New Fabric Collection – Ruby’s Treasures

Just released! Vintage 30s – Ruby’s Treasures by Barbara J. Eikmeier for Paintbrush Studio. It’s my new fabric collection!

Vintage 30s - Ruby's Treasures by Barbara J. Eikmeier for Paintbrush Studio

Vintage 30s – Ruby’s Treasures by Barbara J. Eikmeier for Paintbrush Studio

If you like reproduction thirties prints or are just looking for a bright, clear collection for a special project ask for Ruby’s Treasures at your local quilt store. It’s Made in the USA and is shipping to stores now. I’ll be going to International Quilt Market next week and will have more to share soon!

In the meantime, Ruby’s Treasures is featured in a blog post over at Inspired by Fabric. Click over to find out about some of the “inspiration” (no pun intended) behind the collection!

I’ve been busy sewing up a storm so come back over the next few weeks for show and tell!


The Purple Sofa

I have a friend in Pennsylvania with a purple front door.

My sister in California once had a purple dining room.

There is a farm down the road from me with a purple horse trailer

And me? I have a purple sofa!purple sofa

It’s brand new, but not really. It’s actually 15 years old. I bought it in 2001 when my grandmother’s antique camel-back sofa was lost in a military move. The insurance company said, “We can’t replace your family heirloom so choose whatever sofa you want.” So I did – it was a beautiful, American made sofa. I chose a camel-back because it was similar to my grandmother’s. I sat on every sofa in the store and bought the one that was most comfortable to me. I still mourned the loss of my family treasure but 12 weeks later, when my new sofa was delivered, I started to feel a little better.

It was beautiful. New. Comfortable. Everyone in my family loved it. The cotton upholstery was cool to sleep on – my children nicknamed it “The Napping Sofa.” We all liked sleeping on it. It was the greatest sofa ever. There was no way I would ever get rid of this sofa.

But then we got a cat named Finn. He came with claws. He loved the sofa too and used it as a scratching pole. I think his secret goal was to un-stuff my overstuffed sofa, one ball of fluff at a time. I wrapped aluminum foil around the legs to deter him. I stuffed the stuffing back in and put packaging tape over his artwork. I threatened to get him declawed but the vet cautioned me “he’s old, he’s big – it would be a hard surgery for him”. My heart softened and I got a new roll of packaging tape.

Cotton upholstery is comfortable but doesn’t wear well. The welting on the cushions began to fray, the pillows went flat. People teased me about aluminum foil and tape wrapped legs. It was a wreck.

Last fall Finn died unexpectedly and took his needle-like claws to kitty heaven with him and I took my sofa to get it reupholstered.

My front door is dark blue.

My dining room is the color of malted milk.

I don’t have a horse so have no need for a horse trailer of any color.

And my sofa is purple!


Twice In A Red Moon

Did you see it? Did you see the second of two Red Moons in 2014?

On the way home from the library last night I noticed the moon, big, golden, and full – it was October’s Hunter Moon. Always spectacular, it was made even better by the promise of a complete lunar eclipse expected just before daybreak. I checked the Farmer’s Almanac for the exact time of the eclipse and set the alarm.

In the wee hours of the morning I crawled out of bed, shuffled to the front porch and sure enough, there, high in the western sky a lunar eclipse was occurring. I stood in my driveway, in my pajamas, and gazed until clouds rising on the horizon obscured my view.

I watched the Red Moon in April, (see related story by clicking here ). I can tell you two things – the air was much warmer on this early October morning than it was last April and the moon was definitely redder. Was it blood red? No. But it rivaled the autumn color of the my elm tree and that’s red enough for me!

I should do something to commemorate the two red moons I witnessed in 2014. I think I’ll make a quilt. To be more exact, I think I’ll finish one that I’ve already started.
Here is a sampling of blocks in progress.010

As you can see I have collected enough solid red fabrics for this project!015I think I’ll call this quilt “It’s a Red Moon Night.”


Crabapples Might Make You Crabby

My friend Lynn lives out in the county. Her rural setting generates gifts to me such as gooseberries, lily bulbs, and most recently, crabapples. I thought crabapple trees were ornamental. “Oh, no,” Lynn assured me, “you can make crabapple jelly.” She lowered her voice and added a poetic tone when she said the words crabapple jelly. I accepted the gift.
“Could I make a pie with some of those apples?” I asked Lynn.
“Oh, I don’t think it would taste very good! You’d have to add a lot of sugar or some raisins to sweeten it up. But crabapple jelly, it’s beautiful and oh, so good!”
The next day my husband, Dale, came home to find a box blocking the front doorway. His eyes grew big, a delighted smile crossing his face, “A whole case of Free State beer!” He flipped back the lid to find the recycled box, filled, not with amber bottles arranged in rows, but Lynn’s crabapple harvest.Lynn's crabapples
“Crabapple jelly,” I read aloud from the index of my Ball Canning cookbook, “page 35.” It looked easy. Only two ingredients, crabapple juice and sugar. 4 cups of juice yields 6 jars of jelly.

Crabapples are actually easy to process – no peeling, no coring, just wash, and throw in the pot with water.
When the apples were soft, I pressed them through a sieve, lined with cheesecloth. Squeezing the juiceVoila, crabapple juice! Isn’t it pretty?Crabapple juice After adding the sugar, I let it cook in a big pot on the stove. Stirring with a long handled, wooden spoon, I watched as the liquid bubbled and foamed, checking periodically to see if it had reached the magical gel point.
Gel point – it’s when the hot mass has boiled to a point that it begins to solidify, to gel, to convert from juice to jelly. I had made blueberry jam this way once. It didn’t end well. Maybe I should have used pectin. Ripping open a box of pectin I scanned the recipe list and, sure enough, there was a recipe for crabapple jelly. Too late now, my jelly was gelling. I spooned the ruby jelly into jars – filling only 3, not the 6 that the Ball Canning book promised. I scrapped the pot into a small bowl, smearing the last, little bit on a toasted English muffin. Yumm. It tasted like the country.Crabapple jelly
Switching methods, I made the second and third batches with the pectin recipe. It was much faster and resulted in a whopping 11 jars from each pot of jelly.  JellyBut there was something wrong with it; the color was a pale pink, the shade of my grandmother’s pink Depression Glass dishes. The jelly from the first batch was a deep ruby pink with a touch of amber. The darker jelly had a rich, earthy aroma, whereas the pink jelly was light and airy, barely scenting the kitchen with a hint of crabapple. Two kinds of crabapple jellyA taste from the tip of a spoon left me thinking I had 22 jars of pink tinted jellied sugar. Where was the flavor? Never having made crabapple jelly before, heck, I’d never even eaten it before, I scratched my head, wondering which recipe came out right.
Three batches of jelly later, the bottom of the beer box was still covered with crabapples. Earlier, as I washed the crabapples, I had set the nicest fruit aside to try Pickled Crabapples, crabapples(page 86 in the Ball Canning cookbook.) But what would I do with all these leftover apples?

A whisper in the back of my mind said, “Make Pie.”
I turned to my vintage cookbook collection to find a recipe for Crabapple Pie. The first three books left me empty handed, but the good old, Farm Journal Pie Cookbook had a five star recipe for Rosy Crabapple Pie. Five stars! Not a bad place to start. I began cutting up those tiny crabapples, grateful that the recipe specified, do not peel. crabapples are littleWith Lynn’s warning of it not being very tasty, I mixed the diced apples with sugar and flour making sure every apple cube was coated with sugar, I spooned them into the pie shell and added vanilla, (yes, vanilla) and water – 1/3 of a cup of water. Really? There was only 1 T of flour in the recipe, was the water really necessary? Ignoring my intuition, I dotted the pie with butter, covered it with a top crust and slid it into the hot oven.Crabapple pie in progress
Pie baking and jelly making dishes covered every counter – sticky spoons, measuring cups, and dirty pots. It was time for clean-up. I reached for the long handled wooden spoon, resting on a saucer in a puddle of the first batch of jelly. When I picked up the spoon, the plate came too. Startled, I set it back down and pried the spoon out of the jelly that had cooled on the plate. Oh, dear. I thought. This is a problem – my jelly had gelled too much. That must be why I only got three jars. I cooked it too long and my crabapple goodness had simmered away leaving me with very tasty glue. I tested the jelly-ness of the last spoonful I had scrapped into the small bowl. It was very sticky but I knew what to do with it. Put it inside tiny pastry turnovers.
With the leftover pie dough I rolled out and cut circles, and spooned a blob of thick, sticky crabapple jelly in the middle, folded them over and pinched the edges. Ten minutes later I pulled a tray of cute little crabapple turnovers from the oven. Who would be crabby with such a tempting snack?crabapple turnovers
The kitchen was cleaned up. The jelly jars, in pretty, pale pink rows with three jars of dark intruders, were sending out periodic pops as the seals sealed. The pie was cooling on the counter, still bubbling up through the slits in the top crust, a sure sign that the pie was done.018
Dale came home from work and surveyed the bounty, especially the pie. “Here,” I handed him a cooled turnover, “Have a few of these for a snack.” We each bit into a crabapple jelly turnover. “What do you think?” I asked.
“It’s very tasty, what’s inside?”
“Crabapple jelly.”
“Oh, I thought it was gummy bear.” He grabbed another turnover as he left the kitchen.
Gummy bear? Humm. So that’s how you make gummy bears, overcook your jelly!
Picking up the phone, I called Lynn. “Is there anything I can do with the over cooked jelly?” Yes, there was, I could spoon it out of the jar, re-heat it, and dilute it with apple juice to thin it out.
Popping the top off the first jar of jelly I stuck a knife in to test the spread ability. I could probably make pulled taffy with my concoction but not a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. crabapple jelly With effort I emptied the three jars of thick, sticky stuff into my pot, for the first time, feeling happy about only getting three jars of jelly. Adding apple juice, I watched closely and stopped the cooking as soon as it started to set up. It may come out too soft but if that happened, I’d call it syrup and pour it over my pancakes.
“Would you like a piece of pie?” I offered Dale.

He cut into the pie, dividing it into 8 equal pieces, and started to remove the first slice. (Warning: the next few pictures might make your stomach turn.) The pie fell apart on his plate, separating into a wet, goopy bottom crust, an unincorporated pile of diced apples, with a loose skin of top crust. Crabby crabapple pie sliceThe parts didn’t seem to belong together. The V shaped gap in the pie pan filled quickly with a runny, pale pink liquid, diced apples dropping into it from either side. Crabby crabapple pie
“What happened to it?” Dale asked.
“I don’t think it cooked long enough.” I lifted the glass pie pan and peered at the bottom crust through the glass, “But it looks done.”
He tasted it. “This just might be the worse pie you ever made.”
I tasted it. Tart. Needs more sugar. Runny. Needs more flour. Not set. Needs more time in the oven. It was enough to make me crabby. But I was no longer a pie baking rookie. I was ready for the challenge of Rosy Crabapple Pie.
Dale served up a second piece. “Hey!” I called. “Don’t eat any more of that pie! I need those apples for a re-do!”
I peeled the top crust off in wedge shaped sheets, with the pretty, crimped edges still attached. I poured the filling into a pot. I scraped the soggy bottom crust into the trash. I started over.to the trash
My filling was minus two servings so I used an 8” pie plate for the re-do. I tasted the mixture. Crabapple pie re-doIt was earthy. Similar to rhubarb. I knew that you could sweeten up a rhubarb pie by adding strawberries. Strawberries and apples? Didn’t sound good to me. How about raisins? Lynn had mentioned they would add sweetness. I added 2 T of raisins softened in 1/4 cup of water. They would sweeten things up and make up for the apples Dale had eaten.

I added a 1/3 cup more sugar to the pot. I added more flour to thicken it. Too much. I thinned it back down with apple juice. I tasted it again. Sweeter but missing something. I thought, “apples and raisins … it needs cinnamon.” I added cinnamon. I added nutmeg. I tasted again. Yes. This will work.
I poured the filling into the new pie crust, dotted it with butter, added the top crust and slid it into the oven.
When the timer rang I gave it five more minutes, just in case, then pulled the pie out of the oven. Twice baked Crabapple Pie
While it was still warm, I called Dale to the kitchen. “Let’s see how my twice baked pie turned out.” I cut it and served the first perfect slice. The crust was flaky and crisp. The filling had the right amount of fruit ooze. The bottom crust was flaky, not soggy. The vacant space in the pie plate stayed vacant, neighboring pieces holding onto their own filling. But how did it taste?Twice Baked Crabapple Pie
“Much better!” Dale called from the table.
I took a hesitant bite. “I think it’s good!” I took a bigger fork full, with a raisin in it. “Oh, the raisins taste good with the crabapples!” My twice baked crabapple pie was a success!Rosy Crabapple Pie ala mode
Scraping his plate clean Dale said, “This is a Barb original, you should write the recipe down!”

When life (or Lynn) gives you crabapples, don’t get crabby! Make jelly. Or pickles. Or pie.

For those who like to live on the dangerous side or are blessed with an abundance of crabapples, here is the recipe – just don’t get crabby if it doesn’t work, okay?

Barb’s Twice Baked Crabapple Pie

This recipe comes with absolutely NO guarantees. Try it with good humor.

Pastry for a two crust 9″ pie

6 cups diced crabapples, (do not peel, but please remove the cores)

2 T raisins, soften in 1/4 cup warm water

1 1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup flour

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more to taste)

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

Put apples in a medium saucepan, add water, cover loosely, and simmer until almost soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat a few more minutes until thickened to pie filling consistency, adding more liquid if needed (water or apple juice).  Taste. Whatever it tastes like in the pot is what it will taste like in the pie. Adjust seasonings to your liking adding more cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins and/or sugar as needed. Pour into pastry lined 9″ pie plate. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust, crimp edges and cut slits to vent. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes until crust is nicely browned, steam escapes from the vents, and you can see the filling bubbling up through the slits. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.


Once in a Red Moon

Do you know the moon names? A blue moon is when there are two full moons in the same calendar month. The second one takes the name –  Blue Moon. But it’s just a name – the moon doesn’t actually turn blue.

The Harvest Moon is the full moon in the month of September. The closest full moon to the autumnal equinox, it is different than others because it rises the earliest in the evening, and hangs low to the horizon appearing brighter and bigger. It’s my favorite full moon of them all!

But a Blood Moon? Yesterday was the first time I’d heard the term.  A lunar eclipse was to take place in the early morning hours – it would be visible from my home in Kansas. The totally eclipsed moon would appear blood red – so they said. This I had to see! In my time zone the full lunar eclipse would begin at 12:55 am. I set my alarm. But somewhere between going to sleep and the alarm ringing I came to my senses. Really? Did I want to get out of my warm bed in the middle of the night and go outside in the frigid air just so I could say I had seen the Blood Moon? No. Resetting my alarm clock for my normal morning rising, I rolled over and went back to sleep. Until, 1:45 am, CST when I found myself awakened.

The dogs were in the yard barking. So were the neighbor’s dogs. What the heck, I was already awake and the lunar eclipse was occurring right outside my front door. The dogs apparently thought it was worth it, so I figured I might as well have a look.

I pulled on my winter coat over my nightgown and slipped my feet into snow boots that were left by the front door. The door creaked closed as I slipped out onto the porch. The air was calm and not as cold as I expected. Looking through the bare branches of the elm tree I saw it – there, in the southern sky, a full lunar eclipse was taking place right before my eyes. A sliver of golden moon shone through on the edge telling me the eclipse was not quite complete. But was the moon blood red? Not really. But it wasn’t it’s usual light yellow either. It was more of a peachy tan color. Satisfied to have seen it, I smiled up at the moon then climbed up the two steps to my porch and went into the house. Attempting to be quiet, I crept back to bed, trying not to wake Dale.

Settling on my pillow I thought about the Blood Moon and couldn’t fall asleep. The red color apparently comes from reflected sunsets around the world. I wondered who else was watching besides me and all the dogs on our street. An hour later, still awake, I couldn’t resist going back out. I wanted to see it again. Maybe the eclipse had to be complete before the moon turned red.

This time my rustling awakened Dale so I said,”I’m going back out to see the eclipse, do you want to come?”He grabbed a sweatshirt and followed.

I pointed through the trees to the place I had seen the lunar eclipse an hour before. It wasn’t there. In the dark of the night with my nightgown brushing my bare legs, I walked out to the driveway, searching for the moon. Suddenly, the clouds drifted revealing the moon in full lunar eclipse. We stood in awe and agreed that although it was not blood red, it’s peachy tan color was certainly unusual.

There will be three more lunar eclipses this year – will they pull me from my slumber too? Hmmm, Twice in a Red Moon? I could do that!


A Teapot of Gratitude

There are thank you notes, there are hugs of gratitude, and there are expressions of appreciation such as “from the bottom of my heart”. Last night at my local quilt guild meeting residing President, Peggy, had thank you gifts for outgoing board members. She wanted to say thanks from the bottom of her heart in a unique way and did so with teapots. The gifts, tokens of Peggy’s appreciation for the time and talent her board members have given to our guild over the past year, were carefully selected for each person. Each teapot was different – collected at second hand stores, estate sales and yard sales over the course of the year. Each wrapped with a fat quarter of teapot printed fabric and packaged carefully with a note.

Having taken a year off from the board I was surprised when, with the last bag in hand, Peggy called my name. “But I didn’t do anything this year”, I protested. But she insisted I did and forced the bag into my hands. Apparently an encouraging e-mail or two and serving on the nominating committee was enough to earn Peggy’s gratitude.

By then several board members had opened their gifts and I could see from across the room teapots shaped like sewing machines, country cottages, there was a chicken teapot with long legs wearing an expression exactly like that the recipient displayed when she opened it, there were teapot and cup combos in bright and cheerful colors, teapots with flowers, tall teapots and short teapots. I peeled the fat quarter away and uncoiled the bubble wrap to find this

Teapot of gratitude

Teapot from Peggy

A Blueberry Pie Teapot of gratitude! How perfect is that?

Thank you Peggy, from the bottom of my teapot.

So, stop by for pie …. and tea!


A Pie Baker in Key West

What does a pie baker do while on vacation in Key West? Eat Key Lime Pie, of course! My husband and I just spent four wonderful days in Key West. We got sunburned and were bitten by mosquitoes and didn’t even care because it was still winter at home. We ocean kayaked and took long walks everyday. We slept in every morning and stayed up late every night. A seafood lover, I ate fresh catch at every lunch and dinner followed by Key Lime Pie for dessert.

The Key Lime Pie tasting experiment started with a short blurb in a travel magazine about Key West and Key Lime Pie. Key limes are not even grown in the Florida Keys anymore but Key Lime Pie certainly flourishes. The travel magazine described the recipe as “quite simple with only a few basic  ingredients, but each restaurant in the Keys puts their own spin on the classic pie.” Okay then, game on! We would eat key lime pie in as many places as possible and determine just which “spin” we liked best.

Day One, Lunch: Wreck and Salvage Cafe, Marathon Key – where I ate a Grouper Fish sandwich with a Caribbean sauce (a little on the sweet side). Then with my belly already full, my eyes went wide when I saw this piece of Key Lime Pie placed in front of me.

The baseline is established.

The baseline is established.

It was huge! And thick! And gooooood! The filling was baked to a cheesecake consistency – this restaurant definitely put a unique twist to their pie recipe. Scraping the final crumbs of graham cracker crust from the plate, I had my Key Lime Pie baseline established. It was good, but was there another one that was better?

Lunch – day two: Rooftop Cafe, Mallory Square – The lunch special was “A Taste of Key West” with a Cuban sandwich, black bean soup, conch shell fritters, and a mini Key Lime Tart for dessert.

Key Lime tartlet - a taste of Key West

Key Lime tartlet – a taste of Key West

The sandwich, good, the conch shell fritters, chewy, the crab cake appetizer, good, the black bean soup, excellent, the Key Lime Pie?

Look at that creamy filling!

Look at that creamy filling!

Creamy filling inside, not quite as thick as the Wreck and Salvage version. I wished it was bigger. I ate every last bit, savoring the tangy tart flavor of that beautiful filling. Rooftop Cafe’ tart moves to first place with it’s lighter filling.

Day two dinner was at sunset from the deck of the Sunset Lounge on the Navy Base. Fish and Chips for dinner. Dale had a Corona, I had a margarita. We shared dessert.

The juice from a Key Lime is yellow, not green. Visitors are cautioned, if the Key Lime Pie is green it’s NOT made with Key Limes. Got it, but what if it comes in the shape of an adorable dessert that is called “Key Lime Pie”? Like this cutey:

Key Lime Pie with the Sunset Lounge's spin. My taste buds are still spinning!

Key Lime Pie with the Sunset Lounge’s spin. My taste buds are still spinning!

Part sponge cake, part vanilla cookie, part cheesecake, part chocolate, with a layer of tangy Key Lime Pie filling and a shocking, bright green glaze topping. All I can say is, who cares that it was not made with Real Key Lime Juice! It was as beautiful and delicious as any other dessert I’ve known (and there have been many!).  I was sorry I agreed to share with Dale because I sort of wanted it all to myself. Maybe it’s not traditional Key Lime Pie but this beauty moved into first place in my taste test.

Lunch day three: Garbos Food Truck, as seen on Diner, Drive Ins, and Dives. Shrimp burritos with Caribbean Sauce, “That will be 25 minutes”. 25 minutes? No problem, let’s have dessert first. Across the street, a half a block away, stands Kermit’s Key Lime Pie shop.

It’s all about marketing, right? Cute key lime pie tables in the garden, Kermit himself decked out in his very own version of Key Lime chef-wear, and a whole store filled with Key Lime this and Key Lime that.

But how is the pie? Famous for being the first one to put Key Lime Pie on a stick we gave Kermit the benefit of the doubt and bought a traditional slice and one “on a stick”.

Kermit's Traditional Key Lime Pie and Key Lime Pie on a stick.

Kermit’s Traditional Key Lime Pie and Key Lime Pie on a stick.

I took a bite of the traditional pie. Oh my! I took a bite of the chocolate covered pie on the stick. OH MY! Chocolate and Key Lime? Oh yes! It’s a match made in Key West.

Yup, That really is Key Lime Pie under that delicious chocolate coating.

Yup, That really is Key Lime Pie under that delicious chocolate coating.

I liked them both but I am going with the traditional version as Kermit’s pie moves into first place. (The 25 minute Shrimp Burritos were also awesome!)

Sarah and Lauren arrived for the weekend. I told them about the beautiful dessert at the Sunset Lounge. They wanted to see for themselves, so off we went for Mahi Mahi quesidilla, a margarita, and Key Lime Pie/dessert. This time, lesson learned, I ordered one for each of us.

The Sunset Lounge earns a repeat taste test. Just as good as last time!

The Sunset Lounge earns a repeat taste test. Just as good as last time!

I can’t not love it. But Kermit’s was so good. What to do? How about if I just create a new category: Key Lime Desserts. There. Sunset Lounge Key Lime Dessert, is in first place. Kermit’s maintains first in the pie category.

And we walked. And walked. Somewhere, someone, handed us a little paper cup with a taste of key lime pie. It was sweet. It was melty. It was green. We ate our sample but didn’t want more. It’s in last place.

Pie before lunch, so Sarah and Lauren could get it on the taste testing and try Kermit’s. They agree and Dale and I re-confirm, Kermit’s maintains the lead.

Sarah and Lauren get in on the action and cast their votes.

Sarah and Lauren get in on the action and cast their votes.

Kermit's pie on a stick. Warning - don't read the nutritional information on the wrapper it will take some of the fun out of the taste test.

Kermit’s pie on a stick. Warning – don’t read the nutritional information on the wrapper it will take some of the fun out of the experiment.

Lunch at a wonky place that looked fun. I had butterflied shrimp and salad. No pie here.

Dinner at the Stoned Crab where I had the stoned crab appetizer. Just one claw.

Fully sustainable, the crabs are caught, one claw is removed, and then the live animal is released back into the sea. Within a season it will have grown a new claw. That’s like having your crab and eating it too.

Dinner was lobster ravioli in a sherry cream sauce – sounds better than it tasted. Everyone else at our table were land lubbers for the night with beef and chicken. Then came the pie.

Stoned Crab's take on the classic Key Lime Pie

Stoned Crab’s take on the classic Key Lime Pie

But what’s that green stuff? It’s NOT made with real Key Lime Juice! I hesitated before taking a tentative taste expecting it to taste like a Sour Apple Jolly Rancher. But no, it tasted lime-ish. It was a nice pie but Kermit’s pie holds on to the lead.

Then vacation is over and it’s time to go home but there may be a chance for another taste or two on the Overseas Highway through the Keys back to mainland Florida.

Just in case we haven't had enough Key Lime Pie.

Just in case we haven’t had enough Key Lime Pie.

And we might as well eat lunch too. Fish Tacos with Key Lime sauce. My  favorite eat of the trip. If I close my eyes I can still taste the crunchy coating on the tender, flaky, white fish drizzled with that tangy key lime sauce, the cook’s own concoction. And then there was pie.

Last place. Doesn't it look a little too perfect to be truly tasty?

Doesn’t it look a little too perfect to be truly tasty?

The biggest disappointment of them all. Was it from the freezer case at the local grocery? It was sour, and frozen, and a faint green, and fake. I took one taste and let Dale eat the rest while I went back to the counter and ordered a Key Lime Bar. Not pie, but much better than freezer pie.

Check back for a follow up post when I try my hand at the classic Key Lime Pie. Maybe I’ll find a way to put a spin on it.

Lime green is a popular color all over Key West even though Key Limes are not green!

Lime green and  Key West go together.





Winter Trees

There are some who think Kansas is a wide, open, treeless prairie. Truth is, we have trees! In fact, at my Lansing Tree Board meeting last night there was an announcement that for 16 years in a row we have maintained our “Tree City USA” status. Yay for Lansing! Yay for trees!

Trees get a lot of attention when they are in bloom and when their bright spring leaves have burst forth. And everyone notices trees in the fall when their changing colors put on a show. But what about winter trees? What do you think of bare branch trees during the short days of winter? I used to think they were boring, dull, something to get through, like winter itself. I actually said so, out loud, to a neighbor, Jennifer, when I lived at Fort Campbell, KY in 1995. Jennifer, who was driving at the moment, nearly stopped her car in the middle of the road. Emphatically she told me, “Barb, you are wrong! The trees are the most interesting in the winter – it’s the only time you can study the shapes of the trees and see the lacy network of branches.”

It’s no secret, winter is not my favorite season – I complain about the cold, and the short dark days, and the cold, and the snow, and the ice, and the cold. But there are the trees. Ever since Jennifer taught me to study the structures of the branches I have enjoyed my winter tree watch. I admire the huge mature trees on the nearby army post, in commercial areas and in the residential neighborhoods. But best of all is a drive through the countryside, usually late in the afternoon when the winter light hits the bare branches and makes the trees glow.

Late afternoon sun hitting winter tree trunks.

Late afternoon sun hitting winter tree trunks.

Some trees aren’t much more than barren sticks poking straight up to the sky.(click on the image to enlarge)

Other trees have fine feathery branches that fan out.

Still others seem to have been wadded up and crinkled, their branches twisting and bending like a mountainous road.

Some trees have bold thick branches near the trunk that reach out get smaller and smaller until the final tips are nothing more than tiny wisps of twigs.Winter tree branchA coating of snow defines the branches even more.

Snow embossed winter tree.

Snow embossed winter tree.

There are trees that bend over and droop as if keeping an eye out for what is going on below.

Clinging seed pods and shriveled fruit add unexpected interest for the winter tree watcher.

And winter is the only time we can see if the birds really did nest in our neighborhood. (Bird nests could be a post of it’s own!)Winter tree with nest

Regular winter tree watchers will notice that trees have social personalities. Some stand alone.

While others prefer to be in groups.

Some trees seem to keep watch.

Others are more like daydreamers.

"I wonder where those geese are going?

“I wonder where that plane is going. I wonder how far those geese have flown?

All winter, I watch the trees. Last week, when I was looking for a tree with berries still clinging to it’s branches, I noticed this:

Late Feb. Are those buds?


I thought, “Hey! That tree didn’t have berries last week!” Then I realized, they aren’t berries. They are buds!

I rushed home to checked my magnolia tree (always the first to bud out in spring).

Then one day, this. The magnolia tree is always first in my yard to bud.

Magnolia buds

Sure enough, spring is coming.

If you want to start your own winter tree watch all you need is your eyes and a little imagination. Soon, you too, will be enjoying the wonders that bare branch trees bring to the short, cold days of winter.

And you will be the first to know when spring pokes forth.


Ladies of the Sea Block #8 – Olives anyone?

Here is my latest completed Ladies of the Sea block featuring an Italian fishing ship.

Ladies of the Sea #8. Olives anyone?

Ladies of the Sea #8. Olives anyone?

Think Italian. Think Olives. Think Italian olive oil. Thus the olive wreath twined around the Italian fishing ship. Yes, great olive oil comes from Italy but I am a bit partial to California olive oil. Here’s why.

My nephew, Conway, is a California olive grower and along with a buddy, Adam, operates an olive harvesting business. Last fall I had the pleasure of visiting during olive harvest where Conway, Adam, and their crew (mostly other nephews and niece, Katie) introduced me to modern olive harvesting.

Olive fields, Northern, CA

Olive orchards in Northern, CA

Olives ready for harvest.

Olives ready for harvest.

Black, purple, green – they all get harvested at once. The greener the fruit the stronger and more pungent the oil. The riper fruit (black) produces a bland or washed out flavor. There are three major olive varieties, the most common is Arbequina. Asclolana and Koronieki are the other two, but don’t put them to memory because they all look pretty much the same.

The harvester straddles the rows of trees.

The harvester straddles the rows of olive trees.

I rode with my nephew, Andy, who said all you have to do is keep the harvester lined up with the trees. Yea, right!

Imagine Andy's legs are olive tree trunks. As he harvester passes over the trees the trunks enter where Andy is standing.

Looking inside the harvester. Imagine Andy’s legs are olive tree trunks. As the harvester passes over the trees the trunks enter right where Andy is standing.

 Inside the harvester flexible hoops vibrate shaking the olives from the branches.

Inside the harvester flexible hoops called, bow rods, vibrate, shaking the olives from the branches.

The olives fall onto a tray at the bottom of the harvester.

The olives fall onto a shaker pan at the bottom of the harvester.

The olives are transferred to a conveyer belt located near the rear of the harvester.

The olives are transferred from the shaker pan to a conveyer belt located near the rear of the harvester.

This row of buckets rotates collecting the olives from the tray and carries them to the top of the harvester.

A bucket conveyer rotates, collecting the olives from the conveyer belt near the bottom of the harvester and carries them to the top of the harvester.

At the top the buckets empty onto a conveyer belt fixed into an arm,

At the top, the buckets empty the olives onto another conveyer belt fixed into a long arm that extends off to the side of the harvester.

The long arm reaches to the hopper, a separate piece of machinery driven along side the harvester.

The long arm reaches to the Gondola, a separate piece of machinery driven along side the harvester. The olives fall into the Gondola. When it is full the olives are off loaded into a waiting hopper trailer and  hauled to the mill.

Harvested olives, aren't they beautiful?

Harvested olives, aren’t they beautiful?

Hi Katie!

Gondola driver. Hi Katie!

After I rode for a few rows and asked a million questions Andy said, “Are you ready to drive Aunt Barb?” I traded seats with him and took the wheel. In spite of all the vibrating going on inside the harvester it’s a pretty smooth ride! When I finished my row the harvesters prepared to move on to another field and I headed over to the California Olive Ranch mill to see the unloading and crushing operation.

At the plant the trucks are emptied from the bottom into a grate.

At the mill the trucks are emptied from a hopper at the bottom of the trailer. The olives are dropped through a grate.

The olives are shuttled to the pressing room by conveyer belt.

The olives are shuttled to the pressing room by conveyer belt.

Inside the pressing room (off limits to visitors) another conveyer belt takes the olives to another hopper where they are weighed. The grower gets paid by weight. The harvesting crew gets paid by the acre.

The fruit is washed before going to a hammer mill where it is pulverized. The pulverized mass – skins, pulp, pits and all, goes to a malaxor where a mixer gently massages the olive goop. The massaging causes the oil to rise to the top. The pumice, or olive mass, goes into a series of centrifuges where the majority of the pumice gets separated from the oil.

Within 90 minutes from harvest the oil has been pressed and piped into huge holding tanks.

90 minutes after harvest the oil has been separated and piped into huge holding tanks.

Look at those tanks! And they are filled with olive oil!

Look at those tanks! And they are all filled with olive oil!

At the far end of the hall, off limits to visitors, is the bottling room. I could hear the tinkling of glass as labels were stuck on the dark green bottles and they were sent down the line to be filled with olive oil. The air was filled with the peppery scent of fresh olive oil. Yum.

After pressing the remaining pulp is shuttled to this bin.

The remaining pulp or pumice is shuttled to this hopper via a pipeline.

The pulp and crushed olive pit mush, called pumice, is loaded onto trucks, hauled off,and turned into cattle feed. Meanwhile the bottled oil is shipped to stores all across the United States.

Look for Californian Olive Ranch oil in your stores! I may have harvested one or two of the olives in your jar!

Look for California Olive Ranch oil in your neighborhood store! Who knows, I may have harvested one or two of the olives that made the oil in your jar!

And that’s how California olives are harvested and turned into olive oil. Pour some in a dish, add a dash of spice, and dip a piece of fresh baked bread into it. And thank a California Olive Grower!

A handful of California olives!

A handful of California olives. (Hand model is my nephew, Conway!)

Conway with his boys, taking a break from olive harvest.

Conway with his boys, future California Olive Growers, taking a break from olive harvest.


Potholders in the Sewing Room

I’m an okay cook. I actually enjoy cooking and baking. When my children were growing up I made home cooked dinners most nights. But that was then. This is now.

At the kitchen sink

At the kitchen sink

Most days I’d rather quilt than cook. For years my “Gone Quilting” sign has hung in my kitchen.

Is it an apology or an excuse? Neither, really. I just think it’s funny.

When I first got the sign I hung it by the front door until visitors started telling me they stopped by but didn’t ring the bell when they saw I was away quilting. I wasn’t away, I was just on the other side of the door and I may not have even been quilting at that moment. I was sorry I missed their visits, so I moved my sign to the kitchen.

I have another sign in my kitchen.


Yup. If I’m going to cook, my favorites are fast meals, meals that don’t cost a fortune in fancy ingredients and, yes, the easier the better. I know plenty of quilters who prescribe to my Fast, Cheap, or Easy philosophy and are still great cooks – just because it’s made quickly doesn’t mean it tastes like fast food.

I also know that I’m not the only quilter who has permanently relocated her roll of Reynold’s Freezer Wrap to the sewing room. There are far more uses for freezer paper in the sewing room than in the kitchen!


But potholders?

024Surely they are more practical in the kitchen, even if they aren’t used very often. What can you do with potholders in the sewing room?

Until yesterday I would have said, “Not much.” That was before I met up with friends for a day of sewing and saw Sharon’s ironing station.

Ironing station at sew day

Ironing station at sew day

Here, look a little closer

Potholders to the rescue!

Uneven floor? Wobbly ironing board? Potholders to the rescue!

So, whether you are a gourmet cook or a short cut cook (like me), when the ironing board wobbles, remember the potholders!

(Disclaimer: Sharon is an excellent cook and only uses potholders in the sewing room in dire situations!)