Category Archives: Food

Winter Solstice

The shortest day of the year. When I looked out the window yesterday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. it was completely dark. I don’t like wishing my life away but I do look forward to January and the days getting longer.

I haven’t much to show knitting- or sewing-wise as mostly everything I’m working on is meant for gifting. One of my siblings is going to be a father this spring, so I’ve gone a bit crazy with baby knitting. Although I learned to knit as a child, I didn’t get back into it until my son was well into elementary school, so I missed out on knitting for my own baby. It is very exciting because this will be my first niece or nephew from my side of the family. (No word if baby is a girl or a boy. My feeling is boy. The Burrell family is male-dominated.)

The expectant mom is a knitter and wants me to show her some tricks. She calls herself a “basic” knitter, which is how I think of myself. I’m not very clever, just good at following directions and patient when things go wrong … and they do, all the time. Take for example one of the huge baby projects I’m working on… Only this morning I realized I had one fewer stitch I needed in a critical row, which means tinking back three long rows of lace to fix a missing yarnover. It annoyed me so that I put aside the project aside; I’ll return to it when I’ve cooled off and can face the task without any emotion. As I told my sister-in-law several weeks ago, I think the sign of knitting competence is not in the fancy stuff you can do, but in being able to look at your work, see where it’s gone south, and know exactly what you’ll have to do to get it back on the path. Getting back to that point is often a boatload of work (to mix metaphors), so extra points there. 🙂

And Christmas is almost here! It feels like it snuck up on me this year. We elected not to put up a tree. I would have done it if O insisted upon it, but he’s never been that affected by holiday spirit, so we’re going to put a few bulbs on our potted Norfolk pine and call it a day. Our cat Winston is a climber. Last year he knocked our tree over so many times it was more of a hassle than it was worth. Live and learn!

We spent Thanksgiving in Florida this year. My mother-in-law’s extended family built an amazing outdoor pavilion on their property so they had a family reunion of sorts. It was an interesting experience eating Thanksgiving dinner outdoors in 70 degree weather! On top of that, the food was definitely “southern style,” which interested me greatly as a food writer. For example, there were no vegetables that were cooked on their own. In other parts of the country, I think it would be common to have side dishes of plain green beans, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and/or winter squashes, but with this Southern-style Thanksgiving, the vegetables were cooked into casseroles with a lot of added ingredients. Again, it was interesting to experience a different regional style of celebration. 🙂

OK, so the photo above. That happened Sunday afternoon, right after my husband and I returned from grocery shopping. I had just settled down with a cup of tea at the dining room table when I heard a loud crack. I looked out the window, saw pine boughs falling to the pavement, heard more cracks, and then I jumped up and ran to the other side of the house because I could tell the tree was coming down. What a noise! It ripped out the power lines, caused some significant damage to our neighbor’s home, and shut down the street for hours. We are very lucky no one was hurt, and we had power back by 9:30 p.m. (Actually earlier for us … my husband had the foresight several years ago to buy a backup generator after we lost power for a week at our old house.) This has been the third or fourth tree to come down sort of close to where I’m sitting. Yikes! Think someone’s trying to tell me something?

Sugar blues

O’s face looks completely normal now, not even a rash. The only itchy bits are on his arms and legs. We’re hoping everything will be healed up by the time he leaves for camp on Sunday.

Yesterday we went out to Target and bought what he needed to get him through two weeks at camp — mostly underwear and socks. We figure he can double up a couple days on stuff like shorts and sweatshirts, but not so much on underwear and socks. I also found some swimming trunks in his size for $6.50, so into the basket they went … saves me some time at the sewing machine this week. He was rather grumpy during our shopping expedition, as was I (sugar withdrawal), and we forgot to buy a couple extra beach towels. Otherwise we’re all set to pack him up … except for the stuff I have to sew.  Oh, and he needs a haircut. Hopefully we can squeeze in an appointment before the end of the week.

I survived Monday without eating any sugar. My sugar cravings hit mostly in the evening, so the last couple hours before bedtime were misery. As I was driving past Bedford Farms on the way back from the gym, it took every ounce of self control not to drive in there and order a cup of Muddy River ice cream … I would have dived in with gusto! I stuck with it, though, bypassing my evening cup of warm chocolate malt Ovaltine with more than a little regret. My thinking was definitely foggier yesterday … I’m hoping after a few days, I’ll be able to think a little more clearly. Just happy I’m not teaching this week; I’m not sure my students would appreciate my incoherent thinking!

A couple days ago when I was waiting for a prescription to be filled at the grocery store, I spent some time looking through the paperback books and actually bought one. I usually take books like this out of the library or buy them used, but I was so in the mood for a summer read. It’s a James Patterson bio/thriller called Zoo, and as usual with his novels, it’s fast paced and just what i need intellectually right now … meaning I don’t have to think too hard as I read a couple chapters before bed each night. The only problem is, I’ve been having disturbing dreams. The other night I dreamed a rabid bat attacked me, so I fed it to a flying skunk. (Yes, you read that right.) And last night marauding bears and tigers made their appearances … so I’m not sure this is the best reading before bed. Maybe I’ll have to finish it up by reading in the morning. (Just learned this book as been made into a tv miniseries, which I think I’ll skip.)

Crafting

Not much to report on the sewing front. Taped the pdf pattern for O’s board shorts together. Today I’ll be cutting out the fabric. I also signed up for a free sewing class in early July at my local dealer. She told me I probably won’t learn that much, but I figure if I learn a couple tips or two, it’ll be worth my time.

Pebble Beach shawl

Because of my sugar withdrawal yesterday, I had to rip back on my Pebble Beach shawl a couple times. (Missed a couple yarnovers, grrr.) It stinks when I have to rip back a row because now each row is over 200 stitches. Yes, I know I should use a lifeline, but weirdly enough I don’t mind tinking, especially when the yarn is easy to work with as this yarn is. It’s hard to see but the color of the yarn is starting to change from cream to pale mint. Lace is so not pretty before it has been blocked. 😉

One of the pattern books I ordered off eBay showed up yesterday. It’s from the 1960s, a collection of cabled cardigans put out by Reynolds yarn under the name “Mary of Holland.” I did a bit of poking around to find out who, exactly, Mary of Holland is, since the pattern book doesn’t say. The only thing Dutch about these sweaters are their names: Rotterdam, Utrecht, Dordrecht, even The Hague.

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The model on the cover looks a lot like my college friend Staycee. 🙂

I thought the cabled designs were really pretty. I’m sure my brother will deem them “Denchy.” 😉

The waffle iron

Last night before bed, O asked me if I’d get up early and make waffles before school. Waffles are a weekend ritual around here; I have made them so many times that I don’t need a recipe and can pretty much eyeball the ingredients without measuring tools. O was giving me his Big Blue Eyes look when he asked, so of course I said I’d jump out of my warm bed a little early so he could be sent off to school with Mom’s good cooking in his tummy.

I go to bed before anyone else around here. As I was saying my goodnights last night, I noticed the smell of meat coming from our kitchen. Not surprising since my husband likes to eat late. What was a surprising was that he was cooking hamburger in our waffle iron. Or, I should say, he’d attempted to cook hamburger in our waffle iron. I say “our” waffle iron because it was a wedding gift we received from our friends Chris and Melanie seventeen years ago, a gift that we’ve often remarked has been the most-used wedding gift in our household.

I bit my tongue as I watched my husband (sheepish expression on his face) chisel bits of burger out of the iron. Then I said goodnight, too tired to observe his cooking escapades any longer.

So…I get up this morning, eager to make my son happy, and bounce into the kitchen. The waffle iron is still out and looks surprisingly clean. I plug the appliance in to heat up while I gather ingredients, and that’s when I smell … meat. Then I hear sizzling coming from the iron, which I can only assume is sizzling meat.

Undaunted, I smooth waffle batter over the heated iron and tell myself I’ll do what Julia Child used to do with her first crêpe of her batch … toss it out. I’m confident this first waffle will absorb any beefy flavor leftover on the iron, and the remaining waffles will be fine.

Except, as you can see, they weren’t.

The timer went off and as I lifted the top of the iron up, the waffle pulled in half. Normally the waffles just slip out of the iron as easily as silk slips across skin. But not this morning. I reached for silicone tongs, hoping that a little force would help the remnants un-adhere. No dice.

My son walks out into the kitchen, takes one look at the mess, and says, “Oh, Dad was trying to get the hamburger out with steel wool last night.”

As my friend Gwen said after seeing the picture above and hearing how my husband attempted to clean the iron, “Well, who doesn’t like waffles with old hamburger, bits of steel wool, and Teflon dust in them? Maple syrup is for the weak.”

I’ve left the waffle iron on the counter, waffle still adhered, with a note that says, “Please order a new waffle maker AND a George Foreman Grill.”

I’m beginning to think there’s something to this whole “Mercury is in retrograde” business everyone’s talking about.

 

 

Project Chicken (Coop)

The old coop, before — summer 2014

Looking at the coop straight on, summer 2014

We have an old chicken coop in our backyard. For a couple years I’ve been itching to raise some chickens but two things have held me back: the state of the coop and my son’s reluctance.

This year, the planets aligned. O and his friends are always looking for schemes to earn pocket money, so they all agreed to clean out the coop for me. And because we’ve been through some tough times with our pets in the past couple years, O has grown to understand that animals and pets have shorter lifespans than their owners. The thought of losing a few chickens to predators–a very real possibility around here given that our property borders a habitat teeming with coyotes, fishers, raccoons, and hawks–isn’t as horrific to him as it would have been a few years ago. Plus, that has been motivating him to research the best ways to secure our coop.

It goes without saying that our coop needs a lot of work, so much so that I considered buying a prefab coop. The prefab coops I like, however, are a couple hundred dollars so I figure it’s better to do some DIY on the structure we have in place.

Today it’s overgrown with vines and we need to do some serious tree branch pruning. The structure is very sound. There’s a wooden floor inside, along with nesting boxes. We’ll replace the chicken-wire covered window openings with real shed windows that open for ventilation, and build a door. The structure doesn’t have electricity but we can run an extension cord from our garage. As for the outdoor enclosure that’s currently fenced with chicken wire … I’m not so sure. It would be nice to have a completely enclosed run, but our neighbor doesn’t have one and they have only lost one chicken in the last couple years. Other to-do items: the coop will need scraping and painting after the windows and door are installed and the coop has been cleaned out.

O is having a sleepover tonight and the boys have their first paying job, clearing out some of the brush and branches around the structure. Our plan is to have a coop ready for chicks mid-spring … that gives us the fall, winter, and early spring to get it into shape. As for chickens, I have my heart set on Araucanas, the chickens that lay pastel-colored eggs. Word is they’ve got friendly dispositions, are good layers, and are cold-hardy.

Do you own chickens? Any advice? The one thing that’s creeping me out is the thought of snakes getting in the coop to eat eggs. I don’t mind seeing them out in the open, but I’ll seriously freak out if I’m gathering eggs and put my hand on a snake! An acquaintance has told me, however, that her chickens kill snakes … around here, the snakes are too small to be a real threat to eggs.

 

 

 

 

Cooking, knitting, staying warm

Homemade Potato and Pea Samosa

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Still here. For some reason, I haven’t been able to log in to WordPress. I’m pretty sure it’s because my web host has been under a hacker attack.

The arctic chill has me spending a lot of time in the warm kitchen. This week I’ve made potato and pea samosas, hamburger buns, pop tarts with cinnamon filling, wild rice pilaf, and a potato-crusted quiche for my Paleo husband. Tomorrow I’m planning on a parsnip soup, a recipe I follow from my oft used copy of Jane Grigson’s Good Things.

And I know at least one of you can tell what I’ve been knitting. 😉

I had my last physical therapy session last night. My improvement in range of motion has been dramatic. Now all I have to do is get off the blood thinners, and I’ll feel like I can put this latest medical drama far behind me.

Last weekend I finished refashioning a skirt I picked up at the thrift shop a couple years ago–a beautiful plaid Talbots skirt. I’m happy with the results, and it looks great with my newest knit cardigan, which I’ve yet to show off here. As soon as it warms up, I’ll have the resident photographer set up a shoot outside.

Cheese and potato soup

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It’s Boxing Day in the UK. And if you’re in the U.S., it’s another opportunity to hit the shops for some good deals on stuff that didn’t sell for Christmas.

I’ll be staying in, thank you, and enjoying some hearty winter fare.

One of my favorite winter soups is inspired by a soup I used to order years ago at a takeout place in nearby Concord, a cheese and potato soup that was thick, rich, and delicious. I once asked the owner how she made it, and she told me she used to throw in kitchen odds and ends: a bit of cheddar, the rind from some Parmesan. That might sound disgusting and a tad bit coy, but I know what she meant. My best soups are often made up of leftovers.

Here’s my version of that fantastic soup, which you can rustle up with pantry staples and whatever is lurking in your cheese drawer. I’ve used Emmentaler here, a Swiss-style semi-hard cheese that adds a touch of sharpness to the soup. Try cheddar, Gouda, mozzarella, fontina, or Gruyère, too!

Cheese and Potato Soup

Serves 4

2-oz. unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium baking potato, peeled and chopped
1 32-oz. container chicken or vegetable broth, preferably reduced sodium
4-oz. shredded cheese
salt to taste
garnish, if desired

1. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add onion once butter is melted and cook gently until the onions are translucent, approximately 7 to 10 minutes.

2. Add potato to saucepan and toss to coat with butter and onion. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Add broth and turn heat up to medium. When soup begins to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, or until potato falls apart when pierced with a fork.

4. Using a stick blender or upright blender, puree soup in batches until completely smooth. If perfection is an issue for you, strain to remove any remaining chunks of onion or potato.

5. With the soup off the heat, stir in the cheese. The residual heat should melt it into the soup. Taste for salt; I use about a teaspoon of kosher salt, but you may like less or more.

6. Garnish with parsley or chopped chives. Serve and enjoy!

Another snowy day

English toffee

Knitted teddy

 

Around noon we got the automated call: schools were being let out early because of the impending snow storm. Yippee! I’ll let you wonder if I’m being sarcastic. My brother Matt was up here last weekend from Rhode Island and brought the tail-end of a cold with him, which I’m now valiantly fighting off. It’s, unfortunately, leaving me very sluggish and unmotivated to work. No production, no pay: the glamorous life of freelancing!

So I’ve been finishing up holiday projects, stuff that needs to get done by … oh my gosh, is Christmas next week? The top photo is the first batch of English toffee. It has been tested liberally, thus why I’m feeling sugar-sick. I’ll be making several more batches over the next couple days and sending packages off to friends or delivering goodies in person. The recipe is from the Cooking for Engineers blog and it has never failed me. This batch was made with milk chocolate instead of semi-sweet; I’ll be making future batches with the darker stuff.

The bottom photo is my first effort at knitting a teddy bear, and I have to say, it turned out quite well! When it’s completely finished, I’ll post details of the pattern. I’ve been putting off sewing the back to the front, though … must get cracking on that. I’ll be tying a red tartan ribbon around the bear’s neck and sticking this cutie in O’s Christmas stocking.

My 12-year-old is unabashedly fond of stuffed animals. He would probably kill me for saying this, but my favorite parenting moments involve walking into his bedroom in the morning and finding Taffy (a Bernese mountain dog), Goldie (a huge golden retriever), Softener (a mixed-breed stuffie), or Nordie (a wooly mammoth I bought in Norway many years ago) snuggled into his arms while he sleeps. The sight reminds me he’s still my little boy.

What are you up to today? Are you getting snow where you are?

This and that

It’s a chilly Saturday, but it’s over 40 degrees F and sunny, so I’ll soon be off on my recumbent trike for a long ride. I may even attempt triking over to Emerson Hospital in Concord for a blood test. (I have to have my blood drawn and tested every couple weeks while I’m on Coumadin. The bright spot is this will only last until January.)

All my pants are loose on me. This is good news, although I wish my appetite were a little better … it’s never a good idea to lose weight by eating too little. However, I did wake up very early this morning, hungry, so I came downstairs and had a cup of hot Ovaltine.

I’ve recently discovered streaming music (yeah, I’m late to the game) and have been creating playlists on Rdio. The one I listen to most is my classical music playlist … a little Italian opera, a lot of Bach. (I’m particularly addicted to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #6, first movement–its polyphonic texture delights my ears, esp. around 1:10!) At $4.95 a month, it’s a bargain and it keeps our livingroom uncluttered. I’ve rediscovered songs from my childhood and college years; even better, it’s a great way to look up music I hear in movies and on television commercials. If you can’t tell, I’m a big fan!

I saw this list called “10 Little Things…” on Habitually Chic’s blog, about things you can do to make this season a little nicer for others. It really resonated with me, esp. #2 and #3. I’m infamous for offering help, then not following through. Reading the list reminded me that I’d told a friend I’d send her a link to the bicycle light she admired on my bike. Done! As for #3, this is a peeve of mine — I bend over backwards to be nice to food service/retail folks, but certain members of my family are not. Coincidently none of these family members have ever worked in retail/food service. Perhaps I’ll send them this list. 🙂

I’m seriously thinking of knitting a vintage pattern for my next sweater project. I love love love this vintage Sirdar pattern that Subversive Femme posted this week. It would look lovely in cream fingering wool with pearl buttons. I haven’t studied the pattern at any depth, but I believe it’s actually a pullover, not a cardigan. I’ve knit three cardigans in a row and it’s time for a change.

I never thought I’d say this, but I need a better coffee mug! In a fit of housecleaning/organizing last year, I went through our kitchen and donated most all of our novelty mugs — you know, those ugly things you pick up at trade shows or on vacation. I’m thinking of a Clan MacKenzie mug; my paternal great-great grandmother was a MacKenzie:

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“I Shine Not Burn” — perfect for a writer!

I also like this vintage-y Union Jack travel mug:

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Decisions, decisions …

A few reasons why I love May

Trees flowering

Closeup of flowering tree

Forsythia

O meeting me after school

Dinner

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February snowstorm

 

That last one is to remind me of what it was like around here just a couple months ago!

Today I biked into town to run some errands. What a glorious day! May and June are my absolute favorite months of the year. I adore all the birdsong, flowers, sunshine, warmth. greenery, and earthy smells. I was really enjoying my ride today when — ooops! — my alarm went off and I realized O was coming home early.

So I called him on his cell phone and he met me on the bike path for a short ride to the farm for a dozen eggs (me) and root beer (O). And to celebrate the season, I had a big plate of roasted asparagus for dinner. This time of year I could eat asparagus every night for dinner.

A glorious day!

 

What a week

Fiat 500

City Fish Market, Wethersfield

Remnants of fall in spring puddle

O and Carolina

O and Carolina

O and I spent his spring break down in Connecticut with my parents … a couple days at my father’s house on the lake, then a day at my mother’s house in Mystic.

We were lucky and got a Fiat 500 from the rental car company. I was so excited to get it. And yes, it lived up to my expectations. Not only adorable, but peppy and surprisingly comfortable. Usually after an hour of driving, I have to get out and stretch my spine … not so with this car. I was sad to bring it back to the rental company at the week’s end. 🙁 Fingers crossed I can buy one when my car-less in suburbia experiment ends in October.

On Monday the 15th I left O with my parents and drove up to Northampton, home to my alma mater, Smith College, but more importantly, home to the yarn Mecca called WEBS, which was having its anniversary sale. I spent several hours there, bummed that the wool I’d picked out for two projects was backordered, but I did find enough for other projects in the queue. Thanks to my parents for the generous Christmas gift that financed this expedition! 🙂

On the way back to Connecticut, I stopped at another favorite place, City Fish Market in Wethersfield to pick up some salmon for dinner. I love this place. My mom used to buy fish here when we were kids, so it’s always a nice nostalgic visit.

When I got back to my father’s house, I recall asking him who won the Boston Marathon. My father is a former marathoner who has actually run this marathon, but he didn’t know. I went to work preparing dinner, then went to check my e-mail when I saw a couple “Are you okay?” e-mails. Panic rising, I checked the news and saw what had happened. I quickly called my husband, who works in Cambridge, and he assured me he was fine. The rest of the night we stayed glued to the television.

We cut our visit to Connecticut a little short so we could return to Boston. It’s weird, but I just wanted to be home even though it felt like everything was crazy up there. We did sneak in a visit to Storrs to the UCONN Dairy Bar, got in a nice walk at Center Church Camp, and my mother treated me to the first whole belly clams of the season down at Sea Swirl in Mystic. (Sorry, North Shore folks but Sea Swirl clams are superior, nyah-nyah.)

My husband usually works late on Thursday nights, but he came home a bit early because we’d returned. I was beat from all the drama of the week so I went to bed super-early and when I woke at 7, my husband had already left for work. He works at 500 Technology Square, which is part of MIT bordering the east campus. The first thing I do when I wake is check my e-mail … and oh no, a bunch more e-mails asking if we’re okay, or specifically if my husband is okay because of what happened at MIT!!! Frantically I checked the news, then called my husband. He happened to get into work so early that he was able to get into his building before they locked down Cambridge, but the fatal shooting and carjacking the night before had happened within a block of his building. I was so grateful that he’d come home early the night before because he would have been in the thick of it otherwise!

I had some worry that he wouldn’t be able to get home that night, but with the action firmly over in Watertown, he was able to leave work around noon and return home.

And that was that.

I can’t bear to watch the news anymore. It disgusts me that such a fun, iconic event like the Boston Marathon was attacked like this. But the pundits and comedians all have it right: Boston is a tough city. I mean come on … we stuck by the Red Sox for how long? The people who live here are resilient. My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones who were too young to pass. The people who were hurt and maimed will be loved and supported by not just their families, but the whole community.