Autumn Nesting

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Last night the temperature finally dropped to freezing. No frost this morning, but it is COLD out – damp and chill in that patently Pacific Northwest manner.

But I’m ready! This weekend was a flurry of nesting: a new, snuggly knitting project and lots of time in the kitchen.

The cooling weather and dark purple-grey skies have chased out the Puffs. Instead, I wanted something warm, bulky, and soft to knit. Enter Encompass, the perfect solution for a fast, fun autumn project. I’m using Plymouth Yarn’s Baby Alpaca Grande.

It’s shedding just a little, which I’m hoping will stop once it’s knitted and the fibers are trapped in the stitches.

I’ve been dehydrating several things, stocking them away in the pantry. I love to open my cupboards and see a row of colorful jars smiling back at me.

Autumn and spice always go together for me. Black tea blends are getting thrown over for Chai.

Murchie’s Traditional Chai (they used to call this blend “Autumn Chai”). Mmm. I love it. Cinnamon, cardamom, and just a tiny bit of sweetness – it is a perfect Chai, in my opinion. I’ve also been adding a little cinnamon to my coffee (in with the grounds as it brews).

Spices are all over my baking and cooking, too: Molasses spice cake, whole-wheat spoon bread, and perfect chocolate chip cookies (oh my goodness, are they EVER) have been rolling out of the oven one after another. Just a few weeks ago, dinner was grilled chicken and green salad. Now that seems too “cold” for these chilly days. Instead we’ve been warming ourselves with hearty, full-flavored dishes that have been on hiatus all summer: toasted-spice chili, tangy orange chicken stir fry, skillet lasagna (all of these recipes are from Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen). Even our meals out have been rich and spicy: italian flat breads and warm spinach salad, Indian curries, toasty sandwiches.

I’d love to hear about YOU – As the weather continues its journey towards winter, where are you seeing evidence of “nesting” in your own home and habits?

The Waiting Game

Here are two facts about me: 1) I hate rejection. 2) I am not a patient person.

Rejection

Does anyone like it? Of course not!

Most of us have developed a lovely set of defense and coping mechanisms specifically for dealing with it. Or rather, avoiding it. Some people, including myself, have become so skilled in this area that we begin to circumvent situations where there’s even a possibility of rejection. Pre-emptive rejection rejection! Perfect! This pre-emptive rejection rejection, which I fondly refer to as PRR, is great reason for to choose a career other than telemarketing. But advanced skills in PRR, as I have found, are sucky for becoming a published writer.

If I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure how I expected to get published if I wasn’t putting my work out there. Writers don’t just “get discovered.” (But wouldn’t it be nice if we did? Like the stories of old where models and starlets were plucked from obscurity while sipping a malted at the drug-store counter, or while shopping for the perfect tankini at Abercrombie & Fitch?) Perhaps I had a pipe dream somewhere in my mind that this little unpublicized blog would somehow come to the attention of an editor, who would then see brilliant potential in my ramblings on fiber, and offer me a book deal. Yes! Sweet!

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. What a rude awakening!

So I started making a few formal queries by submitting a very few article and story ideas. But so far? No takers.

To be fair, this is all quite recent. Most of what I’ve sent out into the world is still waiting for a reply. But now that I’m in the middle of it, I wonder if that isn’t worse than a straight-out rejection: the dread grows in step with the length of the silence. Enter the Need for Patience.

Patience

It may be a virtue but it’s not one of mine. When the going gets tough, I find something else to do. I Perhaps you’ve seen evidence of this in some of these blog posts…  15-month Angelberry? Two-year tweed? Each Day’s Beauty?

But patience is something I must develop on the path to getting published. And more than just patience, the ability to shrug off doubt and to keep moving forward, working and trying. And out-PRRing PRR.

After all, what great writer hasn’t curated a lovely collection of notes saying “No Thank You” or “Not for Us”?

Recently relevant examples include Louisa May Alcott and Stephen King. LMA’s struggle with what to write and how to get published is an integral theme of Little Women. King tells funny yet poignant stories in On Writing about his own stack of rejection slips, which he kept skewered on a spike (how appropriate) above his bed so he would be inspired to persevere. And of course there is the ubiquitous recent example of J.K. Rowling, who was rejected by 12 major publishing houses before she found one willing to give Harry a shot.

As I was looking up the statistic for Harry Potter (since I thought it had been rejected “only” 8 times, that in itself was a little glimmer of encouragement), I found this article: 50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected. The list is stunning: Kenneth Grahame, Dr. Seuss, Meg Cabot, Shannon Hale, Jasper Fforde… these are incredible writers.

I guess I should be embarrassed at my own audacity: Who am I to feel inadequate when I experience the same challenges as these Lions of the Pen, when I don’t have half their talent? But I do feel inadequate as I wait, and that’s a fact. I guess that should be Fact #3 in the list above.

But here’s the thing: As I’m going through this process, through these experiences, I’m learning about what’s truly important. I’m learning to care less about the rejections (and the anticipation of them), and to care more about honing my skills and trying by submitting my work. I’ve let fear of rejection stifle my forward progress for too long. Now it’s time to practice patience while believing in myself and my talents, and to surge forward with relentless enthusiasm toward getting published.

This is one Waiting Game where I plan to emerge the winner.

Change of Seasons

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Goodness, but it’s been a while!

Such a busy summer with lots of weekend travels and working at the still-new-to-me job. But after a beautiful, long late summer Autumn is finally in the air and I have to say I am ready.

The past few weeks have been filled with canning (apples and salsa verde) and dehydrating (peppers, onions, and herbs). I’ve finally baked a few morning-coffee things, and cinnamon and spice smell incredible right now. It’s just so right for this time of year.

Nesting is setting in, too. I’ve made new pillow covers for some throw pillows, washed all the fabric curtains in the house, and am in the middle of a deep dusting everywhere. You know, the kind where you get up on a ladder with the vacuum’s hose attachment.

Knitting was almost non-existent around here this summer. After the Knot Hysteria retreat, it was as if I was topped-off on fiber for a while. But lately I’ve been churning out Puffs.

I’ve reached a grand total of 69. (I found 5 more on my desk after I took this photo!)

And… Angelberry is finished! As soon as it goes to its new owner I will post pictures of the final steps and the stole in all of its sparkling glory.

In a walk around the yard today (in between the rain showers), it’s evident that the transition of seasons is well underway. The hydrangea are getting rusty.

Brilliant colors are all around, but not quite yet everywhere.

The hosta are making one last statement of autumn beauty.

Benny and I saw our first spawning salmon of the year, and we were lucky enough to watch it wiggle its way up the creek.

Happy Autumn!

More Butter

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I am still floating on the afterglow of last weekend’s Knot Hysteria Gourmet Retreat.

You may know by now that I am a firm believer that a little preparation and quality ingredients go a long, long way toward producing great results. I find this to be true in many areas of life, and particularly in food and fiber – and my beliefs were strengthened exponentially during the retreat.

Preparation

I deeply appreciated Chef Dan’s emphasis on and coaching of “mise en place” – the pre-work of cooking. He spent a good part of our first session teaching about what mise en place means and the importance of it when you are cooking – particularly for large quantities, but even for when we returned home and were cooking for a dinner party or just ourselves.

Mise en place is the process of preparing all of your ingredients properly and appropriately ahead of time. This enables a streamlined approach for the chef during the actual cooking process.

And Chef Dan was very right – I was watching different stations during the day, and I could easily see the difference between those who had properly executed mise en place and those who hadn’t. It wasn’t Zen vs. Bedlam, but it wasn’t too different from that either.

Quality Ingredients

I’m guessing you can celebrate with me when I share that our team’s meal included Theo’s chocolate, Parmigiano Reggiano, Copper River salmon, true cave-aged Roquefort from France, Holmquist farms hazelnuts, and freshly-picked salad greens and English peas from a local farm.


(This salmon waits for Chef Dan to show us his filleting technique.)


(The evening’s salmon portions, waiting to be seared and then taken into the kitchen for further prep and cooking.)

It also included butter.

Lots and lots of butter.

There were over two pounds of butter in the decadence we made. But what really freaked me out was the Beurre Blanc.

It started like this: I’d worked with two other fabulous ladies, Lisa and Heather, to turn those Holmquist hazelnuts into cayenne candied garnishes for the salad.


(Our mise en place for candied hazelnuts.)


(Another shot of our hazelnut prep.)

That work took almost no time, so quickly we were looking for another task. Chef Dan wandered by and split us between stations, and I was sent to begin the Beurre Blanc.

Mindful of my mise en place, I started to gather sauce pans, whisks, spatulas, and shallots. I carried all of these items to the station and set them up. Then my new team-mates, Karen and Rebecca, reviewed our list and scattered to find the final items. My job? Get the butter.

I went to the supply shelves and spied the two and a half blocks of butter sitting there.


(The butter’s hiding in the back, between the asparagus and container of vegetable stock.)

At that point, I was forced to turn to one of our leads, Chef Dave, and utter words I could hardly believe: “We’re going to need more butter. Lots more butter.” Chef Dave: “How much more?” Me: “Two pounds.”

That’s right. Beurre Blanc for 23 portions: Four pounds of butter. Whoa.

Karen and I minced shallots and started the reduction. Rebecca pulled yeoman’s duty and cut up those huge bricks of butter into tablepoon-ish sized pieces.


(Perspective is everything – In the top picture, that’s a one cup measure and a 2-gallon plastic container filled with shallots. The cutting board was at least 24″ long. Trust me… that was a HUGE pile of butter.)

Chef Dan returned to oversee our efforts, and the next words out of his mouth were “It’s my job today to show you how to add as much butter to this Beurre Blanc as is humanly possible.”

Right there, I knew I’d found my happy place.


(The Beurre Blanc reduction bubbling away.)

And with Chef Dan’s guidance, we were a blazing success. Into just a tablespoon or two of reduction we melted and whisked piece after piece of butter, pound after pound. By the time we’d finished (gauged by Chef Dan’s speedy taste and crisp proclamation “You’re DONE”), we’d managed to cram about three and a half pounds of butter into those two pans of sauce.

We poured the whole thing into a chinoise and pressed every last bit of butter through the mesh. We had an incredible, delicate, piquant butter sauce.

Ah, beautiful success.

Gourmet Indeed

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Well I’ve just returned from a weekend away at Knot Hysteria’s first Gourmet Retreat and all I can say is “Wow!”

Previous Knot Hysteria retreats were typically a three-day extravaganza of knitting, dyeing, and spinning. But Tina and Stephanie had received some feedback that ‘not everyone spins’ and so they thought of a combination that non-spinners might like: One day of knitting with and learning about luxury fiber; one day of dyeing luxury fiber;  and one day – wait for it – in the kitchen with renowned head chef of the Inn at Port Ludlow, Dan Ratigan. With him, we spent a day learning tips and tricks of the trade while actually helping to make a gourmet supper for 50 new friends.

Like I said: Wow!

Here’s a brief photo tour through my weekend…

Day 1: Learning about and knitting with luxury fiber, with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee


(The first rounds of a cowl knit with luxury fibers: Cashmere, silk, bison, qiviut and more)

Day 2: The vagaries and mercurial nature of luxury fibers, and how to dye them, with Tina Newton (DepraveDyer of Blue Moon Fiber Arts)


(The classroom before we messed it up)


(Dying a truly beautiful skein of bison in navy and royal blue)


(Dyeing a complementary pair of skeins of MCN (merino, cashmere, nylon) sock yarn)

Day 3: Gourmet, a holistic approach, with Chef Dan


(You have this many saute pans in your kitchen, right? There is a shot of Chef Dan in action)

 
(Yes, that is an entire quarter round of Parmigiano Reggiano, shipped directly to the Inn a Port Ludlow from Italy. I am still freaking over it.)


(A Decadence is born: Theo’s bittersweet chocolate and a whole lot of butter.)


Now, being an actual spinner, I found it a little funny that this was the first KH retreat that I was irresistibly drawn to. I’d seen the others, but had never felt that I *must* go. This one was different – I knew from the first read that I had to go, and I’m so glad I did.

As many of you know, these things start off being all about the classes, but end being all about the people you meet. The difference in community from Day 1 to the end of Day 3 is profound. Throughout the weekend, over and again, I heard the same phrase voiced aloud: “OMG! I’ve found my PEOPLE!” And it was true; the attendees were a rare and narrow stripe of the knitterly spectrum, all sharing a deep love of fiber and craft and craftsmanship and truly fine art, art that takes many final forms across fiber and food.

So I have a new tribe. I have found my people. They are giants of talent and grace; gloriously gifted Amazonian fiberists (oh hi Paul – you can be a Manly Fiberist of the Amazon!). I am thankful to be among them– to learn and to grow, and to share in the joy of wonderful new friendships.

Colorplay

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The Beekeeper’s Quilt continues to enchant me. (I’m at 40 puffs as of today, about 2 months in.)

One of the excellent elements of this project is that I can pick a different yarn for each puff. I can knit several in a row that are exactly the same, I can make widely different puffs, or – as I have been doing lately – I can explore the subtle color variations that result from combining different yarns.

It started with this puff, a double strand of some brand of kid seta; while very soft and fluffy, the colors were only OK. Not at all as subtle as they appeared in the skein.

Next I knit a puff with two strands of kid silk from Habu. Mmmmm. I couldn’t stop thinking about hot cocoa the entire time I was knitting.

I wondered what those two colors might look like together. So I knit one.

I liked this so much better than the original!

The next colorplay was with this yarn, Shibui staccato colorway ‘Summer Camp’, part of the same line as my Kitchen Monkeys.

I liked it quite a bit, but that kid seta was sitting on the back of the couch while I was knitting it and I couldn’t stop wondering what they would look like together.

Turns out, they look AWESOME together:

This reminds me of snorkeling in the turquoise waters of Grand Cayman, over the white sands and waving fields of sea grass.

And most recently, I knit a puff using another color of Shibui’s staccato, called ‘Spring Garden’. Just lovely.

But I had a ball of solid pear-green kid seta hanging around and I was dying to find out what that combination would look like.

This has turned out to be my favorite so far.

I have so much more lace and kid/silk in my stash, I believe you will see many more of these experiments as the BKQ progresses!

What new and creative things have been surprising you lately? I’d love to hear about them.

The View from the 24th Floor

I’ve been away from corporate life for two years now, twenty-four months.

In thinking about this lately, I feel that the time and distance has afforded me a different perspective from what I had at the end of my time in corporate life. The difference in the two perspectives reminds me of difference in the two pictures below, taken in Hawaii when the Captain and I were in Waikiki last year.

A picture from the street level, of the beautiful foliage all around:

A picture taken later that evening, from 24 floors straight up in the air and facing in the same direction:

Both sights are lovely, each has really wonderful elements. But there is something incredible about that huge, open view that takes so much more into account.

Perspective. It’s fascinating.

That change in perspective about work has left me rested and ready for something new…. So after a two-years’ break, I am returning to work.

I am returning, but in an entirely different way. Instead of returning to a corporate environment, I am now part of a specialized business in Technical Communications staffing and project management. Instead of running all-out at breakneck speed, I am intentionally keeping my hours low. The plan is to fulfill my brain and contribute the type of work I truly love, while retaining a good amount of space – mental and schedule – so I can still prioritize my family, home, and creative passions.

 As of today, I am about a month into this new endeavor; I am still trying out many options to find the right balance point for everything, but with the perspective I have gained over the past years, as well as the intentional decisions I have already made, I know that the balance point will be found soon.

Contemporary Insanity continues, though perhaps everything here will be seen through a new lens. What will it be like to explore my creative passions in meaningful ways while back at work? Even with (perhaps particularly with) my new non-traditional work approach, where will my creative fulfillment come from? What will it be like to work from a location remote from most of my team? Will I ever find enough time to spin yarn for an entire sweater?

Let’s go forward together and search out the answers to these questions — and many more.