Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Weekend With Minnie

Lots of quality time was spent with Minnie this past weekend enjoying hand stitching and just winding down from the hustle and bustle of the past several weeks. Loved it! And I have a little to show for my efforts too - 6 new diamonds to add to the mix and another 6 prepped and ready for the final round of hexies.

There are 25 hexies in each of the small diamonds so every now and then I pull colours so that I can just move from one to the next. To help keep things a little more organized I prep the centre blossom and then just keep the pile of hexies for the outer border with it until it's ready to finish off.

I don't paper piece - it's just eyeballing a seam allowance and working my way through. I start by sewing each of the 6 'petals' to the centre hexie with the same thread.

Then I go back and sew the seams to connect all the petals.

Finally, I add the two hexies that correspond with the centre piece to finish off the blossom.

Then I match the flower up with the outer border pieces and move on to the next one until I have a little supply built up; I've got 6 more prepped & ready to go.

The last round takes about an hour to complete so they tend to come together nicely while watching TV. When they are all done they get pressed.

Of course a gal's gotta keep up her energy when doing this much work :) so I enjoyed nibbling on these amazing Vanilla Dipped Gingersnaps that our niece Julia gave us for Christmas.

Hard not to enjoy it all when sitting by the fire with this as my view. My tree will stay up for about another week so I'm determined to enjoy every last minute of it. Not a bad way to wind down 2013, is it?

A very Happy New Year to you and yours and many thanks for dropping by my blog so see what I get up to. Without you, I'd just be talking to myself...M

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Santa (a.k.a. The Official Cookie Tester) and friends were very generous to me this year, delivering lots of great quilting and baking trinkets for me to enjoy. The biggest surprise was two gorgeous books from Quiltmania, but I also got a couple of wonderful cookbooks - my favourite reading, after quilt books.

Let's start with the sweets. This one, Butter Baked Good, was a gift from Stephanie, and besides absolutely beautiful and leaving me wanting to bake everything in it, is so perfectly named. We always joke about how many pounds of butter are offered up to the cookie gods during our Christmas baking.

The second cookbook is one of Mary Engelbreit's from my sister Betty and her family. The recipes look delicious (I think that the Barley & Mushroom Pilaf might be on the menu this evening) but it also speaks to my long held dream to illustrate. Mary's style and attention to detail are wonderful so it will be double fun using this one.

Two beautiful Quiltmania books will keep me drooling and dreaming for a good long while - Promenade in a Dutch Garden, which is just loaded with wonderful projects...

and Di Ford's Primarily Quilts. So gorgeous, and it contained a surprise too.

I have long admired the pattern Phebe and didn't realize that it was in this book. Think it's a sign?

There are so many beautiful quilts in this book it is hard to put it down. This one - Antique Wedding Sampler - is stunning. Not sure that I would ever make it but you have to admire the talent that designed and crafted it. Spectacular.

Anne dropped this little pocket calendar into my stocking and I'm thinking that I might use it as a diary of sorts to keep track of my quilt TO DO list.

The last goodie is a set of 3 Bloc Loc rulers for trimming Flying Geese blocks. I probably should have taken them out of the wrapper so that you could get a better look at them but will show them again when I get to using them.

So, lots and lots of quilt and baking goodness under the tree this year. How fun!...M

Friday, December 27, 2013

Belated Christmas Greetings

I'm not quite sure where the last 4 days have gone but I do seem to recall a big guy in a red suit, lots of food and drinks and fun and laughter, and a raucous Boxing Day Road Hockey game.

Last weekend after all the baking was done and packed in the freezer I found a little time before the festivities began in earnest to sip a bit of eggnog and watch It's A Wonderful Life with the Official Cookie Tester (one of my favourite traditions) and I also picked up Minnie to enjoy a little hand stitching after a long hiatus.

Now that things are quieter again and the dust is settling I plan to sit and relax, enjoy some of those cookies, and do more stitching.

Santa brought me some lovely quilty treats and a couple of fabulous new cookbooks - I'll share with you in a day or so.

I hope you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season filled with much love and laughter....M

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Warm Thoughts

As I was straightening up the house for the holidays I came across Kathy Doughty's latest book, Making Quilts. The Official Cookie Tester had given it to me for my birthday in the summer and I'd tucked it away to spend time with later. Chilly temperature continue and snow falls daily so it was nice to escape into the warmth of Australia, if only for a few minutes.

Besides being a great source of inspiration it has an interesting perspective on the difference between quilts made by Australian quilters and many of those made in North America that I had been musing about myself. She explains so eloquently: "The seemingly neutral background of the landscape creates the perfect backdrop for dynamic sun-drenched colour." If you follow any Australian quilters at all you know that it's easy to recognize their love of colour and creating with bold, non-traditional combinations of prints - very graphic, in many respects. The more I see, the more I want to move in that direction.

That said, a second glance at this particular book shows a lot of the patterns in browns and muted prints, but still very graphic. They were all shot out of doors so it's possible that the 'seemingly neutral landscape' is influencing that as well.

These cog wheel blocks hold a certain appeal for me - maybe because I've seen some wonderful, fun iterations of them on Sue Garman's blog.

This one, Kaffe Fanfare, has been a favourite for a while. I saw it in the background of a photo on Kathy's blog when she was in France at a show and have been musing about it ever since. This shows the background being fairly green but the blog shot showed it more of a teal/deep turquoise, which I think is what caught my eye.

Soul Searching is an exercise in working with your scraps to create colour groups and ultimately reflects our fabric preferences - a snapshot of the aspect of the colours that you tend to choose, including value, hue, warm or cold and graphic impact of the prints. It's also an exercise in how we see neutrals. Much more than first meets the eye.

Interestingly, all of her quilts in this book are square, something that I usually avoid. Regardless, they are wonderful inspiration and I hope you enjoyed them too...M

Monday, December 16, 2013


We've been in the middle of an unseasonably chilly cold snap for the past several days (can you say -32 Celsius with the wind chill?) so the weekend seemed to be a good time to stay close to the oven and see if I could finish off my Christmas baking.

Having a deadline of this Friday to deliver our Christmas tins was an added incentive, but the biggest was to empty this laundry hamper. I had loaded my baking supplies into it for the bakeoff a couple of weekends ago and knew that I would be using lots of the ingredients before all the baking was done, so it's been on the floor in the kitchen ever since, slowly being emptied.

I have to say that it proved to be two very productive days. Saturday I got 5 batches made up and yesterday another 4. I would have made one more batch but had to shovel for two hours last night as the Official Cookie Tester was feeling under the weather.

Lots  of the old favourites like Pecan Shortbreads and Tiny Fudge Tartlets, but also a few that I haven't made in a year or two, like Martha Stewart's Chocolate Crinkles...

and a shortbread with cranberries and orange that you bake as a square. This time around I added candied ginger to them and then sprinkled some over top before drizzling it with white chocolate - reminiscent of Starbuck's Christmas squares, but not as sweet.

My kitchen is a disaster but I'm down to a couple of pans of Social Tea Squares, then Pecan Tassies and possibly a batch of Toblerone Shortbread, and then that will be it except for the strawberry cream puffs for Christmas eve. Almost time to empty the hamper...M

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lovely Linens

My sister Betty has a wonderful eye for colour and form, a skill that has been honed from her years in graphic design, so it is no wonder that each of her quilts have an organic, custom feel to them. Sewn patiently by hand, she uses her needle and tiny pieces of fabric like a painter uses a brush and oils, with spectacular masterpieces the end result. This is another one.

One of her great joys is repurposing items and this is a perfect example of her skill at it. It's made from old linen tea towels that she had collected. The  panel above is only about one eighth of the quilt but you can see how she's designed it so that a huge bouquet of colour flows out from the centre to the edges and then is bordered with the yellow check design. There's another border beyond that but I don't have a good photo of it.

The aged linen gives it a wonderful, worn feeling and she has quilted it with a simple cross hatch throughout. It's a beautiful quilt but also a great snapshot of the tea towel genre, if you will - lots of interesting patterns and details to explore - everything from recipes to maps.

I can't remember, but I think that the large floral print is a cotton and not linen.

It could be just the time of year, or  maybe my eyes are playing tricks on me, but I'm pretty sure that I saw the word 'elves' in there....M

UPDATE: I was able to find a photo of more of the quilt so you get a better sense of the overall design, including the borders. It's a little fuzzy but you get the idea...M

Saturday, December 07, 2013


I love traditions so it's no surprise that my list of Christmas cookies is close to the same year in and year out, particularly because it's the only time of year that some of my cookies get made. That said, sometimes I just feel that I need to shake it up a bit (it also helps justify all those Christmas cookie mags that follow me home each year). So this year, thanks in large part to my Pinterest adventures, I found a few new recipes that seemed like they needed to be tried, and today was the day.

I had planned starting first thing this morning but I needed to pick up a few supplies so things didn't really get started til lunch time. First off the block were these Cranberry Coconut Citrus Cookies. They are chewy morsels and a lovely combination of orange, cranberry and coconut (oh, and did I mention butter?). The only change I made was to cream my butter and sugar for about 4 minutes - I find it makes all the difference. The recipe suggests that you'd get about 40 cookies. I tend to make my cookies on the small size, but even with 2 1/2" cookies I ended up with 120! Not sure if it was a typo or not but since some of these will be used for the tins that we give to friends as gifts I was thrilled.

My second adventure was Raspberry Almond Shortbreads. Nothing says Christmas baking for me as much as the smell of almond extract, and these buttery little gems have almond flavouring in the cookie and the icing that is drizzled overtop. I suspected that these would be a hit so I made two recipes, which is all well and good, but I felt like I was rolling balls of dough all day. Probably because I was! Regardless, they are worth it.

FYI, instead of sprinkling the cookies with sugar before they go into the oven I just dipped them in sugar to get a little rim around the jam.

A little icing/drizzling tip for you. If you don't have a squeeze bottle for drizzling icing or icing cookies with royal icing run out  and get one (I got mine at the Bulk Barn but you can find them wherever they sell baking/cake decorating supplies) - they are ideal. So much neater and you can just put the cap on if you want to come back it. So much less mess and frustration.

I seldom make Sugar Cookies but when I saw this recipe for Goat Cheese Sugar Cookies I was tempted (another recipe where the dough is rolled into balls!). I even took the bait and rolled them in nonpareils, both multi-coloured and white only. Darned cute. And delicious too. You can smell the cheese when you take them out of the oven but I didn't detect the flavour in the cookie.

All told, there are approximately another 35 dozen cookies now in the freezer. The Official Cookie Tester was happy to have the oven in play and launched his 'testing' season listening to Christmas carols, sipping hot chocolate and sampling the new wares. All received his stamp of approval....M

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Ask And You Shall Receive

I've had a couple of requests for instructions on how I put together my Log Cabin placemats and for a recipe from our Bakeoff last Saturday, so today's post is all about how-to. Let's do the placemats first.

I've been calling it a Log Cabin block but I realized as I was putting this sample together that it's slightly modified. While I should have been working my way around the block with strips I had been adding to the ends and the sides with sets of strips, so it's close, but not quite legit - it's a combination Log Cabin & Courthouse Steps.

I used 1.5" wide strips throughout and started with two 5" lengths, one in yellow and a second of green.

Then I sewed two strips the height of the pieced block (in this case 2.5") - one in red and one in green - to the ends.

From here you just keep adding a strip to each end and then each side, keeping the reds together and the greens together and working your way out until you get a size that you like.

I used a combination of Christmas and traditional prints and tried not to repeat a colour. I also didn't do the math for the strip lengths in advance - each set of strips was cut to fit the block as I went.

My mats ended up with 5 strips of green (both on the end and one side) and 5 strips of red on the other end and side but if you want them larger just add another strip or two. Once it's together, machine quilt to your liking (I just did diagonal line about an inch apart) and then bind them. Easy peasy. If you make some I'd love to see your photos.

And now to the sweet stuff. Susan was interested in the Toblerone Shortbread recipe, so I thought there might be one or two others that would enjoy it as well. They mix up really quickly and are a lovely cookie:

Toblerone Shortbread
1 c unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c icing sugar, sifted
1 1/2 c flour
1/3 c rice flour or cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 c chopped Toblerone chocolate nougat bar

Preheat oven to 325F.

Using electric mixer, beat butter with sugar until light. In separate bowl, combine flour, rice flour, baking powder and salt. Using wooden spoon , gradually stir dry ingredients into butter mixture. Stir in chocolate nougat pieces.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden around edges. let cool in pan on rack for 5 minutes. Transfer to racks to cool completely. Makes about 30 cookies.

Have a great day....M

Sunday, December 01, 2013

And So It Begins

Whew! Another Cookie Bakeoff on the books. So hard to believe that today is the beginning of December, but we had snow overnight and most of today so it's really starting to look like Christmas, which makes it really easy to get into the swing of things. This is the lid from one of my favourite cookie tins by Mary Englebright and it always makes me think of the Bakeoff and the fun we have.

We had a little smaller group this year but I estimate that we still made about 600-700 cookies from 8 or 9 recipes different recipes (I lost count). There were long-standing favourites like Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread, Toblerone Shortbread, Linzer Hearts and Buttered Rum Sandwich Cookies, along with a few new recipes too - Rum Balls and Crisp Lemon Cookies drizzled with white chocolate.

And then we had a new take on an old favourite. Julia had the brilliant idea of turning the tiny Gingerbread men that Betty made upside down and decorating them like tiny reindeer. Aren't they just the cutest things?

Of course Emmy's annual challenge is to see how many dragees and sparkles she can fit onto a single cookie and she did a banner job of it again this year.

The day ended in a flurry as we headed into town for the Santa Claus Parade. It begins at dusk so there's lots of lights, kids, dogs, singing and music. And then today it was off to the annual German Christkindlmarkt to pick up some goodies (can you say Stollen?) and a few little Christmas prezzies. Hard not to get into the spirit now....M