Welcome Friends and Family

Welcome! For many reasons, it has been almost two months since my last blog; hectic lives, beautiful summer days, busy working...you know the typical excuses.

It is good to be back, though. The cold rain and short days have arrived, and with that come gatherings, crafting and decorating. I think you'll like what is in store for this blog in 2011. As I design some new lines of fabric for MMFab, there will be simple quilt and home decor patterns; free for you, of course! Gardening finds and recipes will be sprinkled throughout, of which I hope some of you contribute. Then, there will be the inspiration of going places, especially fun shops and bazaars.

Country Christms - Canby Fairgrounds (going on now)
 My sister is coming for a visit in a few days, so I have been scoping out some places to go. One of the first is a local nursery called Al's.

Al's Garden Center - Sherwood, OR
If you aren't a gardener, I think you will still enjoy visiting nurseries over the holidays. Most have changed from only selling plants and pots to including nice home decor items. You can find beautiful gifts and fun decorating ideas for Christmas at many nurseries over the next few weeks.

So please stop by here often. I enjoy hearing from you, and all pictures and tips for home decorating and gardening that you can share are welcome additions; e-mail me anytime!

Berry Good Things to Smile About

Listening to my family having five conversations at once. Eating berries right off the bush in the cool, dew-drenched morning. A story in my head that can't wait to be written. Autumn sunrise. Chocolate covered cherries. A surprise visit with a friend at the market.
Ramble off your favorite things as fast as you can and you can't help but smile. Smiling is the secret to health and serenity according to several spiritual traditions. "A deep inner smile spreads like a relaxing elixir making us receptive to transform negative energy into positive. Smile therapy actually lowers the stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline and produces hormones which stabilise blood pressure, relax muscles, improve respiration, reduce pain, accelerate healing and stabilise mood." (Hodgkinson L. (1994) Smile Therapy, Optima.)
A friend of mine needs a smile. Many issues; health, family, etc., have gone askew for her lately. She doesn't need a sermon or advice. She just has to work through this, knowing she has friends that love her and are there if she needs them.
Since it is the height of berry season here, I am putting together a berry basket to leave on her doorstep.

Filled with berry jam, scones, blackberry tea, a bag of fresh blueberries and a berry candle, I think it will bring a smile to her heart. I needed something to line the berry basket, so I embroidered this quick berry design on a square piece of linen.

Embroidery Pattern (click on picture to enlarge and print)
-2 strand floss, stem stitch
-deep red writing
-berry pink berries (french knot dots)
-moss green leaves and stems (daisy stitch loops)
This would look good on a tea towel, also. I love that this simple design was completely embroidered during one two-hour long John Wayne classic last weekend.
I hope your day is rich with "berry good things" and includes smile therapy. It's fun medicine!

The Vegetable Strike of 2010

We shake our head as we pass the "hot" garden beds with tomato, squash and pepper plants. While the rest of the country is enjoying thick, juicy tomato sandwiches and grilled zucchini, we are lucky to have a few green tomatoes on the vine. It has been unseasonably cool and wet here in the northern coastal region of Oregon. I've planted corn three times and the peppers twice. We haven't had so much as one cherry tomato ripen! And, who has ever heard of a zucchini plant not giving it's all to feed the entire neighborhood?
It looks like we will have to make a trip eastward to Hood River for some fresh, hot-weather vegetables this year. On the bright side, the flowers and berries have never been so prolific!

Berries of every type need picking each day. With over 50 blueberry plants and rows of boysen, rasp, straw, marion and goose berries, the freezer is full and the pantry gleaming with jars of colorful preserves. I am always on the lookout for good berry recipes. Here are three delicious recipes other than desserts that you other berry lovers may want to try.

3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups raspberries (or other berries)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 dash onion powder
1 tsp. "liquid smoke"
Place ingredients in saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Remove from the heat; cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor or blender; cover and process until smooth. Strain seeds. Store in the refrigerator.

Dressing & Marinade:
1 cup sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice concentrate, thawed
1 tbsp. prepared mustard
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. grated onion
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
Combine ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Refrigerate 1/2  to use as dressing. Use the other 1/2 of dressing mixture to marinade 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts for one hour, covered and refrigerated. Grill or cook chicken breasts. Chill.
Sliced chicken breasts (marinated and cooked from above)
Mixed salad greens
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup fresh, firm berries
1 cup crumbled Bleu or Gorgonzola cheese
Plate the above ingredients, then drizzle with the berry dressing.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons butter, cold, cut in chunks
1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones
1 cup fresh blueberries

Lemon Glaze:
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 lemon, zest finely grated
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Sift together the dry ingredients; the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using 2 forks or a pastry blender, cut in the butter to coat the pieces with the flour. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream. Fold everything together just to incorporate; do not overwork the dough. Fold the blueberries into the batter. Take care not to mash or bruise the blueberries because their strong color will bleed into the dough.
Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 12 by 3 by 1 1/4 inches. Cut the rectangle in 1/2 then cut the pieces in 1/2 again, giving you 4 (3-inch) squares. Cut the squares in 1/2 on a diagonal to give you the classic triangle shape. Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until brown. Let the scones cool a bit before you apply the glaze.
Mix the lemon juice and confectioners' sugar together in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon zest and butter. Microwave it for 30 seconds on high. Whisk the glaze to smooth out any lumps, then drizzle the glaze over the top of the scones. Let it set a minute before serving.


I Was a Tourist in My Own Neighborhood

I enjoy everyday blessings; the ones that seem insignificant and can go unnoticed when life is on autopilot. It seems the older that I get, the more I prefer my life to be on an even keel. I no longer need mountaintop experiences and never have enjoyed those low valleys.

Still, whether we're one or one hundred, life will have ups and downs and will never be a smooth, even ride. Our jobs, some home remodelling and keeping up with the maintenance of our small, ageing farmstead has my husband and I working long hours seven days a week. What used to be enjoyable has become a chore. We are becoming "burned out."

What would taking one day off hurt in the long scheme of things? Actually, one week wouldn't hurt, but I would settle for a day. And so, we did. At my husband's suggestion, we took Saturday off and became a tourist in our own neighborhood.

A short drive through fragrant fields of flowers that are grown for seed took us to a nearby restaurant for an authentic German lunch. I learned that my husband is as bad at Trivial Pursuit as I am; it is nice to find out new things about your spouse after you've been married so long! Sausage and kraut for me, a reuben for Glen, and then it was onto the next little town for some antiquing before we hit up one of my favorite haunts; Bauman's Family Farm.

This local farm brought back fond memories of visits with my mom and dad each summer. We would always hit up Bauman’s to gaze at the produce picked from the fields each day, drink freshly pressed cider and peruse the humongous flower baskets grown in their nursery. We watched their farm operation grow with each annual visit.

We returned home refreshed, smiling and full from good food. Just one day of beautiful countryside and quaint homes inspired me to start painting. I can't sketch the visions in my head fast enough.

So, when your life is on autopilot or you are burned out with responsibilities, take a day off. We are not so important that the world can't live without us for a day. One day of peace and delight will sort the priorities of life back into their proper order.

Land That I Love

It's almost summer. Time to open windows and let curtains lap up the warm, freshly-mown-grass-scented breeze. It's also time for picnics and neighborly gatherings on the porch. This tea towel will look good in your kitchen, but also as a nice runner/placemat on the porch table to compliment the flag you proudly fly on Memorial Day, 4th of July, Flag Day, and for some of us, every day of summer. Make some cherry lemonade and enjoy an old fashion evening on the porch with good company or a good book.

This pattern is primitive and simple. If this is your first time, you might want to review the total tea towel embroidery instructions on this past post, "A Year of Tea Towels."

Click the pattern picture below and then, when the larger picture shows on your screen, right click it and it and print the pattern at 100%.

The colors used are: Navy, Deep Red, Deep Gold, Moss Green, Black

This towel was embroidered on a pre-made black gingham tea towel. The flag was first embroidered on muslin, then cut 1/8" from the outer stitching. Threads were pulled out to form outer fringe, then sewn onto the towel. The lamb was cut out of muslin and then sewn onto the towel with a blanket stitch. All embroidery was done with 3 strands of floss in order to have more contrast against the background. The towel was "aged" after completed.
Cherry Lemonade
1 can lemonade concentrate (or make your favorite fresh lemonade)
 2 cups of fresh cherry juice
small jar of marashino cherries
Make lemonade per instructions on can. Stir in fresh cherry juice and juice from marashino cherries. Freeze a cherry in the ice cubes.

Farmers' Markets...open, open, open

Yahoooo! Only a short week before most of the local farms and farmers' markets open. There has already been a myriad of flower farms and nurseries that have had shows, tours, and beginning-of-the-garden-season sales.
In a matter of days it will be time to stroll aisles loaded with colorful vegetables, flowers, local seafood and meats, honeys and jams. I envy the countries that take for granted their open markets for everyday shopping. Instead, we live out of superstores with processed food and under-ripe, over-geneticized produce. Ah; to grab a loaf of fresh bread, some specialty farm cheese and fresh fruit on the way home from work for whatever my taste has a whimsy for!
Well, we may not be able to do it daily, but most areas of our country have nearby farms that have opened their doors to the public so that we can enjoy their fresh, unique bounty any day of the season. localharvest.org is one of the best websites I have visitied in a while. Just plug in your zip code and what you are looking for (I entered "produce") and farms, farmers' markets and family-owned produce stands near your area will be listed, mapped out and described. Don't miss the photo section if you have time; it has great pictures of our farmers throughout the land. There is so much information on produce on the website that I'll be visiting it many times.
Our local "Beaverton Farmer's Market"
Cheese from a local dairy at the Beaverton Farmers Market
Asparagus is bountiful in the garden, so here is a delicious, simple recipe for a brunch or light dinner using some farmer's cheese and vegetables you can get at the local stand or from your own garden.
Asparugus Salad
Fresh asparugus (about 1 pound of spears)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
about 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese or other specialty cheese that you enjoy
1/4 cup basil
pine nuts
Italian dressing (I just use olive oil, wine vinegar, salt & pepper)

Blanch the asparagus (see below.) Toss with the onions and dressing, then place on plates. Sprinkle basil, pine nuts and cheese over the top. For variety, add a few slices of sweet citrus, such as mandarins or blood oranges.
(To blanch the asparagus, add the spears to a large pot of boiling water. Cook about 3 minutes; just until asparagus is crisp-tender and bright green in color. Drain, then immediately add asparagus to bowl of ice water to cool and stop the cooking. When completely cooled, drain the asparagus and pat dry.)

Hope you get to enjoy a trip to a local farm soon!

In the Garden - Can I Plant, Yet?

Each day in April I watch the forecast intently. "Dare I plant my garden?"
I've learned the hard way not to be impatient with plants that enjoy warm feet and sun on their face. Too many Aprils have fooled me with stretches of warm spring weather, only to turn so windy and wet that baby plants drown or, at best, remain weak.
A few years ago I planted seedlings in April, then new plants right next to them in May. The May plants became vigorous, rapidly outgrowing their neighbors. As a thank you for planting them in warm soil, they also gave me more produce.
So, now I enjoy April spring days for what they are. I take the backroads to do errands, enjoying orchards filled with blossoms. I relish painting by the fireplace with the last fires of the season while rain blows on the windows. I treasure all of the bouquets of tulips and lilacs that fragrant the house with spring.
These I have loved since I was little:
Wood to build with or to whittle,
Wind in the grass and falling rain,
First leaves along an April lane;
Yellow flowers, cloudy weather,
Rivers deep, the smell of leather.
Fields newly plowed, young corn in rows,
Back-country roads, and cawing crows,
Stone walls with stiles going over,
Daisies, Queen Anne’s Lace and Clover,
Night tunes of crickets, frog songs too,
Starched cotton cloth, the color blue,
Bells that ring from white church steeple,
Friendly dogs and friendly people.
-Elizabeth Ellen Long-
Still, us diehard gardeners can't bring ourselves to stay indoors when April skies are blue. So, what can we do during April's fickle weather? Here are a few plants that can weather April storms and cool nights...
Leaf greens such as Kale, Collards, Lettuce and don't forget the Spinach.
Beets, Parsnips and Turnips.
Peas with or without edible pods
Swiss Chard (I love the rainbow colors)
Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbages.
Don't be impatient; these may take a while to sprout. But, they can all tolerate a light frost and even a small dusting of snow when they are young.
With getting rid of any weeds that may have sprouted, working compost into the soil and planting these spring crops, your muscles will be telling you that it is that gardening time of year once again!

Happy Easter

Well, it has been way too long since I posted on the blog. Life seems to have run at warp speed with spring chores and work contracts. I have taken time, however, to enjoy the beautiful spring we are having. The outdoor furniture was put in it's rightful place last week so that I can paint at the picnic table again on sunny afternoons. Whatever part of the world you live in, I hope you are having some beautiful days filled with blossoms, sweet air and birdsongs, too.

I have a long flight coming up in about a week, so I designed a spring garden pattern for another tea towel that I can make on the trip. I plan to embroider it in all one color, probably muted green, on a spring plaid towel.

I hope you will enjoy this pattern, too. If you haven't embroidered one of my patterns, you can click on this link for the full directions and how-to embroider videos from the past blog, "A Year of Tea Towels."
Embroidering these on flights makes the trip much more pleasant and quick. It's a way to keep busy while the family watches their TV, too, or a fun way to pass time while the oil gets changed and tires rotated on the car.

Left click on the pattern picture above. This will bring the picture up larger on your computer screen. Right click on the picture, then click on "print picture." The pattern will be printed to scale.

This Sunday is Easter, and I would be remiss if I didn't wish for all of my readers and friends to have a day filled with God's love and a celebration of joy with their family.
Let our lives be a hymn to this season,
Let our love be a prayer in His praise,
Let our homes be a place
Where His goodness and grace
Are glorified all of our days.
Let our hearts feel the joy that is Easter
Let our unfailing faith be expressed,
Let our thankful eyes see
Just how sweet life can be
And how beautifully, beautifully blessed.

Farmer's Market News...What's in Season

About now I am anxious for the local produce stand and farmer's market to open. Unfortunately, that is still a couple of months off. The produce stand opens first (sometime in April) with produce they truck up from California and eastern Washington. I like to go there since it is in the open air and it gives me a little "Saturday market fix." The big whopper of a farmer's market, The Beaverton Saturday Market, isn't open until May.

So, what's in season now? Mostly produce from the southern states (I will include California in that, since they are pretty much considered to be part of the southwest)...that is some citrus for fruit, but mostly root vegetables and cole crops, such as cabbage and broccoli.

Some people are really missing out on a treat if the only root veggies they eat are potatoes and carrots. I have become addicted to a variety of roasted root vegetables.  It is amazing how sweet and flavorful they become, and are so healthy! I roast two large baking pans full of them in one evening and that will last us for at least four nights' meals.

Here is how I prepare them, and then the dishes I use them in...

Vegetables to roast:
red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled
rutabagas, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
carrots, unpeeled
parsnips, peeled
onions, peeled
leeks (white and pale green parts only)
turnips, peeled
sweet potatoes or yams, unpeeled
beets (blanch & peel before roasting)
squash, asparagus and fennel (I know, these aren't root veggies, but good)

Cut all of the vegetables into large chunks. Place them in a large bowl(s) and drizzle a little olive oil over them along with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. You can also mix in your favorite herbs, such as rosemary and garlic. Toss them with your hands to coat them all. Place on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 1 hour until brown and caramalized, stirring and turning the vegetables mid-way. It's not an exact science and is easy to do...when they are brown and smell really good, you know they are ready.

Let them cool and then refrigerate in covered bowls or freezer bags.

  • Plain as a side dish right out of the oven is my favorite. But, they are also good reheated and served with any main dish such as pork or fish.
  • Heat some in the microwave and then mash them with a bit of butter and milk. Serve as you would mashed potatoes with meat loaf, chicken, etc.
  • Make a quick au-gratin by slicing, layering them with bread crumbs, cheese and a small amount of cream or milk. Top with bread crumbs mixed with a little melted butter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  • Add roasted vegetables to hot chicken or vegetable stock for a very quick soup. I use an emersion blender for a creamy soup. Add a dollop of sour cream and some chives on top.
  • Toss cold, sliced roasted vegetables with a vinegar and oil salad dressing (Italian dressing) and place on a bed of lettuce for a winter salad. Add chunky croutons or a bit of gorgonzola cheese on top.

roasted vegetable soup....roasted vegetables mixed with penne & cheese

Don't let those parsnips or beets intimidate you! We had a friend in his 50's that had never had fresh cooked beets. He said he didn't like beets (he was used to those in a can!)  Now he loves them and we make sure to plant a few extra to give to him. If you have time, pickle some little beets to use in green salads instead of those rubber tomatoes they have in the grocery store in winter.
Eat your vegetables!

In the Garden...Buy Your Seeds NOW!

I have planted Heavenly Blue morning glories on my front porch trellises for the past few years. That is, until last year when I couldn't find any seed packets from the multitude of farm stores around here. This year I knew to buy early, so when the first seed packets hit the racks in January, I got a jump on other gardeners. ugh...There were other morning glories, but the slot for Heavenly Blue was empty.

This is a beautiful, well-tamed morning glory. It is the truest blue of any flower I've seen, and has gorgeous deep green heart-shaped leaves.
 "We had them, but they went fast. I doubt if we'll get more in. All of the stores are having trouble re-ordering any seeds now that people have started gardening again." To aid in the economic crisis along with knowing where their veggies came from, it seems many people found out what a joy it was to garden last year. I guess they added a bit of Heavenly Blue color to the garden while they were at it.

So, if you haven't purchased your seeds, you better get them as soon as possible. Gardening has become the number one pastime. I am glad to see it, although it is making it harder to get the seeds that I rely on each year. This year I am turning to 100% heirloom seeds and going to start saving my own seeds each year. Here are some great sources for heirloom seeds with some rich history contained in each variety. (click on the name to go to their website)

Seed Savers Exchange  is a non-profit organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage. Today, the 890-acre Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. "We permanently maintain more than 25,000 endangered vegetable varieties, most having been brought to North America by members' ancestors who immigrated from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world." Here are just some seeds I am trying this year...

Broom Corn ($2.75 for 100 seeds) for autumn projects and Milkmaid Nasturiums, a creamy lt. yellow that grows to 12 feet to add to my window boxes.

The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, established at Monticello in 1987, collects, preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties that center on Thomas Jefferson's horticultural interests and the plants he grew at Monticello. It also covers the broad history of plants cultivated in America by including varieties documented through the nineteenth century.

The vegetable gardens at Monticello

Heritage Harvest Seed specializes in rare and endangered varieties. This young company's catalog is chock-full of intriguing heirlooms, like this rare French cherry tomato that is a very dark red and sweet, called Tonodose des Conores. ($3 for 25 seeds)

Ronniger's Potato Farm is known for its amazing collection of interesting potato varieties, including a number of rare spuds, along with garlic, onions. Many of the old-timers had faded to obscurity, but Ronnigers brought them back and now offers them virus-free thanks to the high-tech world of meristem tissue culture. Certified organic. This beautiful red potato is one of theirs, called Rio Colorado. It is a small, firm mid-season potato that is great for stews, creaming, and any time you want those tasty small potatoes.

South Carolina Foundation Seed Association  is perhaps the most interesting source of pass-along and handed-down heirlooms from Georgia and the old South. This foundation offers beans, butterbeans, corn, peanuts, squash, pumpkins, and others adapted to hot summers. Each of these varieties has a rich history, including some traditional Native American and African-American varieties. You have to download their order form and send it in. But, if you want seed such as Texas Longhorn field peas that can be grown up John Haulk Corn (which grows to 15 feet) and is good eating and for corn meal, it is worth the old fashion trouble of sending in the form.

So, what about my Heavenly Blue morning glories?

I found them at a seed company not far from where I live, called The Victory Seed Company. They are a small, family owned organization that works to preserve plant varieties by locating, growing, documenting and offering heirloom and rare open-pollinated seeds to home gardeners. Along with some nice information about World War II Victory Gardens accompanied by original posters and pamphlets, this family seed company offers a good-sized assortment of heirloom and more recent vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

Have fun planning your own victory garden, and remember, buy your seeds early!