Sunday, September 09, 2012

Here's a fun little reading check-in from Kelly at The Broke and the Bookish

(I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, intended to take pictures--because blogs are better with pictures--and then got distracted by a little thing called the Start of the School Year. So: no pictures...but blogs are also better with actual posts!  I'll come in with italics at the end of each answer to let you know whether any of my thoughts changed after writing this originally.)

1. The book I’m currently readingA Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin.  This is the fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I originally began this series in about 2001 when there were two or three books, and the series has gotten a lot of publicity this last couple of years because of the HBO series Game of Thrones.  This summer I have reread all five.  It has been eye-opening to reread them all in one fell swoop--details I never noticed the first time around are suddenly Really Important, and most of one whole book was a complete surprise to me, likely because I was so excited for it to come out that I read it too fast the first time.  

I've stalled out on ADWD, though, maybe because I'm reading it as an ebook?  I bought it for my iPad (through the iTunes store) because I was traveling to teach at a workshop and didn't want to hoss the huge hardback along with all of my teaching materials.  I love that ebooks allow me to fit a 1500-page hardback into the same package that holds all of the Internet and fun games and helpful apps and my magazine subscriptions; however, I have found that my reading concentration dwindles when I can wander away from my book into the internet simply at the click of a button.   

Update: Got back into and am still reading this. Still loving it. 

2. The last book I finished: An Obvious Enchantment by Tucker Malarkey. Meh. This is the kind of Literary Fiction that takes itself far too seriously and that I am in grave danger of picking up again in two years because I have completely forgotten that I Already Read It.  

Update: I already don't remember the story or the main characters' names. I gave it to Goodwill.

 The next book I want to read I started reading English Creek by Ivan Doig back in January after my grandmother died.  (Doig was one of her favorite authors, and I'd never read anything by him.)  I just didn't have the concentration at the time, but it's still sitting next to my bed.  I want to read it next, theoretically, but instead, I'll probably read...  

Update: still on the nightstand.  And now I'm reading The Dog Star by Peter Heller for my book club.  Sorry, Mr. Doig and Grandma Helen!

4. The last book I bought: Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg. I absolutely love Simon Pegg as a writer and an actor--you may recognize him from "Star Trek," "Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz."  He is hilarious and self-deprecating in that way that only British humorists can be. Nerd Do Well will be my palate-cleanser after the high-intrigue, high-drama, high-violence, and high-rape world of A Song of Ice and Fire.  

Update: I read this on my iPad.  Quick, funny, interesting, and not as well-written as I'd hoped, but ultimately worthwhile, especially if you are a Sci-Fi nerd, which I am, and/or like Pegg and his oeuvre, which I do. It made me seek out his first show, "Spaced," on Netflix. In the memoir, he walked an interestingly fine line between TMI (didn't need to know about your teenage sexual shenanigans, thankyouverymuch) and clearly drawn boundaries (he's married and has a child but hardly mentions either). I also learned some new British slang, which sometimes my iPad dictionary knew and sometimes it didn't.

5. The last book I was given: The free table at the library gave me The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory. I'm not a huge historical fiction buff but I have enjoyed Gregory's books a lot, and having just finished Will in the World, a really engaging and thought-provoking biography of Shakespeare, I am excited to dive into the Elizabethan world in fiction again as well. 

Update: My principal gave me a book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Fable, which she thinks I'll be interested in, and which is giving me major flashbacks to reading Who Moved My Cheese? in the 90's when I worked in sales and the company bought a copy for everyone to read because they thought it would help us be better workers with less complaining about change. I'll skim it and give it back.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

I live in one of the berry capitals of the country.  Our county produces a ridiculous amount of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, not to mention the insane (and rather nuisancy) amount of wild blackberry cane that grows everywhere.  But it was just recently--last summer, amazingly--that we ever went and picked berries.

Canning was something that I thought was too hard, too time consuming, too scary to contemplate, a task that required a crazy specialized set of skills and equipment.  But last summer, after having two years of successful pickling under our belts, and having raced the kids to fill buckets of strawberries with little long-term thought to the purpose of having picked 16 pounds--I made my first jam.

And, guess what?  It was easy.  I'm serious.  If you can follow a basic recipe for cookies off the back of the chocolate chip bag, you can make jam.  Heck, if you can make a Lean Cuisine in the microwave without setting it on fire, you can make jam.  The main thing you need is TIME, but even the most intensive recipe can be made in an afternoon.

For my first try I followed a recipe from Sunset magazine, but was not happy with the amount of sugar it called for.  (Pectin needs sugar for its chemical reaction, so you can't just reduce it or substitute.) And even the low-sugar pectin that you can get at the grocery store still requires cups and cups and CUPS of sugar; it's only low in comparison.

[I just noticed when I popped over to Amazon that Sure-Jell's low-sugar pectin now says it has no-sugar recipes.  It didn't have that last year.]

All hail the internets--I quickly discovered the existence of Pomona's Universal Pectin, which besides being a product that sounds like it's from the 1870s, allows you to make jam with little or even no sugar.

Here's what we've tried so far, the past two summers:

  1. Strawberry-raspberry jam, from Sunset magazine.  Lovely, and VERY sweet.  The Jam that Started it All.  I made 4-oz jars and gave most of it away to the neighbors because I was so excited that I Had Made Jam!  Note to self: next time, ask neighbors to return jars.
  2. Low-sugar strawberry jam, following the recipe on the inside of the low-sugar Sure-Jell package. Traditional and yummy.
  3. No-sugar blueberry jam, following the recipe inside the Pomona's Universal Pectin package.  This turned out thick and spreadable, almost like a fruit butter, and took us through the winter.  Even in the depths of February this tasted like summer.
  4. No-sugar strawberry jam using the Pomona's recipe.  Even I, and I love tart foods, think this one could have benefited from a little sugar.  That said, it's awesome with peanut butter on toast, and it makes an fresh-tasting, ruby-red dessert topping.  If I give any jars away for gifts, I'm going to say it's strawberry sundae topping and the recipient will be none the wiser.
  5. Low-sugar strawberry jam using the Pomona's recipe.  No verdict yet because we haven't opened it yet.
  6. Low-sugar raspberry jam, again following the Pomona's recipe--next up to be opened.  I also made a bunch of 4 and 8 oz jars of this for gifts.  Raspberry jam is my absolute favorite, so I am thrilled we didn't miss raspberry season this year.
Finally--lest you think we have gone completely health conscious--for a belated birthday gift I got a copy of Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan, who has an awesome website called, not surprisingly,  This book goes way beyond jam to cover condiments, fruit butters, marmalades, curds, salsas, pickles, and more.  This is a wonderful book and I would highly recommend it for new-to-intermediate canners.  Her jams and jellies are all full sugar, so I wouldn't personally make them for everyday family use, but we did make one very special jelly with an eye toward gifts: tart cherry/amaretto jelly.

Have you tried canning fruits, jams, jellies, or anything else?  what are your favorite recipes?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Short(er) rows

This summer, I'm laboring at love...with love.

Love: stranded colorwork vest that is challenging me in oh-so-many ways...but as the rows, er, rounds get shorter it gets more fun, and that is the joy of a hem-up knit.  I'm jonesing to knit with big needles on a quick project (maybe that's why THIS jumped out at me from the new Interweave Knits?) but it's also been completely absorbing to be creating a garment on size 2s and the dang thing BETTER FIT ME OR ELSE.  It definitely warrants its own post.

Love has also been taking care of my body. Summer is always a time of rejuvenation and after a year of feeling good, finishing (nearly) the Whole 30, which I highly recommend for snapping oneself out of unproductive eating habits, I have been running more and biking more and feeling more *me* for the first time in a long time.  It helps that I have come to some realizations about my body and myself--probably fodder for another post--that are continually surprising that it took me to age 36 to figure out.

Love has been completing some house projects that needed to be done, and thinking about what we want our home to look, feel, and be like for us and our guests. I'm not a big decorator/DIY person but I do enjoy small, achievable projects.  Maybe that's another post.

Love has also been indulging in lots of reading and quiet time, which I share with my kids now.  They've both turned into crazy bookworms, devouring their books of choice and reading and reading and reading and READING until I have to go (like I remember my mom doing with me) and say, "Are you still with us?"  I'm rereading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin (also known as the Game of Thrones series after its first book and the HBO series).  I'm also listening to the latest Stephen King, 11/22/63, on audiobook.  I haven't read a King book for a long time--I think he lost me at about The Langoliers--but I have heard good things about this one, and I love his nonfiction (who else misses his Entertainment Weekly column?), so I'm giving old Uncle Stevie another chance.  Perhaps I can weigh in on my thoughts about the series or the King book in another post.

It's funny...the Knittingverse is full of meetups and fairs and Ravellenics and Tours de Fleece and I am in the least joiny mood I've ever been.  Just enjoying me and my needles and my little nest.  Again...probably another post for another time.

This is my new year, my refresh, reset, reboot time.  So many beginnings, so many strands, so many skeins...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.
E. B. White

I have to admit that I love doing laundry.  It's one of the only chores that allows you to watch TV at the same time.  It's also that little bit of order from chaos that we all need around the house.

We've been repainting our downstairs, which includes the family room, the laundry room, and, behind a little pocket door, a half bath.  The floor is a dark green tile--somewhere between avocado and forest--and the walls had been painted a greeny white.  Like most paint colors chosen by the previous owners of our house, the intent was to match some other element in the room, and the result was slightly off and kind of, well, ugly.  Greeny-white is NOT a good color in a room that has no natural light.  It sort of reflected itself onto your skin when you were in there and made you look like you had cholera or typhus or some horrid 19th century wasting disease.

On the pocket door was painted a Mondriany geometric pattern in burgundy and green.  Again, not the SAME green as the tile, but ALMOST.  It was so poorly executed that the paint had bled under what had been the taped off portions, making every line uneven and amateurish, and the pencilled-on guidelines HAD NOT BEEN ERASED.

Listen, I get the whirl of excitement that happens when you see something on HGTV and want to imitate it in your home RIGHT NOW.  But why not erase the pencil lines?

And, more to the point, six years later, why hadn't *I* erased the pencil lines?  Instead I just pushed the pocket door into its, er, pocket and tried to pretend it wasn't there.

Now, though, there was a lot of satisfaction in primering over that and painting it a smooth, warm color of creamy white.  (Malted Milk by Behr from Lowe's, in case you were wondering.)  We've got plans for shelving and/or cabinets, and I want a little drying rack for my handknit socks, and some bins for sorting lights and darks, and (can't you tell?) I'm just giddy with excitement for a little laundry oasis to be ready.

What's your favorite household chore, and why?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Fruit alchemy

Fifteen pounds of local, we-picked-'em raspberries became fifteen jars of jam today.

We also set aside a good number of berries to freeze for the dark days of winter, plus a big pot of "ice cream topping"--as my husband called it--that I would just have soon have called "dinner, eaten standing at the stove."

Before we went on vacation last week, we had picked another 15 pounds of local strawberries and made no-sugar jam following the recipe that comes in the box of Pomona's Pectin.

I got this book as a belated birthday present and it was well worth the wait...I basically read it cover to cover (stopping to salivate) on our drive home from eastern Washington.  I am sad there aren't more low-sugar or no-sugar recipes--I see us using it to make a few boutique jars to give as gifts, but using our more utilitarian jams for every day.  This is the book equivalent of playing dressup with fruit.

I was thinking as I walked the rows this morning, picking the luscious giant raspberries--my county produces some insanely high percentage of the raspberries in the U.S.--how lucky we are to be able to drive a mere fifteen minutes to pick fifteen pounds that will become fifteen jars.

Have you gotten into preserving or jam-making or pickling or anything else?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012



My sister made this for me.

Isn't it cool?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Cross my heart



Almost makes me want to take up cross-stitch again.