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

Friday, January 27, 2012

I made breakfast last night.

It happened, the thing I fear above all other things, the thing that sends me screaming to the grocery store when there is no sale on kellogg or General Mills or Kashi. Yes, it happened. I ran out of cereal mid-week.

I considered tearing out my hair. I considered spending my lunch hour at the Dave's downtown running up and down the cereal aisle comparing the prices of various raisin brans. Instead, I got ambitious. I decided to open up my recipe box, flip to the breakfast tab, and get cooking. What I found was a recipe I'd loved from years ago and had promptly forgotten about.

Baked Faux-Toaster Pastries

What you need:

1 c. whole white wheat flour (or 3/4 c whole wheat plus 1/4 c unbleached flour)
1 stick of butter/margarine (or 1/2 c of your favorite butterish alternative)
1/4 c water
Jam (as much or as little as you want but a little goes a long way)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease yourself a jellyroll pan. The jellyroll part is important, because if you are like me and end up overstuffing your pastries in your enthusiasm, you want a rim on the pan on catch any run-away filling.

2. In a small bowl, cut the butter into the flour with a fork. Add the water as you go. It will be a lot like mashing potatoes after awhile. When the flour becomes doughy enough to form a ball, do so and knead it around a bit to make sure there are no large clumps of butter in there. You want it roughly uniform. Separate that one ball of dough into four equal balls.

3. On a floured surface, roll out one of the balls into a rectangle as thick or as thin as you want. On the bottom half of that rectangle, add a thin layer of jam, leaving at lead 1/4th of an inch at the edges clean of jam. I used strawberry for two and blueberry for the other two, but any variety will do. Fold the top half over onto the bottom half. With that same fork from before, crimp the edges of the top half into the edges of the bottom half to seal the pastry. Place the pastry onto the jolly roll pan.

4. Repeat step 3 for the remaining balls of dough. If you, like me, enjoy a variety of jam flavors, remember to give each a distinguishing mark so you can tell which is which, unless, of course, you really like surprises.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes. My stove takes less time than others, so you might need to put it in longer. They should come out vaguely golden brown. If some of the jam seeps out, because you too are an enthusiastic jam stuffer, fear not. It will come off in the wash.

I used this excellent blueberry jam that has tiny whole blueberries in it for two of mine and your standard Smuckers strawberry for the other two.

Of course, if you, like me, are planning to make these puppies ahead of time, just put them all on a plate with plastic wrap separating each one and pop them in the frig. Then, in the morning, you simply nuke one in the microwave for 45 seconds. Add a drizzle of honey if you like your pop-tarts frosted. Leave plain if you prefer your pop-tarts unfrosted.

These were even better than I remembered them. The jam is sweet but with a taste that just seems less fake-tasting than your boxed toaster pastry, due to the actual fruit content. The other plus, you know how there's those parts at the top and bottom of the pop-tart where there's no filling and the crust tastes, in a word, nasty? Nonexistent in a homemade version. The crust is simple, a little plain even, but it's enjoyable alone. Not that you have to worry. That little bit of jam will find a way to coat everything.

Monday, January 23, 2012

When the voice in your head leaves you (and it's a bad thing)

I am one chapter away from completing the first full draft of my novel. I've been one chapter away from completing the first full draft of my novel since September. You see, I had a brilliant system. I pledged to finish a draft of each chapter before going back to revise, and while what I consider a usual first draft has been revised quite a bit already (I'm an as-I-write-it reviser), that left a lot of work to get to a solid first draft at the end. A lot of time passed me by. I wrote the first chapter for my first workshop class back in 2009, if that provides some scope.

As a result, I've been having a bit of difficulty, despite saving all my workshop notes written by myself and others, in remembering what it was I needed to revise. I puzzled everything back together for eleven stories over the summer, but I haven't been able to get through the twelfth. It's a first person story, you see, and no matter how I reorganize and freewrite and plan, I can't get the narrator's voice back inside my head. For third person or second person, its easy. I write the words and usually, the narrator just ends up sounding a lot like me. When I first a story in first person, though, I do it because I can hear someone speaking to me.

And this lady, I can't hear her anymore. She's just gone.

I'm trying to get her back by writing scenes of her life before the present moment of the story and forcing her to tell me what it was like for her. I'm hoping it works. I'd really like to put this draft to bed, so I can start in on the next one. After all, it has to be done for graduation in the spring.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to Avoid Startitis

It's January, and as every knitter knows, there's a familiar bug going around. Startitis. It's the cold-weather-meets-start-of-a-new-year push we get to start casting on. We eye patterns, buy yarn, start multiple projects all at once.

I manage to avoid that last symptom year-round, but it's the hardest to do in January. I do it through a sheer force of will, the will to finish one project before I allow myself to start another. That's why I haven't cast anything new on this month, despite my repeated yearning looks at all the patterns in My Grandmother's Knitting. I requested this particular knitting book probably half a year ago from the library and it finally came in this past week. Not only are there all these wonderful stories about big knitwear designers' elderly family members and what they may or may not have knit, it also has a bunch of gorgeous patterns, including vintage gloves, a few interesting sock patterns, reinvented knitted slippers, and a very intriguing dishcloth. In particular, I'm itching to knit myself the Ice Skating Cape, which doubles as a very cute ruffled skirt.

I haven't cast on any of them though. I'm too busy, you see, trying to finish that giant blanket I started in December, the Family Plaid Woven Crochet Afghan.

Don't get me wrong, I've made a lot of progress. I've had the base grid finished for probably two weeks now. It's pictured above, with Kitkat at the top to show a sense of the scale involved. If I gave up now, it would make a lovely rug, but I'm going to finish this thing.

The next step of the plaid-creating process requires one 60-inch chain for each column of holes in the grid. For all of those who don't want to get a magnifying glass to count how many holes that is, this means 109 60-inch chains: 17 in light blue, 6 in white, 38 in dark blue, and 48 in green. So far, I have the 17 light blue, 6 white, and 28 of the dark blue done. That leaves 58 chains left total before final blanket assembly. Then I get to weave 109 chains through a zillion tiny holes and then weave in all the ends, two ends per chain, 218 total. What was I thinking?

I've been trying for 10 chains a night. If I keep at it, I'll have all the chains done before the end of next week.

Of course, I haven't forgotten all those patterns I've been eyeing. I'm looking forward to making another sweater for myself to wear to work, a celebratory full-time employment sweater, plus that delightful cape. First, though, my niece needs a cowl stat to combat a bout of Bronchitis, and my brother's best friend Johnny, who feels a lot like a member of the extended family, has requested that I make him a Michigan beanie too. There's still a lot that needs to come off of these needles before the month's out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ideas for Lunch: the simple veggie taco

Leftovers. I've been taking them every day in my lunch... except today. Today, there were no leftovers. Today, I was scrounging around the kitchen for portable edibles and ended up with a yogurt, a jello cup with fruit in it and a can of lentil soup (Progresso Brand).

The good thing about work? I don't have to worry about microwaving plastic containers to make said soup. You hear all those rumors about the BPA released in plastic when it's microwaved. Then again, I guess there's supposed to be BPA in cans of soup too. A busy gal can't win. At home, we microwave in plastic and wash the dishes by hand. At work, there's ceramic dishware, a dishwasher, and coffee so strong that one cup was enough to send me into a three hour jitter-spell, complete with hand-twitching.

My soup was adequate today. It was filling and warm and the room was not-so-warm. It worked to my benefit.

Last week, though, there was leftover veggie taco. I took in a container filled with rice in enchilada sauce, refried black beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese. In a little condiment container, I took a scoop of sour cream. I brought a large tortilla in a piece of tinfoil. When lunch came, I took a large plate out of the office kitchen cupboard, placed the tortilla on it and topped it with everything but the sour cream. I nuked it for 40 minutes, added the sour cream, rolled it up, and had myself a little 15 minute fiesta.

On sour cream: never liked it before, but for some reason, I can't get enough of the stuff. If you've never partaken, give it a chance. Sour cream will not disappoint.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My new daily schedule

Every morning, I get up at six. I get ready, pack last night's leftovers, and wait for the train and then the bus. While on this transport, I read. This would be the literature portion of the day. Once at work, I hustle into a grab-bag mix of writing, reading, editing, researching, and emailing. I get 45 minutes for lunch. I eat my lunch while working so I can spend at least a half hour of that break time working with my yarn. That blanket isn't going to make itself.

When I get off work, I wait for the bus, read, wait for the train, read, and then walk home. On a coordinated non-snowy or rainy day, I can read while walking too. Once home, I eat dinner and do my thirty minutes of exercise (desk-job weight gain? No thanks.) Then I sit at the computer for (ideally) at least an hour of revision time with the book. I'd been making good headway until all my latest story revisions disappeared. I got so upset that I haven't so much as opened a book-related doc file in five days.

Due to my odd need for an overabundance of hours in slumber, I have to go to bed at ten, which is usually when my best writing happens. And no, no matter how much I can no longer be a night owl, I will never become a Morning Person. What's so good about morning anyway?

Note that during no part of that day is there time to cook. Something's got to give and the kitchen tasks had to fall to my man's shoulders. I'm hoping that on the weekends I stay in Cleveland, I can still fit in some kitchen experimentation, along with several hours a day of book revision. Here's hoping.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Jayne Anne Phillips, sentences to savor

I read Black Tickets a year or so ago at the request of my thesis advisor, who, after reading one of my short stories, decided that Phillips was a must-read for me. Read it, I did. I got a battered copy out of the library, read it, turned it in, requested it, read it again, turned it in, and then got it out yet again.

I have yet to find my very own copy, so if you spot one, grab it for me. And if you know my address, send it my way.

Under Ms. Phillips in the bookstore, though, they never have a copy. What they sometimes do have is Lark and Termite, her latest novel. I bought it back (way back before the Border's closings) when Joseph Beth went under. Well, now that I'm in thesis hours and don't have a stack of books to read for class, I finally have time to crack the spine of Lark and Termite. The best-known story from Tickets is told from the point of view of Son of Sam, so I was expecting something similar in this novel. It's not at all what I expected. It's better. (Though the short story collection will still be my first Phillips love.)

Set during and in the decade after the Korean War, it follows the lives of a soldier, his son, his son's half sister, and his wife's sister. The son is mentally handicapped, but she manages to capture the essence of his unusual musical mind with her language. I'm halfway through so far. It's taking me longer than usual, partly because I'm mostly reading it only on the bus and train during the daily commute but also because I keep stopping mid-paragraph and rereading sentences. So many of her sentences are just gems, on after another.

I'm a speed reader. I'm a reader who grew up on genre sci-fi and I'm very much a read-it-fast-to-find-out-how-it-ends sort of gal. (And yes, I realize how terrible it is to say that as a student of literary writing.) I find a book to stop and slow down for maybe once a year, if I'm lucky. I found it in Lark and Termite.

I don't really care how it ends. I'm happy suspending that knowing to enjoy each syllable, each line. Just reading this book makes me feel like a better writer.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Christmas Knitgiving.

All the presents are delivered and it's safe to share my knitting. Of course, you already saw the boy's teacher's apple sock. But that was only a taste of all the yarny goodness I gave out this year.

I made the nephew a bunch of knitted veggies for his birthday over the summer. He loved them but was a bit sad when there was no banana. The kid loves bananas. Like any good aunt, I made sure to correct the situation at Christmas-time. In with his Cars road-rug, one crocheted banana:

So the niece wouldn't feel left out, I gave her a little something with her acoustic-guitar-toting LIV doll. Barbie's riding broom:

My brother made a specific request for a Michigan beanie months ago. In fact, he'd been whining that he still didn't have one at Thanksgiving. Boy, was he surprised. A Michgian beanie for him and one each for the other men in the immediate family, my dad and my bro-in-law.

While Borders was going out of business, I was grabbing up clearanced knitting magazines like candy. In the one I brought with me to my parents' place, my mom saw a cowl. She loved the idea of a scarf that couldn't fall off your shoulders, but the one pictured in the magazine wasn't her style exactly. I searched though book after book until I found the perfect one, a simple lace-patterned snood. Mom picked out the yarn color (I grabbed enough wool-ease to do the job when Jo-Ann's had a sale.) She seemed happy with the result.

Now that the holiday's are over, I've been making steady progress on the woven Scottish plaid blanket. I've been having some extensive writer's block and thinking through it while my hands work with yarn. I'm only 12 rows away from completion of the base grid. Pictures to come when it's all finished.