Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Be Like the Squirrel: Personalized Applique Pillow

Summer's fading into autumn and the sun is gearing up to hibernate behind the Seattle rainclouds for the next 9 months.  No more excuses for me to play out in the sun all day.  Time to make like a little squirrel, gather up all of my project ideas like little acorns, and prepare for a winter sequester in my sewing nest.  My most recent project was accomplished in one day over the weekend, pictures snapped of it before being wrapped up in a brown paper package and mailed off to my dear friend Kevin.  This would be a housewarming gift for him.

Kevin and I go way back in our friendship.  Somewhere between the Never-Never-Land phase and Reality Bites phase of our early adulthoods, we crossed paths as bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshmen at the University of Cincinnati.  We lived on the same floor at Daniels Residence Hall and upon meeting Kevin, I was instantly drawn to his whimsical, spontaneous, goofy energy.  I still chuckle thinking back about how he decorated his dorm room-- he brought with him to college a box of random props:  action figurines from McDonald Happy Meals of years past, Pizza Hut promotional sunglasses, and a whole array of other nonsense.  Whenever I hung out with Kevin, our inner creative children intertwined in a carefree playfulness- sometimes to the point that it would confuse or piss off innocent bystanders.  We laughed the same laugh & spoke the same language....and if that's the case, I must have had a thick Long Island accent (like Kevin's) in a past life.
Props to from Kevin:
L: Graduation Gift?  No(kia)-sir-ree!! Fischer Price plastic red toy phone (with drinking straw antennae) will do for now.
R: Kevin struts out in Over The Rhine (Cincinnati) in a dapper ensemble of red plastic lei, gold caution tape, and green Elton John-esque specs- karma, karma chameleon!
Through all those years since we met, Kevin and I have remained close friends even if we've lived at opposite ends of the Continental U.S.  I guess we're stuck with each other.  And when you throw my bestie Meredith into this mix, it's just madness and mayhem.  I'm surprised we haven't been committed to an institution yet.

I know when I pick up the phone to talk with Kevin, I'll be hanging up with abs of steel and a weak bladder.  Soon after talking with him, my trials & tribulations are quickly forgotten & become trivial.  We entertain each other with silly stories about life's conundrums that we encounter as we leave the state of Reality Bites and venture off to the silly, nonsensical tangents of Never-Never-Land.  Serious belly-laughter to the point of almost peeing your pants can be a real pick-me-up after a lousy day of being an adult. ;)
Sometimes shopping cart donuts in the parking lot with Kevin are a real mood booster too.
Recently, Kevin made a big hop from New York City to Cincinnati.  After years of dealing with the stressful hustle-bustle of Manhattan, Kevin preferred to live in a more relaxed environment and moved back to the Midwest.  Opportunity came knocking on my door, and I decided to make him a housewarming present for his new Cincy digs.

So back to the drawing board I went and off to the sewing machine....

And voila-- an applique of a Snaggle-toothed Monster Squirrel ready to pounce on a cityscape was created in Kevin's honor!

Squirrels have become another goofy addition to my friendship with Kevin.  Ok, that sounds kinda weird, I admit, but there's always a story behind it.  It started when Kevin and I went back home to my parents house.  My parents lived 25 minutes north of U.C., I had wheels, and we were frequent visitors whenever dorm food or top ramen wasn't sounding like an appetizing option.  We must have been chilling in the family room watching TV when Kevin discovered a stuffed squirrel just chilling in the branches of a plant.  This was not a plush squirrel, it was a stuffed squirrel that my little brother made in a summer activity class on Taxidermy.  Rather than it collect dust in the attic, My parents would just let it perch in their plant to show off my brother's talent.  Once Kevin got a hold of it, you would have thought this was the next best thing since sliced bread!!  
So when I was shopping at an outlet mall a few months later, I came across a life-size plastic squirrel figurine at the Nature Company's outlet store.  Ah, perfect I thought!  It was on clearance and I knew Kevin would love it.  I walked past it on the shelf to grab one and as soon as I walked by, I heard a little squirrel garble-chuckle noise.  When I reached for the box it came packaged in, I read that this was a motion detector squirrel that gave off a little squirrelly-chirp when it sensed motion.  Oh man, even more perfect!!!  I could only imagine the hi-jinks that would ensue once this squirrel was in the hands of prankster Kevin.
And the squirrel shenanigans did ensue......almost costing Kevin a job.  Kevin was working in the office of the EPA in Cincinnati on one of his co-ops, or internships, during college.  He brought the motion detector squirrel to work one day and when no one was looking, shoved it up inside the ceiling panels in the office.  For almost a week, Kevin had gotten away with bloody murder as people would hear this mysterious little chirp and have no idea where it was coming from.  I can't remember the exact details, but I want to say maintenance was called on a few separate occasions to search for the root of the chirpy noises.  All the staff were perplexed and the whole office was disrupted.  Finally the squirrel was found up inside the ceiling and Kev's boss was not laughing anymore.  Kevin got a stern talking-to, but luckily didn't lose his job.  
Anytime I see a squirrel, I can't help but think of Kevin.  I decided that his housewarming gift had to be a squirrel.

Just as Kevin returns to Cincinnati.....The Squirrel invades the city, once again!

One thing I've appreciated about my friendship with Kevin, is that when I'm around him I can drop all of my adult problems and play like a kid again.  I guess you could say I can be like the squirrel.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What's Red and White and Everything Blue?

Something doggone cute, that's what!

As a designer, crafter, and sewist, I'm super lucky to be working for a textile company like Clothworks!  Not only am I surrounded by oodles of fabric which prompts me to go off in 'creative la-la-land' every once and a while, but I get to step up to the plate and use my mad crafter skills when something like the Everything Blue Block Hop comes along!
In honor of the upcoming launch of Clothworks designer Marsha McCloskey's gorgeous new collection called Everything Blue, our marketing coordinator Susie coordinated a Block Hop using fabrics from this collection.  All the blocks contributed in this block hop will be pieced together to form a quilt that will be donated to a charitable organization.  Follow along at Clothworks blog, The Works, to see what the other participants cook up in the Everything Blue Block Hop!

We had just a few stipulations for the blocks in order to participate in the block hop.  The finished blocks had to meet a 10.5" or 12.5" square format, needed to use up to 3 fabrics from the Everything Blue fabric collection, and could use 3 additional fabrics of our choice that were either red, white, or blue.  We were given free reign to come up with whatever design on the block that we desired.  Oh yay, I thought!!  I've made a few simple pieced quilts in my day, but my real strength lies in my applique designs.  I love combining my artistic/ sketching talents with my eye for color to create striking applique designs.  And one more thing I love......PUPPIES!!!!
So 'Who let the Dogs Out?!!  Woof-woof-woof-woof-woof!'  Why me, of course!
The Red-White-and-Blue Tri-Color palette inspired me to create 2 different appliqued blocks-  one with a French Bulldog and one with a Boston Terrier, the American Gentleman.  I really had a ball with this project.  The Frenchie just makes me laugh with his red beret & neckerchief, and silly moustache.  The Bosty is so dapper with his natural 'tuxedo-style' markings.  I stuck a red lace bowtie on him to complete his look.  I am partial to Bosties, so he won my heart with a big red lace one.

Since I didn't document my process when I made my Everything Blue block contributions, I decided to make them in different fabrics to give you an idea of how I create my appliques.  Pictures say a thousand words, right?
This little Frenchy was turned into a stuffed pillow and will be heading off to a very special person!! ;)

Not only is this Bosty quite suave, he's a talented pup tickling the ivories.  Lucky me, I get to wear him on my sweatshirt!!!

I can't wait to see what all the contributors created for the block hop.  With such diverse talent and free reign of design, I can only imagine the finished quilt is going to be blue-tiful!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Matcha Pan Muffin Savage: Gluten-Free Muffins Packed with Punch!

Yesterday was pay-day and I splurged on a tin of Matcha Green Tea powder while I was picking up a Chirashi bowl for lunch at Maruta's in Georgetown where I work.  I always do a quick mental inventory of any Asian condiments that are needed to restock my fridge or pantry when walking around Maruta's, and Matcha Green Tea powder popped in my head.  Last February, I made some Green Tea cupcakes to impress my baking-diva vegetarian gardener friend Sarah for her birthday and had a terrible time finding the real-deal Matcha powder in the joe-schmo grocery stores around my neighborhood.  I ended up ripping the tea bags open from Republic of Tea's Double Green Matcha Tea to sub in that recipe.  It worked for the time being; there was a nice Matcha flavor, but the downside of using this was the gritty texture of the course green tea leaves partially mixed with the real Matcha powder.  When you bit into the cupcake, the inside of your mouth was covered in what felt like dried basil from a spice rack.  Mental note- next time use real Matcha powder!
So now that I got my Matcha, I perused the interwebs for some recipes.  Usually I just google the contents of what's currently in my pantry & fridge in my search.  I happened to have some almond flour left over from when I was on a gluten/sugar/dairy-fast last winter.  A foray in gluten-free, sugar-free, and dairy-free baking, I made this recipe for a blueberry lemon pound cake, and still had a number of left-over ingredients sitting in my cupboard.
After a bit of surfing, I stumbled upon this recipe from interior designer Kristopher Dukes' blog: Matcha Green Tea Almond Flour Mini-Muffins.  I had all of the recipe contents in my kitchen, so no special trip to the store was needed.  This morning I thought I'd treat myself to these muffins for breakfast and after a shot of espresso, went to town!

I fiddled around a little bit with the recipe since I also had some coconut flour and coconut oil in stock and knew that would up the flavor profile to another level of yumminess.  Since I read that you need to add more liquid when baking with coconut flour due to its absorbent properties, I though hmmm...what else do I have in my kitchen.  Oh yes, some extra eggs and heavy cream left over from making a batch of the Barefoot Contessa's Pecan Squares this past week for a co-worker's birthday.  Nothing like using up the kitchen's bounties for a recipe!!

Here's my modified version of Ms. Dukes recipe.  I call it--

Matcha Pan Muffin Savage:  Gluten-Free Muffins Packed with Punch!
(WWF aficionados and Children of the '80s take reference)

'The Tower of Power
Too Sweet to be Sour
Funky Like a Monkey
OOOOH- yeahhhhhh!'

2 cups finely ground almond flour 
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp baking soda 
2 tbs matcha green tea powder
1/4 cup cane sugar
3 eggs 
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. 
2. In a large bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk all wet ingredients together.  Slowly pour the wet mixture into the large bowl of dry ingredients. 
4.  With an electric mixer, mix the liquid mixture and dry mixture together for a few minutes until all ingredients are well blended.  The consistency is going to look green and crunchy.
3. Take spoonfuls of this mixture and lop them into lined (or non-stick) mini muffin tins. 
4. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top. 
5. Bake for 22 minutes, or until the edges brown.  Stick a toothpick in and out of the middle of a muffin to check if the muffin has cooked all the way through.  If it's clean, it's done.
6)    Take out of the oven, let cool for 5 minutes.
7)    Remove muffins (still lined) from muffin tins and let cool on rack for a few minutes.  Bon Appetite!

Ok, so I've eaten 4 already, does that tell you anything??  The coconut & almond flavors marry well with the delicate matcha green tea flavor.  The texture is slightly moist, but dry enough so that the muffin still maintains its form and doesn't fall apart like a mashed up heap of nuts.  Trust me, I am always skeptical when I cook with all-purpose flour alternatives.  You never know what kind of level of crunchiness will turn out from your slave-to-the-kitchen pursuits.  

One more food porn pic-- up close and personal!  Chomp!
For Gluten-Free baking, this recipe is no flash in the pan. A champion in the ring, err kitchen, this is a keeper....DIG IT-Ooh Yeah!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Summer 'Sol' Searchin'

September is here, Labor Day is through, and it's almost time to close the book on Summer 2013.  The daylight hours are whittling away a bit more each day, and the mornings & evenings are getting just a tad cooler than they were the day before.  I admit, I'm not much for being an active blogger in the summertime.  I guess when you live up in the Pacific Northwest, being one of the wettest climates in the Continental U.S., you learn to get in while the gettin' is good whenever the sun comes out.  Summer 2013 was most definitely one to be got here in Seattle.  In the past 7 summers I've lived here, this compares to no other.  The weather was consistently clear, with blue skies & sunshine, and 80 degree temps with very low humidity.  In fact, we made it through a record stretch without rain.  I don't have the facts in front of me, but it was somewhere around the ballpark figure of 30 days straight with not a drop of precipitation.  Seattle bared its 'sol' this year and it was the perfect opportunity for me to do a little 'sol' searching too.  So lemme take the opportunity to reflect.

Come along and ride on a fantastic voyage..... 
Lake side, pool side, beach side, river side...or just plain old sidewalk!  Nothing beats the Greenwood Classic Car show!  Cruise the mile and a half thoroughfare dotted with one vintage beauty after another....

Summer in Seattle sure was nice, but sometimes a girl's gotta hit the road and head south.  Run for the border to the Rose City, aka Portlandia aka Portland, OR.  June is the time when the flowers are in bloom and the Roses are Free in Peninsula Park.  But a summer just isn't a summer without a trip to the beach!  Head west to the coast and you'll run into a sweet little beach town called Manzanita.  Perfect setting to taste the salty breezes and tickle your toes in the cold Pacific surf.

Those cool rainy winters in Seattle sure can be a drag, but at least we have gorgeous flowers and plants to show for it when Summer comes to town.  Speaking of towns, what a better place to see all sorts of flora and fauna than south of Seattle proper in a quirky neighborhood called Georgetown. A little jewel tucked inside of industrial parks, railroads, and airports, you would never know the secret gardens that await you had you not gone on the Georgetown Garden Tour.  Petunias, Succulents, Hydrangeas, Roses, and Pictures of Lily(s), could be spotted in hi-definition brilliance.

As mid-summer approached, near the end of July, an amazing surprise and early birthday present was bestowed upon me.  Jimmy Flame had purchased a ticket for me to go see Paul McCartney play at Safeco Field.  My teenage dream had come true and I leaped with joy in the thought of seeing a real, living Beatle perform!  History was in the making.  Giddy & gushing as in true teenage fashion, I did get crafty once during the summer and made an applique Paul on my tee-shirt to show my undying love and devotion as a fan.  Sitting in the stadium watching a very spry Sir Paul perform for 3 hours straight at the ripe age of 71, and with my impending birthday on my mind, I learned you're never too old to ROCKLet me roll it....

Oh yes, that birthday.... they say it's my birthday (we're gonna have a good time)....It was a milestone one this year.  But a lady never reveals her age.  She will just have her cake and eat it too, thank you very much!

It's no secret that sometimes those 'milestone' birthdays cause you to question the meaning of life and where you fit in to the scheme of things.  With such pensive thoughts on the brain, another 'get outta dodge' moment was needed in search of my 'sol'.  So a short roadtrip and then a ferry ride brought Me Myself and I to Whidbey Island, where I felt like I was miles away from pressures of the city.  Time to let loose!

Beaches, blue skies, fresh air, and walks through the woods provided much needed mental clarity and renewal for my birthday'd-out brain.  Forget the fountain of youth, the key to anti-aging is a long walk deep in the forest to expand your mind!

Each day brought forth a new experience, a new answer to a question, and one step closer to being in touch with my 'sol', one sunset at a time.

If there was one take away moment I could reflect on this summer, it would be the one time I awoke extra early while at Whidbey Island to 'get up at the bum-crack of dawn to watch the sunrise'.  I'm not much of an early riser; I'd rather watch the sunset in mental peace & serenity than try to hustle out the door in the dark with morning grogginess to catch a sunrise.  But I wanted a new challenge and a new perspective of watching the sun.  Surprisingly, with no coffee in my system, I amazed myself by jumping out of bed, brushing my teeth, and hitting the ground running  at 5:30 am for the sunrise!  

So I set out on my journey from the cottage at where I was staying.  Blankets of fog covered the surrounding fields on each side of my path, and the sky above transitioned from midnight blue to medium blue.  I wasn't exactly sure where I wanted to see the sunrise; I just knew I needed to head East.  I decided that maybe I'd see the sunrise in a new a location that I had never been to on Whidbey Island and set out towards that point.  As I continued driving, the blankets of fog that were once dotting the fields here and there morphed into one thick, nearly blinding white cloud-wall.  The voice inside of me said you'll never see the sunrise in this.  So with just minutes to spare, I backtracked and decided on a sunrise destination:  Langley.  I knew the little town well and had even spent time there the day before relaxing on the water bank.  It was East and of course I'd see the sunrise there, I thought.  So Langley sunrise or bust,  I headed in that direction and the sky went from cotton ball white to clear blue.  I had finally gotten my bearings and knew my sunrise GPS was up to speed.  With just a minute before the actual sunrise time, I parked the car and walked towards the public landing near the water which faced East.  Moments after, a bright orange ball slowly rose above the peaked horizon.  The ball grew larger and more intense with every second it lifted up in the sky.  Wow...what a glorious sight to behold!  And amazingly, I was the only person to witness this!!  I continued walking around the landing area to get different view points and then I looked up at the street name which I had never noticed until then.  Well, whaddya know!?  I was on Sunrise Lane, watching one of the most magnificent sunrises!!  I chuckled to myself.

What I learned from this experience is that sometimes you just got to go after the 'unknown', trust your instincts, keep your eyes on the prize, and the answer will be obvious, looking you right back in the face.  And that makes you Happier than the Morning Sun!

Thanks for taking the time to read about my summer 'sol' search.  Looking back on it, it was quite a journey.  Pictures say a thousand words, but music is always in my heart, body, mind, and soul.  Sprinkled throughout my summer travel recap were some musical clues that I listed in bold.  Pick them out and you have the soundtrack of my summer.  Press play & enjoy!