Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thank Goodness

Despite the fact that gas prices have been soaring while on we’ve been on the road (3.85/gallon the first time we drove through Indianapolis, 4.15/gallon two days later), we never had to pay these prices—yet. You can’t read the small signs in this picture, but the “lower” 4.49/gallon price is for cash, the higher (5.59) is for credit. Geeaaawwwddd! This photo was taken in the Chicago Heights area on Friday, April 29.

Very little knitting has happened. Looking forward to some serious home time! There’s laundry to be done, groceries to be bought, and cats to be tickled and napped with. Soon. Very very soon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clearly, Still Obsessed

Stumbled across this display at a Marshes grocery store. Definitely will need to re-open my test kitchen very soon!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Socks for Sis III on a Quest

Friday, April 22, 2011

50%: Another “Finished” Object(let)

Can-can’s back is now “done”! That’s done in quotes because I have not and will not bind off until I get the front to the same length and have thought long and hard about whether it needs to be a hair shorter or a hair longer.

For now, the live stitches have been moved into another needle. And with one sleeve done, that puts Can-can squarely at 50% completion. Woo-HOO!

Only a few more hours of knitting time left before the lace knitting gets packed away, and the travel knitting comes out. That will be Socks for Sis III, traveling in a rockin’ zippered Basmati rice bag I picked up for its original purpose from the Indian gas station. That’s not a slur. It honest to Pete is a gas/convenience store stocked with Indian food. I love this town!
There are no Words

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Laugh-Riot Post

Me Week continues its theme, it seems: The Week of Many Bumps in the Road.

For those keeping score, it's still refrigerator 1, human-with-plans 0. The repairman came out Tuesday, and the good news is that the fix isn’t supposed to be expensive. It’ll run a little over $200 for the part, labor and trip charge, plus a little tax. That’s not terrible for an appliance that would cost me 5-8 x more to replace with a similar model. The bad news is that he didn’t have the part in-stock, and it had to be ordered. Assuming it comes in as scheduled, it won’t be repaired until Thursday afternoon. Friday or Saturday I’ll have to devote a significant amount of time and cash to replace many of the contents that had to be tossed. I’m only one person. There’s only so much thawing food I can consume, and I’m absolutely not going to re-freeze any meat that has thawed. That’s a food-borne illness waiting to happen. By then Me Week will be in its sunset, so the quest for the ultimate platter of biscuits and gravy will have to be continued at another time.

But that’s not the painful bump. The painful bump can be attributed to Can-Can, or shall I call it Cursed-Can?

Monday evening I realized I would need to wind another skein of Seduce to continue and finish the back. But before I did so, I decided to lay out all the parts and parts-to-be so that I would know absolutely how much fiber I had to work with. I am going to make the top a bit longer than the pattern called for, so re-checking seemed like a wise idea.

Tuesday morning I found the ziplock bag with the skeins allocated to the front, and sleeve #2. But sleeve #1 that I finished a few months ago? MIA. If I couldn’t find it, I would be faced with a possible shortage of fiber. Possibly the length of the tunic would have to remain at the pattern length or maybe shorter. Perhaps the sleeves would need to be shortened as well. So since I was closing in on the completion length of the back, finding or not finding sleeve #1 was Level 7 Critical. Organizing the craft room was added to my activity list for the day.

I looked high. I looked low. I thought about it: where would I have put it? I remembered the trash can had been placed near the desk where I’d been working, and I had emptied the can a few weeks ago. Could it have fallen into the can (assisted by a playful kitten) and it’s in a landfill somewhere?

After hours of searching/organizing, I realized I was making a huge mess, and I wasn’t any closer to my goal of finding the sleeve. I slept on it. Wednesday morning I woke up; poured myself a pot of coffee; and boxed up all the parts, pieces, and instructions for Can-Can; and put it on a shelf until I either accidentally ran across the sleeve or years later came to grips with the fact that it was permanently lost.

Before leaving the room I decided to tidy up one more thing. I had a large bag in the room with six skeins of cotton I’d bought in Minnesota a few months ago to turn into a few more crocheted pot holders. I took out a few skeins and wandered over to my cubby shelves to stash them away. These shelves happen to be mere inches from the area where I’d been working on Can-can earlier this year. I leaned down to find an empty cubby, and lo and behold spotted the glimmer of a bronze fiber knitted sleeve stuffed in the back. That particular cubby was right at eye and hand level when sitting in the chair where I’d been working.

What followed was a mixture of rejoicing and cursing. One sleeve found: 24 hours lost. I realized I wasn’t in any mental state to do the full analysis that I’d intended on Tuesday, so add to that another 10 hours.

Can-can is once again a work-in-progress. The parts and pieces are going to stay exactly where they are, spread out on a work table with all kinds of notes and zip-lock bags, until I’m ready to work on the next piece. Then the finished piece goes on the table with the others, ready to assemble when - and if - that day ever comes.

And the moral of this tale is that if you’re going to sit and think about where a lost object might be, it’s best done in the chair where you last had seen it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

“Breaking” News x 2

Judging by the wind pattern on my Seduce balls, I am officially at the point I had been at in winter of ’09/’10 when realized I had made a horrible and noticeable mistake in the knit pattern (caused by stitches leapfrogging on the needle) too far down to tink. It appears that when I realized this mistake I opted to move this back-in-progress onto different needles so I could use the proper needles to begin a sleeve, and return to this when the pain was... painful. But life intervened, and before the sleeve could be finished, or the back dealt with, the entire project was boxed up until my trip to San Diego in January of this year.

My first thought when I pulled the project out was “where’s the mistake,” because I couldn’t find it. But humorously (or not) I had forgotten that I had moved on to a sleeve. I ultimately found the back - and the mistake - and was forced to either finish it with a fairly noticeable mistake (in my opinion) or frog the entire back. And frog I did.

I haven’t been making much progress on the tunic because I haven’t had that type of time (uninterrupted), but Me Week has given me more of that, and it has also helped that I’ve pushed all my other knitting projects to the back of the queue. I even had the balls to take this project and this project alone to knit group.

This morning I finally reached my previous end-point (VICTORY), and am knitting forward in virgin territory. And not only that, but I’m at about 16", and I have about ten more to go before the back will be done. I’m starting to feel the weight of the yarn hanging off the needles, and that is giving me a power boost as well.

In part 2 of breaking news, the Me Week Test Kitchen is temporarily closed. The refrigerator/freezer stopped working at hour -1 of count-down to Me Week (as in just as we were leaving for the airport). It felt cool for the first two days, but the milk has turned early, the butter is soft, and of course the contents of the freezer are in a slow thaw. For food safety reasons, and to conserve what cold remains (helped by bags of store-bought ice), I have reverted to minimal survival cooking until the unit is either fixed or replaced. I won’t know which will be required until Tuesday afternoon, which was the earliest appointment I could get. Thankfully, the mini-fridge where I keep our homebrewed beer, is still fully functional.

Friday, April 08, 2011

From the Me Week Test Kitchen: Biscuits and Gravy Day 1

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I decided a good way to spend part of Me Week would be to find and/or create the perfect recipe for biscuits and gravy.

As many people from the Midwest or the South know, this is a down-home stick-to-the-ribs classic breakfast staple, but one that is rarely actually made at home these days. I remember a distant cousin from England visiting my grandmother when I was a little girl, and our family made a point of adding this to the menu so she could get a true taste of Kansas. I had no idea this was “bizarre” or perhaps even “gross” until a few years ago while watching an episode of Today, and Lester Holt (who, based on his infrequent guest judging stints on Iron Chef thinks highly his culinary knowledge) became nearly physical ill at the sheer mention of this dish that he had apparently never heard of nor could ever imagine would be good.

I brought this up around a breakfast table in San Diego in January. A California man not only knew what I was talking about, but knew the best place within driving distance to get a plate of it. I mentioned Holt’s revulsion, which surprised California Man, so we conducted a small survey of the other people attending that conference who were seated around us.

The Americans had heard of it and many had fond memories. The Canadians? Disgusted!! This is ironic because A) one of the Canadians had just finished telling us about her recent visit to Mexico when she ate live bugs just to prove to a persnickety travel writer that eating bugs wasn’t gross, and B) these are people* who crave poutine, a dish of French fries and cheese curds smothered in gravy. Talk about glass houses!

All this talk about biscuits and gravy got me to thinking. As much as I appreciate a good platter, I think I’ve only bothered to make it once, which I can’t count because the sausage gravy came out of a can - as did the biscuits. Which leaves me the also very occasional platter at fast food restaurants when we travel. Since fast food versions of anything are just a pale shadow of the “real” thing, perhaps its time I do my own.

Day 1.

It’s not just about the dish as a whole. I have never bothered to make biscuits from scratch, either, so this exercise is a great excuse to add that to my culinary toolkit.

I decided that the best recipes probably date back to when my grandmother was a young wife and mother. I probably have her recipe, in fact, but before I looked for that, I grabbed my copy of the Victory Binding of the American Woman's Cook Book: Wartime Edition, and quartered their buttermilk biscuit recipe (since I’m solo during Me Week).

Whoopsie. If I’d bothered to read the directions, I probably would have seen that I cut in the shortening before adding the buttermilk!

The flour portion of my reduction may have been a tad over-reduced.

And I think I rolled them out too thin.

Unattractive, but tasty and tender straight out of the oven.

While the biscuits were in the baking (450° for 12 minutes), I turned my attention to the sausage. For this step in the process I was flying by the seat of my pants.

I arrived at the grocer ill-prepared for the sausage options before me. I ultimately ended up using Rice medium heat pork sausage

That I cut into quarter-inch disks

and fried in a hot skillet without any added oil. When those were done, I removed the sausage to drain on a paper towel, and

melted a smidgen of butter in the sausage pan

and then flour to make a roux. Then I added milk, fresh cracked pepper and a little salt, and let it bubble until it thickened. At this point the flavor felt a little thin (one dimensional), so I experimented by adding a dash of cinnamon before crumbling the cooked sausage and adding that to the gravy.

That turned out to be interesting - not bad, but a bit odd - so I’ll see if I can’t track down a more appropriate spice for Day 2.

* For the sake of full disclosure, these people (Canadians) are really my people, as many generations of my family lived there, served the country, are buried there, and have places named for them. In fact, I’m certain that I still have distant cousins roaming about. I don’t know if my Canadian ancestors ever ate biscuits and gravy themselves, but I would hope that they would at least have been more open-minded!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

I Know

These have got to be some of the most beautiful hyacinths I’ve ever seen, too. I’m still guessing that they are gipsy queen, but the wash of color from top to bottom doesn’t jive with any hyacinths I’ve seen in any color scheme. It’s a living Arizona sunrise.

I can’t wait to see what is next to bloom. Other than the small grape hyacinths, there’s not a blue in the bunch. Nothing against the classic blue. It’s just not a color that ever resonated with me. Same can be said for geraniums, petunias, and pansies in any and all color schemes.

More flowers will be added to this bed in about two weeks, and hopefully many more about a month after that.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

More Signs of Spring

The countdown to Me Week is in full earnest. I’m putting down my list of things I’d like to accomplish during that time, which includes things like “finish back of Can-Can” - the lace tunic that is an on again off again battle of wills - and “discover or create the perfect biscuits and gravy recipe.” More on that one later.

But this doesn’t mean that life is otherwise normal or without its (mostly) spring-related hitches. Like the fact that:

  • I’m watching a neighbor’s house while she’s away. Despite the fact that she stopped all her papers, and in fact no longer subscribes to the Wall Street Journal, a WSJ has been delivered every day. It is evidently impossible to stop a paper that isn’t subscribed to in the first place. Either that, or the carrier is eternally optimistic she’ll change her mind...
  • My lawn guy came by to turn on the sprinklers for the year, and came close to trampling some of the many tender peonies that are coming up in the bed where the valve is located. Michael cautioned him to watch his step, and the guy thanked him and proceeded to take the lid off the valve box and dump it squarely on young peony stem. And one of the new and coveted chocolate peonies I’d just bought and planted last fall. Note to self: those things snap rather than bend.
  • I had to report a dead baby bunny just outside the polling place doors so that the maintenance staff could remove it before permanently scarring a young child.
Hope you’re having a semi-normal spring!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Jiffy Snap

It is full-on spring around these parts. Daffodils are popping open everywhere. Even the hyacinths are poking through the mulch in the earliest days of opening.

I believe this variety is Gipsy Queen, though the color may shift as the bloom matures, so I’m not ready to bet the farm on this. It might become The City of Harlaam, but that’s more of a butter yellow.

Because it’s so spring-like, I found myself at my favorite local nursery a few days ago buying a flat of Euonymus Coloratus to plug into our upper bed, (So many gaps... but such an un-fun thing to buy and plant.) and there on the seed rack were packages of Shasta Daisies. Two ended up in my hand at the checkout. I’d bought three shasta daisy plants last year at the same time and place I’d bought the buttered popcorn daylilies because the two looked so awesome together. Unfortunately, once the blossoms were spent, the plants died. They are supposedly perennial, but last year was a hard year for gardens, and as these can attest. So go from seeds and start earlier in the year, right?

Problem is, these daisies have to be started inside about 8-10 weeks before the last frost (already past that deadline), and I have a long history of failed indoor starts.

Did you...? Yes.
What about...? Definitely that.
Yes, I even built a starter table floored with heat tape covered in sand, with an old storm window as a lid, and lit with fluorescent lights. Failed, failed, failed.

But that was the old house. Maybe the new house has better seed starter mojo? (Especially given its decidedly hippy-dippy roots.)

So off to Ace Hardware I go, after sifting through the January sale seeds I bought to see if there were any varieties that also needed to be started this way. There was: snapdragons.

Of all the wonderful and scary seed starting options, I went for the classic Jiffy greenhouse because it brings back fond memories of my childhood. If all else fails, at least I’ll have that.

It starts with compressed disks, then water is added.

The disks slowly swell...

Then the sides are peeled away from the top so seeds can be sprinkled on, and a lid placed over the whole thing.

These are two of the total of five I’ll need to plant by the end of the day tomorrow. With luck, I’ll have seedlings by near the end of the month.