Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Off the wheel

The initial spinning of these three lovelies happened more than a decade ago and the skeined singles, two of the blackberry wool/mohair and one of that lovely, shiny Lincoln, had been hanging out in my stash since before I moved to New York. I had always sort of vaguely planned to use them for lace, but had no idea what kind of yardage I had and don't love working with single-ply yarns, mostly for durability reasons, but also because they can be kind of unpredictable, biasing and torquing at the slightest provocation.

I finally got around to plying them a few weeks ago and they're back in the stash now, sportweight/dk instead of lace/fingering, and with yardage calculated (280 for the blackberry, 192 for the Lincoln). I'm thinking mittens possibly, or a small scarf.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Two good things.

1. Cleaning out the fridge made delicious: two slices of bacon, chopped and cooked until crisp. Leftover roasted potatoes and garlic heated through in the grease, then shredded brussels sprouts added and cooked until barely tender.

2. A new sweater for spring. Loosely based on this pattern, but with a few changes to make it a little less sporty: cabled ribbing and different patterning when I get to the yoke (probably a simple lace). It's an unusual color for me, this orangey pink, but I like it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

This morning

-eating steel-cut oats cooked with dried cherries and blueberries
-reading Sophie Hannah's excellent The Dead Lie Down
-waiting for someone to pick up four bags of yarn I don't need/want
-getting ready for a haircut, so my ponytail quits following me around like a sad, possibly unhealthy creature I just can't shake
-thinking about an old friend whose mother's funeral is this afternoon

Friday, March 26, 2010

This weekend

I'll be:

—eating this particular dish as often as possible: soba noodles, sauteed greens with crushed red pepper, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and sesame oil, and a runny egg on top.
—going through my yarn stash, getting rid of anything I don't love passionately and/or have a specific and immediate plan for. I listed several large bags of yarn on the Materials for the Arts site, which maintains a database of art supplies and other items people want to donate. Nonprofits can browse the list and get in touch with the donors directly. Within a couple of days I was contacted by a very lovely woman who runs an after-school program in East Harlem and is going to come take it all away on Sunday. My donation includes all of the Cotton Classic I was using for that lace skirt I posted a few days ago. I got to the waistband last night, tried it on, and immediately starting unraveling it. It wasn't flattering at all and wouldn't have been comfortable in hot weather, the fabric was too heavy and thick. So: gone.

—working on another Just Enough Ruffles scarf for a friend's birthday. This is some laceweight mohair I've had for at least a decade. It's nice stuff, but needs to either be used or disposed of. The color isn't especially flattering on me, but it'll be gorgeous on the brown-eyed brunette it's bound for. Sadly, when I just went to find a website for the company that made the yarn, British Mohair Spinners, one of the top hits was for a site called Derelict Places on which some dude recounts being chased out of their abandoned mill by junkies.
—reading. My TBR pile has gotten really out of hand lately, but there's nothing on the table there that I *don't* want to read. I've just started listing books on Goodreads again after ignoring it for at least a year, so feel free to friend me if you're active there.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Argh. Just...argh.

This morning, I picked up Kilronan to do a few rows while I had my coffee and found this rassin' frassin' miscrossed cable:
Then I looked at the matching cable on the other side of the center panel and that one was screwed up too — and differently, to boot.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"And I was just sitting there. With my lentils."

That was the last line of a self-deprecating story I was telling at a friend's birthday party over the weekend about going to a park near my office on one of the warm, sunny days last week and being literally the only person there without an accompanying stroller and the pointed looks I was getting from everyone. The experience at least reaffirmed my belief that I don't have to worry about becoming a pedophile because, among plenty of other reasons, it turns out that I feel really super self-conscious and weird being alone when surrounded by strangers and their children even when I'm in a public place I have every right to be in.

But, unlike judgey looks from the wives of hedge-fund whatever-people-who-work-with-hedge-funds-are-called (managers? traders? executors?), I like lentils a great deal. They're cheap and they're good for you and they turn nitrogen from the air into protein, which is practically magic and therefore awesome. And they can be delicious when prepared with even a modicum of attention. Lentils combine with all sorts of things in interesting ways, providing endless variations on the kind of one-bowl dishes I like to eat for lunch and useful ways to do something with those herbs that are about to die or the last little bit of cheese left over from something. I cook all of the components separately, which sounds fussy (and is a bit, if I'm being honest here), but is worth it to have a variety of textures. I've gotten in the habit of cooking late Sunday afternoon/early Sunday evening and none of the elements really take that much attention, so it's easy enough to watch some Battlestar Galactica at the same time.
Lentil-based lunch dish #54
1 1/2 c. lentils, rinsed and picked over -- I used dark green French lentils because they have a peppery flavor I like and hold their shape when cooked
rosemary sprig
1 1/2 c. barley
2 handfuls chopped walnuts
olive oil
2 onions, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
lots of chopped greens -- 4 c.? more? I used a mixture of kale and broccoli raab and kept throwing it in the pan until no more would fit
a few ounces of sharp, salty cheese, crumbled -- I used ricotta salata here because the feta at the coop is weirdly bland

Put the lentils and rosemary in a saucepan with plenty of water, at least 6 cups. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until lentils are tender. Drain them and put them in a large bowl. I don't bother washing the pan here and put it right back on the stove to cook the barley in at least 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender. Drain and add to the lentils in the bowl. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and salt liberally. It will need it.

Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet until they're fragrant. Set them aside. Add olive oil to the skillet, then the onions and some salt. Cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, until they're brown and jammy. Don't rush this; the caramelized onions add a ton of flavor. Take the onions out with tongs, leaving as much oil in the pan as possible, and add to the lentils and barley. Add the greens to the skillet, stirring to coat with the oil and cooking until tender. Add to the lentils/barley/onions mixture, stirring to combine.

Divide the mixture into five containers and top each with walnuts and crumbled cheese.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Urban foraging

This weekend, I had the pleasure of taking an urban foraging tour with Wildman Steve Brill, which is something that I've been meaning to do for years now. We met in Forest Park, in Queens, which is a part of town I'd never been to before (it's nice), and walked around for a couple of hours as he pointed out stuff we could eat and we tasted things and took samples and talked about what to make with all of this stuff and what the plants we were tasting would look like in a few months' time and why the Parks Department's official position on foraging is firmly opposed (lawsuits. duh.). It was grand. Since the edible foodstuffs available in city parks changes so much throughout the growing season, I'm going to do a few more tours at different places in the city as the spring and summer go on, both with Steve and with Leda Meredith, who I met a week or so ago at a mutual friend's and liked tremendously.
The spoils, from the left:
1. Black birch. The pulpy layer under the bark contains oil of wintergreen and you can make a nice minty tea by steeping a handful of twigs for 20 minutes. Mine was pretty weak, but I think that I just have no sense of what a quart of water looks like. When Steve was passing around a piece for everyone to smell, he asked if anyone recognized the scent. I blurted out, "Necco wafers!" which is both true and kind of embarrassing when you're surrounded by natural-foods evangelists.
2. Field garlic. Looks like chives, tastes onion/garlic-y. This time of the year, the root (not pictures) is mild, like a scallion, but develops a stronger flavor as it grows.
3. Spice bush. It smells really lovely and can be steeped for tea. Once the berries ripen, they can be ground and used like allspice, presumably after being dried. I have a note here that the tea is good for fevers.
4. Garlic mustard. The leaves are spicy and bitter, the root tastes like horseradish.
5. Sassafras, the root of which is used to make root beer. I didn't get to Prospect Park yesterday because I was busy doing laundry and reading an entire book start to finish and taking a spectacular nap, but I want to grab some more and try infusing vodka with it. It's very strong; Steve said the size piece I have up there could be used over and over to make tea or a base for root beer. 'Sassafras' also happens to be tremendous fun to say and, after I told her all about my foraging adventures this weekend, possibly the name of my friend Karen's new cat.
6. Sweet cicely, the root of which is good raw or cooked and has a nice anise flavor. Steve swore up and down that it's delicious in oatmeal.
We also found plenty of young dandelion leaves, but I didn't bother taking a sample of those because I eat those all the time anyway, anywhere I'd use spinach.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Second brunch at home

Sauteed Brussels sprouts with an over-medium egg on top.

Brunch at home

Steel-cut oats with caramelized pears

Friday, March 19, 2010

What I've been reading...

[edited to add: Blogger wouldn't publish the post with links -- kept giving me weird html error messages. You're on your own to find them now, but I trust that you'll be fine.]

Going Bovine, Libba Bray. They announced that she won the Printz Award while I was in the middle of it, so I had some external validation for my enjoyment of the book, not that that matters overmuch. (I just like being right.) It’s a quest story, a twist on Don Quixote, that's both bittersweet and wacky: teenage guy gets diagnosed with Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, has a visitation from a punk angel while he’s in the hospital, then busts out and goes on a road trip with a dwarf and a sentient yard gnome on a mission to save the world from (I think) getting sucked into a black hole.

A Bad Day for Sorry, Sophie Littlefield. Stella Hardesty is in her 50s, lives in rural Missouri, and killed her abusive husband several years before the book opens. She now has a business where she basically beats up other women’s abusive husbands and boyfriends for them. Also, she runs a sewing machine shop. Littlefield manages to write a book that's quirky-charming without ever veering into quirky-contrived and writes a heroine who is one of my favorite things, a salty broad.

In the Garden of Iden, Kage Baker. Time-traveling cyborgs. Forbidden love. The Spanish Inquisition. An extraordinary narrative voice. Botany. For the love of all that’s holy, read this book.

Faithful Place, Tana French. The third in her phenomenal Dublin-set crime series, this time written from the perspective of Frank, the undercover detective. I actually found this the least compelling of the three, partly because he’s dealing with a cold case and partly because he’s a more closely guarded character than the other two narrators and I felt held at arm’s length a bit. But even the least compelling of her three books is still better than 98% of what I read.
This seems like as good a time as any to mention that I finish less than a quarter of the books I start, maybe less than a tenth. Life’s too short.

In the Land of White Death, Valerian Albanov. I’m indulging a fancy for stories about polar exploration; this is the first I’ve finished. It’s a first-person account of a doomed 1912 Arctic expedition out of Russia, based on Albanov’s diaries. Their ship was locked in ice for more than a year, so he took 12 people with him and decides to walk/kayak back to civilization. Two of them survived, the ship was never seen again.

Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi. Awesome post-apocalyptic fantasy. World without oil, protagonist is a young teen boy, Nailer, who works on a salvage crew, crawling through the ductwork of abandoned oil tankers to collect copper wire and the staples affixing it to the sides of the ducts. He also has a terrible father who is a criminal and a drug addict and manipulative and MEAN. After a storm, Nailer finds a wreck with a girl alive on it and has to decide if he should kill her and keep all of her stuff, becoming the wealthiest person around, or go on the run with her, being chased lots of people who want to kill them, including his father. Outstanding world-building and pacing and intense action scenes. There were parts where I caught myself quite literally holding my breath and had to remind myself that it was a first-person YA story – the narrator would come out okay.

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin. This book deserves its own post when I’m feeling more eloquent, but for now: She’s a genius.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In which I mostly talk in math

I felt like knitting some elaborate lace two weeks or so ago and have always loved the Peri's Parasol pattern from the second(?) Barbara Walker treasury — the red one. I like the way it naturally scallops at the bottom and just looks, in general, fancy. Since shaping within complicated lace patterning wasn't something I had a particular hankering for and I didn't really want to knit a scarf and I've been thinking ahead to what I'll be wearing this summer AND I had a bag full of Cotton Classic that hasn't worked for any sweater project I've tried it for, I decided on a skirt.

Technicalish knit-babble: I took my hip measurement, added a few inches for ease, multiplied that number (42) times my gauge (5 stitches = 1") and got an initial number: 210. The lace pattern had a repeat of 22 stitches +1, so I scaled up and cast on 221. Normally, I would have worked in the round since I was making a tube, but this pattern is, um, patterned on both sides, which is a lot harder to translate from working flat and, frankly, I didn't want to do the work. So I cast my 221 stitches onto a #8 needle, which was a size larger than I knew I was going to use for the solid part of the skirt. The larger needle will make the lower portion fuller enough to give the piece some shape, again, without me doing any further calculation or interrupting the pattern. After five repeats, which is enough to bring the lace part of what I'm intending to be a knee-length skirt up to about mid-thigh, I switched to 10x1 rib, #7 needles, and working in the round, knitting two together at the join on the first round. I knit 2" even after changing patterns.

Then I starting decreasing for the waist. I have about a 12" difference between my hips and waist, but decided to reduce by 11" so it would sit slightly below my natural waist. I was looking to get rid of 55 sts, but made it 54 so that it would be divisible by the four decrease points of the darts, so nine decrease rounds. Since I had about 8" of skirt that I wanted to happen while I was decreasing and my row gauge was 7 rows to the inch (so 56 rows total), the math worked out to decrease every 4 rows. Once I finish all of that, I'll knit a casing at the top and insert elastic.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I've been on a bit of a crepe kick lately, making them three times in the last week. One of those times, I forgot to add the egg until I was halfway through eating them and I can say that they're definitely better with the egg, but I was kind of amazed how not-bad they were without it. This is the recipe I use for myself, which is halved from the one in How to Cook Everything. I actually can put away a whole recipe's worth without a tremendous amount of difficulty, but then I pretty much have to lay around on the floor for about four hours after I'm done, and which gets awfully boring. A nonstick pan is worth its weight in gold in this case, though not required. If you're using a regular pan, you'll have to butter it pretty heavily between each crepe.

makes 7-10

1/2 c. flour
pinch of salt
just over 1/2 c. milk (original recipe called for 1 1/4 c.)
1 egg
1 T. butter, melted and cooled
Whisk the flour and salt together, then whisk in the milk, egg, and butter, separately and in succession. Using a 1/4 c. measuring cup to mete out the batter, make crepes in a nonstick frying pan, turning each crepe over when the top appears dry.

I am a devotee of The One True Filling: sour cream with either strawberry or apricot jam, but I understand that other people occasionally like to branch out, to which I can only say, knock yourselves out, suckers!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I have to confess, I haven't been feeling particularly inspired lately, but I know that one thing that tends to perk me up when I'm feeling doldrum-y and lackluster is to revisit topics and projects that I would usually get excited about, like...

I love the natural history of the Victorian era, that attitude of exploration and sense of wonder at just what the hell is out there in the world. And I love the cabinet of curiosity-style quasi-organization — sea urchins spines next to volcano dust! — exhibited in this collection of microscope slides.

I love natural history in general, learning about something in the world I never knew existed, like this totally bananas Stone Forest in Madagascar. (sidenote: why am I not going on scientific expeditions to Madagascar? as always, I blame you.)
And I am completely head over heels for regions of the world no one knows much about, where new species are discovered all the time (I'm looking at you, Greater Mekong region of southeast Asia!), so reading about the lemurs and geckos and insects that have adapted to live in this landscape really gets my nerd on.

Plain frozen yogurt (a container of drained tart yogurt, 1/4 c. sugar, slug of vanilla, run through ice cream maker), shown here drizzled with pomegranate molasses

Smitten Kitchen's mushroom bourguinon over egg noodles, which was really delicious. This might be my new go-to dinner during cool weather for non-fancy company who don't eat a ton of meat but are okay with beef broth. Actually, that description could work for pretty much anyone I ever cook for, but I'm already planning to make this in early April for a good friend who will be coming back to New York after having been in Bangladesh for a couple of months (presumably) not eating delicious French-style mushroom stew. I think the only change I made to Deb's recipe was to use a mixture of portobello and crimini mushrooms and to add the pearl onions right at the beginning so they braised in the wine/broth mixture. Also, I didn't reserve the mushroom stems for another use; I chopped 'em up fine and tossed 'em in with the carrots. And I used about twice as much broth as the recipe called for because I like a lot of broth, so it doesn't sit on top of the noodles the way hers did. This is what passes for following recipes exactly where I come from.

These outstanding glazed maple cookies. I'm amazed that I didn't eat all of the dough before I got any of them baked, since I kept pinching off a bit every time I glanced at the bowl. I actually did follow this recipe exactly, other than flattening the cookie balls with my palm instead of a glass. Edited to add: The second time I made these, I made a couple of changes that worked really well. First, I baked them for 9 minutes instead of 12-14, at which point they still looked raw on top, but were golden on the bottom and perfect once they cooled. Also, when reducing the syrup for the glaze, I added a bit of heavy cream (maybe a few tablespoons?) and cooked it until it was the consistency of honey. It ended up being much more like caramel, texture-wise — smooth and glossy and, well, creamy — instead of the original, thinner glaze. It was less than ideal for transporting them, since so much of the glaze came off on the parchment paper between layers, but no one seemed to mind.

Fresh sauerkraut
I'm using the directions from here, as well as the advice of a recent acquaintance who's a preservation and fermentation expert, and experimenting with fermenting my own sauerkraut. It's been going for about a week now. I tasted it a few days ago and it had started getting a little tangy already. I don't like dill, so I have caraway seeds, cloves and junipers berries in there.

I didn't make it myself, but this bowl of cheddar grits with roasted root vegetables and a deep-fried soft-cooked egg deserves a moment in the sun. (from Bark)

...Making Stuff
I finally finished those damn gloves. They're gorgeous, but the knitting was so fiddly and annoying that I don't think I'll be able to full embrace them until next year.

I finished the Cardigan of My Dreams, but it needs a belt, so am holding off on taking a modeled photo until I finish that. I'm pretty happy with it, especially with the fit through the shoulders and back. I need to remember to be careful about the width of the upper back going forward — narrowing it by a few inches did wonders for getting a good fit.

Late winter/early spring is the time of year when I always start thinking about sewing and bemoaning my lack of skill and making half-assed attempts and getting frustrated, but I really do think I may make some progress this time. I attempted a muslin of this Built by Wendy dress, but it didn't fit (good through the waist, but too tight at the hips and shoulders), so I traced off the pattern again, combining two sizes. I have a couple of Betsy Ross skirt patterns that I would actually feel fine working up without a muslin — I'm perfectly comfortable with darts and interfacing — but I will have to conquer my nemesis the zipper [shakes fist]. And my other nemesis, being different sizes in my different parts.