Sunday, January 29, 2006

Recipe Redux -- Zen Split Pea and Barley Soup

I've been bogged down with my knitting the last couple of days. I'm still slogging through Jammie. I'm about a third of the way done with the first sleeve. It's actually going pretty fast now that I'm focusing on it. Maybe another week or so before I'm wearing it!

I had all the ingredients on hand, so I thought I'd retry making the Zen Split Pea and Barley Soup. I made all of the changes I said I would and it definitely came out better. I don't know if you can tell from the pictures, but this time around the peas cooked down perfectly. It was much thicker from the get-go, and really thickened up overnight. The barley cooked to just the right consistency, the spices weren't so strong, and the vegetable broth didn't overpower everything. I took this picture the day I made the soup so you can't really see how much it thickened up, but now the consistency is much more like traditional split pea soup.

A few new changes: This time I had fresh basil on hand so I used that in addition to only using 1 tsp. of thyme instead of the Tbsp. called for in the recipe. I also had some celery on hand that I wanted to use up so I threw that in and reduced the amount (but did not omit completely) of celery salt.

We've been having pretty mild weather right now (I know, I know, I'm jinxing it). This is definitely a cold-weather-stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup, so I'll probably make it again when it's one of those days that I don't feel like going anywhere. If you want the recipe, click on the link up there to my previous post.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

One Less Project Hanging Around

Monday I went down to the bookstore to have lunch with Lynda and visit with Larry. In addition, I finally finished the sweater I was making for a bookseller's baby that was born in September (yes, I'm sorry to say, September and I'm just now getting it to them). Here's the sweater:
It's made with Anny Blatt Baby Blatt yarn. The pattern was from a newly revised Debbie Bliss book. Here's a close-up of the ribbed yoke with the buttons.
The ribbed yoke was fun to do and I really like the way it looks. I like it so much, in fact, that I copied the pattern for the socks I started in Austin.

I don't know why it took me so long to finish the sweater. I didn't get around to sewing it together until just before the holidays; then it sat for a couple of weeks after I got back, just waiting for me to sew on the buttons. (They're not actually sewn on here in the picture--I just laid them out and prayed they'd stay where they were. It actually looks better now.)

So anyway, I finally got it done and on its way to its recipient. That's one (little) thing I've gotten accomplished lately. Now I just need to turn my attention to some bigger things.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Same Old Same Old

You may have noticed I haven't been writing a lot about knitting these days. There's a simple reason for this. I'm working on the same old projects. I have made some progress, though.
Here's where I was with the koigu shawl right before I left Austin. I've since finished a couple of more panels, and I'm a little over halfway done. I finally wised up and put the solid ends on bobbins and it's much easier to manipulate than when I was working with three balls.

But I've put it aside for a little while to work on Jammie.
That's what I've been working on since I got back. I finished the back and have about a third of the front done. Why am I pushing so hard on this? You may remember that I took this project to Austin with me. It was going to be the perfect thing--miles of stockinette that I could easily pick up and put down while I was visiting my family. Unfortunately, I left the pattern here and so I couldn't work on it. So what should have been something I could work on steadily without thinking for the two+ weeks I was gone became I mind-numbingly boring project back here. So I'm determined to suck it up and just get it done. It's going to be a beautiful sweater and this is the perfect time of year to wear it so I'm motivated by that as well.

I also finished the first of the Austin socks and have finished about a fourth of the second.

But not all is old and monotonous. I'm going to be casting on something new in the next couple of days . . .

On another front, I've been going through the pictures my brother sent me. The New Year's Eve picture I posted of my brother's family dog Pepper showed her baring her a teeth a little, and it was mentioned by some that she may have looked a little more menacing than in real life. So here's another, less ferocious shot.
Ain't she sweet?

And now I've gotta run. I have a Fair Isle Class to teach.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Green Beans with Couscous

One day while I was in Austin, my brother came home from the grocery store with some green beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes. "I figured we could do something with this for dinner," he said. He then proceeded (with some input from my sister and me) to cook the beans, tomatoes and mushrooms up with some onion, thyme and basil, and threw in some red wine vinegar at the end. We decided it would be good with couscous (we'd already recently had rice and pasta). At the last minute he hard-boiled some eggs for protein.

My brother wasn't completely happy with the results. I thought it was pretty tasty and had potential.

So Friday night I was at the grocery store here in Chicago and they had green beans on sale. Hmm, I thought. I could play with Pete's recipe. I didn't feel like using mushrooms but wanted another vegetable. Zucchini seemed like a viable option, but they were all wrinkly and didn't look so good. I thought of spinach, but thought it might disappear too much. Then my eye fell on a perfectly proportioned bok choy. Definite possibility there. I picked up some fresh basil and lemon and headed home.

I was very pleased with the result. The green beans and bok choy went very well together (although I would definitely make it with zucchini for a change). The fresh basil gave a hint of anise flavor, and the lemon brightened freshened up the beans and bok choy beautifully.

Speaking of lemons, I've come to appreciate how wonderfully they freshen up a dish. If I had to choose between red wine vinegar and lemon (excpet, perhaps, with Gazpacho), I think I'd pick lemon from now on.

Here's the recipe. Feel free to adapt:

Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Green Beans with Couscous
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, quartered and sliced
1 lb. green beans
1 med. bok choy, chopped, stems and leaves separated
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 Tbsp. fresh chopped basil
1/4 c. lemon juice

6 Hard Boiled Eggs

2 c. vegetable stock
2 c. couscous

Inspired by and adapted from Pete's creation in Austin, January 2006

Heat oil in large skillet. Add onions and saute app. 5 mins., until translucent. Add green beans, salt and pepper and cook another 5 mins. Add bok choy stems and cook another 5 mins. Add bok choy leaves and cook another minute or two, until leaves are barely wilted. Add tomatoes and thyme and simmer app. 10-15 mins. more.

While mixture is simmering, bring 2 c. vegetable stock to a boil. Turn off heat, add couscous, stir, cover and let sit for five minutes.

Just before serving, add basil and lemon juice to green bean mixture. Fluff up the couscous.

To serve, place couscous in a bowl, then a sliced hard-boiled egg, then the green bean mixture.

Serves 6

Sunday, January 22, 2006

My New New Toy

This is the new microwave oven I bought in early November to replace my old one that broke. My old one, a teeny little "Well-Bilt" that I bought over ten years ago from Woolworth's, served me well until a little while ago when it started sparking and barking.

So when I went down to Best Buy to get a USB cable for my printer, I decided to check out their microwaves. I can live without one, but I don't want to. This was on sale for just a little bit more than the USB cable (and what's up with that?), so I bought it and brought it home with me. It was my new toy and I loved it.

So you can imagine my dismay when my pretty little new microwave blew a fuse only a couple of weeks after I bought it. I was getting ready to go out of town for the holidays and without a car it's a major hassle to take it in to exchange it, so I figured I'd deal with it after I got back.

So last week I finally got around to asking a friend to take me back to Best Buy so I could exchange. Wouldn't you know, they didn't have any more of my cute little model in stock. Alas, I was forced to upgrade. For just a few dollars more (literally), I came home with this:
It's big! It's powerful! It cooks at many many power levels!

And it's well grounded, so it should last a while.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

You're in for It Now

I just got the CD of Austin photos from my brother, so get ready for some boring slide shows. I have a lot to go through, though, so you have a little bit of a breather.

I didn't knit much today. I guess for me, like everyone else, the new year leads to thoughts of completion and cleanup. To that end, I pulled out a three-quarters finished cardigan in Jaeger Matchmaker Merino Aran, a yarn that seems to have been discontinued, I'm sorry to say. It's a beautiful yarn but it just wasn't happening for me in the pattern I was using. So I threw it in a box and forgot about it for a couple of years. It's a pretty rose pink color.

And then for no good reason that I can think of, it popped into my head this morning. Something along the lines of: "This would be a good day to rip out the Jaeger Matchmaker cardigan and straighten out the yarn."

Here it is on the drying rack.
Yep, those are all cookbooks on both of those bookshelves. There are some more stacked up against the wall around the corner. The yarn is in the bedroom and you won't be seeing any pictures of that disaster area anytime soon.

I think I may have mentioned that none of my friends has seen my apartment for a long time (and some have never seen it). This crowded little corner should give you some idea of why. When your two main obsessions are books and knitting, things accumulate pretty quickly. I'm making some progress, though.

I just caught the end of the latest Project Runway. For a minute there it looked like Santino was going to be out, but no such luck. (And yes, Lynda, I know his name. sigh.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Little Treats to Spin, Sew and Eat

I'm in trouble now. See what Mary did to me? She surprised me on Saturday with this lovely little drop spindle, and lots of roving with which to practice. I must confess to being intrigued by it, and have watched with interest some bloggers who have been learning how, but I was really afraid of what might happen if I got started with it. Like I really need anything that feeds my obsession.

There's a class this Sunday we're thinking of taking. I'll keep you posted.

This morning Mary and I drove to Long Grove with another friend to check out I'd Rather Be Knitting. It's a good-sized store, with a nice selection of yarn and pattern books. I've been really good about not spending money these days, but I had to make a couple of purchases. They didn't have too many yarns that the Knitting Workshop doesn't have so I was able to resist that, but they did have some cute orphan buttons on sale. I got a couple of those. Oh, and the book America Knits (apparently a reissue of Knitting in America). I've been lusting after it for the longest time.

After the knitting store we wandered around the area and found the Long Grove Confectionary. They used to sell them at Field's. I just had to bring something chocolate home with me.
Assorted truffles and orphan buttons. Don't they look cute together? Alas, these truffles now exist only here. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

I came home a happy camper, that's for sure.

Monday, January 16, 2006

I Feel So Much Better

I've finally emerged from my sick fog. I'm a miserable person to be around when I have a cold. I whine and moan and sniffle and cough so much that even I can't stand to be around me. I don't even feel like knitting. So it felt really good to get up today and work on the koigu shawl.

And to catch the season premiere of "24." An awful lot happened in two hours, including the death of one of my favorite characters. I'm bummed. And Chloe's in hot water with CTU as fast as ever. Jean Smart is fantastic as the President's wife, and it was an unexpected little treat to see Matt Battaglia from "Queer as Folk" as one of the CTU guys. I did a test run tonight on taping it. It went ok so it looks like I'm all set for tomorrow night.

Now back to the Koigu. I did quite a bit of work on it in Austin. One day it was so warm and sunny I decided to sit outside and knit. The sunlight was playing so brightly on the yarn that it looked like completely different. The colors popped, and the rust/brown border turned golden/orange. I think the camera caught it.
The colors are really vibrant close up.
It's strange, but I was really surprised at how vivid the colors are. And then I realized that I had never really seen the yarn outside in the sun. I hope we have some bright sunny Fall days next year (which is when I should have this finished) so I can show it off in its brightest glory.

I spent a good deal of time time trying to decide how I wanted to split the two yarns. At first I thought I would work the solid in garter between the multi-colored lace. But that would use more yarn and I was afraid it would make it look like panels, which I was trying to avoid. My niece helped me figure it out and we decided it would look better if I continued the lace pattern throughout. So far it looks like we made the right choice. There was a little bit of math involved in figuring out how many repititions with each yarn I would need to have it come out the right length. If all goes as it should, it will be about 74" long. I'm about halfway done.

If my brother gets his computer up and running any time soon I should have equally sunlit pictures showing more progress.

I brought back a bunch of recipes I copied from a couple of cookbooks my sister-in-law has. I plan to resume my recipe testing next week. I made dinner a couple of times while I was down there. Most of them were a big hit, even with the most picky eaters.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Little Knitting and a Big Cold

I'm being punished for enjoying so much sun and warmth for the past two weeks. I have a cold and I'm feeling miserable and more foggy than usual, so I just can't wrap my brain around any serious posting.

But I do have this Noro Cash-Iroha sweater all finished up and ready to show off.
The color is a little more apricot than the picture shows. Here's a closeup of the cable raglan.
It was a lot of fun to make. Several of us Knitting Workshop regulars have made it in various colors. The yarn comes in the most luscious jewel tones.

And now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go stick my head over a pot of steaming water.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

River Walk

As I've mentioned before, we're not really a touristy family. So when I go home for the holidays, it's usually to just hang out, go to Central Market or Whole Foods with my sister, and run errands with my brother and his family. I don't even connect with old friends. (Note to self: must do something about that.)

When I rode down for Thanksgiving with my brother and nephew, I booked a direct flight back out of San Antonio. We talked about maybe going down a day early and spending some time there before my flight. I didn't want to cut into my Austin time for that trip, but suggested maybe we could plan a day trip over my Christmas visit. So that's what we did the Wednesday between Christmas and New Year's.

San Antonio is considered one of America's four unique cities because of the confluence of different cultures that superimposed themselves over each other over the years. I wouldn't want to live there, but it's a nice city to visit, especially the River Walk along the San Antonio River. So that's where we headed after our hour+ drive from Austin.

We parked the car in Hemisfair Park and walked toward the river. On the way we noticed a lot of people walking around in red T-shirts. At one corner a man was selling some kind of tickets for some kind of game. We figured there was a connection between the game and the red T-shirts so we paid more attention to them. It turns out we chose the day of the Alamo Bowl for our visit. The Michigan Wolverines were playing the Nebraska Huskers.

So much for a quiet stroll along the river. This doesn't even really do it justice.
It was a red invasion of a totally different kind. They were everywhere. Occasionally a rowdy (usually drunken) cheer would echo around us, especially if Husker met Wolverine.
They were all over the restaurants and up and down the river. We didn't notice that many Wolverine T-shirts; I guess they don't have as much to do in Nebraska as they do in Michigan so football is a bigger deal (maybe even bigger than Texas??????)

We ate a quick, tasty lunch at the Casa Rio (warning--there's music on this link). You can have lunch or dinner on a boat that cruises up and down the river--I did that when I was in high school and went to San Antonio for a ballet convention (something I'd totally forgotten about until this trip).

Then we walked down to take a shortcut through the Hyatt up to the Alamo (pictures later). In the Hyatt lobby, we walked past this store a couple of times, and then I decided I just had to take a picture:
I wanted me some bling-bling! Seriously, all those beaded accessories got my heart pumping a little faster.

After the Alamo we were pretty much ready to head home. Those Huskers had worn us out. So we walked back down the river past the by now much rowdier Huskers. But once we got past the restaurant area, it actually got quiet and we could enjoy some of the sights, like these bridges where the streets cross overhead:
There's also a stage on one bank of the river, and a seating area on the other where they have different kinds of performances. They were setting up for some kind of Chanukah show when we walked by. Here's the stage:
And the seating area across the way:
We headed home shortly after that. Although it would have been more enjoyable without all those red T-shirts, it was a lovely outing. I hope to plan more for next year.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Home Again Home Again (not so) Lickety Split

After a long but relatively uneventful flight I got home last night. When I left Chicago it was bitter cold and there was frozen snow and ice all over; I only had to wear my jacket on the way home from the airport and the streets were blessedly clear so it's already good.

I'm still in the process of unpacking so I don't have much time to post today, but I've got lots of pictures to show you. Unfortunately, my brother's computer crashed a couple of days ago (it wasn't my fault . . . really it wasn't) so I wasn't able to get online much and I had to leave all the glorious pictures I took until he gets his computer up and running and can send them to me, so you'll have to wait for some of those. Miraculously, his data seems to have remained intact. Luckily, I uploaded some of the earlier pics to draft posts so I'll be able to do something with them while I wait for the rest.

I hope everyone had a good holiday. I realize I'm a little late, but are we all ready to start the new year?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The View from My Brother's Porch

Last Sunday, in the late afternoon, Mary called me from Chicago to wish me a Happy New Year and to catch up. I hope you're feeling better, Mary!

I went outside for better reception and was looking around me when I noticed the sky behind the tree at the side of my brother's house was a beautiful mix of pinks and oranges, and it was streaking vertically through the few clouds that seemed to gather in that one spot in the sky just to capture all that light.

I ran back into the house and told everybody that they should come out to see it, and asked my brother if he would take pictures. This is what I saw from the yard:
My brother and nephew came out and I watched my brother snap a couple of pictures. Then they both went back in the house as I watched the sky get darker and the colors get brighter and I couldn't believe they were missing it. Then they came back out with the tripod and disappeared around the side of the house behind the tree and out of sight. They were gone pretty much the whole rest of the time I was talking with Mary. Later, after he downloaded the pictures, I saw where they had gone:
This is what I was looking at while we were talking, Mary! It may be the most dramatic sunset I've ever seen. And all I had to do to see it was walk outside my brother's house. There are many things I don't miss about Austin, mostly the heat, but this is one of the reasons I make sure to come back for a good chunk of time every year.

Later, my brother told me from what they could see in the house (the top picture), it didn't look all that impressive. He figured since I'd been away I had forgotten what a real sunset looked like and was swept off my feet by the first pink sky to come along. Ha. He then agreed that it was pretty spectacular.

The first night I was here the sunset was really pretty, too, so I took a picture to post here. Now it doesn't seem to look quite as dramatic as it did before.
Of course, that could just be my camera skills compared to my brother's. That's a lot of dark blobbiness at the bottom there.

On the knitting front, I've mainly been working on the Koigu shawl. It was such a beautiful day yesterday I decided to work on it outside. That was the first time I think I've seen the true colors on that yarn. I took pictures . . .

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Two Hats

I finished my niece's and nephew's hats in time for our Christmas get-together last Friday. I think they're pretty cute, if I do say so myself. I got the pattern from a site that lists free online patterns. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I found that, but here are the patterns for the two hats:

My niece told me she wanted a rainbow hat with pink hearts on it. As soon as I saw the yarn I knew it would work, I just had to find a pattern. I was browsing around when I found this pattern. It looked perfect. At first, when I was reading the instructions, I thought it was wrong, but then I realize you're starting at the top of the hat, not the bottom. You knit straight and then draw a chain through some yarnover eyelets and pull it tight and that closes it up. It was a lot of fun to make.

I had already decided I was going to knit up some pink yarn and felt it, then cut out the hearts and sew them on. I was knitting up the yarn here, and my niece, who is quite the crafter herself, asked what I was doing. "I'm knitting up some yarn so I can felt it, then I'm going to cut hearts out of it," I told her. She gave me the strangest "why on earth would you go to all that trouble?" look just as I was realizing that she has tons of felt from her sewing projects (she makes the coolest samplers) and realized I could probably just borrow some from her. Which is what I did to get the hearts on there. This was a really fun project, and my niece seemed to like it.

I found the pattern for my nephew's hat from the same site. It's the same yarn, in a little less rainbow-y colorway. I like the way the colors pool. Unfortunately, I was in such a hurry to finish it that I forgot to purl the two rows I was supposed to purl about 6-1/2 inches up, but I think it works just fine without it. I didn't have time to redo it. I also made a pom-pom instead of a tassel. I thought that would be more fun for my nephew. He put it on as soon as he opened it. Of course, the pom-pom fell off almost immediately. I'll have to reattach it before I leave.

All in all, I was pleased with the results.
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