I’m still here

I appreciate my blog. I do. I appreciate my daughter Lyza for quietly renewing the URL every year. It’s just that there are so many other things to do than write entries in it. Things mostly involving fabric and yarn, but also physical exertion and eating.

Last night, to put myself to sleep, I started counting ongoing or recently completed or even envisioned projects instead of sheep. I drifted off around #18. Here are a few that I’m working on or just finished.

  • Knitting socks for a friend

    projects 1 aug 2015

    Two knitting projects and some redwork.

  • Knitting a wrap with the popular Wingspan pattern, probably for myself
  • Red work embroidery patches for a child’s quilt. Other recent embroidery projects include dishtowels and an apron.
  • Four quilts in various stages of construction.
  • At least one quilt being actively planned [I think of it as “Roosters Up the Ying-yang” as rooster-themed fabric is everywhere. Along with chickens, eggs, and chickenwire.]
  • Which leads to thinking about other quilts using barnyard animal patchwork, possibly with plaid or checked fabric as borders.
  • Two patchwork chair pads using random piecing techniques from the book “15 Minutes of Play.”

    Wonky-pieced chair pad. A lot of fun to make.

    Wonky-pieced chair pad. A lot of fun to make.

  • Knitting a seat pad for my car with huge #32 needles and a double strand of strips of waste fabric. Like the rag rug I knitted for my bedroom.
  • block 1 aug 2015

    One of the shop hop blocks. The store provided the material and the pattern.

  • Fifteen individual blocks from the Sunshine and Stitches shop hop in June,
    where I visited 1 quilt shops, ving materials for one lock at each. I found some great resources and spent agreat deal of money.
  • Ten yards or so of 2-1/2-inch pieced quilt
    ship block aug 2015

    My favorite shop hop block of the ones I’ve made so far.

    border. My sister Catherine clued me into a clever technique: Sewing the scraps to 3-inch register tape.

  • Six 12-inch pieced blocks for the Northwest Quilter’s block of the month, which will net me six chances to win everyone’s blocks for that month. If not, someone gets mine.

There are many more projects, conceived, begun or even finished. Some of them are gifts.I have lots of other things to do besides play with fabric and yarn: cooking, baking, playing the fiddle, taking my scooter to the library, working out at the gym, reading, downsizing my hundreds of books, listening to audiobooks. … But mostly, I just want to immerse myself in making things.
Writing for this blog is far, far down the list.

block of month aug 2015

Simple 9 patches of 4 patches for a block of the month drawing,

Posted in Observations, Things I made | 1 Comment

It was a fine dinner but now it's over.

It was a fine dinner but now it's over.

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All folks want is recipes

I did my 6-week pass at Facebook today and found two requests for recipes I helped publish when I was working for The Oregonian’s FoodDay section in the late ’90s.

I remember battling another editor to the mat over publishing the rutabaga recipe as one of the best of 1997. But it really is that good!

The second recipe, for macadamia nuts with curry and coconut, is addictive, worth the cost of the nuts. Still, I’d forgotten all about it until an old FoodDay colleague asked for the recipe.

Union Square Cafe’s Puree of Rutabaga With Crispy Shallots

Makes 6 servings

 Salt

 2 medium rutabagas, about 3 pounds, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

 1 medium all-purpose potato, peeled and cut into 1-1/2 -inch pieces

 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

 2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

 Freshly ground white pepper

 1½ tablespoons peanut oil

 3 large shallots, peeled and thinly slice

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

In a large saucepan, bring plenty of salted water to a boil, add the rutabagas and potato, and cook until both vegetables are very tender.  Drain well and transfer the vegetables to a food processor together with 3 tablespoons of the butter and 2 tablespoons of the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture is not quite creamy, add the remaining tablespoon of sour cream. Transfer to an ovenproof dish, cover, and set in the center of  the oven to keep warm.

In a heavy 8-inch skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter together with the oil over medium high heat. Add the shallots and saute until nicely browned and crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Fold the shallots into the potato and rutabaga mixture and correct the seasoning.

Serve hot.

From Fresh From the Garden by Perla Meyers

Coconut Curry Macadamia Nuts

Time 30 minutes

Serves 12 

1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1-1/2 tablespoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 egg whites

5 cups macadamia nuts

1 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 300.

Combine ginger, cumin, curry powder, cayenne, brown sugar and salt then set aside. Beat egg whites with small whisk until frothy then whisk in reserve spice mix. Stir in nuts and coconut then spread in a single layer onto 2 lightly greased baking sheets.

Bake, stirring nuts and rotating pans halfway through cooking, for 25 minutes (less time in a convection oven).

Transfer to parchment paper to cool then store in airtight container at room temperature.

I think this recipe is from Martha Stewart’s appetizer book.

 

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Artisan bread: easy, easy, easy!

I’ve known for several years that home cooks could bake artisan-type bread, the kind with the crispy crust and the chewy interior with lots of air holes, in a Dutch oven, but a recipe published in The Oregonian in about 2012 finally got me going.2014-01-10 11.25.56

I’ve always baked bread, and in the past had perfected several shortcuts, such as kneading the dough in a food processor and even letting it rise in the processor’s bowl, then using the blade to “punch” it down before forming the bread on a floured surface.

But this new recipe is far easier. It takes less than 10 minutes to whip up enough dough for a week’s worth of bread for Robert and me–about five smallish loaves. Keep the dough in the fridge, pull off a chunk from time to time, and enjoy fresh bread every day.

Ingredients

  • 6 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 cups water, cold or lukewarm
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
  • 1 scant tablespoon dry yeast, or one packet (see below for sourdough instructions)

Basic method

I’ll explain the ingredients in more detail below, but here’s how the bread works.

1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. The dough should be very sticky almost wet. Cover and refrigerate.

2. When it’s time to bake a new loaf, scoop out a chunk of dough, form it, let it rise 40 minutes, then bake for 30-35 minutes at 450° F. See more detailed instructions about baking below.

Flour:

I usually use

  • 4 cups bread flour (Bob’s Red Mill, Stone-Buhr, King Arthur),
  • 2 cups whole-wheat and/or rye (use dark rye flour, which is whole grain)
  • 1/2 cup (or a bit more) Bob’s Red Mill rolled cereal mix (I’ve used 5-grain and 7-grain, and there’s also a 10-grain variety), which add a wonderful texture. Other options include oatmeal, rye flakes, barley flakes, etc. If making rye bread, try 1/4 to 1/2 cup pumpernickel (whole rye groats)
  • About 2 tablespoons flax meal

Have fun experimenting with the mix of flours, but beware of using too much whole-wheat or rye. The gluten in the bread flour is what supports the bread. I tried adding vital wheat gluten to help dough with large amounts of whole grains to rise better, but it made the bread too tough.

Water

In My Bread, the book that started the home-baked artisan bread revolution, Jim Lahey uses 1 teaspoon of yeast and cold water to make a dough that rises very slowly. Since I always refrigerate the dough at least overnight before baking at, it really doesn’t matter what temperature the water is. I often use lukewarm water from my electric kettle.

Yeast

One packet, or a scant 1 tablespoon of active dry yeast is plenty to leaven this whole recipe. You could use even less, a la Lahey, if you are using loose yeast. Bulk dry yeast keeps for years in the freezer, but if it’s been awhile, best to proof it to make sure it’s viable.

In the fall of 2013, my friend Steve from Taborgrass gave me some sourdough starter, and I have adapted the bread recipe to use that. Every time I open the container from my fridge, I think “happy, happy, happy!” If it sits for quite awhile, a gray layer of liquid forms on top that is mostly alcohol. I usually mix most of it back into the starter, then lift out about 1 cup to add to my ingredients for the bread. I replace that starter with 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup filtered water.

To compensate for the liquid in the starter, I reduce the amount of water in the recipe to about 2-1/2 cups.

Salt

The amount of salt, 1-1/2 tablespoons, may seem like a lot, and you could use as little as 1 tablespoon. However, the bread really tastes better with the larger amount of salt.

Baking

So, every day or two I scoop out a good fistful of dough, about the size of large grapefruit, and let it rise for 20 minutes on a floured cloth. The dough is wet, remember, so it helps to dust it and the hands with flour. Roll it about on the floured cloth, quickly forming the dough ball into a comfortable loaf shape. This only takes a few seconds. Sprinkle a little more flour on top of the dough and let it sit for 20 minutes. Total rising time is 40 minutes; it takes just 20 minutes to preheat my oven.

After 20 minutes, turn on the oven to 450° F and put a cast-iron Dutch oven and its lid in the oven to preheat.  When the oven is hot, working quickly, open the oven, pick up the dough by putting a hand under the cloth, and gently tip the dough into the hot cast-iron pot. Sometimes I slash the top with a sharp knife, but that step isn’t necessary. Quickly replace the lid and close the oven, then set the timer for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, reset the heat in the oven to 425° before opening the oven and taking the cover off the pot. The lower heat helps the interior cook more thoroughly. Bake for another 10 to 13 minutes, until the loaf is a strong brown–as Lahey writes, almost mahogany. Set the pot on top of the stove and immediately scoop out the loaf with a spoon or spatula; put it on a rack to cool. Try not to cut into it until it is completely cool, otherwise the interior will be gummy.

 

 

 

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I can see clearly now

I  look at my face in the mirror and think, this is how I am going to look for the rest of my life.

I wander into the bathroom late in the evening and start to wash my hands before I remember. I’m not going to touch my eyes.

As I climb into bed, my hands circle my face, but there’s nothing for them to grab.

I began wearing glasses when I was 6 years old and my first grade teacher noticed that I couldn’t see the blackboard. I remember being delighted that trees had individual leaves and were not just blobs of green.

The next time I saw my naked face in a mirror was a bit more than a decade later, when I began wearing contact lenses. A few days ago, I threw out all my contact lens paraphernalia. There’s a big empty space in the medicine cabinet that I don’t know what to do with.

All this is a backward way of saying that I’ve had cataract surgery in both eyes.

I know this is now a common procedure, and most everyone is happy with the results. Still, as a recovering myopic, I can’t help thinking this whole situation is special. It’s so about me.

I’m very visual; I notice a detail everywhere I am. I tend to be aware of my surroundings. My new vision, without cloudiness of cataracts and the yellowing of 64-year-old lenses, is so clear that the beauty I am used to seeing daily is multiplied. I can’t stop smiling. This is freedom.

Posted in Gratitude, Happiness, Observations | 1 Comment

A rutabaga recipe

In 1997, when I was working with The Oregonian’s FoodDay section, I had to fight to get this recipe included among the Top 10 recipes of the year. I thought it was so good that I steam-rolled the rest of the staff into accepting a 10 Best recipe based on a root vegetable.

Union Square Cafe’s Puree of Rutabaga with Crispy Shallots

Based on Fresh From the Garden by Perla Meyers

Makes 6 servings

 Salt

 2 medium rutabagas, about 3 pounds, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium all-purpose potato, peeled and cut into 1-1/2 -inch pieces

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream

Freshly ground white pepper (oh, heck, use black)

1½ tablespoons peanut oil

3 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

In a large saucepan, bring plenty of salted water to a boil, add the rutabagas and potato, and cook until both vegetables are very tender.  Drain well and transfer the vegetables to a food processor with 3 tablespoons of the butter and 2 tablespoons of the sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture is not quite creamy, add the remaining tablespoon of sour cream. Transfer to an ovenproof dish, cover, and set in the center of  the oven to keep warm.

In a heavy 8-inch skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter together with the oil over medium high heat. Add the shallots and saute until nicely browned and crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the shallots on paper towels, then mix into the potato and rutabaga mixture. Correct the seasoning. Serve hot

 

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Introducing Augie

My new (and first) grandchild is August Theodore Holden, born April 16, 2014, to Maggie Gardner and Jeff Holden in Cambridge, MA. These pictures are courtesy of Jeff.

This is all so wonderful. I don’t know what else to say.

Just a day old

Just a day old

IMG_20140419_085333 IMG_20140421_093407

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Today is a rutabaga day

It has been my observation that most American kitchens do not contain sharp knives. In my kitchen, all the knives are well-honed and I use them all the time to cut, chop, and slice.

In winter, I boil, steam, mash, or roast root vegetables almost daily. You need a sharp knife to cut a tough root vegetable. Carrots take a moderate amount of effort; turnips are soft; potatoes very in hardness; but beets and rutabagas resist the knife and are difficult to cut.

So when I awoke this morning with the image of one of my Gerber knives slicing through a freshly peeled rutabaga, I knew it meant something significant. I took it to mean that my strength is returning. I knew, at a cellular level, that I would write again.

I have walked a steep, rocky, and twisting path these last months. I gave up writing entirely; life intervened. My focus moved—I became more involved with friends, quilts, cooking, knitting, and playing bluegrass violin. A new grandchild was born.

As my function decreases, it takes longer and longer every morning just to get the day started: get out of bed, wash, dress, fix breakfast, make coffee, open the blinds, and get the newspaper (the one I still subscribe to) off the front porch. I whine about this a lot, but really, this set of tasks that used to take only a few minutes now consumes an hour or more, shaving minutes from early morning, my prime writing time.

There have been steps backward: reduced walking ability, worsening balance, weight gain, fatigue, and sleep issues. But there have also been undeniable gains. An incredibly gifted body therapist, Valerie Lyon, taught me how to stand up straight and access the energy my body already possesses. I find great joy in making music and piecing quilt tops. I discover new friends, and strengthen ties with old ones. I deepen my religious faith or my ties to the Universe, however you wish to look at it.

And the whole time, even when the boulders were the biggest, I’ve held despair at bay. Not by denying, but by accepting.

Finally, the packed ice broke, and floes began to break off and float into consciousness. Sleep is easier, I’ve been able to lose a few pounds, and every day I count many accomplishments, even though I am frequently tired. One of the blessings of sleeping longer and more consistently was that I began to dream again. And thus, the vision of the sharp knife easily slicing into that rutabaga, tough as it was.

And here I am, writing again.

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Rembering Gerber knives and a dear friend

Yesterday, April 23, 2014, would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. She died in 2011 at the age of 97. My first grandchild, who would have been her second great-grandchild, was born just a week earlier, on April 16. His name is August Theodore Holden.

Among the items I discovered when I went looking for the baby clothes I had set aside after my girls outgrew them was a sweet little circular blanket knitted with pastel yarn and topped with a yellow pompom. Who made that? I wondered, then saw the tag: “Made especially for you by Judy Weinsoft”.2014-04-24 08.14.24

I met Judy when I was a student at Berkeley. At that time of my life, I didn’t have a clue how to relate to other people, and I was entirely wrapped up in the man who would become my first husband and the father of my children. But Judy saw something in me and made a special effort to become my friend, and when I moved to Portland, where she had grown up and to where she returned after receiving her librarianship degree, we rekindled our friendship.

Judy’s father was engaged in a business that seems quaint to us now; he sold and repaired small appliances. Of course, today we never repair small appliances, we just toss them and buy new ones. Anyway, Judy’s father was able to order some Gerber knives for us wholesale, which was important as they were quite expensive. I still remember poring over the various knives in the catalog with their evocative names like Excalibur and Pixie.

Nearly 40 years later, I am still using those knives. The handles, which are also metal, show signs of wear, but the blades are as sharp as ever.

This Gerber knife's name is, simply, "Franch."

This Gerber knife’s name is, simply, “Franch.”

Judy died early, tragically, of breast cancer while she was still in her thirties. She was such a good woman, cheerful and caring, doing volunteer work when I, even before I had children, couldn’t seem to find the time.

I miss her to this day. I’m not going to give that baby blanket to Maggie, the new mother. I’m going to keep it.

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#100happydays Walking slowly opens a world of great beauty.

#100happydays  Walking slowly opens a world of great beauty.

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