Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mail Day!

Will you look at this glorious pattern??!!!! Did you ever see anything like it? No??!! Me either! That's why I had to buy it the minute I saw it!! This is the first applique design by Australian quiltmaker Kim McLean and it is stunning!!! You can see this and her other designs at Glorious Color website. Scroll down the left side menu to find her link.

The individual blocks are really large so a novice applique person like me believes all things here are possible! I've got one block separated from the pattern package and 2 of the little border blocks to try. I'm so excited!!!

And, if you know me well, you know that I could not stop at just one! So several of her patterns now live at my house :) Have to go choose fabric ... wooohoooo!!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

I'm not really creative ...

When I was in 5th grade, or maybe 6th grade, I painted a picture of one of the California Missions ... and I felt really really good about it! The next time I felt really good about a painting was more than 20 years later when I decided I wanted to try my hand at "creating". I went to the art supply store and bought a canvas, some charcoal, a book on how to do it, and a supply of paints and brushes. I painted like that for a year or so and then took some lessons. And even though I know lots of the "rules" of painting, my favorite thing is still to just get a canvas and paints and put down the colors of my mind.

Ten years after my painting, a very "non-crafty" friend of mine introduced me to cross-stitch. Ooooo painting with thread! I can do this! And the second thing I ever stitched was a pattern that I designed. I went on to win a dozen blue ribbons for my stitching, and my house as well as my friends and family have evidence that I stitched. I still love pulling out a fine piece of linen and taking that first telling stitch that says something great is being born. I still love getting out graph paper and designing little pieces for my own enjoyment -- another way to put down the colors of my mind.

I used to make clothing in my younger years (teens) through my poorer years (young adult) and then one day I woke up and I had enough money to buy clothes off the rack. So I stopped hanging out in fabric stores, but that was all going to change ...

Another ten years go by and I was introduced to quilting. Fabric. Color. Textiles. Tactile. My introduction to quilting came in a small town in Virginia with a woman who had been quilting for over 60 years. We cut cardboard templates, stitched little seams, and strove to get our quilting down to 10 stitches per inch (never have accomplished that). At the end of that 6 or 8 weeks I had stitched curved seams, inset seams, straight seams ... cut big pieces, little pieces, appliqued, and practiced a good quilting stitch. I was totally hooked. I went off to the fabric store again and bought enough fabric for the 5 quilts that were in my mind. Fifteen years later some of that fabric is still sitting in my stash, so I guess I still like it!!

Quilting became the way for me to record the colors of my mind.

But I've never thought I was creative ... I just sort of go along for the ride. I see a great pattern that someone really creative has designed and immediately that rainbow appears in my head and I know how to color it. Fortunately, this happens more and more to me these days -- maybe I'm becoming friends with my muse.

I'm starting to believe in my ability to create something -- a beautiful quilt that pleases me. I'm buying fabric because I fall in love with the colors. My brain is exploding with fabrics that I want to cut into -- there's not enough time to make all these quilts!

I love color.
I love fabric.
I love quilting.
I love my quilting friends.

But I'm not really creative ...

Customer Service Thoughts

It's Crab Meat Newburg Day, but it's also National Food Service Employees Day and I thought it would be nice to talk about the folks in the food service industry. Having worked as everything from waitress to bartender to chef to caterer, I've had a lot of experience with good and bad food, but more importantly with good and bad service. What makes good service in a restaurant? For me it is attention to detail -- not forgetting that extra bit of butter requested! -- or a check-in from our server that all is well in dining land -- never having to stretch my neck looking for the server because we haven't seen signs of help for a while. We dine out very frequently and I've noticed a lovely upward trend in good service in the restaurants we frequent -- like folks really want their customer to enjoy their evening.

But food service is not the only place where we encounter customer service -- good OR bad! I've noticed improved customer service in my online transactions. Yes, I'm an Internet shopper, and every now and then something goes awry in an order. As of yet I've only had a single problem getting satisfactory correction to the error and it was with a large, national craft company -- and I'll never order from them again.

For several years I worked for a mail order gardening company as a customer service representative. It is a fantastic company that really believes that their customers are important and as a customer service person, I was totally empowered to fix whatever problem existed. It takes oh so much less energy to say, "what can I do to make this better for you", than it does to argue with the customer and make the customer feel bad about the experience. I diffused many a caller's bad temper with those words and it has become my standard on how I rate good customer service. If a store or company or restaurant doesn't make me feel that my business is important to them -- no matter how large or how small it is -- then I will simply take my business to another place that does make me feel valued. On the other hand, if the establishment makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, I tell them how much it is appreciated.

So my thought for the day is to thank the next person who gives you good service -- no matter where it is. We all want to know that we're appreciated!

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's for dinner?

Even though we're in the north of the southern states ... and it's still rather warm, September just means autumn to me and heart-warming meals! I found this FANTASTIC new chicken at the deli the other day -- not usually a fan of deli chicken -- made by Boar's Head and it's called EverRoast. I had them cut about an inch slice off it and used it for the chicken pot pie. Super simple to make.

1 pie crust - make your own or go to the refrigerator section and buy one (optional)
1 pkg frozen puff pastry, thawed at room temperature about an hour
a pound or a bit more of chicken, cooked and cubed
heavy cream
chicken stock
salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage (any or all of these work well with this dish)
1 egg

We like lots of crust, so I started with a pie crust in my pie dish and baked it at 425 about 10 minutes to give it a head start. Then you need veggies -- I used baby portabella mushrooms, green beans and carrots ... oh, and some little pearl onions I had in the freezer.

Saute the mushrooms in a bit of butter.
Slice the carrots and cook in 2 cups of chicken broth for about 10 minutes.
Slice the green beans into pieces and cook in water for about 5 minutes.

In a saucepan, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter (don't let it brown), and stir in a couple of tablespoons of flour. Slowly add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of heavy cream and the chicken broth from the carrots. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens. Stir in your vegetables and chicken and whatever herbs you wish to use.

Pour into pie pan.

Open one package of the puff pastry, unfold one piece and cut into strips. Lay strips across the pie plate, then go crossway weaving with over/under. I had some little pieces leftover so I just put them on the top. There's no such thing as too much pastry with pot pie!! Brush the whole top with the egg beaten with a teaspoon of water (this makes it brown that lovely color).

Bake at 475 degrees F for about 15 or 20 minutes until the top is golden.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Breakfast Update

I've now had a couple of weeks of eating breakfast -- helped along by taking some medication in the morning that requires food in order to work -- and I must admit that I'm kind of liking how I feel as the morning progresses! The breakfasts aren't always the lowest calories, but at least they aren't donuts!

One of my favorites is oatmeal -- old fashioned cooked, not instant packet. I usually put some fruit (raspberries and blackberries are my favorites) in the bottom of the bowl, and a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar. Put the oatmeal on top and stir it all up ... trust me, this is goooood!

I also love little quiches that I make in custard cups without the crust and I use real eggs and fat free half and half for these -- spinach, cheese, and mushrooms are still my main ingredients.

Scrambled eggs with cheese and topped with salsa is a really simple breakfast to whip up.

And, finally, there's always the multigrain bagel with cream cheese and Nova salmon topped with a little slice of red onion.

I think I'll keep working on this habit :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Better Breakfast Month

I've always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day -- and every single diet or better-eating program stresses the same thing ... then why is it so darn hard to get in the habit of eating breakfast?! I've tried so many tips and tricks, all to no avail. The sad fact is that food is the last thing on my mind when I wake up in the morning! However, in the interest of working towards better eating habits this month, I'm going to have some food within an hour of getting up in the morning.

Breakfast today - using my new Pampered Chef 8" skillet, some Egg Beaters, mushrooms, cheese and spinach and I'll have an omelet in no time!

It's Cherry Popover Day, too ... oh my! Have you ever had a popover? Lovely air filled muffins, crusty and crispy on the outside and melty-butter sweet on the inside! Made with beef drippings as the fat instead of butter you'll have the English traditional Yorkshire Pudding! The secrets to great popovers -- hot pan, hot fat, batter rested for a few minutes. Saying that, here's a recipe for cherry popovers that you can add to your breakfast (though it probably won't be the "better" part of the breakfast, it will sure be the "best"!

Cherry Popovers

Melt 3/4 of a stick of butter in 8" or 9" oblong pan or in individual muffin cups.

Combine:1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 t baking powder 1 t salt and 3/4 cup cold milk. Let batter rest about 10 minutes.

Pour batter over hot butter in hot pan. Mix cherry pie filling with 3/4 cup sugar and divide on top of muffins or spread over top of batter in single pan.

Bake 325 degrees for 50 minutes until puffed and browned. Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.