Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Week of Surprises

So this has been a pretty good week. Loaded with surprises.

New book, gift tags, and recipe cards

On Sunday I started a new cooking club with a group of friends. Some are friends from high school. One is my biking buddy; we met while training for a century ride four years ago. One is a relatively new friend, and she brought an old friend of hers. I love mixing friend groups and seeing how easily friends from different parts of my life fit together. All of these friends hit it off smashingly. It was wonderful. We had lots of good food (our theme for the dinner was "Mushy Foods" since one person had oral surgery about a month ago and is still recovering).

But to start the day off, Biker Friend, who is also a knitter, gave me a small gift from when she went to Stitches back in the fall. They are tags for knitting gifts. Without a good macro lens (and I can't even find my regular lens right now), I can't get a good clear shot of them. They have a cat tangled up in yarn and say, " Now I know this may be hard for you to believe but...I MADE THIS! Don't just stand there dumbfounded, get excited or something!" I can't wait to give my next knitted gift.

Tuesday night I found a package in the mail. My used copy of EZ's Knitter's Workshop. This wasn't exactly a surprise, since I had ordered it, but it was coming from a non-major retailer, so I had no idea when it would arrive. Like some other people, I'm just now really appreciating EZ. To cap it off, several friends have recently announced pregnancies, so Baby Surprise Jackets for everyone!

Then there was today.

A few years back, Geek Boy came home one night with this joke:

A guy gets on an elevator with a beautiful woman. Desperate to make conversation, he smiles broadly at her and says, "T.G.I.F."
She smiles ruefully and says, "S.H.I.T."
Confused, he replies, "T.G.I.F."
Again, "S.H.I.T."
Desperate, he says to her, "Thank goodness it's Friday."
She shakes her head and says, "Sorry, hon, it's Thursday."

Now, almost every week, on Thursday, one of us will look at the other and say, "T.G.I.F." just for the fun of the response. But today was a good Thursday. I finished interviewing candidates for the open position I have at work, and my top choice accepted. I have several community groups who have agreed to partner with us for a grant I'm writing, and write letters of support (there is the downside that I have only a few days left to write the grant, but I'm not focusing on that now). Another grant, that I have more time for, is coming together. Best of all, when I got home and looked at the mail pile, there was a little package for me. I didn't remember ordering anything, but since I've recently developed an addiction to Etsy, maybe I forgot about something. Nope. Return address: Secret Pal. Inside I found a great pack of recipe cards. Perfect for organizing the new variations on soup and new cooking club recipes. So, thank you, secret pal! You made my Thursday!

Now off to curl up with my mega-biography of Caron McCullers (one of the pending grants is for a community read of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, so I thought I'd brush up on all things Caron McCullers).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday Soup and a Week of Socks

I was going to try and actually do my soup post yesterday, but I was so tired by the time I sat down after dinner, I could barely stay awake.

Yesterday, Geek Boy invited his brother over for dinner. I decided to do a little Greek Fest. Chicken Shawarma sandwiches, courtesy of Rachel Ray. Now, I have to admit, that Rachel Ray is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. She's perky and goofy. And way overexposed. I laugh when Anthony Bourdain goes off on her. BUT...I like her recipes. I find myself going back to them over and over. And several of them are in our top picks. And this chicken is very close to the top. It was delicious. And I made lots, so we'll have leftovers for a few days.

Once I had picked this, I thought a nice Greek-ish soup would be a good complement. Enter Spinach, Feta and Pine Nut Soup. Yummy! I don't know how "Greek" it is, but it has feta cheese, so that's enough for me.

Luckily, I have a sous chef in the house. Geek Boy does all of my chopping for me. I'm not very good at small dice and he is. And he figures it's a small price to pay for homemade soup each week.

My mise en place for the day, courtesy of Geek Boy.

Big lesson learned in this outing. Soups with leaf spinach in them do not play well with the stick blender. The leaves get caught up in all the little vents and just spin around. So, this eventually got dumped in the blender. The end result:

Nice and creamy, with little hunks of feta. And I love these little containers. I think they're Gladlock or something like that. The important part is that they have screw top lids and are a perfect single serving size. Nice and easy for work day lunches.

Today is a lazy day. For the first time in 6 years, I don't have a board meeting tonight. Our monthly meeting always fall on MLK day and my board says, no problem, we can meet anyway. But this year, since a number of them have plans for the long weekend, we're postponed until tomorrow. And I get a full day off. And I finished these finally:

Jaywaylkers in Trekking

This makes four pairs of hand knit socks for me. Which means that I can wear hand knit socks to work every day this week! It's the little things that make me happy.

Now to start my mitten swap mittens!

And as an extra special treat...Geek Boy and I are off to a Meet the Brewers night at Brigid's. Yummy!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A is for...


My souvenir yarn from our cruise last year. We had to take a ferry between Washington and Vancouver Island. On our return trip, we had some time to kill and some Canadian money still to spend. So, I hung out with the bags while Geek Boy went into the shop to get some sodas and munchies. When he came back, he handed me our Canadian cash and told me, "They have yarn." Inside I found a basket full of alpaca from Villa D'Oro. I got 9 ounces. No idea what the yardage is. And still no idea what I'll do with it. But it's a great memento of that trip.


This is only two of the six I have (the third person in the photo is my mom, aunt to 14, aunt-in-law to 5, great-aunt to 6). My aunts are all very different and have given so much to me in their own ways. MB is the closest in age (not counting J, who I don't call "aunt" because she married my uncle only a few years ago, and is just 3 years my senior, and I love her dearly) and the one who used to set me up on blind dates. B is my godmother and crafting mentor and leader of family insanity. H is the one I would talk to about things I couldn't talk to my mom about. K is the silly one. R is the nice one. I can't imagine not being close to them. And, being an aunt myself now, it's one the best things I get to be in my life. I love the Chickpea and Geek Boy Jr with all my heart and any time I spend with them is the highlight of my week. They're still little. I just hope that as time goes on, I will be as good to them as my aunts are to me.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Yarn, Yarn Everywhere...

...but not a single mitten. At least not yet*.

I hit Finely a Knitting Party after work the other night to select the yarn for the swap mittens. Lesson learned for the night: It's really hard to buy for someone you only know from a few blog posts (and stalking her Ravelry profile). After wandering around for a while and going back and forth on the worsted v. sock weight issue (worsted will go faster...but there was a better selection of sock), I finally decided on this:

(Altered to keep my swap buddy from accidentally finding me out.)

My biggest reservation, for some reason, was that worsted would be warmer. Now, I'm having this debate with myself while my feet are nice and toasty inside some hand knit socks. Cathy (the owner extraordinaire) reminded me that it's about the fiber, not the weight. So, sock weight it is.

Next question...which pattern? I had one picked out. I did my swatch. Consulted Ann Budd for the number of stitches I would need. Redid the chart on graph paper to make it easier to follow. Then started looking through Stitchionary again. Not sure why. Lo and behold, there's a pattern that will exactly fit my stitch count. How lucky is that?

*You know how there are some movie lines that just stick with you for no apparent reason? One of my oldest movie quotes is "Bubbles, bubbles everywhere. But not a drop to drink. At least not yet," from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I've been quoting that, in one form or another, since I saw that movie for the first time, way back when.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sundays Are for Soup

Okay, it's Monday, but I was busy making soup yesterday, so I thought I'd get caught up.

A few years ago, I would have told you how I most definitely did. not. like. soup. It goes with the whole not liking hot liquids thing. I don't like hot coffee or tea (although I'll drink both iced). And while I love chocolate milk, hot chocolate holds no appeal.

The Geek Boy, however, has always been a soup fan. After Christmas, he would traditionally make bean soup using the left over ham bone. And my family loved this. My Nanny always made bean soup. And even though I didn't eat it, I loved when he made it because it made our house smell like my Nanny and Grandpop's house when I was little. As my Nanny got older, her soup making skills, shall we say, deteriorated. So, all of my family's ham bones came to Geek Boy to keep Nan from destroying it. (The last bean soup she ever made was completely inedible, according to my mom.)

One Christmas, when we dropped the requisite container of soup off at my folks' house, my Nan (who lived with my mom and dad) asked me how I liked it. I told her I didn't have any because I didn't like soup. She let me have it. How could I not at least show Geek Boy the courtesy of trying the soup since he went to all the trouble to make it. So, shame-faced, I had a bowl when we got home.

And I liked it.

That's when it hit me. It wasn't so much that I didn't like soup. I just didn't like the stuff in a can. (Although, to be honest, when I'm really sick, it has to be Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup and nothing else. I need those soggy noodles and itty-bitty bits of chicken.)

At that point I became a soup fanatic. Scouring the cookbooks on cold days to see what I had the ingredients for. And then this fall, we took a trip to Providence and took a soups and sauces class at Johnson and Wales University. Now it was serious.

So, since the fall, every weekend I've made a different kind of soup. After Thanksgiving, I took the turkey carcass and made a freezer full of turkey stock. One Sunday night, while dining on that week's soup, Geek Boy looked at me and said, "I'm really glad you decided you like soup."

Following that thought, I was gifted with many soup cookbooks this Christmas. From the Geek Boy I received The New England Soup Factory Cookbook. And from my folks, 500 Soups. Now every Friday night I pour over both books, making my grocery list.

So, I thought I would start documenting my soup journey each week. This week, it was 500 Soups. Spiced Lentil, Chickpea and Chorizo Soup. A few years ago I discovered chorizo and find myself drawn to any recipe that calls for it.

This used just two links of chorizo, which I decdied to completely remove from their casings and cook up loose, which as definitely the way to go. That, with the cumin, corriander and cinnamon, just warmed the house all day long. This was also the first time I workd with dried lentils. Usually I go for canned beans of any kind, but it only takes 20 minutes to prepare lentils, so it didn't seem that intimidating.

The spices make this a very warm, not spicy soup. Perfect for this week that is starting to feel like winter again.

In other news...I got my mitten swap partner yesterday. Tomorrow will bring a trip to the Finely a Knitting Party to see if I can find the right yarn. I'm thinking maybe Lamb's Pride. But we'll see what's available.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mattress Stitch - The Cornstarch of Knitting

I'm easily amused/amazed by the simplest things.

Back at Thanksgiving, we had lots of bags of fresh cranberries, so I decided to make some fresh cranberry sauce for dinner. This was the first time I had ever tried this, and was disproportionately amazed to see how quickly things thickened up once the cornstarch had been added. I'm a dork, and i freely admit it.

So, right before Christmas, I was finally able to get Fitted Knits from the library. And I fell in love with the Alexandra Ballerina Sweater. My goal became to knit that sweater before my time with the book was up. So, armed with a handful of 50% off coupons for Michael's, I bought up their entire stock of Patons Rumors in Dewberry Heather ball-by-ball and got to work on December 26th (the book needed to be returned on January 4th, and since two other people had holds on it, there would be no renewals).

The evening of January 3rd, I had one sleeve to go and was up seaming the final sleeve and weaving in ends until 10.30. Admittedly, 10.30 isn't that late, but I'm usually doing my pre-bedtime ritual by then.

Now, normally, I hate, loathe, despise, abhor, abominate seaming. I don't like it at all. That was one of the reasons I was attracted to this sweater, because it was knit in the round. Except for the sleeves. And I couldn't really see why the sleeves were knit flat, but hey, I was willing to do that little bit. As I was oh-so-carefully working my mattress stitch, I was amazed at how neat it was, and at the little neat ridge it formed inside the sleeve. And it was very similar to my awe of how cornstarch nicely thickened my cranberry sauce.

Like I said, I'm a dork.

This, however, has not convinced me that I like seaming lots of little parts. In fact, if anything, it reinforced the fact that I really don't want to have to do a lot of it. So, in an effort to start the new year off with a somewhat clean slate, I went back and looked at the progress I had made on my Tilted Duster cardigan.

I love the look of this sweater. I did from the moment I saw the fall issue of Interweave Knits. But the thought of seaming all the parts and then picking up all those stitches for the skirt...ugh! (Picking up stitches is my second least favorite knitting task...I even modify most of my socks to have short row heels for just this reason.) So, I frogged. And tonight I may cast on instead for the Cobblestone Pullover. I've seen this with a modified yoke (ravelry link) to have a button band, so I may try that in order to use my very cool devil buttons which go perfectly with the orange Cascade.

In further dorknitude, today is the deadline for the No-More-Humdrum-Mittens Swap. I am so excited for this. Can't wait to see who I will be knitting for here. I've been scouring mitten patterns, as well as spending time looking at colorwork patterns from the Stitchionary. I've even found a sock pattern that could be fun to convert. Plus there's the challenge of finding other little "stuff" to include in the package.

I'm just a dork, what can I say?