November 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

Word Press is providing a weekly photo challenge in conjunction with the NoBloPoMo project. The idea is to provide a theme to encourage bloggers to take photographs and learn to manipulate them, working to get the best images possible. The blog at Word Press is running a simultaneous Photography 101 series, so if you are interested in a few great tips, you should check it out.

This week’s theme is “Layers.” I am at my parents’ house and my dad recently cut down a huge tree and chopped it up for winter firewood. Nothing says layers like a cross-section of wood. These photos were taken with my phone.

Wood1

I love the textural qualities of tree bark. Tree bark is the covering over the ring layers, so I decided this rugged tree bark was fair game for a photo, too.
Wood2

Later, on my walk home, I noticed these layers of wood, neatly stacked into the sand bank next to the river. They had obviously been partially charred by fire, and I loved the contrast of the bright yellow leaves and twigs layered on the wood.

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My layer photos relate to wood. Each ring in a tree marks a year’s growth cycle. The light part of the ring represents the spring growth, and the darker part of the ring represents the fall growth.  Tree rings tell the story of the life of the tree: fire, drought, and years of abundant rain. The study of tree rings and the stories they tell is called Dendrochronology. File that away for your next game of Trivia.

Until next time,

Joan

NoBloPoMo – A Brief Interruption….

My participation in the daily blog posts for NoBloPoMo has experienced a brief interruption. I have traveled to central Nevada, to my hometown, to stay with my parents while my mother recovers from surgery. Her negative reaction to medication and a serious fall have complicated the situation, so I am here a little longer than I had planned. Hopefully, the situation has settled enough that I can return to daily posts for the rest of the month.

Leaves

Nevada has colder weather this time of year than my home in California, and the trees here are so beautiful right now. The leaves are changing and the color in the valley is vibrant. In a few more weeks, the trees will be bare, so each day of this amazing color is a gift.

One of the writing prompts for this week was “What was the last thing you searched for on the Internet, and why?” That was an easy question. I love to arrange flowers, so my sister-in-law asked me if I would make some flower arrangements for her dining table and buffet table, since she is hosting dinner this year. I did some searching an found some great ideas.

Dinner-party-flower-arrangements

flowersbychris.com

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Daniellesrockawayflorist.com

 I am really loving this arrangement in a pumpkin!

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 topthistopthat.com

Putting the pumpkin in the center of the arrangement is a different idea! I love visiting the Flower Market in San Francisco. They have an amazing variety of beautiful flowers and it will be interesting to see what I end up making (I’ll post a photo).

I’m missing my family and hope to be on my way home soon!

Until next time,

Joan

Aurifil’s Designer Block of the Month Update

I realized yesterday that I had not yet posted my photos of the September and October blocks for the Aurifil project, so here they are. This is the September block:

Mr. Blue Sky

 

This block was designed by Kimberly Einmo, who is an author and quilt judge. The Rock and Roll song that inspired this block is “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. So, of course, that is the block’s name. I like the way Kimberly altered the basic “Ohio Star” pattern to really dress it up. It is an easy block to make. If you are interested in trying this block, or would like to download the tutorial for use later, you can find it here.

This is the block for October:

Stairway

 

This block is called “Stairway,” and was designed by Allison Harris of Cluck Cluck Sew. Allison is a fabric and pattern designer, and recently authored the book, “Growing Up Modern,” which features modern quilts for children. This block was inspired by her favorite Led Zeppelin song, “Stairway to Heaven.” This block is a modified “Rail Fence” block and is very easy to sew. One word of caution, though. The block is made by sewing together four groups of 1 1/2 inch wide by 14 inch long strips. Be very careful in sewing, handling and pressing these strips. There are a lot of bias edges here and things can go wonky on you in a heart beat. If you would like to try this easy block, the tutorial can be found here.

Here is a photo of the group of block so far:

Blocks

 

I have more than the 10 blocks in the project because I have been experimenting with some block designs and used the same fabrics. I have kept them together so I can eventually pick which ones I want to sew into a finished quilt.

When I was taking this photo, I had to change some of the camera settings because the room was very, very dark. The first shot produced this:

Blocks2

 

I had somehow moved the settings to “Effects,” which I have never used before. This is a cool feature. It has turned the blocks into what looks like a pencil drawing. I definitely need to play with this feature! Do any of you use this setting on your camera? What do you use it for?

Until next time,

Joan

 

Wordless Wednesday

CleoBlog

Making Creme de Ricotta at Home

My girlfriends and I traveled an hour north of the Bay Area to Sonoma, in the Napa Valley, to take a cheese-making class from Sheana Davis last weekend. Sheana is an epicurean cheese-maker and provides cheeses to the French Laundry and other five-star restaurants in the area. Sheana travels around the country, learning to make different cheeses from women in their 70’s and 80’s, who have been making cheese all their lives, and who have a vast amount of information to share. She is hoping to capture this information so it is not lost when these talented women are no longer with us.

Cheese1

Sheana first perfected this recipe for Creme de Ricotta to teach mothers who were using WIC (Women/Infants/Children Food Assistance) or Food Stamps how to take milk and a little cream and turn it into a tasty cheese, which could then be used to make nutritious meals for their families. Processed cheeses are very expensive and usually out of the reach of those families with limited budgets, so this is an excellent alternative.

This is how to make your own delicious creme de ricotta at home. You will need:

1 Gallon Whole Milk   (Organic, and unhomogenized, is preferable. You want whole milk that has the cream floating at the top.)

4 cups heavy cream

2 cups distilled white vinegar

2 teaspoons sea salt

You will also need a heavy pan (do NOT use a non-stick teflon pan because the teflon causes a chemical reaction which will not allow the cheese to form correctly), a 36 inch square of 200 thread count muslin or cotton (cheesecloth), a slotted spoon or ladle, a colander sitting in a deep bowl, and an all-purpose cooking thermometer.

Cheese3

 

Heat the milk and cream over medium heat to 200 degrees F.  This will take approximately 20 minutes. Stir or whisk often to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan.

When the mixture reaches 200 degrees, stir the milk clockwise, and quickly pour the vinegar in and sprinkle with the salt.

Cheese4

 

The milk will start to coagulate immediately. White curds will start floating in the whey. As you can see here, it immediately thickened enough to hold up the weight of this large cheese ladle.

Cover the pot and allow to rest for 10 – 12 minutes (but no longer, or the cheese will thicken too much). Do not remove the lid from the pot during this resting time.

Cheese5

 

Line a colander with cheesecloth, or a 200-count cotton cloth. Gently ladle the curds into the cloth. When spooning the curds into the colander, gently place the spoon against the side and let the curds slowly slide onto the cloth to drain. The more gently you handle the curds, the better the finished cheese. Each time you spoon more cheese into the colander, put it in a different area so you are not spooning curds and whey directly over the last curds placed in the colander.

Cheese6

 

You can let the curds drain for up to 30 minutes, but the longer it sits the more firm the cheese will be.

Cheese7

 

For a light, fluffy ricotta, gently pull up on the sides of the cloth, allowing the liquid to drain through the colander. Work around the perimeter of the bowl, very gently lifting and lowering the cheese while it drains.

Cheese8

 

When the majority of the liquid has drained from the cheese, carefully twist the ends of the cloth, gently squeezing the cheese. This will mold the cheese into a rounded shape, which can be turned over and placed on a plate for serving. Twisting the cloth around the cheese too vigorously will condense the cheese curds, making the cheese much firmer and less fluffy.

This cheese can be served sweet or savory. For a sweet appetizer, drizzle honey over the top of the cheese, then scatter chopped nuts and dried cranberries over the top of the honey. For a savory option, top the cheese with a layer of pesto and pine nuts. Or layer the pesto over the curds when you are ladling the curds into the colander. The pesto will be compressed as a layer in the cheese while it is being formed. Served while it is still warm with slices of baguette or crackers. This would be a delicious and super-easy appetizer for your next party. This morning I had this cheese with honey and cooked cranberries gently folded in, on a toasted bagel. Heaven! I can hardly wait to see what this ricotta tastes like in a lasagna.

Until next time,

Joan

Have You Been Moved By Music?

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Have you ever been really moved by music? This is the subject of the writing prompt today for the NaBloPoMo blog writing challenge I am participating in for this month. I haven’t used their other prompts yet, but this one resonated with me.

About eight months ago I was convinced by some of my girlfriends to join them at a Cross-Fit gym class designed for women over 45. Cross-Fit is an interesting approach to exercise…pulling tractor tires around the room, carrying around 50 pound bags of sand…well, you get the idea. The trainer is in his late 20’s and selects music from Pandora to motivate us during exercise. Taking our age into consideration, he has chosen what he calls “Ultra Golden Oldies.” This music is from the late 60’s and the 70’s and listening to it several times a week has reawakened memories I had forgotten.

Listening to this music has felt like time travel. Bennie and the Jets (Elton John) and Until You Come Back to Me (Aretha Franklin), immediately transports me to late evening drives across the Nevada desert in my Firebird, engine roaring, driving faster than I should (sorry, Mom – I know she is going to read this), with not much else to do but get lost in the music. Mason William’s Classical Gas reminds me of the hours I spent trying to perfect that song on the guitar my parents bought me when I was in high school. Does hearing a particular song immediately transport you to a place and time that is so real, so intense, that it startles you?

I grew up listening to my mom playing Glenn Miller’s String of Pearls on our piano. Every time I hear that song, I am immediately transported to childhood, watching her play a song she obviously loved.  I learned to play the flute in middle school, and continued to play in the high school symphony, and for many years beyond, and I can still remember my favorite pieces of music.  All four of our children have sung in choruses, and have learned to play musical instruments. Each of them have their own personal connection to music. They can sing the lyrics of just about any Dean Martin, Boz Skaggs or Bee Gee’s song, courtesy of their dad.

Music is very powerful. It can produce profound emotional and societal reactions. I would love for you to leave a comment about how music has moved you.

Until next time,

Joan

A Sunday Stroll

Today started out bright and beautiful, then clouded up and acted like it was going to rain…but no such luck! We have gone an unusually long time without rain here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and are hoping for a storm. Unfortunately, it may come later this week when I am driving across the Sierras to be with my mom for her surgery later this week.

It was, however, a great day for a stroll with my daughters at the Point Isabelle Dog Park,  north of the Berkeley Marina (San Francisco in the background) with our English Lab, Cleo, and our Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog, Ramsey.

POINT ISABLE

This is a short post, but I am striving to achieve my goal of posting a message every day this month for the NaBloPoMo challenge!

Until tomorrow,

Joan

Friends with Additions

With the help of my friend Elizabeth, whom I met through a virtual online bee about four years ago, we have formed a new quilt exchange group on Flickr called “Friends with Additions.” There are 14 members of the group, who live in Australia, the U.S., Canada, England, Switzerland and Germany. The 14 of us have become friends while sewing together over the last several years.

Each member of the group will make a starter block of any size, which will be passed from person to person, until everyone in the group has made an addition to the growing quilt. The additions will be made very organically, with the addition of a single block, a group of blocks, or perhaps a border. It will be up to the group to decide how each quilt will grow. I am very excited about this project. This is my starter block which I have mailed to Juliana in Australia for the first addition.

Blog1

 

Blog2

 

This block was inspired by the work of art quilter, Carrie Payne, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Carrie’s website is Believe Magic and it is well worth a visit. Carrie creates a variety of “Art Girl” quilts and posts a photo of a new quilt in her online journal every day. She is amazingly creative and is a very productive artist. Most of her quilts are approximately 8 – 10 inches wide and 16 – 20 inches tall. Many of her Art Girls have features drawn on their faces, but she also likes to use text fabric for the face and limbs, allowing the viewer to use their imagination about the girl’s features.

I have sent my “Art Girl” off to visit my friends and I am very interested to see what they will do and how the quilt will evolve. If you would like to see some of the other “starter” blocks, you can visit the group photo stream, Friends with Additions, and watch while our quilts grow.

Until next time,

Joan

NaBloPoMo – The Cure for Benign Neglect!

NaBloPoMo_November_prompts_large

I read the daily posts of a writer named Brent Riggs who writes about blogging. Last week he wrote a post asking if we were responsible for neglecting our blog. The answer in my case is: yes. It isn’t because I have nothing to say, it’s because I am having the trouble finding the time. Or at least that is what I keep telling myself. So, I am going to participate in NaBloPoMo this month: National Blog Posting Month. The idea is to set a goal and try your best to reach it. My goal is to blog every day this month. It may be a photo, or writing about a prompt that is provided for this challenge by the folks at Word Press, or my favorite subject: quilting.  It will help me get back to scheduling the time to show my blog a little love, and re-engage with you, my friends. So stay tuned, and we will see how close I can come to meeting this goal!

If you write a blog yourself, you might be interested in participating. To read more about the project, click here.

Until next time,

Joan