Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Using up the Zucchini

August has passed and the end of gardening season is upon us. It was a late start, with the lack of hot nights in the early part of summer, a lot of the plants just didn't get the opportunity to flourish. The tomatoes, for example, never really turned color except for one or two weeks. Instead, the green tomatoes I kept hoping beyond hope would ripen started rotting on the vine. Near the start of fall though, things really started to get going. Especially the squash. We have more squash now that we know what to do with, of both zucchini and scallop/patty pan varieties. There's plenty of kohlrabi and the tomatilloes are finally filling in their husks. The peppers are coming in and sadly, a large rabbit has completely obliterated the broccoli.

In the front yard, there is chocolate mint. Oh is there chocolate mint. And I have been delighting in mint tea, with and without chamomile. Since the chamomile never grew in, I have to use tea bags to get my chamomile fix. The mint leaves, though, I just pluck off the stem, give a wash, and throw in my Teatanic tea infuser, a lovely novelty gift given to me by a friend who shares my love of bad puns.

It sinks every time.

To use up my plethora of zucchini, I decided it was finally time to try out the recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, one of my favorite books on food and eating whose website features an easy print version of the recipe, which I have conveniently included above.

We also took this opportunity to use our handy food processor for the first time ever. It was a wedding present, I do believe, but since we lived in an apartment when we got hitched, there was no counter space with which to use the food processor and it was just relegated off in a cabinet, never to be used. When we moved into our house, it sat there on the counter and I would say, "You know, honey, you should really use the food processor to shred that" and the husband would poo-poo and say it was easier to just do it with our manual shredder.


I'll have you know, I was right. He was wrong. And we have much shredded zucchini bagged and stuffed in the freezer for future use. The cookies were delicious.


And because I had a family reunion to attend in which a dish to pass is required and a mass of shredded zucchini. I baked some zucchini bread too, using my mother's recipe, passed down from her mother. The best thing about these sorts of recipes is that they give no real instruction and often interesting directions. For example, I had to call my mother and ask if by "Crisco oil" she meant "Crisco" as in shortening or vegetable oil. She meant vegetable oil. Why it was necessary to specify a name brand, I leave for you to ponder, but I have left off the name brand placements in my recipe here.


Mom's Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon (I tend to be more liberal with my cinnamon)
1 c chopped nuts (optional)

Mix together in a bowl, pour into two greased bread pans, and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for one hour, or until the top is firm and golden brown.

Easy peasy and delicious. Some of my more modern recipes in the recipe box require stapling on an extra index card to fit all the instructions. Not the good, old-fashioned recipes of my childhood. They usually contain no instructions at all on the back, just a list of ingredients on the front with a notation for the number of degrees for the oven and length of time in which the baked good should remain in said oven. That's all and sometimes, it's all you should need: a boatload of shredded zucchini, some bread pans, and a list of ingredients.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Preparing for the Baby

Here in the rural-end of Cleveland suburbia, we are in full preparation mode. This baby is coming in a month and a half and nothing seems ready, including the house. Demolition of the living/dining room and the second story above it commenced at the start of summer. However, due to the fact that the ten-year-old was home with the husband and needed chauffeured from swim practice to band to summer rec and then still required large amounts of "pay attention to me" time, not a lot of progress happened until recently, with back to school in the air (the school year here starts in the middle of August).

The house demo has resulted in numerous unexpected surprises, as is the case with old houses and this house in general. For one, the wall between the future dining room and living room, the one we are taking out to make one large great room? The husband sledgehammered through drywall to find a second wall beneath made of plaster and lathe and in that wall:


A large opening. The rooms used to be connected. This has happened twice before to us and has led me to the conclusion that we are not renovating the house. We are merely returning it to its original state.

In the upstairs, the husband found the original means of heating the second story in the form of a poorly plugged whole in the chimney, sealed behind layers of drywall and plaster and lathe. It was a bit of a sooty mess and plans are underway as to how to properly seal that hole. Also discovered: there is no insulation. Zero. We had planned to have insulation blown into the house after the polar vortexness of last winter, but the budget just wasn't there for it. In lieu of that, we (and by we I mean my husband) are in the midst of ripping out that whole part of the upstairs down to the studs, Then, it's insulate, redistribute wall and closet locations, fix the radiators, dry wall, and paint. Can it happen in a month and a half? Probably not. Hopefully enough of it so that the radiators function by winter. The baby will be in a bassinet in our room for the first few weeks or so anyway, right?

Because of house is a mess and I'm in serious nesting mode, I got out all the baby clothes and washed all the blankets, socks, hats, and clothes sized 0 up to 9 months. There's a little dresser now set up in our dining room to house the clothes and a garage-sale purchased changing table in the current living room. I also hosed down the car seats, port-a-crib, bassinet, and stroller and washed all the cloth parts separately. The bassinet went in our bedroom, the port-a-crib is back in its box for storage, and the rest is in the garage.

It made me feel a tiny bit better.

On the knitting front, it's pretty much all baby all the time. After much procrastination, I finally did the last of the finishing for the striped boatneck sweater, started so long ago I didn't know the gender of the baby yet and now done in two lovely shades of Cascade 220:


The Daphne baby cape I started and ran out of yarn for, requiring a hurried yarn purchase from a nice lady in Australia, that's done too. All it lacks is the buttons, which I'm waiting on because I'm still hoping to find the perfect buttons. I have some. They just aren't perfect.



Also finished: the baby's first Halloween costume (assuming it fits). The dress is the Mummy's Little Dalek pattern and the hat I created the pattern for myself because I just couldn't find one I liked in the right size. I'll have more on this in a later post.


And these mini baby motif mittens, done using the Totoro chart. The entire family loves Studio Ghibli and Totoro in particular so it only made sense to introduce it early.



I took the photo before blocking so the colorwork doesn't look as smooth in the photo as it actually is. The mitts are my first real attempt at stranded knitting and I found the whole experience thrilling. I know want to rush out and knit a complicated fair isle that requires steeking. I won't. But I want to.

Nothing feels ready but at least this baby will be awash in handknits. That's what really counts, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pumpkin and Cinnamon Fun, or Alice's Tea Cup the Sequel

We loved the Alice's Teacup cookbook recipe for my lemon blueberry birthday cake so much that I just new I needed to make a few other recipes.

First up, Pumpkin scones! One of my bosses decided to go back to teaching and for his last usual friday meeting, we surprised him with breakfast. I made these:


They were good, don't get me wrong, but after the awesomeness of that first cake, I was expecting a bit more. They were overly bland for my taste and the caramel glaze that they recommend for the drizzle didn't really pair well with the pumpkin, in my opinion. They were much improved by a quick batch of homemade frosting, which I spread on right over the caramel glaze.

Not the best. And for all the work and special ingredients required, I wouldn't bother with this one.

Instead of a second batch of pumpkin scones, due to this dilemma, I made a nice batch of pumpkin cookies, my favorite cookie recipe by far. And because of the pumpkin, they are almost like eating your vegetables at dessert.


In a classic move of redemption through, Alice's Teacup redeemed themselves with their Cinnascone recipe, which I made because once you have buttermilk and heavy cream in the house from making bland pumpkin scones, you might as well try to make these. They were time consuming to make, but oh so good and fun. You mix all the ingredients and form a dough, which you then roll out. Then, you make the cinnamony center and slather it on the rolled out dough before rolling it up lengthwise (think hotdog rather than hamburger bun) and cutting the result up into the scones and baking them.



What really makes these shine is the almond extract. If there's anything better than a cinnamon pastry, it's a cinnamon pastry that also tastes like an almond cookie. I've since made them a second time and learned a secret trick to make them turn out better (I had some trouble with the cinnamon paste running out of the dough while I was trying to roll the scones up. Slather the paste on the dough and then let it sit a few minutes, preferably with a ceiling fan running overhead, to let the paste solidify a bit better rolling. It worked like a charm.

And nothing does monday right like sitting at my work cubicle desk with a mug of hot chocolate coffee (decaf, no worries) and a nice almondy cinnascone.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Waiting for Vegetables

Here in my third trimester of pregnancy and deadline crutch time at work preparing for maternity leave, I've gotten a bit behind the ball again as far as the blog is concerned. This does not mean I've had no content. A lot has happened. Many things have been growing, baking, cooking, and knitted. In addition, there has been home demolition and much washing of hand-me-down baby clothes in preparation for newborn, who needs both things to wear and a room in which to put them.

So, at the time that these photos were taken, these beautiful lilies were growing right beside my front door, looking ever-so-much like cartoon flowers and not really like real flowers at all:


And by now, due to drought and changes in weather from cool to hot to cool again, the petals have all fallen and the lilies are just weird stems with nothing attached to them, just standing there awkwardly to greet any visitors that happen by.

Likewise, the zucchini, which at the time this was taken had yet to sprout a stinking thing, have exploded in vegetable goodness.


We have no less than seven zukes in the crisper drawer of our fridge now, some of them too large to do anything with but spread and bake. Then, there is the lettuce, which we just planted too much of in our excitement to have a legit garden. I have gifted empty ice cream tubs full of the stuff to various loved ones and still, it grows. Which I'm not really complaining about. At least something is growing back there.


Because that sums up everything the garden has to offer right now, here in mid-August, with autumn nipping at our exposed arms in their short sleeves. There is proof that action is happening, but little fruits from our labor to show. The daikon radishes sprout these lovely flowers but are not fully grown yet.


The kohlrabi is nearing picked size but not quite there yet.


And the tomatoes, despite three tiny red ones, are just a see of green that won't ripen no matter what.


The eggplants and peppers have flowers but no fruit. The broccoli and okra are large but no veggies. Then there are the tomatillos. They have all these little husks, but when I fondle them, alas there's nothing yet growing inside.


This waiting game is has gone all summer long and I'm ready for produce.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Making the yarn pretty and hoping for the best, or why I love seemingly useless electric gadgets

Well, it's happened. My agent has received my latest revision and rubber-stamped it.  After seven years of writing and revision, my book is "done." I've worked my tail off on this book, going so far as to welcome a slight case of what may or may not be carpal tunnel. It has gone from thesis to novel-in-stories to novel told in chronological order to novel told in stages by multiple narrators. The end has changed a minimum of five times. Two storylines vanished entirely. It took everything in me to shut my creator's brain up and make the needed changes, but at this finish line, I really think the book is better for it. It gained a depth, a cohesion. I somehow took the tangled thread of its beginnings and made it whole, but it wasn't easy. It wasn't fun. No part of this has really been fun. It's just work. But you can't weave a yarn without effort and you can't write one without work.

I think it's important for people who decide to embark on this journey toward novel publication to know what they are in for. I certainly did not and still don't. What lies ahead? I really don't have a clue.

In the meantime, I have a new story idea and a novel idea percolating, and while they percolate, I'm spending my leisure time on other endeavors, among those tidying my yarn stash thanks to the new yarn ball winder I got with the gift card my mother-in-law gave me for my birthday.


I never knew what it was to have a yarn ball winder until now and I can't understand
 how my knitting life could have felt complete without it. In minutes, it takes a tangled mess of yarn and turns it into a tidy, center-pull ball. The effort I put in is minimal and the output is so satisfying. It's just the mind-break I needed.


The first day I got it, I spend the entire evening until bedtime turning my yarn stash into center-pull balls while my husband looked on and watched shows on Netflix. Really, the joy of a seemingly useless electric gadget will take one's mind off the worst of stresses.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Alice's Tea Cup Lemon Blueberry Cake with Buttercream Frosting

Though I turned 30 at the beginning of the month, we had to put off the actual celebration until slightly after the real date of my birth, due to a general state of busy, not to mention the fact that the actual date fell on a Tuesday. Who has time to celebrate on a tuesday anyway? Besides, I really had no idea what sort of cake I wanted.

A trip to the library sorted that dilemma out in short order. After perusing a lovely cookbook entitled "Alice's Tea Cup," named after the restaurant owned by the writers of said cookbook, I quickly settled on a lemon blueberry cake with buttercream frosting.

However, that was far from an easy decision. I have since gone through this cookbook and post-it noted every recipe I wanted to try. The aftermath was a devastation of post-it notes. And if the cake recipe is any indication of how awesome the scones will be, I need to set aside some serious baking time, because this cake was, in a word, heaven.


I won't be providing the recipe here, because 1. if you want the recipe you should really buy the book and 2. the New York Daily news has already provided it on their website (click on the link above).

My husband gathered all the ingredients, including the less familiar but happily inexpensive buttermilk (it was my birthday cake after all, so why should I have to make it?). He then mixed it all together.


He poured a third of the batter into a parchment paper-lined 9-in round baking pan. Then, he did the same for the remaining two-thirds. Since we only have two 9-in round baking pans, this did require a little down time  before the third one could go in the oven, but in the end, it worked out fine.


Then, it was time for the frosting. If you've been reading my blog for any duration of time, you probably know that, in my house, I am the sole maker of the frosting. I just do it better. I followed the directions mostly but subbed in the skim milk we had for the whole milk the frosting called for. I also cut the sweetness with a small handful of flour.


The actual frosting of the cake was quite the affair. Worried that we would run low, I skimped on the frosting between each layer of the cake, which was a smart move. By the end, I had used every scrap of that frosting to get the cake fully covered, so if you want a nice heaping of frosting between layers, make a double batch of the frosting.


It turned out just decadent. The cake was crumby but moist and very lemony with the blueberries adding just the right amount of sweetness. The frosting was sweet but not too sweet (thanks to the added flour) and the buttercream flavor paired well with the lemon. I've seem recipes for lemon blueberry cake that uses cream cheese frosting, but the cake was rich enough on it's own without adding cream cheese into the picture. I think that would have been too much. 

Within a week, we'd eaten every bite of this cake and we plan on making it again. It's lemony and sweet and polka-dot pretty. What more could you want in a cake?

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Vegetable Garden and the Need for Fishing Line

Last year, our garden attempts had two big problems. One, the bed we used did not get enough sun and so, the harvest suffered. And two, the tomato plants were eaten by deer. When I say that, I don't mean that the deer ate the fruit off of the plants. No, I mean they ate the whole plant, stems and leaves and all.

There are thick, marshy woods behind our house and they aren't quite expansive and rural enough for hunting. The deer have fairly free reign. Thus, the big fix for this year is designating a sunny section of the backyard for a new, dedicated vegetable garden and finding the appropriate way to fence it to protect the harvest from deer.

At first, we had plans for a wooden fence with a wire mesh blocking any spacing, but the expense of a fence like that was just to great this year, with all the work to the house that needs done before the baby comes. Then, the husband decided to take the posts to the old tall (and now useless and falling down) fence out back and use those as posts to a deer netting fence. He dug out one fence post hole before that idea got tossed. You see, within a few feet, he hit water. Apparently, setting fence posts becomes all sorts of complicated when there is a marshy woodland area behind your house, as it means your water table may be a tad higher than you might think.

Then, the husband discovered a youtube video that described one man's method for garden fencing that keeps the deer out. It, essentially, entails using tall metal garden posts every so-many feet. Then, wrap 30-gauge clear fishing line around the perimeter every two feet. The fishing line is strong enough at that gauge that the deer won't break it if they run into it, but is small enough that it's invisible to the deer. They can't see it so they won't try jumping it and tend to give it a wide berth (or so the video claims).


We got the posts and line up and the plants in this past weekend and as far as I'm concerned, the fishing line is pretty well invisible unless you are really looking for it. In an hour or so time period, the ten-year-old must have ran into it a good five times. I hit my head on the lower rungs a couple times while planting the tomatoes.

As far as the deer are concerned, so far no plant damage.


Thus, the garden is planted. Two hills each of butternut and scallop summer squash, four hills of zucchini, two rows of root vegetables (beets, parsnips, daikon radish, and carrots), one row of half cucumer and half edamame, two rows of lettuce, one row of assorted bell peppers, one row of broccoli, one row of kohlrabi and okra, one row of eggplant, two rows of tomatoes, and one row of tomatillos (with a few stray tomato plants at the end).

We are hoping the fence holds and that the high water table works to our advantage in the plant-growing department. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.