What’s cookin’ good lookin’

Posted on August 21, 2017

August is providing such an abundance of vegetables, more than I remember. Is it my bad memory? Goodness, my memory is tired these days — like the rest of me! No, it's more likely that we've been consistent in picking up our CSA shares from the farms we frequent. Farmers are generous people and they certainly have been taking care of us. And now that we have a new and chubby, giggly, very compelling reason to sit down to dinner together, I find myself cooking more than in previous seasons.

There's tomato sauce bubbling. I haven't been using our old Damn Fine Sauce recipe. I just chop up several big tomatoes with onion, garlic, bell pepper, and basil, let it cook for a half hour, then pulverize with the stick blender and cook another half hour. It's less finicky so I have more time free to keep an eye on a crawling baby.

Also, there are eggplants, cooked whole in the oven for an hour in their skins, then peeled. These are nice and soft for a certain young miss.

I got up some roasted beets too, which made their way into a jar for fridge pickles, which the baby also loves. Seth is the canner in our family, but there's no time this season for him, or for me to dive in and learn. Maybe if I had become proficient at it before the baby it wouldn't feel so daunting. I know the woman behind Food in Jars has no trouble whipping up small batches in the evenings so it's not impossible to do. But I've only got so much brainpower per day (I'm tired!), and knitting is a higher priority. I'll probably regret it this winter. But I'll regret it from within my warm, cozy sweater, so it's hard to feel remorseful here.

One notable absence from our fridge this summer is green beans. As I predicted, we're not getting the quantities I prefer in our shares. And this coming from a woman with no room in her freezer for them. I didn't end up putting in any seeds this year for them, so I will have to make an effort to get local green beans this year. With all my excitement for beans, you'd think I have some sort of toothsome recipe up my sleeve, but it's not the case. We just cook them in oil, or steam them and eat them with salt. Let's not go overboard here.

August is for herbs

Posted on August 18, 2017

Every morning for the last week, I've woken up and thought to myself, how much will I be able to knit today? I hope it's a lot. But August has other plans of the green variety, I guess! Because when I look back at what I've done, there's been a lot more herb gathering than yarn squeezing.

The garden is giving me loads of spilanthes, aka toothache plant. I wasn't sure what to do with it at first, until I learned that it makes for a quick fix for teething babies. Let them chew on a bud for 30 seconds or so without swallowing. Presto! Numb gums with reduced pain afterwards. And let me tell you, that has saved my bacon multiple times this week.

I've got herbs hanging from the ceiling to dry for medicine at a later date: anise hyssop, goldenrod, motherwort, and holy basil. And there's a jar of blue vervain infusing in vinegar on my counter. I made another batch of flower essences too. I'm also pretty sure there's some calendula drying somewhere. I keep picking the blossoms anyway.

August is surely the herbal month. There is so much more to harvest from the garden before it goes for the season. And despite the heat, I can feel the season turning. It's in the cooler nights, the mornings we have to put a hoodie over the baby's onesie. The ripening corn and tomatoes (oh goodness, the tomatoes!). And yes, in the knitting too.

It’s in the cards

Posted on August 11, 2017

This is such a little craft that it feels almost too small to post. But I figured let's share it and bring some magic into your life as well as mine. This beautiful bit of wood is a card holder for my daily herbal oracle draw. Every day, I pick a card from the deck at random to meditate on, and use this holder to display the card.

The wood itself is a piece of cherry gifted to us from a friend with a lot of scraps from his wood shop. We were planning to use them to feed our wood stove, but some were big enough for small projects. Seth cut this one to my specifications, and I sealed and painted the ends gold, and then finished the whole thing with a beeswax-grapeseed oil mixture.

The cards are the Druid Plant Oracle, which I purchased a few years ago, and which I adore! They have some herb lore in their booklet, and it's fun to interact with my herbs in another way.

We have enough wood that I can make two dozen card displays or more. I was originally thinking of selling them. It's still not off the table, and now that I see how nice the finish looks I kind of want to dive in and make more. But I have yet to figure out how to use power tools safely without another person around to watch Addie. So this is the one holder I've got for now. For now. I can see them in oak, walnut, and maple too. Just beautiful. I love beautiful things.

Happy anniversary, Lily!

Posted on August 7, 2017

Not long after we got married, Seth found Lily on Petfinder and sent me her picture. He sent it six times that day. "How about this one?" He kept saying, showing me that same photo over and over. Any self-respecting dog lover couldn't resist.

Lily, the laziest, hard working dog there is. Sometimes she loves accompanying me to the farm. Sometimes it's a battle of wills to get her in the car. We've been through a lot as the three musketeers: moves, mold, career changes, cancer, the tiny house, and now the baby.

We're not the type to celebrate dog birthdays, but I did want to give a shout out to the sweetest dog on the block, eight years almost to the day we brought her home. She has matured into a lovable beast, smart as a whip, with eyes that seem human. Especially when she gives the baby side-eye! Lily runs to the baby now when she starts crying so she can lick her face, and will allow Addie to mess with her back legs and paws, but not her front. She seems resigned to sharing us with this puppy-like human.

Eight is a lot in dog years for a dog her size. And yet I can't start thinking about her leaving us, not yet. It hasn't been enough time together. But I feel pretty confident in her staying with us a while longer. After all, the oldest dog who lived was an Australian Cattle Dog, and he achieved the age of almost 30.

Do you hear that, Lily-bil? We have another 22 years before us. Party on, my sweet puppy girl.

Plant-dyed yarn

Posted on August 3, 2017

It started with an impulse purchase of some beautiful Cestari yarn one day at my local yarn store. I needed a few more dollars to get my total up to the minimum for a credit card purchase (oh darn, what a travesty!), and I spotted a few skeins of Cestari worsted yarn. I knew the Cestari story from some article I read months ago. Was it in Knitter's Review? Woolful? Ravelry? Well, I don't remember, but it seems that the universe was giving me a nudge. Here's this yarn you've been itching to try. Who am I to resist?

Of the three colorways the store carried, I picked the undyed cream yarn with vague thoughts of dyeing it in the future, a sort of "maybe someday I'll try dyeing with plants," dream. I think I even said that to the store clerk. I had no plans, no idea of casting on with it until I finished the two adult-sized sweaters in my queue. But all that changed when I held the yarn up to my nose, inhaled deep… and got a noseful of mildewy basement.

Something must have gone awry in the chain of processing to store, because normally a farm yarn smells pleasantly sheepy. Not these skeins. They were basement all the way, and my sensitive schnoz told me to wash wash wash before use.

And since they'd be immersed in water anyway…

…I used carrot tops to dye the yarns from cream to a buttery yellow. It's a subtle shift. Maybe they would have turned out more vibrant if I had left them in the dyebath longer than overnight, or gotten the temperature up past 190 degrees. Maybe I should have used more than a pound of tops for 7 oz. of yarn. Maybe our water has too many minerals in it. I don't know! The internet tells me that plant dyeing yarn is imprecise, so it could be my beginner's skills or it could be some factor that is beyond my control.

Even though the color isn't as vibrant as I'd hoped, you can be sure this yarn isn't going to sit around unused. It's cushy and lanolin-y and promises to knit up like a dream. I've never met a yarn that brings back so precisely those early knitting feelings of realizing that I could make beautiful things, and I haven't even gotten it on the needles yet. But I am making plans. Mittens? With a pretty stitch detail? For me? Why yes, of course!

Garden update, end of July

Posted on July 31, 2017

The garden doubled in size last week, seemingly overnight. Seedlings that were mid-calf are now almost waist high, and the toothache plants are creeping over the garden path. The earth sure works her magic, given a bit of sun and rain. It still feels like a miracle every year I watch it happen. This is my fourth year — will it ever get old? Probably not! Not if I'm anything like my Memere (and let's face it, I've definitely got some of her qualities).

There are a mix of things in this little garden of mine. Some are for tea, like the purply anise hyssop in the second photo down, and the catnip that's going gangbusters. Some are for essences, like the yarrow in the fifth photo. There are the ever present calendulas, which are growing from the last of my stock of Apricot Surprise seeds from years past and which I had given up hope of ever sprouting at home. They are my favorites! Then there are the plants like marshmallow (third photo), clary sage, and echinacea which probably won't be ready until next year. I have kitchen herbs with thyme and rosemary and oregano tucked wherever I had a spare bit of ground. And because I can't stop tinkering, I put some bee balm seedlings in today where a few calendula seeds had failed to thrive. It's a bit late for planting, but bee balm is in the mint family and I'm hoping its good genes will kick in and give the plants solid footing before winter.

It must be time to harvest some of these herbs. The blue vervain, maybe? The holy basil and catnip and hyssop for sure. And what do you do with oodles of toothache plant flowers? I sprung them on my mom the other day when she visited and we enjoyed numb tongues and cheeks for about ten minutes (by enjoyed, I mean we ran around with our tongues out, drooling and wishing desperately for water). They might go well in a version of fire cider. I know they have antibacterial properties. The horseradish might disguise the tingling. Hm….

What do you do with all of your garden bounty? Where do you store it? Do you share with friends?

A list of half-finished things

Posted on July 27, 2017

A sewing pattern and fabric cut and waiting.

A pot of soaked yarn to be dyed at some point.

A wooden card holder in need of finish.

Another sweater in the works.

A tiny house.

It's such a process. A messy, beautiful, ongoing process in the bits and pieces of free time we share. A few stitches here, a few boards there. Some frustration, a lot of enjoyment. And really, that list of half-finished things should include me and Seth, and the baby too. In Addie's case, her learning is exponential. Eating! Crawling (well, trying)! But Seth and I are pricking our ears forward as well, like the dog on the scent of something particularly good. Before I mix metaphors, I'll just say we've got a lot going on in our work basket. And if all my to do lists included pretty pictures, I would be a happy camper.

Rainy day at home

Posted on July 24, 2017

It's raining again today, another wet day in a wet summer. Addie and I were at the farm earlier, walking through the chill damp to get the babies to sleep, and although we were well wrapped I was still wet from the knees down at the end of the morning.

The unseasonable rain throws it into relief; I am grateful for this good roof over our heads. The roof was one of the last bits of work Seth and I built together last year before I fell pregnant and we curtailed my workload. But I am still in awe of this shelter we created. How much I used to take for granted! I never thought about what goes into a roof until we built one and it was watertight.

We met up with an architect recently. a friend of a friend (hi Richard!), who wanted to chat tiny houses. He assuaged some of my concerns about our roof. Because although it doesn't leak, we do have condensation on hot days that drips occasionally from our strong ties. We talked about insulation and whether or not to fill the roof joist cavities or to leave an air gap (we filled ours completely). My research points in either direction, and he laughed and said the same, that it's a contentious issue with some architects. He thinks our bathroom fan will probably alleviate the problem once it's installed. That is indeed some good news.

This was in my head today as I was thinking about the roof that doesn't leak. Drips but not leaks. Addie and I watched the rain come down through the window and we let the dog out and then in. We have some more work to do on the house, I guess. There will always be work as part of home-ownership. But in the meantime, there is the sweet sound of droplets marching as they meet our metal roof, reminding me of where we started and how far we've come.

Baby baby baby

Posted on July 20, 2017

Sewing baby things is satisfying. I can go from fabric pile to finished dress in about two hours, including time for ripping out mistakes (twice! Ok, it was three times).  I whipped up this little dress this morning out of a roll of fabric I found at a rummage sale, clearly left over from the 80s. It looks like toweling, but it’s a nice, sheer weave that feels like a poly/cotton. 

I used the same basic pattern as the last dress: four rectangles sewn together into a gathered skirt, folded bodice, and straps. For this one I added cloth tape, in part to increase the size of the bodice, in part to provide reinforcement to the front snaps. I didn’t bother ironing it before I popped it on the baby. Because it’s hot! And wearing homemades shouldn’t have to wait. 

This one is too big, so we’ll get plenty of wear out of it this summer. And now I think I’m ready for another dress pattern with more variety. I have an Oliver + S pattern that I’ve been wanting to try out, I just haven’t had the energy or the space to trace the pattern (so I can make it in different sizes) and cut it out. So this dress will suffice for now. 

A new baby changing mat appeared too while I had the sewing machine out, this one from a Joann’s Fabric remnant with an old towel doubled up for stuffing. Looks like my tastes run to bright colors.  I can’t say I mind, it just leaves me a little concerned for the future of our tiny house, where I’m sure there will be rainbows every which way we look. Color everywhere! 

CSA pickup

Posted on July 13, 2017

The last few weeks have been quieter than usual, with migraines keeping me in bed a bit more than normal. Then the migraine-free days come, and when they coincide with comfortable weather it makes for one happy family.

Like today. It was a CSA share pickup day at one of Seth’s farms. We like to make an outing of it, so even though Seth could have gotten the share himself after work, Addie and I stopped in for lunch with him and some time on the farm. 

Blueberries are in season now, which we picked together in the cool mist. Green beans too, although the first tomatoes are still just around the corner. There are lots of greens thanks to all this rain of course. I like to play with these fresh vegetables. With so many coming in from our different farms, we have a lot of options, and Seth and I tell each other at night over a big salad or crisp zucchini or tangy fridge pickles, “good ingredients make for good food.” Simple meals, cooked and eaten with minimal fanfare and happy bellies. Yes please.