Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wool S-AAHH-cks (or, Why Knit Your Own?)

The weather turned cold a couple days ago. We built the first all-day-long fire in the old cookstove and I started hunting for my sweaters. My feet were cold. I found my newly finished wool socks and wore them all day for the first time. AAAHH, how nice they felt! How thankful I was for these socks. And it wasn't the first time. I do believe these humble socks have given me much more than the many hours I put into them. And I think their story illustrates the benefits of making things yourself. It's the process that makes the product special.
I enjoyed spinning this light grey wool from sheep raised right down the road. I had the thrill of trying out a couple different shades of green Kool Aid on my yarn. It worked-I liked the color variations. It was fun to see how the colors came together in different ways as I knit. I marveled yet again at the short rows that magically turn the heel. Heels never cease to amaze me. I'm grateful for all these fun discoveries.
But even more than these I'm thankful for the socks keeping my hands busy during a summer of numerous hospital and nursing home visits and dreadful diagnoses. They were my constant companions as my dad lay dozing in his bed next to my chair. Always I had the comforting monotony of the yarn and the needles. They distracted my eyes when I couldn't look him in the face or when I didn't want him to see my tears. They gave my hands something mindless to fidget with when my mind was racing and there wasn't room in my head for a more creative project. My dad noted their progress each day. They gave the nurses and me something to talk about. They were truly a godsend during this difficult time.
And now they're done. They're pretty, they're practical and there's not a pair in the world like them. And did I mention how yummy they feel?
I wore them today when I visited my dad. I am his nurse now. As he lay on his bed I remembered I had my new socks on. I slipped off my shoe and threw my foot up on the bed. "Hey, you finished them!" he said.
So as I wear my new socks I think about all that went into them and all I got (and am still getting) out of them. I think I came out ahead. "Why knit socks?" a friend asks me. This is why.
So now I'm anxious for another pair. Here's my newest sock project. I wonder what these will give me?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bread Baking Day

Below you can see one of the "hearths" in Island Hearth and Handicrafts. I took photos last time we fired up our outdoor brick oven so I thought I'd share them. If you have aspirations of brick oven building and baking I highly recommend you go for it. It's extremely rewarding. My husband build our oven out of plans found in The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott. He also aquires and splits all wood, builds all fires and rakes out all hot coals. I've done these things so I know how to do them but it's so nice having him do the dirty/hot work! That way I can concentrate on the bread. It's definitely a team effort around here on baking day...

The oven has only one chamber in which the fire is built and the bread baked. Here's the fire getting started. It will burn for about 4-5 hours or until the oven ceiling is so hot that the black, smoky soot burns clean off clear to the back of the interior of the oven. Here are the whole wheat sourdough loaves that I made the day before and kept in the refrigerator overnight. When the fire is about finished burning I pull the formed loaves out of the fridge and let them finish rising in the warming oven of the wood cookstove in our kitchen. (They rise in floured baskets.)
After the fire has burned down the coals are raked out evenly to distribute the heat over the hearth. They are are then shoveled out and put into the fireplace right next to the oven (below left). The oven chamber is then scraped and mopped out to clear all traces of coals and ash. The door is then put on (held in place by bricks) and the oven is left alone for a little while for the heat to even out in the thick masonry.
I know the oven is ready for the bread when I can stick my hand inside and count to about 7. If I can't make it to 5, it's too hot and I need to wait a bit longer. If I can count to 10 I've waited too long. If I can smell the hair burning off my arm I really need to wait a while! We tried using an oven thermometer a few times but it soon melted. I'm telling you, it's hot in there! The unbaked loaves in the baskets are flipped upside down onto a semolina-dusted wooden peel (again, made by hubby). They are slashed with a razor blade then loaded two at a time into the oven. As I flip, slash and load, my husband is opening and closing the oven door. The last thing I do is spray a bit of water on the inside oven dome. I then close the door, mark the time and hope for the best. I can fit 9 2-pound loaves in our oven (more if they're smaller). The heat radiates from every direction, surrounding the loaves, making them rise and brown beautifully. They're ready in about 25 minutes.
Here's the bread about to come out of the oven and the finished product below. This batch got delivered to friends and family. I still have a loaf in the freezer. The bread is simply made from freshly ground whole wheat, wild yeast sourdough starter, water, salt and the most important ingredient, time. It's nicely sour but still rises well. I loosely follow the Poilane-Style Miche recipe in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. You can see the nice crumb in the top picture. Yum!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Lemon Curd, Unrefined and Organic

For various reasons I have decided to let the white sugar run out in my house and don’t have any immediate plans to replace it. This happed Friday afternoon at 4:30 pm Pacific Time as I was making a pound cake. I substituted Rapadura for about 75% of the sugar called for and it turned out fine. So far so good.
Next the plan was to make lemon curd. I wanted to use agave syrup as that has the most neutral taste of any of the unrefined sweeteners. I couldn’t find a recipe online that I liked so I made one up. For an experiment I used extra virgin coconut oil instead of butter. It gave the curd a hint of coconut flavor which blended well with the lemon (it also made the curd dairy-free). The fabulous deep color of this curd is from the amazing local eggs I’ve been lucky enough to get lately. The ingredients are all organic, too! All these positive factors add up to a lemon curd that is nicely tart and rich and makes me feel a little less guilty to indulge in and to feed my family. It turned out so well I thought I’d share it with you.

Lemon Curd
1 c light agave syrup
1/2 c fresh lemon juice
--pinch of salt--
1 TB cornstarch
1 tsp (generous) fresh lemon zest
3 egg yolks
2 eggs
5 TB (3 oz) extra virgin coconut oil

Whisk eggs well in a bowl. Combine agave, juice, cornstarch and lemon zest in saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower heat and add a bit of this to the eggs to temper them then whisk eggs into juice mixture. Cook gently and stir until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in coconut oil bit by bit. Force through a fine sieve and cool. Makes about 2 cups. Yum!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring Appreciation

Loveliest of Trees
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
A.E. Housman
I happened upon this poem the other day and it spoke to me. Spring is certainly here and I feel a need to notice it this year. Maybe it's the artist in me waking up and finally learning how to see, maybe it's because my grey hair seems more prominent this year, I don't know, but I am just loving the blossoming spring outside my door. I never dreamed I'd ever derive such pleasure from watching a simple sparrow flit about under a bush going about her business. I can't wait until the apple trees bloom in the orchard. Does this mean I'm becoming an old lady? Maybe so. So I've decided that television can wait. Celebrity gossip can wait. Even (gasp!) the computer can wait. But spring won't wait. It will march right along and get lost inside summer. And I for one don't want to miss it.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Spring...The Doll

I signed up for a doll swap through Vivian's wonderful blog Viv on a Whim . This was fitting as my decision to enter this swap was truly on a whim! I have never done a swap before. The theme was "Beat the Winter Blues". The doll had to be joyful and springlike. This turned out to be good for me as it forced me to think about making something joyful and happy to represent the change of seasons when my heart really wasn't into it. Just a few days after I signed up for the swap my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and a couple days after that my dear friend Janice died of the same disease (see post below). My mind was swimming with all sorts of dark, one-breasted art dolls representing the helplessness and uncertainty of this awful disease. But I put the cancer dolls on hold for now and started needle felting this gal. I knew I wanted to do a female figure but what I didn't know was how I wanted to pose her. Originally I planned on a nude figure, perhaps representing Mother Nature, lovingly holding baby Spring (a needle felted baby wrapped up in flowered silk) but it just didn't seem right. So though I went through pains to make sure she was anatomically correct, I had to abandon that idea and cover up her lovely body with a dress. I think that was the correct decision though and I'm happy with how she turned out. I only hope my swap partner likes her. So here, holding the first pussy willow of the year, is Spring. I hope you can see plenty of signs of her wherever you are..

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Remembering Janice

Janice Gray, the mother of my old friend Dona, recently passed away. She was as glorious a human being and as full of life and love and laughter as anyone I have ever met. I could write pages and pages about her and that still wouldn't do her justice. More importantly nothing I could say could ever properly explain how it felt to be loved by her. When Janice loved you- man, you knew it. I knew it. Even though I won't see her incredibly blue, beautiful, smiling eyes again or watch her throw back her head with a hearty laugh or almost believe her amazingly serious, deadpan face when she was delivering an incredibly witty zinger, I know she lives on. She's in the hearts of all those who were lucky enough to know her.
She and Dona were extremely close. When thinking of an image that would mirror thier relationship this is the one I came up with. It's called "One Heart" and seems appropriate for a Valentine's Day post.
There has been a tribute page set up in Janice's honor. I hope the family posts on the website the picture that was on the flyer at her memorial. There she was, dipping her bare feet in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. She had her jeans rolled up, head back, arms triumphantly extended and a huge smile on her face. She had written in the sand "I WAS HERE!"
Oh yes, Janice, you most certainly were.