Dear Asparagus


I don’t know why I can’t quit you.I keep trying to grow you, trying to make a home for you that you can keep coming back to, year after year. And I keep coming back, broken-hearted.
I try to tell myself that you aren’t worth it, my kids don’t like you, you’re difficult, you make my pee smell funny. But inside, I know it’s just a lie- I want you, I miss you. I find myself worried when you aren’t home, I find myself looking in the ditch, knowing that if I found you, I would bring you home and clean you up, cook you, and eat you. Maybe pickle you, if there was enough…

I just love you, and I can’t face paying 3.99 a pound for you at the grocery, and you aren’t even at the farmers market. At least not when I’ve been there. Are you avoiding me? It doesn’t matter- I forgive you. I’ll keep trying to make this relationship work. I’ll dig a trench near reliable water, but also in complete sun, I know how much you love the sunshine, I’ll plant out your little roots, and watch for your little shoots to poke out from the soft compost.  I just love you too much to give up on you.

Signed:

Carrying a Torch

 

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Pretty petal baby hat


I had a precious little ball of pink sparkly yarn that I thought might be enough for  a baby hat…but not quite. I was in a bit of denial- I cast-on and started knitting, thinking that lace would stretch it out and I would get most of it done… yeah. No. Rip out and start over, with a bit more pre-planning.

I’m a little obsessed with the sparkly yarn- I have a pair of socks for myself, a pair of socks for someone who doesn’t read my blog, so I can talk about them all I want. I made a pair of sparkly blue socks for Kate as well. I love this yarn. It’s just so subtly sparkly- it isn’t ugly Christmas sweater sparkly, it just has a thin filament of sparkle spun in. Sigh. It is from Knitpicks, if there happens to be a sparkly yarn-shaped hole in your life. I think the gray would be really classy…

Anyway, I had a golf-ball sized chunk of it left, and a great-niece on the way, and I thought, what better use for this perfect little… shoot, not enough.  I wasn’t in complete denial, as I went along I considered ways of making it work. Maybe making it deliberately little- just a beanie? Nah.  Maybe a rapid flat-topped decrease on top, like a pillbox. Nah. Then I thought about it backwards and inside out- what if we considered the pink lacy part to be a cuff, to folded up over a white background? that way the lace would be more defined, and there would be some adjustability in the ear coverage.

My favorite lace pattern is Old Shale, also called feather and fan. It is easy to memorize, and makes the cast-on edge scalloped and ruffly. I originally got the pattern from The Twisted Sister Sock Workbook (not affiliated with Dee Snyder), but it is a traditional pattern- no one really owns it.

If you are considering learning a different lace pattern for a shawl or something, and want to practice, this could work as a swatch, and you have a hat at the end of (can you tell I hate swatching?)

This pattern is adjustable, either by using bigger needles and thicker yarn (perhaps for a big sister?) or by adding repeats to the old shale pattern- each repeat is 11 stitches, which makes about 1 and 1/4 inches in the circumference of the hat.

Some people test really well on being able to visualize and rotate shapes inside their minds, seeing how puzzle pieces go together, spinning parts around in three dimensions.  At least one of my brothers is gifted at this.  I am not.

I had to concentrate really hard to figure out how the heck I would turn this around so that the pretty side of the lace would show through the holes in the lace of the folded up cuff part, but I wouldn’t have to construct the entire hat backwards…. I am sure the mental exercise was good for me.

Then I was sitting next to the hillbilly goldfish pond, enjoying the sunshine, and had a thought. What if I just turned it inside out, and knit in the other direction? Yeah. That works. There is kind of a hole from going the other way, but since I changed colors there, the hole can get filled in with the woven-in ends.

Gauge is not super important here- baby heads come in a wide range of sizes- this is for a baby due in December/January. I would make it bigger for babies born at different times of the year… with my gauge, using this yarn and these needles the hat is 16 inches around. Your mileage may vary.

Squeeee!

Knitpicks Glimmer sock yarn in carnation

Knitpicks Stroll sock yarn in bare

size 3, 16 inch circular needles

Old shale lace pattern- cast on a multiple of 11, join round, being careful not to twist.

round 1 and 2 knit

round 3 perl

round 4 knit two together 2x ,* yo k 4x, knit 2 together 4x*

Cast on 99 stitches in pink and work old shale pattern as written for 3 repeats. (Making the third row perl makes it so the edge does not roll.) Then continue without perling the 3rd row until the piece measures 3 inches from cast on edge- which will be scalloped. Or, if you have a tiny amount of contrast yarn, go until you run out of yarn, as I did.

Switch to white yarn. Turn the piece inside out, so that the wrong side faces you. You will have to go backwards over what you have knit. There will be a slight gap, but you have to weave in the ends if you change colors, so the gap will be filled.

In the next row, knit two together 3x spaced evenly, 96 stitches so that you decrease to 96. Knit stockinette 4 inches, and begin decreases. Place markers every 12 stitches-* knit to 2 stitches before marker*, and knit two together, 1 row plain*. You will hit a point when your circular needle is too long, either add another circular, or switch to double pointed needles. Repeat these two decrease rows until 8 stitches remain- break yarn and sew end through all remaining stitches, then weave in ends.

Wash in wool wash and block.

Start on a hat in big sister’s favorite color…

Two shades of green, and a leafy lace pattern…

Ode on the Potting Bench


Several years ago, when DH bought me my chop saw (best Christmas ever!) I built a workbench/potting bench for the back porch. I always see potting benches in magazines or stores that look like real furniture, and I wonder why- I would feel so hesitant using one of those. I would worry I was going to mess it up, damage the top, get it dirty… mine is perfectly ready to trash.

I built it out of 4x4s for the legs, with braces, so it doesn’t wobble. And I used planks for the top, with a bit of space between each one, so potting soil and sawdust just fall through. When I built the trellis for my vanilla plant, I just stapled the mesh to it so it would stay flat. When we have parties, I put a tablecloth on it, and make it into a drink station, but the rest of the year it lives to work.

Cold-Brewed Coffee- oh my gosh!


I’ve written before about deciding to spend less money on trips out for coffee, and I mostly have. The hot brewed coffee using the little Melitta filter funnel has been great. The magic moment, though, was when I learned about brewing coffee at room temperature to use as iced coffee.

 Holy cow- there are apparently devices that you can get to make it for you, but honestly, if you have a jar and a strainer…
Here’s what you do- put about a cup of coarsely ground coffee into a jar, then add a quart of room temperature water. I’ve tried it with filtered water and straight out of the tap, and I don’t think there’s much of a difference. We have good tap water here- if it’s good enough to drink, it’s probably good enough to brew cold.
So, where were we? Oh yeah, coffee in jar, water in jar, let it sit…I go about 12 hours, or as long as I can remember. A woman at City News, a non-Starbucks coffee institution, told me they brew it for 24 hours. I think the longest I’ve gone was about 16 hours. Then strain- I strain it through a mesh strainer, then use a coffee filter as well.It gets muddy if you skip the second straining.

No photos…jars with coffee… a more talented photographer maybe could make that work.

 I keep a jar in the fridge, and pour it over ice, with a bit of milk and a little raw sugar. I drink it through a straw, so I get little chunks of undissolved sugar on my tongue…bliss. Caffeinated bliss.

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.

Book Review- Ratio


My only objection to the book is that the cover is yellow, but the spine is pink, so it is hard to find on the shelf. A small quibble.

I’ve mentioned this book before, and as I break it out to use to make cream puffs for my friend’s Oscar party on Sunday, I figured I’d write a full-blown review.
This isn’t like other cookbooks: it explains the why of cooking as much as the how. It does have recipes in it, but they are very simple ones, almost foundation recipes, and then you can vary them from there.

The chapter on roux has transformed (transformed, I say!) my relationship to gravy. And soup. The chapter on cakes has finally taught me the difference between sponge cake and pound cake, and the girl and I are now able to whip together a perfect little 2-layer-easy-bake-oven cake. It still takes forever to bake, because of the whole “cooking with a lightbulb” thing, but we can whip it up pretty fast.
There is a whole chapter on sausage making, which I can’t see myself ever delving into. Also, it’s fairly Eurocentric- no salsa, no rice, no stir-fries.  On the other hand, the 5 pages on making mayonaise is one of the reasons I asked for a stick blender for Christmas.

Michael Ruhlman is the author, I haven’t read his previous books, but this one is readable- he is a journalist who wanted to learn how to cook, rather than a chef who was hired to write a cookbook. One kooky detail is the blurb on the back,  by Alton Brown. It identifies him as author of “I’m Just Here for the Food.”  I didn’t realize he was an author, I thought he was a TV personality.

So, the recipes I’ll be using for Sunday are the pate a choux, which is a cream puff dough, and creme patisserie, from the chapter entitled “The Custard Continuum.” I love this book.http://www.amazon.com/Ratio-Simple-Behind-Everyday-Cooking/dp/1416571728/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298677515&sr=1-1

edited to add: the cream puffs were amazing- we brought about 30 to the Oscar party, and they disappeared instantly.

Norwegian Lagoon Socks


Here’s why I love Facebook: I grew up with a friend, since 4th grade, when we were in girl scouts, all through middle school and high school, then we graduated, and never saw each other again. Small towns being what they are, I heard about her. She was in a band, got married, lived in California, but not much else. Then shortly after I joined FB, I saw that she was on, and I was so excited. We friended each other, and I get to see what her life is like, and read her blog. http://chksngr.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2010-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&updated-max=2011-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=50

If I go to the reunion in 8 years, it’s only if she’s going.
Anyway, about the socks. Every Monday, on her blog, she has a Muse post- usually short, an image that inspires her, maybe a red plate on an apple green tablecloth, or just after Christmas, I think, a Norwegian lagoon, with brilliant blue sky, white iceberg, reflecting a brilliant blue sea. I happened to be knitting a pair of lace socks in shades of denim, and the stripes were stacking up like that Norwegian lagoon. I was going to comment on her blog, but I can never get through her security- my pop-up blocker blocks her comment thingy, and I lack the patience to figure it out.(yes, I recognize the irony, here- I have patience to knit socks by hand, but not to figure out a comment thingy. I’m an English teacher, I recognize irony.) I showed DH, and he said, oh, you should send a picture to Felecia.
I kept forgetting.

Meanwhile, they have become my favorite socks- I got the yarn last summer in Massachusetts, (yes, I went yarn shopping on vacation, why do you ask?) and these are the socks I pull out of the drawer whenever they are clean. So soft, and even if they don’t go with everything I wear, I make them go. Sky goes with everything, right?

Pure wool, hand dyed in the great Northwest. Love these socks.

Blood, toil, tears and sweaters


I highly recommend using sock yarn for sweaters because it's machine washable.

I knit for fun, really I do. I like to have something to do with my hands when watching TV, or riding in the car, or waiting at the dentist.  I also like to plan projects, and see them come alive.  A couple of years ago, the girl was reading the American Girl books, and when reading the Kirsten series, she asked me for a sweater like Kirsten’s mom made for her. It was cute- a black and white, Nordic ski sweater. I had played a little with knitting in two colors, and felt comfortable with it, so I took on the project.  http://www.amazon.com/Changes-Kirsten-Winter-American-Collection/dp/0937295949/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1292820841&sr=1-1

We wound up misplacing the book- it turned up later in the closet under the stairs, so I couldn’t make up the pattern by looking at the illustration on the cover.  At that point I didn’t feel comfortable looking at an illustration and making up a sweater pattern anyway. 

The inspiration for the sweater. we never made the hat or mittens.

Actually, I don’t think I could do that now, either… So I found a pattern in “Knitting Without Tears” from the library. This is a book I highly recommend, by the way, if you are ready to graduate from scarves.

I cast on about 200 stitches in sock yarn for the body, and started on the patterns going up the body to the armpits. It was kind of fascinating- you hold the black yarn in one hand, the white in the other, and go across the rows, knitting four of black, 3 of white, or whatever, and row by row the pattern builds. Checkerboards, snowflakes, giant backward letter “s” . With the amount of work this was going to be, I wanted it to fit for a  few years, so I made it extra long, and by the time I got to the armpits, it was time to start the sleeves.  This was where I got stalled. 

You look at a sleeve, and it looks small, but it winds up being more than a quarter of the size of the body of a sweater. I cast on what I thought was the right number of stitches, and went about 4 inches, before I thought of trying it on the girl. Too small. It is now a mini dress for Barbie. Start over, The other thing about sleeves is that they can’t be just cylindircal, because arms aren’t. But the thing about working with two colors, is most of the patterns have repeats of 8 stitches, so increasing gradually messes up the pattern, and increasing too suddenly makes the arm look goofy.  Ask me how I know. 

By now it was March, and even though in Norway, I am sure people wear Norwegian sweaters well into summer, here in Northern Colorado, we are riding bikes and playing soccer. I put away the sweater for a while as being just too frustrating.

Took it out again in the fall, ripped out the sleeves, reknit to make sure they matched, then attached them to the body of the sweater. At this point, I really started cruising. It still took a while, though.  The girl’s school had a spirit day, whose theme was “Dress as a book character” I made it down the home stretch and finished the Kirsten Sweater in time for her to wear it to school. 

Now, the reason this has come up now, 3 years after I started knitting that thing, and 2 and a half years after I finished it, is that when I picked up the girl the other day at school, she was wearing it. “Oh, you haven’t worn that for a while.” I said.

“Yeah, I just found it in the lost and found.”

Yikes- the school newsletter had just announced that as of  Friday, anything still in the lost and found would be taken to Goodwill. As I said, I knit because I enjoy it, but that sweater has a little bit of my soul in it, and the thought of it being sold at a thrift store was a little jarring. I’m glad to have it home again. Don’t ask me what I’ll do when she outgrows it. I’m not ready to think about it.

What’s the opposite of rice pudding?


The boy’s first grade teacher asked me the other day to make up a batch of rice pudding for their “Christmas around the World” party on Friday.  I thought, “ooooh, I can blog it.” Little did I know that everyone else in the world has blogged it also- google has a ton of extremely “authentic”  Swedish rice pudding recipes. I threw out the ones that called for evaporated milk, and raisins (bleah! the texture!) and also decided I didn’t want to get into separating eggs and making a meringue to spread on the pudding, who cares whether that’s authentic or not?

So, first we weren't Jewish and making latkes, now we're not Swedish, and making rice pudding. I wonder what we aren't going to be next? Chinese, I hope, or Mexican...

            I wound up taking what I know about rice, and what I know about pudding, and making a leap. I can’t really say it’s authentically anything, though. Note- I used 1% milk, because that is what we always have. This would probably be better with whole milk. Also, I just got a brainstorm, what about steeping a Chai tea bag in the milk? Of course, then it would not only be not Swedish, it wouldn’t be great for first graders, either…

Beating the eggs with the sugar, and then adding the hot milk a little at a time prevents the eggs from scrambling.

           

First Grade Rice Pudding

2 cups cooked rice (you know how to cook rice, right?)

2 cups milk

2 eggs

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat the milk to almost boiling in a large, heavy saucepan. Meanwhile, beat sugar and vanilla into eggs. Temper the eggs by adding about half a cup of hot milk to the eggs and mixing, then add that mixture to the rest of the hot milk.  Now add the cooked rice to the egg and milk mixture. Add all of it to a casserole dish nested inside another dish.

This is a casserole nested inside a 9x13 lasagne pan. I poured an inch of hot water in once it was in the oven.

Sprinkle with the spices. Place the pans in the oven, and carefully add hot water to the outside pan. This forms a water bath, and helps the custard cook evenly. Cook for one hour at 350 degrees, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

            One of the traditional things Swedes do with this pudding on Christmas Eve is put an almond in it about 10 minutes before it is finished. Legend has it that whoever gets the almond in their serving will get married the next year.  That will go over well with the first graders…

So, as I see it, rice pudding is a blank slate- what would you do with it?

Heating the house with tea


The tea stein.

So, as rain turns to snow outside my window, I have begun the yearly process of trying to heat the house with tea. It works, somewhat. After a gloriously warm and dry fall, we are finally getting some cold weather.
We live in an older house, a mid-century-fabulous, low-slung ranch, with huge windows facing East and West in the living room. Love the house, but it isn’t very draft proof. DH said something about using a stick of incense to find the drafts in the front window, and I said, “Oh, so you can caulk the cracks?” He looked shifty eyed- he hadn’t thought about it that far. We don’t have a caulking gun, so it would involve a trip to Home Depot. Home Depot is a place that makes DH very uncomfortable.
So, I am heating my house with tea. In the past I have tried heating with a pot of soup, simmering away all afternoon. I have also tried it with chocolate chip cookies, but I’d like to be able to zip my ski pants, so instead, it’s tea.
Before I got my electric tea pot, I used to fill the kettle, turn it on high, walk away. When I eventually returned, it would be boiled away. I would have heard the whistle, if the whistle hadn’t broken. This runs in the family. My dad would do the same thing, walk away, get caught up in something, and when he came back, the pot would have boiled dry and started to melt. He burned through the bottom of several tea kettles this way. Eventually, he started making tea in the microwave. This has been suggested to me, but with the microwave you don’t have the advantage of heating up the house as well.

To me, winter interest means it looks good through a window, covered with snow, while I drink tea.

It is probably only psychological, that the house is warmer when the teapot is going, but the placebo effect can’t explain everything. So, once the water is boiling, I slosh some sugar into my big pottery stein, add a teabag and fill it with water. I cup the mug in my hands to warm them, try a sip, but of course it is far too hot to even slurp carefully, so I bring it to the couch, and set it on the end table to cool. Or, sometimes I sit cross legged and put it in my lap, although that sounds kind of creepy, now that I see it written down in black and white. I hear your diagnosis, “deep rooted psycho-sexual problems.”
The tea finally cools enough to drink, and the pottery mug keeps it warm for a longish time, but by the time it is half done, it is too cold, so, I turn on the kettle again, go to the bathroom, and when I get back the water is hot, and I refill. Now, here is the beautiful part, since it is half cold, the tea is just right, immediately, so with the second round, I don’t have to wait as long. The tea might be weak, though, so I tip some more sugar in from the bowl, and add another tea bag. The process repeats itself all afternoon, all winter.

This is a broccoli plant- and after the snow melted, I actually picked the broccoli- and it's fine!

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