Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keeping busy

Last Thursday I got the top of the baby quilt pieced and pinned to the other layers. Next, I had to figure out what design I wanted to use for quilting. Rather than just the diagonal lines suggested in the pattern, I wanted something more memorable. Jim talked me out of X's and O's (apparently a bit "too girly") but I riffed off that and came up with appropriately masculine X's and stars.

Last Friday I started hand-quilting and have been working at it slow but steady all weekend. I'm almost a third of the way done, and the design is really starting to take shape.

The callouses on my fingertips are coming along nicely, too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Who says...

...you can't teach an old dog new tricks? One of the things I love about Jim is that over the 16+ years we've been married, he continues to surprise me by trying new things. Case in point: tonight he is out with Jimmy, having back-to-back piano lessons. Jimmy's been taking piano for almost two years now, but this is Jim's first lesson ever.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Baby quilt

Both Jimmy and Audrey have red, white and blue baby quilts. Jimmy's was made by my mom, and I finished Audrey's the week before she was born. So, of course, Joseph needs to have a red, white and blue baby quilt, too.

Did I mention we picked out a name? (with the caveat from Jim that he may still change his mind.)

A while back I found a couple of simple, free baby quilt patterns online. I based Audrey's birthday quilt loosely on the "Furrows" pattern, and have been excited to try out the "Sunshine and Shadows". I picked this pattern because it would go together so quickly and be easy to both sew and hand-quilt, but made a few alterations for the color scheme I chose.

I just finished cutting out all the squares this morning, laid them out, and am planning to get most of the top pieced tonight.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

30 weeks...

...means it's ultrasound time again. Sorry, no pix--but the baby's grown so much we could only look at one part of him at at time: a leg, a beating heart, his abdomen and so on. In fact, his head was so big it took up the whole screen in the top-down shot my doctor used to measure the circumference of his cranium. This ultrasound was all about taking measurements to make sure the baby's growing on track (which he is) and not getting too big from the gestational diabetes (which he's not).

Just two months to go... good thing I got started on the baby quilt today!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tightwad tuesday: fire your cable/satellite provider

Back in April, Jim and I decided it was finally time to call and cancel our satellite service. We just couldn't justify spending $80 a month for dozens of channels we didn't even watch. We also reasoned we'd waste less time sitting on the couch channel-surfing by simply not having the option available--which has turned out to be true; our evenings and weekends are much more productive now!

We'd been gearing up for the switch for several months. Techno-geek that he is, Jim wasn't satisfied with just streaming shows through his X-box--no, he took part of our tax return and bought a new computer that would be our dedicated home-entertainment unit with all the bells, whistles and yes, a Blu-Ray drive, to run our favorite shows and movies in HD on our 72" flat-screen TV (Jim's 40th birthday present last year).

You can, however, go cable/satellite-free for a lot less than we did. With a few inexpensive cables, you can connect your computer to your television and watch your favorite shows through Hulu or Netflix for a significantly lower cost, or sometimes even the network websites for free.

If you still want to be able to pick up your local channels, you can do so with a good-quality antenna. In fact, Jim built one himself using instructions he found at Makeprojects.com, for about $15. With the new antenna, we pick up almost a dozen local channels, most of them in HD quality.

So, if you find the thought of "killing your TV" too extreme, you can at least cut back on your costs (and consumption) by cancelling your cable and watching only those shows you really want.

Monday, July 18, 2011


What with canning both cherry and raspberry jam this weekend, I was delayed a bit longer finishing Jimmy's quilt--but finally, finally, yesterday afternoon I sewed the last few stitches of the binding.

While he was otherwise occupied, I spirited it up to Jimmy's room and made his bed. A few hours later he went up to get his shoes on before going on a bike ride, and--surprise.

"Mom! My quilt is done! I love it!"

Friday, July 15, 2011

Canning 2011

I almost saved this for a Tightwad Tuesday post (always be ready to jump on a good deal), but couldn't wait that long to post about this year's cherry jam.

This is the third year we've done cherry jam, so we've found and perfected our basic recipes. A week ago Jim's mom had a line on cherries for a dollar a pound, but Jim said he wanted to wait and see if we could get a better deal. Then on Wednesday night we got a call from his dad. Apparently a friend of theirs had gone to a fruit stand and gotten several large boxes of cherries free (!!!) because the fruit was slightly damaged--and he wanted to know if we wanted a couple boxes. This was just what Jim had been waiting for, so he went and picked up the fruit.

Last night after dinner, Jim and I sat around the table with the kids and sorted through what turned out to be about 50 pounds of Bing cherries, with a few Rainiers mixed in for good measure. About a fifth of the cherries were too badly damaged to use, but most of them were in really beautiful condition, and absolutely delicious. The biggest--and best--surprise of the evening was how hard our kids worked. Audrey was the fastest of all of us at stemming the cherries; Jim and Jimmy could barely keep up with sorting good cherries into her bowl for her to pluck the stems off.

This morning Jimmy pitted four quarts of cherries for my first quadruple batch of sugar-free jam. We had so many cherries, I decided to do a second quadruple batch, for which I modified my basic recipe by combining it with Jim's Spiced Cherry Jam recipe:

Sugar-free Spiced Cherry Jam

3 pounds (about 3 cups) prepared cherries (pitted)
½ of a 1.75-oz. package no sugar needed fruit pectin
1 cup artificial sweetener (I used Splenda)
1-1/2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1. Prepare boiling water canner, jars, and lids.

2. Place prepared cherries in a 6- or 8-quart saucepan and use a hand blender to puree to desired consistency. (The recipe didn't call for it, but I actually simmered my cherries for 15 or 20 minutes while I was washing jars and getting the canning kettle boiling.) Gradually stir in spices, almond extract, pectin and lemon juice. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.

3. Add artificial sweetener. Return mixture to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim if necessary.

4. Fill and seal jars. Process in water bath for ten minutes.

(makes about four half-pints)

So. Delicious.

Tonight it's Jim's turn to crank out a few batches of fully-leaded (sugared) jam. He had the kids helping him pit cherries, and as I type, I can hear him mashing up the first batch with his KitchenAid hand blender.

It's going to be a long (but deliciously aromatic) night.

Did I mention we'll be up at 7 a.m. to pick raspberries in Yakima River Canyon? Yep, more jam.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tightwad tuedsay: DIY takeout

Way back in the day when Jim and I were still childless, in college, and both working full-time (read: rolling in cash but short on time to cook) we used to get takeout at least once a week from our favorite Chinese restaurant, Toy's Cafe in Bellevue. My favorite was their green beans sautéed with garlic--and every once in a while I'd spring for the extra couple bucks to get the beans with shrimp. Mmmm.

Don't worry; there is a tightwad tip at the end of this tale fraught with wanton outlay of cash!

Last Wednesday, we went out to lunch at the local Chinese buffet and I was heartbroken to find they no longer served green beans, which are still a favorite of mine, and which I've been craving lately in a big way. Fortunately, a while back, we asked the waiter how they make the beans, and he gave us a list of ingredients (fresh beans, chicken broth, soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, vegetable oil and cornstarch). It was easy to look up the technique online (cook the beans for 7-8 minutes in hot oil, until the skins start to pucker, then add the ingredients for the sauce).

The very next day I hit the supermarket and picked up all the ingredients and yes, I splurged on a pound of EZ-peel prawns to make it special. Worth every penny, and still far less expensive than ordering takeout!

So, if you're pregnant (or not) and craving one of your favorite restaurant dishes, save yourself some cash by taking a few minutes to research how to make it yourself. You may get lucky, like we did, and get tips from a helpful waiter or waitress. Or, if you fancy something from a big fast food chain, there are websites specializing in clones of "secret" recipes, such as Todd Wilbur's aptly titled Top Secret Recipes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Family portrait redux

Audrey rendered this portrait of our family last week on Jim's whiteboard. It reminded me of a similar picture created by her brother, four years ago. From left to right, that's me, Audrey, Jimmy and Jim. In case you couldn't tell.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Getting there

I finally finished piecing Jimmy's quilt top this afternoon! It took a bit longer than I planned (okay, a lot longer, when you consider I started the project back in mid-March), but I got sick shortly after my last post and it's taken me a while to get back into my groove.

I'm hoping (fingers crossed) to have the tying and binding finished by the middle of this week... because I've already got fabric for my next project in the queue ready to go: a baby quilt.