21 March 2006

Our seasonal table is spare these days, as early spring is spare, but with just a hint of green and growing things. We'll soon have pretty little glass bottles with buds and blossoms, and some pastel eggs dangling from the dogwood, but for now it's just my baby Bay Laurel, eager to go back outside, and some dogwood blossoms we forced (thereby triggering poor J's allergies, but what can you do?) brightening the living room corner. It looks quite nice in with the afternoon sun pouring in, but today was cloudy with the threat of snow, so the picture looks a little forlorn. We escaped the snow (my deepest sympathies to Ohio) but I fear for my fig tree that I uncovered last week, and Justin has threatened to bring the snow shovel back from the shed to the front porch 'in case'. I refuse to consider the possibility of more snow, and expect winter to retreat quietly into a corner by next weekend at the latest.

Dinner tonight: Beef Stew, quite possibly the last of the season!

16 March 2006

pestilence and contagion!

I picked up my needles for the first time in over a week today. The children and I have had miserable colds and I've been frightfully busy with a million other things (which is probably why I also got sick --- very low stamina!!) I've also neglected my spinning during this recent plague, and I'm reluctant to go back to it because my first attempt was pretty pathetic. I fear a fiber-arts slump may be settling in, but I'm determined to finish all my current projects before it happens. Possibly I'm just feeling run-down after the past week's sore throats, sniffles, coughs, congestion, and general snottiness. Neither of the children is a malingerer, mercifully, and Mr. Desultory didn't get sick this time, so that helped. So too did the gorgeous weather we had for much of the time -- a taste of Spring with the promise of better days to come did much to relieve the misery. So did tonight's dinner -- barbequed chicken thighs, roasted garlic potatoes, and green beans, followed by vanilla ice-cream topped with homemade applesauce and caramel leftover from a recent butterscotch cake. The barbeque sauce was perfectly balanced -- sweet, salty, sour, spicy, piquant -- delicious. The potatoes were sheer bliss, and dessert heavenly. The children love my apple peeler/corer/slicer, and I must say I do as well -- such a simple machine, but so handy. I used a mix of Fuji and Granny Smith apples, and kept the sugar and cinnamon low since it was destined for ice-cream, but I have to say that even by itself it was quite good applesauce. I also love the magic of sugar + heat + cream that is caramel sauce. Amazing that a flavor that delightful should be so simple to create. Subtract the heat, add some air, and you've got soft clouds of billowing whipped cream. Add some agitation and freezing temps, and you've got ice-cream -- I can almost see where the Intelligent Design folks are coming from. Okay, not really. But still -- I'm awfully glad humans have to eat and that preparing and eating food is such a pleasure.

07 March 2006

handmade knitting needles

Handmade knitting needles are a fun craft and an economical source for knitting needles. This is an especially suitable project for children just learning to knit since they begin with a healthy respect for and enjoyment of the tools of the trade. Instructions abound for these, online and in books, and they're fairly intuitive, so I won't post a step-by-step, but basically you just cut wooden dowels of desired width (gauge) to desired length. 8"-10" is good for kids, and 6" is by no means too small -- longer needles can be unweildy in small hands. Sharpen to a point (we used an electric pencil sharpener, then refined the point with sandpaper). Sand the dowels, first with medium coarse, then with fine sandpaper, and finally rub all over with wax paper or a soft cloth to clean the dust. Finally, rub with oil or beeswax to make them a bit slippy. Use polymer clay to make small beads (not more than 1/2" or the needles will be heavy), 'drill' a hole in them using the blunt end of the needle about halfway through the bead. Bake the beads with the needles still in them, resting them on the rim of the cookie sheet to avoid flattening one side. I turned ours every 12 minutes to avoid scorching. My 5 and 8 year old easily managed all steps except the baking. Wren cast on and knitted the first 3 rows of garter stitch for her first 'real' project (a scarf), and Robin can, with minimal help, do a knit stitch.

Besides making knitting needles, we did a lot of cooking that day, and the house smelled delightful: cinnamon and apples from the applesauce, molasses and ham from the Boston baked beans, and walnuts from the soda bread. Yesterday was equally scrumptious with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, wine, and spices served over pasta and sauteed chicken breasts. Today I used the remaining chicken breasts (I'd been too lazy to separate the supersale megapack of boneless skinless chicken breasts back when I bought it) to make lemony chicken tenders and served them with egg noodles tossed in butter, salt and pepper, and asparagus with hollandaise sauce. This was my first attempt at hollandaise, and I look on past meals with asparagus as altogether wasted, so delicious was this sauce. Tomorrow I think we'll settle for a baked macaroni and cheese, a bit of ham, and some green beans. Soon I'll be spending my afternoons soaking up the sun or working in the garden, rather than cooking and baking. We'll be eating more salads, quick sautees, and simple grilled veggies and meats, and young Finch will make his appearance (and wreak havoc no doubt). I'm ready for Spring.

02 March 2006

felted swatch missing in action! bus knitting! and more!

Last night my knitted and felted swatch disappeared in the dryer. I was very, very vexed. So much so that Mr. Desultory offered to take apart the dryer, but I declined with a martyred air, declaring that it'd be quicker just to knit and felt another swatch. Which it was. This time I'm using my little mesh laundry bag. I'm just about to toss it from the washer to the dryer, but the heat has been off for several hours now, which means the basement will be unbearably cold. However, I'll brave the arctic chill because I'm a slave to my craft and, anyway, I need to know how much it shrunk so I'll know how many stitches to cast on for my bag so I'll have some knitting for tomorrow during Park Pals/Junior Rangers. Because otherwise I'd feel obligated to help chaperone the Park Pals and that truly is some martyrdom. So. My plan is to knit a sort of skinny rhombus or ellipse for the bottom, then pick up stitches all around and knit in the round up to the top. Maybe a rectangle would work just as well, now I think on it -- no need to complicate a bag for mercy's sake. I'm using Lamb's Pride Worsted in 'winter blue' and I think I'll add a narrow red border at the top and at the top of any pockets I might add. If the fabric's not too thick to sew through comfortably, I'll embroider a cat or a jolly roger or something on the front. Maybe. Desultory indeed. I knitted today on the bus, and was gratified by the response of the passengers -- the daily horde of middle-schoolers was released from school abour the time I needed a ride home. Normally I simply do not take the bus between 3pm and 4:30pm, but the kids each checked out their limit of 30 books, and I got nearly as many myself, so what else could I do? I took my knitting out in self-defense but the normally rowdy (and who can blame them, cooped up as they have been for 6 hours) kids crowded around, asking questions and talking about various relatives who also knit. In my more socially responsible (pre-child) days, I would have resolved to contact the school about volunteering to teach knitting to kids. Today I contented myself with thinking about for the distant future. The mister and I had Spaghetti Puttanesca today, but I once again forgot to set aside most of the red pepper flakes for adding at the table, the kids couldn't eat it and had to have their spaghetti with parmesan and olive oil. Entirely to blame is Jincy Willet -- I was reading her "Winner of the National Book Award" while I made the sauce. Tomorrow they get turkey burgers, cake, and family game night, so I don't feel too guilty. I suspect they prefer plain pasta with cheese anyway.

01 March 2006

A first attempt at embroidery

Several years ago, inspired I suppose by the popularity of toile prints on everything from wrapping paper to lampshades to upholstery fabric, I spent a lazy afternoon browsing the internet for decorative arts and design. Along the way I was sidetracked into redwork embroidery, which enchanted me at once. I checked my credit card balance, and promptly ordered this book from Amazon, which further enchanted me, but, alas, not to the point of actually doing any redwork embroidery. I bought a transfer pencil and some tracing paper, and some bleached muslin. I laundered the muslin, straightened the grain, and even cut out a large square before I decided this was well beyond my scope. A few weeks ago I decided to give it a try, and found the process quite enjoyable. I'm not entirely satisfied with the end result, but I'm as enchanted as before with redwork, and am planning to do more. This piece, my first, is fraught with mistakes. The stitches are uneven in places, some of the threads have untwisted (would beeswax help?), and the back of the work should be much tidier. Still, I'm pleased. It helps that my children, as well as a neighbor over to borrow a cup of sugar, were very generous with their praise.

dinner tonight: red-snapper with lemon-thyme sauce, lemony jasmine rice, peas