Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Let the Granny Patch Begin!

In the real world, I run an emergency shelter for homeless families.  It's rewarding and challenging work. A wonderful man has offered to host a fundraiser for us, complete with silent auction, and he says I don't have to do a thing to help.  What a gift! Well, I can't very well sit back and do nothing.  This granny patch afghan will be my contribution to the silent auction.  I'm using bits and pieces left over from my Stylecraft DK 17 colour pack, plus other colors of Stylecraft I recently ordered.  

Details:  I'm making each square 4 rounds, and using a JAYG (Join As You Go) method of connecting the squares.  Right now, I'm putting 10 squares in a row, using random color sequencing.  I'm quite sure I'll end up adding on to that, perhaps doubling it at some point. We shall see how it goes! 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lemon Marmalade

What do you do when you find yourself with a gallon of cut up lemons? Lemon curd? I already have some in the freezer.... Lemon meringue pie? Love it, but I'm likely to eat the whole thing.... I settled on lemon marmalade. Processed in a canner bath, it stores easily and can be shared with friends.

Using a micro grater, I tried to get as much grated peel from the lemon pieces as I could. This was challenging, as the chunks were hard to hold onto. The yellow peel is an important source of oil and flavor.

Next, I cut the lemon pulp away from the rind, making sure to remove the white pith and seeds. The pith is bitter, so I was careful to keep it out of marmalade. I ended up with about four cups of lemon.

Dump the pulp and four cups of water into a heavy duty pot. Bring to a low boil, reduce the heat and simmer. I let it cook down for a good hour or two. Add four cups sugar, stir until dissolved. Let simmer another hour.

It's important to cook it to the "jell" stage, so that it thickens up to a good jam consistency when cooled. I'm lazy, so I just guess. Other people (cooks who aren't lazy) put a plate in the freezer ahead of time, so they can test the jelly by spooning a little onto the frozen plate. It cools quickly this way, and you can tell if its jelling appropriately.

Tonight, I'm having fresh baked bread with butter and marmalade, with a cuppa tea. Delicious!

Mixed Stripes, Update 5

The last update ended with the bobble row. Here's what I've added since:
2 row hdc - fondant
1 row hdc - sherbet
1 row hdc - aster
1 row sc - shrimp
1 row sc - wisteria
1 row sc - meadow
1 row hdc - fondant
Chevron stripe - plum and wisteria
2 rows hdc - aspen
1 row sc - aster (hard to see in this picture, but it's there!)
1 row hdc - citron
1 row - 4 dc clusters - turquoise
1 row hdc - clematis
1 row - 4 dc clusters - magenta
1 row hdc - cloud blue
1 row - 4 dc clusters - meadow

A word about color choices - I have a bag filled with small balls of this yarn. I'm trying to use some of that up before I open the lovely NEW yarn, that is waiting - and calling my name.  I made an exception for that chevron row in plum. I needed a bold color and opened the new skein.  So what does this tell you about the order of colors?  I have NO plan! I open the bag and grab a ball that looks big enough to make it through the stitch I want to use next.  That's pretty much it.  And I think that's working out nicely.  

The blanket is starting to get really big - covering about half of my king sized bed. I'm estimating, when all is said and done,  it will have used up more than 30 skeins of yarn. It's heavy - with nice dense stitches - so definitely a winter blanket.  I hope I am able to finish it before summer arrives! 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Yarn Bombs

I've been wanting to make a yarn bomb. Something about it is so appealing...not just making the city more colorful and cheerful with our crazy crocheted rainbows, but the sneaky part... the bombing.

In April, as part of child abuse awareness, our city will be bombed with blue yarn.  I'm in. When this granny gets to 20 inches, it will be big enough for the lamp post.  I'm close, but not quite there. My intention is to make 3 of these squares, to be attached vertically - and cover about 5 feet.  The lamp post is 10 feet tall.

Please ignore the imperfections in this square... I do realize the edge along the bottom of the heart started out one granny cluster short of the other sides. I fixed it in the first navy row.  Since this is for a bombing, and will eventually be thrown away, I'm letting it go. If it were for an afghan, I would have ripped it out and fixed it in the first square round.

The center heart was simple:

Begin with a basic granny square for round one - 3 double crochets on each side, 2 chains in the corners
Round 2 - make 7 double crochets on each side - 2 chains in the corners.  This means 2 DC in the corner, 1 in each of the 3 DC from round 1, 2 DC in the next corner, 2 chain, and repeat for the next row. Slip stitch to the first stitch to end.
Round 3 - make a triple crochet in the middle DC (4th DC from the hook), then make 6 DC in the same space, plus 1 more triple, slip stitch to the next corner, repeat on the next side - this makes the 2 "humps" of the heart.  And you're done!

My square is not precise, but basically I did a round of single crochet, with 3 sc in the stitches that became the top 2 corners, and 3 in the point of the heart.  Subsequent rounds are traditional granny clusters, every 3 stitches.  Corners have 2 chains in between. The mistake in this one - 5 granny clusters on each side, except the bottom edge, which only has 4. Next time, I'll count and make them even.  (I have to keep reminding myself - it's a bomb. It's okay that it isn't perfect.)

One important note - the two corners at the bottom have triple crochet, not double crochet. It helps even things out.

Time for me to get busy. I need to make some tea and cookies...Downton Abbey is on this evening, and I want to be ready!

Monday, February 4, 2013

White Bean and Kale Soup

Perfect on a cold, snowy February evening, a soup like this one makes the whole house smell great while it simmers through the day. And the homemade bread? Heaven.

Start with one bag dry white beans. I used navy because that's what I had on hand, but northern would be just as good. Follow the directions on the bag to prepare the beans.  If you are planning ahead, soak overnight, drain and rinse the soaking water, then add to the soup pot and simmer all day. As is typical for me, I did not prepare ahead. This meant bringing the beans to a boil, turning the heat off and letting them sit an hour or two. Drain, rinse, and begin the recipe. 

Warning:  I don't always measure.  I'll do my best to give measurements, but sometimes, you just have to look at it and use your best judgment.  This is especially true of things like soups and stews. 

Use a good size stock pot.  In olive oil, saute 1 large chopped onion and about a cup and a half each - chopped celery, carrot, kale - until softened, but not brown. With the kale - I did not use the stems or ribs, just the leaves. Add 3 chopped garlic cloves, and saute a little longer. 

Add the beans, 2 quarts water, and two bay leaves. At this point, you can cover and let the soup simmer covered for 2 - 3 hours, or you can put it in a crock-pot on low for 6-8 hours.  I cooked mine on the stove today.  When the beans are tender, I like to smash some of them with my soup ladle, to make the broth creamy.  

In the last hour or so of cooking, I added fresh cracked pepper, and some McKay's Chicken-style Instant Broth and Seasoning. I waited  until the beans were tender, because it's high in sodium and I've read that salt can toughen your beans. I don't know if it's true, but it's just as easy to add salt and/or salty seasonings at the end!  It's important to taste test to make sure you don't over do it with this. I add just a tablespoon at a time, tasting in between. 

And that's it! I do think this would be delicious with some vegan Italian sausage cut in chunks, cooked in a little olive oil, and added  in before serving, but I didn't miss it at all, and the beans provide a hearty, filling dinner without the sausage. 

Now for the bread....

I've been following the basic recipe for Artisan Bread In Five Minutes for years now. Please check out their website for more recipes and all the background information about this baking technique. It's wonderful - mostly for liberating me from the need to knead the dough!  I like my bread to have a good, crunchy crust, and light, airy inside.  Here is how I've modified the recipe to fill my needs:

In my standing mixer: 3 cups warm water + 2 1/2 TBS yeast + 1/4 cup sugar or honey (the sugar feeds the yeast, helping it rise.)  Let it sit 5 or 10 minutes, until the yeast is foamy.  
Add 1/4 cup canola oil, 1 1/2 TB kosher salt, and 6 cups of flour - a little at a time. 

The dough will be sticky.  Be careful not to add too much flour, that's what makes bread dense.  Remove the  beater from the mixer, cover the bowl, and let it sit. I sprayed the lid to my bowl with oil to keep the rising dough from sticking.  After an hour or two - the dough literally lifted the lid off the bowl! 

This is enough for 3 loaves.  I coated my hands with flour and pulled out 1/3 of the dough, shaping it into a loaf, put it on my silpat on a cookie sheet, covered and let it rise again, about an hour. 

The rest of the dough goes in the fridge for loaves later this week.  I'll just bring it to room temperature before rising and baking. 

Back to today.... Preheat the oven to 400 and put an old jelly roll pan on the bottom rack during the preheat.  When ready to back, cut slits in the top of the loaf, put it in the oven, and pour cold water on the bottom pan - creating steam. Close the oven door and let bake about 20 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown.  

Resist all temptation to cut into the bread before it has a chance to cool. It can ruin the texture!

Our bread is almost gone, and there are only two of us here tonight. I love dipping it in the soup broth. So good - it doesn't need butter. And I will never knead dough again. 

Hello Kitty!

What have you been working on?  I've got 18 of these in progress.  Faces will be added at the end. For the pattern, go here.  Made by K provides an excellent tutorial for making Hello Kitty squares, as part of a scarf project (which I made a few months ago.)

To get 8 inch squares, I added an extra "granny" row, and either a row of single or half double crochet, depending on the yarn. Some of this yarn is Red Heart, which required the single crochet edge, while the I Love This Yarn needed a half double crochet edge to make the same size.

To make her bow, I made rectangles of single crochet... 4 rows of 12 sc. Leave long ends to weave into the center, wrap around for the middle of the bow, and tie off at the back. Stitch into place.

Here's a picture of the scarf I made for my niece. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Carrot Cake

Do you go crazy on Pinterest? I see so many awesome looking recipes and ideas, and I've got hundreds of pins on my bulletin boards.  Here's one recipe I found on Pinterest, and actually made. To Die For Carrot Cake is delicious!  If you like carrot cake, this recipe is simple and worth giving a try. 

The Week in Review

Crochet things....

8 inch squares for Love Squared.....

Here is a link to the directions for the spiral square!

More for Love Squared, and about 15 Hello Kitty faces, waiting to be made into squares.

My sweet Gertie-bird. This week, we took her to the vet for extensive testing. She has not been feeling well and has developed facial sores, lost the hair on her face, and seems weak. Gertie is having a hard time getting up and down the stairs, and even just jumping up on the couch. We hope to get to the bottom of this in the next week or so, when all her test results come back.  Keep positive thoughts for a diagnosis that is easily cured and managed!  Gertie is a Newfoundland/Golden Retriever mix. She is the sweetest pup on the planet.


I like documentaries, and I especially enjoy watching the ones about food. Today, I watched Vegucated.  It follows 3 omnivores as they take on the challenge of living a vegan lifestyle for 6 weeks. I particularly liked this film, as it doesn't bash omnivores at all (which I think is important!) Instead, it simply teaches about the vegan lifestyle, and its benefits.  Yes, it does cover the atrocities in factory farming and the negative effects that has on our planet - but the purpose is to educate. We really do need to understand where our food comes from, and how animals are treated.

I'm a vegetarian, not a vegan. I don't eat anything you have to kill an animal to get - so I eat no meat at all, including no beef, pork, chicken, fish - no animals. The difference is that I will eat the things an animal naturally makes, and derivatives of those products - so milk, cheese, butter, honey, eggs - these things are part of my diet, but a vegan would not eat them.

Eggs - I restrict these to those from my chickens, or my friends' chickens. (My silly hens have stopped laying eggs for the winter, so I had to buy 2 dozen from a friend this month.)  I will only use eggs from hens raised in a truly humane way.  To me, there is no problem eating these eggs.  I know the hens have to lay them.  Mine aren't laying right now, because the days are short. And that's so interesting to me - that during the winter - when the days are shorter, a hen may naturally stop producing eggs. Many people provide artificial lighting to lengthen the day and keep hens producing. Some hens keep going regardless of the light.

After seeing Vegucated, I'm rethinking my consumption of dairy.  I may seek out a local source that will ensure a humane product, or I may significantly reduce or give it up altogether.  I haven't decided what I will do, but I'm definitely thinking about it.  I struggle with a few things.  Besides my complete love of all cheese, cream, butter, and more cheese....

  1. I don't want to replace natural foods with highly processed, oil-based options. I don't believe that is healthier, and it certainly doesn't taste as good. 
  2. I want to eat a humane diet, in which no living thing is intentionally, or unintentionally harmed. I just can't feel good about it.
  3. I don't want to take on a diet that becomes difficult to follow in my normal life. Eating vegetarian is fairly easing to do.Vegan is quite a bit more restrictive, and presents more challenges. That doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile - just more difficult. 
Thinking about our food is good. No matter what decision any person makes, I think it is important to know where food comes from, the process used to get it from farm to table - the good, the bad, and the ugly - without blaming or finger wagging.