Gourmet Indeed

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.

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.

Cool or Fool?

“Cool or Fool?”

That’s a phrase the Captain and I use a lot. We know full well that we fall outside the norms of modern-day society and expectations, but at times we get pretty far into the deep end of our hobbies and passions, and we’re not quite sure whether what we’re doing is all Kitschy-cool and hipster rad, or just plain weirdo foolish. Hence Cool and Fool.

With what’s in this big shipping bag, I’m pretty sure I’m walking the line. I’m not sure exactly where I fall.

I leave it to your feedback to inform my final decision. In the meantime, I’m happy as a clam, and as excited as Benny when the T-Bone snausage snacks come out.

I have a fleece!

This is a Jacob fleece, to be precise.

I got it off of ebay for $20, from an organic farm in Virginia. Isn’t it pretty? 

Raw (unwashed) wool, 3 pounds of it. Dirt and hay and lanolin and sheepy smell.

Look at the beautiful crimp on those locks!

I love it. Possibly more than the pups, who were mighty fascinated. (And sequestered for their own safety and my sanity.)


Whachoo doin’, Momma!?!

A lone lock.

 

 In the wind I hear a whisper: S p i n M e

 

For any of you who have purchased a raw fleece before, should I be happy with this one? Sad?

Where does it lie within your spectrum of ‘A Good Fleece’?

So – Cool or Fool?

Trip to the Tip

I LOVE going to the dump.

As odd an enjoyable past-time as that may seem, it’s true. There is something that I enjoy deeply about taking a full truck-load of trash and dilapidated bits to the tip, hucking it all out the back with wild and gleeful abandon, and then heading home a (measurable) ton lighter.

Liberating! Refreshing! Freeing! Enlightening!

Best of all, I love the physical space that opens up as a result, and the feeling of freedom that less stuff brings. The older I get, the less stuff I want hanging around. (Except for maybe the fiber stash, I seem to have no problem with *that* getting bigger over time.) Sometimes after a good cleaning-out, it can feel as if the atmospheric pressure has lessened. Somehow, in some way, either the clutter or the things themselves seem to have a physical impact on me – even though it is slight – that I can perceive removed when it’s gone. I love that feeling.

Like many people, I usually have a good cleaning-out between Christmas and New Year’s. But we took it a step further last year after Christmas, when we cleaned everything out of our basement in preparation for finally finishing the unfinished space.

That involved several trips to the tip, and at the time I took about three loads to the Shoreline location. In that short time, Benny became a star.

They remembered him every time we went. The weigh-station ladies took pictures with their iphones as we drove through to pay. He even got to get out of the truck to say hi to some of the guys working on the pit (cavorting underneath signs that read ‘Children And Pets Must Remain In Vehicle’). Benny was King of the Dump.

As a result, we had the basement all cleared out. But before we could get serious about the finishing work down there, the Hawaii Crossing became the prevailing need. As you might imagine, junk and stored items slowly crept back into the basement.

Nearly a year later, this past Thanksgiving weekend, we cleared out the space again. And we took it a step further: we knocked down all the old walls in preparation for a little fresh cement to even out the floor.

Lucky me! That meant another trip to the dump to huck out (with wild and gleeful abandon) about a zillion pounds of sheet rock, some old ductwork pieces, and other random hunks of junk that we continue to unearth around here from people living for the past 50 years at this old house.

As usual, I had my accomplice co-pilot, a full truckload of junk, and a proper hucking attitude.


Momma, can we go?


Momma! Go!


Can I steer? Please? PLEASE!!

Off we went. We arrived, and Benny settled in for a good time watching all the action.


Uh, more blankies next time momma. These seats are freakin’ COLD.

All was going swimmingly well. Hucking had commenced. Sheet rock was dumped. Then oh! The HORROR! My very favorite 4-tined rake – my treasured all-purpose yard and housework tool used for gardening, composting, fire tending, and tip trip assistance – was knocked from its resting place against the tailgate … right into THE PIT!

I watched it slide right over the edge. It was like being trapped in a nightmare, a slow-motion horrible reality that seemed to last for endless minutes. I was frozen in place by disbelief, I kept thinking to myself  ‘catch it! CATCH IT!’

But I couldn’t move, first for shock, but then because chains blocked my way, a whirring, grinding, crushing machine swung overhead, and finally because the slick edge was wet with who knows what concoction of evil acid that would probably burn my face off if I got bare skin within 16 inches of it. (And besides, you know, it was just a rake.)

Still, I stared helplessly and moaned a sad “Ohhh Noooooooooo!” as it slid out of sight.

Seconds after it disappeared over the edge, the tip operator told those of us working that pit to hold up for a moment because they were switching trucks. I watched wordlessly as my rake was driven away.

A little piece of my heart drove away with that truck.

After a moment of respectful silence, it was back to work. With a very inadequate shovel and push broom belonging to the transfer station, I managed to get 99.97% of the detritus out of the back of the truck. With a heavy heart, my co-pilot and I drove away.


How many beloved yard tools lie within those containers? We’ll never know.

As sad as this particular trip was, my love for the tip remains strong. The glorious joy of the huck is hard to beat.

I have, however, learned to keep a better handle on my rake.

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!

A Lot of Hot Air

This is one of the great Christmas presents I received from the Captain this year:

An air popper and organic popping corn! In our nearly 17 years of marriage, we’ve never owned a popcorn popper. When we do make popcorn, I typically use the stove, with a big aluminum soup pot and a few tablespoons of oil. Though I’ve tried a number of microwave popcorn types, I’ve just never found one that I thought tasted good, much less as good as air- or stove-popped.

But I’ve been changing several eating habits, and one of those is what I snack on. Popcorn can be great, but oil-popped defeats the purpose. So, I’ve been back to trying a few “low fat” microwave versions, which were all pretty nasty. I’d given it up – until now!

This gift was fun and meaningful to receive, especially with the Captain’s extra effort to find organic corn – a very sweet gesture on his part.

Interestingly, in the days before Christmas I’d been thinking about Katie’s post on Air-popped corn, and one of the things I’d had in my stocking were a set of recipes from the TFH Stocking-Stuffer Swap, which included a recipe for Candy Cane Popcorn. Then I opened this present from the Captain. Such fun!

And an air popper: So simple. Fill up cup with corn. Put in. Plug in. Wait 3 mins. EAT!!!  Right? Well, that’s how I thought it was going to work….

The power switch for the popper is the plug – if it’s in the socket, the popper’s on. I like that. I knew I wanted to take some pics for a post, so I spent two minutes cleaning the muffin batter and coffee-mug rings off the island before I got started. Then I positioned the popper and bowl across the island from the camera (on my new bendy tripod, a b-day present from the Captain – how lucky am I???), and plugged it in, ready for POPCORN!

As loudly as I remembered from The Air Popper of My Youth, the fan started blowing and the kernels started flying about like excited atoms in a smasher. I watched, open-mouthed, waiting for the first one to pop. I got all excited when something came flying out of the popper… but it was just a rogue kernel that had gone AWOL. I pinched it up to throw back, but OW! HOT! it burned my fingers so I decided it could stay put. I stepped back behind the camera again, knowing we had to be close…

Waiting… waiting… just one more moment for that first pop!, when suddenly BEEEEEP BEEEEEEP BEEEEEEP BEEEEEEP the fire alarm in the kitchen went off, scaring me out of my skin.

When I could breathe again (this took a few seconds – first from being startled, then because I was laughing at being startled), I unplugged the popper and looked around for where to put it. On the kitchen table? No – no good background for taking pictures. On one of the other counters? No – they are all full of dirty dishes and other proofs of my poor housekeeping habits, plus none of them are large enough for the popper and the bowl.

Really, the perfect place was on the island. So, I decided to let ‘er ride and instead try to keep the hot air from setting off the alarm.

 I plugged it in again, at the other end of the island:

 

But this time armed and ready with a dishtowel (bright red, embroidered with a very hip Mr. Snowman who looked up to the task). Several seconds in, and there was no alarm… but neither was there popcorn. I waited, one eye on the alarm, one on the yellow plastic dome: which would win?

Just when I thought I might have escaped the heat detector, the beeps began again. A blink of an eye later, the first snowy-white puffs blew into the bowl while I stood under the alarm: right hand taking pictures, left hand held high over my head, with dishtowel crazily swinging rally-rag style to disperse the hot air. I looked like a crazywoman, but it worked!

It was a bit of a ‘do,’ but as I sit here typing, I am cramming in handfuls of some of the yummiest, buttery-est, sweetest popcorn I have had in a very long time.

Thanks, sweetheart.

Kitchen Mystic

Some people were born to be on a sailboat. Or maybe they light up when painting, hiking in the foothills, or composing or playing music. Maybe for you it’s when you’re working a math equation or writing the perfect piece of code. It’s stunning to me how many different things there are in the world that make people’s souls sing.

As for me, I come alive when I’m in the kitchen. (If you’re a regular reader, this obviously comes as no surprise to you.)

(and here I’m in a kitchen AND in the Cayman Islands, so I’m exponentially happy)

Actually, it’s more than ‘simply’ being in the kitchen. If so, mopping floors, doing dishes, and scrubbing sinks would bring me endless joy. But it’s not only the act of cooking, either. It’s closer to some lovely mélange of cooking, scents, memories, traditions, homemaking, flavors, creating, and an untold number of other unidentifiable things.  

The knowledge that these fragrances and tastes and textures can be combined and manipulated and coaxed into creating something altogether different from their disparate parts, and their lowly starting place, is very heady for me. That knowledge, the memory of what’s been done in the past, and the anticipation of what I might create in the future… it is heady and intoxicating.

Particularly because the Captain and I are so very different in this area, it often gets me thinking about how God imbues each of us with such wonderful, but vastly varied, passions? How does our calling for a particular passion begin?

For example, how did I become a Kitchen Mystic? How did the Captain, raised smack-dab in the middle of the USA, become a person who can only be fulfilled when he is on the salt water? Why does one friend feel this way only when they are hiking in the mountains? Why another passionate about comic/graphic novels? And another structures their whole life around semi-professional pool (billiards).

Certainly some of the cause is the environment we are raised in. But that can’t be all of it, or all siblings would be the same. I am fascinated by the way that God decides for each of us what that spark will be, and then plants it deep within and lights it like a pilot light, there to burn forever and kindle a bigger mechanism at just the precise moment.

Some things that I’ve discovered as I reflect on this topic is that there’s definitely something connected through my dad’s family that I’ve received . Starting at least with my grandfather (and maybe before him, I do not know), I have seen the line of influence for our kitchen mysticism.

My grandfather immigrated from Greece and lived most of his adult life in Tacoma. When he retired (the only stage of his life that I remember), he lived in a tiny, four-room cottage in Tacoma. His chief pride was the garden he grew in his backyard, filled with grapes, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, garlic, herbs, and as many other Mediterranean things as he could coax to grow there.

I remember going to his house, simple and spare, and sitting at his kitchen table or playing in the garden while something simmered all day on the stove and the adults drank wine and talked about food and life and olive oil. I remember my dad telling me about the time he bought his father a 5-gallon tin of Napoleon Olive Oil, and how it took pride of place in my grandfather’s kitchen.

That kitchen has come to be a symbol of something very important to me. I was too young to remember much, and my time with my grandpa too short to have many real memories, but still, his kitchen now seems to be an icon of what was important in his life and what has become important in mine.

These days, more than ever before, I treasure the simple tools of his that I’ve inherited.

Cooking spoons used till the paint gained a shiny patina, including a wooden spoon that doesn’t scrape or ladle well, but which can tell tall tales of food through generations.

An enameled casserole that has done duty for more than 50 years through three generations

A cutting board that you would never find in a store, and looks all the world to me like a hunk of soft fir driftwood that was found on the Tacoma sound flats. 

These things live in my kitchen, and are part of my daily life. What a blessing to have them with me still.  

My father was similar, and I received much of my passion for food and cooking from him. Growing up, my dad would spend all day every Saturday and Sunday in the kitchen, working on some amazing meal for the early evening, watching the ballgame while preparing whatever it was: watching it, tending it, making it just right. 

(The white bowl on our table – I’m about 5 here – is the same one in the draining rack in the last picture of my grandpa’s kitchen. Not sure what mystery ingredient is *in* the bowl. :-))

While I was in Jr. High and Highschool, dad shared a house and 13 acres of land with a  friend. This property included a large wooded area, a ¾ acre garden, fenced pasture, and a chicken coop. Looking back now, I realize how much history repeated itself the moment dad had a real place to garden. Every weekend he spent time in that garden – off season was for tilling and working in aged chicken manure. Spring was for planting. And summer – well, summer was incredible.  Carrots, corn, pole beans, tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes, and anything else he could coax to grow. It was so amazing to go out to the garden on a summer day, eating vegetables right off the vine and out of the ground. No washing, no cooking, just brush off  most of the dirt and then straight into our mouths. It was incredible to pick all we needed for a weekend’s worth of meals right from our own garden. Such an incredible medley of scents as the collection of sun-warmed vegetables filled the big metal bowl we took out for gathering. And even better than the smells were the flavors. I have never again tasted food as good as that.

The chicken coop chickens gave us eggs, we got a black Angus cow and new calf, and raised the calf for beef. One summer we decided to raise broiler chickens, so my dad and his friend built a big chicken run and got 100 broiler chicks. Those yellow fuzzballs grew all summer, and my sister and I loved to feed them weeds from the garden and all the grasshoppers we could catch in the field.

It was a magical time, and in remembering that way of spending time and creating food, I realize how much I desire to do the same thing at some point in the future when we have better land to do so. In the meantime, I celebrate the memories of my family’s tradition of kitchen mysticism by lovingly and meaningfully using the same tools and recipes and intent of my fore-fathers.

What a gift. What a mysterious gift.