Friday, February 27, 2009

I [heart] Peter Reinhart

Last weekend I bought a new cookbook, and it is destined to be placed in my personal Cookbook Hall of Fame: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart.

Why does someone who already owns so many cookbooks that she had to buy two - two - shelving units in order to house them all, need to buy yet another cookbook? Sourdough, baby!

In the fall of ’07, I attended a bread baking class in McPherson, Kansas, where I came home with “Herbie,” a traditional San Francisco sourdough starter. Miraculously, Herbie survived the road trip home (including having part of his contents spilled out into the trunk), weeks of travel, weeks of neglect with no excuse of travel, and a move. Even though I got him at a bread baking class, I have almost no recipes or ways to use him. The class was on artisan bread, but we are only a two-person household, and 50% of that household cannot eat artisan breads because of their super-crusty nature.

So I went home and dug through my other cookbooks. Shockingly, even the tried and true standards - you know, the comprehensives - had few if any sourdough recipes at all. My great-grandmother, Granny Green, reportedly made sourdough bread exclusively. They ate only the bread she baked, and she baked only sourdough (oh, if only I could get my hands on her starter!). So surely my Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cookbook, © 1943 would have a few recipes. It had none.

What about Fannie Farmer? Fannie Farmer has the base recipe from which my own chili recipe was born, and their recipe for farmer’s-style lima beans is the launch point for my own lima beans and ham.

My version of Lima Beans & Ham steaming away in a slow cooker.

So what of Fannie? It had zero.

Larousse? Don’t make me laugh!

At one time I had a Joy of Cooking, as well as one of those Sunset-type books on bread baking. They have been lost to time (actually I probably had to toss them due to water damage while they were being stored in my grandfather’s old chicken house during Old House Kitchen Renovation I). I haven’t replaced the Sunset book, but in January when Border’s was having big sales on their cookbooks, I did buy a new 75th anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking. It had eight recipes, including a sourdough rye bread that tastes remarkably similar to my beloved-but-a-tad-espendy rye by Farm to Market.

So what about a book that specializes in bread? Like, for example, Home Baking, the Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World. Hmmm? It had exactly one recipe, and that was for pancakes, not bread.

Last weekend I went back to the bookstore with the sole purpose of finding a good bread baking book that contained sourdough recipes. Bread Baker’s Apprentice is it, baby! Sourdough breads page 227-51! I’m in sourdough heaven!

When I read the recipe for New York deli rye, I immediately did the baking version of casting on. The next day I served a lunch of corned beef and coleslaw sandwiches with a dollop of Russian dressing on fresh-from-the-oven New York rye bread (as described in Reinhart’s book). OMG. That was the most delicious but easy to prepare sandwich I have ever tasted. I made up a plate for the contractors. Half an hour into their lunch break they were sound asleep in a sunpatch in front of the house. That’s a good sandwich.

As I was flipping through the book I ran across a recipe for cornbread with an eye-popping photo to its side. Real kernels of sweet corn visible in the slice of bread...the top sprinkled with crumbled bacon fried to a crisp... The author pointed out that Apprentice was only about yeast-leavened breads and not chemical leavened breads, but this recipe was too good not to include. Did I need to read anything else? Nope. Wednesday night I “cast on” for corn bread by soaking polenta in buttermilk, and on Thursday night we had the most delicious lima beans and ham on corn bread I have ever had in my life.

Last night’s corn bread.

Oh, my dear Peter... What have you in store for me next?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bats in my Belfry

The window work is coming along swimmingly, and there have only been few additional unfortunate surprises. Like the three bats, for example, that were discovered living in the insulation of the roof structure for the old window.

The carpenters are about to discover the first bat.

The carpenters gather ’round for bat photo session when the third discovered bat is too sleepy to immediately fly away. Hiss yes, but fly away, no. Afterward, they made an insulation bed for the bat, covered it with another piece of insulation and set it in the morning sun to allow it time to warm and wake up. It flew away a few hours later.

Our home is nothing, if not entertaining at every turn.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Finished Object

I present to you: Bi-Color Cables.

I finished sewing on the buttons only minutes before heading out to my parent’s anniversary dinner.

Number one were the sleeves, which even going down to the smallest size sleeve are still a bit too long and loose for my taste. But I have use of my hands, so they are a darn-sight better than the size specified in the pattern.

And the second mod were the buttons. The pattern buttons are actually crocheted. But I’m not much of a crocheter, and I tend to get distracted easily and forget where I’m at. The result:

Not sure how many buttons I would have needed to make before I had six of approximately the same size. About this point I began to ask myself if I honestly liked the look of the crocheted button finish in the model photos. And the answer was “no.” The decision was easy and obvious, and the perfect buttons were purple shell buttons a short drive away at Sarah’s.

Would I make this pattern again? No. There were too many things I didn’t like about it, including the Rowan Wool Cotton yarn, which as best as I can recall was the fiber called for in the original pattern. There isn’t a sufficient overlap on the button closure, so I needed to use dressmaker hooks and eyes in between (also called for in the original pattern), the already moaned about weird sleeve length (monkey arms, much?), and the fact that the collar refuses to lay flat.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

It is a nice weight for wearing without a jacket on cool but sunny winter days, yet not so heavy to be hot inside. It looks slightly dressy without being stuffy. And it has nice details. But I’m afraid as a whole the sweater is a dud. Sort of a knitter’s mid-life crisis sweater. Instead of buying a red sports car and revving the engine all over town, spend three years knitting a feat of engineering where the only people who will care will be other knitters.

I will also say that I’m probably a better knitter because of these challenges, and that those skills can now be put to better use. Thankfully.

Tomorrow we are to be descended upon by contractors again. There will be no peace for the foreseeable days ahead.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Wonders of Good Carpentry, and Heading Down the Bi-Color Homestretch

Windows, I cannot stress enough, must must must be installed properly from Day 1. If they are not, then all kinds of disastrous things befall the home. I give you the evidence:

See those shiny ripply bits of siding below the window? That’s last year’s temporary application of Protect-O tape to shield the massive areas of dry-rot from the weather until we were able to replace the siding and window this year. We painted over it to match the siding color, to give it the illusion of being one perfect piece of siding.

And here’s the sill plate after the old window was removed. Rot, rot, rot.

And quite frankly it’s never a good thing when the contractor asks for a bottle of bleach (to kill mildew growing on the existing framework) or insecticide (to kill the carpenter ants who have nested in the wall). Just sayin’.

Pics of Bi-colors will follow in a few days. I’m holding off until it’s totally done and model-worthy. But here’s where I’m at: the sleeves, such as they are, are completed and sewn to the main body; the main body is done from the collar to the hem; loose ends have been sewn in (and let me tell you that took a loooong time); and the sweater has been washed and is now in blocking. That leaves buttons, which are crocheted jobbers, and I’m not a crocheter, so to make five buttons that are somewhat consistent in size is rather challenging.

My folks are celebrating their 54th wedding anniversary tomorrow, so I hope to have it completed and wearable for that.

...I know what you’re thinking. Fifty-four? Why celebrate 54? Fifty, sure. Fifty-five, sure. But 54? It’s because the church where they were married eventually became the parish hall for that church. The parish hall largely survived the arson which burned down the main church a few years ago. After months of clean-up and restoration work, the parish hall was re-opened and once again became the site of worship services. Now that construction of the new church is underway, this will be the last time my parent’s celebrate their anniversary in the same church where they had been married. Make sense?

With the contractors having descended on our home, I have totally given up on the idea of getting any actual work-work accomplished. I tried on Thursday when they first arrived. But every time I’d be in the middle of drawing a bezier curve in Motion, I’d hear a whistle and a “hello?” and there’d be a question or a pronouncement of a bizarre thing they’d discovered whilst doing demolition.

All is not lost, however, as it gives me the perfect opportunity to sit and knit. And with the cats confined due to the rather large gapey holes in the house, it has also given me the opportunity to start work on the Firefly Bracelet. Without help. We’re talking tiny, tiny parts that my cat Caper would love to swallow, or at the very least bat around.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Non-traditional Window Treatment

Even for me, this is a very unusual window treatment.

And not one I generally recommend.

Our home has been invaded by contractors, two days earlier than originally planned. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned. Surprise after surprise (including uncovering a nest of carpenter ants) means that what should have been a new window in place right now, is now a sheet of Tyvek covering over an entire side of the house including right over our old window.

Monday, February 16, 2009

If You Weren’t Depressed Before, You Might be Now

Seems to me there are some subjects that should be off-limits to the “Dummies” line of publications. What’s next, “Crib Death for Dummies”?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Me Week 2009 Results Board

Me Week is drawing to a close. After three consecutive days of flights, Michael is home.

It’s been a busy, busy two weeks, and I definitely did not accomplish everything I’d hoped. Still, I made major strides in several key areas.


My first-ever hank of handspun has been plied and twisted into a hank.

My second-ever hank of handspun—and the first that is project bound—has been plied and is currently having its twist set. Two plies are the pencil roving I purchased at Zeilingers Wool Co in Frankenmuth, Michigan last year. The third is a corriedale roving I purchased at Yarn Barn a few weeks ago. So far I’m very pleased with the result. It’s the bulk that I had in mind for my pillow project. Now I just need to find time to knit up a gauge swatch.


As you know, the sleeves on the bi-color cables sweater turned out freakishly long. And I don’t have short arms. It’s not a gauge problem. I knit to gauge, and the sleeve turned out to be the length that the designer specified. I frogged only one sleeve at first, so I could use an original sleeve for comparison purposes if necessary. I decided to knit the sleeve specified for the smallest sweater, but it was going into a larger armhole. To help me visualize the problem, I made several charts in Excel, then came up with a good compromise in armhole shaping between the two.

It turned out to be a fairly good fit. Still a bit too long, but at least close enough that I can bunch it up and make it work. I’m not happy with the size of the armhole, but to fix that I would have to frog the main body back to the armhole bind-offs, and I am so not going to do that. So I’ll live with baggy armholes. Now I’m about half-way done with knitting sleeve #2.

The second panel of Knit Meat in a Cheesecloth Sandwich is about 1/3rd complete, but I have run out of fishing line. Rather than run around town looking for it, on Monday I’ll pick up another spool at the sporting goods store where I bought the first spool. So it’s now on hold.

Wolf in the Mist has been swatched, and I’m ready to find the instructions for making a crocheted cast on. Never done that before. Should be fun! I thought I was buying a fairly comperable fiber to the one specified in the instructions, but as it turns out I need to use a US 7 to get gauge, rather than the US 2 the pattern specified.

(I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a space-time anomoly over my home. It also makes whole hours inexplicably disappear.)


The new back cushion for my antique iron rocking chair (it was made for a private rail car over a century ago) is done and all cushion-y

I ended up making the ties out of a Noro cord that I purchased that fateful fall afternoon around three years ago when I stumbled into a yarn shop for the first time in a decade, and found myself buying fiber, needles, and a how to knit book on the spot.

It’s amazing, and a little creepy, how well the colors match. The variegated cord contains every color found in the fabric.


The mystery project is, still, rusting. Which is a good thing. Really.

Tree clearing

Thanks to some new “we really mean business” anvil loppers, the last of the volunteer mulberry trees has been chopped up and bundled, with the exception of some larger limbs that require a chainsaw. The chain on my saw needs to be tightened, but I decided I’d rather do that when a second body was at home, just in case I do something stupid and require an immediate and bloody visit to the emergency room.


All our new siding is back-primed and ready for the contractors to install whenever the new windows are delivered.


I made five suet cakes using the leftover birdseed from our old house, and the bottoms of quart-sized milk containers. A bird-attracting form of stash-busting, I guess you could say.

I tested yet-another bread recipe, this time a sourdough rye bread. And it is not only tasty, but works extremely well alone, toasted, or made into sandwiches.

And I discovered that the solarium is an excellent location for letting the dough rise.

And made a half-batch of our favorite bran muffin recipe, which were still warm from the oven when Michael got off the plane.


The fourth episode of our vidcast is close to completion. Just waiting for my color adjuster to return and it’ll be ready to upload.

Created a custom ringtone for my iPhone based on our vidcast credit roll.

I finished a video for a client, and an assignment that I didn’t know about a week ago.

And two weeks later, all 565 pages of my tax organizer have been completed. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it felt like 565 pages, alright? Business books are finished, and ready to close. Now it’s ready to turn over to the accountant.

All in all I think I had a fairly productive Me Week. Don’t you?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Desire to Get Lost

I used to read voraciously. I would be one of those kids with a nose buried so deep in a book that I would miss the five times I’d been called to dinner. The last few years have been hit or miss. Finding a good book is getting harder and harder. I can’t read Patricia Cornwell anymore, even though I absolutely loved “The Body Farm,” because I made the mistake once of listening to one of her later books in audio form while I was working in the darkroom. And hearing someone else read it I picked up on all the imperfections in her prose. And that’s when I realized she could tell a good story but she couldn’t write herself out of a paper bag.

2008 was a non-reading year, given our insane schedule and the move and all. I have a few half-read books that I would love to return to now that things have eased up a bit. But they are all packed up and in mystery boxes. Yes, they are labeled, but do you realize how many boxes are labeled “books”? Tons. Literal tons.

Most recently I bought “The Long Way Down,” which is a travelogue about a motorcycle journey to the tip of South Africa by actor Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, also produced as a television show. I adore travelogues. “Round Ireland with a Fridge,” “Driving over Lemons,” which is less of a travelogue and more of a portrait of a place, are just two of my favorites. I have been reading a few pages of “Long” at a time, every night just before retiring for the day. About 75 pages in I have given up. Why? There is way too much navel gazing.

Perhaps it is because it is written by two people, tag teaming within each chapter multiple times. Perhaps it is because it is written as an afterthought to the television show. Perhaps it is because they traveled with a large production crew. I’m not sure. But the two authors write about the countryside and their journey as though they are watching a television show rather than living it. They seem so disconnected from their surroundings. They see men kiss their wives, or doff their caps. They describe the road, and how their bums hurt, or the tarmac is slick, or how well their bikes took the turns. The only people who are dimensional at all are McGregor and Boorman. And they are only barely dimensional.

I skimmed ahead, hoping that once they made it into Africa things would be different. They weren’t.

Guess I’ll have to get lost on another day.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Me Week Yarn/Ethnic Food Crawl (Spoiler Alert!)

Besides the drudgery of work deadlines that I tackle headlong during Me Week, I also give myself special projects and outings. So when a genius from my local knit group suggested a yarn crawl this month, I realized that would fit the bill perfectly.

I went solo for several reasons: the date they chose fell outside Me Week, I wanted to stock up on Swedish food and making time to swing past the grocery store wouldn’t be fair to everyone else who was there for yarn only, and Friday was a freakishly beautiful warm day. At 6 a.m. I was in the garage back-priming my quota of siding for the day (for a very necessary window/siding replacement in another two weeks or so, fingers crossed). At 7:30 a.m. I pulled out of the driveway and headed west.

For anyone who intends to do the yarn crawl with the main group later, and wants to be surprised at what they discover, then please stop reading.

If you are still reading, consider me the advanced scout who didn’t have time to make detailed notes.

Okay. So I had a tough day ahead. Not only were there lots of stops I wanted to make, but being that I was going on Friday, and the last two shops I planned to visit close at 4 on Friday, I was all about hauling ass down the road and not lingering too long at any given store. Lunch was not on the schedule. I had two projects in mind with specific yarn requirements, plus a few spinning tools I needed to purchase. Beyond that, I would not be stocking up on fiber. I was open to roving, but not yarn. No matter how beautiful.

My first stop was Yarn Peddler in Minneapolis, a good 2 1/2 hours west. YP shares a storefront with a downtown children’s clothing store. It has a small, but very lovely collection. One of the largest selections of Hempathy I’ve ever seen, for example, some Noro, and other brands I had never seen before. I drooled over the Nature Wool, which were in the exact color family I was seeking for my hat project, but it was in worsted weight and I needed sport weight. Sport weight, as I came to discover at the other stores, isn’t carried as fully as worsted weight yarn. And they didn’t carry a 100% wool in the safety orange I was seeking for project #2. No surprise, really. They had one spinning wheel, and a handful of supplies for spinning and knitting on a loom. (And the MOST adorable toddler socks at the counter that I have ever seen.)

Second stop was straight south to Lindsborg and a visit to Laura May’s Cottage. This took quite a bit of hunting. Yes, the address is on Lincoln, which is one of the main thoroughfares of Lindsborg, but Lincoln “T’s” into 81, and the shop is an outbuilding at the end of a long driveway on an old farmstead on the far side of 81. Funny, but I would have expected that since the address was on Lincoln the shop would have been on Lincoln, and not 81. But that’s just me.

Looking toward Lincoln from Laura May’s driveway.

Looking back to Laura May’s Cottage.

Anyway, this shop has a larger selection of fiber, as well as supplies for crewel work. It looked like they leaned a bit more toward the variegated side than Yarn Peddler, though they had delicious solids too. Looking for a kit to make a dala horse sweater? They’ve got it. I didn’t see any spinning supplies. Again, I so could have stocked up. The owner was extremely gracious, and eager to order the fiber that I was seeking. But I had more shops to visit.

Before leaving Lindsborg I stopped at Scott’s Thriftway and loaded up on some essential Swedish food. Like lefse, bond-ost, and potato sausage. Yum! I packed them in iced and headed north to Salina. By this time it was in the low 70s, and a strong southerly wind had picked up.

Yarns Sold and Told is in downtown on Santa Fe just a block off Iron. Easy to find. I parked and started up the street, but pulled up short when I realized I was passing a quilt store, because I had another project that required wool felt, which is quite difficult to find, and Hancocks has stopped carrying it.

(In fact, Hancocks seems to have stopped carrying a lot of things, and they are looking more like a JoAnn’s in the quality of their fabrics than the Hancocks of even a year ago. And in case you are wondering, that’s not a favorable comparison.)

Anyway, Quilting Bee did indeed carry wool felt in several colors that were perfect for my Firefly bracelet. So I bought, and chatted with the owner about iPhones vs. Blackberries, before heading to the yarn store. YS&T bills themselves as being the most complete yarn store in central Kansas. Yes, I think they are. The store is airy with lots of good lighting and comfortable seating. I didn’t see any spinning supplies, but they had loads and loads of needles, plus a few sock blockers. They did carry a safety orange wool that theoretically might have worked for project #2, but it was superwash, and given that project #2 is a felting project, that was clearly out. No matter how much the salesperson wanted to find a way to make it work for me.

Returning to the car (and after I realized my butt was currently dialing some random person from my address book, who turned out to be the DSL supervisor from the internet provider we used over a decade ago), I gathered my maps and headed east. We were in a wind advisory until 6, and I-70 would be a two-handed clench-fist drive from here on out.

I had some real mixed feelings about stopping at Shivering Sheep, and most of these sprang from their web site, which appears to bear a very blatant trademark infringement as their main graphic. Very blatant. Plus, they have such limited hours that it appeared to be more of a hobby than a business. And I was running short on time. But they are on Buckeye, and I was still on schedule (barely), so I stopped.

It’s a very small storefront, but the shop is stacked to the rafters with fiber. Crowded, even. With just me and the salesperson we were excusing each other to pass. They have one of the most complete color ranges of Lamb’s Pride than I’ve ever seen, and there was some Peruvian alpaca that I was tempted to toss on the floor and roll around on. But I didn’t.

While I was asking about sport weight yarn, the clerk got a call (I presume from the owner??) which had something to do with two looms at the DAV, and then I heard the words “do you want me to close up and get over there?” She didn’t say she was helping a customer. All this reaffirmed my initial impression of them as unprofessional. By this time it was around 2:30. Mayflower in Manhattan, an hour away, closed at 4. I hauled ass, white knuckling it because sudden gusts would try to toss my car into the inside lane. 177 took me straight to Manhattan Town Center, which is across the street from Wildflower Yarns.

This is a large shop with a nice mix of novelty yarn and traditional mid-quality fibers, plus store-made kits. I didn’t notice high-end stuff, but then again I wasn’t looking that closely. I still had a chance of reaching my last shop. Just. If I didn’t stray from the course. By this point I realized that the sport weight yarn I had in my head wasn’t going to be found. So I decided to change my head, and went for three colors in Silky Tweed. Not sure if the gauge will work, so I may end up making more mods to the original pattern than I’d originally intended. And I also bought the fiber for project #2, going for Orange You Glad and Kiwi in Lamb’s Pride. Lamb’s Pride wasn’t my first choice. I actually hoped to find a multiply ply fiber similar to that called for in the pattern, but at this point I realized finding that, in feltable wool, in safety orange, was nigh impossible.

After scritching a dog’s butt, I checked my watch. It was 3:20. My last stop—Settler’s Farm in Wamego—was half an hour away, and closed at 4. I called the owner to let her know I was on my way, hoping that she might stay open an extra five minutes. But she had kids that had to be somewhere at 4:15. I hauled ass.

Several highways meet up at this point, and I accidentally missed my turn to 24, which could have been a deal breaker. Instead, I found myself heading east on 18, and I’m so glad I did. It is a lovely old-fashioned curvy road through some beautiful countryside. It was close, but I pulled up to the shop at 3:50. Kids were everywhere, and the owner was packing up, so I only took a cursory glance at their inventory. The store is airy and open. They have an extremely limited selection of fiber, mostly leaning toward higher-end lace weights and sock yarns in lovely color families. Several spinning wheels were about. She also had roving, which I hadn’t noticed at the other stores.

So that is it. I stopped at my mother’s house to drop off an extra loaf of sourdough rye bread I had baked the day before, and gave her a sliver of bond-ost cheese. With her first bite her tuned changed from “that’s a long way to drive for cheese,” to “can you cut me off a big chunk?”

And finally home, to Advil , a cold beer, and a warm dish of homemade mushroom risotto.

As for those spinning supplies I needed, I ended up buying them at Yarn Barn the next day.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Inaugurating Me Week 2009

Me Week officially began Sunday afternoon, when I pulled back in the driveway after dropping Michael off at the airport. I have plans. So many, many plans. Me Week is not a vacation. Quite to the contrary, I have a long list of tasks, both work and home related, that I’m moving to the front burner for the next twelve days or so. So if Me Week is not a vacation, then what is it?

Me Week is an opportunity re-center myself. Me Week is about creating a schedule that revolves around one person’s needs instead of two. Well... one person and five cats, but still. (And speaking of cats, Caper, dude, this recent plan of yours to comfort yourself by licking and nibbling on my appendages in the middle of the night is so going to come to a screeching halt!) When my partner is here, I find I am constantly making small adjustments to my day to accommodate and anticipate his needs, as he does mine. He would not want to make a meal of Brussels sprouts. I, however, plan to dine on nothing but Brussels sprouts tonight. He might want to run a joint errand this morning while I’m nose-deep in Final Cut land, whereas I had planned to put that off until the afternoon. We will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary this year. We’re talking years of marital bliss, yes, but also years of minor rudder adjustments.

I started Me Week Sunday morning by watching the inauguration from beginning to end, because the actual inauguration day was a work day when we needed to drive to Kansas City, so the morning was spent racing around the office trying to finish my work, then standing in a non-moving line at the post office while our new president was delivering his speech to the nation. Being that my DVR recorded nearly 8 hours of the event (and this doesn’t even include the balls, which are on a separate recording) we’re talking hours and hours of precious sit and knit time, and the perfect time to work on the re-knit of sleeve #1 of bi-color cables.

Gotta say, even as a recording weeks later, the inauguration gave me chills. Good chills.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t heard Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, “Praise Song for the Day.” One line particularly struck a chord, “We walk into that which we cannot yet see.” So many layers of meaning in nine small words. The last full stanza (which I will not repeat here because of fair use concerns but can be found here) are words that can be applied to my week ahead. Words that will bring energy and momentum to the days ahead.

And speaking of the days ahead, here are just two of many subjects I will be addressing:

I know this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it will, I hope, eventually. If not, I’ll send you a link to the post that generated this potentially ill-conceived project.

And Dee Anna, remember when I bumped into you in the craft section of Borders on Saturday, and I mentioned I was toying with buying a “learn to play harmonica” kit? I opted for this instead:

I think my cats and my neighbors will appreciate my choice.