4.14.2018

Chicken Taco Bowls

We like all kinds of tacos, burritos, rice bowls, and quesadillas. To keep things interesting, we are always looking for new, quick filling ideas. With a hectic work, school, and activity schedule, a slow cooker filling would provide a quick dinner at whatever time everyone got home to eat.

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A quick inspection of the freezer yielded three pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Once defrosted, they were seasoned with Penzy's Chicken Taco seasoning. As I've mentioned, we love Penzy's. Whether I visit the retail store about an hour away or order online, I always find high-quality, interesting seasoning mixes to try. There have been few that have not made the regular rotation in my kitchen. The Chicken Taco is one of our favorites. I now buy it by the bag for a big jar instead of the little sampler sizes. It works great mixed with some rotisserie chicken for a quick taco filling or as seasoning for chicken fajitas. It is also a great seasoning for carnitas, other pork and vegetables. The seasoning mix doesn't have any salt so I can control the amount of salt added, too.

The night I made this chicken taco filling, we ended up with a cancelled soccer game. While the kids played elsewhere, I made a big pan of fajita veggies and a pot of rice. Not only did dinner get more interesting, but I was able to make a few taco bowls for lunches later in the week and beyond. These taco bowls freeze well for future lunches or quick dinners, too.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Filling

3 lbs. Thawed Boneless, Skinless, Chicken Breasts
4 tbs. Penzy's Chicken Taco Seasoning
1-2 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1 lime

Put the chicken in the slow cooker. Sprinkle the seasoning on top. Pour the chicken broth over the seasoning and chicken. Set the slow cooker to low for 6-8 hours. I have a model that lets me set the cooking time and automatically switches to a warm setting until whenever someone turns it off. I love this! With this feature, I set the time to the low end of the range as the warm setting will continue to cook a little bit. A typical work day for us is usually about 11 hours of total slow cooking time.

To serve, shred the chicken and mix in the seasoned broth. I smashed the chicken pieces with a tongs to shred. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. When I slow cook with a pre-made broth, I always wait to season with salt until the end. I find that even the low sodium brand cooks down and concentrates the salt flavor. Juice one lime over the chicken.

Serve in tacos, on top of baked potatoes, in a rice bowl or in quesadillas. Leftovers can be refrigerated for three days or frozen.

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Fajita Veggies

3 large bell peppers - we prefer red and I'm always tempted by the big bag at Costco
3 large yellow onions
2-3 tbs. olive oil
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
2-3 tbs. Penzy's Chicken Taco Seasoning

Cut the peppers into strips, and finely slice the onions. I prefer the pieces of peppers a little bigger and the onions a little finer. Preheat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the vegetables. Cook over medium-low to medium heat for twenty to thirty minutes. Stir frequently, being sure to scrape the bottom. I like a flat-edged wooden spoon for this. If you notice some areas sticking or over-browning, add a little more olive oil. Midway through, I add a cup or so of low-sodium chicken broth and the seasoning. This steams the vegetables and helps adhere the seasoning to them. When the vegetables are all soft and have a little color, they are done.

4.05.2018

What does Modern Quilting mean to you?

One of the modern quilting e-zines I read is Jessica Skultety's Wonky Press. She has a great mix of current activities, trends and movements in the online modern quilting community and her own personal project accountability. Each issue has at least a couple of links to works I'm really glad to have found. If you haven't yet checked it out, visit her site, The Quilty Habit.

In a recent issue, she asked readers to share what modern quilting means to them. It prompted me to reply. My contribution follows.

Modern quilting encompasses a methodology, an aesthetic and a community. The best modern quilters are technically sound quilters who are skilled at knowing when to adhere to age-old rules and when to toss them out the window. As someone who isn't particularly adept at following rules, this is part of what draws me.

Modern quilting formalizes improvisational piecing, wonky lines, "made" fabric and other techniques that quilters have been doing for generations. The aesthetic of modern quilting is what I feel is most defined - the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. "Modern traditionalism" or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting. I would add asymmetry to this list. While quilters have been gathering for centuries, The advent of modern quilting in a time when social media has exploded has allowed quilters to identify a global community no longer limited by face-to-face interaction or geographic proximity. That said, modern quilting has also brought together new groups of quilters in communities around the world.

I am a member of two long-standing general or traditional guilds. One is small and based in my local community. The other is larger and meets in a nearby city. I am also a member of two modern quilt guilds, both in nearby cities. I am one of the youngest members in my two general guilds and solidly in the middle in my two modern guilds. The modern quilting community has been more inviting to new and younger quilters than the traditional quilting community has seemed to be.

In the most recent issue, #59, Jessica printed my response! It's always exciting to see something you've written in print. Thank you, Jessica!

So, what does modern quilting mean to you?

3.03.2018

WIP - National Quilter's Circle Block Challenge

I've had a productive few weeks, though I haven't shared much of it, yet. One of these projects is the National Quilter's Circle Block Challenge. This free quilt along is a series of nine blocks constructed primarily with half square triangles and flying geese. They are deceptively complicated. I think one block has 81 pieces! I've made a few modifications, but, other than being a couple of blocks behind at this point, am excited by the challenge. Gina Perkes of the Copper Needle has designed nine excellent 16" blocks.

One of my quilt goals this year is to make a couple of quilts to live on our couch. This will be one of those quilts. Because I knew it was staying home, I cut into a layer cake I've had for awhile now of the first Cotton + Steel line by Melody Miller. It was a little scary, I'm not going to lie. I've opted for Kona Steel for my background.

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I've managed to take pictures of blocks 1, 2 and 4. I also have blocks 3 and 5 complete, and block 6 is in-progress. This is one that I am modifying slightly. It has a great square set on point that separates the inner and outer parts of the block. The original pattern makes this box with a lot of smallish half square triangles. I'm not intimidated by the HST's, but I do have a striped fabric I'd like to fussy cut and use to frame the inner part. I'm pretty sure this has been more work than just following the directions would have been. Blocks 7 and 8 have been officially released and block 9 was leaked. Hopefully, I can have them all complete by the end of next weekend.

I've also played some with designing a setting for the blocks. The nine blocks on their own are a little smaller than I'd like the finished product to be. I'm up to six variations in Illustrator and about a dozen pictures from similar quilts done by others and shared on Facebook or Instagram.

This post will be linked to Elm Street Quilts' One Monthly Goal. I'd like to finish the top by March 31.

2.06.2018

Pizza, all rolled up

Thursday nights have become homemade pizza night at our house.  Awhile back I checked out Jim Lahey's My Pizza from the library and ever since, we have experimented with better than decent and sometimes darn good homemade pizza.  I especially like that I can mix up the dough on Wednesday night, just mix, no kneading, and after leaving it on the counter, have great pizza dough on Thursday night.

Sometimes I plan specific toppings, while sometimes, I clean out the fridge. Leftovers make great pizza toppings.  The version shared below is an example of both with a slight twist. Lahey recommends preheating one's oven to 500+ degrees for at least 45 minutes before baking your pizzas. This is great except when our un-air-conditioned kitchen is already over 80 degrees in the summer or a weeknight when dinner should be served before the kids' bedtime. I started making stromboli because it cuts my oven-on time to a half an hour to forty minutes.

Weeknight Stromboli
Dough:
  • 500 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 g active dry yeast
  • 16 g sea salt
  • 350 g water
Yes, I prefer to weigh ingredients in a yeast dough.  With the variable humidity in our house, it is more accurate than volume measures.  It also gives me an excuse to pull out the cool digital kitchen scale my mother-on-law got me for Christmas a couple of years ago.

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.  Cover and let rise on the counter for 18-24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Pat out or toss to make a rectangle (for stromboli).  Note, the dough is pretty wet so I use a lot of flour to prevent sticking to me and the work surface or pan.  Make a row of toppings down the middle of the rectangle.  Cover with both flaps of dough.  Tuck ends under.  Make a couple of steam vents.  Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and everything is bubbly.

The stromboli shown here is stuffed with homemade pesto, leftover Caprese salad with local fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes and some browned pancetta bits.  The pancetta had been procured specifically for pizza night.  Everything else was leftovers.

2.01.2018

Look Both Ways, Don

My office lost its curmudgeon today. After twenty-five years of driving more than two hours from home to work and traveling across Nebraska, Don retired. He has dedicated decades to keeping Nebraska drivers safe, improving roadways and helping local public agencies solve big problems with budgets that are never enough. From my first day at my office, Don has taken me under his wing accepting my idiosyncrasies, teaching me, and supporting my growth in our field. We are fortunate he will still be doing some contract work in the foreseeable future.

I've known for awhile that Don was thinking about retiring. At the August Lincoln Quilters Guild meeting, I saw what I knew would be the perfect quilt. Tonya Alexander of Stashlab Quilts shared a quilt to be published in the Fall 2017 Quilts and More Magazine. The alternating arrows with the orange highlights was absolutely perfect. Arrow boards and signage are important parts of traffic control devices - Don's specialty, and orange is an important color in road construction.

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I'm not a scrap quilter. I have been collecting grays and low volume fabrics for awhile now, but I had almost no orange in my stash. Fortunately, about the time I was ready to get started, #grantyourquiltywishes started on Instagram. More than a dozen quilters, including one from Australia, sent me their orange scraps! I will need to make some great Halloween quilts this fall to use the remaining scraps!

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I find scrap quilting frustrating. The amount of time it takes to maintain scraps in a way that is usable makes me a little impatient. It always takes me three times as long to select, pair and combine scraps than when I start with fresh fabric, too. This project would work with bigger, solid pieces or less variety, but it wouldn't be as impactful so I went with it.

To make this quilt more personal for its recipient, I also included fabric from a Type II safety vest. These are important daily wear for our clients, and, often, for us. Even better, the silver-gray stripes are made with retroreflective fabric that will reflect a flashlight or tv light just like a street sign.

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A couple of my co-workers pitched in. One shared some fabrics from her stash and another made many, many gray strip sets.

As I was laying out the blocks on my design space, er ... bed, I found the larger, lap-sized quilt with all of the pieced squares to be a little overwhelming so I added some negative space. This has left me with a few blocks leftover to repurpose for a different project, but it also made for a quilt I am much happier with. I believe fully in the value of negative space whether it is in a quilt or on a page.

I was able to give Don his quilt last Friday during a potluck lunch. I was pleased that he seems to like it. It is a small token of appreciation for all that he has done for me and our clients. Enjoy your retirement, Don!

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1.31.2018

2018 Quilting Goals

I know. It's a few hours away from February, and I am finally posting my 2018 goals. They've been pretty well formed in my mind for awhile now, but I hadn't had a chance to jot them down here.

  1. Quilt more. This is always a goal. I've got a lot going on and sometimes there aren't enough hands to keep all the balls in the air. While sometimes it seems like quilting is just another one of these things, it is also so very therapeutic and helps me process everything else. I'm not really an extravert nor an introvert rather somewhere in between and situational, to some extent. Quilting fulfills both of these needs. Four guilds - yes, four - cover my extraverted self. The actual quilting, for me, is an excellent introverted activity.
  2. Document my quilting. I jump on and off the blogging bandwagon pretty readily. Life happens. However, this is one of few places I document my quilty work. Instagram is pretty complete, but the short format doesn't always allow for detail pics or the full quilt story.
  3. Quilt for us. Last year quilting for others was a goal, and I was successful in donating three quilts plus gifting a couple. This year, I still have a couple of important donation quilts planned plus a few gifts, but we really need a couple of quilts that live here. The quilt I started over ten years ago for our bed is still in pieces in a Ziplock bag. We could use a couple of throws to live on the couch for cool nights - our house lives between 58-60 degrees all winter long. I've started the National Quilter's Circle Quilt Block Challenge and pulled fabric for the Bernina/We All Sew QAL. I've also been gathering supplies for Stephanie Jacobsen's Plus Block QAL, #plusblockqal. One of these (or two) may end up a donation quilt, but at least one is going to live on my couch.
  4. Publish a pattern. I've been designing quilts for awhile now, but I have yet to actually publish a pattern. It's about time.
  5. Finish. Finish. Finish. Last year's commitment to the APQ UFO Challenge was successful. I finished about half of the projects and made progress on all but two. I again have a list and am 1-0 as January's project was a finish (and it's already been gifted.)

10.01.2017

Dinner This Week - October has begun!

I love October! We are generally done with 90 degree temps, the leaves turn pretty colors and harvest is in full swing.

One of late September's highlights is always the Nebraska Junk Jaunt. We have "gone jaunting" twelve of the fourteen years the event has existed. My top five finds of the weekend are pictured below:

  1. A great leather satchel. I have no idea what I'm going to do with it, but look at that satchel! It wasn't hard at all to pay $10 for it.
  2. Two vintage quilt tops that will make great longarm practice pieces. Both have some technical difficulties that don't make them heirloom pieces so I don't feel bad that my quilting won't be heirloom quality either. The bright circle piece is made of a mix of flannel, double knit poly and some various cotton weights and it is HAND PIECED with beautiful little stitches! Randomly, it has one corner block that is a brown and tan bear's paw. I found a few small pieces of double knit that will blend with the colors in the quilt to make a replacement block. The second is a spider web quilt of great vintage cottons.
  3. A stack of vintage pie plates, some aluminum and some Pyrex. A couple of times a year, I make in excess of six pies at a time and a few other times a year, I prep and freeze in-season fruit so I can have a stash ready for pies, crisps and cobblers year-round. It is nice to be able to mold my Ziplock-enclosed fruit in a pie plate so I don't have to completely thaw it before making a pie. A few friends have asked about my affection for vintage plates. I should probably write a full post, but in a nutshell, I find the vintage metal plates (a couple of specific brands) are a little heavier and bake more evenly. They also don't rust or warp. I haven't typically gotten Pyrex plates, but I inherited a couple lately and these were in nice shape for less than $1 each.
  4. A large stack of fabric. I love the stash of random fabrics I've found at garage sales, flea markets and other second-hand sources. It doesn't have the same emotional tie that some of the fabric I've purchased at my LQS has. When I'm improving or making a donation quilt, I have no hesitancy in cutting into this. I also have found some interesting textures, colors and patterns that I may not have been drawn to in a different setting.
  5. A small stack of WNAX Neighbor Lady annuals. WNAX is the local AM radio station my dad listens to in the shop that has Traidio every weekday morning - the radio version of Craigslist. For many, many years, the Neighbor Lady had a daily show with recipes, household hints, DIY projects and other things for their female listeners. Each year they published a booklet with some of the content from the previous year. Many of the recipes are those of my childhood. I've got about a dozen of the annuals and am always on the lookout for more.
A few more items I found, and only came home with me via photo follow. For more information about Nebraska's Junk Jaunt, visit their website. I'd love to see you next year in Burwell or Loup City!

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This week seems like the first week in awhile that everyone is home all week, and we might actually eat at home. So, for the first time in a long while, I'm going to draft a menu for the week. I really miss this. We've had countless nights of pizza, takeout, pancakes, scrambled eggs and other things that aren't worth writing home about.

Another Junk Jaunt find was a stack of Simple and Delicious magazines from the last two years. I subscribed to this magazine for awhile and thought it had been discontinued. It features menus that can be prepared in under 30 minutes, have less than 500 calories and other busy family-friendly fare like slow cooker meals. This week's menu comes from these.

Sunday
A community church roast beef dinner takeout - I know I said no more takeout, but this is all homemade and supports a good cause. Our area has a lot of church festivals, dinners and suppers, and we try to hit a few.
Monday
Applesauce-Glazed Pork Chops from S&D Oct/Nov 2015, p. 12
Corn on the Cobb - Probably our last of the season
Grapes
Tuesday
Dad cooks - Quilt Guild Night!
Wednesday
Garlic-Ginger Turkey Tenderloins from S&D Oct/Nov 2015, p. 15 - I'll probably use chicken because I have some in the freezer and turkey would require a grocery run
Cheddar Smashed Sweet and Irish Potatoes
Steamed Mixed Vegetables
Thursday
Dinner out - Volleyball!
Friday
Maple-Thyme Chicken Thighs from S&D Oct/Nov 2015, p. 40
Quick Ginger-Orange Squash from S&D Oct/Nov 2015, p. 40
Saturday
Flex night

Chicken Taco Bowls

We like all kinds of tacos, burritos, rice bowls, and quesadillas. To keep things interesting, we are always looking for new, quick filling ...