Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Big doings

Under cover of darkness, we have just combined our two chicken houses. The birds will have all night to get used to each other's presence before they are actually able to see each other. And when the sun rises, I'll be there to make sure no one gets injured in the pecking-order-sorting-out process.

All of the roosters tried to "spur" me, but the only injury I sustained was when I whacked my head on a shelf in one of the houses. (For the record: Ow.) Some of the birds screamed their little lungs out while we were moving them. It sounded as though we were torturing someone. I halfway expected a police cruiser to pull up in the driveway!

So why all the animal-shuffling? Well, Chicken House #2 is plenty large enough to accommodate all our chickens, and it has two big outdoor yards that they can run in. We don't want to grow our chicken operation any more; I like knowing all the chix individually. So we are converting Chicken House #1 to a garden shed, and we're plowing the outdoor yards of Chicken House #1 and making them part of the garden.

Speaking of the garden, the s.o. and I spent a while today preparing some beds. Peas and fava beans will go in this week!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Warm fuzzy feeling

One of the coolest things about having gotten married at arguably the most famous wedding chapel on earth is that you can be watching a CSI rerun on a Sunday night and suddenly get to see the site of your wedding. That's what just happened to me, and it brought a big smile to my face.

I've seen it on HGTV before, too!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

January is not completely lame

Around here, there's one thing that keeps January from being completely devoid of outdoorsy fun, and that's the fact that it's tree-planting season. Yesterday we received our annual order from Trees of Antiquity, and we wasted no time getting the saplings into the ground. Here's what we got:

• 2 Dorsett Golden apples (a breed from the Bahamas, with practically no chill requirement)

• 1 Suntan apple (a gorgeous cross of Cox's Orange Pippin)

• 2 Siberian crabapples

• 1 Seckel pear (to replace one that died in the drought)

We've also got three Mirabelle plum trees on order, but since they're coming from New York state, they won't be shipped until March 1. That's pushing it for us, but we had no choice...and we really wanted those plums.

For those who haven't been keeping track, we already have:

• 2 Montmorency cherries

• 2 Smyrna quinces

• 1 Bramley apple

• 1 Calville Blanc apple

• 1 White Pearmain apple

• 1 Winesap apple

• 1 Arkansas Black apple

• 1 Monark apple

• 1 Whitney crabapple

• 1 Seckel pear

• 1 Greengage plum

• 1 Damson plum

We may add even more fruit trees over the next month or so. The oldest trees in our orchard are only three years old at this point, and because of the horrible late frost last year, we've only ever gotten two pieces of fruit: one quince, and one Arkansas Black apple. But that was enough to get our juices flowing. One day we hope the orchard will reward us with plenty.

Does anyone have experience with peaches? We've avoided growing them so far, because we've been told they're difficult to grow without pesticides and fungicides. But maybe there are resistant varieties that could be grown more or less organically...?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jenny was here

Our beloved Stew visited us over the holiday weekend. What a blast--it's just a ton of fun to have our friend come to see us. Not to mention that our dogs are over the moon when their "Aunt Jenny" comes to see them.

We kept a low profile overall--no visits to Athens, and in fact no excursions whatsoever except to the grocery store. We had a grand dinner with L2 and her houseguests (two delicious vegetable dishes made by one of the aforementioned houseguests, plus leg of lamb, pitas and tzatsiki, sangria, and crabapple pie) and laughed and talked.

Jenny taught me some crocheting and I taught her some knitting. And astonishingly, she crocheted this gorgeous, cozy scarf for me in a mere hour and a half...

...which makes me wonder if there might not be something to this hookifying business after all. ;-) Seriously, crochet seems a lot more versatile than I had previously understood. It's not as intuitive for me as knitting is, but I can definitely see myself working up the occasional crocheted piece.

Jenny birdwatched a bit, although the weather was less than cooperative, so most of it was done through the kitchen window. This is truly a paradise of chipping sparrows.

After Jenny had to leave (snif!), the s.o. and I watched American Idol (hooray! new season!) and I finished knitting a blaze orange hat I've been making for him.

Even when it's not hunting season around here, it's never 100 percent safe to walk in the woods without a touch o' the orange, so I've taken it upon myself to provide day-glo garments for all of us, human and canine. The s.o.'s hat is a huge success; it fits him perfectly and is already much loved. Next comes a dog sweater.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A finished object!

I've been knitting a lot. A lot a lot. But unfortunately, one of my projects appears to be cursed. I bought some periwinkle-colored Cascade Sierra--a smooth cotton-wool blend with a beautiful sheen--and knitted a double-stranded ballet t-shirt out of it. The bulky texture made it incredibly unflattering, although it had charming cap sleeves. So I unraveled the whole thing and tried knitting a little cropped cardigan with the same cap sleeves. My first version, with the yarn held double as per the pattern, was so thick it resembled a Kevlar vest. So I unraveled it and tried it with the yarn held single. I got most of the way through it before realizing it was too flabby to hold its shape.

So that glob of so-called fabric has been set aside until I have time to redesign the original t-shirt to my specifications. Which will be, according to my calculations and my *cough* rather long project queue, in approximately the year 2015.

Luckily, I have been working on some other things, too. And I finished one of them, to my immense pleasure and satisfaction.

The pattern is Elisa's Nest Tote, and I made mine out of what I am pretty sure is hemp yarn (Jacquilynne, this was once yours--does my memory serve me?). Here it is full of crabapples:

And here it is laid flat:

It was my first time doing an applied I-cord border. It was a little tedious, but not at all difficult. And it was my first time doing any kind of crocheting whatsoever; while the majority of the bag was knitted, the sides of the bags are crocheted together. At first it was difficult and I had to rip it out and start over. But after that, it was intuitive and I didn't have any trouble.

Now I can bring my own mesh bag to the farmers' market, and maybe inspire others to do the same!

Monday, January 14, 2008

How is it...

...that I was a vegetarian for 16 years, yet never managed to learn to make simple baked tofu?

The Rebar cookbook has three recipes for baked tofu, the simplest of which I used in a stir-fry last night. It's very good, and it's this quick and easy: Press the tofu (i.e., weight it down with something heavy for an hour so that the water drains out), cut it into 1/2-inch cubes, then toss with 1 Tbs. sesame oil, 2 Tbs. soy sauce, and 1/4 tsp. black pepper. Bake on an oiled tray at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.

That's it. And it makes quite a difference in the finished product. I feel that until now, I've been going through life ill-equipped!

In other news, did you know that some people buy pre-baked tofu at the grocery store for a premium price? Did you know that I've done it, too?

Anyway, I've been knitting like crazy and should have two finished objects to show you within the next several days. My Neiman sweater will take a bit longer, but at least I've managed to knock out nine and a half inches of torso. I think it's going to be beautiful, but hey, next time I decide to knit a sweater on tiny little #2 needles, will someone please give me a reality check?

Speaking of Neiman, is it my imagination, or does Ann have pet hair on her sweater in the photos? I'm grateful for that, actually, because it gives a more accurate portrayal of how the finished piece will actually look on me. :-)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

At least I was a squad leader

Just before I woke up this morning, I dreamed that I was back in high school marching band, and that Clinton Kelly was one of the assistant directors.

Alas, in real life it wasn't that fashionable. Or that funny.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Progress report

Here we are nearly a week into the new year, so it's time to report on my progress re: the Umbrella Resolution. Have I made an effort to use what I have instead of acquiring new things?

Well, I can confidently report that I am absolutely no closer to fitting into my favorite clothes than I was a week ago. It's tough when one of your post-holiday traditions is making cassoulet. For those who aren't familiar with the outrageousness that is cassoulet, it's basically a big crock of baked beans bubbling in goose fat, peppered liberally with confit of goose legs, sausage, and bacon rind. As much as I love it, once a year is plenty.

On the other hand, we have made great strides toward running a more frugal household. We're using a trial copy of Moneydance, which we like very much and will almost certainly purchase. The mere knowledge that the s.o. is logging my expenditures is enough to give me pause when I'm thinking about stopping for a latte.

And then there's my latest discovery in kitchen equipment. When I visited Ohio in December, I had talked with my mother about how much I needed a large, flat-bottomed, deep skillet with handles on both sides. But then on New Year's Day I dragged out my Farberware electric skillet to make meatballs for our visitors, and I fell in love with that skillet all over again. Encouraged, I used it to brown all the meats for the cassoulet the next day, and then to reduce the tomato broth. It turns out it's truly a sweet piece of equipment--so precise and roomy and easy to clean. I've had it for more than a decade, but could probably count the number of times I've used it on both hands. Yet it's the deep, flat skillet I've been wanting! I hereby resolve to use it all the time.

Since I've resolved to make the most of my existing cookbooks, I took an hour or so to go through some of my books and make a note of the recipes I wanted to try. I have a little list now, and I'm hoping to check them all off! Last night I delved into the Rebar Modern Food Cookbook and made two recipes. I'm not sure if it counts as making use of stuff we already have, since Jenny got the book for us for Christmas (ain't she awesome?!), but it's the spirit of the thing, right? Ahem. Anyway, the wilted spinach salad and the fettucine with sun-dried tomato and artichoke heart salsa were both fabulous. It's all the more impressive because both recipes called for olives, which of course I didn't use, yet they still had plenty of zing.

I wish I could tell you I've done some other clever crafty things, but I'm currently embroiled in three ongoing knitting projects, so I can't start anything new at the moment. I did purchase a few supplies to make a t-shirt quilt out of a bunch of the s.o.'s old tees, so I suspect I will be spending a lot of leisure time ironing pieces of t-shirt onto fusible interfacing. I think it's going to be awesome.

Oh, and I pruned the fruit trees in our little orchard. Talk about cheap entertainment--it's like bonsai, only bigger and with the object of encouraging the trees to fruit. Fun, actually.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy 2008

Hi everyone! Hope that this new year finds you cozy and happy and motivated to do great things in the coming months.

We had a quiet NYE at home, then had a small get-together with some friends on the 1st. We much prefer our way of doing things to taking part in "amateur night." (If you've seen one drunken idiot on New Year's Eve, you've seen 'em all.) Better to chill around the homestead with a sangria or Bloody Mary in hand.

I am a big fan of resolutions. A lot of people feel they're a way of setting yourself up to fail. I feel the opposite way. I've accomplished great things thanks to New Year's resolutions. Remember how, a couple of years ago, I resolved to learn how to knit something more than garter-stitch scarves? With a little help from some lessons and a ball of handspun from Liz, I acquired a new hobby that I love!

This year I created what I call the Umbrella Resolution, because it overarches almost every aspect of my life. The goal is to make better use of what we have already, rather than buying new things. So, for example, I hope to:

• Make the crafts that I already have materials for--and recycle old things into new things

• Lose those five "nuisance" pounds so that I can fit more comfortably into my favorite clothes, rather than being tempted by new ones (this sounds difficult, but let's be honest: I've been letting myself eat whatever the heck I want, and I could easily be a tad more reasonable)

• Carry homemade snacks and drinks with me so that I don't end up buying them at exorbitant prices when I'm out (Starbuck's doesn't need my money!)

• Make more recipes from my massive cookbook stash, instead of being seduced by new cookbooks

• Decorate the house with homemade wares (see first bullet point)

• Etc.

It's actually kind of a fun resolution, in that it poses a creative challenge. And in the spirit of it, I started by making the knitting-needle organizer in the back of Stitch 'N Bitch. It only took me an afternoon, and I'm very proud of the results. I used only fabric that I already had on hand--some recycled and some purchased at thrift stores.

Next I hope to make the one that stores circular needles, because mine are turning into a giant snarl that looks like the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Has anyone else made resolutions? What are you up to?