Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Baking Spree

Dear and I visited a new Farmer's Market last weekend (well ... new to us, anyway), located in downtown Fort Collins. We were pleased with the number of farmers there, and saw a few things that we had never seen before. We stocked up on fresh veggies and salad-fixin's, and found an absolutely ENORMOUS zucchini and squash.

Unfortunately, I have no before pictures of these ... I know they were not your traditional zucchini and squash, they were supposed to be as big as they were. They were each longer than my forearm, and as wide around as a loaf of Italian bread. I'm not exaggerating, these things were HUGE, and we had to figure out what to do with them.

Answer: zucchini bread!
My first effort, and it came out REALLY tasty if I do say so myself. I love a thick hunk of zucchini bread with cream cheese along with my iced coffee for breakfast, so rest assured I will be making more of this. I'll try to remember to take a before-picture of the zucchini next time, too. The recipe was a basic one from my Betty Crocker cookbook (which I LOVE). I also found a recipe in that cookbook that solved my problem of too-many peaches.

My first-ever zucchini bread, followed by my first-ever peach cobbler, both in the same afternoon. The house smelled so yummy, and this peach cobbler is scrumptious. The peaches are some of the best I've had in YEARS, and I can't wait until we're back from our vacation this weekend, so I can go back to the Farmer's Market and buy more, More, MORE!!

Next up: canning. :-D

Pretty pretty flowers ....

We have some serious weed problems in our yard. Not only is the lawn plagued by dandelions, but we have tons and tons of other spiky prickly grassy weeds that pop up in the rocks surrounding our lawn. The dandelions don't really bother us, because they get cut down with the mower and then we can pretend they aren't there ... but we've had to do a serious weed-ing a few times already this summer, and it looks like we'll have to do at least one or two more.

A couple weeks ago, Dear and I were frantically trying to weed the back yard gravel areas before a rain storm came down upon us, so we opted to leave the two side portions alone. The house and fence block them from public view, there are no windows that look out onto those areas, and we decided that "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" would serve us best in this instance.

Imagine my surprise a few days ago when I went out to water the garden and discovered that our weeds were actually ....
Pretty wild flowers! They're very sunflower-esque, but I think they are just a sunflower-wannabe. These flowers are now cropping up all over our neighborhood (even out of the storm drain by our mailbox! I was going to photograph it, but the heat killed them before I got out there with my camera), and I think they are pretty. So I'm glad that we didn't pull them out before they flowered, and I'm also glad that I now have an excuse to leave them be.

I love that the procrastination lessons I learned in high school and college are still serving me well today. PS, I went out to water the garden this morning, and some of these flowers were taller than the fence. Holy crap.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Off My Nightstand

I've been lucky enough to have some extra reading time lately, and I've really enjoyed the last few books I've finished. A major feat was finishing the 1400+ pages of The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, the fifth book in the Outlander series.
Photo jacked from

I just love these books, and each one is longer than the next ... but I never really seem to notice and am always a little sad to finish another one. If you are unfamiliar with this series, you should do yourself a favor and read the first one, Outlander. It's a historical romance series, but so much more than that ... mythical time travel mixes with 1700's Scotland. Kind of hard to describe without them sounding cheesy, so just trust me and read them. You won't be disappointed.

After such a long book, I wanted something easy to plow through, so I checked out Tana French's Faithful Place from the library. I only had seven days to read it, but I plowed through it in five. 400 pages is nothing after you've finished 1400+.
Photo again jacked from

This was a really good book, a quick murder mystery that had a decent twist at the ending. I love her character development and how she doesn't give away everything directly at the beginning. I read In The Woods by her a couple years ago and LOVED it.

After Faithful Place, I cranked through Tina Fey's Bossypants on my Kindle.
Yes. Amazon. Again.

If you're a fan of Tina Fey (and a woman), you should read this book. She has such a great attitude, funny and self-deprecating, and it was fun to read about her experiences getting onto SNL, the whole Sarah Palin look-alike deal, and starting 30 Rock. I've been a fan of hers for a long time, and it turns out we have a lot of things in common, so I really enjoyed this. I say that you should be a woman to read it because she talks about a lot of woman-stuff ... pregnancy, motherhood, breast feeding, periods ... it's all in there, and well-written about and hilarious if you are a woman. I tried to read some of these lines out loud to Dear, and he just grunted. I think it's lost on men, but I was laughing out loud throughout this book.

Some friends are loaning me a few more books coming up, so I'll keep up the recommendations. For those of you who are anti-Kindle, let me put it this way: I will never give up reading books, I love the feel of turning a page too much. But I love my Kindle. L-O-V-E. For a 1400+ page book like The Fiery Cross, it was AMAZING, and it's really easy to read while I eat my lunch because it frees up both of my hands. So I will happily continue to read printed books ... and I will happily continue to read books on my Kindle. So there.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Best Buttons EVER

I'm developing a class that I am going to be teaching at a few shops in the Denver area and up here in Fort Collins (dates TBA). I had been itching to knit up another Baby Surprise Jacket, and suddenly it occurred to me that a lot of people might benefit from a class helping them through the pattern. Elizabeth Zimmermann is notoriously vague in her patterns, encouraging knitters to think as they go and pay attention to their knitting. The Baby Surprise Jacket is one of her classic patterns.
One of the benefits of the pattern is it can be knit in any gauge yarn. You choose needles that go with the yarn weight you pick, and knit it up. Whatever size it comes out is perfect: kids grow, so even if it's big for a newborn, they can always wear it later! I knit this cutie up holding two strands of Linie 2 Supersocke Silk (here's a link to my Rav page). It took me two whole skeins (four, actually, because I was holding two strands together). This is what the piece of fabric looks like when you cast it off.
Then, you connect A to A and B to B and SURPRISE! A baby sweater (hence the name). I left the shoulder seams un-sewn because I plan to use this as a demo piece in my classes. Once the classes are over, I'll stash this away until Dear and I start having kids of our own. I picked out the best buttons EVER at My Sister Knits.
Purple hippos!! You just don't get cuter than this.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stuff to Sell

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my dear friend Tim has agreed to try to sell some of my hand-knit goods in the super duper shop he manages in Chicago, called Hazel. I'm knitting up hats and fingerless gloves for him to have during the winter months, but since it's still really freaking hot throughout most of the country, I have a few other things up my sleeve.

Here's the first hat that I've finished for him.

Knit from my own handspun done a while ago, this is a superwash wool hat in the colorway Snake in the Grass, purchased from the Loopy Ewe (my apologies to the dyer for my poor record-keeping ... I can't remember who did this great roving). The pom-pom was a last-minute decision and I love it. I'll be doing more of these in a slightly different variation. I love the way the grey ended up striping ... this was a super-bulky 3-ply that I plied at random, so the colors matching up where they did was totally un-planned.


I've been trying to take a little time each day to work on a project that can go into my Etsy store, so I can get that up and running again. I've been spinning through my fiber stash, and have a few knitted project ideas that my dear friend Tim will be selling at the awesome store he manages in Chicago, Hazel. More on that later.

My latest spinning project was some blue-green-purple-yellow-white stuff that I've had in my stash for a good few months. I can't remember for sure where I bought it, and I can't remember for sure what's in it ... but I'm pretty sure it's mostly wool and the white shiny stuff is some kind of silk.
You'll have to forgive the flash photo -- I tried taking the picture in natural sunlight and it washed itself out. This is the closest I got to its actual colors.

The result is a DK to Fingering weight 2-ply (I'm getting smaller!!) that has some nice color variation and a little bit of sheen where the silk comes through. I only had about two ounces to begin with, so I just divided what I had in half and spun the two plies against each other, rather than trying to match it with something else. I ended up with approximately 252 yards, a decent amount to make something pretty.

Baby Pants

When I found out my cousin was pregnant and due at the end of this year, I immediately started brainstorming what adorable little baby thing I could knit for her. At My Sister Knits one day, I spotted a sample of the a-DOR-able Kinoko Pants by Yumiko Sakurai {Rav link} and immediately decided that was what I needed to cast on.

A couple things would dictate the yarn I used for this one: first, you never EVER want to give a new mother a baby garment that is hand-wash only. It just shouldn't happen. The garment will either sit un-used in a drawer for fear of being ruined, OR it will be machine-washed within the first two months and thus completely ruined. So it had to be washable.

Second, my cousin lives near Phoenix. Wool is not generally necessary in Phoenix. So I wanted a nice washable baby cotton in a color that could work for either boys or girls (she won't find out until later this month which one she's having). I chose a nice, bright, happy yellow in Plymouth Yarn Company's Cotton Kisses. It's a very knubbly yarn, and somewhat splitty, but I knit these little pants on size 6 needles in less than a week; the splittiness was easier to deal with than I had expected, when properly pointy needles were used.

Here's a link to my Ravelry project page for these where you can find more details and notes. These knit up really quick and I love them ... I think they're adorable, and a nice change from baby sweaters. The cotton means they'll be cool enough to use in Phoenix, and absorbent enough that a leaky diaper is not the end of the world (another plus of using washable wool for baby garments, but I digress).

I'm not sure why I'm so into baby knits lately, but I suspect it has something to do with the satisfaction of finishing so many projects so quickly, and the cuteness of the wee finished object. It's also not helping that I'm working on developing a class for various shops between Fort Collins and Denver on Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket ... so baby clothes are just naturally coming out of the woodwork, so to speak. Just say "awwwww" and go with it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Guaran-tweed an Awesome Blanket

I've been doing some work lately for my favorite LYS, My Sister Knits. Mostly I've been handling their social media (check out their blog! It's all me!), Facebook, Ravelry and the like. I've volunteered to do a couple of store samples, too ... one was a pair of slippers that I ran out of yarn halfway through the second slipper and was dismayed to learn they weren't carrying the color anymore. So that's sitting in a WiP bag somewhere ... but then. Then.

To help support their Christmas in July with Brooklyn Tweed promotion, they needed store samples. I was looking for something easy and mindless to take with on our honeymoon to Hawaii, and the perfect project came up. The Tweed Baby Blanket.

This blanket is knit with a garter stitch center panel knit on a bias. Then the edges are picked up and the border is knit in-the-round with a feather-and-fan pattern. This is the smaller version (still slightly larger than 3x3), and the larger version has a three-color border. I absolutely love this in the tweed yarn, and the bright red and smokey grey make for a very striking baby blanket.

Personally, I would not normally knit an actual baby gift in this yarn ... it's not machine washable, and that just seems a cruel thing to give to a new mother. However, I get to keep this after a couple months when the shop is finished with it, and I plan to send it to my Nana who is ALWAYS cold (even though she lives in Phoenix). It will be a lovely lap blanket for her, and will make an awesome couch throw after that.

The I-Cord bind-off was fun to learn ... it makes a really nice wide border on something like this, but I learned the hard way that it's a time-consuming bind off. Granted, the blanket had about 540 stitches by the time it was done ... but that meant this bind-off took me about three hours. Definitely worth it in the end, but a late night for sure.

EZ Back from the Dead

I've stated here before how much I love Elizabeth Zimmermann. She was a pioneer of modern knitting, and her newsletters taught so much to so many. She really inspired thousands (millions?) to knit without tears or fears. Try something new! You never know what you'll learn. Her designs are simple and innovative, and her construction methods are unconventional and bloody brilliant. I adore reading her writings and old newsletters, her dry wit is apparent and I just ... sigh ... I just love her. About a year ago, I knit her Baby Surprise Sweater for my dear friend Paula's handsome baby boy ... this is what it looks like before you seam up the shoulders.
And here is what it looks like after.
WHO THINKS OF THAT?? A knitting genius, that's who. So imagine how excited I was when I heard that she had a new book coming out (despite having passed away in 1999) entirely based on her garter stitch designs. So as a birthday present to myself, I ordered up a copy of Knit One Knit All.
I ordered this book without having seen any of the inside, but wasn't worried ... and was not disappointed. I want to knit just about every pattern in this book, and the wonderful thing about it is that Elizabeth writes so that you can easily substitute something about the pattern that you don't care for. You can truly make them your own, using her base as a starting point. I don't want to bog you down with photos of what I want to knit from it, but suffice to say that there's PLENTY from this book coming up. If you're a knitter (beginner or not), you should purchase this book. Here's a link to the Schoolhouse Press page, but Knit Picks, Amazon, probably your Local Yarn Shop ... just go buy it. Totally worth the money.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Back to Spinning

I'm so glad I've been feeling the itch to spin lately. I didn't really feel the urge for several months, so my wheel sat mostly idle while we've been here in Fort Collins. Then I decided to spin our hand fast yarn for our ceremony, and I caught the bug again.

The hand fast yarn turned out great, but there are no current photos ... I'm a bad blogger. I had spun up some merino/alpaca blend a few months ago in one of my attempts at getting back into the spin of things (har dee har har), and liked spinning the pure alpaca so much for the hand fast that I had an idea.

That's about 250 yards (total) of 60% alpaca and 40% merino. It's super soft and dreamy, and will be really toasty warm when knit up. It's the thinnest I've ever been able to spin successfully -- it came out to a worsted-ish weight (sometimes lighter, sometimes heavier). I am really really thrilled with it, I think it's a lovely color combination and it shouldn't be itchy to anyone who's not allergic to sheep or alpacas.

My current plan is to eventually make a hat-and-mitten set, but if anyone is interested in purchasing I might be able to part with it. Send me a note and we'll tawlk.

My Poor Garden

I can't believe almost two months has gone by since my last post. I claim wedding mania and lack of projects to blog. When all this began, I had every intention of taking photos of the whole process and posting about it at least once a week ... and then, in the middle of all that process, it just seemed like too much to handle. I beg your forgiveness, kind readers, and hope you will bear with my through my waxing and waning attention span.

Which brings me to my container garden. I know I posted pictures a while ago of my little seedlings as they were coming up. Because of the lack of posting, there are only these very early photos of my little sprouts. I was going to take photos of my thriving plants to update you and share the excitement of the yumminess that was sure to come.

Around the beginning of May, I added two tomato plants (a German Queen and Mr. Stripey), a yellow bell pepper plant, and a cucumber plant to the basil, fennel, lavender, chives and snapdragons. Everything was doing amazingly well ... the dry Colorado sunshine combined with a healthy watering every day meant I had five tomatoes already coming in on each plant, a TON of baby cucumbers hanging down, and a fair few peppers beginning. The basil was looking lush (and smelled great), and we had been snipping fennel and adding it to just about everything for the past few weeks.

Then ... a Colorado summer hail storm happened.

It started innocently enough as a decent-sounding thunderstorm. Before we knew it there was golf-ball-sized hail coming down so fast and so hard it looked like it was snowing ice balls outside. It came about so quickly that I couldn't run out to cover the plants for fear of a concussion. To put this into perspective: both side mirrors on Dear's Ford F150 work truck were broken in several places. There were piles of ice still in place the next morning, making it look like we had wasted perfectly good Sno-Cones in our yard.

Now this is all that remains of my vegetables.
The German Queen Tomato

The Yellow Bell Pepper

Mr. Stripey Tomato

Sad Little Cucumber


The basil is still looking fairly hearty ... it's the chip taken out of the planter I wanted to share. The tomatoes just might make it because they were so big in the first place and the fruits are still there and looking okay (a little bruised, but hopefully will be edible). The bell pepper was a little runty because of an earlier, less-dramatic hail storm ... but my cucumber. My cucumber breaks my heart. It was so lush and the leaves were big and fuzzy-prickly, and we had a sizable cuke coming down that had a massive chunk taken out of it. I'm hoping with a little TLC and some extra water and *HOPEFULLY* no more hail storms, we might be able to salvage a few pieces out of these.

This was my first actual gardening attempt and it was going very well. I was truly excited for fresh tomatoes in my salad and cucumbers warm from the sun .... Does anyone know how to bring a fledgling garden back from the dead?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


It's no wonder that with my pending nuptials, I've had weddings on the brain lately. William and Kate only exacerbated my obsessions, but I have to admit that I've had a lovely time planning our wedding.

As the countdown ticks away (three weeks or so), my thoughts are not only circling weddings, but marriage itself. This is a tricky subject, and everyone has their own opinion on what makes a successful marriage and how this type of partnership should work. Coming from a divorced family, I've had serious worries about how to make sure mine is a marriage that will withstand the test of time. Dear comes from a parentage that only ended when his mom sadly passed away from Pancreatic Cancer -- two days shy of their 42nd wedding anniversary. When confronted with my endless questions of what is marriage, how to make it work and why the hell do we do it in the first place, I decided I needed to do some research.

I asked a couple of friends for advice on their marriages, especially in the early stages (since my friends that ARE married are all under the 5-year mark) and it quickly became apparent that -- duh -- every couple is different. Every couple deals with arguments, hard times, groceries, chores, and splitting up family holidays completely differently. As much as I appreciated the advice I was getting, I realized that I was curious as to WHY people get married nowadays. Why, in the day and age that it's much more widely accepted to have kids, live together, do everything you would normally do while being married without actually getting married: why do we keep doing this? Yes, it's nice to have the tax breaks and a big blowout party with all your friends and loved ones ... but the average wedding costs between $27,000 - $30,000, and that's a LOT of money to spend on one day. So why do we do it?

There's a man named John Gottman who has made a bit of a name for himself in couples counseling. He and his wife (another marriage counselor type) claim that they can predict, with up to 90% accuracy, whether or not a marriage will end in divorce, simply by observing a couple, any couple, for 15 minutes. I was recommended a copy of his Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and it contains some good advice for couples who are new or established. He has some great exercises that are all about getting to know each other, how to speak to each other during arguments, and pitfalls to avoid. John Gray's Mars and Venus Together Forever was also helpful in describing how a man's mind is different from a woman's mind, but tends to repeat itself and it reads like it's dumbing down clinical speak (which I suppose it is).

By far, the best book I have read on this subject (and I'll admit: I'm probably not done yet) is Committed: A Love Story, by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). A woman at a knit group recommended this to me, and I jumped at it because I Eat, Pray, Love was one of the best books I've read in a long time. This book is a follow-up where Liz and Felipe (the dreamy Brazilian man she falls in love with at the end of EPL) are faced with the one thing they agreed they never wanted to do: get married. Felipe hits a snag with US Customs and the only way he'll be allowed back into America is if he and Liz get hitched. They have to travel around for a while while his immigration status goes through the leagues and depths of bureaucracy, and Liz takes this time to do research (ha! Irony, that is) on marriage to try to make her peace with it. It's an incredibly well-written book and while it doesn't offer suggestions for how to handle your own marriage, it does contain a history, and general thoughts on the subject itself (including expectation, autonomy, ceremony, and others).

I've found a few other books that talk about this subject (a few? Try hundreds), and while I still want to keep reading up on the subject, I also think I need to take a break. Reading all these books about it only makes me overthink things, and I'm already a worrier ... so now that we're on the edge of the three-week countdown, I'm thinking that it would be much less stressful if I put my energy towards letting it ride ... I've made my decision, and I couldn't be happier with it. I love my Dear, and I'm so thrilled and lucky to be able to marry my sweetheart. To me, he's the most heartbreakingly handsome man in any room, and there aren't too many people who can make me laugh as hard. We have a great partnership, and we have everything that we need to take the next leap of faith. I'm tying on my Dear-shaped parachute and venturing forth.

Watermelon Gazpacho

I've been trying to make some new goals for myself. Small goals that are easily obtainable and I'm hoping will make differences in several different aspects of my life. One of these I mentioned earlier: eating a little more locally. This can sometimes be difficult, but so far I feel like I've at least managed to make some healthy and delicious meals for myself and Dear. This will probably become even easier as the summer progresses and the Farmers Markets get more stocked and my own garden starts generating (or even ... once I get it planted).

Another goal that I've set is to make at least one vegetarian meal a week. I figure this will help Dear and I save a little on expensive produce (especially produce that's chockfulla hormones and who knows what else) and try out new recipes to boot. I've started reading a couple blogs that promote vegetarian eating, and there are some really great recipes to be found (check out my friend and fellow Purchase alum, The Cozy Herbivore).

This week, I tried a recipe that I had a few years ago and have just never made myself: Watermelon Gazpacho. This is a fairly simple and tasty recipe, served cold like the traditional Gazpacho. It's a great kick-off to summer, and even better in the dead heat of Midsummer, taking advantage of all sorts of different flavors. Be forewarned: there is a LOT of chopping that goes into this. You might be most comfortable pulling a chair up to your counter, or setting a few towels down on the table and sitting while you chop. The messiest part is the juicy watermelon and tomatoes, but other than that, it's super easy! Beware of the serrano pepper, too -- it can burn your skin. I wore clean dishgloves while I chopped mine, but you can use regular rubber gloves from the cleaning aisle, as long as they are CLEAN. Please use common sense -- don't use the rubber gloves you scrubbed the toilet with over the weekend, for the love of Pete.

Watermelon Gazpacho

8 c seedless watermelon (about 1 1/2 of the tiny watermelons)
4 c tomato (about six or seven in total)
4 large avocados
1 cucumber
1 serrano pepper, seeded
2 T olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Put 7 cups of the watermelon and 3 1/2 cups of the tomatoes into a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer puree into a large bowl using a fine mesh strainer to separate the solids. Press as much of the solids through as will go, then throw the rest out.

Finely chop the remaining ingredients and toss them in with the pureed watermelon and tomato mess. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir gently. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Garnish with feta or goat cheese and fresh dill.


Monday, April 25, 2011

William and Katherine

I have to admit, I'm horribly excited to watch Prince William and soon-to-be Princess Katherine get hitched at the end of this week.

I had a huge unrequited crush on Prince William during my formative years (what red-blooded straight girl couldn't love the blond-haired, blue-eyed poster boy for Prince Charming?), and I think Kate Middleton is effortlessly classy and elegant. I love what she's done for hats over the last few years, and I cannot wait to see her outfits for decades to come.

Perhaps -- just perhaps -- some of my excitement is also because my own nuptials are counting down, and I'm doing my absolute damndest to be a pretty pretty princess in my own right.

But I mean, come on -- who doesn't love the pomp and circumstance that goes along with a royal wedding? Granted, the pomp is definitely more appreciated by those of us who don't have to pay for it in taxes, but we have our own pomp we're taxed for. So there.

In short, raise a cuppa to William and Katherine. May their marriage be filled with years of loveliness and laughter, the same as I would wish for any newlyweds (myself included). And I hope Katherine doesn't mind if I use her as modern-day inspiration for effortless dignity and grace.

Living la Vie da Local

I've been really gearing up for the Farmer's Market season. One of the things I was really excited for moving to Colorado is that people here seem to be a little more environmentally conscious (vs. the oil-driven-everything's-bigger-in-Texas mentality). Not that there's anything wrong with Texans, heavens no -- I really enjoyed the years that I lived there. But I love the idea of a place that it's easy to ride your bike along the street (Fort Collins has a bike lane on pretty much every street in town) and find locally grown produce.

It's not uncommon to meet folks around here who have a few alpaca, or maybe even goats. My favorite yarn shop in town, My Sister Knits, has a chicken coop in the back yard with five or six egg-laying chickens.

I mentioned before that I've become more interested in eating healthy, and I've had a growing interest in buying locally. May starts the Farmer's Market season, and I cannot wait to see what's in store for us this summer. There are several around Fort Collins, and one actually started last week but only had about six stalls and not very much produce. It's still very early for anything grown in the ground, and I've been using the time to read up on what else I can do throughout the year.

I've been reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (her name might seem familiar from her massively popular and very good Poisonwood Bible). It's a really well-written book about Barbara and her family living locally for one full year. If they can't grow it themselves or get it from a neighbor, they go without. They share recipes, tricks, secrets, history and details about the food industry that I had heard about, but never read in print before. (I imagine a lot of the same details are reported in movies like Food, Inc. and the like, but I have refrained from watching those movies for personal reasons.) She makes it seem manageable to do such a task, at least on a small scale. I do not have the land space to make a garden the size of hers, and I cannot keep my own chickens at the moment, but I can shop at more Farmer's Markets (now that they're open) and buy organic when I can. It is more expensive, yes, and even certified organics can be tricky. But I like the idea of having fresh food and supporting local businesses, and around here it doesn't seem so hard to do that more often. It's no longer a secret how the food industry treats animals that are being raised for mass meat production, or the chemicals they spray to kill bugs, or antibiotics they add to food that didn't need it 15 years ago. It will take some time and effort to convince major food corporations that we don't want that shit in our food or our bodies. I'm not going to spend a bunch of time preaching about this, but (as with most things) all it takes is a wee bit of effort from everyone -- or even a few more people every year -- and maybe we can make some big changes for the better.

Some Food Stuffs ....

I have been trying to eat healthier lately, for several reasons. Reason #1 is because our wedding is now 56 days away (I know the day count thanks to our Macy's Registry countdown clock ... masochists) and I've been trying for six months to trim down. I've lost 10 pounds, which is really great -- but I've been plateau'd at the same weight for the last two months. After four weeks, I got horribly frustrated and ignored my diet, gaining and losing the same two pounds -- despite my better efforts -- for the next four weeks. Now that we're down to less than two months, I'm trying again with renewed effort. I'll be happy with another five pounds gone, but will of course accept more.

Reason #2 is because it's just a good idea in general. We're doing really well at eating healthy at home (not so great when we go out, but we have done well with cutting back the amount that we eat out), and that's given me the motivation to start trying new recipes. I want to start trying at least one vegetarian option every week, and tonight is the first attempt (to be reported on later). I made a vegetable barley casserole last week that I thought was an entree -- but then I read the recipe closer and realized it was a side dish. It was very tasty, though, and could easily become an entree if you add your favorite meat-of-choice.

It's about two cups of cooked barley, and I added fresh onion and green pepper, as well as frozen spinach and corn. It was REALLY good, and I can only imagine that it's better when all the veggies are fresh.

I'm rather excited that I have some sproutlings coming up, too!! These are my snapdragons:
Super tiny. We're supposed to get rain all through this week, so I'm hoping the weather stays warm enough that they don't freeze. I also have a couple of teeny tiny chives poking their heads up, and exactly one basil sprout. Hooray for home-grown herbs!! We'll get the garden ready in the next couple weeks, and I'm hoping to plant right around Mother's Day, when we are hopefully far and away from snow season in Colorado.

I have to admit, I'm loving springtime in Colorado. When it rains here, it actually smells like rain. It's delightfully refreshing and I didn't realize how much I missed it until I smelled it again. Springtime in Houston is a fleeting time of year, and when it rains it tends to smell like humidity and mildew. I much prefer the smell here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Llamas, Alpacas and Crias, oh my!

About six months ago (has it really been that long? Pretend I didn't say that), I convinced Dear that we had to go to the Alpaca Festival in Loveland, CO. I wanted to go simply because I think the animals are cute and I knew there would be a bunch of them, and I figured it would be a great place to score some alpaca roving to spin up. I was right on both counts, but what I had not expected was that we would end the afternoon discussing whether or not we would want to keep a small herd of these animals someday.

Ever since then, I've been playing with the idea of finding an alpaca ranch somewhere nearby that I could volunteer and learn a little more about the business and the animals themselves. I finally got around to doing that, and Dear and I drove up this past Sunday to Happy Critter Farms to meet Carolyn and her herd of alpacas and llamas.

Carolyn and I had been emailing in the days leading up to our visit, so I knew that she had been nursing a preemie cria that was not bonding with its mother. She is yet unnamed and is still day-to-day, but what a sweetheart.

We learned a lot from Carolyn in the mere hour and a half we were there, and I'm looking forward to visiting more with her in the future. Besides the new cria, we got to meet Brownie and feed him some treats.

This is Brownie with Flat Stanley, a school project for our nephew. Flat Stanley was squashed flat as a pancake by a bulletin board and is now being mailed around the country and wants photos taken of his adventures. We thought Flat Stanley would like meeting some alpacas, and we weren't wrong!

We also tried to go to a Pygora goat shearing in town, but we missed the shearing by mere moments. However, the goats were cute and obviously quite itchy after being shorn. Can't say I blame her, but it was kind of cute to see her chewing herself and scratching up against anything vaguely textured (the fence, the wood post, their pen).

I have a few other blog posts that are brewing in my little ol' head, so I'll leave those for another day. Happy Alpaca Farming!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Little Seedlings

Spring has definitely sprung here in Colorado. The trees are starting to bud, tulip beds abound in my neighborhood, and the allergy-related headaches have reared their ugly head (har-dee-har-har). This also means that it's time for me to get my gardening started, which I did yesterday. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and I figured that was the perfect time for me to get my herbs planted.
Clockwise from top left, that's basil (two packets -- I accidentally overbought), fennel, chives, lavender, and snapdragons (not an herb, but I had a packet of seeds from my Grandmother and an extra pot -- I figured "What the Hell?"). I couldn't find any mint seeds, but I did find an already-sprouted plant at the Sunflower Market, so that's on my kitchen windowsill already being enjoyed.

I tried to grow herbs last summer in Houston -- I had basil and chives. The basil had started to sprout, but they hadn't quite gotten big enough to enjoy by the time we moved. I have the feeling the searing heat and the never-ending mushrooms sprouting up probably stunted their growth anyway (the chives never even sprouted). Here's hoping I see some greeniness in the next couple or few weeks!

My knitting is still stitching along. The super secret project that I'm test-knitting for Y2Knit has been started and I'm making good progress, but I still won't post any photos of that until the pattern has been published. I CAN tell you in the meantime that the yarn I was sent to make this project is quite lovely to work with. That's Laramie, from Mountain Meadow Wool and it's a lovely 100% Merino. Because of the way the yarn is milled and spun, there is still some vegetable matter embedded in it, and I get little pills as I knit along. All that means is that the yarn wasn't processed within an inch of it's life before it was spun up at the mill. The vegetable matter is usually removed when the yarn is picked or combed through to remove that type of thing; the small pills are because the shorter fibers were not removed during the same process. The only downside (in my humble opinion) about this type of processing is that it leaves it with less-than-perfect stitch definition -- which is really only an issue depending on the type of project you're knitting up. The yarn is really lovely to knit with and I think this project will come out quite nice, if I do say so myself.

In the next couple or few weeks, it will probably be warm enough for me to plant my vegetables. I haven't gone shopping for these plants yet, so more on that when it actually happens. But I am planning to at least have tomatoes and bell peppers, and perhaps also some green beans.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Never Idle Fingers

I've been thinking about things that I haven't finished so far this year, and that's a rather depressing thought -- so I decided to finish some things.

A couple months ago, I discovered an old triangle scarf I had knitted to cover my hair during the frequent rain storms in Houston. It's a lovely eggplant color and a cozy sport weight yarn, so it's VERY warm. It wasn't getting much use since we moved to Colorado, until I discovered it looked really cute as a neck scarf. I immediately decided to cast on for my long-planned second version, knit with lace weight Rowan Kidsilk Haze (the yarn equivalent to crack).

It's not a very fast-moving pattern (here's my Rav link), but I wanted the lighter weight scarf for springtime, and for the drizzles that are starting to happen in NoCo (Northern Colorado). I'm really pleased with how it came out.

This is how it wears to cover my hair in the drizzles, and then it has the bonus double usage of a neck scarf.
It's hard to tell in the photos, but it has a really wonderful halo around it -- which unfortunately gets stuck in chapstick like nobody's business. But it's worth it! Knit with about a skein and a half of Rowan Kidsilk Haze (kid mohair and silk, which makes it kind of sheeny and gives it that halo).

I'm still working away on my contented cardi. It looks like a big pink blob, so you'll have to wait for a photo until it looks less ... well ... blobby. I'm also swatching for a vest that I'm test-knitting for. There won't be any photos of that one for a while, out of respect to the designer, but know that I'm knitting on SOMETHING, even if I don't talk about it here.

In other homemaker news, I'm simply waiting for the weather to be less cold and gloomy before I plant seeds for my potted herb garden. I'm researching getting a plot in a community garden, so more on that as it develops. If I can't get a spot in a community garden in town, I'll plant in troughs in our backyard (the owner of our house probably doesn't want me to pull back the liner around the perimeter of our backyard to plant tomatoes and peppers). I WILL have a garden, and I'm secretly REALLY excited for the day we own our own home and I can plant my garden however I want.

I recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's What the Dog Saw, which I highly recommend. It's a collection of his articles from the New Yorker, so varying subjects, but he's an excellent writer and I now know things about hair dye and birth control (among other things) that I never even knew I cared about. I read mine on my Kindle, but here's an Amazon link, just for fun.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

EZ as Pie Sweater

I recently finished my first sweater using EZ's (Elizabeth Zimmermann) Percentage System. I say this is my first, because this is such a brilliantly simple way to build a sweater based on the yarn you want to use, that I fully plan on using this formula again in the future. I thought I'd write about what I did here, and then perhaps flush out her instructions to clarify.

It's knit from the bottom up, and I used Cascade Eco, with a generous 478 yards per skein. My entire sweater took not even one and a half skeins -- the sleeves were the only thing I needed the second skein for. It's pretty itchy, but knits up into a nice sturdy wool sweater.

A guage swatch is essential for knitting a sweater like this -- you have to figure out how many stitches per inch you get because you will multiply that number by the number if inches around you are so you know how many stitches to cast on. I measured the widest part of my hips, because I knew I wanted the sweater to come down that far, and ended up casting on 144 stitches. I used a knit three, purl one rib for about three, maybe four inches on the bottom hem, then knit straight for an additional three inches. I wanted a slightly shaped sweater, so I added in some decreases on each side, then increased back up to 144 stitches, then continued to knit straight until the body of the sweater measured 10" from the bottom. (Now that it's completed, I can tell that I should have knit for at least another 3"-4" -- it's shorter than what I was planning for.)

The sleeves were simple. I wanted 3/4 length sleeves, so I measured that part of my arm and multiplied that number of inches by my guaged stitches per inch, then added a few stitches since the ribbing would allow for elasticity. I cast on 40sts for each sleeve and matched the bottom hem with k3p1 ribbing. Made two (duh).

I wanted to use Raglan shaping for the shoulders, so I did one round where I simply knit across to join the sleeves to the body. I put 10 sts at the side seams and underarms of the sleeves on hold to be grafted later, and put all 224 stitches together on one needle. I placed markers where the sleeve underarms met the body, and then proceeded to do a standard raglan decrease for another 5 inches or so.

Standard Raglan Decrease:
Round 1: Knit to 3sts before 1st marker; ssk, k1, pm, k1, k2tog; knit to 3sts before 2nd marker; k2tog, k1, pm, k1, ssk; knit to 3 sts before 3rd marker; k2tog, k1, pm, k1, ssk; knit to 3sts before 4th marker, ssk, k1, pm, k1, k2tog.
Round 2: Knit.

I put my sweater on waste yarn and tried it on until the neck was where I wanted it to be, minus about an inch and a half. Since this was my first time using this form of construction, I figured that was the most fool-proof way. When I got to where I wanted (like I said, about 4 or 5 inches up from the armpit), I knit the collar using the same k3p1 pattern for the hems and cuffs. Bind off using EZ's sewn bind off technique, and tah-daaah!!

I blocked the hell out of it -- it was tight and short, so I got it good and soaking wet and stretched it periodically over the drying time (about two days to be completely dry). It's not as tight and not as short, but still tighter and shorter than what I thought I was going to get in the end. Note to self.

I've written out the whole pattern completely, so send me a message if you want more details. I'm thinking of trying this again using some lovely Pima Cotton I got on sale and making a summer t-shirt out of it ... but still have a few things in the works before that will happen. Look for future posts explaining EZ's method in more detail!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tastiness = Happiness in the Form of Scones

I've had the urge to bake lately. It showed up late one night, right as I was about to fall asleep, and it came to me in the form of a pie. My first thought was blueberry (a sure sign of spring) and played with cherry or apple, but I kept going back to blueberry. Dear doesn't like cherries anyway, and it's not very smart for me to bake a pie that only I would eat when I am less than 90 days from WD (Wedding Day).

It occurred to me the next day that I have never made scones, and they couldn't be THAT hard. I found this recipe that is SO SUPER SIMPLE I thought it would make others happy, too. It's adapted from a cherry scone recipe I found on Weight Watchers' website.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Mix 2c flour; 1T baking powder; 1/4T baking soda; 1/4c sugar in bowl. Set aside. Mix 1/4c (1/2 stick) melted butter, 1c reduced fat buttermilk, and 1 egg in another bowl. Take blended wet ingredients and mix them with the dry. Fold in blueberries (or fruit of choice, cut up into smallish bits). Form into 2"-3" mounds and bake for 12-15 minutes.

Mighty tasty, if I do say so myself. These will definitely make another appearance. They took me about 30 minutes, start to finish, so you can even whip these up for an impromptu breakfast/ brunch situation.
In knitting news, I have several projects happening at the moment. The ever-present sock (currently being knit with Crazy Zauberball, so better seen than written about), The Contented Cardi by Hannah Fetig {rav link} and a new neck scarf with a pattern I made up in my head. It's not quite half-done, but I'm looking forward to wearing it this spring:

Knit with Rowan's kidsilk mohair in a pretty pretty blue. I recommend bamboo needles or something that's very very light when you knit with this -- it's thin and I've learned that lighter needles do well with thin yarns.

My mom's visiting this weekend to help me take care of some wedding chores and we're expecting to have a lovely time. Knit happily!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tasty Adolescent Chickens

Last night I made some pretty tasty baby chickens for dinner -- or, more accurately, cornish game hens which only LOOK like adolescent chickens. They had them on sale at the King Soopers near our house and I had never made them so I decided to give it a try.

They were MUCH easier to roast than the full-size chicken I did a few weeks ago. First of all, they came giblet-free, which I have now decided is a must for me. Or at least get them contained in a little bag, like with turkeys. The chicken had them all loose in the cavity and I even surprised myself at how grossed out I was cleaning the inside of that chicken. Much simpler to give it a hearty rinse inside and out and be done!

After rinsing them, I put them in my make-shift roasting pan and prepped them for seasoning.

Them's some nekkid chickens. I mean hens. Nekkid hens.

I made an herbed butter (super simple: take as much butter or margarine as you think you'll need and dump some herbs in it; moosh together) and spread it on the breasts of the hens under the skin. Someone told me this trick for seasoning a turkey -- the butter melts and helps keep the meat moist, and still gives it a good flavor if you (like me) choose to remove the skin when you eat it. It was a little difficult because the butter (which was actually margarine) wanted to stick to my fingers more than the hens, but it worked out eventually. I used parsley and a little Italian seasoning in the butter, and sprinkled some more Italian seasoning on top.

Not so nekkid hens. I used the toothpicks to keep their legs and wings tucked in during baking. Helps them stay moist. You could also tie the legs closed, but toothpicks were closer.

Pop in the pre-heated oven at 350 degrees and bake about an hour (larger hens may need more time). I took these out about halfway through and drizzled some olive oil on the top to make sure they didn't get too dry, and they didn't at all! The hens came out absolutely perfect, although my potatoes on the side were a little under-done.

A tasty meal for me and Dear. It was the first time we ate at our table without guests! I felt very grown up. I really enjoy cooking for other people, and my mom and grandmother taught me that setting a nice simple table is quick and easy, and makes a huge difference. This is a very simple setting, but it was a lovely dinner anyway.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ripped it and re-cast on

My Good Ness, how time does fly. I can't believe it's been so many months since I took a little blogging time for myself and posted here, but I suppose calendars can't lie. Rather, they can, but I get the idea that this one is not.

It's been a crazy five months (FIVE?? Holy cripes, I may need to sit back and ponder that one for a moment). Dear and I were happily ensconced in life in the Denver-Metro area, me working at a couple LYS's teaching and knitting away; him in his office downtown, finding oil and natural gas for the rest of us to play around with. Then we got word that his job was transferring him (yes -- again) further north, to Cheyenne, WY. That means he was facing a four hour drive every day, so we packed up (yes -- AGAIN) and moved an hour north to the slightly quieter town of Fort Collins, CO. We're quite happy here, we were able to find a nice house and we have lots of space and a yard for the first time ever. I'm planning away my garden and get a quiet little thrill every time I peek at my craft room.

That's right, you heard me. I have a craft room.

I tried my hand at working in an insurance office for a few months, only to find out that I do not have the drive nor the desire to sell insurance. Now I'm getting back in touch with my crafty roots, knitting on several of my own projects and sticking my toe into waters related to test and sample knitting. More on that as it develops (and as I am allowed to share).

But enough words! Photos! Photos of Finished Objects, I say!

First, there was a sweater:

The Cobblestone Pullover by Brooklyn Tweed, knit for Dear; yarn: Cascade Eco Plus

Then, there was a second sweater:
My first sweater using EZ's Percentage System; the sleeves are 1/2 length. Yarn is Cascade Eco Plus

Somewhere in there, I also finished a pair of socks:

The Yarn Harlot's Earl Grey pattern, from her blog; yarn, sadly, unknown

This is not all I knit in the past 5 months. I made multiple Christmas gifts and promptly forgot to photo every one before mailing them off. I also knit and ripped several hats, and have a few things on needles at the moment, but I'm saving those for a future blog post.

Oh, I also got engaged!

Hope all has been well with my readers! Please don't give up on me -- I know it's not the first time I've disappeared, and I can't promise I won't take another hiatus someday in the future ... but be sure to check back for more on my knitting adventures, and my upcoming adventures in learning new recipes and gardening. I call it my Idiot's Guide to Home Making.