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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Very Merry

Hello, all my readers! And a happy holidays to you.

(This would be all of our christmas tree ornaments:
a combo of mine, his, the boy's and the ones my mom didn't want anymore.)

My time has been precious lately, between the sudden rush of busy-ness at work through to the decorating of the tree and the required apartment organization that goes with it (because where the tree goes is where I usually keep the bicycles and getting to the tree in our one big closet is a task all its own). It took an extra week after the tree decorating to even find the stockings.

That being said, my novel research/reading has been a little slow. I have made no character sketch developments. My one big advance is I'm fairly certain I've picked what locale's folklore I'll be basing my supernatural elements on, which has resulted in a slew of new books I need to read in order to bulk up the holes in my Celtic myth knowledge and how those myths translate to American descendants. Should be fun.

In short, I'm adding to the research list more than I'm subtracting at this point, which is okay. Even though I spent part of last night raving about how I feel like I'm not accomplishing enough, I'm cutting myself some holiday slack. There's enough to do with the wrapping and the planning and the purchasing without adding in a set amount of book research that needs to be done before the new year. It will keep.

I did "finish" the Golden Bough, however. Not useful at all. I skimmed most of it in a half hour, becuase I got frustrated by its continued lack of relevance.

I also received my third personalized rejection letter in as many months. "We really like your stuff but not this time. Send us more later!" I know it's a good thing that almost all of the literary magazine submissions I make result in this sort of letter, but I'm really starting to develop a complex about being good but not quite good enough.

Enjoy your holidays. I'm about to enter into a little over a week of vacation from work. I plan on getting a lot done... but not until after the holiday. I wish you much pie and good cheer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's a Racing Snail

The comfort hat delivered, I still had some Caron Soft paints in Oceana left. It was sitting there on my desk staring at me when I remembered why I originally purchased that particular skein of yarn. It was a Christmas present two years ago. I had just purchased Amigurumi Knits by Hansi Singh and I did not yet have a yarn stash at all if you can believe it. As you may recall, I used the first section of this book, which provides patterns for knitted vegetables, to learn knitting amigurumi and gave them to my nephew for a birthday present.

The yarn for those vegetables, and for all the other amigurumi in Singh's book where purchased for me by my husband. Essentially, I walked through the worsted weight yarn area at the local Joanne's and grabbed a skein for each color I would need. The bulk of my accumulated acrylic worsted weight stash comes from this venture. Oceana was meant to be the top color of a star fish (somewhat lackluster comparted to the other patterns in the book), but more importantly, for the shells of both the hermit crab and the garden snail. Of course, after I finished the veggies in the book, I needed a long break from amigurumi and its fiddly nature, the stash accumulated, and the reasons for why I bought certain skeins of it got a bit muddled.

Figure One

The leftovers from the skein I used on the hat seemed enough to make both shells. At the very least, I thought I'd start in on the garden snail shell and see what was left at the end.

(In case you were wondering how snail won over crab, snails play a fairly important role in the plot of my first novel, completely inadvertently. I now inherently steer toward snails. They are creatures connected to my creative energy come to fruition.)

Figure Two

Over the course of a few days, I took that leftover yarn and I made a snail shell. It required much short rowing and a fair amount of dexterity to get at those stitches near the tail end of the shell (the ones nearest the tip of the spiral.

Essentially, you make a narrowing strip of knitting (pictured in what I've fondly labeled "Figure One"). Then you pick up stitches at the cast on edge and create a mirror image of the first strip so that their cast on edges meet in the middle, like a butterfly's wings. Then, you graft the live stitches from the first strip to the live stitches of the second strip with the knit side facing out, as in what I have fondly labeled "Figure Two."

By the end of the madness, you have magically created a spiraling snail shell. It's tedious and time consuming and potentially tear-inducing, but man, does it look nifty.

Next up on the snail agenda is the slug-like body, which the shell will ultimately be sewn into. There is some confusion on the hansigurumi group discussion board on ravelry as to how to go about creating this body, called a "foot" scientifically and a "mantle" in the pattern.The consensus, however, is that it's not easy and some reading and interpreting of errata is involved.

In the interum, I'm about to move forward on the stained glass michigan blanket by swatching the yarn for gauge and creating the necessary charts. I hope to have a solid plan in place by Christmas.

And speaking of Christmas, I nearly forgot about my son's teacher needing a proper present. I considered repeating the gift of an apple sock to protect her fruit en route to school, but then I remembered the mother bear project has sponsorships. I donated the sponsorhsip of a bear to my son's teacher by going here: and hitting the donate button. They have it all linked up with paypal and make it very simple. Then, I emailed the project to let them know who I was sponsoring and what her contact info was (name, address, reason for donation, person donating on their behalf). They send a lovely card to the recipient of the sponsorship and name one of the unclaimed mother bear's in the recipient's honor. That bear then gets sent to Africa (or other continent/location where children go without) and given to a child whose life has been affected by AIDS, abandonment, tragedy, disease, orphanages, or all of the above. What's more, Africa sends back a picture of the child happily holding their new bear companion.

I can't think of a better gift for a teacher (who usually really don't want another cute piece of #1 teacher paraphernalia) than the knowledge that he or she has aided in bringing a smile and a sense of love and comfort to a child with very few reasons to smile. If you don't donate for a teacher, donate for yourself or a relative. If you know how to knit and crochet, you can also purchase a pattern to make a bear yourself  for the project to send to Africa. Two of my favorite podcasts, Cogknitive and the 2 Knit Lit Chicks, each run an annual knit/crochet-a-long to inspire bear creation. I plan on participating this year, and the next one runs from January to February. I'm sure I'll talk more about mother bears then too, but in the spirit of the holidays and the season of giving, I wanted to mention it now. Teachers are hard to buy for and it's such a worthy cause.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Polenta and Cuban Bean Patties (sort of)

We've been meaning to try polenta, and this past week, the husband nabbed some pre-packaged on sale. Due to this find, we had some difficulty in the kitchen. It started when I couldn't decide what to eat with polenta. I even googled something along the lines of "What to eat with polenta?" that led me to and a bunch of strangers instructing me that crusty bread is the ticket. Excuse me if I didn't get on board to eating my carbs with a carb.

In the end, I went with what I know: black beans go with cornbread. I found a recipe to adapt heavily for some black bean veggie burgers and set up shop to fried up some polenta.

To make polenta the easy way, go to the store and buy a hamburger-like tube of the stuff. 

Then, just slice it into 1/2 inch rounds and fry it in a big skillet. Instant mushy cornbread. Of course, it doesn't fry up like a patty of anything. It fries up like a lump of dough, which is essentially what polenta is. This makes them hard to flip and impossible to salvage the outer layers that, inevitably, end up adhered to the bottom of the pan. Even so, at the end of the kitchen mayhem, there was polenta.

Of course, eating polenta by itself wouldn't be a very well-rounded meal. For that, you need protein and veggies. Thus, I became work on the black bean burger side dish.

Cuban Black Bean Burgers
What you need:
2 cups (1 can) black beans, drained1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon salt 
1 large egg white 

  • 1/2 cup shredded mexican mix cheese (or whatever your cheese preference) 
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot 
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal 
  • olive oil 
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

  • 1. Mash beans, garlic powder , onion powder, cumin, and salt in a bowl with a fork. Place 1/2 cup of the beans and the egg white in a food processor and process for about 30 seconds. 
  • 2. Add bean puree and the cheese to mashed beans in the bowl and stir until combined. Divide into four equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. 
  • 3. Put cornmeal in a separate shallow bowl. Coat both sides of the bean patties in the cornmeal.
  • 4. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add patties and cook 3 minutes on each side until they are browned.
  • Of course, these instructions only work if you remember to drain the beans. If you don't drain the beans, they will be too watery, even after you add the cornmeal directly to them, to fry into burgers. They will cook but remain fairly nebulous.
  • To construct the final meal, I put three slices of the polenta on a bed of lettuce. Then, I plopped a bean non-patty (thanks to the non-draining thing) on top of it. Then I topped the whole in sour cream, because sour cream makes everything better. (See image above recipe).

Of course, they make good tacos too, which is what my husband and our son did for their supper.

And for dessert:

Godiva hot chocolate made with almond milk,
topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.

Because what sour cream can't make better, Godiva and whipped cream always can.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Writing, or lack thereof, While Researching a Novel

I'm in the midst of novel research. This consists mostly of reading haunted house stories and the nonficitonal tome the Golden Bough. So far, I've finished Richard Matheson's Hell House, started in on Shirley Jackson's The House on Haunted Hill, as well as the first few chapters of Bough, which doesn't even begin to put a dent in this encyclopedic book.

I haven't restricted my education to books either. I've watched and rewatched Del Toro's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which is where the inspiration for the book sprouted from in the first place. This past weekend, I took in a Netflix-sponsored viewing of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, as well as innumerable episodes of Ghost Hunters International, which has already filled my head with potential hauting phenomena.

Yes, all of these things are, in my case, legitimate work-related activities. This is one of the reasons I love being a writer, even on the occasions that the act of writing makes me want to hurl my pricey macbook across the living room.

As I accumulate ideas, reading and reading, I have not done much at all of writing. This is to be expected, but it still feels as though I'm not accomplishing anything. By that token, I thought perhaps it might be time to begin some character sketches on those people I know will be occupying my novel. As of yet, I know some aspects about them, but not one yet has a name to call his or her own.

To learn about my characters, I find the exercises focused on characterization in the Fiction Writers Workshop and What If? come in handy as long as I adapt them for the situation at hand rather than using their scenarios verbatim. For literary fiction, the characters are key, because without character, you have no real conflict. That means it's just as vital to research them as it is to research my subject matter.

Additionally here are a few character sketch templates free online:

And for general writerly inspiration when I feel like giving up, Word Work has some sage advice for the weary writer and the importance of avoiding procrastination.

I'm anxious to start putting my fingers to the keys and getting chapters banged out, but I know that nothing salvagable will result until I have a basic plan, not a play-by-pay, mind you. What I do need is a little bit more than I have now, an expert knowledge of the characters, their motivations, backstories, thoughts. I need a deeper foundation of the tropes of the haunted house novel and legends on a certain type of folkloric creature (which I'm hoping the Bough provides), both of which require more reading and notetaking. It might be a while yet before I can really start in on page one.

In the meantime, I'll have to satisfy myself by sketching house blueprints and characters, scenery descriptions and notes on potential plot arcs. It's a matter of slowing down and letting the story come to me.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Return of the Hat

In my universe, there are essentially two ways to comfort someone who is going through a rough time: wool or baked goods. That's why when my coworker's father passed away earlier last week, my first inclination was to knit her something. Admittedly, I might have thought of baking cookies first, but she's gluten free and I've been out of rice flour since late 2010 I do believe.

When those around a knitter suffer sorrow, it is a common practice for said knitter (or knitters) to create a prayer shawl. This shawl could then be used to drape the exposed shoulders for the grieved or serve as a lap blanket as the depressed rest on the couch, just not ready to move yet. In addition, as the shawl becomes knit into existence, the knitter encloses a prayer of well-being into each stitch.

I'm not big into prayer for prayer's sake. I don't think of myself as a prayer. Though I do wish for things for myself and others (happiness, health, good fortune, strength, life), I never ask a deity to bestow these things and when I have at any point in the past, I have felt like a fraud doing it. For this reason, I'm not sure the prayer shawl is the way for me to go, now or in the future. However, there is one thing I do know about this particular co-worker. She is a fan of the hat in all its forms.

The solution seemed obvious. She needed a hat. I had a single skein of caron paints in the Oceana colorway and a near-memorized and decidedly familiar beanie pattern at my disposal, as well as the gift of time in the form of two lengthy car rides to and from a business trip on thursday afternoon and friday evening.

By friday night, I had finished the bind off, and the hat was finished.

I adapted the pattern to make the decreases look "prettier" than in the original. This worked, though it also created a slightly more squarish shape in the hat itself. This boxiness does not show up when the hat is on a head.

I completed a second hat too in the last week, but this second one you'll have to wait to see. It's a gift that I'll post as soon as it reaches its owner. In other Christmas knitting news, I may have a plan of attack for that Michigan stained glass afghan that adapts the Mason Dixon Knitting Moderne Log Cabin Blanket. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tuna and Egg Rice Bowls

I go on a business trip to the main office on thursday morning and I don't get back until friday night. This has put some upheaval to the meal planning, because we don't want too many leftovers and we don't want a lot of food hassle to cut into the small amount of family time this week gives me. I also wanted to take on some of the food burden at the beginning of the week, as the spouse will have to go it alone at the end of the week.

I opened the recipe box and found an untested recipe from the Japanese Women Don't Get Fat cookbook. (We won't quibble now over the book's unfortunate title.) It looked simple and best of all, quick. When I got home from work today, this is what I made, a one pot (plus rice cooker) meal with all the essentials.

Rice with Kale, Egg, and Tuna
(adapted from Japanese Women Don't Get Fat)

What you need:
2 c brown rice
1 c water
1 can tuna
1/2 t better than bouillon
at least 5 large leaves of kale, stemmed
1/2 T soy sauce
1/2 T sugar
3 eggs

1. Cook the rice in your rice cooker using the directions for sticky rice. (For us, it involves using extra water and leaving the rice to soak in there for a bit before turning the cooker on.

2. Boil the water and the better than bouillon. Stir until blended. Then, add the kale and cook another minute or so. Add the tuna, soy sauce, and sugar and simmer for 2 minutes.

3. Scoop rice into bowls (we served three equal portions and still had some rice left over) and cover the rice with the broth from the pan, making sure to leave the tuna and kale in pan as you do so.

4. Beat the eggs and add to the pan. Put back on the stove over med-high heat. Cover and cook for 3 minutes.

5. Top the rice with the egg, kale, and tuna in equal portions (again, we divided it by three).

The little bit of sugar really helps the veggie broth go a long way, making for a deceptively flavorful dish. My son proclaimed it his favorite, so moms, let your picky eaters give this one a try. Substitute a veggie they will eat in for the kale if greens are their childhood kryptonite. So simple but so good. Definitely one I'm going to add to our normal meal routine.