Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Singing A Song


I had planned to go knit with friends at the library yesterday afternoon—my usual Tuesday activity. But when you get a call from a dear lady who is in her 80th decade to come make music with her, you drop what you're doing, pick up your ukulele and go.

This sweet lady has been stuck in a rehab facility for months when recovery from her surgery didn't go as smoothly as hoped for. There have been more surgeries and longer rehab sessions since then. But the music has never stopped. She has been limited in her activity because of a leg brace (which comes off soon) but she has kept her ukulele by her side.


I know she is feeling better because she picked up the phone and called some of our ukulele band members to come for an impromptu music session. It wasn't on the center's activity calendar, but quite a few residents were happy to roll into the dining area to listen. Before we were done, the nurses and staff were dancing in the hallway.

So I sat there for about an hour with musicians on my right, musicians on my left and a large group of residents in front of us, toes tapping, fingers waving as they listened.  It was cold and rainy on the outside, but it was all sunshine and smiles on the inside. What a happy way to spend a dreary afternoon!




Saturday, February 28, 2015

And You Get A Blanket



Yarn:  Cascade Ecological Wool
Needles:  size 10

It's nice when a plan comes together. Two really big balls of yarn. One set of needles. Practice of a tricky new cast-on method. Patience with a new pattern. Persistence with round after round after round of plain knitting. And after enough time passes, you get a blanket.

When I taught guitar lessons, I had a sign on the wall of my studio that said, "Practice. Patience. Persistence." That was the secret if you wanted to learn to play. It's kind of the secret to learning nearly anything.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Why I Knit

 

It started with just plain gray yarn, waiting to be wound into a ball.
This is not a hobby with quick results. I like that it requires patience.


I studied the pattern and read the notes made by so many other knitters.
There were several new things for me to learn here.
Homework up front would save some frustration. At least that was the plan.


 When you're learning new techniques, mistakes happen.
Mistakes that meant I unknitted one section over and over—until I read the pattern right.
Then, I unknitted row after row at one point when I got confused.
Thankfully, my mistakes were made when these rows were small.


After a couple of weeks, I finished the knitting and took it off the needles.
Doesn't look like much, does it? I'll be honest. I was a little worried.

I had admired the photos of this Hemlock Ring blanket for a long time.
I knew this was part of the process, but I wasn't sure mine would make the transition.
I didn't understand how this pile of ripples could possibly end up flat.


After a good long soak in cool water to relax the fibers,
the soggy lump got moved to Little Sister's alphabet blocks 
I pinned and pinned and pinned, stretching and smoothing carefully, 
working it into the shape I wanted. Who knew wet wool was so moldable?


And when I stood up, knees creaking, I looked at the blanket.
 The magic had happened—the knitting magic.
My soggy, lumpy mess of yarn had turned into a circle of lace.

When you start a new project, there is no guarantee 
that it will turn out like you imagine, like you hope.


But this time, it worked. The knitting magic.
 
Now, the comes the hardest part. 
 Leaving it alone until it is completely dry.

Tomorrow I'll take all the pins out.
Yarn has a way of softening when it is soaked. 
I can't wait to see how it feels. And how it drapes.

This is why I knit. It's creative. It's an adventure.

(Look for finished photos soon.)




Thursday, February 26, 2015

Make Mine Meatless

 Black Bean Butternut Squash Chili

You have seen what kind of cooking has been going on in my kitchen for the past couple of weeks—steaks, potato pancakes, apple cake, and brownies. I was so ready for healthy food. And it was COLD yesterday! We needed a stew or chili.

So what do you fix that's healthy and hearty and warming? Instead of browsing the internet for recipes, I looked back through my own recipe index. This meatless chili was just what I wanted to make. It's easy to put together and it makes enough to feed us a couple of times. And maybe a little will go into the freezer for later.

Trust me. This recipe is good. Daddy-O, "mister meat-and-potatoes", had seconds. He likes this chili. It is an odd combination of ingredients that really work. The cocoa and cinnamon give it a smoky aroma and a rich taste. 


BLACK BEAN BUTTERNUT SQUASH CHILI

1 medium red onion, chopped
2 (14-oz.) cans diced tomatoes (one can had green peppers & onion)
2 (15.5-oz.) cans black beans (do not drain)
2 cups cubed butternut squash (1 small squash)
4 garlic cloves, minced (or 2 tsp of jarred minced garlic)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup water

Combine all ingredients in large pot. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally. (You can also use your slow cooker  and cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours.)

      Optional toppings: crushed tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream


If I had the option to buy fresh cubed butternut squash like some of you do, this would be the easiest recipe ever. But even though I had to peel and cube the squash and dice the onion, it was cooking in just a few minutes.

It just dawned on me—this recipe would be so easy to cut in half. We have a lot left. Not a bad thing, but sometimes you don't want leftovers. Or, maybe you are a household of one. Everything in this recipe can be divided by 2. Recipes don't always work out that way. (So, you might have a half an onion left—not a big deal.)


We had expected to wake up to a few inches of snow this morning. The governor even declared a state of emergency early yesterday in anticipation of the coming storm. Schools announced closings. Much extra news coverage last night. But the "big event" just didn't happen. I'm glad I'm not the weatherman this morning.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Weather Watching


They say "red sky in morning, sailor take warning." This morning's weather warning is for snow tonight. Where we live, we are always on the very edge of "it might." We sit on the line—literally, a line on the weather map—that divides the snow from the cold rain for tomorrow.


Yesterday we had just a dusting of snow. But this was enough for schools on one side of us to be delayed and schools on the other side of us to close for the day. I just enjoyed watching it fall for an hour or so.


But while I am inside where it's warm, Daddy-O must always be out in the elements. The cows must eat. Feeding them is even more important when the weather is bad. He loads hay on the front and the back of the orange tractor and heads toward the pasture where the cows are for the winter. Every day he goes down that road.


And the cows are always glad to see that tractor arriving. Tomorrow morning they might be even MORE excited to see him. If the weatherman is right, it is supposed to be our biggest weather event of the winter. About 3-7 inches of snow. Yes, 3-7 inches is considered major. We have watched the enormous snow amounts in the northeast with fascination and with gratitude. Gratitude that we call a few inches of snow a major event. Gratitude that we don't live where snow is measured in feet.


Today we will enjoy the sun while we run a few errands to get ready for the snow. Tomorrow if we do wake up to a snow-covered pasture, we will be ready. And by Friday, it should be mostly melted. I love where we live.

 


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Home Sweet Home


It was so good to have Jessica home with us for a few days over the weekend. It's always good to have time together. We had a chance to do some shopping in town on a beautiful cold Saturday, but some of the best times were just hanging out at home, watching old movies, and eating popcorn. We're glad she still likes to be home at the farm, where life moves a little slower than in the city. We don't have our children home nearly enough!


We went out to breakfast in our small town Saturday morning. Well, not exactly "in" town, but nearby. The big city doesn't have restaurants like ours. What our eateries lack in decor, they more than make up for in good food.


And after dinner at home on Saturday night, she made us brownies. I'll admit I usually use a box of mix when I need brownies, but she can whip up a batch from scratch almost as quickly. She has used this recipe for a long time. I like mine with a scoop of ice cream. Just like her mom, she has tweaked the recipe to suit her taste. Here is the recipe the way she does it...

NIGELLA LAWSON BROWNIES  (JESSICA'S VERSION)

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
13 oz. best milk chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli chips, buy 2 bags and dump the leftover chips in at the end, to add a chocolate bite inside)
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1-2/3 cups sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups chopped walnuts (I use pecans, but leave them out if I’m taking them somewhere and not sure of everyone’s allergies!)

9x13 inch baking dish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your brownie pan—I think it’s worth lining the sides as well as the base—with foil or parchment paper. Spray with PAM.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a large heavy-based pan (don’t let it scorch!). In a bowl or large wide-mouthed measuring cup, beat the eggs with the vanilla and sugar. Measure the flour into another bowl and add the salt.

When the chocolate mixture has melted, let it cool a bit before beating in the eggs and sugar, and then the nuts and flour. Beat to combine smoothly and then scrape out of the saucepan into the lined pan.

Bake for about 25 minutes. When it’s ready, the top should be dried to a paler brown speckle, but the middle still dark and dense and gooey. And even with such a big batch you do need to keep alert, keep checking: the difference between gungy brownies and dry brownies is only a few minutes; remember that they will continue to cook as they cool.


We have a few brownies left from the weekend. Still good! Good enough for a snowy afternoon snack. We had a little snow this morning. The cows will be more than ready to see Daddy-O coming this morning. He's heading out to the tractor now.



Monday, February 23, 2015

Staying Indoors

 One Bowl Apple Cake

When the high temps were in the 20s last weekend, I opted to stay indoors. (Thankfully, this week will be warmer.) There certainly was plenty to do in the house when I was hiding from Jack Frost. Cleaning. Organizing. Decluttering. All things that are easy to skip when I'm on the go.


And it was a great time for a little extra knitting. I'm working on a circular blanket with a lace pattern. There are so many new-to-me skills in this pattern. But I'm beyond the hard part now, so it's just fun. Easy enough to catch up on some PBS shows while I worked. (My new show to watch is Grantchester. For once, I got started with the very first episode.)


I had to ask Daddy-O for a little help with my knitting project. This yarn comes in a HUGE skein. Too big for my yarn winder. So I went old school and, with his help, wound it by hand. There is something soothing about this process. After being outside feeding the cows, he was happy to sit by the fire and help me.


And Jessica came home for the weekend! I had made soup. But a visit from family needs a special treat. In all my cleaning, I sorted through the gazillion recipes I had printed out during the last year. I found this one that I think someone shared on Facebook. It was the "one bowl" part that caught my eye. Well, it took me two bowls! One for the wet ingredients and one to mix the dry. But it was still quick and easy. This would be great with a cup of coffee.


I made some minor adjustments to the recipe that I think helped it. It's a different kind of cake---almost more apples than batter. When I put it in the pans, I really thought there was no way it would work, but the batter baked up and over the apples.

I made the cake in two round pans this time. I put one cake back into the pan and it went into the freezer so that Daddy-O can have a treat when I'm gone to visit the grandchildren in a few weeks.

ONE BOWL APPLE CAKE

2 eggs
1-3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup cooking oil
6 medium Gala or Fuji apples
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. (Or, you can use a 9x13-inch baking pan.) Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar cinnamon, and oil. Peel and slice apples directly into this mixture, stirring to coat as you go to keep apples from turning brown.  Mix together flour and baking powder. Add to the apple mixture. Mix well until all of the flour is absorbed by the wet ingredients.

Spoon mixture into prepared pans and level with spatula. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until golden brown. (Add 5-10 minutes more for the 9x13 pan.)