Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Too Much Bacon? Oh, Clam Up!

Yesterday was one of those cook-from-the-pantry days.  It was gray and rainy, and I didn't want to go to the grocery store.  I almost always have pasta and cans of chopped clams in my pantry, so linguine with clam sauce seemed to fill the bill.  Clams are supposed to be high in protein, iron and other minerals, and B12.  They are also low in fat.  So what's the best way to take this healthy food and make it less healthy, but very, very tasty?  Bacon!  Ten slices of bacon!  It's a lot of bacon, but too much?  I'd say, just right.

Mmmm, bacon!

Bacon and clam sauce is a special, yummy treat at our house.  Even though I usually have the ingredients for this dish on hand (except for fresh parsley in the winter), I don't make it often because of all the bacon.  We LOVE bacon, but it's not exactly health food, is it?  How cool is it, though, that a special treat dish also happens to be one I can whip up when the fridge is kind of bare?  In addition to the bacon, garlic and cayenne pepper give this dish a lot of flavor.

Luckily there was still
parsley in the garden.
This recipe, with only slight modifications, comes from a great little soft cover cookbook called All the Best Pasta Sauces by Joie Warner.  My copy is from 1987, but you can still get the book on Amazon, lots of used copies available too.  It's a wonderful little book if you like pasta.

Crispy Bacon and Clam Linguine
Slightly adapted from All the Best Pasta Sauces by Joie Warner

10 slices bacon, preferably smoked
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound linguine
1 small onion, finely chopped
3-4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (can omit if you don’t have fresh, or add a tablespoon dried parsley in last step of cooking)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 5-ounce cans chopped clams, drained, reserving 1/4 cup broth
Grated Parmesan cheese

Lots of clams, too, not just bacon.
Heat water for linguine.

Fry bacon in large skillet until crisp.  Remove bacon to paper-towel-lined plate.  Pour out bacon drippings, reserving 1/4 cup.  Return 1/4 cup bacon drippings to skillet.  Break bacon into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Begin cooking linguine.

Add olive oil to bacon drippings in skillet.  Heat over medium heat and add onion and garlic.  Cook about 3 minutes, until tender.  Add fresh parsley, cayenne, and black pepper, and cook about 2 minutes.  Stir in clams and broth (add dried parsley here if using).   Cook until heated through.  

Combine with hot pasta, top with bacon pieces and toss to combine.  Top with grated cheese if desired.

Serves four.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Target: "Anything You Can Do, We Can Do Cheaper"

After my latest trip down south, I've been feeling calm and in control.  Getting some work done, taking some walks (like the above view of the prairie park last Sunday morning), doing some errands.

One such errand was this morning.  I stopped by Target to pick up three birthday cards.  I milled around, decided to pick up some Diet Cokes and a couple of toys for Alfie.  Then THIS happened:

Get outta town!  Are you seeing what I'm seeing?  Woven yarn baskets?  I don't know whether to feel like I'm ahead of the curve for already having made numerous crocheted baskets myself or way behind the trend since Target has already reduced the price.  $15.99.  It's tough to buy the yarn that cheaply.  I'll confess: the air went out of my balloon a bit.  Just last week I was feeling accomplished and cool as I finished the daughter's requested set of nesting baskets. Now I see that they need to be moved to the clearance bin.  Sigh.

Nesting basket set, un-nested, but handmade.

Nesting basket set, nested.
See the wonky edge? Proof it's handmade.

In addition to finishing up the nesting baskets, I began crocheting a lace scarf with some of the Serenity Garden yarn I showed in my last post.  I'm using the Strawberry Lace pattern from the Crochet Noro book.  It's slow going and I'm not sure I love it, but I'll be able to tell better once it's finished and blocked.

Fall is arriving here in northern Illinois.  Beautiful cool weather and blue skies today.  Perfect.  We even had clear skies for that fabulous blood moon on Wednesday morning.  We couldn't see it at the house because of all the trees, but when we went for our walk around 5:45 (a little earlier than usual), the moon was in its glory.  We felt lucky to get to see it.

Colorful and healthy!

Fall also means the end of summer vegetables.  The husband stopped by a farm stand earlier this week, however, and loaded up on some beautiful zucchini and sweet peppers.  I roasted the lot with russet potatoes and chicken, all tossed in olive oil, garlic, and lots of fresh rosemary.  A feast!  I only have a before picture because we were too eager to eat to snap any shots after it came out of the oven.

So that's what I've been up to lately.  I hope early fall is colorful and peaceful at your house, too.  Just be very careful which aisles you walk down in Target.  Don't let your handcrafted balloon burst.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Yarn Crazy

Completed large basket and almost completed medium
basket with lots of Thick and Quick still to use up!
I've gone a little crazy this week -- yarn crazy.  I'm still working on crocheted baskets.  My daughter has requested a set of nesting baskets.  I guess she assumes I have some kind of control over the size they turn out.  I finished a large one and then ran out of Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick partway through the middle-sized basket.  I made several trips to two different Michael's stores and only found one more skein in the correct color, barley. I called around and even looked online, and the Michael's web site was out, too.  Then I discovered four skeins at my local Jo-Ann Fabric, so yesterday I rushed over and bought all of them.  I should have more than enough to finish the set of three baskets.  And isn't that what yarn hoards are all about?  Having more than enough?

While I was milling around Jo-Ann, I came across Crochet Noro, published by Sixth&Spring Books. While I told myself that I can find plenty of lovely free patterns on Ravelry, I didn't listen and splurged on it.  My first project is going to be the Strawberry Lace Scarf.  The Noro Shiraito yarn called for in the pattern, however, costs $30 for 198 yards, and two skeins are needed.  I can't see that much of a splurge, so today I drove about twenty miles to a neighboring town with a larger Jo-Ann Fabric.  I knew from their web site that they had Premier Serenity Garden yarn in stock.  I went with the intention of picking up three skeins of the hibiscus color.  Well, here's what I came home with:

I think I was feeling colorful.

Gotta love the red sticker!
Yes, that's twelve skeins of yarn.  Four Serenity Garden in hibiscus, four in crocus, and four Hipster yarns in flamingo.  The Hipster yarn was on clearance.  It has a cool name and it's pink, so I couldn't resist it.  And at $1.97 each, why not?  When I texted my daughter that I'd bought twelve skeins of yarn, she wanted to know what I am planning to make.  Um, scarves . . . because the gazillion scarves already in the scarf drawer don't count? Actually, it's because I am getting ready to drive down to Tennessee for my third week-long visit in six weeks. While I am there, I need plenty of projects to keep me busy.  Last trip, my mother kept asking if I wasn't tired of crocheting baskets.  The answer to that was no, but I made a doily just to be agreeable.  (My first thread doily.  It was pretty bad, so there's no photo.)

As you can imagine, I'm not making all these nine-and-a-half-hour drives just for fun, but these colorful yarns will be sure to provide a bright spot in the next week.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Peaceful Place

Today I took a little mental health break.  I slipped on rubber shoes, bundled Alfie into the car, and drove about ten miles south to a nearby prairie park.  (I've written about this park several times before, here, here, and here.) As I drove, I found myself hoping that no one else would be there on this cool and sunny Monday morning.  As I neared the entrance, I could see another car in the dusty gravel parking lot.  I pulled in and saw a man just crossing the road to enter the "dog prairie" where dogs are allowed off leash.  He turned left, the same way I always walk.

In the middle of nowhere at the prairie.  Sorry for the photo quality; I didn't
want to lug around my camera, so this was taken with my old, refurbished iphone.

Wanting solitude and quiet, I decided not to cross over to the dog prairie, but to strike out along a path leading north, toward the main preserve (the area is called a forest preserve even though there's precious little in the way of trees).  I had never walked that way before, and wasn't sure if the path would make a circuit or dead end somewhere.  It was perfect.  A 25-minute tramp took us past the prairie, near a farm, and into the south end of the original park.  There was scarcely a sound to be heard.  A plane flew high overhead and once I heard a faraway train whistle.  Otherwise, it was quiet and peaceful.  There were lots of small white, and a few yellow, butterflies, plus I saw one monarch, or perhaps it was a viceroy.  A couple of hawks or buzzards circled the sky and numerous smaller birds called from the tall grasses and the few trees.  Ducks quacked, geese honked, dragonflies divebombed, and crickets chirped.  After turning a bend to come around the pond, I saw two lovely white herons, and two little blue herons or possibly immature white herons.  I am no birder, but I do know they were all beautiful.

After almost an hour, Alfie and I returned to the car, both refreshed from our walk in the peaceful prairie.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Basket Case!

Last week I was down south visiting the old, the sick, and the infirm (aka my family).  While I was there, sometimes with not much to do, I became something of a basket case.  Crocheted baskets!

Aren't the little handles adorable?

I blame my basket craze on Meredith at Mereknits.  Toward the end of August, she began posting pictures of a basket she had crocheted.  Yowza, I was hooked (sorry).  So I hopped on over to Crochet in Color, where Meredith got her pattern, and promptly downloaded the pattern for myself.

Last week I crocheted FOUR baskets.  You can really tell how poor my crochet skills are when I tell you that none of the four baskets turned out the same size or even quite the same shape!  I gave a mulberry-colored one to my mother, so I don't have pictures of it, but you can see what I mean with the picture of the other three.

No consistency at all!
The baskets are worked with a double strand of super bulky yarn.  For some reason, I had the most trouble with the beige basket.  The yarn is all the same brand, Yarn Bee Effortless Super Bulky, but the beige was "hairier" and my hook got caught more often.  Maybe that is why I hooked it tighter.  Another factor that made them different is that with the first one (far right), I accidentally hooked the sides from the inside out (working on the far edge of the basket rather than the side nearest me).  I don't know how I got that going, but I think that's what gave it the slightly bulbous shape.  The second basket (center) was made "correctly," or at least as correctly as I could do it.  It has straight sides.  Because I'd seen the bulbous one first, though, I kind of liked it better, so I made the third basket hooking the sides inside out again.

When I brought home my basket haul, the husband wondered what I am going to do with them.  I could see one in Florida holding sunscreen.  My brother suggested a smaller one with shorter sides as a place to throw car keys.  I'm not sure what will happen to these, but there is some gray Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick and Quick in my yarn bag waiting to be made into yet another basket!

I think I may be developing an addiction.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Got Parsley?

It's late summer and the herb pot is full and luxurious.  There's a lot of parsley out there needing to be eaten.  What to do?  Make tabouli!

Tabouli (also spelled tabbouleh) is one of my favorite salads -- so fresh, yet hearty.  Late summer is the perfect time to make it, with lots of parsley and garden fresh tomatoes available.  Making tabouli requires a fair bit of chopping.  You can use a food processor if you wish, but I like to chop everything by hand, so that I get the sizes exactly the way I want them.  I enjoy it.  Plus, after chopping all that parsley and mint, my kitchen smells divine.  So, turn on some fun music and get chopping!

This particular salad was made to strains of The Supremes and Sly and the Family Stone.
"Everybody is a Star," especially you when you serve this yummy salad to friends and family.


Adapted from Nikki & David Goldbeck’s American Wholefoods Cuisine

1/2 cup cracked or bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped mint leaves
1 cucumber, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
1 large tomato, diced (about 1 cup)
3 scallions, sliced thin
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

Soak the wheat in hot water for about 15 minutes.  Drain well, squeezing out all water.  Toss all ingredients together, stirring to mix well.  Chill or serve immediately at room temperature.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Meet Percy, FFD

Meet the newest member of our extended family -- Percy.  I call him Percy, FFD, which stands for Face Free Dog.

This is the best I could do to capture what little face this dog has.

Our daughter got Percy, a shih tzu puppy, over the July 4 weekend, so he's now about 15 weeks old.  We got to meet him a couple of weeks ago.  What a funny, nutty puppy he is!  Poor Alfie didn't know what to make of him.  Percy wanted so much to be his friend, but Alfie quickly got fed up with having this little nipper following him around and trying to bite his tail.

Our daughter is a youth services librarian, and she plans for Percy to become a library dog.  He already goes to work with her every day.  Right now, he stays in his crate in the break room, and the librarians visit him during their lunches and breaks.  She will start him in puppy classes soon, though, and eventually have him certified as a therapy dog. Once that happens, he will be able to serve as a reading buddy for the kids.  Read to a Dog programs have become very popular at libraries and schools as a way to encourage reluctant readers with a non-judgmental audience.

The future library hound and his librarian owner.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I've never done a Throwback Thursday post before.  Never even thought about it.  Then last week, my father-in-law e-mailed my husband some pictures he had taken of us in 1984 -- thirty years ago!  This was before we were married, after we had known each other about a year.  I'm not sure I had ever seen these pictures before, and I had completely forgotten the day they were taken, so they came as a real bolt from the blue.  Who were those impossibly young people?  What did they imagine their lives held in store?

When these pictures were taken, we lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, on the same street -- Harper Avenue -- a block apart.  I lived in a comparatively large first floor studio that cost $300 a month.  My dad built a large bookcase that I used to divide the room into a sleeping half and a living room half.  The future husband lived in a tiny studio with a Murphy bed.  I believe his kitchen was basically a closet.  There was a little shopping center, Harper Court, in between our apartment buildings.  When I remember Harper Court as it was then, it was something of a marvel.  This was before chain stores flooded the neighborhood.  Harper Court had, among other things, a fabulous independent toy store, just perfect in every way, a Danish furniture store, a florist, and an artists' co-op with work by local artists.  There were checkerboard benches in the center of the square where old men played chess on sunny days.  The pictures were taken in a wonderful Japanese restaurant in Harper Court that was the first place I ever saw with a sushi bar.  They also served very tasty tempura and salmon teriyaki, but the biggest treat was the red bean ice cream that they flew in from Japan.  

Sadly, the restaurant no longer exists.  And really, neither do these two impossibly young people.  After thirty years, of course we're older (with more girth and less hair) and, one hopes, a bit wiser.  Less dewy-eyed, with perhaps fewer dreams.  The people we've become, though, are okay too -- even if we no longer know where to find red bean ice cream.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Greeted by Golden Trumpets

Trumpet lilies, that is.  If you stop by our house at the right time in the summer, you are greeted by fragrant yellow lilies by the front steps.
A hand-me-down from my mother's garden many years ago,
these lilies reach more than four feet tall, so they do require staking.

We have been repainting the porch this summer, and I have enjoyed the occasional bursts of scent wafting from the lilies when a breeze blows.  It makes the arduous task of scraping and painting a little bit sweeter. 

I wish you could smell them!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dog Walking Beanie Hats

Don't be fooled.  This is his mid-day look.
At 5:30 a.m., he's jumping on the bed.
Here at the Posy house, we are an early rising bunch, and Alfie, that sly dog, is the earliest of all.  Most mornings, he's up and at 'em by 5:30 and ready for his walk.  We actually like to walk early.  It's a bit quieter -- fewer cars on the street -- and we are more likely to spot wildlife as we walk along the river.  There are others who walk or jog around the same time, so we are often able to greet one or two "regulars" and share news of deer or fox sightings or remark on the weather or what have you.

The only trouble with walking first thing, before breakfast and showers, is that my hair often looks like I just rolled out of bed which, of course, I did, but one doesn't want to go out in public like that, even if it is 5:45 a.m.  I have lots of hats for winter walks and that works great as hair camouflage.  Summer is a little tougher.  I've never been a girl to wear a baseball cap.  This summer, I did swipe one from our son's room -- a jazzy plaid number -- and have worn it a few times, but it's really not me.

acrylic version

So I found this little hat pattern, available from DROPS Design.  I have crocheted two of them so far, both in self-striping sock yarn.  The first I made in acrylic, which is really perfect for a summer morning as it's not too hot.  The most recent one I made with wool sock yarn which I had left over from a scarf I made last winter.  They're goofy looking but I like them, and I don't have to worry if my hair is sticking up weird or anything.

Little granny squares with simple double crochet for the body of the cap and as a border below.
I'm afraid, though, that this latest hat will be my last crochet project for a while.  I have developed what I believe is tendinitis in my elbow.  I am going to lay off the needlework and heavy lifting to see if it improves.  I've been doing a lot of outside work lately too (carrying those concrete stepping stones yesterday didn't help), so I'll ease up and see if the pain eases up too.  Any of you crocheters ever have similar trouble?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Crazy Granny Stashghan

If you Google granny stripe afghan, you can find photos of beautiful, color-coordinated crocheted afghans, many in rainbow hues, and some with elaborate borders.  And then there's this:

What I call my crazy granny stashghan.  I admit, calling it "crazy granny" is a little bit politically incorrect.  After all, most grandmothers are not crazy.  My own grandmothers were both hardworking women.  

My paternal grandmother married a Pennsylvania coal miner and raised ten children.  They never had much money, and she never had much free time until she was older.  She was a talented lady though.  She designed and cut her own patterns and sewed clothes for her kids.  She could draw and paint; I'm told she drew beautiful horses. When she was older, she loved Avon and always colored her hair and painted her nails.

My maternal grandmother married a bit later in life.  She married a widower with six children, one of whom wasn't quite two yet, I believe.  She then had two children of her own.  She was a farm wife who cooked three hearty meals a day, every day because farm work was hard work with a mule to plow with and tobacco worms to pick off the plants by hand.  She killed the chickens herself, churned the butter, and made quilts out of flour sacks.  My father, her son-in-law, said she made the best biscuits he ever tasted.  In later years, she lived with her oldest daughter, my aunt, and was the quietest, calmest person I have ever known.

I look back now and wish I'd taken more time to talk to my grandmothers, to hear the stories of their lives.  There are so many things I'll never know.

Perfect for lounging on the hammock.

This is the second granny stripe afghan I have made, both using up excess, leftover yarn from my yarn stash.  Honest, the only yarn I bought was some extra pink and teal to finish the border.  This crazy afghan is a mix of acrylic, wool, and even some cotton.  I love making these because they are so easy to do.  The only pain is weaving in all the ends.  

Monday, June 23, 2014

Like Magic: Mushrooms on a Monday

Parasol mushrooms in the park around the corner, taken with a phone.

Mushrooms seem to appear magically overnight with all the rain we've been having here.  The rain is keeping everything very lush and green, and the river is high on our morning walks.  Getting the outdoor painting done is a challenge, but I just snatch opportunities when I can.

In our lawn.

Sad news from our walk.  One of the neighborhood foxes was hit by a car, probably last night or early this morning.  We saw the body about 6:00 this morning, just a few feet from the street.  Poor fox.  Watching for it in the mornings has been a highlight of my walks the past month.  I hope its mate stays safe and away from the street.

Friday, June 13, 2014

An Empty Nest

This is my last robin post, I promise!  After three of its siblings had left the nest yesterday, this one final fledgling was left alone.  What to do?

Here is the lone fledgling.  "Oh so lonely."  "Maybe I can do it!"  "No, I can't, but what's all that chirping I hear?"
As I watched this little bird think about leaving the nest, I could hear robins cheeping and chirping all around.  Finally a parent bird flew up and landed close to the nest on an electric wire.  Loud chirping ensued.  I think his mama was telling him to get off his duff!  Then the next thing I knew, he had flown the nest!

He was too quick for me, but you can see him flying away on the far left side.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Robin Fledgling!

Picture taken through a window and storm window, so forgive the quality.

I have been anxiously watching the robin nest the  last few days.  (Earlier posts here and here.)  I knew it couldn't be long until the baby robins were ready to fly on their own.  There seemed to still be one or two in the nest this morning, but then I also saw this fledgling on the bird feeder.  It was first perched on top but then lost his footing and slid down. It managed to land on the ledge and perched there for half an hour or so, cheeping, and no doubt wondering where its parent/food service had gone.  It's exciting to see "my" birds grow up.  I feel quite protective of them.  I'm going to have to keep one eye on my work today and one eye on the yard watching for feral cats.  (You can read my feral cat story here.  Don't get me started on that topic.)

Taken with a phone in early morning light.

It's been quite a week for wildlife here in the neighborhood.  Monday's walk brought us about twelve feet from a very calm doe, who seemed as likely to walk up the riverbank and join us as to run away.

On Tuesday's walk, a dashing red fox ran across the road in front of us and then along the river.  Later, it was sitting quietly, peeping over some tall grass between the river and the woods, watching us walk by.  I wish I could have gotten a picture of the fox, but camera phones do have their limits!

It's amazing how much wildlife lives right here in town.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Keen for Quinoa

Quinoa is one of the current darlings of healthy eating.  While quinoa has been grown in the Andes for centuries, most Americans didn't discover it until the latter twentieth century or even the twenty-first century. It's a fun change of pace from rice, even if it isn't actually a grain. (It's a seed, did you know that?  I used to think it was a grain.)

Quinoa has become popular in my family, especially with our son.  He discovered that a local grocery store sells bulk quinoa, so he stocks up when he visits and uses it with chicken several times a week.  Because, you know, this family eats a LOT of chicken.

I often marinate chicken in some variation of a soy sauce marinade before grilling.  It's fast and I always have ingredients on hand.  Recently, I came up with my own version of a common quinoa recipe using soy sauce and garlic to pair with the grilled chicken.  This is a simple weeknight kind of meal.  It comes together quickly and is tasty and healthy.  Pair it with a salad, and dinner is ready in half an hour, tops!

I call it Fusion Quinoa Chicken because it has South American quinoa; olive oil and garlic, often associated with Mediterranean diets; and Asian-inspired soy sauce.  (I always use Kikkoman soy sauce because it is made in Walworth, Wisconsin, less than ten miles from the Illinois border, near a town we used to live in.  I was so surprised the first time, years ago, when I saw the factory sitting in a Wisconsin field.)

Fusion Quinoa Chicken

Chicken :
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 large chicken breasts, well trimmed

Slice chicken breasts in half horizontally to make thinner pieces.  Set these aside in a shallow dish.  Combine olive oil, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a small bowl and mix well with fork.  Pour marinade over chicken and allow to marinate for about 15 minutes at room temperature.  Turn chicken occasionally.  While chicken marinates, prepare ingredients for quinoa.  After quinoa has reached the simmer stage, grill chicken, turning occasionally, until cooked through.   Baste with remaining marinade whenever turning the chicken.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4-1/3 cup diced onion
3 cloves minced garlic (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup mixed red and white quinoa (you can use a single color if desired)
1 cup water
1 cup reduced sodium, fat free chicken broth
3 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon salted butter
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Saute onion and garlic until soft.  Add quinoa and cook about one minute, stirring constantly.  Add water, chicken broth and soy sauce.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until liquid is absorbed.  Turn off heat and add butter, stirring until it is melted.  Stir in parsley and transfer quinoa to serving bowl.   Top quinoa with cooked chicken breasts and serve.  

Printable recipe

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What Happened While We Were Away or A Full House

The bat house has tilted from the weight of the birds.

We got home late last night after two weeks away.  I was so pleased to see that the robins hatched (and grew!) while we were gone.  There are four nestlings, which makes for a crowded nest and two very busy parents.  The day was quite overcast, and I wish I had a longer lens, but at least you can see the little robins in these pictures.

Lunch is served.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Nesting Instinct

Happy Mother's Day!

In honor of Mother's Day, I want to share this photo of someone with real parenting instinct.

A pair of robins have been busy building a nest atop our bat house for the last few days.  It's been fun to watch all the carrying and arranging going on.  I was especially tickled to see one of last year's hydrangea blooms, which I cut off the bushes just last weekend, has been selected as building material.  The bat house is on the front of our two-story garage, just under the eaves.  I was able to get this photo with a telephoto lens from the upstairs porch of the house.

Mother's Day hat update:  My mother seems pleased with the hat I made her.  She said it fit perfectly!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Off the Hook for Mother's Day

I decided to make my mother a hat for Mother's Day this year.  I started out knitting one from a pattern that I like quite a lot.  I used that pattern for what has become my go-to winter hat, a slightly slouchy brown tweed.  Here's a picture of it from a 2011 blog post. For my mother's hat, I was using Lion Brand Homespun in a really pretty purple. Unfortunately, I gave up after getting only a few rows in past the ribbing because it was turning out huge.  The bulky Homespun yarn is obviously too thick for this hat.

Undaunted, I decided to begin a new hat.  I scoured Ravelry, looking for something with a bit of a brim.  I found a Patons pattern for a crocheted Women's Peaked Hat that many Ravelry users said ran small.  My mother has a small head, so I figured this would work out well.  I switched to Vanna's Choice yarn in dusty purple.  I like how it turned out, though it seems a trifle long.  I can't really judge the fit because it is a little too small for me.  I tacked up the brim with two coconut husk buttons in a coordinating purple from Dritz Belle Buttons.  Here's hoping it will fit my mother and be a hit on Mother's Day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mmmmm, Monterey Chicken

If you've read my blog very much, you know I cook a lot of chicken.  Grilled, baked, fried, slow cooked -- if it's chicken, we'll eat it.  Yesterday, I browsed my Pinterest food board looking for something new to prepare for dinner.  And what do you suppose appealed to me?  Yep, chicken.  I came across a Monterey Chicken photo I had pinned a year ago and never tried.  I clicked through to the blog where it originally appeared, All Things Simple: Inspiration for a Simple Life, for the recipe.

Grilled and ready to pop in the oven to melt the cheese.  I used KC Masterpiece Original barbecue sauce.  I think next time I'd like to try a more smoky flavored sauce.
A hit!  It's marinated and grilled, then topped and baked.  It's easy to prepare and makes a nice presentation (once it's taken off the cookie sheet!).  Click here for the link to the original recipe on All Things Simple by Kim McCrary.  I followed her recipe pretty closely.  As Kim suggests, I marinated the chicken for about a half hour prior to grilling.  The only changes I made were:  She used Montreal Steak Seasoning in her marinade, which I replaced with Montreal Chicken Seasoning.  I also used a smaller can (10 oz.) of Rotel tomatoes and I had one additional chicken breast. Somehow, my chicken turned out just as tomato-y as hers appear in her photo.   I probably also upped the amount of cheese because, well, I just love cheese and it's hard to overdo yummy melted cheese.  I used sharp cheddar instead of colby with the monterey jack just because I didn't have any colby on hand.  The final change I made was to cook and crumble a nice smoky bacon rather than use bacon bits.  One piece of bacon per chicken breast seemed adequate.

After baking, the cheese is all melty goodness.  

We completed the meal with a mixed greens salad and some corn on the cob.  The final flourish was the white wine we got on our trip to Cedarburg, Settlement Gold.  It was delicious.  Sweet with a slight apple flavor.  A very good, inexpensive wine. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Now We're Cooking (with Gas)

Ever hear that expression, "cooking with gas"?  I've been cooking with gas in a literal sense all my adult life. Figuratively, of course, my "cooking with gas" (being efficient or enthusiastic) waxes and wanes.  Lately, more waning than waxing, I'm afraid.  Nevertheless, here in the Sweet Posy kitchen, we've been cooking with gas in a new stove the last week or so.

Shiny and new
One recent morning, I opened the oven to put in a sheet of biscuits, and the oven was stone cold.  Had I forgotten to turn it on?  Nope.  The burners still worked, but the oven ignitor or some such thing had gone out.  Since the stove was just a couple months shy of twenty years old, we decided it made more sense to get a new one than repair it.  We went online and found a Kenmore on sale that was well reviewed by Consumer Reports and that could be delivered in a mere four days.  So in no time at all, two nice men showed up with a new stove, brought it in, hooked it up, and hauled away our old GE Profile.  

Here's where things get tricky.  The new stove has a luxurious self-cleaning convection oven -- a first for me, both the self-cleaning and the convection.  I am excited to try both, but first, I have to figure out how to use the gosh-darned digital timer!  I have baked three things in the new stove so far, and I have only gotten the timer to work once.  Each time, I look carefully in the manual, then I somehow freak out and press Cook Time in addition to Timer. Or I hit Stop and turn off the whole oven when I only want to stop the timer. Or I think I know what I'm doing (famous last words) and I advance the timer past nine minutes and then it goes back to one instead of up to ten.  I have resorted to using my microwave timer, which is also digital, but despite that, somehow I can make it work.  I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually.

The tricky control panel:  How can it be so confusing?  I guess I'm just better with knobs.

What I like about the new stove is that, first of all, it's so clean!  That's always a plus.  Second, baked goods are turning out really well so far.  Today, for example, I made almond poppy seed bread (earlier post about that recipe is here) to take to a friend as a housewarming gift.  I have occasionally had trouble with the bottoms and sides of the almond breads/cakes turning out a bit overcooked.  But today's loaves turned out with gorgeous golden sides.  

Perfect! No overbrowning.

All in all, I'm pleased with the stove.  If I ever figure out that timer, I'll really be cooking with gas.

*UPDATE:  Whoo hoo! I just set the timer!  Writing this post and publicly shaming myself was obviously the trick!
*Further Update:  I think I might have turned off the whole oven when I set that timer.  Went back and my meatballs were still cold.  Hmmm.