stuff and things

31 December 2011

Ho Ho Hummm, and Happy New Year!

Have you ever wanted to skip the fuss of a holiday? Me too. Usually, I'm compelled by outside forces to do the traditional thing. But this year's Christmas was different.
Deck this.
We almost got a real tree, like the one below. It's our custom, well before Christmas, to head to Portreo, a small town in SE San Diego County -- close to the Mexican border. Once we hit the tree farm, we roam the rows with grave countenances, marking our favorites with fallen bark or branches. Finally, we narrow it down to The Tree. The pretty drive out into the back country makes it a tradition we enjoy.
Remembrances of Trees Past ...
This year, however, our friend Sue had spent the night, which she used to do much more often before she bought her home in Ramona. As is our habit when we get together with Sue, we eat, enjoy wine, and watch a movie or two; this time True Romance, written by, but not directed by one of our favorites: Quentin Tarantino. Rent it now! Of course we slept in the next day, and thanks to our late start, we decided to show Sue our favorite nearby birding spots, instead. No tree for 2011!
We took Sue to the 'Drip' at Cabrillo National Monument, on the tip of Point Loma. A previous visit revealed six more California Quail joining this group: chubby, bluish balloons.
If you had/have a tree, I hope that it was/is wonderful! If you celebrate a different holiday, I hope your particular celebration was full of joy -- or, if you don't celebrate any particular holiday at all, I wish for all of you a year of contentment. Most of all, I hope that all of you have a great New Year. Here's to a peaceful 2012.

07 December 2011

You Never Know ...

With bird watching, you never know what you'll see. Nature, being nature, is unpredictable. And, let's face it, she's a little cruel at times, too.

We didn't have much time to spend Sunday with Gabriel, my cousin. We decided to bird close to home, on an older residential street that's heavily wooded with large, usually birdy trees. We didn't see the migrants reported by others on the San Diego Birds List, but we had a lovely stroll. Then, as we were walking back to the car, we all heard a huge "thwoomp." But Gabe happened to be facing back the way we'd come, and alerted us to this.
This red-shouldered hawk made a giant thud when landing.
Then we saw this smallish hawk pick up his prey.
Heavy baggage!
We gasped as the drama unfolded just feet away. It seems as if the hawk had been perched nearby, just waiting for us to walk by the scene of his intended kill. When he had poked his head up from the brush, he might have been making sure we didn't mean to compete with him for the delicious rodent.

We weren't sure if the raptor could clear the ground clutching such a heavy prize in his talons.
Forgive the blurry shot, but Andy had only seconds to grab these. Will the hawk make lift-off?
We were still in awe as the hawk gained altitude.
Looks like he'll make it.
With relief, we saw it soar into a nearby tree for cover, and to enjoy a well-deserved meal.
 I wonder how long it will last him?

May your week be full of serendipity and adventure, wherever you may find it.

29 November 2011

A New and Different Raptor for Us ...

We spotted this wonderful hawk in a tangle of branches far above the canyon to the west of Balboa Park's dog park. We're still new to bird watching, however, and would like some help with identifying it, if you can shed any light for us.

We think it's either a Cooper's Hawk or a Sharp-shinned Hawk. They're very similar, but the latter's smaller. I was struck by the small size of this hawk upon walking up on it, which is why I'm leaning toward the latter. Andy think's it's a Cooper's, because it seems to him at least 16" tall. Either way, we think it's a young adult, inbetween juvenal and adult plumage.

Thanks in advance, and enjoy this wonderous world of ours.

28 November 2011

Grandmother's Thanksgiving Soup

Delicious turkey soup is a blank canvas for whatever you have on hand.
Some years we use every last bit of the Thanksgiving turkey, carcass and all. Other years, we snooze and lose, tossing it when it gets too old. This year I was inspired by the "Dave's Leftover Turkey Soup" recipe in the Anderson's La Costa Nursery e-newsletter. I wanted to ensure we turned our turkey's carcass into a nice, simple soup this time. I guess Andy thought the recipe was a little too simple, so he came up with this delicious version. I hope you still have your turkey's bones, and maybe some leftover meat around.

We call this "Grandmother's" soup because we ended up using leftovers and what we had on hand, instead of running out to buy red potatoes and whatever else Dave's recipe required. We had some extra sliced squash we had prepped for a not-so-crusty side of Crusted Butternut Squash; lots of wild rice, prepared for my Wild Rice and Cornbread Dressing (Fine Cooking, Nov. 2000, No. 41); and staples like carrots and celery. Using what we had on hand, we felt, was what Grandmother would have done.

Stock Talk
The day before Thanksgiving had served as our major prep and cooking day. While making my dressing, I'd added the turkey's neck, gizzards and heart to some four quarts of store-bought chicken stock, to far exceed the one cup needed. To us, stock is like the heart of our culinary souls, and we almost always make and freeze a variety of homemade types: beef-heart, chicken, chicken feet (super-gelationous, check your Asian market for chicken feet); demi-glace (super-reduced, brown the bones, first); and even shellfish stock. Alas, this holiday we'd run out of homemade chicken, thanks to trying to blow through our frozen foods before being tented for termites. So we amended the organic stock-in-a-box with those turkey parts, instead. Still, it came out delicious, I think.

To the leftover stock, Andy added the turkey carcass and simmered it for several hours. After an overnight in the fridge, the next morning he simmered it another hour, removed all bones and skin and giblets, strained the stock twice, then added a few peppercorns and two bay leaves.

A Handful of Chicos
Andy also added an ingredient that might be a little unfamiliar: chicos.
Chicos, dried corn, add that special glow to a soup or stew.
Similar but different to canned hominy, chicos are basically dried corn, bought in bulk and much adored in Taos and other northern New Mexico locales. Maybe they're beloved in regular Mexico, too; I'm not sure and I'm sure not going there. Chicos add pizazz to any type of soup or stew. They're toothsome, chewy and provide great fiber. It's pure and clean food, if you know what I mean.

I'll bet you can find them at your local market if you look in the Spanish or Mexican section. Andy added just a few tablespoons, but they enhanced the equally toothsome wild rice, below.
Wild rice adds a nutty and chewy quality to a simple soup.
Wild Mushrooms
Andy had on hand a small packet of dried mushrooms, below, from Mycological Wild Gourmet Mushrooms' "Northwest Mix." He reconstituted these in a cup of hot stock. After 30 minutes, he strained it all through a coffee filter and added the stock to the soup. He rinsed the mushrooms, chopped them up, and added them to the soup, as well. Fresh wild or everyday button mushrooms would also serve well.
Dried mushrooms provide variety and tender flavor.
The Fresh Veggies
Then Andy added to the strained stock two or three cups of the leftover butternut squash strips, one rib of peeled, chopped celery; and one peeled carrot, in 1/4" rounds. After simmering it all for an hour, he sauteed a small, chopped onion and about four minced garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil, just until translucent, pouring these into the soup.

Adding the Turkey
While the squash cooked to al dente, he chopped the leftover bits of turkey meat into half-inch cubes, added them, then let it all simmer for another half hour. Finally, to season the soup, we added the juice of one lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper. Take this last step at your own pace: We love our lemons.

Serving the Soup
We spooned some of the already-cooked wild rice in the bottom of our bowls without bothering to heat it up (to keep it from getting mushy). Then we ladled out generous and scrumptious helpings of soup on top. A few drops of Tamari (aged, organic soy sauce) provided that elusive umami to our simple but delicious supper. We ate it again tonight. Yum!

Happy Holidays!
I hope all of you had a beautiful and delicious holiday -- full of family, friends, and your own cherished dishes. Did you manage to do something interesting with your turkey leftovers and/or carcass? Are you thinking of using any or all of our ideas? Please comment -- link to your own blogs and recipes, if possible ... and share with all of us.

19 November 2011

Night Garden, critique on block placement, please

Would you mind taking a look at my color/value placements, now that I've finished the sashing blocks, and moved every main block around at least 20 times? Please leave me an email ( or a comment. You are all so appreciated. Thank you in advance.
"Night Garden," plastered onto the design wall.. Does anything jar? Need moving? Sorry about the file cabinet on the bottom left: can't move it. Thanks!!!

Late Fall Flowers Prove Healing After Termite Tenting

Simple flowers add the crowning touch after moving back home.
We just returned from the pet forgiving, but rather yucky motel room we rented for three nights while our home was tented for termites. Back at home, once we cleaned the shelves and stowed everything in its place, I felt the Domestic Goddess urge and created the above arrangement out of ornamental plum and bouganvillia. To me, it says Late Fall.

The "vacation" wouldn't have been so bad if we could have left the room, and maybe gone birding or visited a restaurant. But we wanted to stay and reassure the very freaked-out kitties. Despite an abundance of food, water, toys and their sandbox -- and most important, their loving people -- Chevy and Lotus pretty much hung out under the bed the whole time. Cats, I've concluded, are not like dogs.
Dogs: "Cool! New smells! I love an adventure."
Cats: "What was that noise? I'm going to die."

Chevy and Lotus enjoy their home away from home.
Knowing we'd be stuck in the room, I packed various "fun kits" which also required moving: my ukulele and some music; my birder's guide and binoculars; a netbook computer and little speakers; and a sewing machine and supplies. We also passed the time enjoying old movies on TCM, like  "Shanghai Express" starring Marlene Dietrich. I wonder how many suitcases she had?
Keeping busy during the Big Wait.
Most people live in regions with cold winters. Termites, if any, freeze. Or, in warmer climes, people move every ten years or so, and don't have to go through this ordeal more than once in a given residence. Well, when someday I do move out of here, they're carrying me out in a box! It's not so much that I'm attached to this home, although, after 12-some years, I've grown to love it. It's just the act of moving that brings me down. Yikes!
Any plant slated to live had to be wheeled on a dolly up the U-Haul's ramp, by Andy.
Days before the tenting, we worked like ants: boxing up our spices, the pantry, freezers and fridges. Out came our wine cellar, our meds, toothpastes, my lipsticks ... you name it. What's worse, our garden's on a patio, shown above, that is covered in slate. All our plants are in containers. But the patio had to be tented too, because its wood foundations attach to the house (patio and house are on stilts, off the ground). Anyways, all the moveable plants had to go ... so we rented a U-Haul and stored them inside it for three days. They fared pretty well, despite having no light. But many other plants, like our lemon tree, center, were simply too big to be moved. Oh well ... maybe with time it and the others will revive.

With all of that, I have very little spirit left for cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I'll probably rally, though. And how was your week?

31 October 2011

Design Wall Monday: A Spring Jacket (ugh)

I selected this princess line pattern for a Continuing Ed. class on Spring Jackets
I've always enjoyed making clothing. When I noticed a class on making a jacket in the Fall Continuing Education catalog, I jumped in, even though a late return from our vacation forced me to register a few weeks into the semester. Kathleen Swanson, the teacher, uses a method called "tissue fitting" instead of making a muslin to ensure the pattern fits. I've never tried this before, so am stretching my skills a bit here.

To tissue fit, you reinforce the pattern's curved areas with tape, then cut slashes just to the seam allowance (the line you sew on, on the fabric). Then you pin the seams together and try on half the jacket paper pattern. A sewing buddy (in my case, the teacher) makes sure that key parts of the pattern fall where they should: notably, the Center Back, the shoulder, the bust point, Center Front, etc. If not, you adjust the paper pattern by cutting and spreading, then taping additional pattern paper under the spread (to enlarge it).
Butterick 5393 on an actual model.
With me and projects, "complicated" seems to be the byword. On a normal pattern, you would extend the side front panel to make the necessary enlargement for my body. But look at those pleats! I'm avoiding enlarging my pattern, even though the teacher wants me to add 1 1/2 inches, because I'm not sure whether to pin the pleats together and then slash, or what! Here's the culprit side-front panel:
Pleats increase the complexity of my jacket's pattern.
I think what I'll do is trace the pattern piece onto a new pattern paper, and experiment making that adjustment. If you have ideas, please comment!

Needless to say, this one never saw completion.
Of course, I've always gone for the complicated. Above is a pattern I bought for my second sewing effort, at age 12 or so. Naturally, I chose a ravel-prone silky fabric for the skirt. Now the project lives in a box in my shed. At size 10, I'm sure that's where it will stay.

What's cooking over your way? Oh, and Happy Hallow'een!

29 October 2011

Stunning Sunset at Sunset Cliffs ...

Yesterday, we birded late into the evening and drove over the hill to see this stunner:
This vista greeted us on our drive back from birding Famosa Slough.
 I'm back and blogging. Tomorrow I'll do a "design wall" post and write more about why I've been away. In the meantime, don't forget to eat your persimmons, pomegranites, and pears. Yum!

31 August 2011

My Design Wall This Week

I think I preferred it when she only 'helped' with quilting projects.
This week, I'm trying to finish sewing a Swing Top pattern from an indie pattern company, Hot Patterns. I'd like to wear it on our annual pilgrimage to the Wine Country Ukulele Festival.
Hot Patterns' "No Sweat, Easy Sew Poetry in Motion Tops": I Can Do This!
I usually get into quite enough trouble buying too many of the "Big Four" patterns -- often more mainstream and usually much cheaper than indie companies' -- but this one was being discontinued (read: at deep discount), and is right in line with my "non-form-fitting" current figure.
Is it possible to keep a sewing assistant from assisting?
Lotus is holding down the obstinate fabric I've chosen for a "muslin": a rayon plaid with a crinkle texture. The word muslin describes an inexpensive, plain cotton fabric, but it also means the result of sewing a mock-up or trial run of your given pattern. Many muslins are/were made of muslin, hence the name. But because my fashion fabric is a light, drapey rayon voile, I found it best to sew it in a similarly drapey fabric to better fit the pattern, or work out any kinks.

After making sure the plaid top fits, I'll make it in this fabric.
Was it really necessary to make a fitting muslin for such a loose top? Well, I'm a member of, a helpful, free website where other people review patterns you might own. By all accounts, HP105 runs very large. So I'll try it out first in the plaid. It, too, will make a nice top.

Speaking of fabric stashes, this is how I organize my garment fabrics:
A fabric swatch, each on its own index card, is grouped and ring-bindered.
Because I purchase garment fabrics in longer lengths of yardage, it's inconvenient to cart them around town trying to find complimentary fabric for a top, bottom, or trim. So I cut a small swatch from each, staple it to an index card, write down whatever info I can, and punch a hole in it. Then I use a simple binder ring to group them, by storage area or by fabric type: the group on the right are all knits, for example. This is an easy way to keep an eye on what I already own, too, instead of heading back to that fabric store! And, when leafing through pattern catalogues, you know if you have enough yardage for a given view.

Happy sewing -- or pursuing whatever gives you that creative thrill!

11 August 2011

This Week on my Design Wall

We've slowed down the bird watching just a bit. At one point we were going out twice a day! And look what we saw on a morning when we met some very dedicated birders:
This guy has a swell bird photography setup!

With more time in my studio, I'm plugging along with the Star Flower quilt, which I've decided to name "Night Garden." Only seven more blocks remain to be made to complete the bottom row of star flowers.
Working on the final row of "main" blocks for "Night Garden," based on the "Star Flower" pattern.
Critique time: Please play along!
Generally, I cut my fabrics a little at a time until I'm pleased with the colors and values. Now, in deciding on my final blocks, I hope to add another of each of the blocks that read as beigy-green. (Top row, second in from right. Bottom row, third in from left.)

If I add those lights, will I lose the effect of dark fabrics almost fading into black?

My final need for feedback involves the brightest block: If I add another bright orange/magenta hand-dye like the one in the center, would it be too obviously "two"?
Is this guy too lonely? Is two too many? Three would probably skew the quilt to my usual "brights" palette, something I'm trying to get away from here.
Once the main blocks are done, it's time to design a cool sashing block to fill in those white spots you see. The pattern calls for a diamond in a square, but given my love of this quilt, I may just design my own thing. To see what's on other design walls, head on over to Patchwork Times and look for the "Design Wall" post. Happy Quilting!

03 August 2011

Is That a Horse?

Driving up to our first visit to San Elijo Lagoon (yes, we're both from San Diego and have never known about the walks, the visitor's center, the wildlife) ... we saw this as we looked left from I-5 to Fiesta Island:
Forty or so horses, complete with elegant trailers and other transportation, cooled off at Fiesta Island.
I'm like, "Is that a horse?" We soon saw many more, maybe 40 horses in all. We headed west to circle Fiesta Island, like all of San Diego's Mission Bay a man-made heap and channels carved into native estuary, but recently created from what was once, long ago in the '50's, a dump site. Long before that, Mission Bay more resembled the salt-marsh, estuarine environment of Famosa Slough. (We naughty San Diego kids still call Fiesta Island "Fester Island.")

Being me and endlessly curious, I got out of the car (parking far away from the horses, who are prey animals and very skittish [no duh!]), and asked if there was a special event going on. As it turned out, people bring their horses to this area all the time, to cool them off. Most horses here live in East San Diego county, where it gets hot ... poor guys.

Stay cool! Hugs,
Tina in San Diego

01 August 2011

The Bird is the Word

Gentle reader, I'm sorry to have left you for so long with such a cranky previous post, but we've been dabbling in birdwatching! When our drive back from Asilomar this spring yielded sightings of more than 30 species and images like those below, our excitement about birds was kindled. Indeed, bird, bird, b-bird is the word!
American Black Oystercatcher, Pt. Lobos, CA, taken through binoculars by Andy.

Cormorant and chicks, unidentified, Pt. Lobos (also taken via binoculars by Andy).

After arriving home, we ordered a Peterson's Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, and a birding basics book (Sibley). It's been a whirlwind of feathered friends ever since. Since June 25th, we've photographed and listed 30 species in our little pocket Life List book. This probably does not count as astronomical among more experienced birders, but we're having fun. And, as the minuscule progress on my quilt shows, we're getting out a lot more -- a good thing.
At least 30 such Great Egret nests in a huge eucalyptus tree, at Lindo Lake, Lakeside (Andy).
A fun aspect about birding is that you can combine it with photography, sound recording, sketching, hiking, and even quilting -- just about any of your other interests. (Okay, Andy: maybe not extreme cooking.) So when a Big Birthday rolled around for Andy recently, he treated himself to a digital SLR camera and a nice zoom lens -- no more need to shoot through binoculars with my humble point-and-shoot.
We spotted this poor Budgie, an outcast among a huge flock of sparrows, near Dog Beach.
My favorite part of birding is coming home, hooking camera to TV, and viewing some beautiful birds close-up. Being such rank beginners, being able to look at our images and then consult our bird books means an easier time of I.D.'ing the sometimes maddeningly similar sub-species. Fortunately, the little guy tagging along with the sparrows, above, was pretty easy to identify! And no, at this point, we won't even attempt to I.D. the sparrow. There's gazillions!

Another fun aspect of birdwatching is meeting nice people. We recently drove to the nearby San Diego River Least Tern nesting area, just east of Dog Beach, where we met Brian, also photographing birds. We were facing away from the river, above, when he said, "Look, a Skimmer!" Andy managed to get some shots in what was by then very low light, but we probably wouldn't have seen our first Skimmer without Brian's cue.
A Black Skimmer, unique with a bigger lower beak than upper, skims for a fish (low light, Andy).
Finally, our new hobby gets us out to the most beautiful places. I've always considered La Jolla's Seven Caves coast walk, perched high above La Jolla bay, a personal sanctuary. So we were thrilled to find that it's also a wonderful sanctuary to our local and migrant birds.
After Andy captured this scene, this Western Gull flew off and its mate landed with a fishy meal for the chicks. Unfortunately, the anchovy was way too big for the little ones. Try again, Pops!
As with all of my photos here, feel free to click on them to get closer-up. I hope you're having fun this summer, too! Hugs and love.

18 July 2011

Design Wall Monday, Piece N Quilt's "Star Flower": A Poor Excuse for a Quilt Pattern

I'm not a whiner. I debated for weeks before posting this critique. But Piece N Quilt's Star Flower pattern is sub-standard. Yes, even if I won the pattern. So, here goes:
My progress on Star Flower: after becoming dispirited, not so good.
On first opening this pattern, I found a color picture on the front and four small pages inside. The diagram for putting together the main block, above, was pretty clear, although there were no suggestions for pressing. (Quilt blocks go together easier when their seam allowances are pressed in two different directions and then abutted. It's worth it to think this through before you go to the ironing board. Most patterns include suggestions.)

More crucially, the pattern included no diagram at all for making the "Diamond Blocks," that row of green-dot diagonal squares under the main blocks on the pattern's photo, below. Worse still, the instructions for these blocks, just three short sentences, were plain wrong.
See those green diamonds? Don't try to figure these out based on the pattern's instructions!
After spending an anguished weekend trying to contact the pattern's creator, Natalia Bonner, she sent me back a link to a tutorial that had nothing to do with the pattern's instructions. A couple of weeks later I met with the Brownie Troop, my small quilting group: where four quiltmakers who'd been pursuing this art form for an average of 30 years each couldn't make sense of the pattern's instructions.

I spent most of my career life as a technical editor and writer, and then ran technically oriented magazines (personal computers, and then supercomputers). I am appalled that Natalia didn't take the time or energy to draw a simple diagram and explain the 'sashing' blocks better -- either in her pattern or in one of the many email responses I asked for. Based on her tutorial and the directions on the pattern, you will end up with a 3.25" block instead of the 4.25" block required.

All in all, the patterns from Piece N Quilt are better left on the shelf.

In happier news, we spent a wonderful weekend at the first annual San Diego Ukulele Festival. More about that in my next post.

Again, please forgive my silence here, but I was so conflicted about posting lest I say anything negative. After all, the pattern maker is probably trying to find a career where she can stay home and work. But, that is no excuse for a very frustrating experience for her customers.

Peace out, dear readers. And happier quilting to those of you who love this art form as I do.

20 June 2011

Design Wall Monday: Star Flower

 Hi again! This is what's on my design wall today: a quilt called Star Flower that I'm making for a dear friend. It's one of three patterns I won during the Blogger's Quilt Festival. Instead of the "Modern Quilt" look on the pattern, shown below this photo, I'm going for moody, dark colors. They suit my friend's home much better.

Star Flower, in moody colors.
The Star Flower pattern by Piece'N'Quilt.
One thing I love about the version shown on the pattern is the way the lightest blocks disappear into the quilt's white background. (You can click any of my photos to make them bigger, if that helps.) So I pulled some very darks, hoping they'll blend into my version's black background.

More of the fabrics I'm considering for this quilt.
See the black batik under the yellow rotary-blade cover? Do you think that will make a nice blendy disappearing value? Hope so. To see more design wall sharing, head to the wonderful Patchwork Times website.

Oh, and before I forget, a shot of my Quality Control department.
Happy Monday! Gotta go teach me some yoga!

16 June 2011

Back From Asilomar Vacation!

Greetings, devoted Reader. I'm sure you've gazed long enough at the bedraggled, wet parrots in my previous post, but I've been away from my blog, on my annual trip up to Asilomar Conference Grounds.
A room with a view ...
Asilomar is a state beach situated on a wild stretch of pine and cypress forest fronting the Pacific ocean south of Pacific Grove, on the Montery Peninsula. At any given time, Asilomar hosts conferences ranging from firefighters to rangers to religious groups. My particular conference is organized by Empty Spools Seminars, which organizes five week-long sessions, each offering workshops with your choice of one of ten or more world-class textile/quilt artists. All meals are included -- that means more creating and less cooking.

Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer and my table-mate, Dee. Notice the wonderful Arts and Crafts details in our building, the Merrill Hall assembly room.
I chose to study with Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer. Jeannette's a true teacher, in the studio school of the Oregon College of Art and Craft, and a real philosopher --she loves to talk about science and creativity. Fascinating, strong, talented and funny, she brought our group together to the point where we're still exchanging group emails and sharing our work, resources, and encouragement. Thanks for a super session, Jeannette! And thanks to Gail and Suzanne for yet another great Empty Spools.

Point Lobos, mid-June, wildflowers abounding.
Jeannette's class was part of Session V, the latest in Spring I've attended. I've never seen so many wildflowers! On our way home, we drove a short distance to Point Lobos, which landscape artist Francis McComas described as "The greatest meeting of land and water in the world." She was not exaggerating.

This guy's enjoying beautiful Carmel Valley.
After that, we chose to take a longer route, through Carmel Valley, back to Hwy. 101. We've never counted so many species of birds and animals, including the fine fellow above.

Good work on The Beard, Andy!
It's funny, but during the seminar, the other attendees, mostly women, kept asking Andy if he was keeping busy enough while I was working on arty stuff. He told them all that he was working on his beard. He did a good job, too.