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Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Sunday Stroll As November Wanes

In fact, some of these photos were taken on Saturday because I've been wandering the forest and fields both days. Yesterday the skies began to cloud over and there was just enough nip in the air to warrant a sweater. It's been an unusually mild autumn and I've barely worn a coat at all. We've let the fire go out at night because the temperatures just haven't justified banking the stove. Of course, this has had no effect on the sun's angle to this particular cozy nook of planet earth so leaves have fallen as well as rain. Tides are backing up into the forests as you can see in this photo, and the berries on the holly trees are fat and red and Christmassy. 

The walk along the newest path - we call it the Rim Path is packed with history - for this land has been occupied by English speakers since at least the 1680's. This artifact has the distinct look of a 19th century dutch oven. There is another bit of one half eaten and half buried a little further down the path from this forked perch. I still have one of my own somewhere around here - the one I learned to bake bread in over a campfire these 36 years ago.

More than 20 years ago my archaeologist brother in law visited and excavated the old house site - bits of crockery and pipe stems came out of that hole, along with corroded buckles and other metallic bits, just to the north east of where the present tenant house wreck stands. It's the highest point on the property and it's close to a natural spring so it's the logical place for a house. We are not always logical. TheCastle is much closer to the point, where we can watch the eagles soar out over the water as they forage for a meal.
 This is the old corn crib, tucked into a corner of the property. Once BD thought he'd use it as a wood working shop but it's empty now. We used to hide Christmas presents there when LD was a little boy and we were still living in the Yurt.

 The damage from Hurricane Irene was the worst we've suffered - surpassing Isabelle by about an acre of trees. This chock pretty much did in the old chain saw - or if it didn't the next one did, because we last week had to get a new chain saw. This is a double poplar cut - It looks like an owl's face, doesn't it?

Just to give you an idea of how big the root balls of these trees are - here's a bit of scale. Imagine this tree times 30 - because that's what ThePrince has had to cut away to open up our paths again.

 Back out on the fields the sky has a wintery look even if the temperatures are in the balmy high 60's. Yes. That is a bald eagle - most likely one of the pair that used to live in the back yard. As I said - they moved south and east but they still come back to hunt and perch and call outside the window. Birds don't live in nests the way people live in houses. They only use them when they have chicks. Eagles don't kick food remains out of their nests because they don't want possums or coons or other climbing predators to nose around the base of their nursery trees. But that means there are some pretty scurvy remains that lie in the nests with their infants. To keep their babies free of parasites they pile new sticks on top of the old garbage but eventually they have to move to new trees and start fresh. I don't take it personally that mine moved away - I just miss them and love it when I see them soaring over our property, catching the thermals and rising in giant swooping circles.

Today has been very breezy and the skies have filled with mares' tales and dragons' eyes. Even if the weather is warm, we know there are cold days up ahead.

One of the best things about a walk in the country is bumping into neighbors, also out enjoying the end of autumn. Catching up on news, petting dogs, swapping stories - these are the things that add richness to our lives. What more could you ask for on the last day of a food filled, friend flocked Thanksgiving holiday.  And tomorrow? It's back to werk for TheQueen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Thoughts and Christmas Knitting

I'm a little more than halfway through the food and family extravaganza that is a Thanksgiving holiday and in some ways what's up ahead is the nicest part. Only in some ways, of course, because what can top a room full of beloved friends and family lifting glasses of wine in a toast of thankfulness. Thankful for each other, thankful for the bountiful table, thankful for safe journeys over the river and through the woods to TheCastle - even thankful for the warm sunny day with bright clear skies so that we could take an after dinner stroll in the gathering glow of evening.

I did get out the camera to record this year's festivities, but while we were gathered and lively and energetic I forgot to take any photos, though there is photographic evidence of preparations

and recovery.

Friday followed a pattern set in place 5 or 6 years ago when my parents grew too old to make the trip to my house. LD and I drove into the city and spent a lovely hour with Mama, looking at old family photographs. This year had a bitter sweetness to it because Daddy is gone and Mama is more faded each time I visit. It left me feeling a little disconcerted too, because the timing was off. The Friday visit used to take all day but Mama is good for only about an hour's visit and we were home well before dark.  Even BD was alive to the poignancy of this shifting of the generations and needed a hug when I got back. Before long we will be too old to host the feast and young things will stop by on the Friday after to let us know we are still loved.

I'm about as far from a Black Friday type of person as it's possible to get, but I do start my Christmas preparations during this long weekend. I put away knitting for TheQueen and pick up Christmas Socks. I also start working on my Christmas cards and this year there is another sadness to deal with. I've been drawing my own Christmas cards for a few years - a cartoon of ThePrince and me, our 3 dogs and Mr. & Mrs. Bald Eagle celebrating. But last spring the eagles moved south over the property line to a fresh new empty pine tree and in the early summer our Priss died. I just don't have the heart to draw such a truncated family this year.

So on the way out of the city LD and I stopped at Barnes & Nobel and bought Christmas cards and perused the magazine rack. I was a little puzzled to find no XRX publications at all - neither fall nor winter Knitters issue was in the racks and alas - there were half a dozen other knitting magazines in tight plastic envelopes. A number of them are European so I understand why they ship in sealed bags but why the stores don't open up the bags to display them is beyond me. Who buys a knitting magazine without looking through it first? If I trusted the publishers and editors that much I'd subscribe! And while I loved the colors in the Norwegian sweater on the cover of Verena ... I already have everything I need to knit or even design one. The issue of Interweave Knits was just not quite interesting enough for me to purchase but as I thumbed through it I found an ad for one of their specialty magazines that did tempt.

Wisely, the folks at Interweave put photos of a few of the designs in the advertisement and the red long sleeved cardigan with puffs at the shoulder captured my attention and stimulated that familiar knitlust of curiosity. It's sold out. They're sending back-orders as soon as they receive them. I will count mine as an early Christmas present to me.

And so - I have before me two glorious days with virtually no chores. Oh - I'll fix meals for menfolk. I may even run a load of laundry (which, shhhh. Don't tell anybody. I consider a pleasure, not a chore. It's just that - what the guys don't know won't hurt them.) But basically I get to play with my toys all day and that's what makes the latter half of the Thanksgiving holiday such glorious fun!

Happy Play With Your Toys Day to you all!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Cake Quest

For several weeks now I have been hankering for a piece of the perfect Coconut Cake. Only problem is - it's not a cake I ever tasted before. Most coconut cakes are really butter cakes with white frosting and coconut sprinkled on top. I'm looking for something different. I wanted it to have a powerful coconut taste. I wanted a texture something like carrot cake only ... not carrot flavored or spice flavored - just coconut flavored. A second problem is ... I don't want a whole cake in my house. And since this is a cake quest - it might mean I need to bake several cakes!  Well.  I need several cakes in my house even less!!

The solution to the latter problem was easy because I knew my Cousin F was coming for a weekend visit and she likes to cook and she has 3 siblings - two of them teenagers. We could bake anything and send half of it home with her. 

The second problem was trickier. I'm an adequate baker but I don't really bake that much any more and I don't have that constant familiarity with a process needed to get creative with it. I'm more of the Over-the-river-and-through-the-woods sort of cook - basic country style home cooking - not the the Rose Levy Beranbaum sort - though now I've tracked down her blog there might be some baking adventures up ahead.

Challenged I might be but daunted I was not. Last year I stumbled upon America's Test Kitchen and their stunning magazines, website and television show, archived on DVD and available from Netflix. While I consider myself a good cook, with a few specialties all my very own, I really am not a foodie and I seldom use recipes. Like my knitting, if it doesn't grow organically out of what I have at hand combined with what I know in my head, I probably wont bother to cook it. I will use recipes to learn ethnic cooking, or to explore a foreign (to me) food like quinua but that's about the limit. Or rather - was. Because after experimenting with a few of the ATK recipes - the basic ones for stuff like pot roast and hamburgers - I know that sometimes it's good to consult some experts. I swear - their pot roast recipe is so good I want to dive into the pot and live there - and the beef stroganoff? - a dish I consider a throw-away 30 minute meal you cook on those days when you're too tired to cook? - well - Lord make me that tired every night of my life! 

I figured their recipe database would be where I began my Coconut Cake Quest and I figured right. You have to register to get it - but it's the freebie registration. And although they state up front it's based on their basic butter cake recipe - I could tell at a glance that the addition of both coconut extract and cream of coconut (you know the stuff you make pina coladas with) would guarantee a powerful coconut flavor. Since I have had such success with their previous recipes I decided to give it a go. 

The butter cake recipe was easy to stir up and didn't require anything too unusual beyond the cream of coconut. It has lots of egg whites in it - which give a lovely fine crumb texture. It's actually a recipe I'd be happy to bake again and cover with chocolate frosting to make what BD, and just about every other southern man, calls a "Chocolate Cake". While the cake cooled we toasted the coconut, 2 cups for the cake and a little more just because toasted coconut tastes soooo good.

The cake called for buttercream frosting which I had always thought was made with a little butter, a little milk, some flavorings and a lot of powdered sugar. This buttercream frosting is more of a 7-minute frosting - a cake topping I've never succeeded in producing till now. It's made with a cup of sugar, 4 egg whites and a pinch of salt beat over a pan of barely simmering water till it reaches 120 degrees. You then whip it till it cools down to 80 degrees and dump in 1/2 a cup of cream of coconut, 1 tsp of coconut extract and 1 tsp of vanilla. Then you beat in (I kid you not) 1 lb of unsalted butter cut into chunks! 

In my whole life the idea of using 1 lb of butter in anything has never once popped up to the surface of my mind. Even when making mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner I don't use more than a stick of butter and I feel pretty guilty at that. All I could think of was that I was beating up a bowl full of heart attacks. Still and all - I was determined to follow their recipe exactly. It's probably the only time I will ever make this frosting and I wanted to see just how it worked out. The sugar and egg whites took all of 8 minutes to cool down to 80 degrees and when they did they had only thickened the slightest bit. Adding the flavorings actually made it a tad bit soupier. The butter had been cut into 24 chunks and as I held the beater Cousin F dropped the chunks in one by one. At first it continued to look gloppy but by the time we were on the third stick of butter it began to look like frosting and after all 4 sticks had been incorporated we had the creamiest lightest sweet-but not too sweet paste I've ever made.

The cake assembly involved slicing the two cake layers lengthwise in order to get 4 layers and as you can see below - my cake slicing skills are only average. In fact, my ancient aluminum cake pans and aging gas oven ensured that the layers would be slightly uneven. That was not so important to me. I don't keep my house like the magazines - why would I expect my baking to look like them either. Besides, this cake was a joint effort. And the taste? Well. Yum! Never. Never have I tasted such pure vivid coconutty taste! There is an after taste too - that lingers on your tongue when you set your fork down. The frosting was very light - in spite of the full pound of butter that went into it. The toasted coconut added a fragrance that tickled my nose. It was a simply divine coconut cake.


Mind now - it wasn't what I had been aiming for - that moister, heavier carrot cake texture - but I think I can do that next time. My creativity has been sparked. Next time I'll bake a denser textured cake flavored with the cream of coconut and frost it with a saltier, less butter-packed powdered sugar frosting - perhaps even something with coconut and cream cheese ...

But for now - I have satisfied my Coconut Cake Quest - and that is a good way to begin Thanksgiving week. Bon Appetit!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Last Friday before the Frenzy

Now and then during the year, when I'm working the front desk at the library - I like to tease people as I'm stamping their books (yes - we still do that) by saying "Only _x__ more days till Christmas". Usually the victim of my teasing groans - too bad - because I think the holiday season is a lot of fun.  Circulation Desk staff are always looking at a date that's 3 weeks ahead and, at least in my case, it makes me more intensely aware of time passing. A month has just begun and already I'm looking at the next month.

Still - there comes a time when holiday seasons really are nigh and that time is right now! It's the Friday before Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I'll do my annual turkey shopping - buying the basic ingredients for the feast. There will be added fun shopping because our last farmer's market of 2011 will be held in the morning. I'll have my little Cousin F visiting and we'll hit both the grocery store and the market together. In addition to the Thursday Feast Cooking, we're going to bake a coconut cake. I've had a hankering for one for about a month - a cake I've never actually tasted - one where both the cake and the frosting taste like coconut - not just a yellow cake that has coconut sprinkled on it. Something more like a carrot cake in texture but lighter than that. It's just something I think ought to be and we're going to see if we can make it happen.

We're also going to do a special arts'n'crafts project I have in mind that shall be revealed later.

I'm facing aNother deadline - the annual statistical report due to the state library. This is an 8 hour project but one has to not only have 8 solid hours to devote to it but must then force oneself to stick to those 8 hours 'till it's done. This year has been particularly difficult for me because I think there are errors in it. We can see last year's entries as we're putting in this year's and I am seeing things I can't imagine I ever entered last year. Like - we don't have any downloadable audio books and never have. Why should it say we have 1,400 of 'em?

Well - whatever the answer to that mystery question, by golly it gets sent in today period. I want that off my plate before next week.

I've set Bricca aside this week - I shall pick her up again on Sunday or maybe Wednesday - when I have a day off. A blessed day carved out of time that the county supervisors are giving us (thank you very much) and which I shall spend doing last minute tidying up, baking a pie, and knitting. Both sleeves are done - a little more body knitting to do before I join them. Photos in about a week.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I'm Alive and there Is Knitting

It's just that I'm also frantically getting read for holidays. Getting the house ready, that is.  I have a post I'm working on but there never seems to be time to actually write it - and there is sample knitting and there are experiments and the second sleeve of Bricca is done.

When I get a handle on the housework, I'll be back with things to share.

So tell me, why did Blogger suddenly change the shape of my text box? or is it bad electricity? 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

If I ran a yarn shop

I'd call it the Prime Ribbed Sweater!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eye Candy

I think of magazines as eye candy. After all - they're colorful, frequently fluffy, lots of color calories with not too much substance, and, of course, nearly always for sale at the check-out counter. I'll admit - I buy a lot more magazines than candy - in fact you might say I buy magazines in lieu of candy. I'll even walk the long way around a grocery store or our local Walmart just to be sure I go past the 'other' magazine rack, to see what's new. It's the first place I look when I go into a big box book store. Yup. I may not eat desert first, but I sure do check out the glossies.

My expectations from magazines are not much more than my expectations from candy. I'm not counting on a lot of nutrition from them, but if there are one or two good articles - or in the case of knitting magazines, good patterns inside - I'll buy. This is the image that tipped the scales for me yesterday as I flipped through the Vogue Knitting Holiday 2011 issue. YUM. This is an absolute dream of a hat. The construction is very different from ordinary hat construction, too. And no surprise about the designer - it's Deborah Newton! Ha! Just looking at it in my own blog makes my fingers twitch. There will be a helmet hat in my future.

Since this was the third thing I really liked, even if two of them were 'just' accessories, I stopped perusing it and tossed it in my cart. What also floated my boat were these mitts:

and this sweater: 

That cabled rib makes my mouth water faster than chocolate would. Yum. In fact - it might just show up on my oatmeal tweed Aran - that's just waiting up ahead.

I liked a couple of other patterns as well - even the far more outre hat, again by D Newton, and on the same page. It's too funky for me to wear but it's cool to look at. And the plane jane sweater in burgundy red with intarsia flowers on it. I wouldn't have bought the magazine for those patterns and I would have been the poorer too, because once I got it home there was something I was really delighted to find. Check this out!

Stitch Heaven Salutes Barbara G. Walker DVD from TriCoast Worldwide on Vimeo.

Yeah! I'd never even heard of Stichheaven but I am enough of a Knit Star Groupie to want a copy of this. Hmm. Just the right price, too, for somebody to give me for Christmas.

Yep. This was some eye candy worth the calories, I'd say.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Normal Time and 1 Progress Photo

I absolutely love it when daylight savings time goes away. I can't understand why anybody wants to tinker with time anyway. If noon is when the sun is directly overhead - for goodness sake! what sort of hubris-like overload is going on when we say it's an hour later?

Of course -  TheQueen considers sleeping a recreational activity and that being up at dawn is the Right Thing To Do - a personality type that is at war with DST. The party-all-nighters probably think I'm crazy, but We Morning People know we're superior.

Why yes. I did marry a night owl... why do you ask? We met on the stairs, of course.

So please know I'm teasing about this - I will accept that the world needs both kinds.... (mutter mutter mutter).

The weekend was beautiful - a pretty sunshiny Saturday and a Sunday that grew into its name. Since ThePrince and I have never been to the Urbana Oyster Festival we thought this would be the year to go. I had forgotten why I had never been tempted before till we got to the parking space - where they were charging $20 to park. Then I remembered. Of course I understand why it costs so much to park. I completely agree with what the UOF committee is trying to do. I wish them every success in their fundraising efforts. I completely understand why they need to ferry folk in and out of that tiny little town. I understand what that costs. I just didn't want to spend that kind of money. I know for sure that each oyster would cost about $1 and when it comes to eating oysters ... I like my own oyster cooking just fine and for $25 I can buy a quart of good ones. So that's what we did - drove home, stopped at TBonz and Tuna - and we had Oyster Pie and home fried oysters for Saturday night dinner.

Me - when I could eat 2 pans of biscuits
It's been a looooooong time since I've cooked anything with a biscuit crust - or cooked any biscuits at all,  for that matter. Time was I would bake a pan of biscuits for dinner - eat them all - and then bake another pan for dinner. Really fine biscuits are a taste from heaven - wheaty, fluffy, with a steamy rich smell. They don't even need to be buttered. Of course - real biscuits can only be made with lard - which, for geezers with heart issues - is what? the Sweat of Satan. But for flavor - only the real stuff will do. And with Thanksgiving on the horizon and pumpkin pies waiting up ahead I'd bought some lard the last time I was at the grocery store ... because Everyone knows you can't make decent pie crust without lard ... except if you're making puff pastry, which calls for butter, so ... what's the difference? Both of them are sure artery cloggers. Eh. It's just once a year.

Yup. It was as good as I remembered. Sigh.

The rest of the weekend was spent pretty much puttering around. And trekking through the woods with BD He's been working hard clearing paths and trying to get the big trees cut into firewood before the farmer needs to harvest beans or put in wheat. It's a scramble because the ground has been too wet to drive the truck up to those trees. But we've got a heap big pile of firewood for the winter.

I did get in some knitting - though somehow I managed to let 6 stitches slide off the needle right where the only complicated cable cross is on this pattern and had to rip out 2 inches of sleeve... but here is a shot of what I've done so far on Bricca. Perhaps you can imagine the missing bits. I'll plug away on that second sleeve (13 inches of stockinette) and try to reach the underarm joins by the end of next weekend. It's a 3-Day one happily - there may be some extra knitting time.

Otherwise - it's almost 8 - time to get ready for work. Happy Monday.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Winging it in the dark

Friday, Nov 4th, 2011 -- A business partnership or friendship can seem a bit weird today if one of you suddenly refuses to play by the regular rules. If someone unexpectedly cancels a social engagement, try not to make a really big deal of it. Rolling with unexpected changes can turn disappointment into enthusiasm. Remain flexible and you might be happily surprised with the outcome

That's in my stars today - which makes me slightly nervous. We're trying to set up eBooks in our library - note, I don't say we're trying to buy eBooks for the library. One doesn't just buy them. One has to Set Them Up and that means lots of opportunities for technology to trip you. I know small bits of techie stuff, but XML HTTP code writing isn't part of my knowledge base. Today is the deadline for making our library card barcodes talk nicely with the Overdrive servers and I haven't succeeded yet. bleh.

I don't usually wish Fridays were Thursdays but now and then I do - like today for instance. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Sleeve Done!

Just a quickie post about Bricca. I am on sleeve 2. What does it look like? Like sleeve one, of course. I will knit as fast as I can so that maybe there will be something worth photographing by the end of the weekend.

And now - I'm off to do my A.M. Yoga.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

And Then There Is Knitting

 After all - TheCastle is a knitting house. It's just that - there's not much to see yet - most of the first sleeve, perhaps 4 inches more. I did switch to stockinette on the body after 5 repeats of the entire pattern but it was a difficult decision to make. If I am not entirely happy with the switch ... and I have tried the body on and I'm still undecided - I can always rip it back and knit the whole body in the arcade design. There is enough yarn. But I need to see it hanging from shoulders first and the only way to do that is to knit away.

Here's a closeup of the cuff - which I think is pretty upside down, though, it no longer looks like cathedral arches. Nothing for it now except for More Knitting. Hmmm. There's a little time - I believe I can get in a few stitches right now.