Colorplay

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.

knit:tink – or, ‘Why I Shouldn’t Knit at Nite’

I am -thisclose- to pulling my hair out over these Kitchen Monkeys.

I have definitely solved the Pooch Problem. Heel flap length, without question.

Here’s my lovely re-knit sock:

My (previous and oh so wrong) line of reasoning: I have rather short, squat feet; therefore, I must need a short, wide heelflap. So although the pattern called for 30 rows of heel flap, I errantly decided that 24 would do nicely.

Although one would think this would be a logical line to draw from the physical facts, it is not, in fact, the answer. My (revised, and hopefully correct) line of reasoning as I move forward: I don’t need 24 rows for this pattern – I need 34.

La la la, all is good. By yesterday mid-day, I finished my first re-knit and it fits well! Yay! Solutions! Success!

So yesterday afternoon I frogged the second sock and put the live stitches back on the needles. Through the evening I knit away on the flap till I hit 34 rows. Watching a Netflixed episode of Poirot with the delectable Elliot Cowan made things move along nice and speedily. I finished the flap and went right on to knit up the gusset stitches on one side, the stitches for the top of the foot, and then the gusset stitches for the second side. After just that one row, something seemed odd. The flap was a little … er … poochy.

GAH! I FORGOT TO TURN THE HEEL! WHO FORGETS TO TURN THE HEEL!?!?

I just set down the sock and walked away.

This morning I’m staring at it, knowing that I have to either tink (unknit) about 100 stitches or else pull the needles, frog the row, and then get the live stitches back on the needles. Both options are painful and time consuming and I’m trying not to cry. (Well, not really. But you get the idea.)

So as a Moral to the Story, I offer you four reasons why I should not knit after 8 p.m. in the evening:

1) Since knitting can make me sleepy and dull-witted at the best of times (and honestly, that can be one of its dearest virtues), attempting to knit anything other than stockinette-in the round-in the evening is guaranteed to result only in pain, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. 2) I’m choosing to ignore the fact that the issue might not be what time of day I knit, but rather that I shouldn’t knit while watching lovely British men act while sporting lovely Irish accents. 3) Never promise a list of four things when you had only one good idea to begin with. And 4).

Lovin’ My Ovin

Ahem. Oven, that is.

Although we’re having a rather warm week here, the change in the season is definitely taking hold in the PNW. During the past week I’ve finally started using the oven again after a month or so of focusing on the grill and range so the house didn’t suffer from too much radiated heat.

First up was a little number I’m calling “Fiesta Scalloped”; russets, bell peppers, onions, and ham in a white sauce (livened up with a little cheese powder). I followed the general rules from Cook’s Illustrated for ‘weeknight scalloped potatoes’, where you parboil the potatoes on the stove in the sauce before you bake everything in the oven. I really like this method because I think it infuses the veg flavors better into the potatoes plus helps to alleviate that nasty raw-potato middle that can so easily happen with scalloped potatoes.

Here’s everything assembled and bubbling in the pot:

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe calls for a lot of heavy cream, and I didn’t have it and didn’t want to use that anyway. So instead I used a small amount of half and half, some 1% milk, and chicken broth. I also added the cheese power and some cornstarch. The flavor of this casserole was perfect. However, the sauce was thin. When it was done baking I let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving for dinner. In that time, the sauce was still very thin and didn’t stay with the potatoes, which was a big bummer. However, after fully cooling the sauce was perfect even upon reheating. I think the calorie trade-off was more than worth the runny hot-stage sauce, and I’ll make this again the same when I need a make-ahead meal or when I want to freeze some of this.

I also have a fridge full of partially filled jars of jelly and jam, a number that suddenly skyrocketed with the remainders from all my fruit canning of the past few months. We needed (I am wondering about that word choice now that I’ve typed it) some cookies for lunches &tc., and so I decided that some shortbread thumbprints would be just the thing.

Bottom is Compost Heap Jelly, middle is Strawberry Jam, top is Plum Jelly

I used this recipe, and hoping for a crisper cookie I added 1/3 cup of tapioca flour. I’ve used this substitution for pie crust in the past and have been happy with the results. Jury’s comments: Although they tasted good, this batch wasn’t great. Part of this is that I need to bake them for just a few minutes longer; they were done but didn’t taste toasty like I prefer my shortbread. Also, I think I need to use cornstarch not tapioca because the cookies were more cake-like than shortbread-like.

Will give this recipe another shot, and maybe sub some almond meal for a small amount of the flour, too.

100

100 words for the 100th post.

It’s been just over a year since I began this blog to share about my transition out of nearly 20 years of ‘career building’ into a different way of living.

I want to thank you, faithful blog-readers, for your support, comments, and community. You inspire me to be creative, write better, illustrate clearly, and think more deeply about what is going on in my life.

To ‘MOM’, Katie, Lindy, Jean, Penny, Michelle, Linda, Michael & Stephanie, your faithful reading has meant much to me. To all other friends and readers who stop by, thank you!

Onward!

Better Late than Never

Hmmm. I have a sinking feeling that I may have used this post title before. I am the first to admit that I’m in the running for World’s Worst Procrastinator, but today’s post is a victory – just because I don’t get to something right away doesn’t mean that I can’t close the deal. Well…. sometimes, anyway.

But enough of that. Here is the Big News: I am a cheesemaker! I have made cheese!

First, though, a little something that you may not believe…

Compost Heap Jelly (!!)

Seriously! It’s about time, wouldn’t you say?

In making apple-y things (a future post, I promise), I had a big bowl full of cores and peels.

What to do, what to do? Compost Heap Jelly, of course!

I scared up two ageing lemons that were hanging out on the counter, as well as some ancient dried orange peel I had in the spice drawer (once part of a mulled spice endeavor that did not end well). I zested the lemons and put those in the pot, as well as some generous shakes from the orange peel bottle. Then I juiced the lemons and set that aside for later.

Covering everything with water, I let it simmer gently for about an hour. Somewhere I’d read that if you boil too hard, you’ll break down the natural pectin in the apple. So, I tried to keep things pretty mellow in the pot. The steam smelled wonderful – fruity, with just a hint of bright lemon and a tiny note of low orange.

After letting that simmer, it was time to strain the juice for jelly. After last year’s decidedly make-shift methods of straining, I bought a ‘real’ jelly bag earlier this spring. When I took it out of the box, however, I realized it was t-i-n-y. So I decided to strain the pulp twice because there was so much volume; once through a mesh-net vegetable bag to get juice – let that one drip overnight.

Then I put that juice through the jelly bag to catch the sediment –  I let that one go for just over an hour.

Mmmm. Smelled delicious.

Next I added a full box-worth of pectin, but since I was using only half the sugar recommended in the no-pectin original recipe, I used half ‘low-sugar’ pectin and half regular pectin.

The flavor is wonderful. Very delicate and not too sweet. You can definitely taste the sweet-tart apples and just a hint of citrus. Like unsweetened apple cider mixed with marmalade.

CHEESE!

Holy cow the cheese kit things have been sitting in my fridge for nearly a year.

Tom and I wanted to make our favorite Prenzlow Pizza, and I really wanted to make fresh mozzarella for it.

A few days ago I bought a quart of beautiful, non-homogenized milk from PCC. I was SO ready to make cheese! Unfortunately, and more typical than I want to admit, when I sat down to refresh my memory on Ricki’s cheese-making methods, I realized I had: 1) 3/4 gallon too little milk, and 2) ultra-pasturized milk, which won’t form curd.

Great.

Therefore, all four Prenzlows piled into the 4Runner and drove back to PCC to get the right type of milk, and enough of it:

I ♥ Smith Brothers. I remember driving past their dairy in the Kent Valley when I was little. Local = Awesome.

Back home I had 1 gallon of awesome milk ready to become CHEESE.

I had the unusual forethought to weigh the milk before I got started. Nine pounds exactly. the recipe said that the yield would be ¾- to 1-lb of cheese. I wondered where the 8 pounds went during the process. (Note – foreshadowing)

I started out slowly heating the milk, to which I’d added citric acid (if I remember correctly – and I didn’t refresh my memory before getting started yesterday – this is to accelerate the souring process for sweet milk). The milk became very foamy on the surface at the start.

It seemed like I was stirring forever while the milk heated, but things progressed just as they should.

After the milk reached 90°, I added the rennet. I wasn’t sure if the rennet would still work after sitting in my fridge for a year. Thankfully, it did! After the prescribed amount of time, the curd had begun to form and was as solid as a very soft custard. The whey was mostly clear.

I let it percolate for a few more minutes to get a better ‘set’. Then I cut the curd.

More heat, and then a few minutes later, and voila! Recognizable cheese curds!

And a monster gallon of whey. There’s the 8 pounds I was wondering about…

In the method I was using, these get heated in the microwave a few times to help the whey continue to separate. Eventually you pull the mozzarella like taffy and end up with these lovelies:

After you form them, you drop them into ice water to immediately halt the cooking. Ohhhhh, I can’t convey to you how much I simply wanted to stuff one of these in my mouth.

And then there were four.

The texture was perfect – soft and not stringy. The flavor was good – very fresh, just a tiny hint of salt, and very creamy tasting. I think on the next batch I will use just a bit more salt and an additive mentioned in the book to strengthen the flavor.

We had to make pizza before we ate all that fresh cheese straight off the plate. Oh my, but my cheese performed perfectly! We cut slices and laid them on the top of the pizza; we let the heat of the oven be responsible for melting and distributing the gooey goodness.

Perfect!

I will definitely make mozzarella again, it was so easy. I wish I didn’t let myself get so worked up about how difficult things might be. Making cheese is EASY, and I can’t wait to make more and to try different types.

Squirrelling Away

It’s been a while since the last post here at CI – August was filled with sunshine, doggies, sailing, dune-ridin’, and lots of yardwork involving chainsaws and branch-shears.

This has been the scene at my desk for the last few months:

Note – that was a ‘clean’ day. The mess and the sunshine outside have made it pretty hard to want to sit at a computer for longer than 2 minutes, and even when I did there were distractions making it hard to focus:

But as Labor Day (at the Dunes!) arrived and passed, the seasons changed in my mind. Sitting in the cab of the truck with the Captain – a bullie on the bench seat between us and a lab dozing on the crew bench behind us – I voiced the urge that had been welling up in my heart for the past two weeks:

“I’m going to spend a bit of time canning this coming week.” …A simple statement for a lot of action.

It all started a few weeks ago when I procured this little beauty from a local restaurant supply grocery:

You know you’re not messing around when you have a 25-lb bag of sugar hogging all the counterspace in your kitchen.

Next up, a trip to the Yakima Fruit Market in Bothell to see what looked good. Perfect timing for one of my very favorite fruits to eat canned, Italian Prunes. A huge box of Granny Smith apples also found its way into my cart, as well as a pound or so of string beans.

“Candy” indeed. When I was growing up, our home had two Italian Prune trees. That’s when I first fell in love with this fruit. To me, few things smell as much like summer as the scent of sun-warmed and sun-ripened prunes. And when accompanied by the buzz of hornets munching up bruised fruit on the ground and the golden sun-dappled shade of this tree? Perfect.

So it’s not hard to understand why a 30-lb box made perfect sense. At the time.

Like I realized with asparagus, a whole box is just a whole lot.

That’s 7 quarts and 8 pints of whole fruit in light syrup, and who knows how many ½ pints of the most delicious plum syrup I’ve ever had. (That, of course, was supposed to be jam, but I don’t like adding as much sugar as Ball wants because when I do it, all I can taste is the sugar not the fruit. However, I haven’t gotten my pectin balancing figured out yet to compensate for the missing gel. I’m sure time and experience will fix this, but until then this stuff is still AWESOME!)

I also quartered a dehydrator-full of fruit and partially dried them on very low heat. I found when I did the apricots and nectarines earlier this summer, that drying at the recommended temperature for fruit as listed on the dehydrator itself actually cooked the fruit as well as dried it. The resulting flavor was a too carmelly for my preference – I want as much fresh, sweet-tart flavor of the raw fruit to remain as possible. This plan worked well, and now I have a pint bag full of raisiny-soft prunes in the freezer, ready for cakes, muffins, and cookies during this winter.

Prunes were first because they can spoil so quickly. With that monkey off my back, the beans were next on the list. I’d been waiting for a while to find beans on sale so I could get a nice amount without feeling guilty, since I was planning to use them to liven up my bean storage. Over the past few years I’ve been working on building up a bit of food storage for us, and that includes a small number of canned beans – but still more than the average pantry. Beans have never been a staple or go-to food for me, and so as the year wore on I found myself looking at 20 or so cans of kidney beans and a similar number of garbanzo beans every time I wandered down to the garage. What to do with all that?

Then I had an idea: Three Bean Salad! Yes!

I love Three Bean Salad, but we rarely have it because I don’t usually like store-bought flavors and I don’t typically plan ahead enough to let the beans marinate before eating. But I could make my own! And it could percolate down in storage and soak up all those wonderful flavors – just ready to eat whenever I wanted!

First step: Get beans

Second step: Can (cold pack, 15 min bwb)

Third step: EAT!

No picture for this yet, those babies have to soak!

Those apples are up next, on the docket for later this week. Plans are for applesauce, pie filling, and who knows what other yummy good things!

Have a wonderful week!

Stockings and Scoundrels

Well, I’m going to call it ‘close enough’ for the header and let ‘er roll. I love this new theme, WordPress has been an awesome blog-hosting tool!

But on to business –

Stockings:

Back in April, I started these lovely stockings:

I have loved knitting with this colorway, called ‘Olympic Rainforest.’ It’s from Hazel Knits.

As I was working on the feet, the colors weren’t pooling too badly, but the resulting fabric didn’t really look as pretty as the yarn did in the skein. So I decided to look for a pattern for the leg that might break up the stripes. I was reading Yarn Harlot and she was dealing with a pair of sock that were pooling horribly. Her solution was a pattern called ‘Everybody Out of the Pool’ – a name that totally cracked me up. I didn’t need the whole pattern and didn’t want to buy it just for the anti-pooling, so I took a very good look in the Ravelry database at what others had done with the pattern and it seemed like it was a simple 3-row slipped stitch. I decided to give it a whirl and was so pleased to get this:

Aren’t they pretty? I love these socks.

Well, I managed to finish the pair in exactly 4 months: April 12 to July 12. That’s the fastest I’ve ever knit a full pair from start to finish. I think working both at the same time made a huge difference. Nothing (knitting wise) is worse than the glory of finishing one sock, in all it’s newness and beauty, and then having to slog through it’s mate where nothing new is there to surprise or enchant. This two-at-a-time deal is my new favorite.

So, the minute I’d finished sewing-in the ends (even before I’d taken pictures), out came new yarn that was next in my sock queue:

That’s ShiBui Knits Staccato yarn in the colorway ’50s Kitchen.’ It’s got a bit of silk in it, and the shine and feel of the yarn is not even kind-of captured in these photos. It’s lustrous and a little bit slick-feeling, with a sheen of polished brushed-metal. It seems like every yarn I knit with lately is more wonderful than the last! This treasure, which I bought at Knit|Purl (possibly my favorite yarn shop in the world) in Portland January 2010, is a joy.

I definitely wanted to do a leg pattern with these socks, too, to really highlight the colors. I pulled out a pattern I’ve been wanting to do for a while, Monkey by the incredible Cookie A.

And my ‘Kitchen Monkeys’ are underway!:

Scoundrels:

There has been some SERIOUS scoundrelization going on around here lately. Let me show you:

My mom and I have been conducting a contest to see who has the lawn most destroyed by moles by the end of the summer. Although she was catching up for a while, I do believe I am now kicking her butt.

 

Here is Mr. Mole’s front porch.

Next to that is a picture of a perfectly good baby pie cherry, just one of many that the crows are plucking off the trees and throwing on the ground.

 

Here we have the lone apple that managed to get pollinated. Yes, that is a worm hole.

Next we have powdery mildew on my geraniums… which I just planted less than a month ago. Thank you, Puget Sound weather. (BTW for those of you living away, the forecast for the next 10 days is exactly the same: high sixties for the temperature’s high, overcast, chance of rain. Awesome.)

And finally, the worst scoundrels of all.

Don’t let the happy faces fool you or suck you in. This is about 150lbs of Big Trouble (note caps) right here.

And the hands-down worst offender is….

… I’m certain that no one is surprised.