Saturday, June 30, 2012

Following up

Sometimes I am not so good about following up in this space. Have you noticed? I'll be all, "I have a new project!!!1!! I'll tell you all about it when I'm done!" And then I…don't.

I'm sorry. I don't know why I do that.

I was thinking about that in relation to the quilt I was making last summer for the Lo-Fi Festival. I showed you my geese and my log cabins but I never showed you everything all put together.

But I finished it! I really did!

And I'm about to start on a new project for this year's Lo-Fi Festival (tickets on sale July 1!). So let's close the loop on this one, shall we? It was my first quilt and my first art festival, so I don't want to forgo a little crowing, even if I am about ten and a half months late. Plus, I wanted to record in one place some of my thoughts behind the design & the process.

The Lo-Fi Festival takes place at Smoke Farm, a former dairy farm located on the Stillaguamish River near Arlington, Washington. The theme of the 2011 festival was "Not To Scale," so I wanted to design a quilt that would be a kind of map, a microcosm illustrating the farm's land use history.

Why a quilt? I am interested in exploring scientific and ecological concepts through traditionally “feminine” media such as embroidery and quilting. Many traditional quilt patterns take their names from the biological world, like the "flying geese" pattern of triangles that form the center panel of this quilt. In a sense, you could think of quilts as a kind of highly stylized scientific illustration, a way in which women could document the natural world and produce a useful object at the same time.

Flying geese has always been one of my favorite quilt patterns. Here is a funny thing: I've noticed that many quilters arrange their flying geese so that the large triangles--what I think of as the "geese"--all point in one direction. But, ever the literalist, I have always felt that they should be arranged in alternating directions, like flocks migrating back and forth. It was only after looking at many flying geese quilts in the course of designing and making this one that I realized that in the standard orientation, the small triangles in the blocks actually pair up to make geese flying back the other way. Okay. I get it now. But secretly, I still think my way is "right."

But there's another side to quilts, too. They were made by people who weren't just documenting the landscape but also changing it by their presence. So in my quilt, I used log cabin blocks (another pattern I've long admired) to disrupt the flock, and displace some of the geese from the center panel. Those geese are pieced into the borders of the quilt, which gave me the opportunity to indulge in some biology geekery. See the small flock of red geese there at the edge? An isolated, genetically distinct remnant population. And the one red goose in the larger yellow and orange flock? Hopeful monster.

The blocks are pieced from a mixture of quilting cottons and secondhand fabric, mostly from men's shirts. (It was actually pretty hard to find shirts in the orange-y yellows that I wanted to use. But how amazing is it that I found a one the exact shade of red that is traditional for the center of log cabin blocks?)

After taking apart all those shirts I was left with a lot of buttons. I sewed some of them to the quilt along the outlines of several geese, an homage to the button blankets made by several Native American tribes in this area. (And one more art/craft form that has appealed to me for a long time. I'm kind of tickled that this quilt assembles a number of different aesthetic elements that I love, but it tells a story that's ambivalent.)

The border is made from various muslin-type fabrics and sections from a vintage dairy feed sack (a reference to the historical use of feed sacks in quilts, as well as the site's former incarnation as a dairy farm).

This was a really interesting object to work with. The construction seemed semi-industrial, if that makes sense. Clearly not handmade, but a little bit irregular. I could imagine Mrs. Kunkel turning out the sacks on her treadle sewing machine. Once I got the stitching undone, I was surprised that there was a fair amount of fabric there. I felt like I was getting a peek at long-past domestic economy: 100 pounds of animal feed = the back of a crib quilt.

What I failed to consider was that a vintage dairy feed sack was going to come with bits of vintage dairy feed stuck to it. And that it was going to smell like it had been in a musty barn for 40-odd years. But I couldn't wash it, and this picture shows why! This is how you really know it was old--it was meant to be reused. That and the particulars of these washing instructions.

The back is pieced from leftover pieces of shirt, quilting cotton, muslin, and feed sack. I like the landscape-y quality. The prints on a couple of the gray shirts remind me of seedlings, or rain.

I tied the quilt, making the ties come out on the back (rather than on the front), with the idea that they would look like "roots." I left some of the ties really long.

To install the quilt at the festival, I threaded the long ties onto a curved needle and worked it through the turf, sewing the quilt to the pasture at the farm. ("Putting down roots," literally.)

The funny thing was, I hardly had a space in the house that was large enough to work on the quilt, but once I got it out in the pasture it seemed SO small. "Not to scale, indeed."

The quilt begins to become integrated with its environment...

…and acquires history--the footprints of a mischievous dog.

At the end of the festival, I snipped the threads that were woven into the turf to remove the quilt from the pastures. I had the idea that both the quilt and the site would be changed--if in a very subtle, minor way--by their time together.


And now, finally, I'm ready for this year!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Shopping for a beach vacation

We're going to the beach later this summer, and I'm starting to work on a list of what to take with us. (I like making lists almost as much as I like going on beach vacations.) Here's part of it.

Long sleeves for chilly evenings.

Short-sleeve tropical prints for warm days.

Vintage maxi dress for swanning about (I predict copious amounts of this activity).

Straw tote, soft sheet to spread on the sand, bright cloth for a picnic.

All items via Goodwill. See? Making things useful again.

I have more things on my shopping list but I'll wait to report on them until I can tell you how they fared in action. Let's just say I plan to get in touch with some of my scientific foremothers. Oh, what? We're supposed to be relaxing? Okay, okay, I'll try to squeeze in a little of that too.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Swedish pancakes with strawberries & cream, and elderflower soft drink: Midsommar!

Gees Bend quilts (h/t Wisecraft).
(Loretta Bennett, Vegetation {2009}, Autumn Lady {2008}.)

The cactus is sporting his funny summer hairdo.

Treated myself (h/t Jenny).

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday flowers

Orange lilies, gray light.

Waiting for the daisies. And the sun.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A decadent porridge, times two

Decadent? Porridge? I know, the cognitive dissonance is overwhelming, but hear me out. You get two tasty breakfasts, and a head start on cocktails later. What could be better?

Coconut oats with stewed rhubarb

In the recipe below I've given measurements that are convenient, in the sense of using up a whole can of coconut milk; whenever I make a recipe that uses only part of a can the remainder seems to languish in the fridge until moldy. But, be warned, you will likely run out of rhubarb before you run out of oatmeal. Double, halve, or eat plain oats as you will.

For the stewed rhubarb:
1 C sugar
1 C water
2 C chopped rhubarb

For the oats:
1 15-oz can coconut milk
3 C water
3 C old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cardamom

To make the stewed rhubarb, combine the sugar and water in a small pan over medium heat. When the sugar has dissolved, add the rhubarb and simmer gently, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the rhubarb is falling apart. Cool briefly, then pour the contents of the pan through a fine-mesh strainer, catching the liquid in a bowl underneath. The very tender rhubarb that remains in the strainer is your compote to eat with your oatmeal, but don't throw away the liquid: you've just made rhubarb simple syrup. Use it. Again. And again.

To make the oats, combine the coconut milk and water in a saucepan, and stir until they are evenly combined. Add the rolled oats. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until the oats are creamy and tender.

To serve, spoon the oats into a bowl and the rhubarb on top.

I came up with the above recipe because I thought my girl might enjoy oatmeal made with coconut milk. Spoiler alert: No. The recipe below was a bigger hit.

Strawberry-banana oatmeal

2 C old-fashioned rolled oats
3 1/2 C water
1 large banana
about 12 oz strawberries
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp brown sugar

Combine the oats and water in a saucepan. Cut the banana into the saucepan in bite-size chunks. Wash and hull the strawberries, and slice them in thick slices into the pan. Add the cinnamon and brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until the oats are creamy and tender.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

To be of use

Sarah started it. Nicole seconded the motion. These two food bloggers recently used Marge Piercy's poem "To be of use" as a springboard for meditations on human purpose and usefulness, as expressed through the work of our hands in growing and preparing food.

And now I want to broaden the discussion, though I won't reproduce the poem here, because I want you to go over to one or the other of those posts, or preferably both of them, and take in Sarah's photographs and Nicole's recipe.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Now that you're back, I'll say that I thought about those posts, and that poem, the other day, as I was cleaning out this hand-woven basket that my man's mother gave us one Christmas. Piercy writes:

the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident

The basket had been in our living room, shoved under one piece of furniture or another, for so long that I hardly even noticed its presence anymore. And I discovered as I started to sort through the contents that it was full of three-year-old magazines and catalogs.

The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I started thinking that maybe objects, just like people, want to be of use.

What would it be like if we really used all of the objects in our houses? If we gave them jobs worthy of them?

That sounds impossibly high-minded, but I think we can agree that by any measure, holding three-year-old catalogs doesn't qualify.

My girl had an idea to use the basket as a crib for one of her stuffed animals.

And that's fine for a start. But I kept scheming.

Here is a view of our new-to-us patio table and chairs. (There's a fourth chair, but it's a bit more rusty than the others, so we're keeping it in the garden shed unless it's immediately needed.)

The chairs are quite comfortable, as metal chairs go--they have a spring in the base, so you can rock and recline a bit. Ahhhh…. But they're hard, and can be chilly (or hot), and dimple the backs of your legs if you sit too long. (And the whole point of patio chairs, after all, is to sit too long.)

So I softened them up a little bit, with a couple yards of craft-store fur and this super simple tutorial for faux sheepskins.

And I brought out this vase I bought at an estate sale last weekend, and filled it with flowers. It wanted to be of use too, you know. (Incidentally, I think that's part of the appeal of thrift shopping for me. To see the possibility in what's been discarded. To make these things useful again. Okay, yes, I also like the thrill of the hunt, and the gloating about the bargain, and by any measure I just plain like afghans. But it's part of the appeal, is what I'm saying.)

Of course we can't just leave those not-quite-chair-cozies out there, given the unpredictable weather of a Seattle June.

We need a basket to put them in.

One that has elegant little feet, to keep it off of wet pavement.

And room for a blanket or two, since evenings here tend to be chilly.

And that fits nicely into that spot behind the armchair, right next to the sliding glass door to the patio, so it's easy to grab as we go out and tuck away as we come in.

I know just the one for the job.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Strawberry-banana fruit leather (NB: it took a lot longer to cook than that recipe specifies) for the girl's daycare pool party.

Strawberry-nutella pop tarts (recipe + cute presentation) to celebrate Father's Day.

So, strawberry season! Not that ours came from anywhere more exciting than the supermarket. But it turns out that the oven is almost as good for mediocre strawberries as it is for mediocre tomatoes.

Not pictured: Epic tantrum because I used a six-month old painting to wrap the Father's Day presents that my girl then decided that she wanted. I feel simultaneously "whatEVer" and chastened.

Also, a conversation that included the following exchange: "So you want to make chair cozies or something?" "No, not at all!" "Oh, okay then." Remind me to present all my project ideas in a way that makes him fear, at first, that chair cozies might be involved. Because then the actual plan sounds totally sane by comparison.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday flowers

Lots blooming this week! Here are the rest of the peonies, salvia (purple, pink, and red; the red might be called "hot lips" and seriously has the most wonderful fragrance of any flower ever, yes including peonies), garden sage, yarrow, cranesbill geranium, perennial verbena, fern.

I'm giving you close-ups, though, because I think the whole of this arrangement is distinctly less than the sum of its parts.

Ah well, I'm still learning.

And in my defense, peonies are kind of...difficult blooms. The Dame Maggie Smith of flowers, one might say.

(Also, coincidentally, as I was transferring these pictures from my camera onto my computer, my man emailed me to say "These have been catching my eye for a while now." Just in case you ever wondered why it works between us.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A nature table, of sorts

Oh come on, you knew it was only a matter of time before I got Waldorf-y on you.

A real nature table wasn't going to fly with our particular collection of felines. But the addition of that console table behind the sofa earlier this year (yes there is a reason I haven't posted any more about the entryway. And no I don't want to talk about it. Ahem.) opened up a shelf in one of the bookcases. So I thought I would use it as a space for my girl to keep her "treasures"--the rocks and flower petals she picks up outside, the little clementine seeds that she can't be talked out of holding on to.

I thought this would help with my ongoing dilemma about not wanting to be a humorless mom who ruthlessly gets rid of stuff my girl isn't finished with yet, but also not wanting to be surrounded by visual chaos.

It also enables her to take responsibility for keeping track of these things. Because goodness knows I don't want to be on the wrong end of the question, "Mommy, where's my white rock?"

("No, the OTHER white rock. Yes YOU DO know where it is! You DO TOO")

And she's actually doing pretty well with this. She'll take out these beetle carapaces she recently found and draw them (funnily, she is committed to strictly accurate scientific illustration, and will only draw them life-size), then return them to the drawer when she's done.

The wooden chest is from IKEA a while back, but I don't think they sell it anymore. It seemed a little silly to label the drawers with words, so I cut out bits from magazine photos and tucked them into the frames, just so they wouldn't go naked.

The microscope is this one. I give it a C+. What we really need is a couple of hand lenses.

I put the grownup nature guides nearby, too, in case we need more information. And I meant to add the binoculars, too, but I could only find the case. Hmmm, what's that saying about "A place for everything...."?

Anyway, here's hoping this summer brings lots of additions to the treasure chest.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Spanish sauteed mushrooms with arugula

I promised a while back to share a recipe for sauteed mushrooms topped with arugula. I almost forgot! But here I am.

This dish was inspired by Ocho, a tapas restaurant here in Seattle that is a favorite date night destination for my man and me. Seriously, we get out once a month and I think we've been there at least four times in the past year, which, if you do the math, works out to quite a strong recommendation. The food is affordable (downright cheap for the quality), the cocktails are strong (I especially recommend the Dark & Stormy), and it's vegetarian-friendly (pretty rare feat for a tapas place).

One of our favorite tapas there is a kind of crostini topped with sherried mushrooms and a big mound of slivered arugula. The mushrooms have a subtle, pleasant heat that plays nicely off the sweetness of the sherry, and it turns out that the secret to this is just a little bit of cayenne pepper.

From a recipe for mushroom ragout in Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Plenty I took the idea of serving the mushrooms over croutons rather than slices of bread. This is a big improvement as it makes the deliciousness easier to shovel in one's mouth in large quantities.

The recipe below makes a light lunch or dinner for 2 people. I'd say it would probably serve 4 or more as a starter (before paella, perhaps? I'm eager to try the vegetable paella recipe in Plenty) or side dish. Or, you could make it a more substantial main course with the addition of that universal culinary solution, the poached egg. 

Setas Ocho

4 C. of 1-inch-square cubes of crusty bread (about 5 slices)
Olive oil
8 oz. button or crimini mushrooms, sliced
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. sherry
A couple handfuls of youngish, tender arugula leaves, washed, dried, and finely sliced

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat the bottom with a very thin layer of oil. Throw in the cubed bread, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread is nicely toasted on all sides.

Meanwhile, heat another skillet over medium heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the sliced mushrooms and a pinch of salt, and stir to coat with the oil. Mince or press the garlic and add to the pan, along with the cayenne. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to soften. Then add the sherry and continue to cook until they are very tender and the liquid in the pan has cooked down to a glisten.

To assemble, place croutons on a plate, top with mushrooms, and then a shower of arugula.

Monday, June 11, 2012


A new (to us; thanks, Craigslist!) patio table and chairs, and a glass of wine the color of sunset.

I have high hopes that this is going to greatly improve my work life over the next few months. (The table and chairs, that is, not the wine!)