Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Accomplishments

5 trips to the beach - I started the summer with a long girls' weekend at my friend's beach house, followed by one pretty successful camping trip and three very successful day trips with my family. Visits to knitting or craft shops are not usually on the agenda when I'm with Russ or the kids although Russ doesn't mind if he can browse around in a nearby bike shop while I'm exploring. Paige went with us on our last trip the day before my birthday on the 23rd. Our first stop was in Arroyo Grande, where Paige and I purchased these cute little fat quarter packages at The Quilt Attic. Let's see, that's been over a week ago, and they're still just decorating my sofa table. I do have plans for mine, the summerhouse seat cushion from Posy Gets Cozy. The pattern looks really easy and fun. I think Paige is planning on sewing a pillow with hers. Now all I have to do is inspire both of us to actually complete them.

Eight books read - One day this summer. I posted on Facebook that I'd had a wonderful day with Russ - "coffee at our favorite coffee shop, shopping at Lassen's Market (health food store), and a trip to the library where we checked out ten books." Accusations flew from many of our ex-students that we are book that's an astute observation, ha, ha. Most of my reading has been fairly light although I am currently reading a book I've intended to read for years,  A Passage to India, which I'm enjoying quite a lot. Among my lighter reading accomplishments, I just finished The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Shop, which I started a couple of times this spring and just couldn't get finished. I have to admit that I was drawn to it mostly for the cover. II even like the feel of the dust cover. In fact, the copy I read is a friend's, and I may have to go out and buy my own to display on my coffee table. Wait a minute, I don't have a coffee table. Maybe I'll buy one, so that I can display it. I'm kind of over the "knitting" themed books, but I did enjoy the plot of this book and especially the setting, the coast of England. Other than that, it's not exceptional, but I don't think it's supposed to be. I like the author, Gil McNeil's writing better than Debbie Macomber's. Neither one of them are exactly wordsmiths, but their writing is easy to read without making you feel like your brain is atrophying either.

Numerous sourdough pizza crusts baked - I've had a lot of fun with my sourdough starter this summer, and I really can't count how many time we've had pizza dough using it. I went through a phase where I tried to be original; the rosemary - lemon crust, where I added a tablespoon of fresh rosemary and a couple of teaspoons of lemon zest to the dough went over pretty well, On the other hand, the consensus seems to be that my old recipe with just starter, half King Arthur unbleached flour/ half King Arthur bread flour, two tablespoons of olive oil, and two tsp. of salt is the best. Last night I made BBQ chicken pizza, the lazy way with Trader Joe's  BBQ sauce, but Paige and her friend were more adventurous. They used ranch dressing on one half of their pizza with red onions, basil, "fake chicken," and a mix of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. It was everyone's favorite...well, except for Kai.

Knit mindless simple items - I did knit a couple of pairs of socks, one pair that I ended up unraveling, but mostly I've been puttering around with easy knitting projects. I've had fun with felting even though I've had some failure. Two of my ex-students brought me a pink gerber daisy on my birthday, so I had to knit the pot a little cover with the last of some Lopi yarn I've had for almost twenty years. I'm almost embarrassed to post my other recent accomplishment, one little coaster. I used an "applique heart" pattern from Nicky Epstein's Knitted Embellishments I knit it mostly to see if the yarn would felt, which it kind of did.

I could brag about other non-knitting related summer accomplishments like:
  • playing at least fifty one hundred games of ping pong on our ping pong table that Russ bought for $10 from our neighbors, and which I chastised him for wasting money by buying
  • watching almost every episode of all nine seasons of Anthony Bourdain:No Reservations on Netflix,
  • spending endless hours outside willing my tomatoes and zucchini to ripe and trying to find the perp who keeps eating my basil
  • taking two-hour naps nearly everyday
  • going to a farmer's market almost every week

...but that would make it seem like I'm a boring person, and I don't want to admit that.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sad Socks

Well, I'm finished with my paraphernalia socks. This pattern wasn't difficult at all, and I really like the cable, but I had endless trouble with the second sock. I have a bad habit of making minor changes in  sock patterns and then forgetting exactly what I've done by the time I'm knitting the second sock. I honestly can't count how many times, I unraveled and re-knit the heal of the second sock. You'd think I'd learn, but I'll probably do it again, but maybe next time, I'll at least write down my changes.

I'll just blame the heat. It's been over 100 degrees for the last week, and it's just zapping my energy. We'll head up to my parents' house in Northern California in less than two weeks, and we won't mind if it's foggy and cold the entire time. I really would be happy to bundle up and sit by the beach knitting something warm.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Success, After All

So, I think I do like the unfelted cream part of my first needle holder after all, but I really like my second try. I have a front-lead washer, so felting is a little bit of a challenge, but I'm happy with the finished product. Now, I just need to knit some smaller holders for my double-pointed needles.

I had planned to make my second needle holder a little larger than the first, but I ended up felting the second one more, so they're about the same size. I used wine cozy pattern from Dropped a Stitch basically, with a couple of alterations.

Felted Needle Holder


Using size 11 double-pointed needles, cast on 8, join and k 1 round.

Row 2: *k1, m1, repeat from * to end. 16 sts.
Row 3 and all odd numbered rows: k 1 round.
Row 4: *k2, m1, repeat from * to end. 24 sts.
Row 5: *k3, m1, repeat from * to end. 32 sts.
Row 7: *k4, m1, repeat from * to end. 40 sts.
Row 9: *k5, m1, repeat from * to end. 48 sts.
Row 11: *k6, m1, repeat from * to end. 56 sts.
Complete bases by purling 2 rounds.

Knit every row in the round until desired length, keeping in mind that work will shrink when felted. When work is the the height you want, purl two rows. Continue knitting tube until it is double the length of what you want you finished product to be. Bind off, and weave in ends. Felt. Fold half of the tube insde of itself, folding at the purls halfway up the tube; and dry.  The sides should be thick enough to stand upright stably.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Win Some, Lose Some

Success: Carrot Cilantro Soup

Since Paige is a vegetarian, I try to fix vegetarian choices for dinner a lot of the time, something that doesn't always thrill Kai; but I made carrot cilantro soup the night we got back from the beach that made everyone happy. I did a quick Google search, and found a recipe for Alice Waler's Carrot Cilantro from her book Chez Panisse Vegetables on a blog called Cupckae Punk.  The only alteration I made was that I toasted about 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds, and added them to the soup when I pureed it.

Carrot Cilantro Soup

1 yellow onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch of carrots (~1 lb)
3 potatoes
1-1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock
1/2 bunch cilantro
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and slice the onion and put in olive oil to stew. Peel carrots and potatoes and cut into large chunks.
Once the onions are soft, add carrots and potatoes, salt generously, and continue to stew for approximately 10 minutes.

Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and simmer until the vegetables are cooked and soft.

Take the pot off heat.

Add cilantro and pumpkin seeds to the pot. Puree the soup in a food processor until smooth.

Reheat on stove.

Second Success: Soughdough Bread

I bought some sourdough starter a couple of months ago, and I've been experimenting with it every since. I've mostly made pizza dough, but I thought I'd bake bread yesterday. I used a basic recipe from Sourdough Home. For the final step, you let the dough rise in the pan for up to twelve hours. I let it start rising around 10 o"clock at night, thinking that I'd bake my bread in the morning.  I didn't quite calculate correctly though. I usually sleep straight through the night, but last night, I couldn't sleep and got up around 3:00 to get a glass of water. My bread was starting to fall over the edges of the pan, so....I baked 3 in the morning. I thought for sure someone would wake up and ask where the wonderful smell was coming from, but no one did. They, did, however, pretty much devour it as soon as they got up.

Fail: Felted Holder for Wooden Needles

I've made this kind of mistake before. I had a plan to felt a holder for my wooden knitting needles. I faved a pattern for a felted wine cozy a while back, so I used that idea to knit my holder. I'm not giving up, but I encountered a problem. My nice, fuzzy, cream yarn that I used for a little contrast didn't felt.  I also need to make the inside ridge longer. As it is now, it's just making it top heavy. Maybe I shouldn't call this a failure; it just wasn't a success.

Friday, July 09, 2010

It's Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Summer

I still haven't completely finished my garnstudio sweater, but I'm close. I saw some darling gingham buttons at Posy Gets Cozy, but I couldn't find if she said where she found them.
I ended up ordering some pretty cute, plastic buttons from ebay, but now I can't decide on what color to use. The green definitely doesn't look good, but I think the yellow or the purple have possibilities. I'd appreciate any input I can get since family is no help whatsoever!
So, the temperature are finally starting to feel like Central California in the summer. We had such a nice June that I almost thought we'd skip the 100 degree temps this year--Not! The beagles can't think of much to do except lie around sighing periodically, but we've been thinking that a short trip to the beach was in order. We took along our bikes and had a great little vacation for two days. One of the highlights was taking the Bob Jones' Bike Trail to Avila Beach for the first time on bikes. I've run it several times before in the City to the Sea Half Marathon when it used to go to Avila, but I much preferred riding it.

After spending a big part of the evening at the San Luis Obispo Farmer's Market, we took a little drive around Morro Bay before heading back to our campground at the state park.
This picture doesn't do justice to how pretty it was. We drove over by Morro Rock and looked back at the town with  all of the lights  twinkling. If we hadn't had an impatient teenager in the backseat, we would have sat there until it was completely dark.

I guess a lot of people would consider the "stacks" an unsightly addition to the skyline, but maybe cause they've been there all of my life, they don't bother me. It was always exciting to see the stacks as we were driving in on the freeway and to know that we were almost to Morro Bay when I was a kid.

We didn't sleep great in our tent. Fortunately, Paige wasn't with us. She spent the night with some friends who have a beach house about five miles from where we were staying. Otherwise, we would have hardly fit in the tent. I guess we'd forgotten how small it is...or how big the kids have gotten. Even though we have a blow-up mattress, it was still pretty uncomfortable. So, we got up early and took a little walk on the beach. I only found one sand dollar, to add to my forty other sand dollars I have spread around on display in the house.

 It must have been the cool weather, but I felt like knitting a lot for the past two day too. I've been working on these Paraphernalia Socks for a while. I'm knitting them for one of my ex-students who plans to go to college in New York in the fall. I jokingly told her that she was going to need wool socks when we told me where she was going, and then I thought it would be fun to actually give her some. I really like the pattern, but the wool is just O.K. I think it's Lorna's Lacis, which I usually love, but it just isn't smooth enough for this pattern. I'm not sure if that's what I mean exactly. I just don't like how the stitches are so...separate.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Quiz Time

Lazy Kate  tagged me for a little quiz a while back. I loved reading her answers, and since I haven't made much knitting progress lately, I thought I'd go ahead see how boring I sound.

1. What's your staple meal (ie. what meal do you cook most often when you can't be bothered to be adventurous) ?
I have a hard time with just cooking up something really fast. I'll either fix a great, well-planned meal, or my husband will end up fixing "Scoobie Snacks," which are basically quesadillas with refried beans and sometimes some chicken. I probably make cilantro pesto pasta most often in a pinch, but it still takes a little effort. It's definitely Kai's favorite, and Russ and Paige like it quite a lot too. They obviously don't have a cilantro aversion. OK, and when I'm really, really worn out, I ask Kai to get us something on one of his almost daily runs to Taco Bell. I'm a little ashamed to admit the fast food thing, but sometimes Taco Bell just hits the spot.

2. What do you want to be when you grow up?
Mmmmm, not sure still. I've been a teacher for nearly twenty-five years, not an occupation that I ever intended to do in the first place. I'm not shy, but I'm an introvert in a lot of ways, so a hundred teenagers in your face every day can be a pain.  I've grown to embrace it though. I guess I'd like to be a writer., so I could work in my pajamas. I'd like to write about food and food-related experiences, like eating out in fancy restaurants in L.A. (even though I hate getting around in L.A.) or some European metropolis.

3. What book are you reading at the moment (if any)
I just read The Big House, A Century in the Life of an American Summer House, which I really enjoyed, and I'm kind of reading A Cook's Tour, which I've read before. I'm planning to read A Passage to India this summer and maybe another classic that I haven't yet read. For an English teacher, I'm not that great of a reader. I love books, but I'm a browser. If a book doesn't grab me, I won't make the effort to struggle though it.

4. How do you relax?
I spread out on our love seat, and browse through blogs and I have to admit that I "farm" on Farmville, although I think I may be outgrowing that...maybe after I fill my nursery barn, ha, ha. ...And, of course, I knit!

5. What color are the interior walls of your home?
I love the color of our walls. Our living room is sand-colored above a chair rail and kind of a mocha below. The entryway is two-toned too, with light shades of green. As you can see from my previous blog post, our kids' bathroom is blue; Paige's room is eggplant, and Kai's is "Cornhusker" red. I've been trying to decide on a change in our bedroom since it's just boring beige right now. I'm thinking pink although Paige thinks I shouldn't do that to Russ. He's man enough to take it, I think.

6. What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Chocolate chip cookie dough. I make great cookies, but the dough, after it's been in the fridge for a while, is soooo good.

7. What time is bedtime and getting up time?
I need a lot of sleep, but I don't always  never get enough during the school year. I usually don't get to bed before 10:30 or 11:00, and get up at 5:00 three mornings a week to run. The other two days of the work week, I get up around 6:30.

8. How long do you spend reading blogs (per day or per week)?
I'll sometimes spend hours looking at blogs, and other times I'll go weeks without doing much reading. I've gone months without blogging in the past. I'm usually most interested in reading blogs if I'm in a blogging mood myself, and am looking for even more inspiration. It's kind of an unpredictable thing for me.

Here's my chocolate chip cookie recipe. It's basically the Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe from Cook's Illustrated, and it's practically no-fail. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

In a large mixing bowl, mix together,

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter, melted in the microwave (I don't always bother doing this, but the cookies are better when I do.)
1 egg, plus one additional egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla

In a separate bowl, mix together,

2 cups flour, plus 2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. soda

Add to wet ingredients.

Add chocolate chips.

Bake at 325 degree for about 13 minutes. Let sit on the pan for a minute of two before moving to a cookie rack.