Friday, February 28, 2014

Favorite Cookbooks

Because an important part of knitting is eating, I thought I'd share my top five favorite cookbooks.    Or should I say, my top five most used cookbooks.  I have others that have much more sentimental value or that have better food porn photos, but these five are the ones I use over and over and over again.

Make it Fast, Cook it Slow and Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is the answer to a obsessive knitter's busy homeschooler's prayers.  Make it Fast is the only slow cooker cookbook I've ever liked and I've looked at thousands.  Most slow cooker cookbooks only give you recipes for stews & barbecue but this book has everything!  Not to mention, the recipes are easy, contain simple ingredients & taste great.  Artisan Bread shows you how to make a huge amount of dough that gets stored in the fridge to be taken out & baked as needed.  With these two cookbooks, I can toss dinner into the crockpot in the morning, run the kids all over the state to their various homeschooled classes/outings (or sit on my butt watching Netflix & knitting all day,) then toss some dough into the oven in the evening.  By the time the dogs are fed & the table is set, we have a hot meal and fresh bread.  In fact, I like & use Make it Fast so much, I bought several additional crockpots of various sizes so that I can cook multiple things at once.

Dining on a Dime is pretty much what the title says it is.  The recipes are very inexpensive to make and every one I've tried so far has tasted great.  Well, except that time I forgot to add the water in the spanish rice.  Liquid-free baked rice is not great, let me tell you!  But hey, the more money I save on meals, the more money I have to spend on yarn.

1,000 Vegetarian Recipes is just flat out excellent.  I'd bought this book a few years ago when my daughter & I went vegetarian and fell in love with it.  Neither of us are following a vegetarian lifestyle anymore, but I still use this cookbook frequently.  I don't even like vegetables all that much (I'm much more of a meat & potatoes & cake kind of girl) but every recipe I've tried so far has been excellent.

Last but not least on my list is Necessities & Temptations.  I've been using this cookbook for almost 20 years.  You'd think I'd have the recipes memorized by now, but I don't.  Not because they are difficult, but because I seem to be incapable of memorizing anything.  Necessities & Temptations has, for the most part, simple recipes with simple ingredients that end up tasting like I've slaved away in the kitchen for days.  With most cookbooks, I find that I tend to only use one category of it's recipes.  I only use the meat recipes, or the side dishes, or only like the deserts....  But with Necessities & Temptations, I find myself using, and enjoying, recipes from every section.

So, if you are looking for a bit of kitchen inspiration, click on one of those links or simply go to your local library and check out those cookbooks.  I'm sure you'll be glad you did.

For knitting news, I've only knit nine more stripes on the fair isle scarf since my last post.

That brings the total number of stripes so far up to 29.  I probably have another 12 or so to go before it's long enough.  Progress has been extremely slow on this scarf because I've been on a scary movie kick.  Intense, scary movies are not the best knitting option when every row is different.  I either get absorbed into the movie & forget to start a new pattern row or something jumps out at me, I scream like a little girl & drop a bunch of stitches.  It's not helping that I rearranged my desk/knitting/crafting area & now my back is to the room/door.  The family keeps sneaking up on me.  Sneaking up on me when I'm absorbed in a scary movie makes me scream & drop that many more stitches.  I think I have knit every single pattern of this scarf twice, sometimes three times, now.  First, I knit it wrong, then I frog it, then reknit it.  It's a good thing I enjoy the knitting process.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Camera suggestions

I'm in need of your camera suggestions, thoughts & comments.  I am not happy with my tiny little camera at all. Granted, 99% of the problem is probably the human behind the lens, but I'm choosing to ignore that.  I want a new camera.  A real camera.  A camera with multiple lenses.  A camera with manual settings & that can be taken apart during a camera class at the local community college.  But it also needs to take awesome photos automatically because, well, let's face it, I will still be the human behind the lens.  And it's not just me that wants it.  My daughter has been begging for a Nikon 3200 for a few years now.  So, I'm thinking, I could buy one, we could share & one of us could take that photography class & teach the other one.  If it turns out we both like it & actually use it, then maybe we'll buy another one next year.  I'm sure there'll be an updated model.

But the point is, I'm thinking about buying the Nikon 3200.  It's really not in the budget, but I want it.  No, that's not exactly right.  I WANT it!  The want keeps me up at night sometimes. I literally can't sleep some nights because I can't calm the thoughts about how much better my life would be if I had a real camera.  The questions is, will I be able to use it?  Will learning to use it be such a pain in the rear I continue using my current, tiny, little hated camera?

If you have any input for or against the Nikon 3200, please, please, please, for the love of all things photogenic & my poor little bank account, please speak up.  I'm afraid I won't be able to resist the shopping urge much longer and I'm also afraid that breaking down & buying it might rank up there in my top 10 stupid moves.  So please, tell me what you think.  Do you have one?  Does your best friend have one?  Does your ex-boyfriend's sister's best friend's brother have one?  Do you/they like it?  Hate it?  Did it take years to learn to use the settings or is it as user friendly as the ads say?  Please, tell me what you think.

And no, there are no knitting update photos.  My tiny, little hated camera has decided to turn everything a lovely shade of orange.  I have no idea why.  Flash, or no flash.  Macro or normal setting, it doesn't matter.  The picture comes out orange.  It might just be that the battery needs charging but normally it just turns off & refuses to turn back on when that's the case.  Anyway, I didn't bother taking orange photos of my knitting.  Besides, I've only added a few more stripes to the fair isle cowl.  Been to busy dreaming about cameras to knit.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Brussels Sprouts

I can't believe I'm blogging about brussels sprouts.  I hate, Hate, HATE them!  But I've found a way to cook them that I love, Love, LOVE!  I even ate a second helping & wished for a third!

Let me tell you the story...

I lead a homeschool creative writing group, two actually.  One for little kids & one for teens.  Anyway...  the topic of the day was disliked foods.  One of the little kids wrote about brussels Sprouts & I commented how much I hate, Hate, HATE them & a discussion ensued about the merits & disadvantages of having them served to you.  Suddenly, the quiet child, the one who never speaks except to quietly read her piece, piped up and loudly & emphatically stated that she loved the way her mom cooks them.  She uses bacon.

Two things immediately stood out to me.  First, Quiet Child had spoken up!  She must have serious feelings about her mom's brussels sprouts.  And secondly, she uses bacon??  Hmmm.....

That afternoon, I emailed Quiet Child's mom & explained how I hated brussels sprouts but that I'd heard her recipe was to die for & would she share.  She did.

Sorry.  There's no photo.  I ate them all before I even thought about taking a picture.

The recipe is so simple you don't even need a recipe.  Take a bag of fresh brussels sprouts & shred them in the food processor.  (After having cut off the stem ends, I learned from Mark Bittman.  Luckily I thought to look up how to cook brussels sprouts prior to putting them in the food processor because I thought the stems might be a problem.)  I started off shredding them using the shredder attachment but it was making such fine shreds I thought it might liquify when cooked so I changed to the slicing blade.  (In the end, I really liked having the combination of textures (the little shreds didn't liquify) & will probably do that again next time.)  While you are at it, shred or mince a bit of garlic.

While you are shredding your sprouts, start a couple of slices of bacon cooking.  I used 4 slices.  Once the bacon is crispy (mine was almost burnt, but I kind of like it that way) take the bacon out of the pan, keeping the grease, & dump in the shredded brussels sprouts.  Stir.  Cook for a few minutes.  Crumble the bacon into the pan & stir.  Serve.  Eat.  Wish for more.

It's really that simple!  I did add a little more bacon grease to the pan a few minutes into the cooking process because it was looking pretty dry & brussels sprouty.  I wasn't sure how long to cook them but I just let them brown just a tiny bit & they were perfect.  I really did eat seconds and I really did wish for more.  I can not wait to make this dish again.  I have actually dreamed about it!  So, thank you Quiet Child's Mom.  You are my hero!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fair Isle progress, sort of

I've made progress on the fair isle scarf, sort of.  And I do mean sort of.  Miniscule progress is more like it.

As  you can see, I've only added a few pattern stripes to it over the last few days.

I realized after hitting "publish" on the previous fair isle post that I didn't provide much detail.  The scarf contains 92 stitches.  Size wise, I think it's fine, but I do wish I'd made it slightly bigger because it's barely big enough for my smallest circular needle & the fabric doesn't move around the needle easily.  I'm using a number 4 needle and the stitch patterns are all from Mastering Color Knitting.

I strayed back to the rainbow chevron scarf for a while.  It's been deemed travel knitting, which is why it's crammed into that little bag.

Instead of knitting, I've been painting.  Well, okay, I've been playing with Gesso.

It's a long, rambling story, but while bored during the recent snow, I clicked on a link that popped up on my Facebook page that took me to a whole new world.  "The Documented Life Project" world.  DLP is a Facebook group for art journaling & planner decorating.  And, OMG!  The talent that group has!  I am unbelievably intimidated by them but am also so excited to become a part of that talent pool.  The people there are so welcoming & don't seem to care that my artistic skills are non existent.  And we all know how much I love my planner.

Yes, I'm an old fashioned girl & still use a paper planner.  No matter how much easier it would be, I just can't force myself to use a digital planner.  And yes, I realize there are probably a minimum of three trees worth of paper in that planner, but it works for me.  I included the coffee cup in the photo so you could get an idea of how thick it really is.  And that's a two cup coffee cup!  My entire life is in that thing & I would be devastated if I ever lost it.  And since decorating my planner is an excellent to-do list procrastination technique....

Actually, I'm playing in an art journal much more than I'm decorating my planner.  That baby doesn't need to get any thicker & since I discovered Gesso, everything is getting thicker!

Do you paint?  Do you know about Gesso?  Oh My Gosh!  Gesso is the coolest!  It does everything!  It stops just short of doing the dishes for me!  First, it's a primer & gets the paper ready to accept the paint.  Secondly, if you make a mistake (which I do every time I pick up a brush) you can simply Gesso over the error & have yourself a merry little do-over.  You can also add color to it, add texture to your artwork, rubber stamp with it....  And at least in my case, when I'm done playing with it, I look like I've had a french manicure.  If you don't know the joys of Gesso, go YouTube a few videos.  It is The coolest stuff.

Another cool thing I've been playing with is spray water color paint.  The brand I've been using is Dylusions and I absolutely love it!  Which is a good thing; it's kind of expensive.  At least I considered it expensive when I bought it without having any idea what it was.  I just liked the colors & knew I'd have fun playing with it.

The luminosity of the paint isn't showing up in that photo, but in real life, it sort of glows.  I have no idea what I'll do with those pages but I'll use them on the art journal pages some how.  I now have lots & lots of pages like that to tear & paste over.  I am having so much fun playing with paint & Gesso I may never knit again.  Well, that's a fib but....

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

TMI Tuesday, Adventures in Breast Feeding

I'm introducing TMI Tuesdays where I'll provide you with way too much information about myself that you probably wish you didn't know.  My kids tell me I'm really good at providing TMI.  They tell me this constantly, so it must be true.  I'm not sure that I'll have TMI Tuesday every Tuesday, but at least once a month.

The idea came about after reading several (thousand, it feels like) books on what/how to blog and/or creatively write about.  One of the suggested topics was "Your Greatest Humiliations."  I think the author of that book thought I might have had two, maybe three, great humiliations over the course of my life.  Obviously, that author does not know me.  I seem to humiliate myself on a daily basis.  I'm a total klutz.  I can't remember names, even my best friend's name most of the time.  That's always awkward!  I was born with my foot in my mouth so I'm constantly saying things I shouldn't.  I lock myself out of the house.  I forget my wallet....  So, okay, you get the picture.  I don't need to babble on about the massive ways I can easily humiliate myself.  Luckily, I'm also capable of laughing at myself.

So, in honor of my son's 19th birthday tomorrow, I thought I'd share one humiliating experience revolving around his birth.  And believe me, there were a LOT of humiliating experiences centered around his introduction into this world.  I could write a book!  But today, let's talk about learning to breast feed.  Always a fun (and potentially embarrassing) topic!

So, there I was, hanging out in the hospital after delivering my first child by c-section.  I was still hooked to IV's & catheters and all kinds of fun stuff.  I was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to breast feed my new bouncing baby boy (who was so big [10.5 lbs] he won the prize for largest newborn in the hospital.)  A male nurse was in the room checking on my beeps & drips and apparently noticed I was struggling.  With absolutely no other warning, he simply said, "Here," grabbed my breast with one hand & the baby's head with the other & smashed the two together.  Luckily, it worked!  But because of the embarrassment of this strange guy grabbing my boob, it took me a few minutes to realize that the squawking baby wasn't squawking anymore & was instead happily chomping & biting sucking away at my breast.

Happy Birthday, Zack.  It's been a fun & exciting 19 years & I look forward to the next 19.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Snow day knitting

I love snow day knitting, don't you?  They were calling for up to 30 inches of snow!  Around these parts, 3 inches is enough to cause panic at the grocery store.  I knew I needed a snow day knitting project but I wasn't feeling the love from the rainbow chevron scarf and my car was having a major hiccup so I couldn't go to the LYS to pre-storm yarn shop.  I decided to cave into the urge to start a Wendy Knits fair isle scarf of my own.

I grabbed needles, made a chart, drug (Or should that be dragged? Neither seems right.) the scrap fingering weight yarn bin over to my "nest" and started knitting.

One snow storm later, I have almost a third of a scarf.  The majority of my sock yarn is dark, subdued colors & I obviously didn't have enough lighter colors to copy Wendy's exactly.  Besides, who wants to be a total copycat anyway, right?  What I did have was a lot of Sweet Potato orange Palette yarn.  The plan is, the foreground will be knit with the orange, the background will be knit with scrap sock yarn & no two backgrounds will be the same, nor will the fair isle patterns repeat.  In other words, it's going to be a wild mess.

As for our snow storm, we did not get 30 inches, but we got some.  When I went to bed Wednesday night, it looked like this,

It was coming down at a rate of slightly over an inch an hour & we already had almost 7 inches.  I woke up Thursday morning to find,

Six inches plus a thick, thick layer of ice on top.  At some point, it had turned to freezing rain which had smashed the snow down. (And no, that's not a hole in our fence, just a hole in the boards.  As is typical, less than a week after installing the fence, a tree fell on it & smashed the boards in that one area.  So now, the wire part is still there, just not the boards.)

The dogs were NOT pleased with the conditions.  They love to play in snow but they definitely did not like breaking through the ice with each step they took.  They ventured out, reluctantly, did their business & came straight back in.

As snow storms go, it was a crazy one!  It started out on Wednesday afternoon snowing hard, changed to freezing rain in the wee early morning hours, then it freezing drizzled most of the day on Thursday.  In the late afternoon, it began to thunder, then it hailed.  Hailed!!  Dime sized hail in the middle of a snow storm!  Then it returned to snow, a few hours later it thundered some more and continued to snow, then at the tail end of the storm, it turned back into freezing rain for an hour or so.  And as is typical in Virginia, on Friday, I'm riding down the interstate (thank you, VDOT, for doing such an excellent plowing job!) with the window almost half way open because the sun was making the inside of the car uncomfortably warm.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Valentine's Cowl

I finished knitting the pink & purple striped Valentine's Day cowl a few days ago.

Good thing I was planning to keep it because it's got a few hiccups.  I passed several hours waiting on my son by knitting & reading in the Barnes & Nobel cafe one evening.  The yarn used for this project (see details here) looks like unspun & apparently, I'm not coordinated enough to knit unspun without looking.  I kept splitting stitches & ended up doing a lot of tinking.  This yarn does not appreciate being tinked.  Once knit, it wants to stay knit.

The cowl is reversible though so there's what the reverse side looks like. One side is textured, the other side not so much.  I'm not sure how much use it will get.  Pink really isn't my color but I caught the Valentine's Day knitting bug when I saw the yarn.

The rainbow chevron scarf is coming along slowly.  I hope I like it better once it's blocked.

So, yeah, that's a silly picture but being unblocked, the edges are curling up horribly & it doesn't look much better when spread out.  I'm about at the half way point on it.  I really hope that blocking it will help me like the colorway better.  It's just a bit too bright, glaring, primary color for my tastes.  Which is why that the yarn has been in my stash so long.  I'm now remembering starting a pair of socks with it & quickly deciding, no.

As for non-knitting news, I wanted to give a shout out to Bee Well Orrganics.  The owner's kids are in a homeschool creative writing group I lead & they gave me an awesome goodie bag for Christmas.  This Honey Lemon Ginger jam is the only thing left & it's still here only because I hid it.  In plain sight.   Instead of putting it on the pantry shelf with all the other jellies & condiments, I put it on the shelf in the dog food closet.  That's the shelf we use for weird things that we only use a few times a year.

My daughter became slightly feral over the cinnamon apple jam.  The minute she tasted it, she claimed it as her own & would growl slightly if anyone else even looked like they might want to taste it.  So, if you are looking for organic giftables, or are simply in the mood for some awesome jam, check out Bee Well Orrganics.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Knitters Drink

Have you ever noticed how much knitter’s tend to like wine?  I’m no exception.  But I’m not exactly adventurous or knowledgeable when it comes to wine.  I decided to change that.  At least the adventurous part.  Hopefully, the increase in knowledge part will tag along for the ride.   How will I become more adventurous you ask?  One of this year's goals is to try a new wine each month.  

January’s wine was Bully Hill Vineyards Barnyard Red.  And it was good!  Normally I’m not a big fan of reds (something I’d very much like to change) nor am I a big fan of overly dry wine.  Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit that I prefer sweet, Kool Aid type wines.  But although the label said this wine was on the dry side of the spectrum, I thought it was delicious.  It wasn’t Kool Aid, but it was good.  I hope I can get my hands on more.  This particular bottle has been sitting on the rack for over a year, maybe even two.  It was originally purchased from Grapes of Tastea tiny little local wine store, tucked behind our local post office.  Which may explain why our mail service is so screwy.

If you have any suggestions for which wine I should try next, please share in the comments.

As for the knitting, there’s been basically no progress on the rainbow scarf originally shown in this blog post.   The yarn I needed for a custom order arrived & I traded knitting rainbows for maroon & gold stripes.  Now that the custom order is finished & shipped off, I've moved on to another cowl.  

It's knit in a staggered rib pattern that isn't showing up in the photo.  When finished, the cowl will be reversible & the other side will have a much more textured appearance.  I'm using Red Heart Boutique Unforgettable yarn in the Winery colorway.  (I really am into wine these days!)  Normally, when I think of Red Heart, I think of that horrible, scratchy, stiff as cardboard, worsted weight acrylic that probably 90% of us learned to knit on.  Nasty stuff!  And it amazes me that those of us who did learn to knit with it, ever continued knitting after the first project.  But, Red Heart has made a few changes over the last several years.  They have a sock yarn that's fairly decent & I really do like this Boutique yarn.  It's soft & one skien has 280 yards.  There's enough yardage to do a cowl & a hat or a cowl & fingerless gloves.  And it comes in some very pretty colors.

Do you have a Red Heart story?  Please share in the comments & don't forget, I'd also love to hear your wine recommendations.