Saturday, December 31, 2005
That's Pepper's way of saying "Happy New Year". My friends have heard me talk about my brother's family dog, Pepper. I think she's the cutest dog in the world, although my friend Bob's dog Arneaux (sorry if I misspelled that, Bob) also has my heart in a big way. If you know me, you can imagine what my reaction was when my nephew called me to tell me they got a Chihuahua. I was kind of dreading the next time I came to see them. But there was Pepper, the least Chihuahua-like Chihuahua I'd ever seen. No poppy pop-eyes. No yappy yapping. Just a sweet little puppy who loves to cuddle. Six years later and the house runs around her. And we wouldn't have it any other way.
I feel like I should be doing some kind of deep, meaningful post for the end of the year. But I don't really have anything that deep to say. The past year was one of the most eventful--mostly in the least pleasantly possible ways--for the world in general and for me and my friends in particular.
But now 2005 is almost over! And 2006 is right around the corner. May it bring all the health, happiness, and fulfillment I know we all deserve.
It's movie night at my brother's house, so we'll be welcoming in the new year with a little light entertainment. We might even all make it to midnight. However you celebrate the New Year, I hope you're safe, happy, loved and warm.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
I was pretty eager to see it; my brother turned me on to the series when I was twelve and I devoured them, and then read them a couple of times more over the years. I had stayed away from earlier versions, figuring there was no way they could live up to my expectations. But with current CGI capabilities I figured, as with LoTR, the technology had finally caught up with the way the story should be told.
But I was disappointed. The first part of the movie was fine, if a bit slow-moving. There were several scenes that were expanded from the book that added very little to the story, and not enough attention was given to character development, which to a certain extent is what the book is about. The young lady who plays Lucy did an excellent job, as did the actors who played Peter and Edmund. But I was underwhelmed with the performance of the actor who played Susan. Granted, it's the toughest of the four roles--it would be hard to get that proper mix of adolescent awkwardness with downright unpleasantness, but too much of the time (at least for me) unpleasantness won out. But I think that's more the fault of the director than of the actor.
The lead-in to the battle was also too long, and there were too many unnecessary moments with the animated characters. It was like they were so impressed with what they could do that they wanted to show it all off, rather than using what would move the story forward.
And that's the impression I had of the whole film. While I had some problems with LoTR, especially the end, it was clear within the film itself that Jackson was passionately committed to staying true to the story. With LW&W, I had the feeling that the director was more in love with the movie he was making than in the story he was supposed to be telling.
With all of that said, I'm glad I saw it, and I would probably recommend it. It definitely had its moments and it's visually stunning. But I would give lots of qualifications to my recommendation.
And if you haven't read the series, you should try to read at least LW&W before you see the movie. The main thing I brought away from the movie was a desire to re-read the series.
On the way home from the movie we started talking about Turkish Delight. Ever since I read the book I've wondered what it was, and if it wasn't chocolate (which it didn't seem to be), how good could it be that it would cause Edmund to betray his siblings? Pete mentioned that the Phoenicia Bakery here in Austin sells it. So on the way home from Soccer Tuesday afternoon, he stopped and bought some:
No at all what I imagined. And definitely not chocolate:
The inside is really sticky--it stuck to the knife so much I thought I wasn't ever going to get it off. And it has the consistency somewhere between jujubees and jellybeans. That's powdered sugar on the outside.
All in all, not something I'd go out of my way for, let alone give up my sibs to the Winter Witch.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
I can show you what I've been up to, though. As for knitting, these are the socks I started at Midway waiting for the plane.
This is how much I had done by the time I got to Austin. I've worked on them a little since (although most of my knitting time has been taken up with knitting hats for my niece and nephew. My niece's is done and it's really cute. My nephew's is almost done and it's pretty cute. I'll show pictures later.
As for otherwise, I have this crazy friend in Chicago who seems to think she'll feel better about how cold it is up there if I show you all what it's like down here. So please don't think I'm trying to make you feel bad by showing you how absolutely GORGEOUS it's been down here, okay? And when I tell you that it's been averaging high 70s in the middle of the day and then cooling off to the mid 50s at night, please remember that I have been asked to rub your noses in this splendiferous weather and would otherwise have kept quiet about it.
If you're weather sensitive, you might want to stop reading (and looking) now.
The day after I got to Austin (Friday the 23rd), it was so nice and warm we decided it was a good day to take a walk around the lake (Town Lake, which is the divide between North and South Austin). Here's a view of the lake:
And here's a closer look:
If that doesn't give you a good enough idea of how warm it is here, take a look at these here cacti:
And if that still doesn't give you an idea, I guess I have to pull out all the stops:
Yep, that's me enjoying all this warm sunshine, standing under those green oak trees. Where's my hat? Where's my scarf? Where are my mittens? I don't need them!!!!!!!!!
But I'm not the ultimate sun worshipper, not by a long shot. This here's the quintessential Austinite on a December afternoon:
But before you loop that noose and string it around your neck, let me tell you Austin's not all that perfect. There is one problem they have that just might be worse than in Chicago.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Well, I've been here in Austin for a couple of days now. The weather's great (more on that later) and I've been getting some knitting done (more on that later, too).
Right now we're off for our traditional Christmas Eve movie--this year it's The Lion, the Witch and theWardrobe. I'll let you know what I think.
In the meantime I'm leaving you with a picture of the cute little snow globe snowman Mary sent me. Isn't he a cute little guy?
Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, or fabulous whatever you celebrate. Wouldn't it be nice if it lasted all year long.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I've been giving thought to what projects I'll be taking with me. I think I'm going to try the Koigu shawl again--I'll be there long enough this time that there will be times when I can really concentrate on it. I'm also going to bring the sweater I started while I was down there for Thanksgiving. I haven't worked on it here at all--I was saving it for my return trip because it's such a simple pattern.
Of course I'll be taking some sock yarn. I always start socks when I'm there, and this last time I even finished them within a week, which is outrageously fast for me and socks.
And speaking of socks, I've been holding out on you. There's a fair-isle sock I started years ago that has spent the time since then languishing in a drawer, all but forgotten. But then someone else at the shop decided she was going to make them (and Mary made them years ago), so I decided to take them out and brush them off. And brush them off I did--all the way off the needles. I was new to fair-isle at the time and it didn't look so good to my more experienced eyes, and it had been sitting so long on the needles that there was a definite ridge where I started knitting again. So I started them over. Here they are:
It's the Ilga's Socks pattern from the Spring 2001 Interweave Knits. I sent away for the kit, but Jamieson's will work just beautifully. I'm still not thrilled with the fair isle, but I'll keep going on them. I'm still trying to decide whether to take these with me or not. Once I finish the fair isle, it's just a basic sock. And I don't want this to sit around for another few years.
You can see all the ends I'm going to have to weave in. (I can hear Mary out there chanting "Weave as you go . . . weave as you go . . ." I wish I listened more.)
And speaking of Mary, she sent off for a bohus sweater pattern that has to be seen to be believed. Go take a look at what she's been up to
I'm going to be posting from Austin so I won't say goodbye, or happy holidays, just yet . . .
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
So flash forward a couple of weeks. I'm having dinner with a couple of friends. In one of those not-directly-related-to-the-conversation serendiptious ways, one of them casually mentions something about programming her VCR through the cable box and I stop her and say what are you talking about? And she explains to me how, with RCN (my crappy cable company that keeps taking away all the good channels), you have to program to record through the cable box *and* your VCR.
So I'm all excited because I've finally found out how to set my VCR. So I go home and try it. I'm able to get the cable box to program, and I had already (finally) figured out how to program the VCR, so I set up a test. And sure enough, when the time comes, the TV switches to the proper channel. Success!
But not quite. When I look down at the VCR, it's doing nothing. Nada. Not even acknowledging that it's supposed to be doing something. My spirits sink.
So the next time I talked with my friend I told her about my failed experiment. "Did you have your VCR turned off?" she asked me. "Mine won't work unless the VCR is off." Now that just sounds dumb to me, but what the heck. I set up the cable timer, programmed the VCR, and then turned it off.
And whaddayaknow, it worked. I can now record programs when I'm not home. I'm no longer a slave on Monday nights, chained to my TV so I won't miss a second of "24."
Because that's what this has all been about. I gave up "The West Wing" and all of the "Law and Order" franchises when I started teaching knitting classes in the evenings. But the thought of missing just one episode of "24" was more than I could bear.
And now I don't have to miss anything. And I'm sure the list will grow; I'm already thinking I'll record "Project Runway" so I can watch that on Wednesday nights when I get home.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to hook up the DVD so I can use that too.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
But as delicious as they are, there's another citrus that stands out miles above the rest. It's the Texas Ruby Red grapefruit, and no other grapefruit can compare. The flesh is a deep red and it's naturally sweet and juicy. I don't even waste time with other kinds--it's Texas Ruby Red or nothing.
Accept no substitutes. Lately, I've been noticing that there are grapefruits showing up that are calling themselves Ruby, but they're grown in Florida. Florida, for pete's sake! While they can grow a mean tangerine in Florida, their grapefruit's a fraud.
I just had one (that one right there in the picture). Yum!
Did I mention there wasn't going to be much knitting going on here for a while? I'm still working on a couple of things and I've started finishing a sweater or two, but nothing new.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Yum. Chocolate, and chocolate. Don't know if you can tell the difference, but those are regular brownies and graham cracker brownies on that plate there. The graham cracker brownies recipe is the one I got from my friend Gina in sixth grade (and no, I won't say how long ago that was).
And more yum. These are the Mexican Wine Cookies that almost gave my Dad a heart attack when we made them the first time. They may not look like much but they have a subtly sweet taste that becomes a little addictive. These are what I'm taking to the cookie exchange Saturday night.
They're molded with these cute little clay molds my sister gave me some twenty odd years ago:
Can you match the cookie with the mold?
It feels good to be baking again. Happy Holidays!
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
We met a couple of years ago when I found a recipe for Lentil Soup with Spicy Mustard Greens and I really liked what they added to the pot That was a delicious soup; I should make it again.
For my recipe of the week this week I decided to try Curried Red Lentil Soup. This recipe also called for these black mustard seeds and I was happy because I already had them from the other recipe. I wasn't sure they were still good, but apparently they last quite a while.
To prepare them, you heat them in oil and they pop like popcorn, and then you add them to the dish at the end. They add a slightly charred (I suppose roasted would make it sound better, but it really is charred) flavor that enhances the overall effect.
This recipe gets a thumb waaaay up from me. It's from the same book as the Faki (Greek Lentil Soup) recipe; so far that book's batting a thousand.
This soup is really good by itself, but it's excellent with brown rice:
Those aren't black spots on the film--those are black mustard seeds after they've been popped!
I only made a few changes to this recipe:
1. By the time I got ready to make it my fresh jalapenos had gone bad (I guess they weren't so fresh after all) so I used the pickled jalapenos that I always have on hand. Those are usually spicier than fresh so I only used one instead of the two the recipe calls for.
2. I used vegetable oil instead of ghee.
3. I only used 2 tsps. of the curry powder instead of 2 Tbsp, and I'll stick to that. I think too many vegetarian type recipes try too hard to compensate for the lack of meat by piling on the spices. But that's for another post.
4. I used 2 quarts of vegetable stock and 1 quart water.
5. I did not use the yogurt garnish (but I bet it would taste good and would use it if I had it.)
Here's the recipe:
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Soups and Stews
Curried Red Lentil Soup
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. black mustard seeds
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 c. chopped ginger
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic
2 jalapenos, chopped
1/4 c. ghee
2 Tbsp. curry powder
1 lb. (2 c.) red lentils
3 qts. vegetable stock
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1 c. plain yogurt
from Beans: More Than 200 Delicious, Wholesome Recipes from around the World, by Aliza Green (Running Press, 2004)
In a small saucepan with a lid, heat vegetable oil with the mustard seeds. Cover pot; cook for app. 4 mins., or until popping sound stops.
In large soup pot, cook onion, ginger, garlic and jalapeno in ghee. Add curry powder and cook 2 more mins. Stir in lentils, stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until soft, app. 1 hr., stirring occasionally. Using potato masher, partially mash the lentils to thicken the soup.
Just before serving, stir in the mustard seeds with their cooking oil, the lime juice, and the cilantro. Garnish each serving with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle with more cilantro.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
. . . I caved. I couldn't help it. I was flipping through channels last night to see what was on since there were no Law and Order episodes playing anywhere (anywhere! How wrong is that?!) and woe is me--I lingered too long on Bravo--long enough to discover they were about to show the outcome of the "make an outfit from what you're wearing to this here party" assignment on Project Runway.
Now I ask you, how could I resist? It's all I've been hearing about for the past week. So I saw the leather jacket that got cut up, and I saw the beautiful turquoise and black dress that won, and I saw the dress that wasn't long enough in the back (what the ?????).
And now I have to face the ugly fact that I'll be back to see what happens next. Thanks to all my friends, I'm stuck.
But I refuse to remember any of their names.
Monday, December 12, 2005
It's hard to believe Christmas is less than two weeks away. It's going to be a very low-key one in my family. I didn't knit anything for anyone, although I do have a request from my 4-1/2 year old niece for a "rainbow hat with pink hearts." I've already got the yarn picked out. I'll be able to work something up by Christmas. I'm thinking I'll felt up some pink wool and cut hearts out of it, then sew them on.
I haven't been doing too much knitting. I'm trying to finish projects rather than starting anything new. The way I'm fixing the sleeve on the baby sweater is that I'm re-knitting it. It didn't fit into the armhole, but its mate did. Looking closely at it, I was able to determine that I had knit it on the smaller size needles I had in the bag (why, I don't know). I could have re-blocked it and stretched it out, but it's a gift and that didn't seem right to me. So I pulled it out and I'm about halfway done with it. After it's done, though, I only have to sew it in, then sew the side seams and it's done and I can send it and get it off my plate.
I probably won't be knitting a lot until I leave for Austin for the holidays. I do, however, plan to do some baking. I've been invited to a cookie exchange party. I'm kind of excited about that--I've never been to one and I've always wanted to see how it works.
I haven't really had the time to bake for Christmas since I moved to Chicago. I used to do it every year. I'm really looking forward to it. I know one of the things I'm making. It's an old recipe my dad found that we decided to make when I was in high school in Dallas--Mexican Wine Cookies. They failed miserably in the cookie press the recipe called for. They were way too hard to push out. I thought my Dad was going to have a heart attack as I watched him struggle with it. It's one of my happier memories of him--we couldn't keep from laughing as he struggled with the press, wondering what the hell was wrong with the recipe. But they were delicious, and they work really well when I roll them into balls and press them with a cookie mold. They're made with sherry and have a subtle, buttery taste.
And then there's the graham cracker brownie recipe I got from my friend Gina when I was in sixth grade. They're easy to make. But they look disgusting while you're mixing them up. They taste really good. I'll probably make those as well.
And then I want to make one more thing. I think I'm going to try to find something new.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Here's a shot of a car, to give you an idea of how much snow has fallen:
I didn't use the flash so it's a little dark, but you get the idea.
This afternoon I went down to UIC to meet Lynda for lunch at the new sushi restaurant that just opened on Maxwell Street, called Kohan. They gave us these goodies in honor of their opening.
It attaches to your cell phone, and the back is a glass cleaner. Cool, huh?
The sushi lunch special was reasonable, and good. The fish was fresh and the presentation was beautiful. From what other diners were having, it looks like their noodles, tempura, and beef are also good. I'll definitely go back.
It was good to see Lynda, and I got to say hey to Larry, too (an ex co-worker who's still a good friend). I hung around for a little while and then went to the knit shop to hang out. I didn't get much knitting done--I was sewing together the baby sweater when I realized one of the sleeves was smaller than the other. It's fixable but I had to stop working on it. I decided to work on the Kid-soft cabled scarf instead. Remember that? I started it in black, wasn't happy with it, switched to raspberry sorbet, which I liked better, but the scarf just wasn't doing it for me. So I'm in the middle of undoing it (and believe me, mohair is not easy to undo).
I think it will make a lovely ribbed scarf. No cable.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
There are other movies that do that to me. Lynda says she doesn't know any women who don't fall apart at the mere mention of The Joy Luck Club (and she's even more cynical than I am), and that's certainly true for me as well. Ordinary People just devastates me. And for some reason I just sat and cried all the way through the first time I saw Avalon. But just the first time I saw it, for some reason. I'm fine with it now.
And then there's that one scene in Local Hero, one of my favorite movies. But it's not the story that makes me cry, it's the music. At the ceilidh, Urquhart plays a song with the band that never fails to move me to tears, which adds a beautiful bittersweet twist to my enjoyment of that movie.
There are more movies that make me cry, of course. I'm sure some of them are more interesting than the ones I've mentioned. But it got me wondering--What movies make you cry just at the mere mention/thought of them?
No pictures today, although I am making progress. I'm two-thirds of the way done with the second of the Regia socks, I've started sewing together the baby sweater for the baby that was born in September, and I'm blocking a Cash-Iroha sweater. I also did all the finishing for the store.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
In my college days I would play with pinto beans every once in a while, and then black beans became the rage and I played with those, too. But I never really mastered the art of cooking beans, relying mostly on canned organic.
But now that I'm eating a lot more beans (and am on much tighter of a budget), I've started playing with dried beans. I can do pinto, black and garbanzo pretty well, but I'm having some trouble with navy beans. The last two times I've made them (Turkish White Bean Stew and this), they haven't cooked all the way. This time I cooked them much longer than the recipe called for, but they're still not quite done. They aren't bad, they just aren't melt-in-your-mouth tender.
There are some interesting things going on in this dish. I used a sweet smoked Spanish paprika I got from The Spice House that permeated the whole dish with a sweet smoky flavor. The mint was refreshing, but there wasn't enough of it. The rings of pepper and tomato looked pretty spread out over the top, but the flour never made it into the mix so it didn't thicken properly, and the pepper and tomato flavors also didn't make into the mix.
I would make this again, with the following changes:
1. I would make sure the beans were even more cooked before I transferred them to the casserole dish (this should become my mantra, I think).
2. I would use more mint, both in the dish and for garnish.
3. I would chop the peppers instead of placing rounds over the top. I might still layer the tomatoes over the top--they break down more easily so they would probably cook into the dish.
4. I would sprinkle the flour over the dish before I put any layers on top of it.
5. It needs to cook longer than an hour at 325 degrees.
And here's the recipe:
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Beans and Vegetables
Baked Beans with Mint and Paprika
1 lb. white beans
1 bay leaf
1 hot red chili pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 med. onions, chopped
1 tsp. paprika
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped
2-3 tomatoes, cut in rounds
2 red peppers, seeded and cut into strips or rounds
1 tsp. flour
Chopped fresh parsley or mint
from The Best Vebetarian Recipes, byMartha Rose Shulman (Wm. Morrow, 2001)
Soak beans 6 hours or overnight. Drain and combine with 4 c. water, bay leaf and chili pepper in large dutch oven. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45-60 mins., until beans are tender but intact. Discard pepper.
Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish. Preheat oven to 325 deg.
Heat 1 Tbsp. of oil in nonstick skillet over med. heat. Add onion. Stir together, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 5-10 mins. or until soft. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 mins.
Remove from heat and stir in paprika, garlic, salt, pepper and mint. Stir in app. 1/4 c. hot water. Add to beans and blend thoroughly. Arrange tomatoes and peppers over top of mixture. Sprinkle on the flour and remaining Tbsp. of oil. Bake uncovered 1 hr. or until beans are very tender. Add water if necessary. Sprinkle parlsey or mint on top and serve hot.
Monday, December 05, 2005
I've already mentioned that I finished the first of the Lorna's Laces socks. It only took three tries (yes, I took it down to the heel once again when I tried to reconstruct how many stitches I'd picked up so I could do the second one the same and realized I'd screwed it up and wouldn't be happy with it). Here it is:
And here's a closeup of the lace pattern:
And now for the Koigu shawl. As I said, I also took the Koigu shawl I started a while ago. It's a complicated lace pattern that changes often enough that I really have to pay attention to it. But I thought it would be good to have something a little more complex to work on while I was there.
I was wrong. I kept screwing up the pattern and ended up spending as much time unknitting as I did knitting. I did make some progress, though:
It's going to be beautiful when it's done. Everyone was admiring it.
Recipe next. Consider yourself warned.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
"No one ever came to office hours except Rob Tway, who had always read something life altering and wanted to discuss its narrative arc and authorial stance and other issues of craft which I managed to avoid because I didn't really understand what craft was, frankly, and because I no longer read anything written after the Civil War. I endured these onslaughts only by reminding myself that someday Rob Tway would commit suicide."
--from the story "Appropriate Sex," in the book The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories, by Steve Almond (Algonquin, 2005)
Saturday, December 03, 2005
My foot. Modeling the fastest sock I've ever knit. Of course, now I have to make the second one. I'm going to cast it on tonight so I can have another pair of wool socks to help me keep warm in this cold cold winter we're having. Whatever happened to fall and spring? I wanted the heat to go away, but I was hoping for a little more fall before we went into the deep freeze.
I have to tell you, I love using the circular needle "Magic Loop" method. There's virtually no ladder up the sides and I don't keep dropping those pesky little stitches.
And now for the haul. While I was in Austin my sister took me to a knitting store on the Northwest side of the city--a place called European Knits. The shop is in the owner's living room and is quite small. She carries quite a bit of Anny Blatt, some Regia, Noro, Takhi, Stacy Charles, and some other brands I wasn't familiar with. That's where I got the sock yarn you were admiring up there.
But this was the real treasure she carried:
Old editions of Rowan Magazine and a German magazine called Sandra. I'd seen a copy of Sandra a friend picked up somewhere here in Chicago, but this woman had lots of issues. I had to control myself to just pick four, to which my sister graciously treated me. The Rowan are Issues 7, 9, 11, and The Rowan Liberty Book and there are some fabulous patterns in all of them. Sandra is like Rebecca, except that the patterns are a little more classic--not quite as trendy as the Rebecca. I can't wait to start matching up yarn with patterns!
And finally, for the next installment of HISMTH (How I Spent My Thanksgiving Holiday), here's the sweater I started:
It's Jammie from Rowan No. 28 in Magpie Aran. The yarn has been discontinued but I was lucky to find enough still in stock at the shop.
It's two-color reverse stockinette. It seemed like a good project to start in Austin because it requires very little concentration--there's no shaping so it's straight up 'til the armholes. As a matter of fact, it was a little too easy; I got bored with it pretty quickly. Which led to the Koigu (again, more later).
That picture is a little dark. I hope you can see the colors better on this edge shot:
This might get put on hold again until I go back to Austin in three weeks.
In the meantime I have sweaters to finish, both for me and for the shop, so I'd better get busy!
Thursday, December 01, 2005
I had knit about five rows past the bottom border when I stopped. So when I looked at it when I was packing I thought, "Here's something I can just knit straight without having to think or count." So I threw it in my bag.
We left at 4:30 in the morning, so I slept while it was dark. Around 8:00 I woke up to light enough to knit by. So I pulled out the bag and knit until we pulled into my brother's driveway in Austin at 11:30 that night. Here it is:
The flash shows the pictures in the Kureyon better but kind of washes out the Lamb's Pride. The bottom has much more blue in it.
I still have to do the handle and the sewing. I planned to finish it while I was there but started working on my other projects instead.
Now I just wonder how long it will hang around waiting for me to do the finishing.
More later--time to make lunch.
(The time is now correct at the bottom of the post. I looked all over Blogger help and couldn't figure out what was wrong so I contacted them for help. I got an automated reply immediately, and then a personal reply the next day after I replied that I'd already tried the options they suggested. So now I say you GOTTA love Blogger.)