Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pumpkin Time!


I received an email from one of the many home d├ęcor stores which featured three small fabric pumpkins in gorgeous autumn tones.  I am an absolute nut for anything pumpkin and had to see more.  I found they were about 6” in diameter and for a set of three it was just $30.  No way!  I looked closely at the picture and decided it was time to try and make some pumpkins. 

I happily rushed to my stash and pulled some fabrics I thought might work.  I think I have enough (wink).







 
Using my trusty calculator, pencil and yellow tablet I set to figuring out the size of the fabric pieces needed.  To end up with a six inch diameter I would need:

6 – 4 ½” x 9” pieces of cotton fabric



I sewed them side by side (the 9 inch sides together) and then made a tube.

I basted along the top and bottom edge so I could close the top and bottom of the pumpkin.

I cinched up the bottom, but it wasn’t quite tight enough for me. Okay, what now?  


I turned it inside out and pinched the end closed with my fingers.  I then took some perle cotton and wrapped around it tightly, tying it off.  The bottom would lay flat so I wasn’t too worried about all this fullness being on the inside.


Time for stuffing!  I didn’t have any stuffing, so I cut up some left over batting (the fluffy kind).  Now time to close the top.  This turned out to be a real pain.  The basting thread broke.   

Okay, bigger guns.  I used a strand of perle cotton.  Snap!  It broke too!  Okay, I am not messing around here… double stranded perle cotton and Michael’s finger to assist in the tie off.  That did it.  I also stitched across the top using the same needle with the double perle cotton just to make sure it didn’t bust open on me.

Now it just looks like a big ball.  To make the indentions I grabbed that double strand of perle cotton again and knotted it on the top.  I wrapped it around the ball following the seam back to the top.  Think of it as going from the north pole to the south pole and back to the north pole again.  I pulled the strands tight to make the pumpkin indent.  Then, I tied it off and went around the world again this time on the next seam.  I repeated it a total of three times so that each seam was pulled in. 


I would have like to have had a darker perle cotton, but I am using what I have here at the house and making do.  I fluffed the fabric out to let the perle cotton hide as much as possible.  I am happy with how it looks so far!

Time for the stem and leaves.  The easiest way to make the leaves would be to cut them from wool.  They could be left with the raw edge and snip, snip, snip you are done.  I do not have any wool or felt so I used fusible interfacing and fabric to make the leaves.

I began with transferring my pattern (I drew it from some pictures on the internet) onto the smooth side of the fusible interfacing.  I placed the two pieces of the leaf fabric right sides together and placed the fusible interfacing on top (the wrong side of the fabric).  Fusing the interfacing gave me a guide to sew and I did not cut until after I was finished. Stitch around following the lines, but leave the bottom of the leaf open for turning it right side out.

Trim close to your seam and snip the inside curves.  Turn the fabric leaf right side out.  I use a chop stick to get inside and push out those points.  Then I take my iron and press the heck out of it. 

Here is the link to the pattern for these three leaves (it is also at the end of the post).
It took three sets of leaves before I found a size suitable for my pumpkin.  No worries.  I will save the others for future pumpkins.


To give the leaves a three dimensional appearance, I tucked the open section of the leaf and stitched the opening closed. 

For now, I have simply pinned the leaves in place.  Time for the stem!

I was pondering how to make the stem and then thought I could use actual twigs from the yard.  I mentioned it to Michael and he said he could make them for me.  I was expecting a straight cut of a stick but he brought me carved detailed stems!  I love how each one is different and unique.

Time for the glue gun!  I had the leaves pinned so I went ahead and put a glob of hot glue in the center.  I then plunked down the stem and held it in place until it cooled.  Tah dah!  My pumpkin is done and I could not be happier.  Well, I could be happier by MAKING MORE PUMPKINS! 

This is addictive.  I started thinking about different sizes and shapes. 

For the next pumpkin I wanted a little larger.  This one uses pieces 6” x 12”. 

I wanted a tall one so I decided to make it 6” x 18”.  This one was harder to manage, but worth it when I was finished.  It didn’t bunch up as well as the shorter, fatter ones.   I realized after I was done that I had really stuffed this one tight.  If you stuff them loosely, the sides crunch down better and hide the perle cotton.  I found some black yarn leftover from another project and wrapped it around to cover the cream perle cotton.  This looked better!

Now for a taller and narrower one.  I wanted to make it in lighter shades.  The pieces this time were 4 ½” x 18”.  Since it was so tall, it didn’t make deep enough indentations when I wrapped the perle cotton.  I believe the ratio of width to length was too great.  The best were ones that had the length double the width of the cut piece (i.e. 4 ½” x 9”). 

Now for a tiny one, 3 ½” x 7”.  I kept to gold and cream tones on this one.  Small pieces are much easier.

Last one, 4 ½” x 12”.  This one turned out nicely.  Yes, the key is to not stuff them too full and keep the ratio of width to length no greater than 1:3.

So, if the width of your piece is 4", you will want the length of the strip to be somewhere between 9" - 12".  

6" width = 12" - 18" length
3" width = 6" - 9" length

You get the idea!

I have to say, I love my pumpkin patch and am so glad I made them.  You can do this too!  Start small and work up to the larger ones.  Think of the possibilities in color, fabric and texture!

Welcome Autumn!

Pumpkin leaves pattern

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Breadsticks anyone?


My Grandma Temple is the queen of homemade bread.  As a kid I remember her and my mom making bread.  It would seem to take forever to rise, and then we had to wait again!  Learning to make bread was one of those “watch and learn” experiences.  I don’t remember being taught the recipe, but rather the techniques.  Now years later I do have her recipe which makes the best bread and cinnamon rolls EVER.  Her recipe involves eggs and scalded milk which doesn’t fit into my everyday life.  It also makes A LOT of bread.  Instead, for daily (not special holidays) consumption, I make French bread.  It uses just water, flour, salt, sugar and yeast – all stuff I have on hand. 

I was thinking of making some bread (French bread) today.  I love to make bread, but was trying to decide if I wanted to go through with the effort.  Not the effort to make it, but the effort to stay away from it.  Good bread is a horrendous temptation for me and does not play well into my eating plan.  Just then, Michael walked into the kitchen.  “I was thinking of making some French bread, what do you think?”  He said nothing, but instead smiled a sly sneaky grin.  That, my friends, is enough motivation to make some bread.

I have made this recipe hundreds of times.  It makes two loaves.  I have used the loaves to make garlic bread, French toast and simply for sandwiches and toasting.  But here is my plan and we will see how it works out.  I want to make one loaf and then make breadsticks with the rest of it. 

So here we go – French bread.  I promise, it is easy and I have found some ways to make it foolproof.  Let’s start with the two most important tools.



I have a big “A” bowl made by Tupperware.  It allows room for the dough to rise and for me to mix in without making too big a mess.  I also have a candy thermometer.  The biggest part of making bread is getting the liquid the right temp for the yeast. 




  
Step 1 – Making the dough.

In your big “A” bowl, add

  • 2 Tbsp of active dry yeast.





I buy a jar of it and keep it in the fridge.   





 



Heat 2 cups of water in a Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave.  You will want it to be between 110° and 115° F.  I tend to overheat it and wait for it to cool down to this range.
 Add the water to the yeast.  Mix it until it is dissolved.   

Now add:
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
Mix.  The smell coming off the yeast is heavenly!  Darn, why does bread have to be so amazing!   





Now add two cups of flour.  Mix well.   














Now add another 2 cups of flour to make the dough pull from the edges of the bowl and hold together. 









Step 2 – Kneading the Dough

I was always confused by how long I should knead the dough.  My standard cookbook of reference (Fannie Farmer) states until it is elastic.  I don’t know about you but that isn’t good enough for me.  Elastic like a waistband or elastic like well chewed bubble gum?  And how exactly does that feel?  There is a whole science to why bread is kneaded and how the yeast activates, but instead of delving into all that we will move on.  With this dough we will knead it for six to eight minutes, easy enough.



Flour your counter or cutting board.  With the amount shown here on my board, I did not have to add any more to keep the dough from sticking.  As I kneaded the dough, it picked up the flour.  I would pause and smooth out the flour on the board to cover the center again.   



 




Continue kneading the dough until six or eight minutes have passed or your arms fall off – whichever comes first. 









Now form the dough into a ball.  I flip it around to make sure it is all sticking together and round.







Step 3 – Letting the dough rise.

 
Rinse out your big “A” bowl and dry it.  Now take a little bit of oil and oil the inside of the bowl.  This will assure your bread doesn’t stick while it is rising.  Plop your dough into the bottom of the bowl.  Now flip it over.  The top of the bread dough will now be oiled which will keep it from drying out as it rises. 




 
Cover your dough with a dish towel (not the terry cloth kind, the old fashioned type) and place on the counter.  Let it rise for 1 hour.  My sister-in-law Cathy gave me these beautiful dishtowels for Christmas.  I love them and use them all the time in the kitchen.  They do not give off lint, so they are great when handling food and dishes.






Here is the hard part for me.  I have to leave my cutting board out with the flour on it.  I will need it when the bread is done rising, just an hour.  I could clean it, but then I would have to flour it up again to make the loaves.  This OCD girl has a hard time with this one! 





Step 4 – Preparing your loaves.

After an hour, your dough will look like this:





 Flour your cutting board or counter again and take out the dough.  Punch down the dough (fun, huh) and plop it out.  Divide the dough into two pieces. 






Shape them into loaves, about a foot long.  Oil a cookie sheet and place your loaves on it.  If your loaves have a seam (a part where the dough is separating), place this side down on the cookie sheet.  Take a serrated knife and slash across the tops of your loaves as shown.





I am only going to make one loaf this time and attempt to make breadsticks.  So I am taking the second half of the dough and rolling out individual sticks.

I divided the dough into eight pieces, then sixteen. 







I took each piece and rolled them between my palms.  They were not all the same size, not even close.  I am okay with it!



 


Cover with the same towel and let rise for only thirty minutes.  While the bread is rising, turn on your oven and preheat it to 450°.  NOW, I can clean up the mess! 

After the thirty minutes, your loaves will look like this!




Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.  When they come out of the oven they will be super hard and crusty.  










If you prefer a softer loaf, throw the same dishtowel over the loaves while they cool.  This will allow the crust to soften.  I can’t help but squeeze them a little as I walk through the kitchen! 




Breadstsick results – I heated up a little bit of butter and put in some fresh minced garlic.  I toasted the garlic in the butter and then poured it over my breadsticks as they came out of the oven.  I then covered them with a dishtowel to allow them to soften up a bit.  We all tried a bite and decided they were great!  I am thinking next time I might try to stuff them with some cheese or top them with Parmesan. 




Warning - this bread makes really great toast.  Be sure to save some for the next morning.  Good toast and a cup of coffee makes me think of my mom - she loves her toast in the morning! 

Super Warning - this bread makes superb french toast.  The bread has a good body to it which helps it hold up when cooking.  It is a really good way to use up the bread after a day or two.  This bread isn't meant to last a week - no oils or preservatives.  So you HAVE to make some french toast, don't you?