Monday, November 29, 2010

My Little Painting, All Grown Up!

Remember back in September when I showed you the custom blog header I designed for Madison Lane Interiors?

Well, look where that sketch is now ...

2nd & Main St., Joplin, Missouri

Isn't that cool? My little 3" x 7" painting has been blown up to billboard size!

Amber Sachetta, co-owner of Madison Lane Interiors, says they have gotten lots of customers as a direct result of the billboard, which sits at a main intersection in town. The taco shop signs actually help to catch people's attention while they're stopped at the signal light.

Thanks, Amber, for sending me the pictures - I got such a kick out of seeing them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

More Watercolor Landscapes

I enjoy painting nature and scenery, but I've always been locked into painting what I see. The workshop I took last week helped me to see the possibilities of using color in a more imaginative way. I love the way watercolor washes blend and combine in unexpected ways, as in this little painting ...

5" x 7"

During a particularly frustrating moment in class, I decided that one of my paintings was simply not worth spending any more time on, so I scrubbed off as much paint as I could, turned the paper over and sketched out another painting on the wrong side. This one (below) turned out to be one of my favorites. I wonder if I was just more relaxed working on this one since the paper had already been "ruined" on the right side. What did I have to lose?

9" x 12"

I admire those witty artists who dream up clever titles for their work - I'm woefully inadequate in that department, I'm afraid. When faced with the task of titling one of my paintings I generally draw a blank, usually having to resort to something like "Landscape with Barn". It makes me feel so uncreative! I need titles for these two paintings before I offer them for sale at our local gallery. Any ideas?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Mom's Apple Pie to End All Mom's Apple Pies

I'm an inveterate recipe clipper. I have folders and notebooks full of exciting new recipes I want to try. The majority of them languish in my cupboard for years, never seeing the light of day, but some become family favorites, like this recipe for apple pie.

When I made it a few weeks ago for the ladies in my November slipcover class, it was so much fun to see the blissful looks on their faces as they took that first bite. The rich homemade crust topped with cinnamon-y Granny Smith apples and a generous topping of spicy-sweet crumbs is enough to make anyone swoon. Last evening, as Fred and I were enjoying a piece of warm, fresh-from-the-oven pie, I said, "If I were stranded on a desert island, and could have only one food that I had to eat for the rest of my life, I think this quite possibly could be it!"

 The Mom's Apple Pie to End All Mom's Apple Pies

1/3 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
3 T. flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 large tart apples (Granny Smith or Rome Beauty),
     peeled & thinly sliced (about 6-7 cups)
10” unbaked pie shell (use my Perfect Pie Crust recipe)
2 T. butter

1 c. lightly spooned flour
½ c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ c. butter or margarine

1. Filling: Combine sugar, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl, pressing out any lumps. Add sliced apples and toss well to mix. Fill pastry shell with the mixture. Dot with the 2 T. of butter.

2. Topping: Combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Scatter topping thickly over apple filling.

3. Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 45-65 minutes or until the crust and topping are nicely browned and the pie is bubbly. (May cover pie with foil after the first 30 minutes to prevent over-browning.) Cool the pie on a wire rack before cutting. Dust with 10X sugar, if you wish.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Perfect Pie Crust

Thanksgiving means PIES in our house! Pumpkin, of course, but we also usually have a couple of other varieties, like pecan, apple, or cherry crumb. And, in my humble opinion, and, at the risk of offending a few people, I think every Thanksgiving pie deserves a homemade pie crust. No two ways about it, they just taste better! And, since I have to eat gluten-free, if I want pie, I have to make my own crust. Here's my choice for the best pie crust recipe I've found (so far!)  It makes four crusts, and you can freeze the extras to use another time. It's so handy to thaw one out and whip up a pie, even when it's not a special occasion. Any day can be a PIE DAY!

Perfect Pie Crust
4 c. flour
1 T. sugar
2 tsp salt
1 T. vinegar
1 ¾ c. shortening
1 large egg
½ c. water

Put the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender.
In a small bowl, beat together the vinegar, egg, and water.
Combine the two mixtures, stirring lightly with a fork until all ingredients are moist.
May be refrigerated for up to 3 days before using. Or may be frozen.
Makes 4 single pie shells, or 2 double 9” pie crusts plus 1 single pie shell.

Recipe Notes:
- Adjust the liquid if needed so that the dough just holds together. It should not be sticky.
- Rolling out pie crust is really easy if you place it between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll to the desired thickness then peel away the top layer of plastic, lift the dough using the bottom piece of plastic wrap, flip it over, and position it in the pie plate. Peel away the plastic wrap and finish pressing the dough into the plate. Crimp the edges and fill the crust.

Coming later this week ...
"The Mom's Apple Pie to End All Mom's Apple Pies"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Watercolor Landscapes

Here are some more of the paintings I did in a workshop this week at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, with Robert Yonke. This first little landscape was painted using a limited palette of only three colors to give it a more unified look.
Dusk  7" x 10"

This next one is really "drippy" - I'm not sure if I'll leave it this way, or crop it smaller. I was inspired by a photo of a Tuscan hilltop villa. If I can't visit Tuscany, at least I can paint it!

Tuscan Hilltop  9" x 11"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Watercolor Workshop

It's always fun to learn something new, right? Well, it can also be challenging and frustrating! I spent the past three days in a watercolor workshop at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, and there were moments when I was ready to pack up my stuff and head out the door. I had to step outside my comfort zone and draw on resources that I didn't think I had - to paint without photos or sketches as a guide, to be bolder with paint, and to experiment without a preconceived idea of what the end result would be. For someone like me who likes to be in control, these were scary ideas!

"Appalachian Landscape"   8 1/2" x 11"
The instructor, Robert Yonke, was remarkably patient with all of us. Endlessly enthusiastic and encouraging, he kept me going, even when I was a little puzzled at times as to how to proceed with a painting. I've admired his work for years - take a look at his website and you'll see why. His colors are luscious, and I like his use of selective detail.

So, I persevered and actually did end up with some paintings that I like. I think I'll be able to incorporate a lot of what I learned into my work. And it was probably good for me to be reminded that things don't always come easily when you're learning something new - I'll try to keep that in mind the next time I'm teaching free motion quilting to someone who's never tried it before.

"Idle Hours"  10" x 12"
Watch for more new paintings in coming days ...

(All of these paintings will be offered for sale soon at Artisans, Waynesburg, PA. If you would like to purchase an original painting or a print, just drop me an email.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cute Kid's Apron

Seven girlfriends, great food, cheap wine, lots of sewing and decorating projects, and unseasonably warm November weather combined to make one really fun weekend here at my house! My two aunts, my sister and niece, my mom, and my daughter all joined me for a weekend of sewing, talking, laughing, and eating way too much. We had the best time! There's just nothing like time spent with women friends to lighten your spirit and put a smile on your face.

We love getting together to work on sewing projects. This time we worked on wool appliqued Christmas stockings, fabric origami ornaments, yo-yos, an appliqued Advent calendar, a crocheted baby blanket, a patchwork quilt, and some cute kids' aprons. Plus we chose fabrics and planned a bunch of window treatments!

My aunt brought along a pattern for a child's apron, and, since my new step-granddaughter loves to help me in the kitchen (and LOVES cupcakes), I made this adorable one for her ...

I even found some cute little berry buttons in my stash to accent the pocket and the foldover at the top. Cherries might have been better, to match the fabric, but it's a long way to the nearest Jo-Ann's and I like using what I have on hand, so raspberries it is!

So I now have a total of ONE Christmas present made! I know Lilly will love it, and we'll have lots of fun making cupcakes together the next time she comes to visit. The pattern, from Vanilla House Designs, went together quickly and was super easy to make.

Are you making any homemade Christmas gifts this year?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Broccoli-Mandarin Salad

This Broccoli-Mandarin Salad is one of my favorite recipes, and I always serve it during my Summerhill Weekend Sewing Retreats. It's really colorful and has an interesting variety of textures and flavors. The dressing is light, with just a hint of sweetness. Everyone seems to enjoy it - I hope you'll give it a try.

Broccoli-Mandarin Salad

4-5 c. broccoli
Small purple onion, sliced thin
½ c. raisins
½ c. pecan pieces, toasted

½ c. mayonnaise or Miracle Whip or combination of the two
1 ½ T. white vinegar
¼ c. sugar

11 oz. mandarin oranges

Combine broccoli, onion, raisins, and pecans.
Separately, combine mayo, vinegar, and sugar.
Pour dressing over vegetable mixture, and stir to combine.
Fold in mandarin oranges, and serve.

Recipe Notes:
- I usually use about 5 cups of broccoli for this amount of dressing. If you like a salad with more dressing, use only 4 cups of broccoli.
- For the dressing, I usually use 1/4 cup mayonnaise and 1/4 cup Miracle Whip.
- Dried cranberries may be substituted for the raisins.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

California Roll-Ups

These cute little pinwheel sandwiches are a great accompaniment to soup and salad. During my Summerhill Weekend Sewing Retreats, we serve these California Roll-Ups for lunch, along with Cheddar Wild Rice Chowder and Broccoli-Mandarin Salad. I'll pass those recipes along to you soon, also. They're both winners!

This recipe is really quick and easy, and the combination of flavors is wonderful. The roll-ups are as delicious as they are pretty!

California Roll-Ups

Spinach tortillas and/or tomato basil tortillas, large size
Ranch dressing
Smoked turkey slices
Shredded cheddar cheese
Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Lettuce, shredded or small pieces, like spring mix
Scallions, sliced
Avocado, sliced
Ranch dressing

Spread a thin layer of ranch dressing on each tortilla.
Layer on turkey, cheese, bacon, lettuce, scallions, and avocado.
Roll up tight.
For best results, wrap the rolls tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours before slicing into 1” slices.

Recipe Notes:
- A nice variation is to spread a layer of soft vegetable cream cheese on the tortillas first, then layer the other ingredients, with ranch dressing drizzled over at the end.
- It's not absolutely necessary to make these ahead of time and refrigerate, but it makes the slicing much easier.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Perfect Slipcovers" Class at Summerhill

Slipcovering is a bit of a lost art, but it's a handy skill to have, and I enjoy teaching others how to give a well-loved chair new life with a brand spankin' new slipcover. This past weekend I hosted a "Perfect Slipcovers, Start to Finish" class here at Summerhill, and six women came to learn this practical skill (and have a lot of fun doing it!)

Here's my class in their unslipcovered chairs, ready and eager to learn.
It was a great group of women - (above, left to right) Therese Davis (Barrington, IL), Terry Prouty (Glen Ellyn, IL), Mickie Beverly (Richmond, VA), Lisa Forman (Ambler, PA), Debbie Williamson (Macedon, NY), and Nancy Hogan (Rochester, NY).  

The ladies arrived Friday afternoon around 1:00, and, after a quick tour of the house, we headed for the workroom where I did a pinfitting demo to show them the technique that I use. Then they dove in and got to work pinfitting their own chairs.

Nancy rough cuts the pieces of her slipcover

My mom was here for the weekend and was a great help to me in the kitchen. I may do all of the planning for the weekends, but she does most of the cooking, and, ask anyone who has come to Summerhill, it's GOOD food!

Saundra Conklin

Saturday morning we were back at work bright and early. When the pinfitting was completed, it was time to trim and notch seams. The slipcovers always look like a mess at this point, and everyone feels like they don't know what they're doing, but they soon see the slipcover emerge, as they match their notches, sew their seams, and put the puzzle back together.

Terry and Debbie work on trimming seams

Debbie marks her darts

Lunchtime offered a much needed break for my hardworking crew, and, for dessert, my cookie sampler is always a big hit. It's so hard to decide on a favorite - you just have to keep tasting, to try and make up your mind!
Lisa and Therese

Then it was back to the workroom for more sewing. Saturday afternoon flew by as everyone worked feverishly to finish their slipcover construction.

Lisa sews her slipcover together
Mickie and Terry, working hard

After a busy afternoon, we took some time to relax, have some wine and appetizers, then sit down to a great home-cooked dinner.

After dinner, we had a little more workroom time, then I dragged them away from the sewing machines to gather in the living room and share our portfolios, and have some coffee and dessert. It's always so interesting to learn about people's businesses, families, and backgrounds. This was a really talented and successful group of women - very inspiring to me!

Mickie shares a slideshow of her work

Sunday was a gorgeous, sunny day, just perfect for a scenic airplane ride. Mickie was the first to climb aboard, and she was so excited about her flight that three more people decided to take to the air after she landed.

Mickie and Fred

After one last delicious meal, and some final instructions from me, everyone was ready to head home. They were all eager to get back to their own workrooms and start putting into practice all that they had learned.The next day, some of them emailed me to say that they were already working on a new slipcover of their own. That makes the teacher in me so proud!

The graduates, sitting in their newly slipcovered chairs!

It's amazing how much my students learn in one short weekend. They devote themselves to working really hard for hours on end, putting up with sore backs, bleary eyes, tired hands, and frequent corrections from me, but they love the whole experience. They're learning and being challenged to push themselves to master new skills, but at the same time, they are pampered with nice accommodations, great food, and the luxury of time away from home to focus only on themselves. Making new friends is an added bonus. It makes me feel so good when they tell me that the experience was more than they ever dreamed it would be. And when they leave, I like seeing those big smiles on their faces. 

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