Saturday, December 29, 2012

Post Holiday Food Report

Butter cookies with tiny dancing men
I'm back from a whirlwind trip to visit family, and again I'm wishing that I had an extra stomach so I could have comfortably sampled every creation. Growing up in my family requires a fixation on food that those new to the clan, like my husband, think needs some medical attention. 

Thank you Dori Greenspan
Since we travel to get to my family, I never get to make the main meal and show off my cooking chops. This year, I signed up to make vegetables, and at first I was thinking about a kale salad with persimmons and toasted almonds. But, that's a boring thing that I'd make on a weeknight for the boy and I, and I think we'd be the only two who appreciated that dish. So, I decided to show off a little (I think most of my family still thinks all I can "cook" is Jello) and make something harder and more decadent. Nothing says Christmas like butter, bacon, and heavy whipping cream, so I changed my mind at the 11th hour and made a cauliflower gratin (recipe here). It was a hit!

Spoiled, spoiled dog
Mingus got to soak up the love since he was the centerpiece of the gathering. I'm pretty sure he thought everyone was at the house to see him, and he was a ham (and he ate lots of ham). He wrapped the little girls around his paw, and they insisted that he was in our family photo. While the idea was sweet, all you can see is him in the photo! There were also a couple of tiny woofers who snuck in.

Homemade deodorant: this may go horribly wrong
Onto another topic, have you ever been interested in making your own deodorant? Most sane people would say no, but I've been on a "use less chemicals" kick, so I decided to make the boy some deodorant made from coconut oil, baking soda, cornstarch, and beeswax (recipe here). Since he's on vacation, the boy will test it for a few days before subjecting any bus riders and coworkers to the homemade concoction. I have high hopes that it'll work! It took me less than 10 minutes, including clean up, and I could have made more in that time frame if I wasn't leery of it's potency. I'll be sure to report back.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Table Full of Handknits and Other Miscellany

Next time, more signage
The trunk show at The Yarn Boutique is over, and I can start knitting and designing other things rather than past patterns! I had a blast meeting new people, seeing FOs that other people knit, and hangout out with my friends who stopped by. Lessons learned: make a sign so people know why I'm sitting outside with a table full of handknits, add more height to the display so everything isn't flat and the baby hats don't look like potholders, and bring a mirror so people can try things on since that is the point of a trunk show. Oh, and an iPad or other tablet would be nice - thankfully, I borrowed one from the LYS owner. 

My friend comparing skeins of yarn in the natural light.
 This was a chance to revisit patterns I put on my blog, like the Stripey Baby Beret...

My friend Rachel helped me out by knitting two versions of my Ultimate Slouch Hat. I especially love this version made with Cascade Baby Alpaca Chunky. I'll have to pick up some more of it so I can make one to wear!  Samples of my Tilden Park Scarf, Wildcat Canyon Scarf, and this red Ultimate Slouch hat still reside at the Yarn Boutique, so if you want to try one on before you knit it, stop by!

Cooler weather also means that bread baking is back on! This time, I made the Tartine Country Bread recipe, and it turned out full of holey bread goodness.  The dough hydration was higher than I'm used to and you don't need a kitchen stand mixer at all. However, the biggest drawback is that this recipe does take a long time and it isn't something you can decide to do at the last minute (you need to prep your starter), so I can't see myself making this all the time. The sad thing is that I still have some leftover bread here that I'm now using as dog treats since the boy and I can't manage to finish a loaf of bread in under a week.  Baking bread is always such a fun experiment, and I'd bake bread all the time if I had an outlet for the end product, but we're slow bread eaters. Next time, I need to cut the loaf in half and freeze it so Mingus doesn't get the lion's share of the bread.

Exciting happenings for me also included organizing my spices. (I'm not being sarcastic at all!) Instead of piling them all in my pantry, I'm going for a more flat layout that makes all of them reachable and visible. We'll see how this works. The good thing is that it made me throw out some of the bulk spices I've acquired over the years, and it always feels good to know exactly what lurks in the kitchen.

I had to put this gratuitous shot of my carnita scramble here. I didn't make it, Chow in Lafayette made it, but I've been thinking about the lardy goodness of carnitas all week. I'm starving again now!

And another picture with no transition at all: Thomas the cat. He came to visit me on Saturday, and we had a grand old time. I think he likes to visit me because he likes to tease Greaseball and Fifty, but I'll let that slide. However, when he rolls around like this, I do not pet him because I worry that he's spring loaded and just waiting for an opportunity to scratch me. My cats are mellow and do not do this, but Thomas is full of himself and probably not as docile as my crew.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trunk Show in Lafayette (Eek!)

Hello, blog-o-sphere! I'll be at the Yarn Boutique in Lafayette next Saturday (12/8) from 11 AM to 3 PM for a trunk show. Stop by and say hello! I'll have samples of my designs that you can try on, and I may even sneak a cat hat or two into the mix. Although, I don't know how people will react to a pimp hat. For my cat. And I'm not sure I'm up for explaining it, so I may just bring the beret and the fez and call them "baby" hats.

If anyone has tips on what makes a fun trunk show, please share! I'm such a noob. I'll be offering pattern support and I can demo a couple of stretchy bind-offs like the k2tog and the sewn bind-off. 

As a bonus, if you buy yarn for any of my projects, you'll get 10% off! Doesn't someone or some cat you know need a hat or scarf?

So, if you feel like inhaling some yarn fumes and you are curious if a person who designs cat hats for fun is as weird as you think she is, then come on over and introduce yourself! I can't wait to meet you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

La La La, Gualala!

The ridiculously peaceful view from our cottage
To celebrate the passing of another up and down year, some friends and I trekked up to Gualala for some quality time together. It's so easy to become engulfed in day to day existence and to not spend time with the people you never seem to see enough, and after losing Vespa, I didn't want that to continue. Life is too short, and we'll never regret taking "too much" time off. I made reservations at a cottage, and then sent the email out to some of my close friends, not expecting anyone to be able to have a weekend free so last minute. Much to my surprise and delight, almost everyone and every dog came!

Roula enjoying her dogness
It was a rainy weekend,  but when the main attraction is being together, the weather doesn't really matter. We cooked breakfast and dinner together, played games, knit (OK, so only two of us knit), and simply enjoyed hanging out around the fireplace.

Fritatta in progress, onion-free per my request
 Communal cooking and dining is my favorite part of vacation. I love cooking for my friends and setting a big table for all of us, even if it is a bit hectic in the kitchen before we sit down to our meal.

Roula and her person 
Next year, they may not all fit on the couch together

Jabba the Bunny. He has a real name, but I forget it.

How could I not be happy with all that freshly picked kale?

This looks like a photo from a lifestyle magazine

Mingus singing the blues or yawning. Or belching.

A makeshift vase for our rustic bouquet
There is something about the Northern California coast that centers me more than most places. The beaches are rugged and deceptively quiet, but I wouldn't dare take a swim in the ocean unlike the user-friendly warm and sandy beaches to the south. The Mendocino coast would be a fantastic place to retire, but until then, I'll happily spend any extra time there.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The New Normal

So, it has been 1 month since Vespa was last here, and we're all adjusting in our own way. Thank you for all the kind comments - it was comforting to read them and I would often find myself reading them over and over when I was having a particularly hard moment. 

Mingus was in a funk for a few weeks, which gave us something to focus on other than our own grief. We bought him a bed of his very own instead of the pathetic old bath towels that we place around the house for him. The bed was a hit... With the cats.

Greaseball, now the undisputed lord of the house, especially enjoys the bed and is quite pleased that we abandoned the raggedy old towels.

These tiny woofers also enjoyed Mingus's toy box and his bed. One thing that we couldn't do when Vespa was around was have guest dogs to our house. She was very territorial, and we could think of few things less awkward than having to apologize about our dog beating up a friend's dog. Mingus isn't territorial about anything or anyone, so he's been a perfect host.

Perhaps because he is still not in his right mind, the boy volunteered to go to his first ever college football game. Cal lost (OK, we got slaughtered), he got heckled by a rabid Duck fan (but thankfully since he didn't care, the lady lost interest and moved seats), and he found it curious that I was singing fight songs and pumping my fist in the air at what seems to him random intervals. Being scrutinized like some sort of sociological experiment while doing things that I know are silly and stupid somehow makes the experience of the college ball game diminish, but at least my friend was there to look silly and stupid with me. Go Bears! We'll do better at basketball this season.

Crisp winter weather brings kimchi cravings front and center. I let my last batch age until it was really sour, and then made kimchi stew 3 times in the past couple of weeks and tried my hand at kimchi pancakes. My first pancakes were too loose, so my second try involved adding an egg and some cornstarch to make the pancake extra crispy. While version 2 was better, it's still not quite right. When I suggested making kimchi pancakes for brunch last weekend, the boy sadly asked if we could eat normal breakfast with regular pancakes and bacon and if we could please not have any kimchi in our brunch. Since my stock response is that I will eat anything he makes, we had pumpkin pancakes that day. How boring, but I guess we have been eating kimchi at every meal since I'm in experimentation mode.

This kimchi pancake only looked good in the pan. It fell apart when I flipped it.
Have you ever been to the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley? They have free tours once a month, so as long as you sign up early (we're talking months ahead of time), you can observe some cool classroom action and check out a sweet garden. The tour is mostly aimed towards the program policy, and while I was hoping that it was more about  the plants, I still found it all fascinating.

The man in the corner is made of playing cards
I have compost bin envy. And I want an army of children to help me turn it.
My knitting needles have been on fire lately. This hat was hastily knit because while trying to slink by the local pedicure place (I haven't been there in months), one of the owners saw me and followed me to the next door cafe. Although that soundes really creepy, she was being very sweet because she wanted to invite me to a baby shower that was in 2 days. Since I cannot bear to give babies store bought things, I whipped up a vanilla, stockinette cap and added a couple of crocheted flowers to jazz it up. Those flowers probably took me longer than the hat since I've been really tense, and crocheting was a challenge since I had trouble pulling my hook through the loops.

Another reason my needles are smoking is because I'm knitting samples for an upcoming trunk show! I was contacted by the owner of The Yarn Boutique in Lafayette to see if I'd be open to the idea, and since I was, I picked out some yarn and have been knitting away. Date is TBD since my crafting time has been rather limited due to work and life, but I'll let y'all know when it goes down. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The End of an Era

This is a post I never wanted to write, but I feel that so many people got to know her on this blog that I owe it to all of you. Ms. Vespa Mamacita has left the building.

It turns out that her body was busy making a brain tumor or something else in her noggin, and last Thursday she went suddenly, leaving a huge GSD sized hole around us. Knowing that she had a good life for a 10- or 11-year old dog is little consolation right now.

It's too quiet here.

Monday, September 10, 2012


This is all kinds of awesome! It's such a spot on spoof of Portlandia.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Expanding the Worm Digs

The flurry of canning activity resulted in tomato skin and seeds that overwhelmed my worm bin. Although I contemplated buying another worm bin, the bins on the market were sporting $100+ price tags, and that seemed like a lot to pay to house creatures that prefer to live in garbage. Plus, since the whole point of this is to be more green, it didn't make sense to me to purchase another hunk of plastic.

I rummaged around the house and found an old plastic storage container with a lid. Perfect! A little (crooked) drill handiwork to make air holes, and I had myself a homemade worm bin that cost nothing but a bit of time, and not much time at that.

Once the lid had holes, in went some cardboard, fruit and vegetable trimmings, and a few scoops of worms. Yes, I made worm lasagna!

Now, in a few weeks, this bin should be established and I can start adding more scraps to it. Done and done!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Take a Bite!

Don't mind if I do, said the asshole deer.

I walked Mingus and Vespa around the garden perimeter, actually encouraging them to do their business on the nearby bushes to hopefully discourage future deer visits. The dogs thought it was a trick, but it's better than the other suggestions I saw on the web, one of which included having your husband (yes, it said "husband"!) pee around the perimeter. Perhaps that would be a viable suggestion if our garden was in the backyard, but I really don't feel like risking the boy's status as an upstanding citizen just to repel a deer or two.

Don't mind if I do, said the dogs.

What kind of dog mauls an eggplant? Could it be the same dog that ate about 10-pounds of tomatoes and then leaked tomato pee for the next 24 hours? Perhaps.

Fall (!!!) is almost here, and with fall comes a flurry of last minute food projects. Pickles? Check. Sauerkraut? Check.  Sour beer started? Check, but it won't be ready until next year. 110-lbs of tomatoes turned into sauce? As of last night at 2 AM, check.

My canned tomato sauce results are as follows: 17 quart jars, 14 pint jars, and 25 half pint jars. This is a grand total of 121 cups of local, organic sauce! Last night, I did a tomato sauce marathon with the last 44-pounds because I was ready to be done and because some of the tomatoes were becoming soft. Plus, I didn't want to wash all the sauce pots and cutting boards only to use them again the next night. With all of this behind me, I cannot figure out if I canned too much or too little. I used up every last drop of the tomato sauce I canned last year, and I started out with 50-lbs. Still, instead of a warm feeling of a job well done, I see all the jars of tomato sauce lined up in the pantry and I think of the television show Hoarders.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tomato Days

Vespa, don't worry. This pot is not for dog stew.

I've long given up my Animal, Vegetable, Miracle dream of canning a year's worth of my home grown tomatoes, however, with a few tweaks, I can still get close. Since joining the Full Belly Farm CSA two weeks ago, I've scored 44-pounds of tomatoes for the sole purpose of canning. Last year's 50-lbs of tomatoes didn't last long enough, so I clearly need to up my game. One case a week is about all I can process, and my goal is 100-lbs of canned tomato goodness for 2012-2013.

Due to the new brewing habit, we have giant stainless steel pots scattered about the house (if anyone can think of a way to display these things in a tiny house, I'm all ears just like Vespa). One case of quartered tomatoes fits into a 16-gallon brew pot. The problem was that this pot is really thin, leading to my first batch of tomato sauce being slightly smoked and me having to spend most of my time scraping burnt tomato skins and seeds from the pot.

Separating the worm food from the sauce
 Lesson learned. Today's sauce is split into two batches using my trusty, heavy bottomed Staubs. No burning, minimal stirring, and easy clean up.

Two cauldrons of sauce
After a long hiatus from buying kitchen stuff, I purchased a pressure canner specifically for my tomato sauce endeavor. Unfortunately, the pressure canner is still in transit, so I won't be able to use it today.

Today marks the day I pulled up the first credible carrot. It's large and sweet, but since it was in heavy clay soil, I snapped of the top when trying to pull it out. Hopefully, no one heard me swear like a sailor. I had to dig the rest of the carrot out. The other carrots are bedded in sandy, loose soil, so hopefully this is the only carrot casualty. I noted in my garden journal that I need to double dig that bed and add some more compost so this doesn't happen again.


The garden candy, i.e. sungold tomatoes and sugar peas, is abundant. We're having salads every other day with greens and fruit all from our tiny garden. I started weighing the peas, and we're getting about 1 pound a week out of our 6 plants.

Pickle obsession, something I'm sure I'm not suffering from alone during summer, has hit hard. Kosher dill pickles, pickled eggs, and dilly beans reside in our refrigerator. There's still crazy amounts of homebrew laying about, I just made 3 cups of spicy beer mustard, and I have a crock full of red cabbage sauerkraut. All the pickles can be pieced together to form dinner, especially when paired with a roasted chicken or pork stew cooked over the weekend. 

Due to summer food canning activities and a concerted effort to eat in more often, the two sweaters on my needles are hardily touched. I only have 1.5 sleeves to knit on my Vitamin D, so I should really have at it this weekend. Also, to tempt me to eat and drink in more, I bribed myself with a pretty Japanese mixing glass and bar spoon from Umami Mart. Yeah, I never heard of a mixing glass until recently, but the obsession with Japanese barware came fast and strong. The boy had to listen to me agonize over the mixing glass purchase for almost 2 months, so he was happy when I finally bought one. Am I alone in torturing myself so much before actually making a purchase? My fear, especially with things I become obsessed with, is that the fascination will fade and the purchase will just sit there unused and unloved. Yeah, it's probably just me.


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