Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Valentine I made for my Sweetheart

It's well past Valentine's Day now, but I did want to post this Valentine that I made and gave to my husband this year. I made it with fabric from my stash ironed on with double-sided fusible web. I want to make more of these soon, maybe with different variations on this maybe the little boy holding a fishing rod and maybe the little girl holding a bouquet of flowers. I love the Sunbonnet Sue quilt patterns, and I need to make a Sunbonnet Sue quilt someday. But until then, it's fun to play with the design with smaller-scale projects like this.

Handmade greeting cards

I love to make my own greeting cards. I don't do it all the time. We have a long list of people we try to remember for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, Christmas, and sometimes also Easter, Passover, and Hanukkah. But when I can find time to make my own cards, it's very satisfying.

Last week, I had an unexpected request for handmade cards, so I was really thankful to find a downloadable PDF online at this website for these cards with buttons from my stash at home. All I had to do was print the PDF onto a sheet of cardstock and use my hot glue gun to attach the buttons. Super easy, and super cute, I think.

I made them for a young woman from the Ukraine who has been interning for our ministry for the past six months. She's been a huge blessing to all of us, and I had the privilege of spending more time with her than many in the office because she was staying for much of her time here with a family in our part of the Twin Cities. So we commuted together to and from the office, and I had the joy of learning more about her life in that country, her family, her faith story, and even learned a few Russian words.

I'll miss Olya now that her time with us has ended, but I'm hoping that we can stay in touch via email, at least, and I find it so encouraging to remember that she's not only our friend, but also our sister in Christ. If we never see her again in this world, we'll see her someday in heaven...What a gift God has given us to have family in Christ all over the world, from every tribe, and tongue, and nation. Praise the Lord!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mittens for my Sweetheart

I finished a pair of mittens for my Sweetheart, just in time for another way of bone-chilling temperatures here in the Twin Cities.

As one of my coworkers reminded me this morning, winter is only half over in this part of the country. We can have snow as late as April, which could be depressing if you don't just fix your heart on being thankful for each day, regardless of the forecast.

Here's one thing to be thankful for today. I had a sunrise to enjoy on my drive to work this morning, and it was still light outside for an hour after I got home again this evening. That's almost 11 hours of daylight, after several weeks of driving to and from work in the dark.

Also, I'm thankful that my favorite AM radio stations will have a signal during some of my off-work hours. I don't understand why, in this day and age, only a few select radio stations are allowed to broadcast at full power during the hours before sunrise and after sunset. But whatever the reason, I'm thankful to have more choice in terms of stations on the radio.

Those are just a few reasons specifically that I'm thankful today. I could also talk about my sweet husband, who obligingly allows me to take his photo wearing his new mittens, just as long as I don't include his face in the photo.

Oh, and he is wearing a Hawaiian shirt this time of the year. He wears them all year round. He does have a warm coat to wear outdoors, but he's happy to wear a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt indoors any time. When I remark about how I can't believe that he can be warm when I'm shivering beside him in church--me wearing wool from head to foot--he just tells me that it's the "curse of testerone".

And I really can't end this post with my partial list of reasons to be thankful without being thankful to the Lord, who created my Sweetheart and gave him a heart to love me. God is so good to us. Happy Belated Valentine's Day, Honey!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Slow Cooker Shredded Beef

I love slow cooker recipes. It’s so satisfying to mix a few things together and set it to cook for several hours.

I often do this the night before and make room for the slow cooker in the refrigerator so that I can just take it out and plug it in before I leave for the day. When I come home from work, the house smells wonderful, and my main dish for dinner is nearly done.
When I do a roast, I usually just serve it as is, carved and served with baked potatoes (made in the microwave), a microwaved vegetable, and a quick tossed salad. Oh, and I also make a quick gravy with the juice from the roast.

But recently, I decided that I wanted to try another way of cooking a roast. I’ve been tempted at the grocery store by the pre-made shredded beef and pork products, but as usual, I wanted to make it myself at home. So when I found this recipe through the Reiman Publications Taste of Home Menu Newsletter, I thought it would be worth a try.

As usual, I made a few changes for our own kitchen. I increased the garlic and onion, and the amount of cayenne pepper to give it more kick. Also, I didn’t have regular cola on hand, so I used some of my husband’s favorite cherry-flavored cola instead (Cherry Coke or Cherry Pepsi).

It turned out wonderful! And it was so easy to make! I served it on hamburger buns with roasted asparagus, and homemade spicy garlic pickles on the side…Yum!

¾ cup cola
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. vinegar (I used red wine vinegar, because that’s what I had on hand)
¾ tsp. chili powder
¾ tsp. ground mustard
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 boneless rump roast (2 pounds)
3 medium onions, chopped
1 cup ketchup

Combine everything but the roast, onions, and ketchup in a 4-cup measuring cup. Set aside.

Cut the roast in half crosswise, and brown meat on all sides in a nonstick skillet.

Place onions in a 3-quart slow cooker. Top with meat, and pour half the cola mixture over the meat (saving the other half and refrigerating it until later). Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until meat is tender. Remove meat from cooking liquid to cool a bit. Strain the onions from the liquid and put them back into the slow cooker, saving the liquid. Shred the beef with two forks and add it back to the slow cooker with the onions.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the cola mixture that you saved in the refrigerator and about half the leftover liquid from the meat with the ketchup to make a barbecue sauce to add back to the meat and onions. Mix together and heat again to serve.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A new bag...keeping my resolution for January

Well, one month into the year, and I've managed to keep most of my the grace and mercy of God.

One of them was to make one small sewing project each month, or make progress on one larger project each month. And for the month of January, I combined that resolution with my plan to make a birthday gift for one of my dear friends from northern Minnesota...Since she doesn't have email access, I can post this photo and write about her gift even though she won't be receiving it until next weekend.

I made her a bag using a free online pattern that I found on a website I frequently visit for inspiration when it comes to sewing and crafts, called Artsy Crafty Babe. The blogger is an amazing woman who combines a full-time job outside the home with a full-time job at home caring for a husband and children, and she somehow also manages to make really creative things with fabric, especially cute totes and purses.

This is the fourth bag I've made from this pattern. The first two bags were done exactly as the pattern specified, and the last two have been a slight variation using two different fabric prints and creating contrasted pleated panels, as you see in my photo above. The two prints, though you can't tell from this photo, both have a little teddy bear near a window. Since my friend who will receive this bag adores teddy bears (she even had a teddy bear on a banner for wedding reception), I know that she'll like these two prints.

The lining of the bag has the lighter colored print, and the two straps each have one print or the other, for additional contrast. Oh, and I also added a second pocket to the interior of the bag since I made my first one, based on a suggestion from a friend who received my second of these bags for a gift this Christmas. She had pointed out that having a pocket on each side of the interior would give it more balance, and it did. But even more importantly, I think, it added more pockets for small things...I never seem to have a purse with enough pockets.

The size of this bag is also a nice feature. It's not so huge that it can't be a purse, but it is large enough to carry my smaller knitting projects, which I bring to the office to work on over the lunch hour most days.

Finally, I love the width of the straps of this bag. They stay on my shoulders better than most of my purse straps do. I'll probably try other bag patterns someday, but now I'm really sold on this one.

My birthday present...10 months early

In addition to my husband's job as a piano teacher, he also does handyman projects. And even though he does have that type of work to keep him busy this month, he still found time to make me another present. By our count, he's now up to my birthday for 2008, and my birthday is in November.

Let's see...Since last fall, he's painted the spare bedroom (which is also my sewing room and our exercise room), installed two ceiling fans, built me a wonderful new wall-mounted bookshelf, and made me a beautiful new oak quilt rack. And most recently, he made me a spice rack for the kitchen.

I ordered 32 four-ounce glass jars with lids (and some with sifters) from a online business called the Spice Barn (which provided great service and value), and he used leftover wood from another building project to make two rows of shelving for my spices. I made labels on our computer, and he helped with the labeling and transferring of all of my most-used seasonings.
The result is a beautiful, well-organized storage system that makes cooking even easier and more fun in my kitchen. And it also cleared out quite a bit of space in the nearby cupboards.

I had been over to a coworker's house for lunch before Christmas, and I had seen her impressive display of Penzey's spices on a lovely wooden rack...I can't really justify that amount of cost on our budget, but I did love the look of those well-organized spices, all in neat uniform jars. I think our overall cost for this project was under $50, including wood, fasteners, finish, and the spice jars...I feel very blessed.

I'm done with my first pair of socks!!!

Another project I did while I was sick was finish my first pair of hand-knit socks. I used the pattern and method described on Knitting Step by Step, a knitting podcast. The instructions were a little tricky to follow when I got to the part where I was knitting the gusset, but another site I found proved to be a good supplement to the podcast's instructions.

Oh, and I should probably explain that I enlisted my husband's help to take this photo of me and new socks. I was sitting on our living room couch in my pajamas at the time (convalescing from my head cold). The little gray guy in the background of the photo is our dog Charlie, who is also lounging. He's wearing a little doggie sweater, which I didn't knit, but it's still cute.

Now I'm on to another knitting project. I'm making a pair of mittens for my husband to use as liners under his big leather chopper mittens. The choppers have linings already, but with sub-zero temperatures like we've been having here in Minnesota this winter, wearing a second pair of mittens underneath the choppers will be helpful, especially when he's clearing our long driveway.

I'm so grateful to have his help with that. When I was living here as a single woman more than four years ago, I hired a snowplow to do my driveway, but I still had to keep up with the front walk and the porch and deck. Now my Sweetie does it all...Thank the Lord!

Easy and Delicious Roast Chicken

First of all, I apologize for the long lapse in posting on this site. My husband and I are just getting over our third severe sinus/head cold this winter. He teaches piano, and he has double the students this year, and all we can think is that we're being exposed to double the germs than we are usually are...In any case, every time I've found myself feeling really tired as well as congested. Thankfully, I was spared the high fever that my husband had several days ago.

In any case, I haven't quick cooking or doing crafts during this time. I've just slowed down a bit. But one recipe I found was easy enough to make even when you're sick with a bad cold.

I found a recipe for roast chicken is even easier than my favorite recipe for roast turkey. All you do is season the bird well with garlic salt and pepper and then roast in a 450-degree oven for about an hour for 2-1/2-pound bird (my two chickens, pictured above, took an extra hour because they were both larger birds and had a combined weight of about 7 pounds).

When the meat registers 165 degrees at the thicken part, take it out of the oven and sprinkle it generous with leaf thyme and rubbed sage. Then baste it a few times with the rendered fat in the pan (you could add a little melted butter, too, but I had enough pan juices to baste it well). And that's it. Serve your chicken and enjoy! And be sure to save the bones and leftover meat for homemade chicken soup, chicken and biscuits, etc.