest recollection occurs when I was a mere three years old. I had an Easy Bake Oven and we lived in Shelton, Washington. It was my step-father's birthday and I can remember baking him a birthday cake. Later on, when I was about ten or eleven years old, I remember baking my first loaf of bread. Quite an industrious feat for someone so young and unsupervised. I followed a recipe I found in Sunset magazine and being an inexperienced baker I decided I would simply omit the ingredients I didn't have on hand. I don't remember exactly what those ingredients were, but since I was living with my maternal grandmother and knowing she wasn't a baker, I can guess yeast was one of them. I'm sure it was a failed attempt but I only remember how proud I was of my first attempt at baking.

As I grew older and became more experienced, I advanced to creating my own dinner menu and making everything by myself to feed my father, step-mother, and siblings. Once a week my older sister Connie and myself got to pick a day to cook for everyone. We always looked forward to it and would look for some of the most difficult dishes to try. These weren't simple meals. Often times the meal included a dessert such as rhubarb custard pie, which was my dad's favorite pie.

I carried on my love of cooking as I became an adult and cooked for my own family. My children, their friends, and my grandchildren love to help me in the kitchen. Creating memories.

One of my kids' favorite is my banana bread. Today I baked two loaves and thought I'd share my recipe with you.

Banana Bread
325° 70 minutes

1 cup sugar
8 Tbsp butter, room temperature
2 eggs
3 – 4 very ripe bananas
1 Tbsp cream or milk
1 tsp Baking Spice
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Preheat oven. Butter loaf pan. Cream sugar and butter in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until combined. In a small bowl, mash bananas. Mix in Baking Spice and cream. In another bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add banana mixture to ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Add pecans and stir by hand.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake on middle rack in preheated oven for 70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan and cooling completely.

Note: I buy my spices from Penzey's Spices because I love their customer service and product quality. I use their Baking Spice blend in this recipe, but you could substitute cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice if you don't have Baking Spice.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Learning To Sew

Today I spent the majority of my day searching for a hand project to take to my next sew-in. It's funny because many years ago I did handwork all the time. Now I'm hard pressed to find something to occupy my time for a couple of hours since all my work is done with a machine.
When I was twelve, I remember finding a picture I liked of a small boy and girl walking up a spiral staircase holding a candle. I liked it enough that I found a piece of muslin and taped it to the window where I spent an afternoon tracing the picture onto the muslin so I could embroider it. I added a poem in cross-stitch and drew a border of children's toys. Of course, now days they have light boxes for tracing tasks but the window worked quite nicely for me. I don't remember exactly how long it took me to embroider the piece but I'm guessing it was a couple of weeks. I still have it and if I can locate it will post a picture of it.
I was the second oldest of nine girls and two boys so money was scarce. We lived in a rural area and I attended a school where there was about 100 students from grades Kindergarten through twelve. The graduating class was rarely more than three and often times there were two grades represented in each class. I began to sew because as a teenager I did not want to wear second-hand clothes. To earn money I hiked into the woods and peeled cascara bark. Once my burlap sack was full, I would hike back home and lay the bark onto tarps to dry. Once it dried, I could sell it to a business who used it as an ingredient in laxatives and other things.
Back then patterns were $.10 and $.15 each. I would buy a couple of patterns and use them to sew my entire wardrobe for the upcoming year. I became adept at modifying the patterns and adding detail so no one would know I was reusing the same patterns over and over. I did find another use for second-hand things.
I would create clothing and accessories from items I purchased at the thrift store and resell it to a consignment store in town. I made halter tops, floppy hats, purses made out of jeans, jean skirts, bikinis, etc. Back then, we didn't have machines that embroidered so I would add embroidery by hand to make it unique. I remember making a jean jacket using a blouse pattern. I embroidered rosebuds on the collar and cuff with a large rose on the back yoke. It looked real nice when I was finished.
Being well skilled in the art of sewing created problems for me in school. Because the other students knew I made all of my clothes they would come to me during Home Ec class for direction. Unfortunately, the teacher wasn't comfortable with this and she was very vocal about it. She was also our teacher for the cooking part of Home Ec and she wasn't any better at teaching us how to cook as she was teaching us how to sew. In any case, it was such a bad experience that I took Home Ec that one year and never took it again. Now days, I don't think sewing is being taught because of budget constraints which is unfortunate.
Although my children would sit next to me while I sewed, none of them have inherited my love for sewing and/or quilting. They all enjoy the things I make for them, but have no desire to learn how to do it themselves. But I have a mother-in-law who loves to quilt and we have shared a lot of moments enjoying it together. Maybe my granddaughter will be interested so I can pass along my knowledge to her.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Quilting: Musical Angels Quilt Border

A couple of days ago I was browsing in one of our local quilt shops looking for a print in an oriental theme for my Stack-N-Whack quilt. I know. I said I was going to use fabric in my stash and not purchase new. But, I had a weak moment and since I wasn't particularly happy with the print I selected for the sashing I thought I'd just see what was out there. Well, the owner of the shop announced she had stopped carrying oriental prints because they didn't move fast enough for her. Fair enough. I will just use what I have. However, as I was leaving I happened to find the perfect print for the border on my musical angels quilt.
I've had this quilt hanging up in my sewing room for over two weeks. Looking at it several times a day. Really studying it. Hoping the solution would miraculously appear. The problem is, I think I focused so much on only using Fairy Frost prints that the obvious escaped me.
Each time I looked at the quilt the color lavender popped out. The words and butterflies are both in shades of lavender. As I was walking towards the door at the quilt shop I happened to notice a lavender print with white lace-like butterflies on it. Perfect! Immediately, I knew exactly what I was going to do to finish the quilt.
So sometimes we find the answer to our most troubling problems when we least expect it. What a relief!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Grandmother's Flower Garden Fund Raiser

Previously, I've mentioned my participation in a couple of internet groups whose focus is quilting. One of the lists, I've been a member of for over twelve years and during these years I've built some wonderful friendships. Who would have thought, just fifteen years ago, that people would build strong, lasting bonds with strangers through this medium? We laugh, shout, cry, stomp our feet, and support each other as though we've known each other our entire lives. It is amazing and comforting to know we're there for each other.
One of my friend's is going through a difficult time right now. Her husband is need of cardiac surgery and the expense of it is overwhelming for the family. Initially, the surgery was being scheduled for September but two days ago they learned it must be moved up a couple of months to June. With the support of family and friends there have been various fund raisers to aid them with the medical costs but they still have a long way to go. One of the fund raisers is a quilt raffle.

Isn't it beautiful? The quilt was handquilted by my friend and machine quilted by another friend and both friends do exceptional work.

Please visit my friend's blog to learn more about the Grandmother's Quilt Raffle.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cranberry Coffee Cake

Yesterday I was so busy preparing for today's sew-in that I didn't have the opportunity to write anything and I still wasn't able to get everything done as I had planned. Oh well... So today is the sew-in and I made a Cranberry Coffee Cake last night before going to bed. I receive a lot of requests for this recipe and thought I'd share it with everyone.

Cranberry Coffee Cake 350° 55 - 65 minutes

8 oz cream cheese

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup softened butter

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

4 eggs

2 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 1/2 cups cranberries, or similar fruit

1/2 pecans, chopped

powder sugar

In large mixing bowl, cream cream cheese, sugar, butter, and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time. In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Mix. Add to batter in thirds. In small bowl, toss cranberries, chopped pecans, and final 1/4 cup flour. Fold into batter. Pour batter into a greased 10" bunt pan and bake in a 350° oven for 55 - 65 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before removing cake from bunt pan. Cool on rack and dust with powder sugar after it has completely cooled.

I need to finish packing for today's sew-in. I'll write more later if I have time.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brielle's Musical Angels Quilt Top

Today has been a pretty productive day. I baked two loaves of bread, did a little house cleaning, and cut some of the strips I need for the Stack-N-Whack quilt for Saturday. I still need to cut more strips, and I would have been finished except I got distracted.
When I begin a quilt project I generally design it using my Electric Quilt software. I like the software program because it allows me to scan in the specific fabrics I will be using for the project and it prints out all the information I need for traditional piecing or paper piecing, including yardage per print of fabric. Sounds like the project is three-quarters finished, doesn't it? Wrong... at least for me.
I seem to have this knack for designing the quilt in the program, purchasing and cutting the fabric, and assembling the blocks. This part goes quite smoothly. However, my problem is when I get to to how I want to finish the quilt top. How do I want to do the borders? Do I want to mitre the corners? What colors do I want to use? What about a pieced border? Multiple borders? If you're a quilter I'm sure you understand my dilemma. The borders can make your quilting project a success or a failure.
Now, you're probably asking yourself why is this an issue since I have already designed the quilt in my software program. The answer is that the software gives me a general idea of what the finished quilt will look like. But once I've assembled the blocks and put the top together, it may look completely different from what it looks like on paper. I guess it's the two-dimensional vs three-dimensional issue. Sometimes I think it also has to do with my attitude at the time. Much like getting dressed in the morning. I never select the clothes I'm going to wear until moments before getting dressed. Why? Because it always depends on how I'm feeling. Another analogy would be to compare borders to an artist framing his masterpiece. The artist may have a certain game plan in their head but when they put it into place it's all wrong and they go in a completely different direction. So how do I resolve this conflict?
Currently, I'm working on a quilt for my two year old granddaughter Brielle. I've been working on the quilt for the last couple of months and I've completed all of the blocks and am ready to apply the border so I can make my quilt sandwich and machine quilt the top. Initially when I designed the quilt I had intended to apply a thin mitre'd border in pink followed by a wider mitre'd border in yellow and finished with a dark french binding. But now that I'm looking at the actual quilt I'm not convinced this is the way to finish this quilt. To help me resolve this issue I hung the quilt up in my sewing room and have spent the last couple of weeks examining it, hoping to light my creative inspiration for that Aha! moment. Although I've had a couple of ideas, I have not had the breaking moment yet.
Below are pictures of the quilt top as it is now:
The fabric is Michael Miller's Fairy Frost in shades of pink and soft yellow. The musical angels are embroidered using several different thread colors and I used lavendar for the words. It really has turned out nicely and will look great on her new bed. My daughter has asked that I make some matching curtains when I'm finished. This could take awhile since for now, the quilt will continue to hang in my sewing room until I have the breakthough I'm hoping for.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I participate in a couple of online quilting groups whose members have ties to Washington State. For the most part, the members reside in Washington State allowing us to periodically participate in sew-ins or other activities together. This Saturday I will be attending a sew-in with some of these ladies which requires me to prepare so I'll have everything I need to work on a project for the day.
This leads me to today's topic. UFOs. Most people who partake in sewing or quilting are very familar with this term. I myself have several. In fact, I've spent all day pulling my UFOs out of their hiding places and organizing them to identify what stage they're in and what needs to be done for them to be completed. This forced me to rummage through my stash of fabrics to try to match it with one of my UFOs. Although I love fondling fabric, this can be a tedious process. Especially when most of the pieces of fabric are rarely sufficient to use in a quilt since I purchased it without a particular project in mind and probably only bought a couple of yards.
So, I continued to evaluate my UFOs in an effort to find something I could actually work on for a day without having to purchase more fabric. As I looked I discovered I have three sets of Stack-N-Whack blocks, a log cabin wallhanging, several heart pieced blocks, and several four-patch blocks for a baby quilt I could work on. I chose to work on one of the sets of Stack-N-Whack blocks.
This set consists of eighteen 12.5-inch blocks sewn out of metallic oriental prints. These were practice blocks I made over ten years ago and they've been hanging up in my closet ever since, waiting for me to use them in a quilt.
The one thing I don't have in my sewing room is a design wall so I'm unable to take a picture of all the blocks to post. But here's a picture showing one of the blocks with the coordinating fabrics that I chose from my stash.

Since the blocks are in oriental prints in shades of gold, dark blue, black, reds, greens, and coral, I had an easy time locating coordinating prints in my stash. I found a print in neutral tones that I'm going to use in the sashing and a black with metallic gold and a red with metallic gold accents for the corner blocks. Using two colors for the corner blocks will give me a four-patch with a double sashing which I hope will showcase the Stack-N_Whack blocks nicely. Although it's not pictured, I also have a beautiful dark blue fabric with metallic butterflies that I will use for the backing and possibly a border, if there's enough. I'll post pictures of the finished quilt when it's completed.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My Sewing Room

Like most who are into fiber arts, I'm a collector. A collector of books, patterns, the latest gizmos, UFOs, thread, and fabric. Whatever it takes to get the job done and is the latest craze. The problem with this ailment is that unless you're very organized, all the latest magical gizmos won't aid you in creating your projects.... if you can't find them. Or, like most, you forgot you even had them in the first place. This leads me to today's discussion: My sewing room.
I'm very fortunate to have a separate room to go to when I'm working on my latest project(s). I can remember those days when everything resided in a closet and if I wanted to sew I had to haul it out only to take up residence on the dining room table. Often times it took so long for me to set everything up that my actual sewing time was minimal and I either gave up on the idea of sewing or I remained on the dining room table and we ate in the living room in front of the television. But, the kids are grown and I have the extra space to call mine and make it my own haven. My Sewing Palace. Or, as some call it, Dena's Castle. Although my room is very organized, it wasn't always this way.
For me, there is nothing more frustrating than having to clear a spot so I can have a workspace or spending lots of time looking for everything I need for my project. In fact, my room had become so bad that I dreaded going in there and would often times find excuses as to why I couldn't sew. I had books, videos, and DVDs thrown into the bookcase and piled onto the floor. I had stacks and stacks of fabrics everywhere. They were in large 55 gal totes. They were piled on the sleeper sofa. The cutting table. The sewing table. On top of the totes. I had created a monster. I was no longer the queen of my castle. I had been slayed by the dragon. Everyone who knows me knows I am not a quitter. I do not acknowledge nor accept defeat. I was ready to regain control of my space.
The first thing I did was to remove everything from the room. Remember all the fabric I had? Well, it was all moved into my kitchen. I had 55 gal totes full of fabric in a row of eight long and three or four high in the middle of my kitchen. My poor DH couldn't even get to the refrigerator to get his coffee for a morning cup before leaving for work. What I couldn't fit there I moved to another section of my kitchen. There was at least another 18 totes and boxes of fabric on the other side of the breakfast bar. My own quilt shop! My next task was to begin taking inventory of everything. A tedious task, but necessary if I was to effectively organize my room. Once the inventory was completed, I then began sorting and identifying what would stay and what I was disposing of. Believe it or not, that was the hard part. And even harder was the realization that I had duplicate books and fabric prints because I had no clue what was there in the first place. There was even a few items I had forgotten I had... and a few 'Oh, that's where that was!' moments. Now the task of reorganizing my room began. Piece by piece.
Now that my room is organized it is enjoyable to work in there and I find I'm able to actually complete more tasks since I can spend more actual sewing time and not just moving piles around.

Sewing Room - Fabric, Files, & Documentation

I store large fabric folds in the white cabinet as well as larger accessories for my machines. Hard to believe it is full of fabric.
I purchased the lateral file cabinet from an office supply store at a huge discounted price because it has a very small scratch on one side. (It was less than half off.) I store patterns, templates, machine embroidery design files, and equipment documentation in it.

Sewing Room - Media Space & Projects

All of my books, videos, and DVDs are organized by subject and stored on my bookcase. I even had room for my CDs.
Additional canvas totes for notions and project related materials.

Sewing Room - Stabilizer, Notions, & Projects

Before I reorganized my sewing room I had a large box where I would throw my many rolls of stabilizer in. I was always having to pull all of the out just to find the one I needed. Now I store all of my stabilizer in this shoe organizer and can always see at a glance what I have and where it is.
The canvas totes are used to store notions and projects. Before I would buy fabrics and notions for specific projects but would forget I bought it or couldn't find it when I needed it. Now, as I purchase things for projects I store all of it in a tote and go right to it when I need it.

Sewing Room - Fabric

My fabric is organized by theme and colors while being stored in the storage totes underneath the window.
I built the shelf to sit ontop of the storage totes to provide additional storage space.
Additional notions are organized and labeled in the storage totes placed ontop of the shelf.

Sewing Room - Threads & Rulers

My husband made the thread racks that I use to organize my sewing and serger threads. Underneath the table where my Brother Ult2001 sits are two storage totes where my machine embroidery threads are organized by colors. A dear friend of ours who is a cabinet maker made the holders for my rulers. This helps to keep them in one place and I can see which one I need at a glance.
In the corner are my manuals for my machines.

Sewing Room - Machines, Needles, & Cutting Area

My cutting table opens to 40" x 72" and has additional storage underneath. My sewing needles are organized and labeled by type and size in the small storage totes between the two machine tables.
Although I have two sewing / embroidery machines, I find that I primarily use the Pfaff Creative 2144/2170 for sewing and quilting while I use the Brother Ult2001 for machine embroidery.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Hello and welcome to my blog. Recently I have become drawn into the world of blogs. I've spent hours and hours reading blogs and have decided to create one of my own. For the most part I will be posting information on current projects and family news with a recipe or two thrown in once in a while. Occassionally you might find a few rantings on social issues as well, but those will be kept to a minimum.
So, for now, cop a squat, grab yourself a nice glass of iced tea, and relax as you join me on my journey into cyberspace.