Sunday, December 28, 2008

2009 Project List

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
A lot of the projects I conceive of never make it out of the speculative stage because I forget about them before I begin. I have a queue of knitting projects on Ravelry, but the folks who designed that fabulous knitting community prefer to keep the focus on knitting, crochet, and spinning. Short of designing a sewing/embroidery/baking/candy-making/papercrafting/weaving/bookmaking/etc knock-off (which, noway, nohow!) I suppose the best way to improve my follow-through would be to maintain a craft journal. Since I'm almost certainly too undisciplined and disorganized (my blog's previous incarnation wasn't called the Desultory Knitter for nothing!) to keep a journal, I'm going to make a list now of all the projects I can think of that I'd like to try this year. Ideally, I'll post similar lists to my blog from time to time whenever I'm inspired. Perhaps I'll eventually move this to a sidebar, and simply add to it whenever I'm moved to do so. For now, here are some of my plans for Creating in 2009:

1. I'm in love with the stitch pattern pictured above, and I think it'd make a lovely scarf without the garter edging.

2. A project I started last year, but that fizzled, still interests me: I want to make oodles of paper cranes and hang them from my dogwood tree just as it's beginning to bud out but before it blooms.

3. I absolutely MUST make doughnuts this year! Just plain buttermilk doughnuts with a sprinkling of cinnamon and powdered sugar. Then we'll gobble them up and wash them down with cocoa for the kids and coffee for the grown ups. I'm going to do this soon, because it seems like a good winter project, but I also want to do it in the fall and serve them with apple cider.

4. I also want to perfect my recipe for apple candy (also called 'aplets' and, when made with apricots, 'cotlets') I tried a recipe I found online and wasn't entirely happy with it -- the candies were a little too soft so I'm going to try adding pectin or increasing the gelatin or cooking the apples down more. Or, probably, all three singly and in combination until I make them exactly the way I want them.

5. I want to make some small muslin bags for my knitting projects; normally I shove my knitting into my big old messenger bag but the yarn gets tangled with my keys and things and I end up dropping stitches just trying to fish the thing out and it always ends up getting dusty and sad looking. My plan is for simple drawstring bags out of muslin, but dressed up with embroidery -- I have lots of embroidery patterns from Wee Wonderfuls and Sublime Stitching as well as some vintage transfers, so this would be a fun way to use some of them. This idea was inspired (swiped is probably more accurate) from an ad I saw for some muslin project bags with a swallow or something stamped on them. Which brings me to number...

6. I want to try various printing projects. I have the Lotta Jansdotter book, and another book that was mentioned in one of my blogs as being even better is in my Amazon wishlist, and I've been wanting to do this for nearly a year already. I've always loved woodblock prints, particularly Hokusai's Mt. Fuji prints, as well as the many examples I have in children's picture books. I don't aspire to anything like that, because I never could draw, but I think I can manage some simple prints.

7. I want to find a penpal and correspond regularly through letters. I had a penpal when I was young (well, several really, but only one whom I wrote to regularly) and it was lots of fun. Email is convenient, and it has it's own charm I suppose, but it's not as elegant or literary as a real letter. I remember how fun it was to decorate the margins and the envelope, and to select tiny little things to send along with the letter. I'm not sure how I'll find a penpal, whether I'll invite someone I already know to exchange letters or whether I'll try to connect with a stranger from another country, but I'm very excited about this.

That's enough to be going on with I think. I was going to do a top-ten, but I can't possibly order my list in any meaningful way and anyhow, 7 is more magical and poetic than 10. Not to disrespect 10 -- where would we be without the decimal system? -- but I prefer odd numbers in any case.

dinner tonight: carry-out -- I had a blast cooking for Christmas but I need a break!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Have some cake in a hurry!

have some cake
Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I needed cake this afternoon, and I needed it fast. Ever have a day like that? Usually I go with some variety of sponge cake, but today I tried a new recipe adapted from one in Dorrie Greenspan's "Baking, From My Home to Yours" called Swedish Visiting Cake. The idea is that, if you look out the window and see friends on their way to visit, you can get this cake mixed and baked and ready to slice by the time they arrive and sit down for coffee.
If you can see about a mile that would be so, as long as your friends took a good 20 minutes to cover the mile and as long as you took your time greeting them and brewing the coffee. It takes a mere 15 minutes to prepare and another 25 to bake. Since it uses melted and cooled, rather than softened butter, you can get started right away. Here's what you do:

Heat oven to 350. Take out 2 eggs and set aside. Grease and flour, or spray a 9" cake pan, or lightly butter a 9" cast iron pan.
Put 1 cup of sugar in a large mixing bowl, followed by the zest of 1 lemon and 1/4 t salt. The microplane is your friend. If you don't have one, order one, then use a box grater or a zester until your microplane arrives. If you use a zester, you'll want to chop the zest fine before mixing with the sugar. Work the zest into the sugar and salt with your fingers.
Use a whisk to mix in the eggs, one at a time, then whisk in 1t of vanilla extract and 1/2 t almond extract.
Now you have a choice. If you have almond meal or almonds and a food processor, whisk together 3/4 c flour and 1/4 cup almond meal. If not, just measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold this (or the flour and almond meal, well mixed) into the sugar and egg mixture.
Last, fold in the melted and cooled butter. If you live in a cold and draughty house like mine, you might need to remelt the butter. Just make sure it's not very much warmer than room temp. when you add it, or you might cook the eggs and that would be nasty.
Pour the batter into your prepared vessel, then sprinkle over slivered or sliced almonds, or even coarsely chopped almonds and some sugar, coarse if you have it, regular if you don't. Pop it in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. It should be golden on top and a little bit 'underdone' in the middle.
Be a pal and don't overcook this! If you do, poke some holes in it with a cake tester and brush it with some sugar syrup, maybe with a bit of kirsch mixed in. But really, just don't overcook it and all will be well.
If you have a toddler in the house, make him hold his slice on a plate while you snap a few pictures for your blog. It builds character!

dinner tonight: pork shoulder roast, braised red cabbage, roasted red potatoes

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Boy and his Hat

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I didn't like the middle bit of my first attempt (see previous entry) well enough to bother with reknitting the crown and the ribbing, so I started again. The beauty of the knitted hat (for me) is that I can finish one in about the time it takes to watch 2-3 episodes of House. The bottom band is adapted from a chart in Alice Starmore's Fair Isle book. I'd already knit the first 4 rounds when I brought my knitting with me in the car. I'd left the chart at home, so I improvised the remaining rounds. the rest of the patterning is improvised. Ever since I knit him his first hat, a rusty orange watch-cap with a sad little pompon, Robin has worn his hats indoors and out all winter long. Not every day or anything like that, but frequently enough that I notice when he doesn't have it on, and worry that he's lost it.

We've been spending a lot of time cooking and baking these past two weeks. None of my food pictures have turned out well enough to post, so you'll have to imagine the simple beauty of a creamy white blancmange with nubbly bits of almond and a raspberry swirl. Our jam thumbprints were also a success, so much so that they are my new favorite cookie (replacing molasses spice cookies and not including snickerdoodles which are in a class by themselves.) Finally, I have a new method for preparing a whole chicken, thanks to Cooks Illustrated. Instead of roasting the bird, I seared it on both sides along with some aromatics, then cooked it in a covered pot in a low oven until it was done. The suculunt meat and rich jus more than compensated for the lack of crispy, crackling skin. No doughnuts or cream puffs yet; these require more time and concentration than I've had lately. Soon!

Finally, if you're ever feeling gloomy because the kids are sick, it's raining, the house is drafty, the economy sucks, or any other reason, and you can't manage cookies or cake, try sauteeing some onion in butter. Then add garlic and ginger and curry spices. Dump in some butternut or acorn squash, peeled and cut into chunks, or even some canned pumpkin along with some water, broth, or coconut milk. Simmer until the squash is tender or, if you used pumpkin, until the flavors have had time to make friends one with another. Your house will smell heavenly and you will feel better. Probably better enough to make a lovely pilaf and perhaps even some quick bread!

dinner tonight: curried butternut squash, saffron-almond rice, homemade chapati

Friday, December 05, 2008

My first (and possibly last) slip-stitch project

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I finished these about 2 weeks ago and I'm pretty pleased. I departed from my usual format just a bit, in that the armholes aren't raglan but semi-fitted. I put the underarm stitches on hold, then decreased every 2nd or 3rd row (I don't remember) for a bit and then knitted straight. The v-neck is also decreased 1 stitch every other row on either side. I was a little haphazard with picking up my stitches, but it's more symmetrical than it appears from the photo.

I wasn't as careful with the tension as I might have been, as you can tell from the way the slipped stitches sort of recede into the fabric. However, the fabric doesn't pucker and the overall effect, on the baby, is charming.

I suppose slip-stitch is 'easier' than fair-isle, but I much prefer the latter:

I'm going to rip back to where I began the crown shaping, despite Robin's protests, and make it a little taller and pointier. Just a tiny bit pointier. I tend to like pretty flat crown shaping, probably just because it's fun to decrease fast and furiously and finish the damn hat in an evening, but I think the flatter crowns look a bit feminine. Also the hat barely covers the tops of his ears and I do want it to be functional. Finally, I don't like the isolated red stitches that form lines along the decreases.

Finally, I knit a pair of mittens!

I took leave of my senses and knit them flat and seamed them. Never again! The monogram is atrocious too -- the initials are too small for duplicate stitch, but the stem stitch wasn't a raging success either. However, they are for a charity project and are due soon, so I need to send them along. Maybe I should unpick the monogram first? The project listed a monogram as nice but not necessary and since my recipient is an approximately 11 yr. old boy (his hand size match my daughter's) I think he might not like a mongram anyway. Justin says not, and he was an 11 yr. old boy once.

I've been doing lots of fun baking and cooking but, alas, no pictures. We'll have a baking day next week featuring either doughnuts, cream puffs, or pie, and I will post pictures if the project is successful, and perhaps even if it is not!

dinner tonight: cottage pie (homely, but delicious!)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Finished Object!

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
This turned out a little smaller than I'd planned, probably because Wren is growing so quickly these days. I'm very glad she requested extra-long sleeves. She'd wanted them to reach almost to the tip of her thumb and so they would have done if her arms hadn't grown 2" since I took her measurements just a few months ago. As it is, they fit nicely but she won't be wearing it more than one season so I'd better have some granddaughters in my future! I would change a few things if I could wave my magic wand, but I'm reasonably happy with it and Wren loves it so I'm chalking up another success.

This was knit in O Wool 'Balance' on 4mm needles. It's a basic seamless raglan underneath the decorative touches. I used an open cast-on and the picot hem is closed by knitting the cast-on stitches together with the final row of the hem. This gives the bottom some weight and helps it hang nicely. The sleeve cuffs are made the same way. The bottom of the sweater is a simple eyelet every 6 stitches on every 6th row, and the sleeves echo that with a purl bump every 6 stitches on every 6th row; both of these patterns are offset on alternate rows. The neckband and high-waist are both moss stitch, and the top of the sweater is plain knit. Magic-wand changes would include lengthening and flaring the 'skirt' part of the sweater, lengthening the sleeves slightly,deepening the neckline, and making the neckline bind-off tidier.

dinner tonight: stir-fried bok choy and carrots with a cashew,ginger and garlic dressing over soba needles

Monday, October 27, 2008

4 o'clock Snack

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
When we're feeling anglophilic (which is often) and peckish (that's britspeak for 'a bit hungry' as if you didn't know) we call our morning snack "elevenses" and our afternoon snack "tea." Finch adores our teatimes because he gets to drink that very grand and grown up drink we call, well, 'tea'. His is half milk, (or cream if we're feeling indulgent) and he guzzles it with great gusto. None of us take sugar; the children because they fancy themselves sophisticated and I because I've sworn off sweetened drinks but we do like a nice sweet munchy.

On a recent trip to Trader Joe's, we had a delicious munch of the best graham cracker I've ever tasted spread with cream cheese and pumpkin butter. I immediately dumped a box of the crackers and a jar of the pumpkin butter in my cart. I swapped in creme fraiche for the cream cheese because I'm still in a snit over the unavailability of cream cheese without various gums and stabilizers. The graham crackers are a little pricey, so I'm going to experiment with making my own. I also have some starter for homemade cream cheese. Given the price of dairy, I'm sure this will be more expensive than the commercial products, but it will be free of guar gum, locust bean gum and carageenan. I think that strained yogurt might make a good and thrifty substitute as well.

Some of our other favorite afternoon snacks:
bread and butter dripping with honey
sliced apples and cheddar cubes
chocolate-dipped bananas
apples cooked with 5-Spice powder and brown sugar
leftover polenta sliced and fried in butter either drizzled with or drenched in maple syrup (Wren and I drizzle, the boys drench)
and of course any kind of cake or cookie but especially Victoria Sponge or snickerdoodles

dinner tonight: chickpea stew with moroccan spices served over whole wheat couscous

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Summer's lease has all too short a date...

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
This is Mantie, our erstwhile guest from a few weeks ago. She showed up on our porch light last night, munching on moths, the clever girl. She's still a peculiarly pinkish tint, and I really do think it's the same mantis. We plan to search the yard for an egg case soon, and keep it in the Mantis Motel on the porch over the winter. With luck, we'll be able to see the babies emerge. I hope they won't eat each other!

I've enjoyed this summer more than any other summer I can remember, but I'm glad it's winding down. The garden produce is so abundant these days, and the eating is fabulous! One of my favorite late-summer suppers is Corn Chowder. We just had it, accompanied by quick-pickled zucchini dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. Try it yourself!

Summer Corn Chowder

8 ears of corn, husked
6 oz salt pork (or bacon)
1T butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 cup milk
4-6 small potatoes
3 TBSP fresh thyme leaves
1 cup half and half
salt and pepper

Slice the corn off the cob and scrape cobs with back of knife. Put cobs in pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower temperature and simmer for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the salt pork into ½” dice and put in lg. dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the fat is rendered and salt pork is fully cooked. Use a slotted spoon to remove salt pork into small bowl, and set aside. Pour off any fat over 2T, add 1T butter, then add onion. Sauté until onions are golden. Add minced jalapeno and sauté another minute. Put 1 cup of the corn with the milk into a blender or a food processor, and puree. Set aside. Cut potatoes into ¼” chunks. As soon as the cobs are finished boiling, strain the liquid through a sieve. Pour the corn-milk puree and about 2 cups of corn stock (from boiling cobs) into pot with onions and pepper. Add remaining corn and the potatoes, and the thyme, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes or so, until potatoes are tender. Stir in the half and half. Add coarsely ground pepper to taste, and adjust salt. Chowder may be thinned with more stock. Any remaining stock can be frozen and used in vegetable soups.

Note: For a vegan version, omit the salt pork, swap extra virgin olive oil for the butter, and omit the milk and cream. Instead, use only the corn stock. Add a sweet red pepper to the onions for color and flavor. Do not use any thyme, but finish the soup with fresh chopped cilantro to taste and the juice of one or two limes.

Accompany with:

Quick-Pickled Zucchini with Olive Oil and Lemon Juice

about 4 cups of coarsely chopped zucchini (about 1/2" chunks)
2T kosher salt
juice of 1-2 lemons
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Put the chopped zucchini in a colander over a large bowl and mix in the salt. Allow the zucchini to drain for about an hour. Rinse briefly, squeeze gently, then toss with the lemon juice and olive oil. Use the proportions you like for salad dressing, and definitely adjust to your own taste. I like to sprinkle a bit of pepper on these too.

dinner tonight: ratatouille and egg noodles

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It'll Be Mums Next!

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
The grasshoppers have been exploding onto the scene and we've been delighting in their beauty and variety. This fellow landed on my leg while I was watering the cucumber, so I carried him around front to visit the children for a bit before gentling him onto my lavender and taking his picture. He's pretty clearly visible in the photo, but when I stood up and looked down I had to concentrate to really see him. At 2 paces he was virtually invisible. But at close range he was a jewel.

The children wanted to keep him for a few days; we'd released Mantie the Mantis just a few days earlier so our 'Hotel Creepy Crawly' was vacant, but the last time I kept a 'hopper for a few days it declined all meals until we let it go. I released it onto my lettuce as a sort of consolation for having incacerated it, but it promptly jumped into the grass and we never saw it again. I wonder if herbivores are just more finicky than they're fiercer cousins. Mantie ate mostly crickets, and a few grasshoppers (sigh) while we had him, and his only criteria were that they were alive and kicking and not very much bigger than he was.

Grasshoppers are of course one of those signs that the summer is dying. I remember once when I was sitting on my neighbor's porch pointing and shouting "Look Mrs Burns -- a grasshopper.' Mrs Burns replied, almost bitterly "Yes, child, and it'll be mums next, and snow before we're all through!" I had come over to play with Mrs Burns' grandson, who, at 12, was quite grown up in my eyes. In his own eyes too I think, since he usually declined to play with me because I was 'just a little girl.'

Anyway, that year I noticed the mums in the gardens, grocery stores, and farm stands more than I'd ever done before. Mrs Burns grew Golden mums, like little suns, and Michaelmas Daisies the color of October skies with yellow centers. Her garden was the nicest in the neighborhood once September came around. I remember sitting on her porch that fall drinking cold cider and munching on a warm buttermilk doughnut, and thinking that of course it would snow soon, since Mrs Burns had said so. i wish I could say we had a fine snow that year, with lots of sledding and a week off school, but the truth is I don't remember. I just have those two fragments, moments from my childhood a month or so apart with a dour but kind old woman who had tremendous wisdom and authority in my young eyes. I remember how the cider and the doughnut tasted (crisp, cold, and tangy-sweet for the cider, warmly spicy, with nutmeg and cinnamon for the doughnut) and how the flowers looked, and even how the air felt on my skin, soft and caressing with just a hint of the colder days to come.

I suppose it will be mums next, and I think I'll get a pot of Michaelmas Daisies (aka New York asters) this year, in remembrance. I'll soon have to cover the fig tree with straw and burlap, and bring in my apple-scented geraniums and my tender herbs. I'll drink my coffee hot instead of iced, and get back to baking several times a week. We'll have afternoon tea again, and Sunday roasts. Perhaps it will snow and I'll have to drive the kids over to Lake Montebello with their sleds for an afternoon of thrills. I'll probably snark a little when the neighborhood kids 'mess up' the snow in my front yard with in their trampling tromping froclicking heedless way, but I won't say anything and I'll probably invite them in for hot chocolate and cinnamon toast.

Of course, we've a few hot days in store for us before Summer well and truly ends, and plenty of golden days with sunshine and cool breezes. Sweater weather! I've just finished designing Wren's fall sweater, and have knit a few rounds. It's to have a picot hem, so I used a provisional cast-on, which is a little fussy because you have to untwist before you begin (in future, I plan to untwist as I cast-on) but once that's done it's easier to make sure the work doesn't twist on the first few rounds. I aspire to finish her sweater in 2 weeks, Robin's in another 2 weeks, and Finch's in 1 week.

dinner tonight: stewed green beans, rosemary focaccia, feta and tomato salad

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Finch's Fabulous Fig Festival

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
Finch was very pleased and proud to present these figs first to the camera for a quick photo shoot and then to his siblings for an even quicker feast. Did they taste sweeter to him because he'd been warned away from them a thousand times all summer long? I think so. As soon as I said "Oh, we have some ripe figs" he came running, shrieking "Me pick it ripe figs, me pick it, mine figs, mine figs!"

I was sure he'd insist on devouring them before I could take a picture, but he was unusually cooperative when I explained about wanting to take a picture first. I think it seemed altogether reasonable to him that I wanted to photograph the figs; after all, he'd been wanting to pick these beauties for months and his moment had arrived. He fairly quivered with joy and anticipation; clearly Fig Day was an important milestone for him.

After I put the camera down, I expected to have a major fig-hoarding battle, but again Finch surprised me with his civility. He handed them around to each of us with a grand air before popping his own into his mouth. "Eat it Mommy! Eat it Wren! Eat it Robin! Eat ripe fig now!" he urged. Then he whooped and clapped his hands. Our fig festival lasted all of 10 minutes, but it was a high point of this summer.

Our little fig tree (a Celeste) produces several small waves of ripe figs throughout August and September. The figs are small, but delightfully sweet and, well, figgy. They require no peeling, the wee seeds are edible, and they're the perfect size to pop into your mouth whole. I suppose they'd be good for drying since they're so small, but we've never been able to resist eating them as soon as they ripen. Fascinating fig fact: Figs do not produce flowers! And yet they make fruit! Wow!

dinner tonight: black bean and corn salad with honey-lime dressing, sauteed shrimp with lime juice and cilantro

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I Love Lace!

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I've suspended work on this stole, my very first 'for me' knitting, but I'm diligently knitting my Ravelympics Socks, also for me and also lacy.

I've knit lace edgings before, but these are my first allover lace patterns, and I'm enjoying them immensely. I was worried that lace would require more patience and concentration than I'm capable of, but both patterns are simple enough that I can divide my attention between them and the children and/or my podcasts and not make too many mistakes. Also, lace is very easy to read, or at least my current projects are, so when I do err and then forget what row I'm on, I can figure it out pretty quickly. I suppose a very complicated lace problem would require far more time and attention than I have, and would be difficult to read as well, so I'll save those for when I'm older and wiser and bereft of small children.

Sock the first is completed, save for the grafting. I'm going to put the toe stitches on a holder and finish sock the second and then do all the grafting at once. Grafting does take every ounce of concentration and patience I have, and a quiet room and soothing music as well, so it's best to do it all at once. The pattern is called 'ribbed lace' and is from Charlene Schurch's 'Sensational Knitted Socks.' It's a traditional cuff-down, turned-heel sock, so it won't be refootable, but I intend it for cozy evenings at home, so that's alright. I suppose I could always darn it, since I'll have a bit of the yarn left over. Darning socks is such an old-fashioned chore, but I like it in moderation.

I've also been using my sewing machine lately, since Justin 'fixed' my iron. I'm trying to convince him to write a guest entry on how to do what he did, because the auto shut-off function on these irons is evidently a common source of woe to Rowenta owners. I ran off a couple of bibs from Amy Karol's Bend the Rules Sewing for my niece Piper, and took them to a local baby boutique to get a color-coordinated plate and cup set. Yes, I'm that goofy. Anyway, the boutique owner might like to buy them outright or on consignment, depending on the price. Something to consider!

My next sewing project, and one I need to get started on very soon (like, last week!) is for the Sassy Apron Swap. See the pretty fabric on the below entry? Imagine that in a 40'sesque bib apron with bias trim! I'm a little nervous about using bias tape for the first time, but I think it's well within my scope. Once I've sent it off, I'm going to make myself a simpler apron out of muslin, but with lots of pretty embroidery from Hillary Lang's delightful designs. Because I really miss embroidery!

Further down the pipeline are the children's fall sweaters. This year, I'm using O Wool 'Balance' for all of them: Wren's in 'lapis', Robin's in 'malachite' and Finch's in 'graphite'. Translation: slate, moss, and charcoal! Further translation: blue, green, gray!! I hope it's not too precious to use coordinating yarns. I'll be using different patterns, and Robin's is to have a broad agagte (brown) stripe because Spinster's didn't have quite enough of the malachite. Wren's is to have some lace, Robin's some gansey-style knit/purl designs, and Finch's some cables. I can't wait to get started, but I have to, at least until my socks and apron are finished.

dinner tonight: takeout, but last night was Shaker corn pudding, tomato basil salad, and fried cilantro chicken sausages. Yummy!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

It's Apron Time Again!

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I haven't been sewing this summer because 1) the kids wrecked the workroom, 2) my iron has been malfunctioning and 3) it's too damn hot anyway. However! I've got a niece turning 1 very soon and a Fall Apron Swap partner expecting an apron by September 1st, so I've set the kids to work cleaning, the husband to work fixing(here, 'fixing' means "bypassing the auto-off feature") and the weather gremlins to turning the sun down a bit and the humidifier down quite a lot.

The children and husband at least are doing their duty and I myself have been hard at work choosing fabrics and trims. I won't describe the project I have planned for my niece in case she is looking over her mama's shoulder while said mama avidly devours my blog, but I thought I'd go ahead and post a picture of the fabric I chose for the swap.

It's from Amy Butler's 'Belle' collection, and I selected it only after agonizing over 4 possibilities over the course of 3 days. I think I've made the right decision -- this fabric is growing on me and I wish I'd ordered an extra length for a skirt for Wren. The pattern is a simple one, but it's to be my first time using bias tape, so I hope that a) I don't make a mess of it and b) I can find a good color so I don't have to make my own. Just in case I bought a yard of a solid green that matches the leaves. Ought I to have ordered a blue to match the flowers? Or a bold contrasting color? I don't know. I'm just hoping my local JoAnn's will have Wright's Double-Fold 1/4" Bias Tape in a suitable color so I won't have to agonize.

I'll also be making a matching hot-pad, and I can't decide whether to make it with cotton batting or some sort of heat-resistant padding. I think cotton batting is sufficient for a hot pad, but if my swap partner is anything like me, she'll use the hot pad as a potholder at some point, and I don't want her to burn her fingers as I have done.

Finally, I'll be sending a favorite pie recipe. How to choose between no-bake pumpkin pie, chocolate peanut butter pie, or bananascotch pie with sour cream? Not to mention pearamel tart and good old apple pie! I really love pie, particularly in autumn, and they're all my favorites. It's a problem to decide!

Friday, July 25, 2008

"The storm came up so very quick..."

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
Marchette Chute was writing about a Spring Rain but yesterday's summer storm also 'couldn't have been quicker.' After a week-long heat wave (the first one this summer) Baltimore was expecting storms. All morning and for part of the afternoon I waited impatiently for something to happen. Dark clouds threatened, then dissipated with nary a drop of rain and the air grew heavy and still. I sat on the couch under the ceiling fan feeling sorry for myself. The children were quarrelsome, the house untidy, and everything and everyone out of sorts. Finally, the sky grew darker and the wind picked up. I hurried out to my porch to watch and listen as distant thunder rumbled and rolled, then crashed above us like waves on the shore. I heard the rain softly pattering for a few seconds before a rush of wind brought the deluge. All of this happened in just a few moments; after delaying it's entrance half the day, this storm was in a hurry!

Folks rushed by with newspapers over their heads; one man walked sedately along until lightening crackled alarmingly close-by. "Holy Fuck!" he hollered, sprinting down the street and around the corner. A small white butterfly struggled through the air, settled on a dogwood leaf, then fluttered madly back into the storm for a moment before sheltering on my porch f or the duration. As quickly as it came, the storm passed, the rain stopped, and the sun shone.

My children came out to stomp in the puddles and rescue earthworms, and I checked the basement and garage for flooding. We had another storm later that evening before the cold front moved on through, leaving us with glorious sunshine and (more importantly) low humidity. It won't last, but just now I feel as though Baltimore summers aren't nearly as bad as we make them out to be.

dinner tonight: fettucine with tomatoes, garlic, and basil, topped with parmagiano

Monday, July 14, 2008

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I bought this last Fall during our semiannual jaunt to the shore. The colors remind me of the sea, sky, and sand, and the red reminds me of the terns and laughing gulls that I watched while the children played on the beach. I've been wanting to try my hand at some Fair Isle knitting, and I think this will be the perfect yarn. It's an alpaca/merino blend, delightfully soft, so the designs will be muted rather than crisp, which I like. Since it's my first attempt at this kind of colorwork, I think I'll do a simple scarf rather than the seamless circular yoke sweater I'd originally planned. Of course, Finch would be absolutely gorgeous in these colors, but I've never knit anything for myself, and it's awfully nice yarn for a kid who will grow out of it within a year.

I'm also working on my first lace project using Lorna's Laces "Helen's Lace" in 'Tahoe' a gorgeous mix of blues and purples. The lace pattern is super easy but even so I've had to use stitch markers and a fair amount of concentration. I can listen to podcasts but not watch television while I'm working on it, so I do need to cast-on a hat or dishcloth or something to knit while Justin and I watch our Netflix dvds.

Dinner tonight: grilled chicken thighs, roasted potatoes with olive oil and rosemary, steamed favas with lemon vinaigrette

Friday, July 11, 2008


Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I don't know if I'll ever get over my amazement when vegetables grow in my garden. Herbs and flowers delight me, but I take them more or less for granted; I expect my patch of thyme and lavender to spread a little more each year and to attract all manner of buzzing, flying things with their fragrance. I know that the few tiny little basil seedlings I pot out in May will season my pasta throughout the summer and well into the fall. I know that the rosemary will come back each year, along with the sage, marjoram, and oregano, and that my scented geraniums will have a growth spurt as soon as the weather is mild enough for them to go back outside. I know that my flower garden, a riotous mix of native perennials, old-fashioned cottage garden flowers, and sundry urban 'weeds' will bloom and fade all season long. I'm glad and grateful for all this, but I experience it as a nice but normal part of the annual cycle.

My vegetables are quite another story. My backyard faces north and is shaded on the east by my neighbor's tall evergreens. A tiny corner on the far end of the yard, effectively the southern exposure of our gardening shed, is the only place I can grow vegetables out back. The space is about 3 ft by 8 ft, and gets the morning sun by 11am, which isn't ideal, but it seems to work. Even if I had an ideal space, I think I'd still be amazed at how incredibly quickly a tiny seedling turns into a great sprawling cucumber, squash, or tomato plant. And the cucumbers and squash! One day bright yellow or orange flowers bloom and then fade. The next day, a tiny green knob begins to swell just behind the spent bloom. By the 4th or 5th day, I note with surprise that the cucumber or zucchini is nearly ready to eat. After this, I try to check each day because a zucchini can assume mammoth proportions faster than you'd think, and cucumbers are nearly as bad/good. And then, the really amazing thing happens: more flowers bloom and fade, more little green knobs begin to swell, and before you know it, you've got yourself a veritable crop!

Two days ago, the children played outside while I tidied the porch and garden. We harvested a couple of zucchini for our lunch. I sliced and sauteed the zucchini in olive oil while the children snipped some marjoram for seasoning. We tossed the zucchini and marjoram over some pasta, squirted a little lemon juice over it all, and devoured it while watching the catbirds fight over the birdbath. We cleaned up the lunch dishes, then sat on the front porch to watch a quick thunderstorm. The baby napped in my arms while Wren read to us from the hobbit. The children played all the rest of the afternoon while I tidied the house and worked on some knitting. Robin ran in to tell me that the cucumbers were huge, so we harvested them and made Mark Bittman's "Quick Pickled Vegetables" with them to go with our supper. After supper, the children caught lightening bugs and we all took a quick walk before settling in for the baths, books, and bed. This was a day to hold onto, to be grateful for, and to remember when I'm tired, frustrated, stressed, angry, or depressed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Justin installed my (pulley-mounted) laundry line last week, and I am supremely happy. I spent nearly a decade of my adult life in an apartment community that didn't allow residents to hang out laundry, and it nearly killed me. No exaggeration. Okay, slight exaggeration. Anyway, one day, when I was already feeling a little blue, the communal dryer ate my laundry ticket. I was out of tickets, out of money, and extremely cross. As I hauled my sopping wet quilt across the courtyard, I noted the warm spring sunshine and pleasant breeze and thought "I'll just throw my beautiful patchwork quilt over the privet and let it dry in the sun!" About 45 minutes later, I got a call from the apartment manager asking me to remove the quilt immediately. She said that another resident had 'complained' and reminded me that clotheslines were verboten. I took my time bringing the quilt in, but it still had to finish drying over the shower-curtain rod and that night it had only a faint trace of that fresh, line-dried scent. All it took to spoil that small amount of grace for me was a nosy, cantankerous control-freak.

For weeks afterward I was filled with rage and depression. It was a small thing of course, but it really rankled that anyone could be so petty and unneighborly. I also hated that such a simple, reasonable action was precluded based on the freakish notion that laundry drying in the sun is somehow an objectionable sight. Mostly, I was just frustrated beyond tolerance that I had so little freedom. Renters, particularly in apartment complexes have few rights -- often they can't keep pets, even if they are willing to assume financial responsibility for any potential damage. Modern apartment communities rarely have any space for children to play, and usually have signs forbidding ball-playing, bike-riding, skateboarding, and any other thing children might do to enjoy fresh-air and exercise. And, few apartment dwellers are allowed to hang out their laundry.

Today I'm feeling very grateful for my old city bungalow, with it's crumbling plaster, sagging porch, and new clothesline.

dinner tonight: curried chickpeas, gingery green beans, brown basmati rice with whole spices

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

We watched this little beauty struggling to fly last night. The children wanted to 'rescue' him but generally fledglings fluttering around on the ground are best left alone. We snapped this picture and made sure to keep Roonces the Cat indoors for the night. This morning I was a little concerned to see Baby Jay still on the ground but I was reassured when I saw the parents dive-bombing our neighbor when he tried to pick the little creature up. When we got back from African Drumming and Dance, the baby had finally flown. I've been considering volunteering at our nearest wildlife rescue center, with an eye to becoming a certified wildlife rehabilitator myself, and seeing this little jay was good incentive to actually make the call.

All is well in the garden -- the catbirds are very fond of the serviceberries which are just now ripening, and the drip bath is again proving popular. Even our viburnum has a few berries, so there must be a compatible species somewhere in the neighborhood. Good news indeed, since I don't have room for another viburnum in my own yard. I dug a small cucumber and squash bed (just 2 plants of each) and put a Rutgers tomato and a Red Beauty pepper each in a large pot. The perennial bed will have to wait until fall, and possibly longer as we rethink our plans.

dinner tonight: stewed green beans, spiced feta, herbed focaccia: nourishing, cheap, and delicious!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Baltimore springtimes are usually ephemeral but for the past 2 or 3 years we've had ideal Springs, with plenty of cool, wet days punctuated by gloriously sunny days all throughout March, April, and May. We've also had mild (for Baltimore) summers. I'm glad, because I'm a weather wimp who cries in very cold weather and mopes on hot and humid days. Lots of folks have informed me that I ought to move to Washington or Oregon, and I've been sorely tempted in the past. But I love the grand old industrial cities of the East Coast, particularly Baltimore which has nearly always been my home.

Yesterday we had a wild windy day, and the kids and I took full advantage: we puttered in the yard all morning, took a brisk walk, played in a friends backyard, and finally drove to meet my parents at a park local to them on the Gunpowder River where we saw either Bank or Rough-Winged Swallows, some Cedar Waxwings, and, briefly a Baltimore Oriole. We arrived home in time to dig a hole and plant this, our 2nd Serviceberry tree before throwing together a quick meal and watching David Attenborough's "Life in the Undergrowth."

Today was a rainy day, perfect for helping my newly planted tree settle in nicely, and perfect also for a day of lots of reading, knitting, and playing, and just a little housework. It would have been a good day for baking too, but Finch had a long and leisurely nap in my arms, something we haven't done in many months, so I sacrificed the maple-walnut bread for what could easily be Finch's last lap-nap. My little guy is growing up fast and a (small) part of me regrets that he is the last.

dinner tonight: Spaghetti Marinara, lemony glazed carrots with parsley

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Finished Object!

I finished this several weeks ago but life interfered whenever I tried to post it here. I used Blue Sky Organic Cotton and followed the EZ seamless raglan formula, my usual favorite for quick and easy kid sweaters. I modified it slightly to have a short placket, thus accomodating the big ol' toddler head. I'm very pleased with the result. I tried to make it on the large side and I still hope Finch will wear this in the Fall, but I have my doubts. I'd like to think that the number of grandchildren I'll eventually have will be directly proportional to the number of handknits I churn out but, again , I have my doubts. I won't grumble even if he does grow out of it before the Fall, because seeing his pleasure and pride in the thing made it wholly worthwhile. The first time he wore it, he hugged himself and laughed maniacally for several minutes before running around the house yelling "mine! mine! mine sweater!"

That was in early April and we are probably through with the sweaters for the season. Yesterday the kids and I spent the day at my friend's farm. The kids ran around like wild things, feeding the chickens, teasing the geese, playing in the river, and generally looking like a tribe of little flower children. I helped plant tomatoes, peppers, basil, and zucchini. I can't wait to see this garden in a month's time!

Today my big kids were rather subdued, and Finch was at his worst during yoga, but he perked up a bit in the library. Then he perked up some more, so much so that we had to leave precipitously. As we were leaving, the librarian asked Finch if he could say 'hi' and he instead said 'bye' and she replied, 'ah, just as well.' Truer words were never spoken! We treated ourselves to lunch at Clementine, where I had the most superbly delicious sandwich I've ever had and a glass of basil lime elixir that was delightful by itself and perfect with the sandwich. I can't possibly feel envious of folks who live out in the country on days when I've had lunch at Clementine.

dinner tonight: pineapple cashew stir-fry over quinoa

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ahoy there, crew members! (Do any of you Baltimore folks remember Captain Chesapeake? ) Anyway, I've been neglecting my blog because I've been frightfully busy, but since part of being 'busy' included frolicking at Rehoboth Beach a couple of weeks ago, I've got lots to blog about. Now that I've caught up on the housekeeping, I'll be posting more regularly for a bit, until I get behindhand and overwhelmed again! So, I offer you, an ffo (failed finished object):

The photo doesn't adequately convey the wretchedness of this sweater. The knitting is fairly well done, but the finishing is very bad indeed. Also, for some reason I knitted the size 7/8 but used the row count for the size 9/10, so it's a bit disproportionate. My slender daughter can't button the sweater over her belly, but at least it's not too short. What happened was that I knit the bottom ruffle several times over. Each time, I measured it from side to side after I'd decreased away the extra stitches. The thing is mind-bogglingly long until these stitches are decreased, but even after I'd gotten down to the proper number of stitches it seemed too long. So I went down a size, thinking that the pattern was just generously sized. As it turns out, it just takes a few extra rows before one can get an accurate measurement, and if I'd trusted the pattern and my gauge swatch, all would have been well.

That is, all would have been well until Finch descended upon us, and put a hold on all knitting (not to mention reading, sewing, baking, writing, etc...) This poor sweater would in any case have been abandoned for a time, and evidentally I'm not good at bringing projects out of hibernation. I forget about any modifications I've made to the pattern, not to mention what size I was knitting and which needles I was using (because Saints forbid I should do the sensible thing and make notes) so I end up guessing -- probably incorrectly. Also, I never regain my enthusiasm. I kept putting this project aside until it occurred to me that dd was having a growth spurt and that if I wanted her to wear the sweater at least once, I'd best get cracking.

So I finished the knitting, then pushed it aside again until Spring sprung and it occurred to me that unless we had at least one more cool day, the damn thing would NEVER get worn. I sped through the sewing up, and made a very poor job of it as you can probably tell. I finished it this morning and she wore the sweater today. It's supposed to warm up again tomorrow, and we will probably have warm to hot weather until next Autumn, by which time she'll have outgrown it, so this is a one-off, which is just as well.

dinner tonight: lemony chicken cutlets, wild rice pilaf, and pan-roasted asparagus

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Picture a cobalt blue ceramic bowl* filled with fragrant lemons. In summertime, you'll use them mostly in your iced tea, but you might make some lemon tea-cookies or a batch of lemon bars if you're feeling ambitious and it's not terribly humid. In autumn, you'll want to make a lemon meringue pie or sip warm ginger tea with honey and lemon. In wintertime, you'll want to make a rich, old-fashioned lemon curd to serve over gingerbread, or, if you're feeling sick avgolemono soup is much faster and just as soothing as chicken noodle. In springtime, lemon bundt cake with lemon glaze fits the bill. I made this one to share at a family Easter gathering, but we ended up staying home with a sick baby so I was worried that it'd go to waste. I sent two generous slices over to my parents with the big kids, and, now that the cake has been devoured, I almost wish I hadn't shared at all. I'd forgotten how satisfying this cake is, served on my willow-ware plates with a cup of tea (cream, no sugar) after a rich supper of sweet peppers and Italian sausage sauce over campanelle pasta.

Finished objects coming up include: knitted, felted, embroidered cuffs, cotton raglan with placket, more bibs, and possibly a turtle stuffy. I won't promise anything for the next entry, because I didn't follow through the last time I made promises. But I'll be posting some pretties in the next few weeks. Unless the children get sick again, in which case I'll probably run away to 'darkest Peru'. Source?

*The bowl, alas, is but a memory. My heedless husband broke it one day and I don't even have a picture of it filled with lemons to soothe my wounded spirit. Now I keep my lemons in a sea-green bowl and the effect is really rather pretty. But I want another cobalt blue bowl all the same.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring is sulking here in Baltimore, but the children and I managed a mad dash through the drizzle to get to the library, and then an even madder dash through pouring rain to get home. What could be snugger than to have a new pile of books, a tidy(ish) house, and a sleeping baby? I could make an argument for a snowy day in which the children are frolicking with their dad and I am curled up with my knitting and a coffee, whilst soup simmers on the stove. But that is best in, say, January or February. March is here, and a rainy day with books is just about perfect.

Last week, Spring made a slightly premature but most welcome entrance, and we took full advantage. Just over a mile south of our house is Herring Run Park. It's a small park with a playground, a few athletic fields, a little wooded trail, and a stream. No herring (the water is heavily polluted) and the park has had some isolated muggings as well as stray 'pit-bull'* sightings from time to time, but it's a pretty place and usually peaceful. We went several times last week, and finally got around to exploring an abandoned picnic pavilion set a little back in the trees behind the playground. Those two light-colored blotches in the dark window above are holes in the roof, and the structure is surrounded by empty liquor bottles** and a few blankets presumably left by homeless folks, and the insides are thoroughly covered in graffiti, but the children were enchanted. I remember a putatively haunted house in Victory Villa that my friends and I explored frequently until the fire department came and burned it down, so I understand. I suppose most of us take great pleasure in derelict buildings and old, abandoned things. Anyway, here they are, sitting in that very window, playing at being orphans or some such:

On our way out, we saw a very nasty creature indeed:

This was nearly 2" long! The children wanted to capture it and bring it home to identify and observe, but we didn't have and couldn't find a suitable container. I forbade them to pick up any of the empties littering the park and snapped a few pictures instead. I have collected spiders with fat, hairy abdomens, countless ferocious looking caterpillars (with bristles! and brightly-colored markings that clearly indicate danger!) and even centipedes all in the name of scientific exploration. But I drew the line at this creature. The devil himself would assume just such a shape, if the devil were real and into assuming the shape of creepy-crawlies. Which I suppose he would do, wouldn't he?

But I don't want to end my account of our Happy Spring Outing on such a macabre note, so here is a picture of Finch (quite another kind of devil) inspecting our leeks for sand:

Leek Potato soup is a lovely meal for an almost-Spring supper, when the day was beautifully warm but the night turned altogether chilly. With oatmeal cookies for desert!

* 'pit bull' in quotes because lots of folks, including me, call it so if it's aggressive and looks something like a pit bull. Trouble is, lots of dogs look pit-bullish so likely a lot of these aggressive strays are mutts with or without pit-bull in them.

**I don't mind the empty liquor bottles as much considering the prevalence of used needles and condoms in and around our fair city!

**eta: I've tentatively id'ed the Demon-Bug of Herring Run Park as a relatively harmless, but scary-sounding 'blister beetle' of which there are many varieties. Evidently, these fearsome looking creatures secrete a substance that causes blistering on human skin on contact. The blistering is 'uncomfortable, but not painful.' I still say they look awfully damn nefarious, but I'm just glad they're not the sort of bug you'd find say, on a dead body or something.

dinner tonight: good question! possibly fried tilapia and spicy black beans, but also perhaps whatever carry-out I can persuade Justin to fetch!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I finished Robin's Cable Sweater of Doom just past midnight, 5 March 2008. I finished it in between Finch's bouts of puking, which was fitting since the entire sweater would have been finished well over a year ago had Finch not been such a demanding laddie from birth onward. But, it's done, and I'm pretty well pleased with it overall. I stopped at Spinster Yarns and Fibers today partly to ask Andrea about my kids' knitting classes, but mostly to fish shamelessly for compliments on my latest f.o. I also stopped up at Red Canoe, only my excuse in this case was their delicious coffee, which I really did need because Finch kept me up until well past 3am with his nasty little virus.

Now, could the sweater be improved? Absolutely. The original plan had the cables integrated nicely with the raglan shaping, but I had to lower and widen the neckline so they end abruptly. Even with tweaking, the neckline isn't as close to perfect as I'd like it to be. I crossed a few cables incorrectly along the way and although I corrected them all (I hope!) I repaired them in situ, so to speak, rather than ripping back. This method is faster and provides good experience 'reading' the knitting, but I had a hard time making them nice and tidy. Overall, I was working slightly above my skill level. I used the EZ formula for a seamless raglan knit from the bottom up, with modifications based on Jacqueline Fee's Sweater Workshop. I plan to knit a few plainer sweaters using this blueprint before I attempt another cabled sweater. I'm also planning a few top-down sweaters, since I'm not as familiar with this method.

Up next, however, is Wren's cardigan. I need to seam it and knit up the button band. I used to hate seaming sweaters and even vowed that Wren's sweater, knit on request, would be the last seamed sweater ever, but now that I'm learning to sew I have a new appreciation for this kind of work. Seamless sweaters will always be my favorite, but I plan to hone my finishing skills on some seamed sweaters somewhere down the line.

Dinner tonight: Lentil stew with celeriac and walnut oil

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I finished my apron for the Sassy Apron Swap with a mere 2 days to spare. I'm not usually keen on February, and in the past I've been a tiny bit snarly on Leap Day, but I'm very glad of the extra day this year since it allows me to feel virtuous and, dare I say it, smug, because I'll be sending my apron package out tomorrow, April 29th, an entire day ahead of the deadline. I'll be honest and admit that I'll also be sending my nephew's birthday card out several days after the happy occasion, but as I frequently neglect birthday cards entirely, I think I can chalk this one up in my favor as well. Am I not virtue personified?

Tonight's dinner was a spectacular hit. Red cabbage braised in wine, from the Fields of Greens cookbook, maple-glazed pork shoulder roast from the March 2003 Cook's Illustrated, and a buttery, peppery, soft polenta that I improvised. Just the thing to console me when it's cold outside and in and I've run out of chocolate. The wine I bought for braising is quite nice for drinking as well, and most consolatory.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

This lovely alpaca yarn was going to be a seamless sweater with a circular, fair-isle yoke for Finch. I got the yarn at Sea Needles in Bethany Beach, Delaware, and after knitting up scads of swatches I've concluded that the yarn really wants to be a lacy scarf. My lacy scarf. I've never knit for myself until this year, but I have a scrumptious blanket on the needles por moi and now plans for this scarf. I'm almost certainly going to knit it up in Feather and Fan, in thin stripes at either end and the middle bit in the oatmeal color. The green is a lot prettier in person, a sort of sage color, and I'm tempted to order more of it and use that for the solid color. I'll knit some swatches soon, but with my current backlog of projects (apron for the sassy apron swap, Robin's cable sweater of doom, Wren's lace cardi, Finch's striped pants, cranes and balloons for the origami tree, a turtle stuffy just for fun, my blanket...) I don't see me wearing this scarf until next fall. Unless. Unless I take it with me in a few weeks when we go to Rehoboth, just a few miles from where I bought the yarn. I've been feeling sad, mad, and bad lately, and now, as I hold the image of me looking out to sea wearing or even knitting on my lace scarf, I'm comforted. Well, I suppose the thought of getting away from the city and basking in the glory of the seaside is comfort enough, even if I do my duty and bring the children's knitting with me instead!

Ah, the sea, the sea! When you read that, do you think of Iris Murdoch, Xenophon's army, both, or neither? Until I discovered Iris Murdoch, I'd have answered 'neither'. The Murdoch novel won the Booker Prize I believe, and is excellent. I haven't read Xenophon (I'm nothing like that erudite, but Murdoch certainly was, and it's where she got the title.) But it's a romantic sort of phrase so I looked it up awhile back. Xenophon helped lead the Greek army, some 10,000 strong back north to the Black Sea after they'd been defeated by the Persians. They'd been defeated and were deep in unknown and enemy territory and the thing was next to impossible, but they managed it, and Xenophon describes the soldiers' joyous cries of 'the sea, the sea!' in his 'Persian Expedition.' An even more romantic version asserts that, when the Greek army first heard the roar of the waves, they mistook it for the enemy army until they came to the edge of the cliff and finally saw the sea, upon which sight they shouted joyously. Either way, I'm sure it was a relief to them, although they still had to book passage on a ship and sail home, battle-weary and defeated. Serves them right for invading another country I suppose.

dinner tonight: apple-sage turkey burgers topped with sweet onion jam, buttered fava beans

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I blogged myself into a corner with that one didn't I? Glorious and resplendent indeed. I think I was delirious when I wrote that last entry. Certainly I was in the grip of a nasty contagion that is only just beginning to release it's wicked hold on my family. Justin is still suffering, but I don't count him since he so seldom gets sick. That's entirely unfair but still I discount him and his suffering.

I did manage to plan some future finished objects that I hope to imbue* with a measure of glory and splendor*. The first one is our family craft project for February/March. I say that as though 'our family craft project' is an old accustomed habit but to tell the truth the inspiration just hit me a mere few days ago. But I think we're going to pull this one off, especially since I have projects for the next few months already dreamed up, and they're all fairly simple and low-cost.

So, for the next few weeks we're all going to be folding paper cranes from 6" origami paper, spare wrapping paper, old newspapers, and maybe even some starched calico. I'm not sure if I can manage that last one. When we have lots and lots** we're going to hang them from our dogwood tree and leave them as long as they last or until they really start to look grungy. I think it'll be gorgeous -- all those colors fluttering in the breeze (if it pleases March to send us breezes and not to send us gales) and serving as a sort of promise token for the blossoms that will follow in April.

*I'm normally obedient in matters of spelling but it annoys me not to spell imbue with an 'e' fore and aft, instead of just aft, and I think splendor with a 'u' would be more splendid. Thuslyish: 'Embue with splendour...'

** Here, 'lots and lots' probably means upwards of 300 cranes, but it's hard to say. I think we'd need an outrageous amount for it to really look good.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


I don't normally name my sweater 'designs' because most of them are simply variations on Elizabeth Zimmerman's recipe for seamless raglan or yoke sweaters. I plug in stitch patterns, play with color, and modify the shaping a bit, but I'm happy to have such a versatile formula for sweaters that allows me to avoid seaming. Lately I've been learning to sew, both by hand and machine, and have even practiced several seams for knitwear, but I think this will remain my workhorse formula for the children's sweaters.

I've named Robin's future sweater 'Vexing' because it is absolutely killing me!! Oh the drama! The heartache! The frustration! The tears! Okay, I haven't cried yet, but probably that's because I'm so perfectly controlled and even-tempered. The sweater is vexing because the 'oxo' cables cross on every 1st and 3rd row, and the gull-stitch crosses only on the 4th row. Yes, I could have designed it differently, but when I made my gauge swatch, this really seemed like the best rhythm. It really did. Truly.

Now, I can read my knitting well enough to knit this without counting my rows or anything equally dreary, but I can't quite manage to knit this one while reading, watching television, or helping Wren with her math. Or rather, I can, but only if I'm okay with tinking that damn cable panel every few rows and occassionally frogging several rounds at once. Which I'm not okay with, because, honestly, I was being sarcastic when I called myself perfectly controlled and even-tempered. I'm about half-daft at the best of times.

The obvious solution is to save this knitting for my quiet-time and be all zen and focused with it. But I'm a mom. I've had 4 brain-cell-depleting pregnancies and I have 3 beautiful but crazy-making children. Also I homeschool. Also I frequently listen to the radio and/or read the news. Also, well, you get the picture. I multitask, and I fret, and I obsess about things. I don't do zen. This is where podcasts come in! And Pandora! Although, I have to say, that if Pandora plays Fairport Convention's "Don't Know Where I Stand" on my folk station even one more time I'll probably have a major depressive episode. That song just makes me think of a leftover hippy, with long gray hair, granny glasses sliding down her nose, hips swaying as she wanders, lost and lonely around her cat-pee smelling basement apartment in the city with dead and dying philodendrons hanging dejectedly in their sad little macrame hangers. She's sipping chartreuse out of a mug from her pottery-making days and wishing she had some marijuana and wondering where everybody went.

Forgive me! That was depressing. Next update will feature a finished object, resplendent and glorious, as well as bird-sightings, tempting menus, and happy thoughts.

dinner tonight: canned soup and sliced Wensleydale cheddar for the kids, leftover pasta for Justin, and nothing for me thanks, I'm wretchedly sick.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Weeknight Italian Menu

Spicy Sauteed Broccoli

extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
red pepper flakes to taste
1 lb fresh broccoli, stalks trimmed, peeled, and sliced thin, crowns broken into florets

Heat 2T of evoo in a braising pan or dutch oven. When the oil is just hot enough to sizzle, add the garlic and the pepper flakes, and saute, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broccoli, saute for another 2 minutes, then add 3/4 cup water, bring to lively simmer, then cover the pan and cook another 2 minutes or until cooked to desired doneness. Drain, season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired.

Easy Marinara Sauce

extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
3 t dried thyme
1T dried oregano
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine (or substitute drained tomato juice)
2-4T chopped fresh or frozen basil
1T sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 4T evoo over medium heat until hot enough to sizzle. Add onion , sprinkle with a little salt, and saute, stirring now and again, for 8-10 minutes until onions are soft and golden. Add the garlic, oregano and thyme and saute, stirring continuously for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add drained diced tomatoes, increase heat a bit and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and the wine or tomato juice, bring to simmer, then lower heat and cook another 10-15 minutes. Stir in the basil and sugar off-heat, adjust salt and pepper to taste, and serve over pasta with romano or parmesan cheese.

I serve this meal in two courses, beginning with the broccoli, to maximize veggie consumption. I freeze basil from the farmers' market every summer: I wash it well and then process it with some olive oil and a touch of salt. Lots of herbs can be preserved in this way, and basil especially is a treat in the wintertime. On good-toddler days, we frequently have desert with this, but today was a bad toddler day, and they were all lucky to get anything at all!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've been setting aside one afternoon each week for sewing and I've been pleasantly surprised at how quickly I'm learning. When Wren was a baby, I made a couple of reversible smocks from a now oop McCall's pattern. They turned out well, but none of my subsequent projects were satisfactory, and some were true disasters, so I concluded that the smocks were a fluke and I was not a sewist*. But then I discovered knitting blogs, some of which link to crafting blogs, some of which are super-fabulous** and I decided to give the sewing thing another go. I credit Amy Karol of Angry Chicken, and her "Bend-The-Rules-Sewing" for my newfound pleasure and success in sewing. Thank-you Amy! I've also set aside Saturday afternoons for knitting, and I've managed to squeeze in some time for other crafts, including origami, on other days. When the children join me I spend more time helping them than I do making anything myself, but their creative energy is a joy to me. Oddly enough (maybe it isn't so odd?) I've been able to keep up better with the housework now that I'm keeping myself busier. I'm also not struggling as much with depression, though I can't say whether the crafting keeps the depression at bay or whether the absence of depression allows me to craft. Any road, I'm enjoying a time of quiet wonder and I'm grateful.

In bird news, we've had the snowbirds (juncos) pretty reliably for the past few weeks, and they're an endearing sight hopping about among the fat and placid doves, pecking at the cracked corn. We've had a few white-throated sparrows and (finally!!!) a regular crew of goldfinches at the thistle. On three separate occassions we've had a red-bellied woodpecker, which thrilled the children. Of course we've had our usual downies, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, house finches, and house sparrows as well.

*I saw the word 'sewist' on another blog and liked it: it lacks the gender assignment of 'seamstress' and the unfortunate mispronounciation of s-e-w-e-r.

** I stumbled across my first few, but if you go to whipup, a collaborative craft blog, you won't be disappointed, AND, it has links to contributors' blogs, which, in turn, often have links to other craft blogs, so you could get blissfully lost in craftblog land for a long, long time!

dinner tonight: sauteed pork rib chops, roasted brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar, rosemary roasted red potatoes

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This is the daffodil pouch from Omiyage by Kumiko Sudo. It's my first project* from the book, and I'm pretty pleased. I put the blue ribbon on just to see how the thing would look, intending to make some bias strips from the orange fabric for the final product, but Robin saw, admired, and laid claim to the pouch as it was and I was glad to give it to him. He is using it to keep his watch and charm bracelet when he's not wearing them, and it's just the right size. My children are gratifying gift-recipients because they're genuinely and inordinately pleased with even the smallest handmade gifties. I do wish they'd take better care of their things, but I'm ashamed to say they don't have as good an example of care-taking as they ought to from their parents. Ahem. They'll improve along with Justin and me, I hope!

*I've also made the fortune-catcher and am currently stumped by the 'pretty princess paperweight'.

Dinner tonight: Spaghetti and Meatballs -- yummy!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In Which We Catch and Release a Most Endearing Specimen of Mus musculus

Once upon a time, a wee mousie took shelter from the cold in the home of two once-ferocious, now aged cats. The cats were named Maisie and Roonces, and the mouse wasn't named at all, because she was a wild mousie who lived by her wits. Her wild wits served her well when the aged (but still not-very-nice-to-mice) cats pounced her. She very cleverly made herself look small and dead and boring. So the aged cats left her alone and took a nap on the radiator. Wee wild mousie continued to look small and dead and boring, because the cats were still within pouncing distance, but she was very frightened and very annoyed.

At long last, a human came along and the cats trotted after her for their mid-morning meal. But just as wee wild mousie was about to make her escape, the human discovered her. Wee wild mousie trembled as the human thought what to do. Finally the human put w.w. mousie in a cage and fed her on bread crumbs and lettuce. It was quite nice, but w.w.mousie preferred freedom to safety and bent all her wits on devising an escape plan. Unfortunately, her habit of stretching up on her hind legs and sniffing made her so adorable, that the silly human had thoughts of naming w.w.mousie and keeping her as a pet.

Fortunately, better sense prevailed, and the human and her young embarked on a grand expedition to release w.w.mousie into the Wild. On the way, they stopped at a children's book store where w.w.mousie was so admired that she almost (but not quite) thought she'd like to be a pet after all. As soon as w.w.mousie saw her new home near a hollow log, she scarpered quickly under some leaves where the humans couldn't see her at all.

Monday, January 14, 2008

(return of) Menu Monday

Monday: Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, mixed greens with orange/lime vinaigrette, sauteed mushrooms with shallots and thyme

Tuesday: Moroccan-style chicken in the pot over whole-wheat couscous

Wednesday: Super-stuffed* baked potatoes, mixed greens with buttermilk dressing

Thursday: Basmati rice pilaf and curried potatoes and cauliflower

Friday: Pan-seared butterflied salmon fillets with dill butter, rice, and peas

Saturday: Black-eyed peas and greens with bacon/cheddar/scallion corn muffins

Sunday: Roast chicken with potatoes and rosemary and sauteed beet greens

*This is just plain-Jane baked potatoes heaped with sour cream, cheddar, chives, and bacon -- enormously satisfying!!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Golden Afternoon

When I was little enough to believe I could fly, my father had a brief but glorious enthusiasm for bread baking. After school, my sister and I ate warm bread with butter and honey, washed down with mugs of chocolate milk. These were lovely times. My father kneaded the dough by hand, a process I've never had the patience for, but I have a KitchenAid, so bread-baking is a relatively simple endeavor, and the rewards are far greater than I have a right to expect from so little effort. I measure out some flour and salt, dump them in the mixing bowl and let them whir together while I heat milk , water, and butter. The butter melts in a little golden pool atop the milk and I stir a little honey and some yeast into the pool and inhale deeply. The scent of butter, honey, and yeast is magical. So is the transformation of a small lump of dough into a pale puffy pillow that I gently press down before shaping into a loaf.

The second rise takes just over half as long as the first one, and I spend the time in our workroom sewing gathers into fabric circles for a gift I'm making. His Nibs wakes up from his nap just in time to see me pop the bread in the oven, and he puts his hands up as if in supplication and whispers 'hot, hot' in his best dramatic voice. The children and I play at building towers for the him to knock down while we wait for the bread. When we take it out, Wren puts Sir LoafsALot on his valiant steed to guard our bread against predatory toddlers.

You can't slice bread straight from the oven, but you don't want it to cool too long, or your 7 yr. old son will burst with longing. Also, the butter won't melt properly. Twenty minutes was as long as we could stand it, and, happily, that was just long enough to cool it to the perfect temperature. Fresh baked bread must be sliced thick and slathered with butter before being drizzled with honey. The butter will melt deliciously into the honey and drip delightfully down your chin.