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

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In for the Long Haul

Okay. I've done it. After several false starts (including several where I tried making the Templeton Square from Knitty only to end in failure), I have begun work on my brother's Christmas blanket. He got the yarn for Christmas (though something tells me I'll be needing to buy more by the end of it), and I'm hoping to have it delivered to him by his birthday in July. That leaves me a maximum of 178 days in which to finish this thing.

The premise is as follows:
- It will be University of Michigan (football specifically) inspired.
- It will be done in a log cabin format.
- It will mimick stained glass.
- It needs to be accomplished in reversible stitches, thus looking not ugly as sin on the wrong side of the blanket.

I have a plan sketched out, though it may need tweaked slightly as I go. So far, I have one square finished that ended up a little more squat than I originally intended. It is done in a lace pattern called "cornstalks."

(U of M colors are maize and blue. Maize=corn. Get it? It's maize maize. Amazing.)

Due to its lace nature, I did go ahead and wet block it before picking up the stitches along the right side to begin the next segment of the blanket, which will be done in a white garter stitch, a nice mind-break after the attention-required lace pattern.

Here's the pattern up close. If you turn your head sideways, you just might be able to make out the corn stalks. I think they're easy to spot, but my husband can't see them at all.

One square down, eight more to go, each of increasingly larger size. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Duck Sauce

A year or two ago, I purchased canned apricots. The idea was that if I love the fresh ones, I'd at least like the canned ones. However, canned apricots are just mushy and a tad overripe, or at least these ones were. I managed to get through all but one can, and there that can remained in the back of our canned-goods cupboard.

Then, there came one of those nights (ever so frequent now) where we needed a meal and just searched the cupboard to make a stir fry. I happened upon a recipe for duck sauce, remembered that can of apricots, and things just fell into place.

Veggie and Tofu Stir fry with Duck Sauce
What you need:
1 package noodles
assorted veggies (I believe I used red peper, broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms)
1 package extra firm tofu
4 t soy sauce + more for marinating the tofu
1 can apricots
2 T white vinegar

1. Bake the tofu, marinated in a liberal amount of soy sauce, for about a half an hour, turning once halfway through the cooking time.

2. Cook the noodles according to package instructions.

3. Make the duck sauce. Put the apricots, vinegar, and 4 teaspoons of soy sauce in a blender. Blend to smooth. It will look a lot like egg yolk and frankly, really unappetizing.

4. Stiry fry the veggies until tender and add the tofu to them. Pour in half the duck sauce and fry for a few minutes.

5. Add the noodles and the remaining duck sauce and fry for a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Dig in. The duck sauce is sweet with a hint of salt and really makes the stir fry special. You can also just make the duck sauce and use it on meatier dishes if you tend toward carnivorism.

Friday, January 18, 2013

What's in a Novel?

It's tough out here for a writer trying to get a foot in the door of the publishing world. Getting the agent, finding an editor, I knew that it would not be easy but also thought that for me, it wouldn't be. I think we all think that on some unconscious level. I know I write well, but there are many who write well. There are all these stories about what people had to go through to get a book in print. Horror stories really. Even Peter Straub's daughter had to peddle her wares like a regular carnival salesman to get her books published. I am one of many, and it just sucks.

The word from my agent is that the five editors who have seen my book thus far were into it. Two or three (half the panel isn't bad odds) really liked my writing and my character development. They thought I showed promise. They were very invested...

And they'd love to see a novel from me if I have one. Short stories, even interconnected stories, are not commercially viable. None of them seemed to appreciate the novel-in-stories overarching narrative. When it came down to it, my book went down as stories. And stories don't sell.

Now I know that stories are a hard sell, but I didn't see that story stigma carrying over to the novel-in-stories format. There have been a great number of novel-in-stories lately that seemed to make a fairly decent go of it: Olive Kitteridge, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Knockemstiff. Take a look a little farther back and there's Jesus' Son, Later at the Bar, Trailerpark, and the old classics of Winesburg, Ohio and Dubliners. Apparently, I was wrong in assuming that meant anything.

I have one of two options: keep it as is and hope or rewrite it, organizing it into a "real novel." I'm going to try my hand at the "real novel" option. Lord knows it would be an easier sell. If not, I don't know. It's sad to think that despite the praise it received, my book won't get an audience, not because it's bad but because it's not easy. I have no idea how to go about this rewrite, but I'm trying to figure it out. I'll, of course, save a copy of the book as it is now just in case. I know there comes a point when the rewriting because a detriment rather than a benefit.

Here's hoping.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mother Bear Madness

The January/February Mother Bear Kal/Cal is in full swing in my household. For my first mother bear, I used the knitting in the round pattern, but at the same time, I also purchased the pattern for seamless crochet. It is the crochet that I've been focusing on so far (though I admittedly knitted the scarf). I have the first bear of the year finished (my second mother bear overall).

After careful deliberation, I'm calling him Smee.

Smee started out as a pair of blue jeans with gray feet sticking out of the bottom.

The process of connecting the two legs was, in a word, magical. I had never crocheted seamlessly before and the idea that you could just connect two legs together with a single crochet and keep going was so stupidly simple it didn't seem like it would work. Until it did.

That the pattern was toe-up, essentualy, meant that things got really strange when I finished the body. There was Smee: sans head. Adjusting this pattern to finish at that point might work really well for Halloween decorations. I found it equal parts amusing and disturbing. I kept having the voice of Johnny Depp circa Sleepy Hollow play through my head: "A horseman. Headless."

 I'm already halfway through my third bear now, who is as-yet nameless. Looking at Smee beside my first mother bear, Stubby of the too-short-legs, I discover I really do like the short legs better. This third mother bear has a leg length somewhere in between Stubby and Smee. I also prefer the look of the knitted bear to the crochet, though the crochet goes by much faster, and a solid body color to the addition of different colors for pants and shirt. These are things to keep in mind for future bears.

These two, along with the pending third bear and maybe a few more besides, will be shipped off to Minnesota and then to Africa to find their future owners in a form of a little boy or girl in need of love and comfort that bears are good at providing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Brussel Sprout Failure

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to eat at Lolita's in Cleveland as part of a work function. While there, I tasted the best brussel sprouts known to mankind. Even the fervent brussel sprout hater at the table had to admit that they tasted rather good. Since that day, I have vowed to create these carmelized brussel sprouts at home, so finally, I had my husband buy some sprouts on the weekly grocery shopping trip.

I started by finding the recipe from lolita online. Turns out, the sprouts are deep fried at Lolitas with a lot of funny ingredients we just don't keep on hand, so I searched some more and found a carmelized sprout recipe that held promise. It called for shelling the sprouts of their outer layers and quartering them.

You can probably guess how things play out by the fact that I have not included the recipe. You don't want it.

Apparently, the recipe "carmelized" the sprouts by adding sugar and letting them stir-fry in it until the sugar becomes carmel, rather than letting the natural sugars in the veggies do their own carmelizing.

The result was an oversweet mess that still somehow had an overpowering cabbage taste that sprouts are known for, a taste absent from the deep dried Lolita version. In the end, I have been reminded of a valuable kitchen lesson. Sometimes a recipe is difficult for a very good reason. Cheaping out for the easy route results in these terrible bruseel sprouts.

I added them to spaghetti, but alas, the sprouts were stronger than the tomato sauce. Epic fail. I have one sentence of advice at the end of this venture: do not carmelize brussl sprouts by stir frying them with sugar. Just don't.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Christmas Hat

Finally I can show off this last Christmas knit. I was waiting until it found its recipient before I went flashing its photos around on the interwebs. My sister's best friend Shannon has been in my life for quite a while now. Shannon and I get along very well, and when I used to go to my sister for aid in times of (mostly) relationship trouble, Shannon was often there too to help me find my way.

When I got married in June, Shannon's the one who did my hair and makeup and generally took care of my bridely appearance for the duration of the day (and it was not a short day), so when I found out she liked the Go Bro Michigan beanies I made for the men in my immediate family last year, I knew she had to have one for Christmas.

Thus, I set out to create the Girly Michigan beanie. I started by forgoing the white spectrum and instead using only the brighter colors (we females like color and a lot of it). I also made the base of the hat in one solid color, pushing the strips up to encompass only the crown of the hat.

Then, on the solid base, I added not only the required Michigan M in duplicate stitch, but also a partially crocheted and partially knitted flower that I attached to a pin backing to make it moveable. That way, the flower can be an the brim to the side or it could be placed at the top of the crown like a propellor or it could be taken off the hat entirely and wore as an outfit accessory on a lapel.

I wanted to personalize the hat a bit, to give it that bit of special embellishment that girls love, so I called my sister to find out Shannon's favorite flower. I have on my bookshelf a copy of 100 Flowers to Knit and Crochet. I figured whatever flower it was would be in there and it was. Shannon really likes Gerber Daisies, in case you hadn't pieced that together yet from the photo below. Of course, the gerber daisy pattern in 100 Flowers didn't really look the best, in my opinion. Instead, I created my own version that I think looks a lot more like a Gerber Daisy.

As an added note: those petals were a pain in the rear to knit and then attach to the crocheted flower base. In all honesty, I was planning on doing two layers of petals, but I finished the first row and just stopped to retain my sanity.

I made an additional discovery while knitting this hat in particular. I have a hard time using markers when I knit in the round, as they always seem a little too big and don't let the yarn pull in tight enough, creating ladders. I took to just getting really good at remembering where I'm at in a pattern, so I don't need to use them. This method can get hectic and drive you up a wall. As of this hat, though, I no longer have to go that route. Now, I use jewelry jump rings instead of markers. They are so small that they just manage to glide along the needles and don't create any ladders at all. Best of all, they are incredibly cheap and come with like a zillion in the bag, which means you can lose them to your heart's content. Trust me, I've already lost about a dozen in the recesses of my boss's car during a business trip last month.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Polenta Madness

When I made the fried polenta a few weeks ago, we only used less than half the tube of pre-made polenta. The question then became: what to do with the rest of it? The husband got online and found an interesting casserole that seemed to fit the bill.

Polenta and Black Bean Casserole
What you need:
1/4 c salsa verde
3 minced garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp cumin
a polenta roll, cut into 18 rounds
1 15 oz can black beans, drained
1 15 oz can hominy, drained
3 cups of your favorite mexican-inspired cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Spray some oil on an 11-inch in diameter casserole dish. Mix the salsa verde, garlic, and cumin together in a bowl.
2. Arrange half of the polenta rounds evenly on the bottom of the casserole dish. Then add half the beans, hominy, and salsa mix over top of that. Sprinkle with half the cheese.
3. Layer the remaining polenta rounds evenly over that, followed by the remaining beans, hominy, salsa, and cheese. Cover the dish with its lid and bake it for about 20 minutes.
4. Next, overcover the casserole dish and bump up the overn temperature to 475. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
5. Serve and gorge yourselves on your clever mexican-inspired lasagna.

You can also top it with spinach according to the original recipe, and next time, I would definitely top it with kale, just for more color and nutrients. However, this one was quite tasty as is. The salsa versa is tangy and pairs well with the solid but plain polenta and the sweet base flavor of the beans. Delicious.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Celtic Immersion

I will admit it: my name is Kate and I still have yet to character sketch. However, I've been making much progress on my novel research. Currently, I'm reading Mysterious Celtic Mythology in American Folklore by Bob Curran (as well as Barbara Kingsolver's new one, Flight Behavior, though it's not for novel research purposes). There's a very interesting chapter on how a bastard Welsh prince may have discovered America in the 1100s and left behind most of his crew to mate with the natives, whose offspring would become the Mandans. I'm not sure how factually likely it is that this actually occurred, but the book does posit some evidence for its possible truth. Either way, I find it fascinating. I was aware of viking ventures to the Americas well before Columbus but not of the fact that apparently fervent Celtic monks did likewise in an effort to expand knowledge of the word of God. While I don't plan on making the house in the novel the ancestral home of Madoc the Welsh Prince, I'm quite enjoying the book, even if none of what's in it has real impact on my book (though I'm hoping it does).

The house sketches have taken a slightly different turn as well. We have been looking at another house. It could be aptly described as a Victorian era manor. It doesn't have the exterior filagree of a Victorian, but it definitely is a very subtle (some might say plain) version of that style and time-period. I would call it a Victorial era farm house except that it is twice the size of most farm houses. I've been happily sketching rough blueprints of the house, which needs some work, including being transitioned from a two family back to a one.

(Here's a sketch. It's not the clearest of photos, but it gives an idea of the setup: 
basement on the bottom, main floor in the middle, and second story on the top.)

While sketching, it occured to me that it would be far more intuitive to use the blueprint of a house already in existence for the novel, rather than a house completely created in my head. I believe it will become the bones over which I create the house for my novel. I want to base my supernatural elements on actual folklore, so using the floor-plan of an actual house should help keep the story grounded in some foundational way.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Blankets Galore

When my grandmother-in-law passed away last year, she left behind the beginning of a crocheted afghan and two skeins of green yarn, Bernat Vintage in the Fern colorway, with which to complete it. As the first of the skeins was already being used in the afghan, I assumed that the blanket up to that point was created using the start of that skein. With that in mind, I figured out the stitch pattern and started in where she left off.

When I reached the end of the first skein, I realized that what was left would only create the same length and width of fabric to match what I had just created, and that I wanted a blanket larger than twice the size already completed. In my stash, I found a skein of dark green and a skein of white that were also Bernat Vintage. Both colors worked well with the lighter green color, so I figured out a configuration that would use up these partial skeins and still look symmetrical as a blanket. I did a thin stripe of white, a thicker stripe of dark green, and another thin stripe of white. Finishing that, I took up with the Fern colorway again and figured on finishing off the skein to finish the blanket with a stripe of the lighter green to match the size of the first section of the blanket.

I crocheted on, hoping to finish before the end of Christmas break. I was sitting in my mother-in-law's dining room, crocheting away when I reached the end of the last skein but with significantly less repeats of the stitch pattern than the first light green section, and it hit me: there had been another partial skein she used at the start of that first section. I didn't have enough yarn now to finish the blanket.

I eyed back over the remnants of the last skein and noticed a price sticker from Meijer. I decided to take a shot at finding another skein, hoping against hope that they had not discontinued the colorway. My husband rushed me to the local Meijer, where, fortunately, they had copious skeins of Fern. I bought one and finished the Multigenerational Blanket without additional heartache. It became an extra Christmas present for my husband (slightly belated) and now resides in our combination blanket chest and coffee table in the apartment. I think we did a pretty nice job, all considered.

The next blanket on the agenda will be my brother's Christmas present, what I have deemed the Maize and Blue Stained Glass Afghan. I purchased all necessary yarn and, to make it feel more manly, I "wrapped" it inside a manufacturing bag I gained at an expo in Chicago. Becuase yarn is a less-than-thrilling present for a non-fiber-enthusiast, I decided to make a sketch of what the final blanket will look like. I pulled an old sketchbook out of the desk cabinent and opened it up, ready to find the next blank page and realized it was a sketchbook used for one of my undergraduate drawing classes, circa 2003. I how it was 2003 because there are sketches of baby bottles, a safety seat, and my son when he was a newborn. Talk about a flashback.

I managed to finish the sketch of the blanket, a log cabin style with intarsia and assorted mono-colored rectangles that vary slightly in stitch patterns. At this point, I'm thinking a mix of garter and a lace pattern I found called Corn Stalks (maize, get it?). The family seemed to like the look of the blanket and I think sketching out the idea really helped to solidify it in my mind. I plan on getting started within the week.

Despite how much my brother has been wanting such a blanket, I went back and forth about making it. I have an ever increasing list of projects I want to tackle and really wanted to do one for myself. However, I'm more of a gift knitter, so the blanket won. To make me feel like selfish knitting is on the horizon, I updated my ravelry queue with some of the projects I want to knit with the yarn from my stash I want to use for them earmarked for those projects.

In the meantime, I'll work on the blanket slowly and start in on the Cogknitive Podcast's mother bear KAL/CAL. For the months of January and February, the KAL/CAL participants, including me, will work like mad to make bears for the Mother Bear Project. I have two bear feet crocheted so far. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BBQ Tempeh and Soba

Some nights dinner is just unplanned. You get home, open the pantry, and pray there's something in there you can serve.Well, we had some tempeh in the refrigerator and some soba noodles in the cupboard.

Tempeh and Soba Noodles in Barbeque Sauce
What you need:
white mushrooms
one eggplant
red bell pepper
barbeque sauce

1. Boil the noodles! Then drain them (important step).

2. Cut up and clean the mushrooms and assorted vegetables.

3. Cut the tempeh into thin slices and stir fry them in soy sauce until they are golden brown on both sides.

4. Add the vegetables to the stir fry and fry that up in barbeque sauce until the veggies are to your desired consistency. Then, add the noodles and yet more barbeque sauce.

5. Eat and enjoy, thus avoiding dinner disaster.