Monday, April 1, 2013

Good Night and Good Luck

“I was trying to feel some kind of good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t you feel even worse.”  -- J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Not wanting to leave without knowing it, I am taking a cue from Holden Caulfield: I know I am leaving.  I think my blog has run its course, so I am saying good-bye.  Thank you to everyone who has read my blog.  It has been so much fun getting to know all of you.  I hope to still stop in and read others' blogs when I can, but my own blog will disappear shortly.  It's time for me to discover what is next around the bend.

“What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”  -- Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Not Too Sweet Chocolate Treat

Starbucks.  I have to admit, I don't get it.  Not being a coffee drinker, I have no real way to understand the whole phenomenon.  Not that I begrudge people their addictions.  I have a well established problem with Diet Coke.  It started in the early 1980s with Tab and progressed from there.  The difference is: on a car trip, I am perfectly happy with a $1.00 medium Diet Coke from McDonald's.  I don't need to find a Starbucks and invest in a grande dolce latte whatever.  

On a recent trip to Tennessee, I stopped to pick up my daughter from her apartment about three hours south of where I live.  Like many young people, she discovered coffee drinks in high school and college.  "Can we stop for coffee and breakfast?" she asked.  My bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats with almonds was wearing off by then, so I said sure.  She directed me to the Starbucks around the corner.  Since I had no idea what kind of breakfast I would find there, we had to go in.  She knew exactly what she wanted -- a slice of banana bread and some drink name that made no sense to me.  I couldn't decide what to get.  The lemon cake looked good -- except for the icing.  The chocolate bread looked good -- except for the cinnamon.  I finally chose a cookie, which was okay, but not something that would induce me to return.  The look of that chocolate bread, though, stuck with me.

When I got home last week, I must have still had the vision of Starbucks' chocolate bread lingering in my brain because when I looked in the pantry at the cookbooks, my hand went to the Hershey's 1934 Cookbook (which is actually a 1993 updated and expanded version of the cookbook), where I found a recipe for Chocolate Tea Bread.  It's a simple recipe that results in a nice chocolate loaf that is nutty, a little chewy, and not very sweet.  Mmmm.  I'm not sure how well my cake would go with a caramel macchiato, since Starbucks' chocolate cinnamon bread has 40 grams of sugar in a single slice whereas mine has about 134 grams in the whole loaf and no cinnamon, but it goes perfectly with milk or even Diet Coke!

Chocolate Tea Bread
slightly adapted from Hershey's 1934 Cookbook

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and lightly flour an 8 x 4 x 2 inch loaf pan.

In large mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy.  Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended.  Add egg; beat well.  Sift together flour, baking soda and salt; add cocoa to dry ingredients and whisk together.  Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three parts, alternately with buttermilk.  Stir in sour cream.  Add nuts and mix just until blended.  Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake approximately 1 hour and 15-20 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in pan and then remove to wire rack.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Luna Shawl aka The Eyepopper

Another shawl, ya'll!  I'm on a shawl kick lately.  The Southernism "ya'll" is because I just returned from a visit to Tennessee where a waitress at O'Charley's about darlin'-ed us to death.  I definitely said "ya'll" when I was growing up in the South, but I never called anybody "darlin'" or "sugar."  Still, I think it beats having a waiter or waitress address your group as "you guys" when at least half the group is female!

In February I wrote about my first shawl, made with the "Ruby" pattern by Anastasia Roberts, which you can purchase on Ravelry.  I liked it so much, I made another.  This time, however, I used three skeins of Cascade Luna Paints yarn in Solar Flare.  It is a wonderfully soft and cozy worsted weight Peruvian cotton, much thicker than the microfiber I used in the first shawl.  I thought three skeins, which I already had on hand, would be enough, but I had to cut short the ruffle. It's really, really bright, but I think it will be fun with a simple t-shirt and plain cardigan.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Something Fishy

I am back among the living, having come out of the weeds and the zombie state of an imminent deadline.  After a weekend spent celebrating the baby's twenty-first birthday, I have now settled back into my usual routine.

It is still winter here, despite the occasional robin sighting, so last night I decided on a warming meal of seafood chowder.  I had eaten clam chowder lots of times, but didn't discover seafood chowder until a trip to Ireland in 2009.  Our daughter went to the University of Limerick for a semester, and she and I spent about ten days driving along the west coast of Ireland before school started.  Being cheap, I soon learned that a bowl of chowder, served with that wonderful Irish brown bread, made a fabulous, inexpensive meal.  It was available almost everywhere, and I never had a bad bowl.

I recently watched Ina Garten make seafood chowder on Food Network, so when I saw wild-caught shrimp at the grocery store, I decided to try it.  I followed her recipe as closely as I could, only substituting cod for monkfish, which was not available.  This is a hearty, fishy soup, loaded with fish, shrimp, scallops, and crab meat.

A pound of shrimp, half pound of scallops, a little more
than a half pound of cod, and  six ounces of crab meat

There are vegetables, too: carrots, potatoes, celery, corn, and onion, but seafood is definitely the star of this chowder. The husband actually said he would like more potatoes, and I think I agree with him.

The vegetables simmering before the stock and seafood are added.

I would also add more flavoring I think.  Some recipe reviewers said they added a touch of cayenne.  That might help.  It was very good overall, but a little mild.  The stock was flavored with thyme, onion, and garlic, but it just needed more ooomph.  Maybe I didn't add enough salt and pepper.  For the recipe, you can click the Food Network link, here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In the Weeds

I have not forgotten you, blogging friends.  I have not been posting or reading blogs lately because I am deep in the weeds on a monstrous editing job.  In my giddy bid to obtain the work (a paycheck!), I grossly underestimated the time required.  So instead of blogging, I am hunched in front of my computer reading corporate jargon and nonsense.  I do not ask for pity, only heed my warning.  Be wary of corporations waving lucrative consulting projects.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Serenity Shawl

I am in love!  In love with this gorgeous yarn, Serenity Garden.  After seeing a fabulous crocheted shawl on Teresa Kasner's blog, (see her post about it here), I knew I had to make one too.  I shamelessly copied Teresa entirely, using the same pattern and the same yarn, although in a different colorway.

The pattern is called "Ruby" by Anastasia Roberts, and is available for purchase on Ravelry.  The yarn is Dralon microfiber, machine washable and dryable (love that!) and is part of the Deborah Norville Collection; the color is Sea.  I got the yarn at Jo-Ann Fabric, but I don't know if they still carry it.  I scoured three or four stores to find enough.

My shawl is pretty big, as you can see in relation to a double bed.  I added an additional thirteen three-row repeats in part one of the pattern to make it larger.  I think it would work well in a smaller size though -- it would be more like a triangular scarf.  It's hard to see the subtleties in the color changes of this yarn in these photos, but it is really interesting, and it feels luscious.

Thank you, Teresa, for inspiring me to make this lovely shawl.  You're my hero.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hey Girl!

I'm joining in the Hey Girl Valentine link party!

Hey Girl is a Pinterest meme involving Ryan Gosling.  As a middle-aged woman, I surprise myself that I know what a meme is and who Ryan Gosling is.  Quick -- name a Ryan Gosling movie!  Okay, I can't, but I'm sure I've seen one. Um, I think I've seen one. Yes, I did -- The Ides of March.  Whew.

For the Hey Girl link party, bloggers are making their own Hey Girl images with pictures of husbands, boyfriends, pets, etc.  It's all in fun.  (Remember that, husband, all in fun!)

Join the party and see other Hey Girls at 

Souped Up Meatballs

We've finally been getting our winter snow here in northern Illinois.  It's been beautiful.

Mourning dove taken from my office window.

Snow, however, calls for hearty, warming dinners.  As I walked through the grocery store the other morning, I thought about the oniony meatballs my mother used to make.  A package of ground chuck and a stroll through the soup aisle, and I was good to go.  This makes a very easy and flavorful change of pace for ground beef.

I served them over egg noodles, but they are also very good with mashed potatoes.

Souped Up Onion Meatballs

1 pound ground chuck
3/4 cup (approx.) fresh bread crumbs
1 egg
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 10.5 oz. can of French onion soup (I use Campbell’s)
1/2 cup water

Mix meat, bread crumbs, and egg together.  Season with cracked pepper and very lightly with salt (the soup will add extra salt).   Shape into 1 to 1-1/2 inch meatballs.

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over high heat.  Add meatballs and reduce heat to medium high.  Brown the meatballs, turning frequently.  Add the soup and water.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove lid and cook over low to medium low heat for 15 minutes to reduce liquid.

Makes approximately 30 meatballs.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Digest for Dreaming

When I was a kid, I used to love to look at catalogs -- Sears and J. C. Penney were probably the main ones.  If I could pick any bedspread on this page, which would it be?  Which outfit would make a ten-year-old look the coolest?   What about all that jewelry?  And how about those toys?  (Who can forget the Wish Book?)

When I got much older, I discovered Architectural Digest through my future mother-in-law.  Similar dreams, but on a much bigger scale. Imagine walking through that garden in Tuscany.  Or that kitchen in the Hamptons.  Sitting in that living room in Manhattan.  If only.

For a while, I subscribed, but once in a period of penny-pinching, I failed to renew my subscription.  Recently, we received a subscription pitch in the mail.  The price seemed good, so I sent in the card.  I've been eagerly awaiting my first issue for more than a month.  When the first of February came and went, I wondered if I would ever receive my new subscription.

Today, the mailman delivered not one, but two issues of Architectural Digest, plus a thin volume of celebrity homes, to my mailbox.  On this gray, snowy day, a curl up on the couch with a couple of grown-up Wish Books sounds just about perfect.

Diet Coke at hand, cozy blanket nearby.  Ready to dream.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The End of the Never-ending Blanket

If you were a young child in the early 1990s or the parent of such a child, you may know the TV show "Lamb Chop's Play-Along," which aired on PBS from 1992-1997.  My daughter was three years old in 1992, so she was part of the prime demographic for the audience.  The show starred Lamb Chop, of course, and Shari Lewis along with Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse.  Oh my goodness, the goofy skits, the knock-knock jokes, but mostly the closing theme song!  "The Song That Never Ends."  A preschooler can get a lot of fun out of singing that one over and over and driving her mother mad, mad, mad. Lamb Chop was a lot older than she looked though.  I remember seeing Lewis and Lamb Chop on TV during the 1960s, when I was a kid.  According to Wikipedia, Lamb Chop first appeared in 1957.  The point here is that "The Song That Never Ends" has been on my mind lately as I finished up my crochet sampler blanket, which seemed to become the blanket that never ends.  But it did end.

I started making the blanket before I even knew I was making a blanket.  Back in April, I purchased 200 Crochet Blocks for Blankets, Throws, and Afghans by Jan Eaton.  I thought it would be fun to try a few of the patterns.  Then in June, I showed you my first four squares.  At that point I was thinking about a little lap throw for my daughter.  As things seem to do around here, however, the lap throw got out of hand and turned into this:

Sixty-three squares of crazy.  I think when the daughter saw that I was making a big blanket for her brother, she was determined that hers would be big too.  No sibling rivalry here, folks!  Here's a view from the other side:

Is it perfect?  Goodness no.  Aside from the garish color combinations, let's just say the blanket has character, shall we?  The squares didn't turn out the same size, so there was a fair amount of adding and tweaking.  Still, I had fun doing it and almost each new square became my short-lived favorite.

No two squares are the same pattern.  Here, in alphabetical order, are the patterns I used: Alternate Bobbles, American Beauty, Anemone, Arcadia, Begonia, Big Round, Blocks and Shells, Briar Rose, Bright Flower, Candy Stripe Bobbles, Catherine Wheel, Centered Square, Chocolate Box, Christmas Rose, Coffee and Cream, Colorful Bobbles, Criss Cross, Dahlia, Daisy Chain, Danish Square, Diamond in a Square, Double Stripes, Edwardian Fancy, Four Patch Granny, Four Square, Framed Flower, Fretwork, Fudge, Gothic Square, Granny in the Middle, Granny Stripes, Granny with a Twist, Into the Blue, Italian Cross, Kingcup, Lacy Wheel, Lemon Stripe, Marigold, Nine Patch Granny, Openwork Square, Pastel Delight, Peach Rose, Peony, Primrose Square, Queen Anne's Lace, Saint Petersburg, Seville, Snowflake, Solid Square, Spinner, Square Target, Starflower, Subtle Stripes, Sunray, Sunshine and Showers, Sunshine Lace, Traditional Granny, Tricolor Square, Victorian Lace, Waterlily, Willow, Wisteria, and Zigzag Bobbles.

I think daughter plans to take the blanket back to her apartment next time she visits, but in the meantime, I'm just going to enjoy the color it adds to her room here at home.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Savory Muffin to Ward Off the Gloomies

Yesterday was a dreary day filled with gray skies and freezing rain.  Fortunately, I had planned for such a day and had all the ingredients to make a big pot of comforting vegetable beef soup (recipe here) and savory Parmesan muffins.

I don't know where I got the recipe for these muffins.  I have had it several years and I had jotted it down on a scrap of paper, so I imagine I pulled it from a magazine in the dentist's waiting room.  The muffins are pretty homely and ordinary to look at, but they make a great accompaniment to soup or even steak.  It's easy to halve the recipe, which is what I did yesterday since there were only the two of us.  Serve them hot!

Savory Parmesan Muffins

2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon powdered or crushed dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a muffin pan.

In small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and olive oil.  In separate, large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic.  Add 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, mixing until cheese is well distributed.  Add wet ingredients and mix until combined.
Spoon into well-greased muffin tins.  Sprinkle remaining cheese on tops.  Bake about 20 minutes.  Serve hot.

Makes 12 1/2-cup muffins.

The other bright spot in a gray few days is this bunch of sunny daffodils the husband picked up at the grocery store. They were tight buds when he brought them home, but every one has opened into a happy little harbinger of spring to come.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Alfie Gets Cozy

Brrr!  It's been cold, and Alfie got chilly.  Okay, I just think Alfie got chilly because, after all, he didn't show any signs like shivering or his teeth chattering.  But with highs of 10 degrees Fahrenheit, I get cold, and, as my kids will tell you, if I am cold, I assume everyone is cold and will foist hats and coats on all and sundry.  So . . .

Well, okay, maybe I just wanted Alfie to have a sweater.  Especially after the husband told me it wouldn't work and that Alfie wouldn't wear it.  Alfie not only wears it, he wags his tail when I get the sweater out of the basket.

I pulled this gorgeous pure wool Pendleton sweater from the attic where it has languished since I stole it from my mother ten or more years ago.  My mother is a tiny woman; there is no way I was ever going to fit into that sweater.  So I cut the sleeves off (don't tell my mother), slipped it over Alfie's head and front legs, and he was ready to go.

Alfie might have had doubts right at first, but once we tried it outside, he got it! Warmth and style -- what could be better?

Alfie looking askance.  What the heck am I wearing?

Monday, January 21, 2013

With One Meatball

When I was growing up, my mother would occasionally make meatballs and cabbage.  It was never my favorite dish -- I prefer my cabbage raw -- yet I made it for my own family as they grew up.  It's a simple dish of porcupine-style, rice-studded meatballs, stewed with cabbage and tomatoes.

The most appealing thing about this meal growing up was it would usually prompt my dad to sing a few bars of One Meatball, a Depression era tune recorded by The Andrews Sisters among others.  Of course, I never heard a "real" version of the song until the internet came along.  In fact, I wasn't even sure there was a real version.  And frankly, no one else sings it like my dad.  Every time I eat this dish, I hear him warbling "You don't get any bread with one meatball."

Dad isn't much of a singer, but he did have one other signature song.  As with One Meatball, my dad only sang the "good part" of his other song, Jack of Diamonds.  Here is the part I learned as a wee little child.
"If the ocean was whiskey, and I was a duck/I'd dive to the bottom and never come up."  
This was followed by a loud hiccup.  I love the complete political incorrectness of teaching that song to little kids.  By the way, my father is the next thing to a teetotaler, so it's especially funny that this is "his song."

Just as I've shared the meatball cabbage meal with my family, I also passed my father's two songs along to my kids.  I hope they'll remember to sing them to their kids someday too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Would You Like a Little Dog with that Yarn?

Check out my assistant who is "helping" me complete the never-ending sampler blanket.

If I stare at you long enough, will you stop crocheting and play with me?

Alfie -- Crochet Dog Deluxe!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ice Water and Open Spaces

After a couple of days of unseasonably warm weather, winter is back in northern Illinois.  We've had almost no snow this winter, but it's turned cold again.  Mother Nature doesn't want us Midwesterners to get soft, after all.  I thought I'd share a few wintry shots I made today.

I stopped by a forest preserve and was rewarded with the sight of ice floating down the river.

The barren fields certainly look cold and bleak, don't they?

I actually love to drive in the country when everything is frozen and bare.  There is nothing quite like rocketing down small country roads crusted with snow and being able to see forever across the wide open spaces.