Thursday, April 30, 2009

New t-shirt!

I got three new t-shirts the other day from TopatoCo, and they're all very exciting. While I dress like a real grownup during the week at work, on Saturdays we're allowed to wear jeans and t-shirts, as long as the shirts are either from a city event or have something to do with books, reading or libraries. I have a collection of shirts with clever library and reading sayings on them, but I am always looking for more. I love this Dinosaur Comics shirt, not only because it's my favorite comic strip, but because I can write whatever I want on it. T-Rex can say something about books, and bam! I can wear him to work. Fantastic. Now I just need to find a washable/water-soluble black marker that works better than Crayola and write the dialogue a little neater.

T-Rex: Dudes. Books are delicious!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuxedo Tuesday

Ok, it's not really a tuxedo, just a vest, but I didn't want to wait until tomorrow and post "Waistcoat Wednesday." Also, I wore it today (and finished it in the wee hours this morning), so it's a Tuesday piece.

This is the top half of an outfit I'm making from the same fabric as the jumper I posted about a while back (the bottom will just be a simple pencil skirt -- the height of librarian chic). It's McCall's 5186 and my first foray into structured clothing. I made a muslin first to get the fit just right because my measurements put me in 3 or 4 different pattern sizes. Once I got started, I didn't want to stop until I finished, so I was up until after 3 a.m. sewing it up. I do need a tailor's ham to help press it better, and this morning I sewed the buttons on a bit unevenly, so I'll need to redo that, but overall I'm quite proud of it.

Making a mockup out of muslin really helped work out some of the tricky parts, and helped me decide what changes I wanted to make. I made the back out of the same fabric as the front, rather than from the lining fabric the pattern called for, and I think it gives it a nicer look.

Perfect for Tuxedo Tuesday.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fresh Pasta and Sauteed Fennel with Crispy Fried Lime

Spring has made me not only crave better reading material, but crave vegetables as well. I try to eat seasonally, and even in Texas winter means mostly potatoes, onions, leeks and hardy greens. In a fit of spring-fever menu planning Friday, I flipped through Mollie Katzen's The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without to find inspiration, and came across a recipe for sauteed fennel with fried lemon slices.

During our trip to Italy this winter, we had dinner two nights in a row at the Trattoria del Pallaro in Rome. This little restaurant is run by a classic Italian grandmotherly woman and serves a set menu each night. Both nights, one of the dishes was fennel and I fell in love with this crunchy, tender vegetable that's kind of like celery, kind of like an onion (in texture only), kind of cabbagey and has a faint licorice flavor (the fronds and stems have a stronger licorice taste). So tonight I made fresh linguine and fennel with fried lime slices (I didn't have any lemon).

Fresh pasta is not as difficult as it sounds. It's time consuming, but fairly straightforward. The main thing to watch for is the consistency of the dough. If it's too sticky, you'll have an awful time working with it, especially if you're using a pasta machine. You don't need a machine for lasagne, tagliatelle and I suppose you could cut fettucini by hand (but it'd be a real pain). I use a manual Atlas pasta maker -- it gets the pasta much thinner than I could ever get it rolling it out by hand.

You'll have to adjust the amount of flour you use depending on the temperature, the humidity, the position of the stars and the whim of the gods, so make sure you have tons.

Fresh Pasta Dough
From The Silver Spoon
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00, plus extra for dusting (I have no idea what Italian type 00 is, but I use white wheat 100% whole wheat flour)
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a mound on a counter (or in your mixing bowl if you're using a stand mixer -- highly recommended). Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using your fingers, gradually incorporate the flour, then knead for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is too soft, add a little extra flour; if it is too firm, add a little water (you may need to add water to get the dough to form into a ball if you're using a mixture; just be aware if you do this you'll definitely need to add more flour or your dough will be way too sticky). Shape the dough into a ball and let rest for 15 minutes.

To work with your machine, shape the dough into a brick and cut it into 5 equal pieces. Run each piece through the rollers, starting with the biggest setting and working up to the smallest one that gives you the thickness you want (I usually go to 6 or 7). If the dough is coming out rippled or wavy, it's too wet and needs more flour.

Lay your sheets out on a floured surface. Letting them dry for a few minutes makes them easier to work with.

After you've rolled out all the dough, run each sheet through your cutter blades, holding it with one hand while you turn the crank with the other. Don't let it puddle -- it'll stick together and make a mess. If you do end up with a bird's nest of pasta squiggles, just smoosh it back together and start over.

I don't have a pasta drying rack, so I just hang it on the mixing bowl. Again, letting it dry a little bit makes it easy to work with. If you plan to freeze some of the pasta, let it dry enough so it's not sticking together, then lay it on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer for an hour or two. Take it out while it's still pliable and put it in a freezer bag. This recipe serves 4, but it doubles easily and you might as well make enough to freeze so you can have fresh pasta next time without all the mess.

Boil for 2-3 minutes; fresh pasta is so flavorful it doesn't even need sauce. Just drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle grated cheese and black pepper and enjoy.

Sauteed Fennel with Crispy Fried Lemon
from The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen

2 large fennel bulbs
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt (seriously? Does anyone actually measure 1/8 teaspoon?)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large Meyer lemon or 2 smaller ones (regular lemons will work too; I used limes successfully but I think lemons would be better)

Remove the stalks, stems and fronds from the fennel. Cut the bulbs into 1/8- to 1/4-inch slices. From there, cut the slices into thin batons.
Preheat the oven to 275 F. Place a large, deep skillet over medium heat. After about a minute, add some olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the fennel batons and saute, stirring often, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown and tender to your liking. Transfer to an ovenproof serving platter and keep warm in the preheated oven while you prepare the lemon slices.
In a small, shallow bowl, combine the flour, salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
Slice the lemons paper thin. Return the skillet to the stove to medium-high heat. Pour in enough olive oil to make a pool 1/8 inch deep.
While the oil is heating, drag the lemon slices through the flour mixture on one side, then back on the other, shaking off any excess, as you'll want a very thin coating.
When the oil is hot enough to sizzle a bread crumb, slide each coated lemon slice into the hot oil, fitting in as many slices as you can without their overlapping. Cook until golden brown, about 1 minute, then turn. Drain, and serve with fennel.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I was planning a post about books on my walk to the mailbox tonight. When I started this blog, I intended to have as many book reviews as craft and cooking things, but I haven't been reading anything but rubbish for months. Every now and then (lately, more than I want to admit), I go through periods where I don't want to read anything that takes thought. The most substantial book I might pick up is historical fiction, or maybe a fairly well-crafted mystery, but a lot is truly empty calories. I've been in one of these binges for a few months, but about halfway through my last historical fiction/romancy-just-shy-of-fabio book I started craving something better. It was like I had brain scurvy.

Around the same time, I discovered DailyLit through Etsy (they're sponsoring a group read of Walden -- go sign up!). You can subscribe to daily installments of books via RSS or e-mail. It's mostly public domain classics, so I've been reading P.G. Wodehouse's My Man Jeeves and a collection of poetry along with my regular blogs. It's great because I can get books in small snippets -- wonderful for a busy day. That's why I picked up a copy of Vonnegut's Armageddon in Retrospect. The essays are perfect for reading at breakfast, or just before going to sleep. DailyLit also reminded me to start listening to the Writer's Almanac again.

I'm also reading another Wodehouse, Code of the Woosters. I love Wodehouse -- he's one of the funniest writers in the English language. While the books aren't substantive from a critical standpoint, the language is so clever and crafty, and keeping up with the pace and wit is refreshing. I love reading books that make me want to copy down every other sentence and add it to my list of favorite quotes. One of my Goodreads groups is about to start reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and I'm excited to get started on that one. I've just queued up 2666 thanks to Olivia and her brother, who is also responsible for me having Moby Dick on my plate (although any book that describes a bad mood as requiring "a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off" is a book for me).

So what does this have to do with the mail? Don't you remember -- I was thinking about all this on my way to the mailbox tonight. When I got to the mailbox, there was a key to the package cabinet part of the mailbox in my little box! I had a package! I've been expecting some t-shirts from TopatoCo from a few of my favorite comics, so I was thrilled to see the little key, and was already planning what I wanted to have T-Rex say on my new shirt when I opened the lockbox and saw it was a package from my friend M.E. Extra-super-double exciting -- a surprise package! (You can tell I was excited because of all the exclamation marks. I don't usually use exclamation marks.) Anyway, inside were two Brother Cadfael books (a medieval mystery series by Ellis Peters that's fantastic -- reading them is like meditating and having someone wise and gentle comfort you and tell you it'll all work out okay) and two bags of whole bean Community Coffee. Coffee! And books! Surprise-in-the-mail coffee and books! Man, it doesn't get more Rory Gilmore than that. Tomorrow is officially M.E. Day, and I plan to drink delicious coffee and read all morning. I might even make pancakes.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Glove update

I haven't posted as much lately because I've not had much to post about. I've been desperately trying to finish the glove so I haven't worked on any other projects, and I haven't cooked anything except enchiladas, and I couldn't find my camera to take pictures of the process so that'll have to wait for another day.

Yesterday, I finally finished the left glove. Here it is, in all it's glory -- it looks weird when it's flat because the moss stitch pattern for the palm is stretchy like ribbing. Again, the pattern comes from the Victoria and Albert Museum's website, and I'll post a translation of the pattern from knit flat to knit in the round when I finish the pair. The V&A has an amazing fashion collection, and their online exhibits are fascinating and include loads of vintage patterns and information on the history of fashion, textiles and jewelry. Did you know Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding dress?

Anyway, when I finished the glove, I channeled some of that project-completion energy into finishing this puppet for a little friend's first birthday. It's the same pattern as the frog puppet, but I added squiggly hair instead of eyes, and it's made of scrap yarn so it's a couple of different colors. She got the puppet today -- a good thing, since Daisy thinks it's her toy and has been waiting for a chance to destroy it (and it has nothing to do with me taunting her with it).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

While I completely agree with Grist that we need to think about the environment every day, not just one day a year, Earth Day is a good starting point to talk about global issues -- and go beyond awareness of them to ways to try to make a difference.

There are many websites out there addressing environmental issues: the Earth Day Network and Treehugger are two of the big ones out there. By now, we all know the basics of reduce, reuse, recycle. Most cities have recycling centers, and more are adding curbside collection all the time. We hear about fuel efficiency, we take our own bags to the grocery store (and make our own, too -- check out the tons of patterns on Ravelry). We've seen the lists of the top 12 fruits and veggies to buy organic, and know about shopping locally (check out Local Harvest to find a farm, farmer's market or CSA near you).

I wanted to share a couple of the other things I do, things that make my friends call me a hippie (affectionately, I hope). Maybe it'll give you some ideas -- share them!

1. Use a clothesline. This really cool, low-profile clothesline from Versaline mounts on a wall and can easily be taken down (the mounting brackets stay up) or folded flat if you have aesthetic objections to clotheslines.

2. Turn it off. Electronics still draw power when they're plugged in, even when they're switched off -- especially those that use remote controls. I use this neat little Westinghouse timer (about $25 from the hardware store) to control all my entertainment electronics. Everything's plugged into a power strip, and it's plugged into this timer, which has 8 different programs and can be set for different on/off times for different days of the week and weekends. My cable, wireless, TV, stereo, turntable and DVD player are all off when I'm at work or asleep.

3. Collect water. This one's kind of weird, but it's great for those who don't have the space/expertise/ability to make elaborate grey-water or rainwater collection systems. Just pop a 2-gallon watering can under the tap to collect the cold water that comes out while you're waiting for your shower to heat up. I usually manage to collect about 1.5 gallons -- perfect for watering my vegetable garden. Don't forget to compost for that garden!

4. Use cloth towels and napkins. Seriously, the water and energy used to wash them is way less than the resources used for paper napkins and towels -- you're doing laundry anyway! Keep 10-12 dishtowels around so you always have a clean one, especially if you're phobic about germs. Soap and water kill germs -- there's no health or hygiene reason to use a paper towel to clean the kitchen or the floor! Just toss dirty towels in the wash. The same goes for napkins. I haven't bought paper towels in four or five years -- really. There are tons of cute dishtowels on Etsy, or embroider your own.

5. Buy used, vintage and factory reconditioned. Save landfill space and money, and get something unique and stylish! Etsy has tons of awesome vintage goods if you don't have the patience to scour flea markets and garage sales. Factory reconditioned goods have been rebuilt by the original company -- often it's new guts in an old body and they work just as well (most of the time) as new. Plus, it can save you serious money. I got my new Dyson vacuum for $250 less by buying reconditioned, and it works perfectly.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Me - 1 Glove - 0

Understatement of the week: I am not a morning person. But yesterday I woke up at 5:15 and could not go back to sleep; usually when this happens, I snooze fitfully for half an hour and end up falling back asleep. It didn't work this time because my semi-conscious mind was busy working out the solution to my glove woes, so I got up. After an hour or so catching up on Scary Go Round and reading some of my favorite Dinosaur Comics to limber up the old brain, and drinking a pot or so of the hot and strengthening, to borrow a phrase from Bertie Wooster, I tackled The Glove I haven't touched since the 4th reboot.

I've been so busy trying to use math to turn the main pattern from a knitted-flat-then-sewn-up glove into a seamless knit-in-the-round glove, and I kept screwing up. Once I accepted my lack of algebraic or arithmetic skills and decided to just use a measuring tape and row counter, and work from only one pattern, I think I finally cracked it.

A real glove, with a finger (well, half of one) and everything (including some Daisy hair -- I have to start keeping her from sleeping on my projects). I'm still using the V&A WW2 pattern for stitch counts, but I'm working it in the round instead of flat (if you click the link, please check the rockin' balaclava with earflaps. Please. You won't regret it). This time I've remembered to write it all down as I go so the right glove will (insha'allah) match the left.


(mentally insert socialist realism propaganda poster here)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Look what I found!

Do you know what this is?

It's a potato plant! They're growing -- I have two of these lovely 1.5-inch tall sprouts in my garden. My tomato, pepper and squash plants all benefited from the rain we got over the weekend and the sunshine this week. Now if only I can get my peas and okra to germinate.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Photo class

I'm taking a digital photography class at the library. Here are a few shots from this week's assignment, all taken around the house this morning, all unedited.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Almost-disaster: Strawberry Pancakes

Don't look so great, do they? Luckily, they taste fantastic. This morning, I had the near-brilliant idea to cook pancakes with the strawberries in the batter, rather than just sliced over the top. The batter ended up a bit too runny, and the strawberry slices -- and their high water content -- made the pancakes take a little too long to cook in the center. When I tried to flip them, they broke into smaller pancakes. They looked awful, but they did taste excellent.

Reducing the initial liquid and cutting the strawberries into smaller pieces makes a big difference, and saves the pancakes. I like the flavor of the strawberries cooked with the pancakes much better than when they're added right before serving, so I'll be making this again.

Strawberry Pancakes
adapted from Southern Living Annual Recipes 1984 Buttermilk Pancake recipe

1/2 c white flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
scant 1 c buttermilk
1 egg
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
5-6 strawberries, cut into small, thin pieces

Mix the dry ingredients. Combine the milk, egg and oil and pour into dry ingredients. Stir in strawberries.
Pour about 1/3 - 1/2 c batter onto a hot griddle. Flip when little bubbles start to appear.
Keep pancakes in warm oven until ready to serve. Serve with honey and powdered sugar.

This fragile earth, our island home

Easter is tomorrow; I just got home from the Great Vigil, one of the oldest services in the Christian Church, where we go from the darkness of the crucifixion into the light of the Resurrection. It begins after sunset, when a fire is lit, and from it the Paschal candle. The deacon leads the procession into the dark church, lit only by the candle, and the first part of the service is conducted in candlelight. This contrast of darkness and light, death and life, has at its core the primal human need to celebrate life and spring and rebirth. It parallels the awakening of the earth and our spirits after a long winter, and punctuates the relationship between our spirits and the earth. The service begins sombre and ends overflowing with hope and optimism.

This year, a couple of lines from various parts of the service keep running through my mind. As we think about spring, and growth, and growing green things, we should also start thinking about preserving those growing green things. One of the prayers in the Anglican/Episcopal Book of Common Prayer -- a marvelous poetic work, whether or not you're Christian -- comes from the prayers said before Communion, the ritual remembering Passover. We give thanks for the creation of "this fragile earth, our island home." It is fragile, and the other prayer asks for the grace to "become faithful stewards of thy bounty." I think that's such a fantastic charge for all of us, regardless of religion. This earth is entrusted to us, is held by us in trust for future generations, for God, for whomever. It's not ours to destroy; we should all strive to be faithful stewards of the bounty.

Those who know me know I don't usually talk about religion like this; these prayers are beautiful poetry, and important petitions from us to the earth as well as any creator.

On that note, here's another of my favorite poems about spring and green and the awe I feel on beautiful days and the desire to grow and plant and make and care and support sustain preserve conserve save, complete with a photo from Flickr user mobilestreetlife (since it's too dark to take pictures of the buds on my little tree by the front porch). Regularly scheduled programming resumes tomorrow.

i thank you God for most this amazing
E.E. Cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of the trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

From his collection Xaipe.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Springtime hair clips

These cute little hair clips are made of paper flower brads (I think they're for scrapbooking, something about which I have zero knowledge beyond what I learned from Dead Like Me), a little glue and metal sparkly barrettes.

I picked up the flowers on clearance at Target; you could use fabric flowers, knitted flowers or cut your own paper ones. Just remember paper ones should be sealed with glue so they last longer.

Separate the flower pieces and coat both sides with Mod Podge or some other clear-drying glue.

When the pieces are dry, put 'em back together

Spread glue on the brad and the clip, then attach the clip to the flower, pressing down hard to flatten the brad prongs as much as possible. This will make sure the flower is tightly attached to the clip. Fold the prongs down tightly, and add more glue.

Make sure you use tons of glue! You don't want the flower slipping around, although the brad will keep it from falling off.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Roll your own row counter

I've talked about my lazy quirk before -- I'd rather take hours making something than leave the house to pick it up at the store. I've done this with bread and donuts; today I wanted to share something that's significantly easier and takes less time: a row counter for knitting or crochet (or really anything else that's difficult to keep track of).

This simple counter uses things I already had around the house (scrap yarn, magazines, scissors, a toothpick and Elmer's glue) and skills I learned in Girl Scouts (making magazine beads). It can keep track of up to 100 rows at a time, is portable and easy to make.

Find two pages in contrasting colors. It works best if the pages have one dominant color. Cut 10 strips from each page, with one end slightly narrower than the other. Make the wide end the width you want your beads (1-1.5 cm. is good).

Run a line of glue down the length of the back of the paper strip; leave about 1/2 a cm. or so unglued at the wide end of the strip to keep from gluing the paper to the toothpick in the next step.

Wrap the wide (and glueless) end of the paper around the toothpick, then roll the paper up, pressing out wrinkles and air as you go. It helps if you align the long sides of the paper perpendicular to the toothpick rather than try to align the short end parallel -- I suck at cutting the strips with right angles, so lining the sides perpendicular helps keep the paper from rolling up wonky. Did that make sense? Good.

Do it 20 times, and you have 20 pretty beads ready to go.

Tie a big, fat knot in one end of your scrap of yarn (it should be about 18-20 inches long) and string 10 matching color beads. You want to use a piece of yarn that is bulky enough so the beads don't slip around on their own -- you want it a little tight. Tie another knot, leaving about an inch or so (or the space of 2 beads), then string the rest of the beads. Tie a third knot in the end, leaving space like you did between the two sets of beads.

To use the counter, move one blue bead for every row. When you count 10 rows, move a yellow bead, then reset the blue beads. The picture above shows a count of 12 -- 1 yellow for 10, plus 2 blue. Use a paperclip or a barrette to keep your beads in place when you stop.

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