Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Good stuff

Thank you, everyone, on your kind sweater-related comments (and other comments, of course). I get a little frustrated with myself when I don't think things through, which I certainly didn't on this one. I'm actually delighted with the sweater, which I think will be adorable on Lilah's toddler friend. Good catch on the lesson "Intarsia is yucky," Amy :) No action step there, since sometimes I think intarsia is just too cute to avoid. And I like the look of the sweater with the dark blue placket and cuffs. I managed to get all the ends woven in over the weekend, during slow times in my booth at the festival where I actually SOLD stuff I made! One woman indulged in my free samples and then bought ELEVEN jars to give as Christmas gifts in her office. I was delighted. And, though I was concerned a bit that I would hate customers*, I really enjoyed answering questions about my methods and talking about possible future recipes and such. I sold out of nearly everything, and had so much fun. Now I have to figure out if I just want to occasionally sell stuff to subsidize my jam-making and baking habits, or if I want to try to take it further.

*I know this sounds like I should be off in a cabin in the woods somewhere, but my past customer service experience has not been great. While working at a software/internet company, here is an excerpt from a 20-minute phone call:

Old Guy: My internet picture won't open!
Me: I'm sorry to hear you're having trouble. Um, which picture is that?
Old Guy: The internet! It won't open!
Me: The browser? Does it say Netscape or Internet Explorer?
Old Guy: The internet, you know, Netscape.
Me: Do you get an error message when you double click on the icon?
Old Guy: I don't know. Am I supposed to have an icon?
Me: Do you get an error message when you double click the picture?
Old Guy: What about the icon? Do I need one of those?
Me: Don't worry about the icon. Double click on the picture and tell me what it says.
Old Guy: It says Netscape.
Me: Right. Does anything happen when you click?
Old Guy: (click) No! It doesn't do anything! That's the problem!
Me: Sir, you need to double click. Just clicking once doesn't open the program.
Old Guy: I don't have a program. Is that in my Welcome Pack?
Me: Sir, you need to double click to open the internet.
Old Guy: (click, pause, click) Nothing's happening!
Me: Sir, you have to click faster. Click-click!
Old Guy: (click, pause, click)
Repeat the last two lines for about 10 minutes, until Old Guy exclaims, "Oh, I had to DOUBLE click! It's open now!" So you can see that the word "customer" strikes fear into my heart, a reaction that was NOT improved by working for a children's theater company:

Me: I'm so sorry, ma'am, but tonight's show is sold out.
Angry Stage Parent: But my daughter is the star! I NEED 30 tickets for tonight!
Me: I'm so sorry, ma'am, but tonight's show is sold out.
ASP: But I PROMISED everyone! They're coming from out of town!
Me: I'm so sorry, ma'am, but there are no more seats available.
ASP: But my daughter's the star!

Knitting: ANOTHER placket-neck pullover is on the needles, this one for Lilah in pink Rowan Baby Alpaca DK. After finishing the ones for our friends' two children, I decided Lilah needed one, too. No stripes on this one :) I am wondering if the yarn is too nice for the pattern, which is a nice basic pattern, but nothing fancy. But if I wait to find the perfect pattern, I'll never make her anything with it!

Reading: Lots, but nothing especially noteworthy. I have to pick up the new Kate Atkinson book, which I'm really excited about.

Writing: Still stalled at the same word count. Food prep took up a lot of my free time. I hope to get some writing done while I'm in California. Speaking of which, I'd better start packing...

I made a nice Crockpot meal that turned out very well. I also baked up a storm for LakeFest--vanilla scones, cinnamon scones, cherry cornmeal scones, and chocolate chip almond biscotti. For the bake sale, I made pumpkin muffins with pear slices stuck into the batter for ears and put little bear faces on them with chocolate chips. They were so cute! I also made 8 loaves of rosemary focaccia for the bake sale. I'm pretty pleased with the scone recipes--100% whole wheat, and when I doubled the recipe, I forgot to double the amount of butter...and they tasted great! Hmmm, wonder how much fat I can just leave out of other recipes.

Crockpot Red Beans With Vegetables

1 pound small red beans
bay leaf
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 pound okra, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
1 14.5-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes, liquid and all
2 cups vegetable stock*
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (no need to thaw)
2 TBL Tabasco garlic pepper sauce (this is milder than the regular Tabasco, and has lots of flavor)
3/4 tsp Liquid Smoke
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
2 tsp salt

Soak the beans in cold water to cover 2 inches above the top of beans overnight or 8 hours. Drain and rinse. Cover with cold water to cover 2 inches above the beans, add bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender, but not mushy, about an hour and a half. Drain and place in Crockpot. Add remaining ingredients and cook on Low setting 8 hours. Check seasonings every once in a while. Serve over rice or as a stew with cornbread.

*I haven't made my vegetable stock yet (I make tons and freeze it to use all winter), so I used 2 cups boiling water and one cube of Rapunzel vegetable bouillon with sea salt.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How did I screw up? Let me count the ways...

I did my usual "deviate from the pattern without thinking it through completely" thing with the Placket-Neck Pullover, and unlike many of you who happily modify patterns at will, I NEVER seem to learn that I don't have the skills to do this with complete success. Either major headaches or a yucky FO result. This was a Learning Experience for me. We'll have to see if I actually apply the lessons to future projects or not :)

Pattern: Placket Neck Pullover from Last Minute Knitted Gifts, size 2-3 years
Needles: Size 6 16" (Couldn't find my 24", but it squished onto the 16" just fine) and dpns
Yarn: Rowan Wool-Cotton in white (EXACTLY one ball), Debbie Bliss Wool Cotton in light blue (less than one ball) and in navy (almost two balls)
Notes: I wish I could remember that knitting is not something for which I have natural talent. I am much better off following the pattern exactly (or doing modifications outlined by other knitters more skilled than I) and not substituting yarn unless I check that someone else has successfully used my chosen yarn. Deciding to stripe in this pattern was not the best idea I've had, but overall, I'm pleased with the sweater. Here are things that are completely obvious that I had to learn the hard way:

Lesson #1: Color changes make the jog on a seamless sweater extra wonky. Consider saving striping for seamed garments.

Lesson #2: Intarsia is yucky and tedious. But I really was pleased with how well I did. I think overall the placket looks nice.

Lesson #3: Chart out the striping sequence for the ENTIRE sweater, not just enough to make the body and sleeves match. This was a tough one. I mapped out the increases on the sleeves to make sure they would match the body, but I didn't even consider the yoke striping until I had joined both sleeves. Duh! So the first blue stripe below the neckband is dark blue, when it should have been light blue to match the pattern I'd set. Knitting even wasn't an option because it would have made the yoke over an inch too long, and skipping the last dark blue stripe would have caused the opposite problem. I lucked out at least that the last decrease row was on the white stripe so I didn't have to work even at all (although another two rows would have been okay). I also went on the short side of the measurements for the body and sleeves to make the striping work. I'll have to see if the toddler who receives this has too much wrist and tummy showing--I can rip out the seed stitch trim and knit down another stripe (since the top stripe in the yoke is dark blue).

Lesson #4: If you loathe weaving in ends, DO THEM AS YOU GO. Or skip striping all together. Oh, the humanity!

Lesson #5: Do some actual calculation about the amount of yarn you need for each color. That way, your "stash-busting sweater" won't leave you with one full ball of light blue yarn, and cause you to ADD a ball of white unnecessarily to your stash when you panic and think there's no way you can finish the sweater with the white you have left (and really, it was a squeaker). White yarn left, with sheet of paper for reference:

Lesson #6: Don't do seed stitch on the wrong side row when it's the first row in a new color. (At least I caught this one after a couple of stitches of weirdness, and did a stockinette row in the new color before beginning the seed stitch row.)

Reading: I read the first book in The 39 Clues series. Review at On My Bookshelf. I thought it was fun, if wildly improbable, and I'm really intrigued by the multimedia aspect.

Writing: Writing time has been very scarce lately. We had visitors, and I've been preparing for selling jam. Still at 12,294 words.

Cooking: Hmm. I made the Pasta with Lemon, Beans, and Greens from Cooking Light. The whole family just loves this recipe. So much flavor. I made Hedonistic Fudgies again. Man, those are good. After calculating the points, I was inspired to make them much, much smaller. I ended up with 66 teaspoon-sized drops of batter, making them about 1.5 points each. I have a stew in mind to make with an array of produce, but we're having a warm spell, so it's too hot for stew.

Weight Watchers update: 3 weeks, 6.5 pounds. Hmmm. I know there are slower weeks and faster weeks, but the half-pound loss is tough to see. I'm soldiering on, though!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Just when you need it...

Yesterday was a tough day. Attempts at getting Lilah down for a nap were thwarted, so she was really cranky all afternoon. But, just when I needed it, two things brought me a smile!

Kate, of Knit the Knits gave me an award:

I was absolutely tickled. There are rules attached:
1. post this award on your blog;
2. add a link to the person who sent you the award;
3. nominate at least 4 other bloggers, and add their links as well; and
4. leave a comment at the new recipients' blogs, so they know they got an award.

If you haven't visited Knit the Knits, you ought to. Go for the gorgeous lace knitting, stay for the dry humor and abundant technical terms. I do! It's not easy to pick four recipients. I love all the blogs to which I link, so I'll give the award to those who have specifically made me smile recently.

KnitPastis (you'll see why in a minute): Gorgeous socks, inspiring posts.

StringBean of Crash Test Dummies: She does the projects I lack the ambition to attempt myself and cracks me up.

Stefaneener of Reading While Knitting": I want to be Stefaneener when I grow up. Go see her blog, and you will, too.

Amy of Sassy Does It: A kindred blog-spirit.

I took Lilah to the post office as a bedtime-stalling measure, and had a lovely package from KnitPastis, with many, many treats! I promptly moved my Placket Neck Pullover into this one:

Isn't that the cutest project bag? It's so soft, and a million times nicer to look at than the gallon-sized baggie I was using (I know, so tacky--it was left over from my travel knitting).

Thank you for your comments on my last post! It's been really funny to me, desperate people noticing things in my cart and asking how I cook them. But I love talking about cooking, so it's fun.

Knitting: Finished sleeve #1 on Placket Neck. The number of ends to weave in is HUGE. Even though I always tell myself I'll weave them in as I go along, I never do. It's going to take forever. But I like the striping, and I think it'll be cute. I'm still not sure I have enough white yarn, but I can order a ball if needed.

Reading: I have several reviews to get up on On My Bookshelf. I read a few kids' books, a really, really funny mystery (Brigadoom! by Susan Goodwill), and Staggerford by Jon Hassler. I'm still pondering the ending of Staggerford. I'm not sure it was fair. But it's a good sign that I'm still thinking about it. I'm now reading another of my Joan Hess mysteries.

Writing: 12,294 words! Not as much progress, as we had company. But Chapter 2 is done, and Chapter 3 is clicking along. I think my chapters are far too long, though I do have section breaks. Not that it's a big concern, just something that's occurring to me. I'm focused on the forward progress, just keeping notes on changes I'll want to go back and make. Nothing huge, though one subplot needs some tweaking, as I really mishandled it. I know how to fix it, at least.

Cooking: Have I made anything interesting? Oh, with the last cheap blueberries of the season, I made blueberry ginger jam that is really nice. I made my granola (recipe linked at left), but left out the coconut, added the zest of one orange, and used all cranberries, no raisins for a Cranberry Orange version. It was nice. I made some whole wheat scones to go with my jam.

Weight Watchers update: 6 pounds, 2 weeks...yay!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cooking Class

I haven't led with cooking lately, and it's not as though I've done anything spectacular, but I thought I'd bring up a few things that were on my mind in that regard. It's not that I think I'm some cooking guru, but I get a lot of questions on how I can come up with recipes and how I know what substitutions I can make in a recipe. I think anyone trying to eat healthier or more interesting food can benefit from a few ideas. I also have been giving impromptu cooking lectures while waiting at the deli counter or picking out off-the-beaten-path-of-typical-American-cuisine produce (not spontaneously! only when someone asks a question). Part of this, I think, is rising food prices. Three times I've been at the store with dried beans in my cart, and I've been stopped by people asking how to cook them. I even have my "lecture" down to under a minute :) They're so much cheaper than canned beans that people are getting curious about them, but it seems not many people know how to do that anymore. Likewise with seasonally cheap vegetables that are outside the usual comfort zone for people. And people who didn't used to cook *at all* are being forced to limit their eating out because of food and gas costs.

Cooking is natural and intuitive for me the way knitting is for other people. I can knit, yes, but it's not the effortless, creative process it seems to be for so many of the knitting bloggers I follow. I have knit myself sweaters that I don't wear because of ill-advised yarn substitutions (the Hourglass Sweater that fits great but isn't in the best color, not to mention the too-scratchy wool) or blind pattern-following (the Simple Knitted Bodice that is too short, and I knew it would be too short, but I was afraid to alter the pattern). I don't really remember learning how to cook. I started in high school when I first started the vegetarian thing and no one knew what to cook for me anymore. I started with a couple of cookbooks and some internet recipes and just went nuts. I'm happiest with Italian/Mediterranean cuisine, but I do a bit of Mexican and Asian cooking, too. When I see a recipe, I see possibilities, not a shopping list. But I think that those who are less cooking-inclined can learn how to do this and become more confident in their cooking.

Healthier eating: If a recipe isn't already billed as "low fat" or "light," you can almost always cut the fat by at least a third without ill effects. If it's a baked item, replace the missing amount of butter or oil with an equal measure of low fat yogurt, drained applesauce, canned pumpkin, light cream cheese, or another low fat ingredient that doesn't clash with the existing ingredients. How to know if it will clash? Partly common sense, like replacing butter in a brownie recipe with pumpkin, which has a strong flavor, is probably not a good idea. But in a spice muffin, pumpkin would be great. If you're not sure, you can e-mail me :) If the missing fat is in a cooking recipe, you may not need to make any change. Or you might want to spray the pan with cooking spray so that the missing fat doesn't lead to food sticking. If it's a sauce or another dish in which liquid amount is key, replace the missing fat with an equal measure of broth (I use veggie broth, obviously). If it's a dairy-oriented sauce, replace with low-fat milk (I'm not a big proponent of skim milk, which tends to make things taste funny or separate oddly). If you want more whole grains in your diet, replace half the unbleached flour in a recipe with whole wheat. White whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour are less obvious than regular whole wheat, but have the same benefits. Try doubling the vegetables in a dish, which lowers the overall calorie count per serving in addition to sneaking in more veggies. Or try adding an additional vegetable. Same with fruit--try increasing the amount. Cooking Light has a "recipe makeover" section where they take a reader's fat-laden favorite and remake it into a decently healthy dish. You can learn a lot about lightening recipes from those examples.

What flavors go together? How do I substitute one ingredient for another? This takes practice, but you don't have to reinvent the wheel. If you don't have (or like) kale, google "kale substitute." Or just ask yourself what it brings to the dish, and what other item might do that just as well. Kale is a leafy green...try using a different leafy green like spinach. Kale is pretty thick, though, so you'll want to cook the spinach for a lower time than the recipe calls for. Also think about menu items at restaurants you like. Do they use citrus and spinach together? Carrots and ginger? Eggplant and tomato sauce? If there's a combination you like, try to emulate it at home. If you know you want to make tomato sauce for pasta, search at a site with A LOT of recipes, especially one with reviews (All Recipes and Cooking Light are great for this). You can get a feel for what the possibilities are, and what combinations get good reviews. With practice, you'll get used to weeding through and finding the recipe you'll like best.

How do I cook that? I actually don't have a basic cookbook (I like the single-cuisine, specialty ones), so I don't know one to recommend. I've heard good things about How To Cook Everything, though. And googling is always your friend. Search "how to cook kale" and you'll find plenty of suggestions. And again, feel free to ask me :) I will tell you how to cook dried beans here, though, because it is SO much cheaper and lower in sodium than buying canned beans. Cover beans in a large pot with cold water two inches above the beans and let sit overnight. The next day, drain and return to the pot. Cover with cold water two inches above the beans again and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until tender. For chickpeas, cooking time might be 45 minutes, but I've had black beans take a full two hours. Unless you know the age of your beans (not likely, as they could have been on the shelf for years), you can't predict the actual cooking time, so just keep checking. I usually do a pound or two at a time. This is a lot, but they freeze really well. Just move into one-cup containers (or whatever size is convenient for you) and pop in the freezer. I defrost by moving a container to the fridge the day before I want to use them, but you can defrost in the microwave, too. If you're going to puree the beans, put in a teaspoon per pound of baking soda during both the soaking and cooking stages and it will help break down the starch. NEVER add acid (like citrus juice) or salt to the cooking beans (until they're partially cooked) as this will make them tough.

Wow, that was long. I hope it wasn't overly boring or pretentious. If you have cooking questions, feel free to put them in the comments. I can't really help you with meat, but I'm pretty comfortable with a wide range of other cooking/baking.

So, anyway...knitting! I'm almost to the armpits on Placket Pullover. I'm afraid I should have used one row of off-white between blue stripes instead of two, because my off-white yarn ball is getting frighteningly small. I may have to order another.

Reading: I've been reading mysteries, and I'll have a bunch of reviews up this week. It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week, so we have some giveaways we'll be doing this week over at On My Bookshelf.

Writing: Are you ready for this? Word count: 10, 640. Woo! Almost done with Chapter 2, and I hope to have that one done by tomorrow. I think my chapters are too long, though, so I might need to break it up a bit. I also have to make a map of my town, as I think I contradicted myself about where some of the places are.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Plugging along

Well, I've been making progress on a number of fronts lately. I actually was going to post a few days ago, but this is Post #250 and I felt like I should have something exciting and fun. But I don't! I'm going for selling stuff at our community thing--thank you to everyone for your encouragement! I will be selling jam and some other things to go with it. Truffles I think will wait for the holidays, though I may have samples out at the community thing with information on how people can order them. They're kind of a huge pain (though perversely enjoyable). So, Amy, it's probably going to be between $1 and $2 per piece. I have to price out my costs. But that sounds like a good future blog giveaway, doesn't it? :-) The tricky thing with a food-based business is the regulation. If I decide to make this a bigger thing than just selling jam at a community thing, I'll have to find a commercial kitchen, not to mention dealing with the bureaucracy of starting a real business. So I'll try this as a first step and see how it goes.

Knitting: Still going on Placket Neck Pullover. I really like it so far. I'm getting close to the end of the body-only part, and I'm enjoying the striping. The ends are a different matter. I've been slacking on tucking them in as I go, so when I finally do them, it'll take forever.

I promise not to give you inch-by-inch progress photos on this, but I felt this showed the striping pattern so much better than the last photo that it made sense. I'm still looking for a cardigan pattern for Lilah. I was thinking this one, but it's not quite what I was thinking. I think it would be easy to modify it to use buttonholes so I can use my cute buttons, but I had more of a collar in mind. Maybe a shawl collar. Anyway, still looking. I may decide to just do this one and see if I like it.

Reading: I had a great reading tragedy occur--I was reading along (Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett) and got to page 162, which describes the hero trapped in a basement. I went to the next page...something wasn't right. I realized that the book was mis-printed. Instead of pages 163-210, I had pages 115-162 again! Ack! Amazon is remedying the situation at no cost to me, but I still have to wait to find out how the boy gets out of the basement. I just finished a fantastic mystery, Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet, but I don't have my review up yet. Next week is Book Bloggers Appreciation Week, by the way--we're going to have lots of giveaways at On My Bookshelf.

Writing: Finished Chapter One today! Word count - 5,238. I cannot believe it. I hope to get going on Chapter Two this weekend while Matt and Lilah have quality time.

Cooking: Have I done anything that interesting? I've been doing the Weight Watchers points (2.5 pounds in Week One! Woo!) so I've been doing simple, healthy stuff. Still no luck on my vanilla tea. I tried a random kind of tea that had vanilla in the title, but it turned out to smell much better than it tasted. It was some sort of vanilla chai thing (but teabags, not one of those mixes), and I suspect it would have been better with milk, which, since I'm using tea as a calorie-free treat, defeats the purpose. I did make a batch of Blue Blueberry Muffins (from Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke) and made 5 dozen mini-muffins instead of full-sized muffins. This makes them one point each, perfect for a little pick-me-up. I also made mini-cheesecakes for my book club tonight. Also one point each. I used my usual cheesecake recipe (which makes 8 dozen mini-cheesecakes made in mini-muffin tins) and cut it to 1/3 (this required a bit of tweaking in places, but it worked out well). I ended up with 3 dozen, slightly on the small side. I usually don't lighten cheesecake (seriously, why bother?) but I happened to have 1/3-less-fat cream cheese to use up, along with light sour cream. In the past, when I've made vast quantities of these, I make different kinds--add mini chocolate chips and use chocolate cookies in the crust, swirl in lemon curd, or swirl in blueberry or raspberry sauce. I just did plain this time.

Mini Cheesecakes (small batch version)

Prepare mini-muffin tins by spraying with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 325.

2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 1/2 TBL butter, melted (more if needed)
1 TBL sugar

Mix all ingredients well. Use a teaspoon to evenly distribute crust among 36 muffin cups. Sort of press it down with the teaspoon to make it go up the sides a bit. (Really, it takes almost exactly a teaspoon per cup.)

1 egg
1 8-oz. package cream cheese
8 oz. sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat egg white (reserving yolk) at high speed until stiff. Set aside. Beat egg yolk, cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until well-blended. Fold in egg white. Use a tablespoon measure to scoop filling in crust and smooth a bit. (This makes almost exactly enough for 1 TBL per 36 cups.)

Bake at 325 for 12-14 minutes, or until filling is set. Cheesecakes may crack a bit. Let cool in tins on wire rack. Carefully remove to an airtight container. If you're having trouble, run a sharp knife around the cheesecakes one at a time and scoop them out (if you spray the tins well with cooking spray, there won't be much of a problem). Refrigerate before serving.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Cross your fingers

I got going on my striped Placket-Neck Pullover, and I think I like it so far. Although I realized that the placket should be in dark blue, which means...intarsia, ick. But it's not that many rows, so probably I'll survive the experience. I also remember why I'm not a fan of striping--ends to weave in. I'm doing those as I go a bit. I noticed that, though I use them interchangeably, Debbie Bliss Wool Cotton and Rowan Wool Cotton are not quite the same. I'm not having gauge problems, but the DB is more of a...sturdy yarn, while the Rowan is softer. At any rate, I jotted down the stripe pattern on the sleeves so I know when to stop the main body. Cross your fingers that it all comes together.

Interesting note (or maybe not), I've thought for years about starting a business, not that I know what I'd do. I've thought idly about selling my truffles or baked goods, and now I've got a jam stockpile. I have an opportunity to sell stuff (whatever I want, really) at a community thing in a month, and I have to decide what to do. Now that I'm finally writing again, do I want to give up precious free time to prepare stuff to sell? (Although Lilah will let me cook while she's up, whereas writing is out of the question.) Will cooking not be fun if it feels like a job? I guess if it's my business, I can determine my capacity and how much I want to do.

Reading: I finally posted four Jane Austen-related reviews at On My Bookshelf. The Jane Austen craze is really funny to me, but I keep reading the books :) One of the books was Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, which is funny because I'm a bit of a Jane Austen addict. I'm doing a giveaway for an extra copy of that book, actually, so enter if it sounds like a good read. I also reviewed a Harry Potter-inspired novel, The Questory of Root Karbunkulus. I'm now reading The Mysterious Benedict Society, which is fantastic. Really, really fun. And where Questory sometimes seemed forced, it's clear that the author of TMBS is having a blast. Though the plotting is careful, the storytelling seems effortless.

It occurred to me that I'd maybe been reading a lot this year, so I sorted my LibraryThing by 2008, and discovered I've read 148 books this year. I almost fell over. Now, a lot of those are juvenile fiction or cozy mysteries, which don't take me that long, but that still seems like a big number.

Writing: A couple of hours yesterday! Word count - 2,598. (I expect Chapter One will take roughly 5000 words.) It's nice to be writing again, though it's frustratingly slow. I wish I were one of those people who only needs 5 hours of sleep a night. I could wake up early and write for hours. Unfortunately, I am just too tired.

Cooking: I grilled (on the George Foreman grill--I don't do real grilling) a zucchini, a yellow squash, a green pepper, and a small eggplant, chopped them up and tossed them with a simple vinaigrette, a bit of feta cheese, and some chopped kalamata olives. Seasoned with oregano, salt, and pepper, and served it over a bed of lettuce. It was really good for such a low-calorie salad. I made the Pasta With Beans, Greens, and Lemon from Cooking Light, which is a favorite, and grilled nectarines for dessert and served them with this lovely ice cream recipe. I made a couple of changes. I upped the liquid to 4 cups to match the capacity on my ice cream maker, used all whole milk to make the nutritional profile less terrifying, and used wildflower honey, since that's what I had. I thought it was lovely, but in my opinion, one vanilla bean would have been sufficient. And they're expensive, so I really wish I had considered that before using both.

I'm back to tracking my Weight Watchers points. I don't do the meeting thing, but just writing down what I eat is a huge help. It's Day 5 and going well. Once I can get some momentum going, it's not that bad. I discovered that flavored afternoon tea feels like a treat--yesterday was Republic of Tea Blackberry Sage, and that reminded me of Republic of Tea's Vanilla Almond. Yum! But I haven't found anywhere around here that sells it, so I think I'll be forced to order it and pay shipping. I have a strong aversion to paying for shipping (amazon, bn.com, and borders.com ALWAYS get me with their $25 limit since I'd rather order a couple more books than pay the price of a book for shipping), but I think it'll be worth it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Looking up

So Lilah has been sleeping rather better, though she's had some (yuck) 10:00 pm bedtimes. And a friend and I are working out some alternating child care. She took Lilah for a couple of hours today, and I ran up to my writing nook and worked on the mystery novel. I've been futzing with the backstory so much in little notes to myself (I keep a Word file for the purpose, and a little notepad by my bed) that it's a page 1 rewrite. Gulp. I will be able to lift some sections from the 40,000 words I'd already written later on, but starting over is both exasperating and exciting, because it's a huge improvement.

I want to thank everyone for their comments! You guys are really sweet and encouraging :)

Knitting: Casting on for the Wool Cotton blue/white placket pullover.

Reading: I've been on a Jane Austen-related kick. I've read one very good, one not great but with some good points, and one hilariously fun. I'll post about them on On My Bookshelf soon.

Writing: Draft 3 word count...2017 (Note: We are aiming for about 60-80,000 here, so miles to go, and all that. Still, any progress is a good thing at this point.)

Cooking: I forgot to mention our Indian dinner. I made Samosas from The New Moosewood Cookbook to go with basmati rice and Hot Chana (chickpeas with hot spices, a milder version for Matt and Lilah!) from Vegetarian Cooking At Your House. I usually go all out when cooking Indian, with three or four dishes, rice, and a bread, but didn't have the time.

Monday, September 01, 2008


I had really meant to start posting more frequent, shorter entries, but my constant state these days is one of distraction. Lately it's been the world of book blogging. My friend Holly and I have been posting book reviews and we've both gotten into some early reviewing, and we've even got book giveaways in the works. So I've been reading more book blogs and brainstorming about how to get more than five people to frequent our site :) Add to that that I kept thinking I was just an hour away from finishing my Placket Neck Pullover, and I've gone too long without posting again.

Anyway...here it is!

Pattern: Placket Neck Pullover from Last Minute Knitted Gifts (size 6-12 months)
Yarn: Sirdar Snuggly Baby Bamboo
Needles: Size 6 dpns and 16" circular
Notes: This is an easy-peasy pattern. The only thing I do is add buttonholes because I think the beads pushed between stitches looks tacky. I do a yo, k2tog on the last two stitches on rows 4, 12, and 20, and I think it works out well. This pattern overestimates the heck out of your yarn needs. I bought four skeins (436 yds) of yarn and used about two and a half. The buttons came from The Button Drawer, which has such cute buttons and fast shipping. I got a few more, little ducks for Lilah and even a penguin button, along with a few different flowers.

Other knitting: I'm looking for a cardigan pattern for Lilah that would use some Debbie Bliss Baby Alpaca DK in pink. I haven't found what I'm looking for. I definitely want buttons, and a gauge swatch shows I'm getting 6 stitches to the inch on size 6s. I'm happy with that fabric, but I still need a pattern. I'm trying for simple, but a little girly. I may attempt to design something, but that may be beyond my ability right now.

I also have these:

I want to make a placket neck pullover for a two year old boy, but I don't have any particular yarn for it. I noticed these hanging around the stash, and was thinking it might be just the ticket...if I can come up with a stripe pattern that looks okay. I may just cast on with the dark blue and get started. Or I may finally try to finish Tiger Sock #2 while I deliberate.

Reading: Tons and tons. I'm going to send you to On My Bookshelf for reviews again. I'm having trouble settling to a book at the moment. I just read two memoirs (Wife in the North and Queen of the Road, both about women relocating for their husbands--Wife in the North from London to the country; Queen of the Road from a house to a converted bus for a year), and I'm working on Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, but it's not really doing it for me. I have mysteries to read, a huge stack of kids' books, a pile of Jane Austen-related books, and so much more. I may carry on with this one for a bit to see if it grows on me.

Writing: A bit of futzing with the backstory, at least, if not full-scale writing.

Cooking: It's been so long since I posted, let's see. Ah, the baking for the playground build was great. I made three kinds of muffins: the Blue Blueberry Muffins from Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke (fun mystery, fantastic muffins), my Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins (recipe in the link at the left), and Raspberry Cheesecake Muffins, only with blackberry jam. The muffin for the Raspberry Cheesecake was kind of blah, but the cheesecake/jam filling really kicked it up. Unfortunately, the blackberry jam also erupted from the muffins like lava, leaving my oven coated in charred jam. I'm not sure if I need to vent the muffins or make sure to more thoroughly cover them.

I made Gallo Pinto for brunch last Sunday to celebrate the build (recipe at left). This week, I made Baba Ghanosh (recipe from World of the East Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey), Classic Hummus (recipe at left), and Ful Medames. The only change I make is to mash the fava beans coarsely with a potato masher. Then I make pita chips for a feast: Cut pita into wedges, spray and brush with olive oil, and stick under the broiler for about 2 minutes, WATCHING CAREFULLY. Turn, spray or brush with oil, then sprinkle with sea salt, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and dried thyme. Pop under the broiler a minute or two.

I also made Strawberry Vanilla Jam. Again, just following the recipe on the box of pectin, except scraping the seeds of one vanilla bean (split lengthwise) into the pot. I had a half-flat of strawberries, which ended up making 19 jars of jam between the two batches! It's yummy.

Housekeeping update: I finally switched over to Blogger's new Layout thing instead of my old template. I've been re-adding my old links (what a pain). I haven't gotten my web rings added back in, and since I can't seem to log into ring surf, that might take a while...