22 May 2017

Busy, Busy Yarny Months

First, I did miss the monthly "Cooking From History" post, because while I planned to do it, I got very busy with work and deadlines and didn't take the time to cook.  So I am going to double up either this month or next, and in the meantime you can read about someone else's cooking adventure here.

I participated in both the opening reception and the meet-the-artists talks (and following potluck) for the Paper Possibilities 2017 exhibit, and really like how my entries are exhibited:
The colours of the hanging piece really pop against
the colours of the wall.
I've also been working madly on the annual Knitting for Grads at orphanages in Kazahkstan by the Mittens for Akkol knitters, adding a number of from-stash scarves and hats to the shipment in addition to what I committed to make for various graduates:
Extra grad set - a sweater I made for me but didn't wear,
added hat and scarf.  Yes, the body is entrelac.
This boy asked for red, and the "mom" making his accessories asked if I
would add a bit of blue because she added some, so I added a bit.
Closeup of the stitches - crocheted with knitted ribbing
Several people thought of doing "RAAM" from Berroco -
here's mine, in Patons Classic Wool red.  Not a great photo.

At the end, I did have one failure, when it was clear that I would not finish the final sweater.  However, I found one online that the store promised to ship by deadline, and it arrived in time, so - whew!  I saw a lot of cute sweaters but they need to be all-wool (or other animal fiber - mine include wool-alpaca or wool-mohair blends) and those are in slim supply this time of year.  I'll finish the other sweater eventually, and either a grad next year will want the colour and be about the right size, or it will be an extra.

Now I am enjoying knitting for me.  I joined a KAL (Knit A-Long) and am doing two shawls: one following the pattern except in a lighter yarn with a smaller-sized needle, partly because the finished shawl looks huge and I am not.  I am using stash yarn, of course, and happily found one by the hosting yarn company in a really pretty blue:


The other uses some yarn of theirs in three colours (the third will be in Section 4) and some from another company in a very pretty silver, and follows the pattern except for making a closed spine.  I'd envisioned using these yarns to make a shawl to wear to summer concerts in the park, with stripes of reflective yarn to add safety when I walk home from the bus at night.

The KAL is up to Section 3 of the pattern and a lot of people are knitting ahead.  I made sure to get a photo after each stage.  After this I'll get back to finishing some WIP/UFO shawls.

I'm also doing a couple of "idiot scarves" (plain garter stitch in non-plain yarns) to donate to a collection or other for shelters.  These are handy carry-around items.  I finished one this weekend - they do go fast! - and it is pretty long, almost seven feet!  I'm going to do more with the yarn and now I know I can make them wider; this one is about 5½" but thick (I used the yarn doubled) so it should be plenty warm for someone.  More using up of stash, in addition to what I am donating to charity and selling on eBay.

I do have one baby blanket to finish, but the baby isn't born yet so I have ..... about three weeks.  I guess I should get that one started, eh?

01 May 2017

Another UFO Blog Hop

A couple months ago, the UFO group I joined this year did a blog hop so that people could post about progress on their items.  Although I have not made much progress on the shawls that I announced as my UFOs for the year, I did finish two other items.

At MakeHartford we have a Paper Artist Gathering group which I am part of mostly because I was part of the original Geometric Origami Club that grew into the current group.  And somehow, I was talked into contributing to a group exhibit that opens on May 6th at the Farmington Valley Art Center.  Titled "Paper Possibilities 2017: Exploring a Modest Medium" it shows all different types of art created from paper.

When people were talking about the exhibit, I mentioned some UFOs I had from a workshop on creating altered books from the lamentably gone (the artist moved to Virginia!) from Hartford, Studio N111.  In this workshop, we took books and learned about cutting and rearranging and folding and all kinds of options to decorate them.


Although I did a little work after the workshop, this is where they were, and had been for quite a long time:


The open book at the left, "A Road to Hope", is about a couple who helped to create a home for families near a cancer treatment center.  I ended up not doing more to it this time (if it doesn't sell, and I don't expect it to, I may do more and enter V1.2 in next year's exhibit) and didn't take pictures of the little that I did do, but I did more work on the other item.

That book was a young adult paperback, rather battered.  I removed (and recycled) the cover, and began to fold the pages into the same three-fold pattern, but alternating which corner I used to start.  So the shape formed as shown.

When I went back to it to finish the piece for the exhibit, I envisioned something mostly painted white and pale yellow, with maybe a touch of pink, and some deeper blue and purple circling it at angles.  I found a crystal dangle in a shape that echoes the one that is forming, and wanted to add it to add some interest to what I thought would be an unimpressive piece, especially compared to other artworks in the exhibit.  To attach a hanging loop and the crystal, I envisioned satin cord monkey's fist knots at each end, coordinating with the blue or purple or even both.

Of course that didn't happen.  As I mentioned in yesterday's post about randomness, a friend had counseled that sometimes art takes its own direction and doesn't end up as planned.  Without a lot of time to struggle, I wasn't going to fight the art.

First, I finished folding all the pages, and I noticed that the pages that had been exposed were slightly but noticeably yellowed.  This happens with the type of cheap paper often used in paperback books, and I realized that not only would it require a lot of paint to cover to get the white background I was envisioning, but the pages were going to continue to yellow as time passes.  So I decided to make that part of the art.

I'd obtained a set of pearlescent watercolours, and used them to add tints to the piece, focusing on yellow, orange, rust, and two shades of green:
You can see very clearly the newly-folded pages below, and the sun-tinted ones above.
I did more than one pass, some more watery and others drier, to get different depth of colour.  Then I decided that the monkey's fist knots wouldn't quite work, in addition to not having any beads or balls at home large enough to act as a base, and not having time to shop for any before the piece needed to be delivered.  So I took some wool yarn that seemed to coordinate with the paper colour and two buttons scrounged from my stash (I wanted two of the ceramic one, which seemed to coordinate best without adding more colour to the piece, but only had one, and so relaxed my stress of symmetry) to create a tasseled hanger.
Sorry it's not focused.  JHB Collection on left, something artsy on the right.
The darker, thinner button went on the top with the idea that it would be less visible when the piece is hung.  I didn't fasten the cord into the paper piece; it's held by tension and the curve of the spine caused by the folding.

Here are a couple quick pictures taken when I dropped off the piece:




















Although it's not what I had envisioned, I like the end result.  The colours are much more visible to the naked eye than they photograph.  You still see that it was a book (one of the other artists wanted assurance that I would not obliterate the words, and I told her that was why I selected watercolours) but it has turned into something almost organic.  The tassel is at the top, slightly off-center from where the hanging occurs, and not visible in these photos.  I'll try to get one at the opening on Saturday and add it or link to another post.

Now that you've read the story of my UFO, check out what some of the other artists in this month's blogroll have been finishing:


Karen Williams, Baublicious
Francie Broadie,  FAB
Christine Van Dyke Altmiller, One Kiss Creations
Kim Dworak, CianciBlue
Liz Hart, Treetop Life
Amy Severino, Amy Beads
Cynthia Machata, Antiquity Travelers
Hope Smitherman, Crafty Hope
Christi Carter, Sweetpea Path
Bobbie Rafferty, Beadsong Jewelry

30 April 2017

Bunnies and Drunkards and Random Paths

This past week, three things came together in a random way that highlight the randomness in my life and some of the paths I have taken.

First, I was finishing some semi-abandoned art pieces for an exhibit opening next weekend.  I will post more about them tomorrow as part of a "UFO Blogroll", but as I was working on one I mentioned to a friend who is also an artist that I had a plan for the piece, and I wondered if it would come out as I envisioned.  My friend, more experienced in producing art, counseled that sometimes you just have to let the piece tell you what it's going to be.  You can read tomorrow how that worked out.

Second, I was able to get a ticket to hear Franklin Habit speak on the topic of "Follow Your Bunny: The Creative Life from A to Q."  He is worth hearing no matter what the subject, but this one applies to almost any artist, not just one in the fiber arts.  Although the promotion said it would address what to do "if your creative well runs dry?", he spoke more to allowing creativity to flow and occasionally meandering off the expected path if something sufficiently interesting crosses it.
Gratuitous fan picture taken from well back in the auditorium.
Third, whilst looking for something (the best way to find other things you didn't know or remember you'd lost) I found my copy of The Drunkard's Path: How Randomness Rules Our Lives.  The fact that I have had this for a long time without finishing it was underscored to me by the fact that it came from Borders Books, which ceased operations in 2011.

The author writes about chaos theory and randomness and how things that appear to be random often are not as random as they appear.  I brought the book as my current trip-reading, and have plunged in to the discussion of how intuition and logic analyze experience to create innate decision trees.  More to come as I work my way through the chapters.

So now I am left to ponder whether it's mere coincidence that these three events, seemingly random yet about randomness, occurred in the same week.  Serendipity?  Cosmic message?  Or just a week in which three random threads happened to reach a crossroads, and not really as random as they seem?

I have a book to read, and yarn to play with, and another blog post to prepare so I can post it tomorrow.  Maybe a drunk (or not) bunny will cross my path and I'll end up doing something else.

01 April 2017

Martha Washington Cooking in March

No fooling, I did cook from a historical cookbook in March - I just didn't get around to writing the post.  So here it is!  I thought of pulling out Apicius for the Ides of March, then I found the Martha Washington cookbook I'd originally intended to use on President's Day.  So I thought I'd see what she has to offer.  Since I've given up wheaten goods for Lent, I had to ignore all the recipes for baked items, of course, and figure out how to do a balanced meal from the ones included in the cookbook.

As with Thomas Jefferson's cookbook, there were few recipes for vegetables.  Most were how to grow the vegetable, or how to preserve it.
   

Looking at the list, I decided to make "sparragus" (asparagus) which is plentiful in March, and use the Seasonal Pickle from my CSA, which is a lacto-fermented collection of whatever odds and ends they have when they are making that particular batch of pickle.  This one includes carrots, various greens, and some onion.

For the meat I am using fish, and although the recipe is for trout, that's surprisingly expensive, so I went with a filet of tuna from the freezer. Needing a starch, and not being able to bake bread or biscuits, I found a steamed pudding that uses oats instead of wheat flour:
I used steel-cut oats, and instead of letting it simmer all night, pulled out my small crockpot, which I have used to cook steel-cut oatmeal in the past.
I used "high" to heat a pint of milk, then following the 4:1 ratio on the carton of oats, I added a half-cup of steel-cut oats.  After leaving it to cook on low overnight, it was cooked but still milky.


I chopped up a bunch of spinach and about half a bunch of flat-leaved parsley, and stirred them into the oats in the crockpot along with an egg.  I debated whether to use a second egg; it's hard to guess sizes of eggs then versus now, and I generally assume the eggs are smaller, so making a half-recipe meant I could use one large egg instead.

Once this was mixed, I took some muslin and wetted it, then rubbed on cornmeal.  I placed it in a bowl to make filling it with the pudding mixture easier.
 

I tied off the pudding and set it into a pot of simmering water, tying the string to a wooden spoon placed over the top to make it easier to fish out.  Then I went away for an hour or so, checking periodically and adding water once or twice.
The asparagus was just steamed a bit, that was easy.  For the fish, I followed the recipe on "How to Boyle a Trout", although using a single tuna steak instead of a while fish "cut in pieces" - fillets? steaks?  My guess would be the former, but I was working from my freezer.

This is white wine (from a local winery, plus a splash of champagne left from making New Year's celebratory cupcakes), a lump of butter, a bit of minced ginger, and a sprig of rosemary from my kitchen pots.  I thought it might be a bit large, but I like rosemary, so took a chance.

Since the tuna steak was a bit thick, I cooked it for a few minutes, then turned it and cooked the other side until the piece was done to my liking.


At this point, I took out the pudding, unwrapped it, and arranged the plate:
Seasonal pickle is top left, and simply steamed asparagus at top right.  I chose thin stalks and had to cut them in half due to the size of the pan.  The pudding is to the left of the fish, and I thought another egg might have been a good idea because it was somewhat falling apart.  Of course, I'd had to guess at proportions of the "hearbes" to oats, and was trying to not put in too many so the oats would also keep it together.

For the fish, I think next time I will add a bit more ginger and a bit less rosemary.  I love it, but that was definitely too much and starting to overwhelm the dish.  The pickle added a welcome tang to the overall dish.  Definitely a meal I'll try again, with adjustments.

Since there was quite a lot of pudding, I put it into the refrigerator.  Cold, it was much more cohesive.  Warmed, it made a nice breakfast with a bit more pickle on the side.
I've already decided on the April cookbook, and will work on getting that report posted more promptly after cooking.  In the meantime, it's an icy day outside, and I might try the fish again as a nice warming meal.  No fooling!

15 March 2017

Pi Day Cookery

Many geeky people celebrate March 14th as "Pi Day", because the number begins 3.14.  Many of my friends talked about the pies they were making for lunch or supper, ranging from simple names or descriptions to photos of pies with "π" cut into the top crust, or with the number cut or stamped around the border.

Because we were having a bit of weather here (Blizzard Stella, or whatever it was called), I continued my pantry cooking plans.  Having given up gluten for Lent meant I could not do my usual quick pie crust and bake something yummy.  I didn't think to pick up potatoes, or a Shepherd's Pie would be the easy answer.  Then I realized I've had some spaghetti squash waiting to be used, so a Spaghetti Squash Pie it would be!

First. baking the squash.  Into the oven in a baking tray with some water in it at 350°F.  Then a colleague needed help and it was almost two hours before I got back to them, which was more time than needed but luckily they didn't explode or get mushy.  This was on Monday, and I had some with a quick tomato sauce and the last couple slices of provolone from an Italian cheese tray.  Not bad.  The rest I seeded and fluffed and put into the refrigerator for Tuesday, along with a package of tomatoes from the freezer, so they would have time to thaw.  It happened to be the package from which I have taken tomatoes for other recipes, so was a bit under two cups of roasted tomatoes.

There seemed to be a pinhole in the bag, because when it thawed some of the juice ran out.  I didn't mind because this left the pulp and saved me having to simmer it to concentrate the sauce.

Before cooking, I did a quick bit of research for vegetarian spaghetti pies, to get some idea of the proportions of egg and so forth.  Most agree on two eggs although some say you can use more.  This was my starting point for the dish:
The cheese is a local product, a hard, aged cheese that I thought would sub well for Parmesan: Niantic Abbey from Sankow's Beaver Brook Farm.  It has been in the 'fridge since I bought it at a farmers' market last summer, and I decided to use it so I can get some fresh this year.  I had to carve off the rind, which had gotten a bit moldy, but the cheese was fine.
I grated it on the shreds side of my new(ish) box grater.  When I was almost moving last year, I bought it (on sale for $4.99!) for my temporary apartment.  After I returned, I decided it was time to retire (recycle) my old box grater, which was not stainless steel and hard to clean.  This one is a treat!

First I shredded about a quarter cup of cheese to go into the crust, then finished the rest and set it aside for later.  I guessed at how much spaghetti squash would be equivalent to the pasta used in the recipes.  Then I mixed these with my hands, patted and spread it in the pie pan which I had oiled, and put it into the oven for about ten minutes while I made the sauce.

For the sauce, I sliced the scallions (left from St. David's Day) and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil with some minced garlic.  Then I added herbs and spices, including basil from my CSA which I had dried to keep through the winter, and some oregano, fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, a bit of parsley.
I cooked this together for about a minute, then added the tomatoes.  I pulled out the rack with the crust on it, and spread the sauce in it.  Then I baked this for about twenty more minutes.

After that, I spread on the rest of the shredded cheese.  I thought I'd have some for later, but nope!  It's hard to see in the lefthand photo, but the crust was getting solid and crusty next to the pie pan.
 

After ten minutes, it was toasty, and the cheese had released oil.
I let the pie sit for a few minutes and the oil was absorbed.  Letting something like this sit for a few minutes is necessary so that it will slice neatly:
 
It's tasty, and the intensity of the roasted tomatoes and the intensity of the cheese play well with each other.  The other flavours are very subtle by comparison, and if I had not been hungry I would have played with the herbs a bit more.  The onion cooked down and was quite mellow.

And now I have pie to eat for lunch all week!

If you want to know how much snow we got, this picture shows the same view just after dawn, when it had been snowing for a few hours already, and just before sunset:
There had been no snow in this area the night before.  Total in my town was 14.5 inches, officially.

11 March 2017

Freeform (and Others) UFO Blog Hop

Among creative types, "UFO" means an Un-Finished Object.  Most of us have a lot of these, because we run into a creative block, or the piece becomes unwieldy, or we put it aside for some reason.  We try to encourage each other to finish UFOs, and every year in October a lovely lady named Afton hosts a UFO Completion Month on the KnitTalk list.  People post when they have completed the item and Afton sends out Prizes Of No Significant Worth with the able assistance of her Dragon-Slaying Daughter and Lara Girlcat (others of the household remain amusedly out of the way) which most recently consisted of individual pages from Franklin Habit's I Dream of Yarn and wee packs of crayons.

Everybody is delighted.

However, this is just once a year, and I have a number of other UFOs.  So when my friend Karen announced that she was hosting a UFO group, I jumped aboard.  Because Karen designs and teaches freeform beading projects (a couple of which I own, and which do not yet qualify as UFOs because I haven't started them), most of the people who joined are also beaders, but she said it is OK for me to use fiber projects as my goals.

Although I have a few other UFOs (two of which are baby blankets, but of course I cannot post about those, and one really only needs to have its ends woven in, and it's a generic one that I'm putting "in stash" for some future baby, but I digress) I decided to focus on three shawls I've started for myself, partly because of their age, and partly because people say I never make things for myself.  Which isn't entirely true, but I digress again.

One of the shawls will have beads added at the end, so it somewhat fits with everybody else's projects:

It is a ball of Taiyo Sock (which is apparently no longer being made because the Noro Yarn page just lists worsted and sport weights) that I bought at Madelinetosh a few years ago.  The pattern is an adaptation of one I was given with a ball of Kureyon Sock in a fiber guild holiday gift swap.  The pattern alternates stockinette and reverse stockinette, and after making it I decided to use all stockinette for this one because the alternating bands act as ribbing and I have to keep re-blocking the other shawl.  Since Taiyo Sock is so light, I decided to add beads to the final stripes to give it some weight.  Since I generally center-pull yarn, it was easy to determine what the colours would be and find a tube of beads that should work.  I'll report later this year if I finish and what I think of the result.



Another shawl is made from hand-dyed, handspun yarn from Iris Creek Farm.  I am doing it all in garter stitch because I think the stripes look pretty.

There is no pattern, I'm just doodling in different directions.  I'm sorry it's hard to see the directions in the full shawl picture, but when it's finished they should be more visible.  You can see the border I am doing crosswise to the previous section on the left side of the photo.

Finally, the shawl I started as part of a Knit Along when I was temporarily living and working in Wisconsin and needed something to do.  MarlyBird created the pattern and led people through it, and I just had too much solo commuting time and not enough knitting time.  Then I moved and lost track and........  

I need to get back to it.  This will be a nice big shawl that will be handy for travel, and I used a washable yarn specifically for that reason.  I'll be able to wash it easily no matter how grubby, and not worry about blocking, which the natural-fiber ones tend to need.  I love the colours, especially that pop of pewter between the blue and purple.

Some of the other participants have finished at least one UFO so far this year, but I've been dealing with deadlines (one of the aforementioned baby blanket, and items for the annual grad collection done by the mommas of Mittens for Akkol), so these are still in progress.  I have done some more on the Taiyo Sock shawl, but hope to finish the handspun one this year for sure.  To check out the other blogs in this hop:

26 February 2017

Presidents Day cookery with Thomas Jefferson

My company gives us Presidents Day off, so I decided it would be a good date for the monthly cooking experiment with old recipes.  I picked a book at random, chose some recipes, and made a shopping list.  I had projects around the house and didn't want to waste time on Monday, so I planned to shop ahead and not need to go out for additional items.

Then I thought that since it was Presidents Day, shouldn't I be cooking from a presidential cookbook?  I knew I had one or two someplace, and first looked for Martha Washington's since it's George's birthday after all.  Instead I found this one:
Since Mr. Jefferson was known as a bit of a gourmet, this seemed perfect, especially in light of the recent news about the discovery of Sally Hemmings' room.  The only problem would be to find recipes that would work with what I have in the house, so I didn't have to go out again!

I'd bought chicken (specifically, skinless boneless breasts, in part because they were on sale, and in part because I didn't feel like dealing with waste, and in part because they are most adaptable to all kinds of recipes, and in part because thighs - my usual preference - were not available, at least not at a good price) so I looked for a recipe using that, with other pantry items, and found:
Other than the meat jelly (a thickened, congealed stock used for seasoning), I was set!  Sadly, the book has almost no vegetable recipes - salsify, parsnips, potatoes, and some that look odd to modern eyes: polenta and macaroni, which we would put into a chapter about starches or grains or otherwise.  I thought about doing polenta with the chicken, but the recipe bakes the polenta with cheese and that was more flavours than I felt like mingling.

So I looked for desserts, and when I saw this one I thought it perfect, since Jefferson is credited with having introduced macaroni to the colonies and newly-born USA:
As you can see, I had everything on hand (eggs were in the refrigerator):
 
Usually I would use fresh cow's milk.  I always have some canned or boxed milk in the pantry in case of emergencies, and on Monday could find only a last container of soymilk from when I used it to bake for a group that contained some lactose- and milk-intolerant persons.  It would have to do.

I halved the amounts, using two large eggs instead of the five indicated, and followed the directions pretty much as written.  First, I simmered the noodles in the milk until done, about twenty minutes:
 
Then I stirred in the sugar (3/8 cup) and some rosewater. Since that's a tricky flavouring, I erred on the side of not much, and ended up with about 3/4 of a teaspoon, which turned out to be not enough.
Following this I beat the eggs and added them to the noodle mixture.  I did this so I would just have to stir them together, and thus not break up the noodles too much.
 
After that, into my handy casserole to bake.  Since no temperature was given, I set my oven at about 350(F), reducing it to 300(F) when I started the chicken.  By the way - is anybody else amused when you see those "like if you remember this" memes on Facebook, and it's an item you own and use regularly?  Yep, something close to this showed up recently, and I have several in different sizes.
Going into the oven.
Halfway cooked, still liquid in the center.
After it had baked about a half-hour (righthand picture), I started on the chicken.  Since one of the essays at the front of the cookbook said that Jefferson was interested in the oils used and worked to get olive oil for Monticello's kitchens, that's what I used in the recipe:
By the way, this was one breast from a package of four very large ones, which I cut apart into more manageable pieces.  The other three breasts went into the freezer for future cooking adventures.  Since a whole chicken would weight three to five pounds, but has a lot of not-edible-for-this-purpose portions such as bones and skin, I estimated that a pound of meat would be about half the recipe.

Since I was pantry-scrounging, and don't keep meat jelly in stock, I used twice as much of the cooked-down tomatoes from a package in my freezer.  I have a winter window garden that includes parsley, so that was fresh, but I seem to have used up the last of my garlic bulbs so had to use jarred.  And since I hadn't purchased mushrooms, because they were not needed for the original recipes, I had to use canned ones.  As I'd done last month, I substituted cider vinegar for the (still expensive) lemon, adding a generous tablespoon.
I chopped the larger mushroom pieces.
Ready to simmer.
 I covered the pan and let the ingredients simmer for about twenty minutes, keeping an eye on it in case it dried out and to keep from overcooking the chicken, which is too easy with the boneless, skinless breasts.  I miss-guessed it slightly but the ingredients made enough juice on their own.
When I cook this again I'll use a smaller pan to keep the chicken more immersed in the juices.  I used a large one to make photography easier.  I plated about half the chicken and sauce with about a third of the pudding, once again happy to have oiled the baking pan:

Overall the result was very tasty.  As I said, the chicken was a bit dry, but the sauce fixed that; I added a bit more after taking this picture, since there was plenty in the pan.  It was a tangy sauce because of the vinegar and garlic, but not overwhelmingly so.  A modern cook might simmer down the sauce to make it a bit thicker, and I am considering making polenta to absorb it the next time.  I plan to make this recipe again in the summer with fresh ingredients, and it's likely to go into regular rotation.

The pudding was mild and sweet, definitely not tasting of rosewater except a vague hint now and again.  When I make it again, I plan to use cow milk (the soy taste may have overwhelmed the others) and increase the rosewater to at least a teaspoon per pint of milk, and maybe a bit more.  The cold leftover noodle pudding made a tasty breakfast the next couple of days.