Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New quilt

I'm excited to show the quilt I finished this past weekend. It's a wonky log cabin quilt with a pieced back, self-bound with a triple row of stitching and butted corners. I hadn't really intended on making a patriotic Americana-type quilt, but it's hard to go wrong with a red, white, and blue color scheme. One of the navy fabrics has a tiny anchor pattern on it, which made me start thinking about sailboats on the Chesapeake Bay in the summer. For that reason, I'm naming this one "July Regatta."

July Regatta

The fabrics are a mishmash of remnants bought on sale at the local fabric shop, along with some shirts and a pillowcase purchased at the thrift store to repurpose as material. I wanted a light-weight quilt so I used an old flannel sheet as the batting in this one. It's all 100% cotton and despite using well-washed clothing and linens in this quilt, everything crinkled up nicely when I washed the finished quilt. The navy and white striped fabric that I used as the outside borders on the front of the quilt is seersucker, which is great for adding an "instant vintage" texture.

I'm particularly pleased with the way the back of the quilt came together.

July Regatta, reverse

Here's a view of both sides together. In this photo you can see how I quilted everything together using a diamond pattern. But don't look too closely as I probably made every mistake a novice could make on a quilt: puckered fabric, uneven stitches, etc. I even mistakenly stitched the backing fabric doubled up on itself several times, but at least that could be fixed by taking out the stitching. Thankfully many mistakes are now camouflaged through washing and drying.

July Regatta, both sides

Oscar fully approves of this one.

July Regatta & Oscar

July Regatta & sleepy Oscar

Oscar covered with July Regatta

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This One's for Mom

So our daughter is smack dab in the middle of toddlerhood with a healthy dose of the terrible twos going on right now. Ally is very curious and likes to sing and build blocks and play with her stuffed animals, but all hell can break loose if she doesn't get her way. One moment she's an angelic tot with a halo of curly blonde hair, and the next she's a defiant wailing banshee with demonic red eyes flailing around on the floor. All because she wanted to drink her milk this morning and, while coming down the stairs, she realized that she would have to go all the way over to the dining room table to get her cup herself AND THIS WOULD NOT DO.

This is a relatively new development in our home life. Ally was the most amiable, eager to please toddler up until about two weeks ago. At first I thought maybe her tantrums were due to a virus and she simply wasn't feeling that well. Now I know that the terrible twos have officially arrived and we were damn lucky to get this close to her third birthday before having to deal with it. I know there are parents out there who would probably say, "HA! You should have a *boy*! And our child has been that way since he was 18 months old!" However, the sudden onset of this behavior has left us somewhat bewildered and unsure of our abilities as parents. Or at least it does until we snap out of it and send her straight back up to her room where she can wail and flail to her heart's delight and there's at least a wall between us and her.

But in conjunction with the sudden appearance of temper tantrums, we're facing a more serious issue as parents. Somehow, somewhere, Ally has developed a serious Southern accent. It's as if she's channeling Paula Deen. My mom will be delighted, as up until now she has felt that Paula Deen was the only other person on the planet who had a more pronounced Southern accent than herself. When Ally asks for her milk (well, before the temper tantrum hits), it sounds as if she was saying, "Meal-ilk" over the course of 10 seconds. And she wanted "oat-meeeal" for breakfast today. At this point she's just as likely to ask for "scrambled aaai-ggs." Last night she kept talking about a "bail" and we finally realized she was saying, "bell."

Ally is probably doing this on purpose to some extent, largely because this produces a reaction in us as if someone was slowly dragging his nails down a chalkboard and Lord knows the child loves attention. But I can't figure out where she picked up the pronunciations in the first place. None of her teachers at daycare speak this way. Sure, there are plenty of people in the New River Valley that talk like this, but I don't remember anyone at Tractor Supply or Walmart or any of the other fine establishments that we frequent on a regular basis discussing milk or oatmeal with Ally around. Is she picking this up through the air she breathes or the water she drinks? It's as if she's slowly acquiring a rural persona.

I won't worry about it too much, at least until she starts talking with my Dad's Grundy accent.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Green 'mater Cake

I lost most of my tomato plants last August thanks to an ugly blight. I salvaged what I could of the green fruit to make chutney, which was surprisingly delicious with roast turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Still, I had more chopped green tomatoes than what I knew what to do with, so I tossed them in the freezer to use at a later date. I promptly forgot about them until last week, when I finally emptied out the rest of the freezer at our old house.

I still didn't know what to do with the frozen (and now slightly freezer burned) tomatoes, but of course I couldn't throw them away. When I found a bag of raisins that I'd also thrown into the freezer, inspiration struck in the form of this spice cake recipe that calls for both green tomatoes and raisins. How southern cooking is that? I'd made this recipe before and really liked how the cake tasted even better the second day, but it's not the most healthful cake with a cup of oil and a cup of nutmeats. Typically you can reduce the amount of oil in a recipe for baked goods by replacing about half of the oil with yogurt or applesauce, so I figured I could lighten the recipe up a little this way. I used a half cup of canola and a half cup of yogurt. I also added a half cup of regular (not instant) oatmeal and reduced the volume of nuts to a half cup of walnuts.

The result? My husband *loves* this cake. Even our two-year-old gobbles it up. It's reminiscent of an old fashioned busy day oatmeal cake or a fresh apple cake with raisins. It's a great snack cake with a moist interior and a slightly crunchy top, and it doesn't need any topping or frosting. Other than the small green bits from the tomato, you can't really tell what kind of fruit might be in it. I think you could probably swap out the chopped tomato with fresh apple or rhubarb if you liked, although you may want to reduce the amount of sugar if you use the sweeter apple. I'm sure you could substitute sweetened dried cranberries for the raisins if you liked, or maybe added a little ground ginger for a spicier flavor. If you do use frozen chopped green tomatoes for this recipe, I recommend that you let the thawed tomatoes drain for a little bit to remove the excess liquid before adding them to the batter.

I only wish I'd thought of making this for St. Patrick's Day last week. It would have been a perfect dessert with those green flecks and oatmeal in it!

Green Tomato Cake

1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1/2 cup rolled oatmeal (not instant)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (toast nuts lightly for stronger flavor)
1 cup raisins
2 1/2 cups diced green tomatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In mixing bowl, beat sugars, oil, eggs, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Combine the flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and spices in another bowl. Stir with fork to mix well. Slowly beat flour mixture into egg mixture until blended well. Sir in nuts,raisins, and tomatoes. Pour into greased 9X13 inch pan. Bake for 50 minutes, or until cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patrick's Day 1992

Not a single St. Patrick's Day goes by that I don't think about the one in 1992. It was my senior year at JMU and we were all looking forward to graduating in only a couple of months. We were young, the world was shiny and bright, and we had no idea what the heck we were going to do for the rest of our lives. No matter, there was the St. Patrick's Day party at the Knights of Columbus House and we were going to drink beer and party down.

Mom, Dad....you should stop reading this now.

I don't actually remember a whole lot about this particular party other than a few vivid memories of asking Father John where the keg was and later dancing on top of the coffee table to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with my housemate Tom. It must have been a particularly sturdy coffee table. I know we got home late because we always got home late when we went out to party. I probably crashed into bed as soon as I walked into my room, but I at least had the forethought to set my alarm so I could get up to take the senior assessment exam the next morning.

Oh yes, I went out and partied the night before an exam.

(I warned you not to keep reading this, Mom.)

Senior assessment exams are designed to measure how much the graduating class has learned in their time at college and resemble the GREs in some ways. At JMU, the exam you took was based on your major area of study. I was a biology major, so mine was a broad examination across the biological sciences. While you were expected to take the senior assessment exam, your results did not affect your GPA in any way, therefore not many students really took them seriously. There were *many* people out celebrating St. Patrick's Day that evening.

Flash forward to the morning of March 18, 1992. I woke up with a jerk, realizing that while I had set my alarm to go off that morning with plenty of time to get to campus before the exam, I must have turned the clock off and fallen back asleep. I had 20 minutes before the exam started. I bolted out of bed and miraculously managed to get dressed and on campus with a couple of minutes to spare before the exam started. After about a half hour of filling in the little bubbles on the Scantron form, I congratulated myself on my suave ability to have a social life and be a responsible student. Here I was, fulfilling my obligation to the school like a good student after a night of dancing on coffee tables! It wasn't until a full hour into the exam that it slowly dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, staying out all night might not have been the best idea. I'd only had about 5 hours of sleep, I hadn't had time to eat breakfast, and it was getting hard to focus on the questions in front of me. After another half hour I had to admit that, to my horror, I was still sobering up.

(There. I did warn you.)

I finished the exam and quickly left the building, but I couldn't go back home yet. Because I had declared myself two weeks prior as a double major with English as my second area of study, I had a second exam to take that afternoon. I'm sure I got something to eat and drank as much water as I possibly could before the English exam started, but by then I was the agony of a hangover in full bloom.

In the end I finished the English exam and made it back to our apartment in disgrace. I'm sure my results were responsible for making the assessments for the Biology and English Classes of 1992 to be substantially lower than expected. With any luck, the statistician responsible for reviewing that data stamped my results as "outlier" and tossed them out of the analysis. I can only hope.

There's no real moral to this story. While I never did party the night before an exam again, including all the years I spent in graduate school, I can't say that this one experience prevented me from making stupid choices in later years. When the time comes for my daughter to go to college, I'm sure I'll wonder if she'll have a similar story that she hides for years and years before divulging to her parents. Maybe Nirvana's song sums it up best...we were young, we were stupid, and stupidity is contagious when you're young.

"With the lights out, it's less dangerous.
Here we are now, entertain us.
I feel stupid and contagious.
Here we are now, entertain us."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Snow Doggie

Oscar, Snow 4

There's something under the snow!

Oscar, Snow 3

Maybe if I dig a little....

Oscar, Snow 2

Maybe if I dig deeper....

Oscar, Snow 1

Later, the final score was set at Oscar 1, pine vole 0.