Month: May 2016

The Gift

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A few weeks ago, I was straightening out my studio, and came across my printed pattern for the Ishbel shawl by Ysolda. I remembered purchasing the Whimsical Little Knits e-book shortly after it came out. I had printed the patterns, read through the Ishbel shawl instructions, and … put it away. The lace looked too complicated. Not only did you have to increase each row, but you did different things with the lace on each side of the center spine. I’m not sure if it was actually too hard for my skill level, or if I just thought it was too hard. Either way, there it sat … until last month’s tidying up.

The shawl was just as pretty as I remembered it. I reasoned I had several more years of knitting experience under my belt since I last thought about knitting it — why not give it a try?

So I did.

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I don’t want to sound all puffed up or anything, but it was a perfectly straightforward pattern completely within my skill level. It was very enjoyable to knit — so much so that I immediately cast on for the larger size in a yarn I’ve had in my stash for probably 10 years. It’s sewing-thread-thin black lambswool, and just looking at it makes me squint and feel all thumbs! But, since I’m trying to make friends with these “too hard! scared!” demons in the studio, I felt that the time was right. I’ve wanted a hand knit, spiderweb-thin, large black shawl since I saw my first one almost 16 years ago, and I’ve got one on my needles right now. *insert the sound of me knocking on wood whilst crossing my fingers* It feels big, and good, and my beginner-knitter-Jackie fumbling with her first scarf in September of 2000 (yes, I remember exactly) is staring at now-Jackie in amazement and pride. eep!

A note about the yarn in my finished shawl — isn’t it beautiful? It’s by PhileasYarns. This heavy lace weight, Escapism, is half blue faced leicester and half baby alpaca. I love this combination! It’s soft but characterful. Lovely to knit with, and after blocking — wow. It has a great memory and sheen.

I have such a story around this skein. PhileasYarns had recently opened for business, and I saw a photo of a Scollay cardigan knitted by Sylvie with her Wanderlust DK yarn. I immediately knew this was the yarn for my Scollay, and purchased enough for a sweater. A bit afterwards, she contacted me — she noticed that her shipping costs were off and I had overpaid on the shipping. She was going to refund me immediately. I thanked her for being honest — the shipping fee didn’t set off any alarms for me and I would have never known! I told her not to refund it, but to surprise me with a yarn in her line that came close to the refund price. This gorgeous piece of sky and clouds was what she sent.

What a gift. Her honest business practices, beautiful goods, and kindness. An absolute gift. I’m not going to use a coupon for the yarn for this shawl because the whole thing feels like a gift from start to finish: the yarn, the culmination of learning enough about knitting to knit something I held in my heart as The Thing I Wanted To Knit Once I Was Good Enough, the confidence to say, “I think that time has come.” All of it. I don’t know what to do but pinch myself, and say thank you.

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Not Such A Spendthrift After All

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Last week, I wound up spending almost $200.00 on groceries, and it didn’t even seem excessive in terms of what we replaced and used. I didn’t buy any meat, and just a little cheese. We even ate a few things from the freezer. I was ready to tear my hair out — how do people do it? I figured there must be something wrong with the way I was approaching things, and started doing a bit more research. I found:

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Ah! That makes more sense! This is two years old, too. A low-cost option for two is $496.90 a month and a moderate option for two is $618.60 a month. A liberal plan is $774.20. These are also national averages; prices are different throughout the country. I feel like my area is in the middle – not the highest, but not the cheapest either.

I’m going to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again in June. My new target is going to be $550 a month: in between low-cost and moderate. My overarching goals: very little meat, as local as possible, as organic as possible, as unprocessed as possible. Remember, this is just a little over $9 a day a person for three meals. Perspective: a coffee out is $5. I’ll report at the end of the month, once a month.

I’m not a spendthrift after all — good food costs good money. Supporting farmers, fair treatment of workers and animals, health and well-being are not rock bottom cheap. Just like with clothing rationing, the nonsense/excess/unconscious is falling to the wayside. How do I make my food dollars/coupons go as far as possible, as good as possible? How do I make treats and luxuries truly feel like treats and luxuries?

This past month has been great for examining my habits and starting new ones. I love my CSA and I probably wouldn’t have started with one if it wasn’t for this challenge. I feel good eating less meat for many reasons. I’ve been enjoying my Bean of the Week so much! Most importantly, I’m figuring out just what my ideals are, and what it takes to support them through setting limits. It’s worked for me before 😉

$100 Grocery Challenge: Week Four

This week, I came in at $106.99. I was at $102 and then I bought some goat cheese for a pizza and that was $4.99. And OH that pizza was delicious and full of CSA goodness: green garlic, red scallions, dandelion greens, arugula, and – get this – Egyptian walking onions. What in the world?

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The CSA also gave me rhubarb, which I’ve never had! I made a rhubarb custard pie. It’s so delicious.

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I didn’t make a bean of the week, but did defrost some ranch beans for dinner one night. Project clear the freezer is happening! I can move things around without everything falling out now! But, still no room to put my ice cream maker drum. More eating from the freezer needs to happen!

I do think I’ll make black beans for this week, though.

The only meat I purchased was 1/2 pound of (natural Applegate) turkey deli meat, because I knew I’d not be home for dinner one night, and this way my husband could make himself a sandwich. The  meatless eating has been easy. I even found that I had some Beast burgers in my freezer and I made them last night with a heap of vinegary collard greens cooked with green garlic and topped with cream cheese (really. Try it :), Siracha, whole grain bread, roasted potatoes on the side. Delicious. I’m usually not a fan of faux meat, but I really like these every now and again. I also like bean burgers and I think I’ll made some with part of the black beans I simmer up this week.

It was also a fun week — it was my coworker’s birthday and I made him Game of Throne cake pops as part of our work celebration.

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He hee. My other coworker made a castle wall and a little paper Sansa and Joffrey and the birthday person was so !!!! They tasted great, too 🙂

On the down side, I’ve run out of many staples all at once. I don’t think I’ll be able to stick to my $100 plan next week. Just thinking about it — the CSA box with eggs and cheese is $50 (and I “need” the eggs and cheese this week) I’m out of 2 kinds of oil, and getting good quality for both will run at least $20 – $25. We are at $75 already and I didn’t even get to the rest of the staples and fresh items that make up a week.  I am going to take this coming week off — stick to my principles (low/no meat, work the freezer/buy local/organic when possible) — but get what will help me have a delicious week and beyond. Poor quality oil is a burden for months, you know!

This month’s experience has me thinking, although it’s not nearly as snappy, that I should allow $125 a week for our food. The reason I’m in this pickle with everything running out at once is because I didn’t buy things as they ran out, and tried a substitution. Now I’m out of the substitutions! (Hello oil. I don’t have a pat of butter in the house either). I think that is a more comfortable number, and still — that’s a little under $9 a day per person for three meals. One sandwich at a takeout place near my work is $10 these days for perspective.

It also has me thinking how lucky I am that I can make the choice to go over budget, choose to patronize a CSA, and have so much in my freezer that I can’t fit an ice cream making drum inside. Jeeze.

Mend It May: Carrying On

A little over a year ago, my husband surprised me with a new handbag! I was carrying one that was several years old and had a hole, and I think he took pity on me. I gasped, because I recognized the brand from the ladies I see on the train. I knew it was pricey and something I’d never buy for myself!

Imagine my dismay when I noticed the sides on the straps cracking. I ignored it — it wasn’t a big deal — until chunks of the leather started falling off, exposing the sides of the straps with lots of white strings. It looked unsightly, not to mention I wouldn’t have straps left if this kept up!

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I was trying to google fixes, and found this Fiebing’s Edge Kote. It looked like it would work! I did some research and found that many people’s fancy bags have this very issue quite often, and this is one way people fix it themselves. I also read a warning that it ran with water. Since I walk to and from the train, sometimes in rain, that wasn’t going to fly (not to mention sweaty hands!). So I also picked up some Fiebing’s Resolene to seal the Edge Kote.

Finally, my supplies came! I got started and realized that I ordered Black Edge Kote, and my edges were actually a medium brown. D’oh. I went ahead and used it anyway, and my fixed edges looked stark and horrible! What to do, what to do?

Being the avant-garde person that I am, I decided to paint black accents on the rest of the bag with the Edge Kote. I was taking a gamble, and my bag wasn’t going to look like the bags of the ladies on the train any more (which, honestly, isn’t a terrible thing, especially now that I know the quality of these bags is nothing to write home about). This took forever! I had to do several coats, and let them dry a day between coats, and used a tiny brush. This mend was much more involved than the little edging on the straps I believed would encompass the fix.

Finally, I was done, and did the Resolene coating (which was pretty simple).

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Notice the leg of my little helper, Woody 🙂

I let it dry a few more days, and — I think it looks ok!

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I walked to work this morning, and no rub off on my (sweaty) hands. I also slung it over my shoulder, and all was well. No rub off on my clothes. No one has said to me “What kind of weird thing did you do to your formerly nice bag?” yet, either. Best of all, I have the supplies to keep fixing it if it happens again, or happens to my other bags. I also think I can use these supplies on my shoes! I bet the Edge Kote then Resolene would work well on scuffs. Yay!

Week Three: $100 Grocery Challenge

This week, I came in at $98! Phew!

My most expensive items are tied: some local ground beef burgers (4) for $9.99 and 2 pints of Blue Marble organic ice cream for $10. We’ve developed a bit of a ritual of curling up to watch our Sunday night show (it used to be Downton Abbey, but it’s now Game of Thrones. What a change, huh?) sharing a pint of ice cream. This is a nice treat, but oof — I have an ice cream maker. The problem is that my freezer is so full that I can’t fit the drum inside. I’m going to concentrate on using up enough of my frozen things so that I can fit the drum in there again and make ice cream (and sorbet, and gelato, and all that lovely warm weather deliciousness). Plus, summer is all about FRESH. It’s smart to use these frozen items now before the bounty of summer arrives.

Our bean of the week was RED LENTILS! I love red lentils not only because they are delicious and nutritious, but because they do not need to be soaked, and cook very quickly. They are the go-to bean when you forget your overnight soak. I made this dahl dish with them:

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Extremely delicious, and probably the best Indian style dish I’ve made. I always find the ones I make lacking compared to what I get in a restaurant, but this one was just as lovely as the dahl at my fave local place. I served it two times already, once with chard from the CSA box, and once with leftover broccoli rabe from when I made pizza over the weekend.

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The other nice thing I made was lemon ricotta pancakes. I mention this not only because they were delicious, but so you can see how I got my ricotta to work double duty 🙂 I will also make this pasta with fresh tomatoes in the next few days (but using canned San Marzanos – there are not enough tomatoes around yet for fresh tomato sauce!) and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had those pancakes again this weekend. They were divine.

Eating luxuriously and mostly organically on $100 a week. It’s working!

Mend It May: A Waist of Time

A few weeks ago I went to put on my comfy I guess pajama bottoms but I use them like yoga pants to wear around the house, and this happened:

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The tie just … disintegrated. I had gotten these at the local thrift shop, tags still on! a few years ago and have worn them a few times a month ever since. They get washed a lot (although I air dry them) so I understand. That waist tie has seen some serious wear. I yanked on the other side of the tie and it broke off just as easily. The rest of the garment was in good shape, so I wanted to fix them.

I thought this would be an easy mend — I’d just paw through my studio until I found something I could use as a drawstring, pop it in, and I could go on my merry pajama bottom yoga pants way. All seemed well. I found a webby cord ribbon thing that I believe I rescued from the student move out bins a few years ago — it was still on the cardboard roll but looked to be enough. I got a safety-pin to use to help shove it through the waistband channel, attached it, and got to work.

That’s when my safety-pin bumped up against a closed seam in the waistband channel. I then realized that the channel was sewn shut along four places — two on the sides of the pants and in the back where the tag was sewn on. I believe I growled. This mend was not going to be the 5 minute job I assumed it was going to be.

I thought about postponing the mend. I had a long week at work and wanted, no needed, to knit to get back into myself. But I needed these pants fixed, too. I got out my seam ripper and went to work. The back tag was easy enough and non-damaging to unpick, but the sides required me to actually open up the side seam to get into the waistband to remove those stitches — which meant I needed to then resew the seam when I was done. I believe I growled again. I want to knit! This was supposed to take 5 minutes!

I was ready to throw in the towel, this time for good! I was going to cut these %}%^{^€ pants up for the rag pile!! but I remembered my coupons. I only have 18 left for the rest of the year, and I really, really, really do not want to use them on pants that I wear in the house and get paint, ink, cooking stains, etc on. There was no guarantee I’d be lucky enough to thrift another pair, and I don’t have any suitable fabric to make some, so that would cost coupons, too. I took a deep breath and got back to ripping and picking. I tried not to growl any more.

It took awhile, but finally the channel was clear! This not only allowed the tie to go through easily, but I was also able to get out the last remnants of old disintegrating tie. My shoulders relaxed from being up around my ears. I found some grey thread and did a simple and strong overhand stitch to close the seams I had to open.  My pants are back in business!

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Yay!

This mend taught me a valuable lesson. I was frustrated not because the mend was difficult, but because it took time — time that I wanted to use for knitting. I had privileged the new and novel over taking care of what I had, which goes against all I am trying to fight for! Mending is an integral part of a thoughtful life that values resources, not an afterthought or something to be shoved in between fresh starts. It is making. Making anew, making useful and beautiful again, making meaningful, making whole. It’s all making.

Week Two: $100 Grocery Challenge

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We are here at week two! My total spend this week was $108.81. Since I spent $89 and some change last week, all is well.

It was what we call at home a Good Food Week. We ate so well! The highlights were those beans I posted about yesterday (we finished them last night! We couldn’t get enough of them!), and we splurged on some wild king salmon. It was the only meat (well, it’s fish but) I purchased last week and we enjoyed it so much. It is only wild and fresh in May and June. We may splurge again next month if it’s still being offered. We had it with some rice and local asparagus.

Another great thing this week was our CSA box from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative! In our box, we got some Russian Kale, Peppermint, Red Chard, Green Leaf Lettuce, Easter Egg Radishes, Green Garlic, Tomatoes (tomatoes!!!), some locally made cheese made from raw cow milk, and a dozen eggs.

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So far we’ve had the kale and it was deeeeeelicious. I think I know what to do with everything but the radishes. I’m thinking crusty peasant bread, toasted, buttered, with sliced radishes. Maybe in a salad with that green leaf lettuce. If you have a fave radish dish please share! I think I’ll dry the peppermint after I use some for a mint julep! Hic!

I’d like to get one of these CSA boxes every other week since I do not use a whole dozen eggs each week (the veggies will vary, but they include eggs and cheese each time).

I think this week’s bean is going to be red lentils. I have them in my cupboard, and saw a tasty looking dahl dish floating about the internet which I can also use the chard for.

This week our food money was spent on FOOD. I only bought 12 cans of seltzer @ $3.99 for 12 and have rationed myself to only having one can a day. When we run out, too bad until next week! No other drinks purchased.

Yay! This is fun!

 

Cream Beans

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Gosh I love Cannellini Beans! I was waxing poetic about them on twitter after making a pasta dish with them, and called them cream beans because they made a delightfully creamy sauce without any dairy whatsoever. They were my bean of the week this week, and we went crazy for them!

Here’s how I made them:

Take about two cups of cannellini beans, dried. Soak them overnight. Drain them. Put them in a nice sized pot, throw in a stalk of fresh rosemary or two, cover with water by two or three inches, bring to a boil, then stick them on a low simmer until they are very soft — so soft that you can mash them against the pot with the back of a spoon. Mind how much water is in the pot — you may have to add more if it gets too low, but you want these to be saucy and not watery. This took about 90 minutes for me. That’s it!

The magic is in what you can do with them after they are cooked.

Have you ever been to Zoe’s Kitchen? They made these very simple white beans that are so delicious, that you can eat a ramekin of them as a side dish and be over the moon happy. I looked around and found some copycat recipes, and used these beans to make them Zoe style. Here’s what I did:

Get a skillet or pot (I used the cast iron dutch oven I cooked the beans in) and put in some oil of your choice. Dice a medium/large onion and as much garlic as you like (I used a head!) and saute until soft. Throw in another stalk or two of rosemary. Add back your beans and the beautiful bean liquor, then add about a cup of stock — whatever you have on hand. I’m sure a little more water would be fine too. Let the beans simmer. Taste — you may need salt. A few grinds of pepper for sure. Smash some beans on the side of the pot with your spoon or a fork or even a potato masher to make a thick sauce. You’re done! We had a big ramekin of these as a side dish and they made us so happy!

But wait — these are even more versatile than that. The next day I got some more garlic, some red pepper flakes, and sautéed some broccoli rabe. Added some of the beans, boiled some pasta, and oh! A fantastic, super creamy pasta dish. I think you can use any leafy green. This made us a hearty dinner, plus we both had it for lunch one day.

Tonight I’m making a ribollita type dish with them and some chard I got in my CSA box (more about that soon!). If this doesn’t use them all, I will mash some hummus style to have on crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil. I probably won’t have enough to freeze, but I think they will freeze beautifully.

I look forward to making them again, and discovering even more ways to use them! I don’t want to play favorites, but oh gosh, these were super. I know David would say these are his favorite beans.

Mend It May!

Happy May 1st!

Jen from My Make Do and Mend Life declared May 2016 Mend It May, and I excitedly signed up to participate.

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Sure, I have a few things that need mending, and this is an ideal time to use the power of the group to get it done, but more importantly I want to celebrate mending! When you mend something, you’re giving love and care to the items you’ve already invited into your life and have a responsibility to care for, and are saying no to the disposable, uncaring culture that surrounds us. It’s getting bad. We just don’t throw away stuff these days. We throw away animals, people, groups of people … our small actions become big actions, a way of life, a culture. I want in on the positive, creative life, so I take care, I mend, I repair.

. . .

My first repair for this month was a fix that I was pretty sure was coming. I had made a mixed media piece and had to adhere a small  porcelain doll to an oil painted canvas surface. I had finished my tube of e6000 which is a mixed media maker’s best friend, and hadn’t yet replaced it. So I sanded both surfaces, got out my old rickety glue gun, and hoped for the best, even though I knew that doll would try to escape her bond. I also purchased a replacement tube of e6000 later that week, so I’d be ready when she did.

Well, I came home from work last Wednesday and my little baby had made a break for it! She didn’t get far — I found her in a pile of my handknit shawls, a bit dazed (I store my shawls in a basket in my foyer so that I can throw one on before leaving the house). Thankfully, she had a gentle fall — it could have been worse. I pinched her between my fingers — naughty girl! — grabbed the painting off the wall, and went to my lair I mean studio to use the glue that I should have waited to use from the beginning. A little more sanding, a good sticking, 72 hours of curing, and my Capti Femina is once again trapped.

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Oh dear! But you get it, right 😉

Tune in next time for the tale of the handbag handle repair!