Sunday, July 31, 2005

Summer Sunday

I tried to warn you when the summer started. Life has no schedule or structure...which can be good, and it can be frustrating. I find I'm not getting a lot of some things done (I'm LONGING for time at my sewing machine), but I'm spending a lot of time with Roger and Caroline. So, that's good.

I woke up to cool, slightly foggy weather this morning, and as I sat outside and sipped my coffee and threw the tennis ball for Gemma, I figured that it'd be good weather to fill in some of the perennials that have died. We have a very young garden, and I'm still filling in spaces. I'd really like a crowded English cottage garden, blowsy with flowers and bumble bees and butterflies...I'm about 1/2 way there, I'd say, maybe a bit less.

Well, by the time I got breakfast stuff cleaned up (our dishwasher is acting strange, so I had to -- gasp -- wash dishes by hand!!!) and went to the local hardware store for plants, it was sunny and warm...and by the time I was outside on my knees, trowel in hand, it was HOT. REALLY hot. I got stuff planted (all except for one little black-eyed susan that I set in place but forgot to actually plant) and then I couldn't wait to get inside and take a cold shower.

I have to say that it was pretty amusing that every time I dug a hole, Gemma was right there to stick her nose in there. Canine companionship is a delightful thing, but geez, there's such a thing as TOO CLOSE.

Inspired by the foggy morning, I'd put country-style pork ribs in the crock pot with a favorite asian-style sauce. So the house smelled yummy all day, and when it came time to have dinner, and I was too tired to cook, I didn't have to. I do love that crockpot, as utterly suburban house-wifey as that sounds.

I was going to write the other night about the grand, productive time I was having printing out the foundations for my Cinco de Mayo paper-pieced quilt. A while back, I ordered a ream of unlined newsprint on line (really cheap, from a school-supply place...ask me if you want to know where I got it and I'll hunt it down). So, I loaded up the printer, popped in the CD-rom I'd gotten with all of Karen Stone's quilts on it from the EQ5 people, and away I went. I was so thrilled that I was making my own foundations on easily-tearable paper... When my printer started making this horrid, screeching sound. After much experimenting and online research, I determined that the motor has burned out. This is, actually, no huge surprise as it's a very old printer and I've churned out massive quantities of paper on it. Goodbye, HP've been a good little printer. (And I managed to print out enough foundations to keep me sewing for a while!)

Still, that launched me into more research into what printer to buy next. I do tons of text stuff, but want to do some color occasionally so I'm shopping for low-end color laser printers. I've read so many reviews and opinions that NONE of them sound good any more.

Ah well. Does Bermina make printers?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Another Meme

Here’s another one of those "meme" things. I’m volunteering for this, after seeing it on one of my favorite blogs, Little Birds. Like Stephanie, I won’t officially "tag" anyone, but I’ll leave it to anyone who wants to pick it up and run with it.

10 years ago: Roger and I were newlyweds, living in Hopkinton, New Hampshire. I was working full time as a trial lawyer, immersed in a messy, massive property fight after a divorce. We were getting ready to head up to the wilds of Canada for a lake-side vacation at "Kenauk," a wilderness resort outside of Ottowa, where we had the funniest and one of the most fun vacations of our marriage.

5 years ago: Roger and I and Caroline (age 2 ½) had moved back to California, and were renting a nice suburban house with a great big backyard in Healdsburg. Caroline was about ready to start pre-school, and I was struggling with the transition from New Hampshire lawyer to full-time, stay-at-home wife and mom...which was not the easiest adjustment, to my surprise.

1 year ago: Roger and I were spending the summer working hard to landscape the backyard of our new house. Exactly a year ago, we’d just returned from a week in Lake Tahoe! Apparently we’re very predictable!

Yesterday: I spent most of the day sitting at the computer writing a motion for summary judgment. Not exciting, but productive. And not a bad penance for a lovely vacation. Had a refreshing dinner of cold chicken salad (with grapes in it! Yummers!) on pita bread.

Today: Played games with Caroline this morning, did laundry, pulled weeds in the garden, threw the ball for Gemma over and over, then went out to a Chinese food lunch with Roger and Caroline, then more laundry folding, tidying my office, getting ready to actually get to the sewing machine.

Tomorrow: A day for household errands, taking Caroline to her horseback riding lesson, taking Gemma to the vet to get antibiotics for an apparent case of kennel cough.

5 snacks I enjoy: chocolate, salty chips, chocolate, salty crackers, chocolate, and chocolate.

5 bands/singers to whose songs I know most lyrics: Loggins and Messina (and Kenny Loggins), Crowded House, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, James Taylor (is this dating me?!)

5 things I would do with $100,000,000: Buy a house on Nantucket, buy a house on a lake in the mountains, donate a hunk of money to our school district, buy Caroline a horse and make boarding arrangements, send money to an orphanage in China

5 locations I’d like to run away to: No need to run away– I have a great life! But I’d love to take long trips to Nantucket, London, Japan, Australia, and western Canada (Banff, Jasper, that sort of place)

5 bad habits I have: Procrastinating, starting projects and not finishing them, eating at my computer after dinner, not saying "no" when I should, spending too much time reading blogs and doing other fiddly, unproductive stuff at the computer

5 things I like doing: Watching Netflix movies with Roger, playing "Toontown" with Caroline, hanging out with my quilting friends, making quilts and fondling fabric, spending time with my sister

5 things I would never wear: A midriff-exposing top, clothes with lots of jewels or sequins, ruffly white eyelet, 5" heels, a tube top

5 TV shows I like: The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, Project Runway, the Apprentice, Simply Quilts

5 movies I like: Anything with Fred Astaire in it, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Local Hero, any Katherine Hepburn movie, Sleepless in Seattle

5 famous people I’d like to meet: Hmmm. No one comes to mind as a burning desire, but there are lots of fascinating people I’d enjoy talking to: Oprah Winfrey, T. Berry Brazleton, John Grisham, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Hilary Clinton

5 biggest joys at the moment: Sitting in the living room in the middle of the afternoon reading a novel, working on quilt projects, taking quilting workshops, listening to Caroline read outloud, sitting on the adirondack chair under the tree in the backyard and reading magazines

5 favorite toys: My Ipod, my computer, my Bernina sewing machine, my Juki (the fastest machine ever), my digital camera.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I have to apologize, belatedly, for my silence over the past week. I've been on vacation at Lake Tahoe, and as I left immediately after coming home from my workshop weekend with Karen Stone, I didn't have time to post a message here!

In any event, we had a grand time. We stayed with Roger's sister at the vacation home she has there, and met up with her and Roger's brother and his family for a short sibling reunion. This was our third annual reunion trip, and we have developed the tradition of progressively decorating the photographs of any other family members who opt out of the week! This year's subjects were Roger's other sister, Doreen, and her son their pictures were decorated with tatoos, facial hair, jewelry, and assorted other additions...We posed their photographs on floating river rafts, on lounge chairs on the beach, eating dinner with us, and in various silly and/or compromising positions. That ought to teach them to show up next year!

I'll mention our only bad experience here as a precaution to those of you with little children...One night, after we'd spent the day at the lake, Caroline complained of a severe headache with what sounded like migraine symptoms: extreme sensitivity to light, bad headache pain, nausea, vomiting...But she has had migraines before (they're not uncommon in kids, I've learned) and she didn't respond as she usually does to her medicine and her continued extreme pain was really concerning to us. So, I called our doctor and learned that cornea sunburn is a common occurrence in kids who've been outdoors and around water all day! He advised to give her ibuprofin and benadryl, to keep cold compresses on her eyes for the night, and to keep her in sunglasses -- even indoors -- all the next day. She'd be fine, he said, after that. And, in fact, she was! The next morning she reported a slight feeling of scratchiness in her eyes but she was otherwise perky as all get out... and 100% fine the day after that. But who knew? For all the "Parents" magazines I've read and weird-injury stories I've heard from parents, I never knew about the possibility of sunburning corneas. So, parents and friends of little ones, beware--keep your kids in sunglasses or goggles on the water!

Mostly, though, we sat on the edge of the lake and chatted and read, and then went in to swim or float or search for crawdads under the know, that sort of strenuous activity that requires a margarita before dinner and an early bed-time. The house has a wonderful back deck and a comfy futon out as much as I could, I hung out there to read or nap or stare up at the trees. Heaven.

Then, for excitement's sake, we ventured the hour's drive east to Reno, Nevada for two nights. We stayed at a very nice and reasonably priced casino hotel...and had fun watching hotel room movies (Robots is worth seeing for the amazing creativity in the robot shapes!), playing slot machines, swimming with Caroline at the pool, and just watching the fascinating slice of humanity that walks through a casino. My personal thrill was winning $600 while playing a PENNY slot machine! I am a very timid gambler -- hence the penny machine -- and I had to look really hard at the cash-out slip to convince myself that I'd hit a jackpot that paid 60,000 pennies!!

We got home this evening and did the usual unpacking and piling-of-laundry-to-be-done in the laundry room. Life as usual will resume tomorrow, after we reclaim our sorely-missed puppy from the Puppy Camp where she has been boarding in our absence.

I'm looking forward to getting back to blogging life and finding out what all the AQW Ringers have been up to!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Another Beauty-ful Day

Yesterday (well, today...I haven't been to bed yet) was day 2 of my Karen Stone workshop, and what a great day it was! It started off with room service breakfast in my hotel room ... something that always delights me. I think it's the decadence of having a hot breakfast brought to my room, where I can eat in silence with my book for company. I do adore breakfasts accompanied by Caroline's lively chatter and Roger's commentary on the daily news, but occasionally, a silent breakfast feels like heaven.

Then, a day of sewing. After most of the day yesterday was spent defining the palette for our quilts with some tips on block construction, today was sewing.

I'd sewn a long time before I'd ever taken a quilt workshop and sewn among a group of women. (Not since my high school sewing classes had I had that group experience.) That first time, and today, I find sitting in a room full of sewing women to be a real delight. There is something about working intently on one's own project while surrounded by others working on theirs that is very satisfying. Plus, I've met some delightful people and had some very enjoyable conversations. Once, a discussion about Martha Stewart and her jail time led to almost every woman in the room sighing longingly for "house arrest" with nothing to do but sew. "Do you think they let you have a rotary cutter when you're on house arrest?" pondered one woman.

Anyway. It's ironic that Melody should choose today to post her "why piece when you can fuse?" commentary, while I was spending the day enjoying piecing very intricate blocks. Maybe I'm scattered, or a woman of diverse interests, but I like fusing AND piecing. And even though it took me more than a full day of sewing to sew two blocks, I loved it...and can't wait to do more.

If you read Melody's posting, you'll see my reply to her in her comments. But basically, I said this: Some of us like the challenge of piecing intricate, curvy, or pointy, or curvy AND pointing, complex designs! It's that simple! Fusing is fun, but piecing is, too! And just because it's hard doesn't mean it's bad or to be avoided! (Unless you hate it, and then why do it if you hate it?)

Unlike Melody, I don't think it's a matter of process obliterating design. I think that for some people, the challenge of taking the limitations of the process -- any process -- and seeing if they can be stretched to accomodate a given design is fun and exciting. I guess the trick is to find the process that works for you.

And -- as Melody knows because she and I have had this conversation at length before -- it's not just a matter of fusing OR piecing = same result. I see a very different look in a pieced quilt than in a fused one. Not better, not worse, just different. For some designs, I might want the pieced look...for others, the fused one. It's okay to prefer one or the other, or even both and use and enjoy both processes.

In color...and more color

Here are the promised pictures from the workshop with Karen Stone. Karen is a delightful woman and excellent teacher. She's charming and funny, self-deprecating about her artistry, encouraging with students. I highly recommend a workshop with her.

I mentioned that Karen likes to spread her quilts out on the floor and talk about how they evolved. It's easy to get up close and personal sitting around a quilt, and you see good details that way. Here she is, telling us about how she made "Lady Libery Goes to Hawaii."

Here's another shot from the discussion part. I forget what this quilt was called, but it was astonishing in person. Great fun! It features wacky stars and spirals fused onto a pieced background, then wildy embellished. The border was a sort of "boa" effect made from bits of yarn and ribbon stitched on loosely.

Here's a close up section of Karen's Cinco de Mayo. (It's featured in her book and is on the cover.) Again, it's amazing in person--great color and intricate quilting in wild, fun designs.

Here are the two blocks I made in the workshop:

I was working with batiks, mainly, and plan to put some white and black in each block. Note how I broke out of my usual color palette and chose a restrained, soft, sophisticated look. *SNORT*

As in many workshops, it was especially fun to see the color choices others made. Here is an assortment of the wonderful work done by others in the workshop:

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Good and Bad

The good news: I found this really, really cute dog bed for Gemma to put in my office. And it was on sale, too!

The bad news: I've apparently underestimated how large this dog actually is.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

New York Beautiful Days

Today, I spent a wonderful day in the first of a two-day workshop taught by Karen K. Stone. I'm taking the class at a wonderful fabric store in Walnut Creek, California called Thimble Creek. So far, of all of the stores in which I've taken classes, this is my favorite. The classroom is well-lit, spacious, and has plenty of outlets and and design wall space. The store staff is friendly and will run a tab for you in case (ahem) you need to add to your supplies during class.

I've always wanted to make a New York Beauty quilt, and I've long been dazzled by the gorgeous color and design of the ones made by Karen Stone. So, I was thrilled when this class came up on Thimble Creek's class list...It's to make the quilt shown above, on the cover of Karen's book, called "Cinco de Mayo." I figure that if I'm going to do a New York Beauty Quilt, I might as well start with the most complex one I could find, right?!

The day has been very instructive. Karen spent the morning spreading her quilts out on the floor, and walking us through her design and color process. (By the way, I took pictures but forgot to bring the cable that connects the camera to the computer so I can't upload them from here. Sorry 'bout that!) That sounds pretty boring, but it was really interesting, especially as she talked a lot about how her color and fabric choices evolved. Then, she demonstrated with one woman's stash of fabric, and showed how various selections could lead to really different quilts. This sounds simplistic to explain it here, but it was fascinating to explore how adding one new fabric to a palette of 30 changed things a lot. The goal was to work on coming up with an exciting and unusual palette for a quilt that really "sang" when sitting in fabric hunks on the table...The theory being, of course, that if the fabrics look dynamic together when you're in the fabric-choosing stage, you can't go wrong when you sew them into blocks.

Then, we learned some tips about Karen's paper piecing method. Not much new to me there, although she did demonstrate how she put an edging on a shape that you couldn't ordinarily do by paper piecing. And late this afternoon, we actually started sewing.

I'm having a grand time, so far. The color exploration was really fun, although I'd brought a selection of mostly batiks in jewel tones and I'm working on making the palette less-than-predictable. The blocks are complex, but that is what will make this a satisfying project in the long run.

So, now I have a lovely evening all to myself at the local Holiday Inn. I had dinner at California Pizza Kitchen -- a delicious waldorf salad with chicken -- and after some blog cruising, I'm actually going to do a bit of work before I go to bed. But think of me tomorrow...I'll be happily paper piecing!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Away from Home

You can't tell, but I'm having an amazing and new blogging experience. I'm sitting in my local Healdsburg Starbucks, and feeling smug because I've just installed a wireless network card into the laptop, connected to T-Mobile, and set up an account so that I have wireless internet connectivity.

All this, with a Frappuccino, too.

I'd love to sit here, sipping my refreshing coffee beverage and reading blogs. But I have to go home and pack for vacation activities, finish doing laundry, etc.

But I'll be online on the road! How cool is that?!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Handwork, anyone?

Okay, y'all...I need suggestions. We are headed next week up to Lake Tahoe, to spend the week hanging out with Roger's siblings and their families. Roger's sister has a very comfortable vacation house in Tahoe City, and we'll all stay there and spend the days being at the lake, hiking, and generally relaxing.

Here's my dilemma--I need a hand-project so I can be doing something during the "sitting around talking" time. It makes me crazy to sit around that much doing NOTHING, and while I enjoy the visiting and talking, I get bored and want something to do while I sit on the couch looking interested.

I do most everything by machine. And, while I'd like to bring the machine, I'm not going to do that. So I don't have anything in the works that requires hand sewing. Quick--I need to come up with something!

And no, Melody, I'm not gonna bring my little iron to do little fused projects...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Flexibility: the Pros and Cons

I have a flexible job that allows me to work at home. That's the good news, and the bad news.

You see, although I live here in Northern California, I'm an attorney admitted and practicing in New Hampshire. I lived and practiced law actively in New Hampshire for 11 years (also remembered nostalgically as "the single years," "the thin years," "the well-dressed years," "the years when I watched late-night television" and "the years when I had an adult life on evenings and weekends other than parenthood and collapsing into bed as early as possible.") Family needs brought us back to California, and for a while I worked for a number of California attorneys doing bits and pieces of appellate and other contract work. But a year ago, Bob (the attorney I used to work for and who remembers me as thin, smart, focused, and able to form and express a coherent thought... even though I haven't been like that in a while now) asked me to officially rejoin his firm and commit to just doing his written work and litigation support stuff. So, that's what I do.

All that is to explain how it is that I can work at home, wearing my bathrobe or sweatpants or shorts or whatever I want, and how I can keep pretty much whatever hours I choose, as long as the work gets done. As you moms know, this is ideal because I can work in Caroline's classroom, be around to hear the after-school tales of her day, go on field trips, observe her gymnastic classes and horseback riding lessons, and otherwise be actively involved in her everyday life. To be able to do that AND hold down a well-paying job is a huge, good thing.

But that also explains how it is that at midnight, I'm at my desk pouring over a binder of purchase orders and engineering drawings to sort them into some semblance of a chronological story so I can write the "facts" section of a big pleading due soon.

At times like this, I think longingly of the days when I could watch tv or a movie after dinner, or get into bed with a good novel and read the evening away, or do other similarly relaxing things. It's the down-side of a flexible work schedule--all that flexibility has to get made up for some other time.

I know I'm fortunate to have work that I basically enjoy, that keeps me intellectually challenged, and that pays well for the time spent. But gosh, I'd really rather just go to bed.

Another New Look

Well, if you didn't happen to be cruising the AQ Web Ring and visit my blog on Sunday afternoon, then you missed the red polka dot template. It was, frankly, garish. And distracting. And it contained a wild jumble of fonts. But, for a brief period, it was fun.

Clearly, I'm ready for the blog to have a new look. But the polka dots didn't cut it, so here's the current one. It's calmer. I seem to have a thing for aqua these days, and have been contemplating painting our living room a Martha Stewarty shade of pale turquoise. Maybe painting my online living room will get it out of my system.

Gee, don't you want to check back tomorrow to see if I change the look yet again?!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A new look

You might notice that things look a bit different here.

I decided it was time for a change. I adore polka dots, but that soft green color just isn't me. And I'm seeing that template too often on other blogs and I want to be different!

Is it too busy? (That's a rhetorical question--don't tell me even if you think so). For today, I like it...and red polka dots make me happy.

Don't ask me how I did this, because all I can tell you is that I opened the template and messed around and used the "preview" repeatedly until I liked it. And yes, it took WAY more time than I have to do stuff like this. But I did it anyway.

Sometimes, you've just got to have red polka dots.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Sushi, anyone?

Last night I surprised Roger with a Mystery Date Night. He kept guessing our destination as I drove down to Santa Rosa. "A movie?" "Nope." "A play? A concert?" "Nope." "Dinner out?" "Sorta."

We pulled into the parking lot of our brand new, gorgeous cooking store "Sur La Table" and he was still confused, so I revealed the surprise to him then: I'd signed us up for an evening cooking class on making sushi!

He was pleased and surprised and, most importantly, willing. And we had a grand time. We learned a lot about sushi ingredients and tools...Did you know, for instance, that the soy sauce you dip sushi into is very different from the kind you use for cooking? And we made a TON of sushi. We ate throughout the class, and still everyone had a plate of sushi to take home! I was wishing I'd brought my camera to record the fun, and then figured I'd take a picture of my artfully arranged plate of sushi when I got it home. But I turned my back to wash my hands at the end of class, and the guy next to us accidentally took MY foil-covered plate instead of his own! Rats!

But trust me, it looked a lot like this:

Really! We made sashimi and maki, the rolls... and learned how to keep that sticky rice from sticking to your hands as you rolled everything. It was great fun.

Although, having stood all evening doing that, Roger and I agreed that we won't be rushing out anytime soon to buy stuff for at-home sushi making. We will, however, be more appreciative when we sit at the sushi bar and watch the chef!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Thursday play day at home

We haven't had any sort of schedule at all this summer, so every day has been catch-as-catch-can around here. Today I had to forego attending my quilt guild meeting, as Roger had to be up at his college in Ukiah for business matters, so Caroline and I decided to experiment with painting with dye.

We spread fabric that had been soaked in soda ash solution onto large plastic trays and then painted on them. Here's Caroline, smearing the dye dribbles on her tray in preparation for doing a print onto another piece of fabric:

Here's some our work, spread out to dry on the lawn. Bet you can tell which are mine and which are Caroline's!

Caroline has decided she wants to sandwich hers and practice free motion quilting on them. She calls that "Crazy Quilting" and it's her favorite thing to do with the sewing machine.

Meanwhile, we had Gemma keeping us company. She's now about 5 months old, and doing great.

If you think that's an adorable puppy shot, get a load of this one:

You'll notice that she's rather wet in this shot. She loves to play in the sprinkler, and in the wading pool that used to be Caroline's sandbox (and, most recently, home for a bunch of giant tadpoles that were fostered until they became frighteningly giant frogs and I insisted that they be returned to the creek before they learned how to open the screen door and come into the kitchen).

Gemma keeps us entertained, that's for sure. For some reason, she has become very fond of an old beach bucket of Caroline's, and loves to carry it around the yard with water in it.

You should see how proudly she struts when she's carrying it! Here she is, resting happily with the beloved bucket:

Monday, July 04, 2005

Ring Around the Web Ring

I'm pleased to announce that the Artful Quilters Web Ring currently has 83 members! Can you believe it's grown so fast? I think we'll have to have a virtual blog ring party when we hit 100 strong. I'll bring the champagne!

As I was cruising through the ring this morning, I was struck again about what an interesting and diverse group of talented women (no men, yet) on this ring. I so enjoy reading about your work and your lives. I really love how we're able to communicate with each other, share our work, vent about our frustrations, show our occasionally tidy work areas (and delight in the messy ones)... You all are a great source of entertainment and inspiration to me.

Although I read blogs on the ring daily, it's only occasionally that I take the time to work through the whole ring. When I do, I confess it's for the "businessy" reason of making sure that everyone's code is okay and the ring is working right. I'd appreciate it if from time to time, each of you would do this simple task: Check the "list" of the ring members (from the "list" button on the ring box), and see whose blogs are supposed to be before and after yours. Then, hit the "next" and the "previous" buttons on your own blog page to make sure that your code is taking you to the right blogs!

As you all read through the ring, please email me if you find any blog that doesn't have the code or isn't working right. Also, you should feel free to email that blogger directly to politely encourage her to fix her template. Sometimes, we make changes to the blog (or, inexplicably, the blog host software changes) and the blog owner isn't even aware of the problem.

Thanks, everyone!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Sometimes life is just full of synchronicity. I just got this book, "Nature's Studio," by Joan Colvin. And, aside from having lots of photos of gorgeous quilts, it amazes me how directly it addresses some of the issues we've been blogging about in the "blue teapot" discussions.

The book discusses a number of very relevant topics. There are actual section headings: What is a recognizable style; Are you ready to develop a style of your own?; Choosing a familiar subject to begin; What do you want to say about your tree?; Making the process fit your needs, and more.

But I was especially struck by Colvin's discussion of realism:

"My style is a kind of realism. I do not assume you will want to work the way I do. Consider this: if you have some large, simple colored shapes before you and they are gorgeous as is, you may wish to fasten them down as a wonderful abstraction. If a group of fabrics gets you thinking of something in the known world, and a little bit of detail will show this (that is, direct the viewer to the same conclusion), then your work becomes less abstract. Or the shapes may become recognizable but not in the usual context (symbolism). As the shapes gain more definition, the option for assigning meaning to them becomes narrower, and you can see how we get to realism or representational art. Should you get even realer than real, I call that surrealism.

"Now, we can work backward, too. Beginning with real objects or ideas, placing them in settings, removing detail, simplifying shapes, seeing essences -- here we come all the way back to the beautiful simple shapes I first mentioned. Nobody but you cares where you begin or end."

It's unusual for quilting books, but I find the text in this one as enlightening and interesting as the photos.

Chicken Salad Days

On hot days in the summertime, I don't want to eat (or cook!) a hot meal. And one of my summer staples for dinner is chicken salad sandwiches in pita bread.

It doesn't sound very exciting. But years ago, when I lived in New Hampshire, I was lucky enough to get to spend a number of wonderful vacations on Nantucket Island. It's my favorite place in the world, and you can bet that I'll buy a house there the minute I win the lottery. Anyway, there used to be this great little gourmet deli there, called Que Sera Sara, and I happened to have the perfect chicken salad there one day. The minute the owner of that deli came out with a cookbook, I snapped it up and have been cooking things from it ever since.

Anyway, I make that chicken salad recipe all the time and we all love it. A batch makes enough for several meals. Here it is, the perfect, simple salad:

3 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached until just tender and cooled to room temperature
5 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, cut in half
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder (fresh garlic is too overpowering -- don't use it here)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 - 3 cups Best Foods (or other good quality) mayonnaise (I use the light and it's fine...and I confess, I don't measure so I'm not sure how much I use. I use enough to keep it all together but not so much that it's gloppy.)

1. Cut chicken breasts into 3/4 - 1 inch chunks, removing and discarding any tough tendons

2. Toss chicken, celery and grapes together in a large bowl. Add seasonings, and bind together mayonnaise.

3. Transfer to serving bowl and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Makes 6-8 servings.

To poach the chicken breasts, put them in a large pot of water, add a few splashes of white wine, and scatter in whatever left over veggies you have around: onion, celery, carrots, parsley. Add a dash of salt and a grind of pepper. Bring the pan to a full boil, boil for a minute or two, then turn the pot off and let the chicken finish cooking in the hot water. When the water has cooled, remove chicken to refrigerator. (You can save the stock for soup making, if you like.)

However, having made this wonderful salad several times so far, the other day I made another salad from the same cookbook, just for variety's sake. It was unusual and delicious, and I'll make it again. So here's an interesting variety, in case you become obsessed with chicken salad:

Chicken and Apricot Salad with Double Mustard Mayonnaise

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached and cooled
1 cup dried apricots, cut into narrow strips
1/3 cream sherry
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
4 scallions, trimmed and sliced
1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped


2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the poached chicken breasts into 1 inch chunks and place in large mixing bowl.

2. Place apricots and sherry in a small saucepan. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the apricots with liquid to the chicken.

3. Add celery, scallions, almonds, and rosemary to the chicken. Toss to combine.

4. Prepare the mayonnaise: In a food processor, place egg yolks, lemon juice and grainy mustard and process for 10 seconds. With machine running, pour the oils in a thin stream through the feed tube to make an emulsion. Add the honey mustard and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Bind the salad with the mayonnaise.

5. Transfer to a serving bowl and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

** When I made this, I discovered I was out of olive oil and so used all canola oil. It turned out fine. I think I used about a cup of oil, total, not the amount here. Also, next time I might try omitting the sherry and just simmering the apricots in a bit of water. But this was very tasty. The fresh rosemary really made this.

If you try these recipes, I'd love to hear how you like them. And check out Sarah Leah Chase's "Nantucket Open House Cookbook" -- it's wonderful.

Friday, July 01, 2005

From Photo to Fabric Art

Deborah pointed to Ellen Linder's site, and there I found this illustrated series of how she did a still life quilt of a grouping of apples. This is pretty much what we did in the teapot class I described. How great to have it illustrated so nicely! Thanks, Deborah!