Artichokes, an excuse to eat melted butter


Bubble, bubble...

When I was a kid and my mom would go out of town, my dad would make special dinners- the kind of thing that either she didn’t like, or that she considered too messy. Artichokes were sometimes on the menu for these meals. And, funnily, I don’t remember anything else on the menu those nights, that was the whole meal- just artichokes, dipped in melted butter.
Daddy would cook them in the pressure cooker, spread out newspapers on the top of the portable dishwasher in the middle of the kitchen, melt butter in a tiny pan on the stove top (it wasn’t before microwaves were invented, but it was before we had one) and we’d all stand around, ripping leaves off, dunking them in butter and scraping the flesh off with our teeth.
Once we got down to the chokes, the feathery tiny leaves that stick in your throat, my dad would trim them with a paring knife and distribute the pieces of heart fairly. Fairness in heart distribution was a big issue.
It’s the kind of thing that if you don’t have a childhood memory of it, you probably don’t eat. They are a bit of a pain to make, and eat, and dispose of, as well as looking intimidating in the produce section.  However, they are so good- rich in their own right plus extra good with the butter….  Can I suggest that you create a good memory of it? right now?
To cook- trim off the bottom stem, and the bottom row of leaves- these are tough anyway, and take forever to cook.

At our house, 3 of us like artichokes, and cooking 2 is enough.

Place in boiling water. I sometimes throw in a garlic clove, but not always. Boil until a knife goes into the stem end easily, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, melt some butter (aren’t those some of the most beautiful words in the English language? right up there with “you look so much prettier without make-up” and “I’ve folded all the laundry”)
To eat, you pluck off the leaves, dunk in butter, then scrape off the soft stuff from the insides of the leaves with your teeth.

Turn the leaves upside down and scrape with your bottom teeth.

 The closer you get to the center, the more “soft stuff”  there is- once the tops of the leaves turn purplish, you can bite off the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf. 

Once you get to the stuff that looks like chick feathers, trim that off, and you have the heart- distribute it fairly. Sop it in the rest of the butter and enjoy.

I have tried to grow artichokes here in zone 5, and it is possible, although they don’t overwinter here. In warmer places, they are perennial, and produce more buds every year. I have read directions on the interwebs about pulling the roots at the end of the season, and storing them in the basement, the way people do with dahlias. I’ll try that this fall with the plant I have growing in the basement under lights.

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Let’s move the compost bin


Conversation in the faculty lounge turned to compost the other day. I mentioned that the worm guy http://www.flickr.com/photos/vhayward/2917500802/  recommended moving the compost pile every six months to avoid tree roots growing up into the pile. One of my colleagues insisted that she was not going to take the time, not going to “get a sub so I can flip my compost pile twice a year!”   I didn’t argue with her- there is no arguing with some people, but honestly, you don’t need to take a day off work.

3 steps (maybe 4…)

1: lift bin off of old pile.

It's easy to slip the bin up off the pile, then scoot it a few feet over.

2. Put the most recent additions into bottom of bin in new location.

That's not compost yet, that's just gross. Needs more time.

3. Use finished/almost finished compost on plants.

There are still some identifiable chunks in here- leaves, of course, and flower stalks.

(4 might be add water to new pile, depending on what hasn’t broken down. I dipped buckets out of the fish pond, which also helped empty the fish pond.)

Moving the pile adds oxygen, which will help things break down. Mine had a lot of leaves that had matted, and some identifiable avocado pits- they take a long time, but eventually, everything breaks down. I guess step 5 might be to wash your hands and get a glass of iced tea. It really is pretty easy. 20 minutes start to finish, and that includes taking pictures.

Unventing Slippers


The Yarn Harlot referred to thrummed mittens a couple of weeks ago, and I had no idea what they were. Google to the rescue- it is a technique where a piece of unspun wool is tucked into stitches to make the inside of mittens, or anything, extra warm and fluffy. It was pioneered in Labrador, where they need the warmth, apparently.

The loop of fleece that peeks through adds warmth and cushion.

I wondered about slippers- I had made a pair for myself, and a still-unfinished pair for the girl, using the French Press pattern  http://frenchpressknits.blogspot.com/2009/10/happy-slipper-day.html  These are knit in pieces, sewn together then felted. Felting is when you take wool items and wash them- the moisture, heat and agitation of the washing machine makes the fibers grab on to each other. It shrinks by around 25 percent, usually, but it is an inexact science. The pattern is well written, but I was disappointed in the ones I made. My French Press slippers are comfy, and they fit, but they are kind of lumpish. The girl’s came out too wide, and I will eventually cut them, and re-sew them. My mind rebels at it- because even after cutting them up, it is probable that they will look lumpish.
So my idea with the thrummed slippers was to have them basically be a sock pattern that fit me, then as I wore them, the um, moisture and heat and agitation from my feet themselves, would felt the fleece inside.
My first attempt was too big- a hobbit might like them, but ,well…I ripped it out, carefully saving the bits of twisted wool in a ziplock, and invented a slipper pattern that is very ballet shoe-like. I started at the toe, and thought, what would happen if you went back and forth on the sole? for every row I did on the toe, I would do 3 on the sole. I tried it, and it worked pretty well. Then I had to duplicate it on slipper number 2.
Elizabeth Zimmerman, patron saint of knitting, invented the term “Unventing” for when you create a way of doing something, then find out later that someone else had created it before you. I am sure someone else has designed this pattern, and maybe better than this, but I am really pleased and proud with how these have come out.

The thrums inside my pair have begun to felt. They work really well as a liner to my Crocs.

This also forces me to find out how to make a perma link, or something, so I can offer this on the sidebar as a free pattern. Before I can do that, though, it needs a name- cute, catchy, memorable, not nasty… please offer any suggestions in the comments.

The girl also wants a pair- chinese red yarn, neon blue thrums.

Can’t resist a special order…making another pair helps get the pattern dialed in,also. Writing knitting patterns is surprisingly hard.

Bloom Day


I was tickled the other day to see blooms on the mini iris I had planted last year next to the hillbilly goldfish pond.  Squee! I thought- and just in time for Bloom Day. That’s all that is blooming, but it reminds me that Spring is on the way.

Iris Reticulata- my new favorite flower, but only because it is blooming right now.

People should have more babies, so I can make more quilts.


I gave Austin’s quilt to his mom last night (he’s the “baby to be named later”- he has a name, but he hasn’t seen the light of day yet) and washed Michele’s. The washing has made it puckery, and the stitching comes out so much better now. In real life it looks really good, but I can’t get a picture to come out showing how cute it is. I guess real life is what matters, right?

Do I blame the camera? or the photographer (me)? Quilt pictures are hard...

I’m so pleased with how this came out- once I had the border and the big motifs done, there was a lot of open space, so  used a marker to draw little pictures to fill in. With the batting I used, there has to be quilting at least every 8 inches, so I had the kids draw some stuff, and I drew little pictures as well that I outlined with stitches. So we have a cat, a fish, a couple of birds. No dinosaurs, which was a surprise.

Now I just have to get it mailed off.

Trying to shake the million dollar coffee habit


Melitta Number 2.

John Prine has a song about a Vietnam-war-vet-heroin addict with a line that goes: “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm, where all the money goes.” I’ve got a hole like that, but it’s for coffee. Starbucks coffee, usually.

The big reason I go to Starbucks is they haveperfected the art of the “third place” a place that isn’t work or home, but seperate. I can do work there, but don’t have to. There are no projects piling up, the dishes in the sink are washed immediately, the bathrooms are sparkly clean, it is a home that is much cleaner than home.

I spend a fortune there.

With Spring on it’s way (I’m on Spring Break now, and we’ve had so little snow all winter that I’m just going to count it as sprung already) I have decided that I will find someplace cheaper for my “third place.” We have a great sculpture park nearby, the library is close and free, and there’s always our own back patio. Free wifi…well, not free, since I do pay for that, but, you know.

Trash is another problem with buying coffee “out.” I occasionally bring my own cup, but usually forget, so there’s a cup, with a cardboard holder, and a plastic lid, and a bag for the lemon cake. I can be greener at home, I think.

The problem was coffee. I have a couple of French presses, but they are kind of a pain to clean. I have a big drip machine that I use for parties, but it takes up a lot of kitchen real estate. It lives in the basement most of the year.

I used to have a cone drip thingy, which makes really good, really fast coffee, but it didn’t survive a purge- maybe the last time we moved?

So, I went to the LKGE (local kitchen gadget emporium- it’s my own acronym) and found this adorable little one- person cone. $3.50. I’ll wait while you do the math. Yes, for the price of 2 regular drip coffees, I can make my own at home. I’ll have to buy coffee and cream of course, but I will still save money, and trips out to Starbucks can be reserved for special treats, rather than everyday guilt fests.

No longer the color of a band-aid


Before.

I’ve written before about a top I was knitting with some really cheap bamboo yarn that was a 

After.

 ghastly color. Gray, beige, greige…with a little pink thrown in. Maybe some of you thought, oh, just wait til summer, and when you get a tan, you’ll look better.

 Um. No. I’m pretty pale. Even in August, I just get pinkey-beige…greige, if we’re being honest..

So, since I can’t color myself, I figured I’d dye the sweater. There is a bit of risk in this – sure, maybe the yarn was a 2 dollar investment, but the time is a big deal. Spending a month of free time working on something I can’t wear is disappointing.

Each package of dye cost about $3. I only used one, but I wanted a back-up.

I doubled my investment with a packet of dark brown Dylon dye from the craft store. I chose it over Rit because I have used both before, and Dylon seems stronger- it dyes deeper and seems to last longer, too.
My concern with dying an already-knit item was that the knit stitches themselves would act like tie-dye, so it wouldn’t take up evenly. In this case, I didn’t need to worry- the color took really evenly, and it is even a bit darker than I expected. I love my new sweater!
Judging from some of the searches that have found me, people want to know if Kool Aid works for dying cottons or other vegetable fibers. As far as I know, no. I do know they will stain cottons, but I don’t think they will be colorfast on anything other than wools and silks. That is why I went with a packet of relatively toxic dye for this sweater, and why I didn’t let my kids help me with this project.

 I followed the directions on the package- I have an enamel roasting pan that I only use for dye. I used disposable spoons to stir with, I wore gloves, and I didn’t do it at a time when the kids would get underfoot. The dye is most toxic when in powder form- it is not something anyone wants to breath in.

I mixed the dye according to package directions, and did most of the dying outside.

 However, once it was mixed, I didn’t want the boy hopping through the kitchen and spilling a gallon of dark brown liquid. Yikes! can you even imagine?

I washed the sweater first, then left it wet and put it in the dye. The directions say to stir for 15 minutes then let it set for another 45. I kind of got distracted and left the pot on the back porch for over an hour. It may have done some longterm damage…but I can’t tell at this point. I’m really happy with the color, and can’t wait until it’s warm enough to wear it.

Lemon Syrup and First-ever Giveaway


Brighten up late winter (yes, it's late winter, not spring, yet) with citrus.

Last summer I started making a lemon simple syrup to put in my iced tea- it adds sweetness and zing, without having to cut up lemons every time. Easy to make, and keeps a long time in the fridge. This winter I did it with Meyer lemons  and it had an amazing fragrance to it. However, Meyer lemon season is over, and my pint of syrup is gone, so it’s time for another batch. This could conceivably be used on desserts or pancakes as well, but around here, we just use it for tea.

I use a microplane grater to get the zest, which is just the yellow part, of the lemon. I love this tool- it was originally designed for woodworking, but it works great as a very fine, very sharp grater. I use it for parmesan cheese, raw ginger and zest. When I was cleaning off the top of the fridge, I discovered one that I got a few years ago as a premium for subscribing to Cook’s Illustrated.  The best comment on this post before Wednesday 3/9 will receive it as a prize. Tell me why you need a microplane grater, why you deserve it, why you want one… Remember, I’m an English teacher – answers written in poetry might get bonus points.

Lemon Simple Syrup
zest from 3 lemons
juice from 3 lemons, plus enough water to make 1 cup
1 cup granulated sugar.

The most onerous task is zesting the lemons. I have a microplane zester, which I highly recommend,  but I can’t stand it when recipes require some tool which hardly anyone has. If you don’t win the zester, use a grater, or even a potato peeler. Be careful not to get the white part of the peel, it will make it bitter.

The girl was helping out, and the boy was giving unneeded advice.

Mix the juice, water, zest and sugar in a pan and boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

eyeew, maybe I need to clean the stovetop...don't simmer too long, you just want to flavor it, not reduce it.

Allow to simmer a few minutes, cool for a few minutes, then pour through a fine mesh strainer. I pour it into a pyrex measuring cup, then into a bottle with a pourer.  I store it in the fridge, although I don’t know how fast it would go bad on the counter…I wonder about doing this with other flavors- what about chai? or raspberry? The simple part means that it is an equal ratio- 1 part sugar and 1 part liquid, so it could theoretically be any flavorful liquid…I may have to experiment.