Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Stars in stripes

But probably not the ones you are thinking of. This is what I got done this last weekend.

I've been working on a big quilting project for some time. It's a wedding quilt, a big green star, and I'm finally just about finished with the top. They requested a traditional design. I spent about 10 minutes fantasizing about a double wedding ring, then came to my senses. Even I have limits to the crazy.

I originally wanted a sawtooth border around the big star (sort of like this one). I've seen several historical quilts with that border and liked the look of the "floating" star.

I finished the middle, looked at my original design, looked at the amount of background fabric remaining, and then put the whole project aside while I figured out what to do. There wasn't enough background fabric left.

(An aside: I am terrifically bad at this behavior. I hit a place where I can't figure out what I want to go forward, and then put it away and have the regrettable tendency of not picking it back again for a long time (or ever). I wish I could find some way of working through these design blocks. I just get frustrated that it's not turning out like I wanted and despair that it ever will even look good. Then something new and shiny appears and I'm off to the next thing. Bah.

I would like to be the kind of person who actually FINISHES things. Also, when I have managed to work through the blockage (whether in the short or long term) I'm usually more pleased by the alternate design - the one I was forced to devise when constricted by supplies, or unhappiness with how things were turning out - than the original design. It's tied in with the stupid perfectionism that grows like stubborn blackberry vines in my head. I try to uproot it but it keeps coming back. /End aside.)

There was maybe enough of the background fabric to make a narrower border, but I didn't like a narrow border. I wanted something to balance out out the weight of the star. It's 86 inches square. It needs something hefty.

After scribbling a lot I thought maybe a diamond border but it reminded me too much of 80s dinner plate designs. Then more scribbling and maybe I could echo the big star with more stars in the border.

And that is how I got 24 stars and diamonds. I think I'm going to need more like 32 or 36 of them And yes, it's all green. Monochromatic quilts are hard. I've become a little tired of green.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


Thank you all for your kind words about my succulent…interest (it's not a problem if it's just plants, right?)

I've been at knitting loose ends for a few months now, so besides a couple doilies (they're like popcorn, I swear), I haven't been feeling like much of anything. Now I've gone and found myself a new little obsession. The love monkey has dubbed these my smittens, because I can't seem to put them down.

These started as an extended swatch on some entirely different yarn. Well, more like a test mitten than a swatch, without the cuff. I needed to figure out what needle size to use and whether I liked the fabric and blah blah blah, which was about the amount of fun I was having knitting them. That is to say, not very much. It was probably a combination of me being out of practice with stranded knitting, and not really enjoying the colors, the yarn was a 2-ply and not particularly bouncy, and I never much enjoy swatches anyway.

Then I decided that no way would the test mitten fit a 9 year old and so I stopped the mitten swatch and picked out new colors for the 7-year-old instead. The 7-year-old likes gold. The 9-year-old is fond of kind of a turquoise-y blue. Except I think I was wrong and this is turning out plenty big to fit a 9-year-old.

I am very enamored of the dark, saturated blue against the gold (this picture is about the truest to color) . The gold has color prominence, by the way. I started out with the blue, but it contrasts so highly that some of the gold singletons were getting lost. The yarn is Madelinetosh super wash fingering (different bases, but it's close enough) and yes, I would have dyed my own except I didn't have anything on hand dyed up in those colors and I had store credit at a local yarn store and INSTANT GRATIFICATION. Also, I got to walk through the Castro on Pink Saturday for this yarn.

These are selbuvotter, and the pattern is from Norway (!) from a pattern booklet which was an impulse internet buy several years ago. #9 Barnevott, from Rauma LVS-5, Selbustrikk if you're interested. It came with an English translation, but honestly you don't really need much but the chart and a passing knowledge of mittens.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


If I ever become a queen, I want to be addressed as Your Succulence.
This is where I went on Saturday morning.

All the spiky, prickly, weird, moisture-retaining crazy plants you could hope for. I performed some retail therapy but I don't have any pictures of those yet.

This Haworthia seems pretty happy. This one was in the show. I was especially looking for houseplants so it was kind of a haworthia year.


Not a lot of agaves, but I did see this awesome one, also in the show. It's like that Far Side cartoon: How nature says "do not touch"

There was a whole table of blooming cactus for sale. ORANGE!

I have this theory that desert plants haven't been crossed and cultivated and groomed for thousands of years, like roses and hydrangeas and lilacs have, so they often still have these weird, misshapen forms that I am growing to enjoy.

Another fabulous Haworthia. This one reminds me of the castle in the Dark Crystal, while it was still eeeeeevil. (I, ahem, might have bought a much smaller version of this.) I'll take pictures of the medusoid euphorbia this weekend. It looks like a nest of baby snakes.

Saturday, June 06, 2015


I got all domestic today and did some canning.

Pickled Rainer cherries, ready for their closeup (the brine is pink! PINK!)

Actually, it was more of a case of finishing what I started, which apparently is not a natural talent of mine. And a case of the cherry season in Northern California being so very short this year and maybe me going a little nuts at the farmer's market?

I am so not accustomed to the fruit seasons here. So many years in the Pacific Northwest firmly imprinted the idea into my brain that July is cherry time . June for strawberries, July for cherries and raspberries, August for blackberries and peaches, September-October apple EXTRAVAGANZA. That's a simplification, of course, as many of those run for more than a month. But cherry season has always been a bit short, and out of season cherries are just… no.

Also, I might have bought a few more strawberries than I could handle this week. I pick them up from a market stall that's (very nicely) right on my way to work, Tuesday mornings. (Northern California strawberry season: February through November. Really, it's official . But I still kind of miss hoods). And then I gobble fresh strawberries at my desk most of the day because, duh, fresh strawberries. But I went for the double batch this time, and even I can't consume that many strawberries.

The top pan is Strawberry preserves, although I skipped the vanilla beans because I didn't have any, and used a Meyer lemon, because I did. And on the bottom and in the right picture is strawberry-balsamic vinegar jam from the same source. I haven't cracked open that one yet, but preliminary signs point to YUM.

(I have no idea what is up with all the foaming on the preserves. I've never had a jam recipe do that to me. I did do the maceration, and I did it for almost the 72 hours. (Ha, because that was planned, sure. More like I should know better than to think I'm going to cook jam on a weeknight.) So maybe it was the maceration + the extra sugar? Oh well, we'll see how it tastes).

I was googling about for something to do with the strawberries, and found those two recipes. And then the pickled cherries on the same site, which could be weird or maybe really good, so this is a test. Her site appeals to me because honestly, we don't really consume that much jam, and don't have a lot of extra space. I maybe get through two half-pint jars a year, and regular batch sizes are way more than I need. I still have Meyer lemon marmalade from last July. You want some marmalade? Email me. Should still be pretty tasty, but it won't be as good in a few months (it won't be bad, just not as good.) I do stick to jam and pickles because they're acidic enough that they won't grow botulinium. If you open a jar up and it smells bad, it means it IS bad. It's not just going to silently kill us all).

2 half pints of the balsamic-strawberry, 3 half pints of the preserves, and 3 pints of the pickled cherries. That should hold me for a few days.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Adventures in Dairy

Well hello there, May.

I made butter last week. It was surprisingly easy.

The Google can tell you a lot of ways to do this. What I did:

  1. Dump a pint of cream (pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized) into the mixing bowl of a standing mixer.
  2. Use the whip attachment
  3. Whip on medium-high for awhile (8 minutes?)
Oh yeah, once it starts to butter-ize, it will start to get messy as the buttermilk starts sloshing around, so drape a kitchen towel over the mixer. I hear a handheld mixer works just as well, just requires a little longer. Or, you know, an hour of hand whipping.

Overwhipped cream

Starting to butter (see the moisture at the bottom?)

I took a Beginning Dairy class a few weeks ago (no, not really the name) where we made butter by passing around a sealed mason jar full of cream and everyone shakes it for a couple minutes. After about 20 minutes you get the same results. We also made ricotta and discussed yogurt, feta, and other young cheeses. Apparently I need a good cave to make aged cheeses. Bummer.

I really like very fresh butter that hasn't picked up any off flavors. I have a problem with most grocery store butter, as it so often tastes just that little bit funky. It's fine for cooking, but straight up, it tastes like whatever else happens to be near it. I admit to occasionally paying way too much for fresh farm butter from the farmers market, since it just tasted like butter, and nothing else (which I would use a tiny bit of, and freeze-hoard the rest, slowly thawing out pieces for myself). My butter tasted pretty close to this, which makes me happy.

Oh, to make it last longer, I did rinse it in several washes of ice water:

  1. Pour out the buttermilk into another container
  2. Pour ~a cup of ice water onto the butter
  3. Squish with rubber spatula
  4. Dump out the cloudy ice water
And repeat until the dumped ice water is no longer cloudy. 

I should have froze some of it, because it makes way more butter than I can eat in a few days. Although I did then have to go bake a loaf of oatmeal buttermilk sandwich bread, so I could a) use up the buttermilk, and b) have my butter on my bread. Yum.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


I haven't been posting because I've been avoiding this. I don't particularly want to talk about it now.

Frances died at the end of last year.
I still miss her all the time.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Biblical Precipitation

The weather report says it's supposed to rain A LOT tomorrow, in a small amount of time (check out that Total Precipitable Water graph: nice Pineapple Express jet, huh? It's aimed pretty much directly at where I live. I get unhealthily interested in being at weather epicenters)

Image from the University of Wisconsin - go take a look at the animated one, it's neat.

They're predicting 3-6 inches of rain in the city in the next 24 hours, along with heavy winds. They've already canceled school in SF, Oakland, and Marin (which is supposed to get even more).

Now, to be fair, 6 inches of rain in a short amount of time creates big problems in a place that:

(1) already has saturated wet ground, so the soil can't soak up any more. This is kind of hard to explain to anyone who doesn't live in a desert, but the rain doesn't soak in, it RUNS OFF. (Or even more fun, it feeds underground springs and creeks. See also the sinkhole that opened up last week). Back in Portland the ground could absorb enormous amounts of water before it just got waterlogged and couldn't take any more and suddenly you had a pond not a backyard. The soil here is totally different.

Other cities that are used to flash floods have infrastructure to contain them. Albuquerque, New Mexico has an extensive system of storm drain arroyos to funnel off all that massive precipitation so that it doesn't just run down streets, e.g. the path of least resistance, like it will here tomorrow.

(2) Also there are a bunch of plants and trees suffering from the drought, so many of them are either dead or parts of them are dead, leading to:

(3) expected high winds at the same time == trees falling down and bringing down power lines.

So if the worst happens, it'll be fairly dangerous driving around, with pouring rain, downed trees, and possibly power outages and downed live wires.

But still, it makes me wince a little inside to think of school called for rain. Oh, California.