Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Soup with Smoked Paprika

With the chilly temperatures we had last night, it seems that fall is quickly on its way out, and winter's lurking just around the corner. We haven't had our first frost yet, but I'm expecting it any day now. These chilly days and nights make me long for a nice, hot bowl of soup. There's something so comforting about making soup - all that chopping and stirring, the wonderful smell of vegetables sauteing and broth bubbling, the anticipation of scooping up that first hot spoonful and blowing on it to cool it just a bit, then the wonderful taste of all those ingredients blending together -- mmm, makes me want to go get a bowlful right now!

I made a batch of this Pumpkin Soup this evening, and thought some of you might enjoy trying the recipe. The original came from Cooking Light magazine, but I've made a few modifications over the years. Note that you absolutely must use smoked paprika. It adds a delicious smoky flavor to the soup, and without it, it's rather bland.

Pumpkin Soup with Smoked Paprika and Pepitas
1 T. olive oil
3 1/2 C. chopped yellow bell pepper (about 3 large)
1 1/2 C. chopped carrot (about 3-4 medium)
1 C. chopped onion (about 1 large)
1/2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika 
2 garlic cloves, chopped
5 C. chicken broth, divided
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. pepitas (pumpkin seed kernels), toasted
1 T. chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, carrot, and onion. Cook 10 minutes or until almost tender, stirring occasionally. Add paprika and garlic; sauté 1 minute.

Add 3 cups broth, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Place one-third of vegetable mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid spills). Blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining vegetable mixture.

Return pureed vegetable mixture to Dutch oven. Stir in remaining 2 cups broth and pumpkin.

Cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice.

Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 7 bowls; top each serving with about 1 teaspoon pumpkin seeds and about 1/2 teaspoon parsley. Serve immediately.

Recipe notes:
- Rather than pureeing the soup in a regular blender, I use an immersion blender and puree it right in the Dutch oven. It's much easier and safer.
- I sometimes serve the soup with a dollop of sour cream and some snipped chives.
- The original recipe didn't call for any added salt, but I think it needs some, so I usually add about 3/4 teaspoon. You can adjust to taste.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oatmeal Raisin Bars

I'm busy baking again, in preparation for another Summerhill class next weekend, so I thought I'd share one of the cookie recipes I made today. These Raisin Bars are one of my favorites. I've been making them ever since I got married, and my kids loved them as an after-school snack when they were growing up. These cookies are so yummy, with that nice fruit filling in the middle and sweet crumb base and topping. Great with a cup of tea or a glass of milk.

 Oatmeal Raisin Bars
Combine in a saucepan:
2 ½ c. raisins
¾ c. water
¼ c. sugar
3 T. lemon juice
2 T. cornstarch
(OR for date bars, use 3 c. chopped dates + 1 ½ c. water)

Cook over low heat until thick. Cool.

Combine in a mixing bowl:
¾ c. butter or margarine
¾ c. brown sugar
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
1 ¾ c. flour
1 ½ c. rolled oats

Mix with an electric mixer until crumbly, or combine ingredients by hand with a pastry blender.

Firmly press half of the crumb mixture into a greased 9” x 13” pan. Spread the cooled filling over top, and cover with the remaining crumb mixture, patting down lightly.

Bake at 400º for about 20-25 minutes, or until the top starts to get slightly brown. Cool. Cut into bars.

Recipe notes:
These cookies freeze well, if you can keep from eating them all as soon as they're baked!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kitty Week - Sketch #7

It's the final day of "Kitty Week", and it's time you met Mica, who came to live with us a few years ago after she had some "issues" with being a well-behaved inside-cat at Sara's house. She now grudgingly coexists with Genevieve, Hoover, and Buckley and spends most of her time outdoors.

She loves to nap under the hydrangea bushes, where she observes the antics of the other critters with a look that says "Don't mess with me!"

She's shy and reclusive, except when Sara stops by. Then she gets absolutely silly - so happy to see her original mom again.

I hope you've enjoyed "Kitty Week". It's been fun sharing some of the sketches and paintings I've done of our pets. Which one was your favorite?

Would you like to have a portrait of your own pet done in watercolor? I'd love to paint one for you!  Email me for more information - you can contact me using the button here on my blog. The holidays will be here soon; wouldn't a portrait of someone's favorite pet make a thoughtful gift?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kitty Week - Sketch #6

I have a soft spot in my heart for this little sketch of Hoover and our golden retriever, Tucker, who died about 18 months ago. Tucker was the best dog, and Hoover was madly in love with him.  The two buddies would curl up and nap together whenever they had a chance.

Hoover tries to snuggle up with Buckley now, but it just isn't happening yet. Maybe one of these days, after Buckley mellows a little with age. Hoovie and I both still miss Tucker.

I took a painting class last fall and experimented with a more "drippy" style of watercolor. Here's my take on a similar scene of Hoover and Tucker, adding a little oil pastel line work to the watercolor washes ...

8" x 10"
I enjoy experimenting with materials and techniques. After all, it's just a piece of paper - what does it matter if it turns out to be less than a masterpiece? It's the experience that's important.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kitty Week - Sketch #5

This is a 10" x 14" painting I did of Hoover several years ago. He was lying on an antique quilt in the sunshine, and I just couldn't resist painting him.

What was really funny, though, was that when I finished the painting, I propped it up on the daybed in my studio to step back and take a look at it, and Hoover walked in. Being the curious cat that he is, he had to check out what the strange object was on his favorite napping spot ...

Then he promptly curled up and went to sleep, matching the pose in the picture.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kitty Week - Sketch #4

Two years ago, on Christmas Eve, it was a bitterly cold snowy night with howling winds, and, as my daughter, Sara, fumbled with the keys to her back door, trying to get in the house and out of the wind after spending Christmas Eve at our house, she looked down to find a skinny little bundle of fur wrapping around her legs, meowing piteously. Enter: Buddy.

Buddy, about 8 weeks old
Named after Buddy the Elf, the character portrayed so hilariously by Will Ferrell in the movie "Elf", our feline Buddy has personality plus! He's a bundle of energy who's always getting into trouble. A mischievous scamp with a taste for fun, he drives you crazy but you can't help loving him. He lives with Sara now and wreaks havoc on her house, but he's such a sweetheart that she just has to laugh at his antics. If he could talk, he might be quoting Will Ferrell's line, "I'm a cotton-headed ninny-muggins!"

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kitty Week - Sketch #3

You'll see a lot of sketches in my sketchbooks of cats and dogs sleeping, for obvious reasons. It's really hard to draw them when they're moving! Here, Hoover was more than happy to pose while napping on a snuggly chenille throw one sunny fall afternoon.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kitty Week - Sketch #2

When I did my series of alphabet sketches last year, our cat Hoover posed for the letter "K"...

Every day he takes a walk down the driveway, so focused and purposeful, like he's walking to work or something. Where he goes, nobody knows. He also likes to sit on this stump and watch for mice and squirrels. We know what he does with those.

We brought him home from the Humane Society, along with Genevieve, after weeks of tearful begging from Sara and Matt to get a kitten. Fourteen years later, the kids are gone but the cats are still here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kitty Week - Sketch #1

Feline aficionados, I have a treat for you - a whole week's worth of kitty sketches!

Let's start with Genevieve, our 14-year old gray and white cat. She's a sweetheart with a feisty side. She delights in taunting Buckley (my golden retriever) who is crazy jealous of her. She loves to snuggle up in a nice warm lap, but has the unfortunate habit of drooling when she's happy.

Watch for another sketch tomorrow!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oak Leaf

Today was one of those fall days that I just want to hold onto and imprint on my mind, so I can take it out next winter on some grey, drizzly day and remember when the world was a riot of color. Some days it's so achingly beautiful that I can hardly stand it! I want to soak it up, because I know it's so fleeting. Today, the sky was that deep rich cobalt blue that's almost purple, and the colors of the trees were so intense that they seemed to glow from within. The grass that was brown and dead looking just a few weeks ago is now so green it looks artificial. Photos can't do it justice. A painting with those bright colors would look garish. The only way to experience it is to be there, and be aware, and stop for a moment, and wonder at the beauty of it all.

"Even if something is left undone,
everyone must take time to sit still
and watch the leaves turn."
Elizabeth Lawrence 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fabric Origami Step-by-Step - "Primrose"

When I taught my "High-End Embellishments" class last weekend, I added a new fabric origami design to my usual curriculum. The "Primrose" pattern is simple and quick to fabricate. I used this origami design on a job that I completed last winter - box pleated drapery panels and scalloped valances with origami accents. We needed 27 origami pieces, so I wanted something that would look good, but not take too long to make. Here's the finished product:
Covered buttons and contrast welt add beautiful detailing.
The tan fabric was a polyester faux silk. The red was dupioni silk.
A red bead was added to the center of each origami piece.
As a special gift to my client, I made a coordinating pillow with hand guided free-motion quilting in a pattern of interlocking circles. The background behind the origami is stippled to provide a contrasting texture.
All of the fabric origami techniques that I use come from a book called Flower Origami by Kumiko Sudo. I highly recommend it. In my instructions for you here, I've altered her original technique in a few places to make construction a little more efficient.

So, for those of you who haven't been able to make it to a weekend class, here's a little taste of Summerhill ...

Primrose Origami

Use natural fabrics such as silk or cotton.

1–  Cut two squares 8” x 8”. Draw a 7” circle on the wrong side of the lighter fabric square.

2– Using a short stitch length, sew on the drawn line the whole way around the circle. Trim the seam allowance to a scant 1/4”.

3– Cut a small (about 1”) slit for turning the piece right side out. It should be located about 3/4” away from the center. In this example, the slit is in the lighter fabric.

4– Turn the circles right side out, being careful to have a smooth curved edge. Press.
5– Find the center of the circle by folding in quarters and marking a center dot. Starting at the left side of the circle, fold the curved edge inward to the center. Press lightly.

6– Repeat with the other three edges, pressing each side in place.

Open out the last corner and tuck the fabric under the first fold.

 You should have a perfect square.

7– Stitch each piece where they meet in the center. Your stitches will go through to the back of the circle.

 8– Open out each corner fully, pulling the fabric upright.

9– Flatten each corner, forming diagonal lines radiating out from the center to the corners. Press lightly.

10– Fold back the curved edge at each corner to reveal more contrast fabric. Hand stitch the fold down, or use a tiny dot of low-temp hot glue under the fold. 

Origami flowers can be used to embellish window treatments, pillows, ottomans, purses, and quilts. They also make beautiful Christmas ornaments. Give it a try!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"High-End Embellishments" Class at Summerhill

A weekend getaway in a beautiful location with good friends, great food, and nothing to do but relax, have fun, and learn lots of great new sewing techniques -- sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it was a reality for the six women who enrolled in my October 8-10 "High-End Embellishments" class here at Summerhill. They traveled from as far away as Arizona and Massachusetts to get together and learn all about free-motion quilting, trapunto, applique, fabric origami, tucks, and lots more.
It was a perfect fall weekend here in western Pennsylvania
Summerhill Weekend Sewing Retreats are geared toward professional drapery workroom owners who want to learn how to incorporate traditional embellishment techniques into the custom home furnishings they fabricate for their customers. Guests stay here at my home and enjoy great home cooking, pretty guest rooms, and instruction in my sewing studio.

On Friday afternoon, after everyone got settled into their rooms, we did some smaller projects like yo-yos, ruching, prairie points, and fabric origami. Then we tackled an elaborate Celtic applique project. Look how beautifully they turned out! It's amazing how much you can learn in a short time, isn't it?
Francine, Laura, Jacqui, Nancy, Irene, and Suzy

Friday night dinner was great, and the dessert was to die for!
The girls can't wait to try Chocolate Pavlova with Whipped Cream and Fresh Raspberries
Saturday was jammed full of learning. The ladies practiced free-motion quilting, hand stuffed trapunto, machine trapunto, and freezer paper applique.
Laura and Suzy work on hand stuffed trapunto

Irene, Laura, and Francine stitch their quilted trapunto sampler
Don't they look proud of themselves? Well, they should be - their work was amazing!
TA-DA! Freezer paper applique with origami
One of the things everyone enjoyed most was not having to cook for three days, or think about laundry, soccer practice, homework, or housework. All they had to do was enjoy themselves.

Sunday morning breakfast
Sunday we worked on fusible applique, double needle pintucks, and several other types of sewn tucks. It was a busy, busy morning. The weekend was winding down, and we still had so much to accomplish.
Francine proudly displays her fusible applique with fabric origami accent
We took a quick break for lunch ... and, of course, dessert ...
Everyone loves my cookie sampler tray, including me!
Too soon, it was time for everyone to head home. We had such a great time laughing, learning, and sharing with each other. It's wonderful to be with people who share my love of creative design and sewing. It always impresses me, when I'm teaching, the way my students keep coming up with ways to add their own personal touch to the projects we do here. My instructions are just a starting point.

They come to Summerhill to learn new skills, but the weekend winds up being about so much more. As  "Everyday Artists", we inspire each other to create ... organize ... laugh ... try harder ... appreciate life ... strive to be better ... slow down ... take time ... enjoy life ... be gentle with ourselves. I hope my students learn that their best efforts are good enough, and that they can do amazing things when they put their minds to it.

(For more photos of this and other Summerhill classes, go to and click on the Summerhill Weekend Sewing Retreats album.)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Floral Applique Quilt with Embroidery

Quiltmaking has been a favorite hobby of mine for a long time, but I don't have a chance to indulge in it too often anymore. Last winter, however, we had an 8-day power outage, and I had lots of time to do anything my heart desired ... that didn't require electricity! So, I finally had a chance to finish a quilted wallhanging that I have worked on, off and on, for several years. (To be honest, I think it's been over ten years!)

The quilt's design was taken from the book A Bouquet of Quilts: Garden-Inspired Projects for the Home  by Jennifer Rounds and Cyndy Rymer.
Each flower in the 4" squares was applied to the background using fusible web, then I hand-embroidered around each individual applique piece with ivory perle cotton using a feather stitch.

This quilt traveled with me on vacation for many years - to Maine, North Carolina, Texas, Arizona, Colorado - it was easy to take a Ziploc bag of squares and work on the embroidery during long car rides or on rainy days at the beach.

The watering can and flowers in the large center square were hand appliqued using a freezer paper applique technique.
Stems and leaves were hand embroidered using DMC floss.
After the squares were all finished, I stitched them together and added the border. Then I tackled the daunting project of feather stitching all the seam lines.
A hand-appliqued vine adds interest to the border and repeats the colors found in the flower squares.
After finishing all the hand applique and embroidery on the wallhanging, I had to decide how to quilt it. I hadn't hand quilted for years; machine quilting is more my thing, mostly because it allows me to get more done in less time, but this quilt seemed to cry out to be hand quilted. It seemed like sacrilege to even think of  zooming around at breakneck speed on this quilt with my Bernina, after the hours I had spent with it in my lap, slowly and methodically creating stitch after tiny stitch.
So, with a sigh of resignation, I took up my needle and started quilting. I'd already spent years on this piece - what did it matter if it took another year or two to finish it? What's funny is that I found that I truly enjoyed the hours I spent quilting. It gave me a good excuse to sit down and relax a bit, and there's something so satisfying about seeing those squares filling up with all that neatly spaced echo quilting.
So, while I waited for the power to be restored after the big blizzard last February, I snuggled up under my quilt (to stay warm!) and resolutely worked to finally finish it. Before the lights came back on, it was done! It now hangs in the main hallway of my house, so I get to enjoy it every day. In the late afternoon, the sun slants across it, highlighting the texture of all that quilting. It's beautiful!
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