1) Those crazy gals over at 5 Minutes for Mom are having a drawing for a free Dyson vacuum cleaner. I'm a fan of good tools, and those Dysons seem like they are pretty great. Go enter--you've got to be in it to win it!
2) jewlsntexas is having a Quirky Quote Quontest. The winner gets a new blog template design by GoofyGirl--fun! Here's my entry, from The Princess Bride:
Westley: Can you move at all? Buttercup: Move? You're alive. If you want, I could fly. Westley: I told you, "I would always come for you." Why didn't you wait for me? Buttercup: Well ... you were dead. Westley: Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while. Buttercup: I will never doubt again. Westley: There will never be a need.
A couple of posts ago I announced my intention to knit an Authentic Victorian Shawl from a free pattern I found on the internet. It was excerpted from Beeton's Book of Needlework, first published in 1870. The above illustration is from the original.
Perfect, I thought. I went to the attic and pulled out some goodly pine-colored DK-weight merino that Carmen gave me a while back during a purge of her stash. It would nicely match the calicos I've purchased for my pioneer costumes.
The pattern cautioned against using too small a needle, so I ignored the yarn's ball band recommendation of a US size 6 and went with an 8. I knit a swatch using the two stitch patterns described, one for the 'ground,' or body, of the shawl, and one for the openwork.
The stitch patterns were easy to memorize; I was happy with the result (above), and knew that the work would look even better once I blocked it. Pleased with myself thus far, I went on to read through the directions for the shawl itself. I'll quote it for you:
When 6 such [ground] rows have been worked in this pattern, work again 9 rows of the open-work pattern, but work on each side of the 2 stripes [?], each 6 stitches wide, in the pattern of the ground; each first stripe is at a distance of 4 stitches from the edge, and each second stripe at a distance of 20 stitches. After the 9th open-work row, work again 6 rows in the pattern of the ground, then again 8 open-work rows, and then begin the ground, only continue to work on both sides of the shawl the narrow stripes of the ground pattern, the narrow outer and the two wide inner stripes of the border in the open-work pattern....
Dude, I'm smart; I skipped fifth grade. I'm also more familiar with 19th-century English than your average bear. I've read most of what Austen, Conrad, Dickens, Hardy, Hawthorne, Collins, and all the Brontes ever published. And some Trollope. Plus the Little House books. And all that Church stuff. I've navigated my way successfully through many a modern knitting pattern. Why can't I crack this nut?
I kept at it, to no freaking avail. Well, okay.
There appeared to be two options: either use the two stitch patterns in a pattern of my own device, or find a different pattern I could understand. But the Authenticity! my pride protested. If you modify it, it won't be Authentic! On the other hand: A different pattern? Don't you mean aneasierpattern? Tantamount to admitting defeat! Lame!
Fortunately, at this point I had the good sense to laugh and start talking myself out of my tree.
I'm sure Mrs. Isabella Beeton wouldn't have given two figs for Authenticity. She was an innovator in both cookery and needlework, a fiercely independent spirit whose life was cut tragically short at age 28 by puerperal fever (the Needlework book was published by her husband a few years after her death). If she were here today (after she recovered from my slapping her for writing such incomprehensible drivel), I'm sure she would encourage me to do my own thing. Don't you think?
So: I've cast on 98 stitches and started my own version--rectangular, not square--of a Victorian Shawl. I'll let you know how it goes.
*Translation for non-New Yorkers: "What, are you kidding me?"
I've been thinking a lot lately about why I do this blog thing. Maybe I'm having a bit of an identity crisis; I'm not sure. The few blogs I read regularly seemed to be divided into two types (with a fair amount of overlap): the Chroniclers and the Thinkers.
The Chroniclers I enjoy are knitters, writers, or foodies (or all three); their progress on their respective projects reinvigorates my attitude towards my own creative efforts.
As I look over my posts, it appears that I am a Chronicler. I wish I were a Brainiac, and maybe I would try to be one if I didn't have these other writing thingies I'm trying to do. But I just don't have enough Writing Energy Units (WEUs) to go around.
The posts of my own that I like best are those which consume the most WEUs. As a mother of five with too many obsessions and a distractingly handsome husband, I have to have a little self-discipline and conserve my precious few WEUs for use on my novels--both of which I had hoped to have finished several months ago.
I put in my $0.02 on a poll another blogger was taking recently on why bloggers blog. I answered that I blog a) to warm up for other writing; b) to keep a sort of a journal; and c) to keep friends and relatives up to date on life at the Perkins Corral. I think a fourth reason is emerging: d) to connect with a few other people whom I know solely through their own blogs. I know that purposes a) and b) are being fulfilled reasonably well for me; I'm not so sure about c) and d). (Hint: if you all would leave a comment once in a while, I'd have a better sense on this last point. It's really not hard to do, and I'd appreciate it.)
But I wonder: is this blog the best use of my time? I know it is not coming close to hitting any of the lofty aims I put forth in my very first post, but is it adding any joy or light to the world? I'm not sure; I guess I'll have to go do some more pondering.
Amendment posted 3/29/2007:
1) RJLight is not just 'another blogger.' She is another funny blogger. Hence the title of her blog. And why I go back for more nearly every day.
2) Many of the Chroniclers do Think, and vicey versey. Same goes for the Brainiacs and the Funny Gals. Good grief; I can't include you all in every category! That would defeat the purpose of the categories!
For Youth Conference this year, the kids ages 14-18 in our congregation are going on a living-history-type Pioneer Trek on June 1-3 in Cockaponset State Park in Connecticut. The youth leaders hope to recreate for these teenagers what life must have been like for the Handcart Pioneers.
The kids will be pulling handcarts 10-14 miles, then camping, cooking and eating, and (I'm quite sure) sleeping like the dead until early the next morning, whereupon they will get up and start all over again. They'll be wearing clothing of the period and will be separated from all of their beloved electronic paraphernalia. It should be quite an experience.
Patrick and I have been asked to be 'parents' to one of the groups of the youth. We are to travel with them and provide physical guidance and spiritual leadership along the way. To say that I am not excited about this trip would be a considerable understatement. Frankly, I don't see the point.
If I were in charge and had the goal of having the youth get a bit of the flavor of real frontier life, I wouldn't try to fake something. I'd have them build a real house for a real family with Habitat for Humanity. Or clear a piece of real land, chopping down trees and pulling stumps, for a real community garden. Or have them grind real wheat and make real bread by hand in a stone oven, then distribute it to the real poor. Or something where the exhaustion of really hard labor would be compensated for by the satisfaction of having really served someone else. Teenagers don't get enough of that kind of thing, in my (real) opinion.
But I'm not in charge, and I'm trying hard to quell my rebellious nature and keep my covenant of support for the church leaders, so I'm just moaning a bit right here and now. There. No more negative words from me on the subject. Now I'll buckle down and get ready for the trip. Because there is a lot to do in the next two months.
Patrick and I need costumes. Last night I browsed through some pattern websites, and here's what I have come up with. Patrick will wear this (he'll need three) and these (we're allowed to spurn authenticity in favor of proper hiking shoes). I'll make this for myself, with three different shirtwaists. I'll also be sporting this and this. Yes, you can trust me to find an excuse to knit something new.
I also need to brush up my recorder and pennywhistle skills for campfire entertainment. I'll be practicing the hymns from the 1835 Hymnal. I'm hoping my friend Karen (who has a much better attitude than I do) will bring her guitar, so that we can make merry together.
I'll be keeping to the running schedule I've been on, even though I know it would take marathon training (which I'm not doing) to be able to handle the Trek gracefully. But every little bit helps, right?
I need to prepare stories of pioneer ancestors--one of mine and one of Patrick's (he asked me to do his, and I agreed; he's got plenty more to do before then). Which to choose? We each have several colorful candidates with faith-promoting histories to relate.
Last but far from least, I will be praying for a change of heart and an outlook suitable for leading impressionable youth. Anything you want to add in that regard would be very welcome. Westward ho!
Pardon my absence. First I was on a bit of a Family History bender (oh, how I do love me a good genealogy binge). I had a nice bit of success finding some long-lost cousins of direct-line ancestors--very satisfying.
Then Hope and I went on her fabulous birthday trip to NYC. What a delight Hope is! Here's what we did: on Friday morning we took the train to Manhattan. We got our nails done. We ate sushi (Hope's favorite food). We spent three hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, admiring, discussing, and sketching what we saw. We walked to the Central Park Zoo and visited the sea lions, the seals, the penguins and puffins, and the polar bears.
Then we took the bus across town to our old neighborhood, where we walked around the campus of Patrick's beloved alma mater, then visited our lovely friends on West End Avenue. We had a terrific time catching up, playing, and eating. We slept over, lulled to sleep on an air mattress by the sounds of a clanking radiator and the night buses outside. Saturday morning, we went to Absolute Bagels for a little bit of heaven. After a brief pilgrimage to a Central Park playground, we hit the American Museum of Natural History; we spent most of our time there in the Hall of Oceanic Creatures.
Next was the Urban Inspirations Quilt Show at FIT, hosted by the Empire Quilters' Guild. We met my bionic quilting friend Deb there, and she gave us the grand tour. That's Deb with Hope in front of the Grand Prize-winning quilt. I've never seen quilts as exquisite as these all were. Hope bought some fabric and has already come up with designs for at least two projects. Last, we headed over to Grand Central Station's famous Oyster Bar for lunch. Hope tried a raw oyster from my platter, pronounced it good, then ate three more before consuming her entree of coconut shrimp. We ran to catch the train home and made it just in time.
I know this will be a wonderful memory for me, and I'm pretty sure Hope shares the sentiment. She was saying nearly every five minutes either "Thank you for bringing me here," or "I love New York!" It seems that nearly six years in the country have not taken one of our little native Manhattanites away from her roots, away from the city that is so dear to me. I'm glad.
Eunny Jang was just appointed Editor of Interweave Knits, the best knitting magazine in print! (You know how I feel about Knitty, which exists only in the ether.) Eunny is a genius--ahh, her cabling; ohhh, her steeking! If you love me and/or if you love knitting, go check out at minimum Eunny's Anemoi Mittens; her Bayerische Socks; and most fabulousest of all, her Norwegian Jacket. That jacket--be still, my heart. I hope she publishes that pattern so that I can make it myself one day. Truly, Eunny tempts me towards idolatry.
Rather than violate the first commandment, I'll let Eunny tempt me back to two-color work (scroll down a bit on that link). About four years ago, Carmen and I went to a knitting workshop with Eugene and Ann Bourgeois, co-authors of Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified. I had wanted to try one of their sweaters for a while, so I bought a kit for their Circus Sweater. I started on it, using the two-handed technique Ann had taught us (knit Continental with one hand, English with the other, at the same time--one hand for each color--it sounds harder than it is). I was going along, loving the rhythm of the technique, loving the colorway, good, good, good. Then I hit a snag.
If you clicked on the link for the Circus Sweater, you noticed that the sleeves are very big. That's great if you are young and skinny, like the model. It's not so great if you are a bit more mature and less Hepburnesque. I imagined myself in the finished product after following the directions verbatim. More Circus Tent than Circus.
To avoid this scenario, I decided to make the arms much more fitted, which worked fine for the first five inches of the sleeve. I got to the second windowpane pattern and realized that it wouldn't come out right with the reduced number of stitches I was using. I set the project aside, planning to figure out how to make it work at some point. It sat in the closet as I turned to other, less demanding, more mindless knitting projects. Sometime later, it got demoted from the closet stash to the attic stash, where it has languished lo these many seasons.
I pulled it out again yesterday, because I'd had a flash of inspiration after virtually and lurkingly consulting with Eunny. Flash: I don't have to use the pattern Ann and Eugene prescribed. I can make up my own that would fit properly. Right, right--already plotting it out on the graph paper in my brain. So now I'm all excited about the Circus Sweater again (even though I hate circuses and almost everything associated them--ewwwww, clowns--nothing scarier). I've got to get to work; fall is just around the corner! Thanks, Ms. Jang!
Another blogger characterized Eunny as our generation's Elizabeth Zimmermann. As much as it may sound like it, folks, I don't think that's hyperbole. I can't wait to see where IK goes with Eunny at the helm.
In food news, James's empanadas were fantastic last night! Luis was again our inspiration, but we used the Cook's Illustratedrecipe; that magazine has never failed me. Lest I forget, I must also mention the delectability of Christian's lasagna last week. Excelsior, boys!
Q: What do you do with a pint of leftover mincemeat, a cup of leftover cranberry chutney, and three cups of leftover applesauce--all homemade and delicious, but all listlessly hanging around the back of the fridge like wallflowers at a hoe-down?
A: Invent Cranberry-Apple Mincemeat Pie, of course. Don't forget the Pie Crust Scrap Cookies; you know how the kids love those. The filling tasted great; we'll see what the ladies at the Relief Society's Pot Luck and Pow-Wow think.
My grandmother was an amazing automath. When she wanted to learn how to do something new, she would simply check books out of the library and teach herself by reading and doing. She made her own saddles. She designed and built her own deck and greenhouse. She learned how to decorate wedding cakes, then had a very successful side business for years as she honed that skill to high art.
Though she took enormous satisfaction in these accomplishments, she never succumbed to vanity. If we ever complimented her excellent cooking or baking, for example, she would scoff good-naturedly, saying, "If you can read, you can cook."
Watching her, I learned that if you wanted to do something, you gathered the necessary information, then plunged in and just did it. Grandma's process has worked well for me over the course of my life. I've sewn, I've sown; I've made cheese and rendered lard. But recently, I hit a brick wall.
A couple of years ago, I read a great book about permaculture and got very excited about employing its principles on our little third of an acre. Sometimes called 'forest gardening,' permaculture is an agricultural system that seeks to work with nature, not against it, in the production of food crops. The permaculturist mimics nature's systems as closely as possible, hoping for maximum output (food) with minimum input (work). It's a method that attempts to recreate Eden here in the Lone and Dreary World. Here's a quote from Toby Hemenway:
Permaculture is notoriously hard to define in a sound-bite. Here's one way to describe it: If you think of natural building, sustainable agriculture, solar energy, graywater recycling, consensus process, and the like as tools, then permaculture is the toolbox that helps organize those tools and suggests how and when to use them.
I've made various plans for our land since we moved here almost six years ago, amending them as I have worked in the yard and as I have read more books on garden philosophy and design. Hemenway's book pulled all of my dreams into one overarching concept, so I got to work trying to make a new plan incorporating new ideas such as the use of plant guilds, a mandala design to increase the edge factor, and the unique characteristics of our little microclimate.
I got stuck. It was too big; I couldn't get my mind around it all. Figuring I just needed more data, I bought a couple of very technical permaculture textbooks and studied them. I got stuck again; I just could not pull everything together. Then we renovated the house last year, and I had to abandon any thoughts of work on the yard.
Last fall, while reading a magazine that focuses on green building, I came across an ad for the services of Ethan Zickler, a permaculture landscape designer who lives not too far from us. Perfect, I thought. In a flash, I humbly recognized that I needed to bring in reinforcements if I wanted the permaculture thing to happen.
Last September, Ethan came out and consulted with me. He spent an hour listening to my desires and ideas, then walked around our property for a long time making sketches. Realizing that we couldn't do much over the winter, we agreed to touch base again in the early spring.
The other day I met with him so that he could show me what he had come up with for our yard. I about fell over when I saw it. Ethan is both experienced and gifted. One one large, well-drawn map, I saw all the concepts I'd tried to conquer seamlessly integrated into a Master Plan.
I like to be self-sufficient; it's hard for me to accept help from other humans. But I am grateful for the lesson learned: drawing upon the gifts of others can enhance and expand your own. Our property is now bountiful and pleasing to the eye on paper. I can't wait to run with Ethan's plan and make it a reality.
I saw Julie Wright's post on this game and couldn't resist. I don't know who came up with the list, but it's an interesting mix.
Take a look and see which ones you’ve read. Then, if you’re a blogger, post it on your blog. If you play, leave me a comment so that I can come visit! Here’s what you do:
* Bold the ones you’ve read. * Italicize the ones you want to read. * Leave in normal text the ones that don't interest you. * Put in ALL CAPS those you haven’t heard of. * Put a couple of asterisks by the ones you recommend.
1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown) 2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)** 3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)** 4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)** 5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)** 6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)** 7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)** 8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)** 9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)** 10. A FINE BALANCE (Rohinton Mistry) 11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)** 12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) 13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)** 14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)** 15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) 16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)** 17. FALL ON YOUR KNEES (Ann-Marie MacDonald) 18. The Stand (Stephen King)** 19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)** 20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)** 21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)** 22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)** 23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)** 24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) 25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel) 26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) 27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)** 28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)** 29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck) 30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom) 31. Dune (Frank Herbert)** 32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks) 33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) 34. 1984 (Orwell)** 35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley) 36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)** 37. THE POWER OF ONE (Bryce Courtenay) 38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb) 39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant) 40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) 41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel) 42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) 43. CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC (Sophie Kinsella) 44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom) 45. The Bible ** 46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)** 47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)** 48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt) 49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) 50. She's Come Undone (Wally Lamb) 51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver) 52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)** 53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)** 54. Great Expectations (Dickens)** 55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)** 56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence) 57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)** 58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)** 59. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)** 60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) 61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)** 62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) 63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)** 64. Interview With TheVampire (Anne Rice) 65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davies) 66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) 67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares) 68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) 69. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) 70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)** 71. Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding) 72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) 73. Shogun (James Clavell) 74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)** 75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson)** 76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)** 77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith) 78. The World According to Garp (John Irving)** 79. THE DIVINERS (Margaret Laurence) 80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)** 81. NOT WANTED ON THE VOYAGE (Timothy Findley) 82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck) 83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)** 84. WIZARD'S FIRST RULE (Terry Goodkind) 85. Emma (Jane Austen)** 86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)** 87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)** 88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields) 89. BLINDNESS (Jose Saramago) 90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer) 91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Michael Ondaatje) 92. Lord of the Flies (William Golding)** 93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck) 94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd) 95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)** 96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton) 97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch) 98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford) 99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield) 100. Ulysses (James Joyce)**
Some regular readers have emailed me asking for an update on some of our household routines. What, for example, happened with CIA Night last month? I'll give you the scoop on all the latest scintillating news.
First of all, I finished Daniel's sweater. He's a very gratifying recipient; he wants to wear it every day and gets mad when he can't wear it to bed. Yes, it turned out big, as I expected. But I'm glad (since he's the baby) that he'll be able to wear it again this fall. Everytime I put it on him, he exclaims, "I'm so cute!" Indeed.
As you can see from the photo above, at Needlework Group yesterday I started cutting fabric for two quilts. Tess and Daniel's flannel receiving blankets were taking up space in the linen closet, but I couldn't bear the thought of giving them away for some reason (I gave away almost all of their infant-sized clothing long ago). Their birthdays are coming up, so I decided to make them each a quilt. I've never made a quilt before (though I've tied several). My angel friend Karen lent me her cutter and mat and gave me a basic outline of what to do. I got the last blanket cut just before the big kids walked in the door. I'll see how long I can keep this project a secret.
The kids and their cookery: Christian made Chicken Enchiladas--yes, the recipe that elicited a proposal from Patrick. James made Roasted Butterflied Chicken with Potatoes and Broccoli. Hope and Tess each made a batch of Spaghetti Bolognese. Yummmmm.
And just for kicks, here's what I made for lunch today. I was able to work with what I had on hand; I felt lucky that I could put off a trip to the grocery store for a few more hours.
Lucky Egg Drop Soup
2 TB. butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and pressed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pint homemade chicken stock
1 pint water
1/4 lb. wide egg noodles
2 eggs, beaten
In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Saute the onion until soft. Add the carrots and saute a few more minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and parsley; stir and cook for just a few seconds. Add the salt, stock, water, and noodles. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Check the noodles; they may need another minute or two. Once the noodles are cooked and the soup is boiling, pour the eggs in and stir like mad for a few seconds. Amply serves two, with enough left over for a hungry 13-year-old's mid-afternoon snack.
There: I believe I've answered all outstanding questions! Enjoy the gentle breath of spring!
The party seems to be winding down (or at least passing me by). But I'll keep with the theme until it's officially over tomorrow. As I've traveled around the bloggerhood for the first time this week, I've noticed that many people post lists from time to time. It seemed like a worthy exercise, so I thought I'd give it a try (well, I tried it for the first time yesterday).
Bothersome: 1) No one seems to know the difference between 'lie' and 'lay.' 2) No one seems to care. This is far worse than 1). 3) No one understands my love of the smell of skunk. 4) I have acne at the age of 40. 5) My basement is a dungeon, yet I don't clean it. 6) Hobo spiders 7) FlyLady is great, but I'd rather do housework the Samantha Stevens way. 8) The food at Taco Bell doesn't taste good to me anymore. Has it changed, or have I? 9) Though I am a fast reader, writer, and knitter, I wish I were much faster. 10) The abominable smell of the otherwise miraculous cream that healed the cracks in my fingertips overnight
Rantworthy: 1) The mess that is the war in Iraq 2) Aspartame, sucralose, and the entire diet industry 3) Socially acceptable addictions: careers, coffee, shopping, TV, etc. 4) No one, not even the Left, realizes that there is a Religious Left. 5) Muffin tops--why, people why? 6) Rampant consumerism-my own included-(a subset of 3)) 7) Not enough people are listening to what Al is saying. 8) Not enough people are doing anything about it. 9) Not enough people believe that what he's saying is true. 10) The prime directive of an overwhelming number of businesses has gone from providing goods, services, and/or civic functions to kowtowing to shareholders.
Things that make me whisper, "Allahu akbar": 1) Grace 2) Patrick's smile 3) The light in my children's eyes 4) The gloaming 5) Chocolate lace cake. Mrs. Leibowitz's chopped liver with gribenes. 6) A new book by an author I love 7) Cold water for drinking, hot water for bathing 8) Symphony No. 5 by Ralph Vaughan Williams 9) My garden 10) This poem. And this one.
Who knew there were so many blogging moms out there? Apparently the advertising world is clueing in; a friend of mine in sales forwarded me an article about the buying power of our particular demographic. Apparently we are a force with which to be reckoned.
Some of you may have popped over to Cranberry Corner to visit my pal Jenna. Since she compares herself to a cranberry, and she's more than a little nutty, I'm posting a recipe for a delicious dish that's currently baking in my oven.
I got the recipe from a lovely German lady in our congregation (of course, I've monkeyed with it). Elga called it a dessert when she gave me the little handwritten index card, but I know she must have been kidding, because, ummmm, see, Elga, it doesn't have any chocolate in it.
But it makes a fantastic breakfast item. It's a great thing to make for a Ladies-Who-Brunch event; maybe I'll make it again for Needlework Group next Monday. I'm betting you have all the ingredients in your house right now: a bag of cranberries and some pecans rattling around your freezer, left over from the holidays, for example. Why not give this a try?
Cranberry Pecan Upside-Down Tart 8 oz. frozen cranberries 1/4 cup chopped pecans 1/4 cup brown sugar 1 egg 1/2 cup white sugar 1/4 tsp. salt 1/2 cup flour 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie plate. Pour the frozen cranberries into the pie plate; sprinkle the brown sugar and the nuts evenly over them. Beat an egg in a small mixing bowl until it is uniformly yellow and thick. Add the white sugar and salt and blend. Stir in the flour and melted butter, mix well. Spread the batter over the cranberries with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve. Whipped cream is optional (not really). Delightful!
Which reminds me of The Upside-Down Show. Have you seen this program? It's brilliant. All five of my kids--the 13-year-old on down to the 2-year-old--and I are completely enthralled when it's on. It features two gloriously goofy Australian guys whose adventures are governed by the imaginary remote control they give to the audience at the beginning of each episode. It's very meta, and I never metafiction I didn't like.
I was clicking around the 5MfM Ultimate Blog Party yesterday when the big kids got home. Hope came into my office and asked what I was doing. When I told her, she asked, "Oooh, is it like a slumber party?" (How proud I was that she did not ask, "Oooh, is it, like, a slumber party?") Hope just turned eight, and for her, when it comes to parties, 'ultimate' always equals 'slumber.' Here she is with Tess at one of our at-home, family-only Slumber Parties. (It's all in the marketing, folks. And the curlers.)
My favorite party memory from childhood goes like this. It's Halloween, 1970, just four days shy of my fourth birthday. My mother is in the hospital with tiny new baby sister Angie, born just the day before. It's evening, and my dad comes to get my sister Stephanie (who has just turned two) and me from my mom's best friend's house. We go home and get into our pajamas. I remember that I had on a white flannel nightgown with pink rosebuds.
While Daddy is getting Steph dressed, the doorbell rings. For some reason, I answer it, and it's a bunch of trick-or-treaters, all at least three years older than I am; they are very tall. I call to my dad; he informs me we don't have any candy, but tells me to offer them each a doughnut.
I go get the box off the kitchen counter, open it, and hold it out to the kids, and they give me a look I've learned to recognize in the years since. It perfectly combines incomprehension and contempt in an open-mouthed sneer. Without a word, the trick-or-treaters turn as one and walk down the porch steps. I look down at the doughnuts and wonder why the kids didn't want them. They look fine to me.
I'm glad they don't take them, though, because then Daddy comes out carrying Steph, and the three of us go to the drive-in, watch 101 Dalmatians, and eat the doughnuts ourselves.
The black and white photo above is of Steph and me around that time. I wish it were in color so that you could fully appreciate the awesomeness that was my pink and green paisley coat. That coat was a party all by itself.
I am jumping up and down for joy! My tip-top-tier friend, Jenna, just started her own blog! 5MfM gals, please go give her a hearty welcome to the blogosphere. But make sure you come back and visit me, even though she's much smarter and wittier than I am. Prettier, too. Plus, she knows Latin. And if you heard her voice, you'd swear you were talking to Ashley Judd. It's uncanny.
Old friends and family, bear with me while I thoroughly enjoy myself at the 5 Minutes for Mom Blog Party. I've met some really neat people so far, and we have several days left to celebrate. Clearly, we need some more refreshments.
Chocolate Drop Dead Cookies (adapted (since I can't for the life of me leave a recipe alone) from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook) 2 1/4 cups flour 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. salt 2 2/3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature 1 cup sugar 2/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed 2 large eggs 3 tb. milk 1 tb. (yes, a whole tablespoon) vanilla 1 10-oz. bag semisweet chocolate chips
Combine the first four ingredients and set them aside. Cream the butter and sugars for 3 minutes on high speed in the mixer. Add the eggs and beat well. Add the milk and the vanilla. At low speed, gradually add the flour mixture and mix well. Add the chocolate chips. Drop the dough by spoonfuls on cookie sheets and bake for 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a minute, then transfer to racks.
Don't burn your tongue (like I did); take a walk outside or something to give them time to cool before you try them! They are very best with a glass of 'fresh milk from the farm,' as my kids like to say. If you try these, let me know what you think.
If you are dropping by from the 5 Minutes for Mom Blog Party, welcome! It's nice to meet you! With five lively kids and a crazy cat, Patrick and I feel like we live in a perpetual party. The photo above is from a couple of summers ago (we're bad about group pictures), but you get the general idea.
I'm a writer just coming back from several years of maternity leave. I had a YA novel, Shannon's Mirror, published when my oldest was a baby. Twelve years later, I feel like I have finally paid down the sleep debt enough to spare sufficient mental energy for writing. Look here at a couple of things I did in the meantime.)
I am working on two manuscripts at the moment: ZF-360, a modern fantasy novel, and The Holly Place, a ghost story of sorts. Knitting friends of mine have meters posted on their blogs showing the progress of their current projects; maybe I should find something like that for my books.
I'm celebrating the blog party by indulging the big boys and myself (the three littles are in bed, and P is driving home from the City) in one of our favorite treats: Sheer Bliss Pomegranate/Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Bars. Delish; why don't you pop down to your local grocery and see if they can order you some?
Please leave a comment so that I can return the visit. Enjoy!
It took us fourteen months, but we did it. This morning we finished reading The Old Testament in our family scripture study time. The kids all felt an enormous sense of accomplishment (letting out a slightly irreverent whoop), and Patrick and I were a bit misty as we read the last beautiful verses of poor, lonely Malachi together.
It works out nicely, too, with Hope getting baptized tomorrow to mark the transition between old and new. Monday morning we'll jump right into the Gospel of St. Matthew; Hope will get to read out of her bran new grown-up scriptures, and Tess will start with the edition of The New Testament everyone secretly envies: the one with pictures and maps on every page.
Daniel asks me every day whether his new sweater is done yet. I'm hoping to have it done by this weekend so that he can wear it to Hope's baptism. Spring is coming, but I've made the sweater large enough (I hope) that he'll be able to wear it in the fall as well.
Kristi Porter's Haiku pattern is really fun and easy; the only very slight pain has been keeping the panel of box stitch that runs along the top of the sleeve distinct from the surrounding garter--and that has everything to do with my attention and nothing to do with the design itself. When I went to get more yarn for Haiku, Penelope actually did have more of the dye lot of the blue Filatura di Crosa Primo, but by the time I got to Knittingsmith, I was wedded to the idea of finishing the sweater in a contrasting color. I love the English Mustard against the Royal Blue--very boyish.
Also featured above are the scrap hats I recently finished. It has been nice to have a couple of extra hats in the hall closet, for when someone's favorite has been left at school or gotten soaked in a snowball fight.
The one on the left is mostly Malabrigo, (leftover from the many Coronet hats I've made this winter), with some nameless purple wool from deep in the stash on top; the one on the right is the last of the Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran I bought when I made the Yoked Pullover from the Fall 2003 issue of Interweave Knits. Norah Gaughan used Lite Lopi in the published design, but the Cashmerino worked great, and I wear that sweater all the time.
Speaking of Interweave, they are launching something that looks fun...I've signed up, so we'll see what turns up in my email inbox in the spring.
Hope has such great taste. When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday dinner, she promptly responded, "Steak and homemade french fries." As you wish!
I'm going to tell you how to make french fries, but I'm warning you: once you've eaten them, fries from a restaurant (unless it's a really good French or Belgian bistro) will never again be worth your time.
I'll assume you have seven hungry people to feed, and that your family motto, like ours, is "Perkinses eat a lot." (Jenna, would you please translate that into Latin for me so that it sounds a bit more dignified?)
Get a five-pound bag of russet potatoes and a couple of quarts of peanut oil. There's really no good substitute for peanut oil when it comes to deep frying (except for tallow, and I'm guessing you don't have ready access to that). Peanut oil keeps well and has a high smoking point. We also use peanut oil for our traditional Sunday supper: buttered popcorn and chocolate milk (more on that another time).
Special equipment that makes this experience much more fun:
French Fry Cutter--Ours is Swiss, which means that it works well and is easy to use and clean. This one from the fabulous Amish company Lehman's looks just like ours, and it is listed as being imported, so it may well be from the same company.
Poele (There should be a circonflexe accent over the first 'e' in that word, but I don't know how to do European characters on Blogger.) and Basket--These are hard to find these days, even in Europe. Before I inherited this marvelous one (photos above) from my mother-in-law, we made do with a large wok (a little too shallow, but workable) and a fry basket I bought at a restaurant supply store.
Also needed: Potato peeler Large bowl half full of cold water Several clean dish towels Platter or shallow bowl lined with premium paper towels (Trust me: this is no time for the economy brand. The microwave kind works well.)
Peel the potatoes and drop them into the bowl of cold water. This keeps them from oxidizing and also helps de-starchify them a bit. Put a dish towel under the edge of the French fry cutter. Take the potatoes out of the water, one by one, dry them off, and run them through the cutter. When you've done about four potatoes, gather up the dish towel, set it aside, and put a new one under the cutter. These will be your fry batches. Five pounds of potatoes will be about three fry batches.
Important: Rub the cut fries with the edges of the dish towel they are in until they are as dry as possible.
Heat the oil over the highest-output burner you have on your stove. Check the temperature from time to time by sticking a raw French fry into the oil. You want tiny bubbles to appear when you do this; then you'll know the oil is ready. Load the first batch of fries into the basket and submerge it in the oil. Cook the fries until they are cooked through, but not yet colored (fish one out with a fork after a couple of minutes, let it cool a bit, and bite it to test). Lift the basket out of the oil, let the fries drain, then dump them onto the paper towel-lined platter. Place some more paper towels on top of these, ready for the next batch.
Repeat this process with the remaining batches; make sure you turn off the heat when you are done! The fries are now pre-cooked and can sit for quite a while as you prepare the rest of your meal. At this point, I made the salad and put the steaks on the grill. Once the steaks were cooked and resting, I continued with the fries as follows:
Reheat the oil. Fry each batch of potatoes again, this time letting them stay in their bath until they are golden and crispy-looking. Turn the heat off again. Put the fries back on the platter (no paper towels this time) and dust them with sea salt. Serve hot! And they will go fast.
About the steak: we buy grass-fed, organic beef by the side once a year and keep it in our large deep freezer. If you can do this, I highly recommend it. It's good to hook up with a farmer you can trust and to be able to look your beef (contentedly grazing in green pastures as beeves are meant to do) in the eye once in a while.
About the steak sauce: Last summer, Patrick had a hankering for Beurre Cafe de Paris, a condiment his Lausanne relatives prize. I found a recipe online and made a batch; it passed muster with Patrick's discerning Swiss mother, and it certainly is delicious. This recipe makes a huge amount. Either give some away or freeze whatever you won't immediately use. It helps to have a metric scale. And an herb garden. Or just come to my house, and I'll give you some.
Beurre Cafe (again with the accent problem) de Paris 1 kg unsalted butter 60 g ketchup 25 g Dijon mustard 25 g capers 125 g shallots 50 g fresh parsley 50 g fresh chives 5 g dried dill 5 g fresh thyme, leaves only 10 leaves fresh tarragon pinch ground rosemary 1 clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press 2 T anchovy paste 1 T brandy 1 T madeira 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce 1/2 tsp. curry powder pinch cayenne pepper ground white pepper juice of 1 lemon zest of 1/2 lemon 12 g sea salt
Mix all ingredients except for the butter in a glass bowl and leave to marinate for 24 hours in a warm part of the kitchen. Puree in the food processor; add the butter and process until well mixed. Chill for just a bit in the refrigerator, then form the butter into logs and freeze them. Cut off slices as you need them: cook your steak, then place a slice (or four) of the butter on the hot steak while it rests.
Hope was very happy with her dinner. And with her present: a weekend with Mom in NYC at the end of March! Sketching at museums, walks in the park, pedicures, eating (of course)--you'll hear all about it later in the month.