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

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.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Girl Pending: Let the Knitting Commence. Or not.

We have known for a few weeks what the sex of the baby is, and yes, she’s a girl, which really set up my knitting plan for the next several years probably. Now, I just need to decide on a nursery theme, because really? I have an aunt who is very impatient about our indecision in the matter.

Though I have yet to sew the sleeves on my unisex baby sweater, I immediately cast on Daphne’s Baby Cape in a red merino blend yarn from my stash. According to the pattern, there should have been just enough yarn between the three skeins I had to get the job done for a nice little red riding hooded cape.

Inevitable last words: I have just enough yarn.

Because it will never end up being enough yarn.

By the third decrease row it was pretty clear I did not have just enough yarn. In fact, I didn’t have nearly enough yarn. I had only a skein left and probably half of the cape still left to knit. Also, the yarn? Discontinued. I hopped online and sure enough, one of the issues people have with this pattern is its tendency to use up more yarn than indicated. By a hundred yards or more.

In desperation, for the first time ever, I used the function on Ravelry that searches other people’s stashes for yarn. There were six people willing to sell or trade the yarn I need in the colorway I needed it in (that would be Country Caron in the Claret colorway). Two of them had multiple skeins: a lady in Texas that happened to even have my same dye lot and a woman in Australia. I sent messages out to both and hoped for the best. That same night, I heard back from the Australian. Shipping over $10 but the yarn was mine if I wanted it. I held out a day, waiting for the Texan, who never messaged back. Then, I sent word to the Australian. I was in. The yarn arrived in the mail yesterday and it’s just what I need to get this cape finished.

I turned 30 on Tuesday, so I guess you could call this 30 some odd dollar purchase my present to myself. Even though it goes against my whole attempt at destashing.

And at some point soon, I promise to sew those sweater sleeves on. Really, I have until October. There's still plenty of time.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Malt-o-Meal Magic Muffins

Well, I'm slightly over 21 weeks pregnant and sometimes, I just want to eat certain foods RIGHT NOW. This has, I will admit, led to a situation once now, where, upon watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown and viewing Bourdain partaking of a coney dog, I convinced my husband to go out past 9 p.m. in search of vegetarian hotdogs (no small feat in semi-rural Ohio).

The hotdogs he brought home, by the way, were Yves brand and I was not impressed. They had funny white pebble things in them that perturbed me slightly. However, they can be grilled, which is not always the case with veggie dogs.

Yesterday, a craving hit me and all I wanted, right then, was some Malt-o-Meal magic muffins with jam on them. Malt-o-Meal, for the unaware, is a wet cereal mix in the same vein as Coco Wheats and oatmeal. I couldn't tell you how tasty or bland Malt-o-Meal is in this form, however, because, in my family, Malt-o-Meal is strictly purchased for the muffin recipe on the side of the box.

They aren't fancy and they aren't hard to make, not being a from-scratch recipe per say. However, they are tasty sliced in half and microwaved for a few seconds with a dab of butter stuffed between the halves. Or with a spread of good jam.

Much to my husband's happiness, we actually already had all the ingredients necessary to make these muffins, so I got to baking. Within the half hour, I had muffins in hand, ready to eat. They have a slightly sweet and light taste, but are surprisingly filling despite that, and best of all, they remind me of many a childhood breakfast, waiting for my mom to pull the muffins out of the oven. So really, they taste just a little bit like home too.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Separating the Seedlings

Memorial day has come and gone and that can only mean one thing: it's time to plant the garden. Unfortunately, our garden isn't quite ready for planting. After a week of straight rain, plus a long weekend visiting family, there hasn't been enough time quite yet to get the sod up and the dirt tilled. It is getting there though. The space in the back yard is marked off and almost half of that space is now sodless.

(Ignore the loose piece of fence there. The backyard is a work in progress.)

So far, I can say that the whole gardening from seed idea seems to be a success. I have separated most of the seedlings. I say "most" because I ran out of little pots to put them in before I even finished with the tomatoes and I started with the tomatoes. The finally tally for tomato seedlings is as follows: 4 Bloody Butcher tomatoes, 7 Abe Lincoln tomatoes, 8 Purple Cherokee tomatoes, and 7 Big Red tomatoes. That makes for 26 tomato plants if all of them survive until the garden is ready to be planted. This, of course, does not include the additional 8 purple tomatillo seedlings.

Upon seeing what we were in for, I sent my husband out to a home improvement store to try to find more little pots, which he did not find. In lieu of those, he brought home a package of blue Solo cups. He then drilled holes into the bottom of each cup and filled them with dirt for me. With these, I managed to get the eggplant seedlings, 16 total, (a mix of Shooting Stars and Black Beauty and I can't tell how many of each because I can't tell the seedlings apart) separated, as well as the 10 Romanesco broccoli seedlings and most of the 9 kohlrabi seedlings (though I may have the two mixed up, as they look very similar as seedlings). By the 19 mixed bell pepper seedlings, I was using little starter pots from last year and doubling each plant. Finally, I just ran out and left them in their original starter containers.

(The one on the right is a lone tomato seedling.)

Those plants in the smaller containers are clearly not fairing as well as the plants in the cups or the updated pots. Since returning from Michigan after Memorial day, though, all the plants grew significantly in size.

The swiss chard and blue kale seedlings, being cold weather tolerant, I planted in the front bed with the herbs from last year, spinach, raddichio, and cold weather lettuce. There are about 5 swiss chard seedlings and roughly 7 kale seedlings at present. They aren't getting quite as tall as the seedlings still under nightly porch protection but they seem to still be alive thus far. And that's something. The raddichio, however, looks like it might not sprout for the most part, due to mole interference.

Neither the lavender nor the rosemary sprouted at all. We have since purchased four nice-sized pots for the various herbs, so, unlike last year, I can bring them in when the weather turns cold. The  sage and half of the thyme seedlings went in one pot, while the rest of the thyme went in a pot with the rest of the rosemary seeds I'm really hoping at least one takes off this time. If not, I guess I'll have to go buy a starter plant from the local greenhouse. In the other two pots, I put seeds for the parsley and basil in one and seeds for oregano and lemon balm in another. Some green is starting to come up from the seeds in the herb pots but I can't tell what yet. I do know that there is no luck with the rosemary seeds yet. I gather it is not an easy herb to grow in a pot, let alone grow from seed. Time shall tell.

The lavender, as well as the other seeds, including beets, carrots, parsnips, daikon radish, zucchini, butternut squash, chamomile, red lettuce, Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, okra, two varieties of burpless cucumbers, and Early White Bush Scallop squash, will have to wait for the weekend. Hopefully the back garden is ready by then and I'll finally have time to plant the lavender and chamomile in the front somewhere.

And if all those tomato plants live, I might be looking for new homes for some of them. Twenty six tomato plants seems like a few too many for one small family garden. Also this columbine is totally out of control:

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Baby Sweater

Knitters, for the most part, tend to enjoy making baby things. For one thing, they don't require as much time to make or as much yarn. For another, they are itsy bitsy and it's just adorable. Also, we like making gifts for people who need and will use them, and there's no one who needs warm wooly things quite like a baby. So when baby showers roll around, we get out our needles and some soft and washable yarn and we make something sweet, a blanket or a hat, something the mom-to-be might like. This is all to be expected (unless of course, we get suckered into a year-long commitment to knit our little brother a blanket, in with case, we tend to attend a few baby showers knitless).

However, there's nothing quite so thrilling for a knitter as when that knitter has the opportunity to knit up baby things for herself. Now, I'm not saying I got pregnant just to make baby things, but I do have three different books soley dedicated to the making of tiny garments, 2 for knits and 1 for crochet. The crochet one is called "Baby Crochet" and I only have it because it was on clearance really cheap at Borders, back when Borders was still a thing. The two knitting ones, however, I just fell in love with upon seeing and bought for a rainy day (you know, when that rain consists of babies about to be born). The first is The Expectant Knitter and the second is What to Knit When You're Expecting.

When I first found out I was expecting myself, I pulled out both of these books and started paging through them. Then I made a list, quite an expansive list, of all the baby things I wanted to knit, including both those knits I liked from the two previously mentioned books and any patterns I have favorited on Ravelry. It was a massive, completely unattainable list, and a lot of the patterns were dependent upon whether the baby ends up being male or female.

Of course, I won't know the gender until the 18 week ultrasound, which is, incidentally, happening later this week. There is one thing that I know all babies need regardless of gender: a nice, sturdy woolen sweater. Thus, I picked out two gender-neutralish shades (a bright greeny blue and a gray) of Cascade 220 washable wool at My Sister's Yarn Shop in Green, OH, and I cast on for the Striped Boatneck Sweater from What to Knit When You're Expecting.

I made a few alterations to the pattern, however, as I much prefer to to stockinette in the round and I used a different gauge of yarn than the pattern calls for. I knit most of the body in the round bottom-up instead of flat and then separated the front and back for flat knitting once I reached the sleeve holes. It should make the making up easier when I get to that stage, since the front and back won't need sewn together. I finished the body a few weeks ago now and blocked it out to see how it will look when finished.

If it ends up being a girl, I'll probably add a little flower to the bodice or something, but overall, I think it looks rather nice for boy or girl. I had to pause in the sleeves until this weekend to knit up a requested Go Blue Bro Beanie for a (get this) paying customer. My brother-in-law, now a proud postal worker, wears his wool blend beanie all the time to keep his head warm in the winter on his mail route and a coworker of his wants a Michigan hat of his own. 

I still need to add the M in duplicate stitch, but it will be all set to go to its new owner by the next time I head to the mitten. If you want a version of your very own, I might be interested in the business. I'm thinking twenty bucks a hat seems like a fair price.

I'm hoping to start in on the next baby knit once I know the gender. In the meantime, I'll be swiss darning an M, knitting up some baby sweater sleeves, and getting the garden ready for planting. There are fun things on the horizon.