Sunday, December 22, 2013

Point Isabel Cowl

The Point Isabel Cowl is a luxurious cowl that can be dressed up, dressed down, and worn by everyone. It is a must-have accessory for both women and men!


Although the resulting cowl looks intricate, this pattern is easy to memorize and great for working on while at the beach or while watching a movie.

Going for a retro look? Pair two high contrast colors like blue and white or red and white.  Going for a modern look? Pair two muted colors together like black and gray.

This pattern includes a tutorial for the sewn bind off.

Thanks to my awesome pattern testers and the Ravelry Free Pattern Testers group all your help! If you are a Bay Area peep, you can see a sample cowl at The Yarn Boutique.

Bucket of Chicken and Orange Foods

In my quest to use every last scrap of yarn in my stash, I made these tiny chickens for my knitter friends. The free pattern is from Mochimochi Land, and you can find it here. Yes, they were a random gift, but who doesn't love chickens? Most of them are gone now, and my only regret is that I can't take any more cute pictures of the brood together.

In that same spirit of "use what you got," we've been eating a lot of orange foods. I have a backlog of carrots and winter squashes from my CSA, so the carrots have morphed into a French carrot salad with raisins and toasted nuts, and some of the roasted winter squash pulp (this time I used honey nut squash, a sweeter cousin of butternut squash) was transformed into an easy flan with toasted hazelnuts and Gorgonzola. Both recipes were based on ones in Dorrie Greenspan's book "Around My French Table," the first cookbook I've been compelled to buy in ages. I first checked it out from the library, and after renewing it as many times as I could, I was convinced that it would be a worthy addition to my cookbook collection.

Mingus has found another buddy, or is it the other way around? I was startled out of my daydreaming when I saw a flash of GSD butt run past my kitchen door. When I walked outside, I found a husky-GSD mix dog as friendly as can be walking around the front of my house. It turns out that she belongs to a neighbor's friend, and that she had been visiting with Mingus for some time. Mingus often sits on our front deck, and these two have been in love with each other for a few months. I invited her to our backyard, and these two ran around the yard for two hours before they had to part.

I don't think either one of them wanted to be apart, though, since I found her sitting outside my front door after the playdate was over. Then, she walked over to the kitchen door and stared at us. If it weren't for the wrath of our cats, I would have let her inside, but Greaseball and Fifty would never forgive me.

She's a goofy dog who has an unfortunate name (she is named after a sexy female character). I can't even type the name without feeling gross, and I've been trying to think up reason why someone would willingly name her that. One friend suggests that her owner wants to say, "I sleep with ***!" Ew, ew, ew!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Flow

Can you spot the dog? Yes, that's him running amok with the poison oak!

The time from Thanksgiving until New Year's is always a blur. Traveling to fulfill familial obligations, holiday prep and festivities, and work combine with shorter days and colder weather. This, in turn, makes the passing weeks speed by and I'm always left wondering how it got to be the middle of December when just yesterday it was August.

Does this photo make her butt look big?

Fifty-Fifty and I have been fighting over who gets to sleep on the hearth. Yes, it's stone. Yes, it's dangerously close to the glass window that is so hot my bare skin will stick to it and sizzle off. However, it's the warmest place in the house and that little kitty and I can sit there most of the day (and we still are too cold). Maybe we are both part snake.

Evidence that Mingus is a dork, part 1.
Last weekend was the 24 Hours of LeMons race at Sears Point, and because I'm part snake and because a company holiday party with an open bar was the evening before, I was miserably cold and underdressed for the event. Mingus, however, loves this day and he looks forward to it all year long. He's told over and over again that he is a beautiful dog (*rolls eyes*), and he gets to shake his pom pom and lure suckers over to him. Once a sucker is near, he leans on them and leaves a metric ton of white fur on their black pants. He's an asshole like that.
Evidence that Mingus is a dork, part 2.

Evidence that Mingus is a dork, part 3.
I have so much crafting going on, but none if it is sharable just yet. My newest pattern (a cowl!) should be ready to release next week, and I'm busy knitting my 3rd one for a LYS sample. I also have some adorable knitted things that I really want to show you all, but it has to wait until after they are gifted.

Speaking of gifts, for any of you local Bay Area peeps, The Crucible's art sale is this weekend! It's the only holiday craft fair I attend, and I usually finish off my Christmas shopping there. Can't wait!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Crocheted Things

Is it a sting ray? A bat? A bird? I intended it to be one of those things, but my intent wasn't obvious. This finger puppet doesn't live with me anymore, so I can no longer stare and brainstorm ways to make it look more like what I wanted it to be. That's a good thing.

At least this tortoise toy looks like a tortoise, but before I decide to crochet again, I need to remember my deep breathing exercises because damn those loops get tight! This toy tested me in many ways, and now I'm stuck with a huge bag of polyfill that is larger than my yarn stash. 

As is the way with handcrafted gifts that I'm making for the first time, I become frustrated in the 11th hour and I hand it over to the boy to finish. His job was to add the eyes and the mouth.  He did a commendable job on both.

This is our melting jack-o-lantern, just a few days after Halloween. It was rigid and proper for most of the day, but as I was leaving the house I noticed it leaning a little to the right. By the time I returned home, only a couple of hours later, it had melted completely and was laying on our doormat. Our poor, poor pumpkin ended his life in our compost bin, so at least the worms will be happy.

Oh, but it has not been all about frustrating projects and melting pumpkins in these parts. These November days are ridiculously warm and sunny, and the beaches are the ideal place to enjoy them. I know we need more rain and that these sunshine-filled days are cutting into potential snow time, but I'll savor them while they last.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Allspice Dram, Part 1

Last Friday, I had a cocktail at Five that has had me thinking about it since the first sip. It's the Lion's Tail. The Lion's Tail combines the bourbon, lime (so odd to have lime with brown spirits),  bitters, allspice dram, and simple syrup - it sounds like those ingredients are from a random cocktail generator, but they worked! They really worked!

Allspice dram is an ingredient that I can't see myself using very often, which is why the $30 price tag for 375 mL was off-putting.  Could I make it? Several people have, and they say that in a mixed drink, the homemade version holds its own. 1 ounce of whole allspice berries were $.094 in the Mexican spice section of the grocery store. One cinnamon stick is roughly $0.25. We had some crap light rum purchased ages ago from Trader Joe's, too, so the price tag on the homemade version was convincing me to DIY.

I lightly crushed the allspice berries, the whole 1-ounce package, and tossed it into a mason jar filled with rum and a wee bit of vodka (I didn't have a full cup of rum). The next step is to break a cinnamon stick into the mix after a few days, and then to strain the mixture and combine it with a brown sugar simple syrup.  I also want to put some nutmeg and cloves into the mix. This will be something totally undrinkable on its own (liquid Christmas is what it reminds me of), but hopefully it will make one hell of a Lion's Tail.

Don't feel like making this? Then get yourself down to Five and try one for yourself. They have a "cocktails from famous hotels" (link opens a .pdf to some fascinating reading) series going on, and I would have tried them all if I wasn't such a responsible adult in charge of getting us all home.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Spicy Knitted Carboy Sweater

Hopefully, this is the last carboy sweater I knit for a long, long time. The summer of 2013 is forever going to be remembered as the time I knit 4 consecutive carboy sweaters. It's a rather pathetic label for a time that should be remembered as, say, the time I conquered stand up paddle boarding (I have a long way to go) or time I took a fab vacation to Italy. Still, it will have to do. As my friend said after she gushed about unwrapping a new kitchen sponge, sometimes being an adult sucks.

Numerous people have told me that I should make these and sell them because I could make so much money. These people think I'm a little lazy for not spending my time cranking these out. Then, I ask them how much they would pay for this sweater made of mostly acrylic. The answer? $20, max. I tell them that it took me probably 6 hours or so to knit this, and they now look at me like I'm a little crazy. One person had a novel solution: I should have a sweatshop in China where people knit these carboy sweaters. That's every young girl's dream, isn't it? To lord over a sweatshop in China! Ugh, no thanks.

This is why I sell patterns, but not handcrafted goods. Although desktop publishing makes me feel all stabby, the stabby feeling fades after a brisk walk with the dog, and I can resume wearing my rose-colored glasses. That stabby feeling would last 6 hours multiplied by the number of commissioned sweaters I made if I were to knit for hire. No thanks.

Who I'll knit for and what I'll knit is always evolving. Babies? Sure! I do love giving babies a hand knit sweater. Adults? It depends. I will happily teach adults to knit, but the thought of knitting something for someone who just wants to throw money at me never seems worth it. I'd be interested to hear other crafter's thoughts about this, and how you handle people asking you to make them things.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Top-Down Carboy Sweater Pattern, Finally!

Because I've knit this carboy sweater 3 times, each time taking notes and making improvements, it is time to publish a pattern to save others the trouble. When you are making this, do not dwell on the fact that you could be making yourself a sweater instead. No, no, no, that will make you bitter.

Instead, think kind thoughts about the person who spent 3 months fussing over every little detail about the sweater when she could have been making 3 sweaters for herself or 20 cat hats. And buy her pattern on Ravelry.

$4.00 USD

Because carboys with sweaters are happier, more productive  carboys, they reproduce. There is an additional carboy that just appeared in our house, and since I'm not one to discriminate, it will get its own sweater.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Picture Thursday

Little Scarlett

Slightly larger Mingus

Peanut-sized Fifty-Fifty and Greaseball

My first time pressure canning with the reusable lids! I'll let you know how it goes.

Further proof that we grow mutant vegetables. This eggplant has a kickstand.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chinese Peanut Milk Recipe (One Step!)

Over 10 years ago, the boy and I took a trip to Chengdu and we biked over 300 miles around central China. What do I remember the most about that trip? I remember the peanut milk that came chilled and in glass bottles. After biking, I'd be counting down the miles until I could down a bottle of peanut milk and eat sunflower seeds.

Last Tuesday I finally made it over to the El Cerrito Farmers' Market, this time in search of some Asian vegetable stands because my CSA is a little more mainstream, and I was jonesing for some greens and ginger. The stand with the best looking ginger also had fresh, like just plucked from the ground fresh, peanuts. I bought a pound and tried to find a Chinese-style peanut milk recipe.

Since I made the unfortunately mistake of popping one of the raw peanuts in my mouth, I knew that I'd have to make the milk similar to soy milk because those peanuts needed heat to dissipate the raw, tannic legume flavor. However, I have a Vitamix, and the blender contents get piping hot after a few minutes on the highest speed.  After a few tweaks, I got what I wanted: a Chinese-style peanut milk that requires no straining, no stovetop cooking, and I can make it using one appliance. Now I have some of the milk chilling in the refrigerator, so I can reward myself after a jog or, more realistically, a vigorous walk with Mingus.

Chinese Peanut Milk

  • 1 cup shelled, raw peanuts, preferably fresh
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons evaporated cane sugar, or to taste
  • 1 pinch salt
Cooking Directions

If you are using raw peanuts that are not fresh, remove the peanut skins. I've only made this in a Vitamix, and its ability to heat is key to the peanut milk.
  1. Add all ingredients to the Vitamix and mix on High for 7 minutes. There is no need to strain the milk. Enjoy the hot milk right away or chill it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Worms Eat My Garbage, But Now What?

Keeping up two worm bins was a great idea in theory due to the amount of kitchen scraps we produce weekly, but the homemade worm bin was always a bit too wet due to the too many holes on top of the lid and because it was plastic. Since I didn't have a good way to drain water from the bin, I'd often use a turkey baster to suck up all the worm tea. Gross.

So, now we are back to one worm bin with stackable layers. Before I could consolidate the bins, I had to empty out one of them and separate the worms from the casings. Oh, if only this was as easy as separating the wheat from the chaff! Using Mary Appelhof's book as a guide, I made several sticky, smelly worm piles and waited. The worms are light sensitive, so the theory is that they will retreat into the piles and I can take some casings off the top and sides. The newly exposed worms will retreat some more, and I take more casings off the top and sides. Repeat again 15 minutes later. Eventually, I should be left with pure worms. Well, the obstinate worms never retreated far enough for me to shave more than a centimeter of casings from the piles, and after a couple of hours, I gave up and tossed most of the contents into the communal worm bin. It felt like a waste of a rare, sunny afternoon.

Now, I'm reading Christopher Shein's permaculture book that mentions rinsing the worms from the casings and collecting the worm tea as an easy casing collection method. This sounds like a better idea, but I guess I have to use screen door mesh? It sounds like an unpleasant experience for the worms, but afterwards I'll reward them with new bedding and more food.

Does anyone out there have a preferred method for separating the worms from their casings?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Should Just Start Numbering My Food Posts

This post should be called Summer Foods #2. This is a appealing to the same part of me that wouldn't mind wearing a uniform every day, but appalling to the part of me that can't eat a sweet potato and a tin of tuna for lunch day in and day out (yes, I knew someone with this diet). Coming up with the title for posts is the most tedious part of a blog.  I'm not sure what this says about me, and if I was sure, I probably wouldn't like it.

Steamed eggplant experiment

Eggplants are a tricky for me to cook without lots of oil. It's one of those vegetables that can be blissfully silky or disgusting and spongy depending on the preparation. My favorite Chinese braised eggplants involve deep frying eggplants in peanut oil, and then stir frying them with flavoring oils like chili and sesame. However, I like to use the slender Chinese and Japanese eggplants for that dish and the CSA keeps on sending me the globe eggplants. A Fuchsia Dunlop recipe for steamed eggplant had the potential to be a delicious and healthier way to cook the eggplant, so that was dinner last week. The dipping sauce, a combination of homemade chili oil, black vinegar, sugar, and light soy sauce, made me not miss the deep fried eggplant. However, it is questionable if this is actually healthier because I ended up mixing all of the dipping sauce with the steamed eggplant, which made a great room temperature salad.

Matcha mochi cupcakes are a win
This recipe for match mochi cupcakes was chewy and a good treat to bake up for someone who rarely bakes. I subbed out cashew milk for regular milk since I rarely have straight up milk around here.  Neither of us humans drink milk, although we are not technically dairy free because I usually have a tub of Strauss whole milk yogurt and the occasional pint of ice cream. If I make these again, I'd like them to be crispier on the outside with the aid of my convection oven. My oven, which I have had for almost 10 years now, has a convection setting, but I'm just now getting used to it. Crispy roasted potatoes in 15 minutes flat made me a convert.

Volunteer downspout mushrooms
I thought these mushrooms were porcinis, not that I'd dare eat them even after confirming that they have an olive brown spore print. They live in the backyard, a place where Mingus has free reign to do his bathroom business. Although I've never seen him pee on the downspout, I'm convinced everything back there is not fit for eating. Sure, now that I'm on the Bay Area Homesteader Hookup list, I've read about people much more extreme who use humanure from their compost toilets to grow food, but I admire that in a theoretical way and don't aspire to do that, not to mention that my backyard is small and the neighbors behind me can see into it.

My only productive zucchini plant

I still don't have zucchini coming out of my ears. One out of the three plants is producing one or two zucchinis a week although the plants take up quite a bit of valuable garden real estate. The other two plants are producing runty little 3-inch zucchinis that have blossom rot. Still, this is better than last year, and I know what now to do again next year. For example, no zucchini plant should grow in a pot. Although the raven zucchini seed package said it could be done, it is too hard to get the amount of water just right using our irrigation system.

Playing with my julienne tool yields zucchini noodles

I want zucchini coming out of my ears because I love cooking the nutty zucchini in my cast iron skillet with a bit of garlic and olive oil. Low and slow is how I prefer to cook this dish, although in time pinches I have only given it a quick shake in a hot pan. Both versions are good, and both versions take a boatload of zucchini for an adequate portion size (half our plate because we love it so).

Since I'm not crafting anything besides tiny hats and dishcloths, I've been catching up on Arrested Development (Season 4 was the best! Long live George Michael!) and reading. Since May, I've read Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan, Homeward Bound by Emily Matchar (interesting if you've ever pondered the questions of how the DIY revival and feminism can co-exist and if one cancels out the other), The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz (read this now!), and I'm almost done with Wild by Cheryl Strayed (a book I was reluctant to read due to its Oprah endorsement and my disdain for books about women overcoming obstacles, but so far I'm loving it). Most of these books came from my library's ebook lending program, which is the cat's meow. I'm almost done with Wild, so any recommendations on what I should read next? I have Lean In, Inferno (please don't give me crap for this one), Tiger Babies Strike Back, and Fairyland on my hold list.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer Foods

The boy has been brewing again, and that means that the freezers (yes, plural) are full of spent grain. A few times, by the end of the brewing process, we were too tired to bag and freeze the grains, so we dumped the whole pile into the compost bin. Since we have a slow compost bin that is open, this was not the best idea because it was a critter free for all and I was sure that I was going to get hantavirus. On the bright side, the "compostable" plates we used for a party finally broke down thanks to the molds that the grains introduced to the bin. 

Last weekend, I wanted the grains out of our freezer pronto, so I posted on the Bay Area Homestead Hook-Up* on a lazy Sunday morning asking to swap our grain surplus for some eggs. I got loads of replies from people who live 10 miles away or less, so that was a bonus! Within two hours, I had space for my ice cream maker, a dozen of mixed chicken and duck eggs, and I got to see pictures of a frizzle chicken and duck who are co-parenting a batch of eggs.

One chicken egg yolk was immediately transformed into aioli. I used David Lebovitz's recipe, using my mortar and pestle to both crush the garlic with the salt and to whip up the aioli. It was a breeze! In the past, I've used my immersion blender to make mayo because I was convinced it was the only way I couldn't mess it up, but the clean-up and the power cord bugged me. That aioli didn't last long because although its intended destination was a flop (oven roasted potatoes akin to patatas bravas) due to my inexperience with the convention oven, we found plenty of other things to dip into the silky, garlicy sauce. I have another chicken egg resting on the counter destined to become aioli.

Two other eggs became one of my favorite breakfasts: ginger and tomato eggs. Since we have a surplus of yellow snow peas, I chopped some of those into the mix as well.

The key to good ginger and tomato eggs is to use plenty of oil and to blister the tomatoes and vegetables. That little bit of char from the breath of the wok (wok hay) is why I will never part with my wok. Ever. I've worked diligently to get a good seal on it, and now my wok can transform anything that enters it into some damn fine food.

After you char the sauté the tomatoes and peas with ginger, take them out, add more oil to the wok, and  pour in a few softly scrambled eggs. When the eggs are almost set, put the tomato mix back into the wok, turn off the heat, add some roasted sesame oil and salt, and gently mix everything together. It's my idea of a perfect meal anytime, but it is especially delicious with homegrown tomatoes.

Oh, I've also knit another carboy sweater. This time, it's more dapper with the stripes. My next carboy sweater will be crocheted. We have a few sour beers that sit around the house for up to a year, and I am tired of the looking at the cardboard boxes in which they are housed, so I need to sketch up something cool that I can stand to look at for that long.

All my little lovelies
Have I talked about my love affair with Hida Tool in Berkeley? They carry, among other goodies, Japanese knives and ceramic sharpening stones. I bought a 10-inch sword knife there, and it brings me great joy to sharpen it and my other knives. Until recently, I was outsourcing my knife sharpening, but since I only had one chef's knife, I was left in a lurch when it was gone. I solved that issue by two things: buying a longer, sharper chef's knife from Hida Tool and learning how to sharpen my own knife. When you buy a knife in person from Hida Tool, you get a free knife sharpening lesson in a their dimly-lit back room. At first, I was pretty nervous about sharpening a knife on my own, but my teacher was patient and reassuring. It helped my nerve to read on an online knife forum (there are forums for everything!) that anything I could do to screw it up I could undo later as my skills progressed. Plus, ceramic takes very little material off versus those scary mechanized sharpening wheels. Sure, it takes longer, but it is deeply satisfying. Plus, no one f*cks with you while you are sharpening a knife. You get instant respect. In addition to the ceramic block, I have a ceramic honer coming in from Edge Pro.

I also gave away most of my other knives that I rarely used and the accompanying knife block, and I have plans on replacing the cleaver and the bread knife. I'm ready to graduate to a real Chinese cleaver that I sharpen myself, and that bread knife is a mere 7-inches, so it's a little too short for my round loaves. Since I'm knife obsessed, I'm going to stop writing about them now because I can go on and on. The boy is genuinely terrified of my Japanese knife, and he refuses to use it. That's fine. All mine.

* You can subscribe to the BAHH by sending an email to

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dog Meets Boy

Mingus has decided that kids are cool because they feed him animal crackers and they give him lots of pets. He even liked playing with the talking puzzle, although the talking part of the puzzle ended up frustrating him and I had to stop him from repeatedly pouncing on it. V is for violin! Y is for yak!

Kids even give him hugs and kisses (followed by some spitting out of fur). At first, Mingus was confused and a little alarmed.

Then, Mingus eased into the hug. He focused on the good things, like an endless supply of animal crackers.

The thought of animal crackers really warmed his heart, and he begin to enjoy the toddler version of a hug, which is more like a lean.

Mingus was showered with many more hugs that day, sometimes when he wasn't expecting them.  This visit is going into the books as a successful playdate!


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