Archive for November, 2008

Chicken Pot Pie and Ice cream

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

It’s time to answer a couple of questions.

I bought the Greek Gods ice cream at our local fancy-ass grocery store with the carpet on the floors and the guy who loads the groceries into your car for you. Starts with a B and ends with a ylerly’s. Very good ice cream.

As for the chicken pot pie, yes, you may have my recipe. Technically, this isn’t really pot pie since it’s not really pie. It’s pot pie filling with biscuits on the side, but it’s faster and easier since you can make and bake the biscuits while the soup is simmering, plus you can save the leftover biscuits and serve them with jam for breakfast the next morning.

Let’s start with those biscuits. Just make your favorite kind of biscuits. I use the recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, with real butter. Biscuits really aren’t that scary to make from scratch, and it’s likely you have the ingredients in your kitchen right now. Butter, flour, salt, milk. However, if you really don’t feel like making biscuits from scratch, it’s okay to buy the kind in the can and bake ‘em up. They just won’t taste as good. But don’t bother making the biscuits till you’ve got the soup done and simmering in the pot. ‘kay?

Now on to the soup. You’ll need:

Some cooked chicken – one of those packs of boneless skinless chicken breasts works great, or if you have a bunch of leftover roast chicken, that works great too. A pound to a pound and a half.
A couple/few potatoes. Two if they’re big ones, three if they’re medium.
An onion, diced up.
Some carrots, chopped – about the same amount as the onion piles up to, more if you really like carrots.
Celery – same amount.
2 T olive oil
1/2 to 1 cup frozen corn (optional)
1 T lemon juice
salt and pepper

1/2 cup olive oil or butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth

Peel the potatoes and cut them up into 1/2 to 1″ cubes. If you’re using raw chicken, cut that up into chunks too – you can cook it in large chunks and cut it into bite-sized pieces when it’s done. Handling cooked chicken is much less disgusting than raw, right? This sounds crazy, but dump both the chicken and the potatoes in a pot of water and boil until they’re cooked – about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside for later.

Okay, chop up all the veggies, and cook the carrots, onions and celery in the olive oil in a big pan – like a dutch oven or stock pot – till they’re starting to get tender. Dump them out of the pan and set aside for a few minutes.

Now make the roux – that’s a fancy name for gravy that turns into the base for soup. In the same pan, melt the butter (do not substitute margarine! That’s just disgusting. Olive oil works great if you want to substitute something.) When the butter is melted, dump in the flour and whisk it till it starts to get a little browned – a few minutes. Next, slowly add the chicken broth, whisking as you go along so it doesn’t end up lumpy. Add in the milk the same way.

Now, add back in your veggies, toss in a few handfuls of corn if you like corn, you can add in some frozen peas or green beans if you like those. Hell, you could make this as a vegetarian dish if you skip the chicken and use veggie stock. It’d still be good. Toss in the chicken now, too. Let the whole thing simmer on low for a little while, and start making your biscuits.

When the biscuits are 5-10 minutes from done, toss the cooked potatoes into the soup. When the biscuits are done, serve up the soup and eat up. This stuff freezes pretty well, and makes enough for leftovers for our family. Yum!

A Bunch of Stuff

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I can’t help myself. I have a bunch of little things to talk about, and I’m going to dump them on you.

First, some socks. I’m loving the way these socks look. Hating the way the yarn sticks to itself and gets all tangled up just about every other round. They’ll be done soon.

These socks are just hanging out. Waiting for me to be done with the Noro ones. Yawn.

Why do I feel oh-so-tempted to cast on another pair of socks right now?

Oh, hey look – I made this crazy little bracelet out of strips of paper. It’s done the same way we used to fold together gum wrappers and make chains as kids – or at least the same way as I remember the teenage girl who occasionally babysat for my sister and me doing it way back in the late ’70s.

I found a tutorial for it via Folding Trees (awesome paper craft blog!!!) back in September. I printed it out, thinking maybe the girls would enjoy doing it with me. Well, it turned out they were a little too young to handle it, but they kinda enjoyed watching me make one. Maybe we’ll try again in a year or two.

Also in the Other Crafts department, I’ve been reading the eLoomanator blog for a while as well – I can’t remember exactly where or when I found it, but after seeing all the cool little things one can do with these tiny looms, I felt a very strong urge…

So, yeah, I got some. I couldn’t buy just one (although I probably should have tried just one first). I figured if I were going to do a real project with these, I’d want a couple sizes and shapes. And, I figured, it might be something that the girls could try along with me – later if not now.

And I’ve played around with them a bit – they do make cute little squares. The purple one is Bartlettyarns left over from my purple diamond sweater, and a little thicker than the orange Cascade 220 on the right. I’m kind of wishing I had bought the Multi Loom version instead, which is the right gauge for fingering weight yarns. Gee…the 4″ size sure would make a great stocking stuffer! Hint, hint…

Still, I can see myself eventually making a patchwork blanket out of these squares. You can even felt them a bit for a thicker, heavier fabric.

Oh, and about the kids – I have a great little story to tell. We were at the home of our Very Good Friends last Sunday for a magic show. The professor-dad of the family has a colleague whose brother is a magician. He was in town visiting and offered to come over and do some tricks for their girls. So they turned it into a little brunch-party, and it was fabulous.

He started off with a silly paper-string-from the mouth trick.

The kids loved him – my girls were a little nervous and didn’t want to participate directly at first, but this little guy totally hammed it up and volunteered at every opportunity. The magic word for the day was Sassafrass, and at one point the magician had asked both this little guy and his sister to say Sassafrass. The boy said it right away, and when the sister (who is in Sophie’s pre-school class and is also as cute as a button) hesitated, the magician asked her “Can you say Sassafrass too?” She shook her head, but the brother proudly smiled and said “Sassafrass too!” Little stinker.

But seriously, all the children were very well behaved, and I think all of us, adults included enjoyed the show. At one point the magician brought out a hat with a pair of bunny ears sticking out the top and told us he wanted to introduce his friend Alli. He played it up, and all the kids thought it was a bunny (I did too!) Then, out pops this alligator puppet with a bunny-ear headband on.

I know, it’s all total cheeziness, but it was really cute and perfectly fun cheeze. By the end of the show, Julie had moved off my lap and crept up to the front of the crowd. I just know that if he had asked her to participate at that point, she would have.

When the magic was done, we all hung out for a while noshing on the awesome spread our friends had put out. The kids continued playing amazingly well with each other. At one point, the three littlest girls disappeared up the stairs so I went to check on them. I found them hiding in a corner behind a chair playing some imaginary game together.

So sweet!

Also, I have a little brag for Sophie. She’s wearing underwear during the day, and staying mostly dry. I figured this week would be a good time to give it a try since she didn’t have school at all, and we didn’t have big plans other wise. But really, she’s had a few accidents, but has gone for at least a couple days entirely dry. She’s so ready, and is very excited about wearing big-girl pants. Yay! Knock on wood, I can’t believe this transition is going so smoothly. The kid is still two years old! (Will be three in February.)

And finally, back to the knitting for a moment. I’m feeling a little out of momentum right now. There are so many projects calling to me that I’m having a hard time settling on one to focus in on. I started this sweater with my beautiful blue handspun several weeks ago, but pushed it aside for some other small stuff.

I’ve got the design concept totally set in my head, and I’m very excited about it. I know it will turn into a beautiful sweater. But – there are worries. I am not 100 percent sure I have enough yarn – I’m right at the lower border of what all the generic estimates suggest I need, and I think I have that covered with the fact that I’m knitting it in a lace pattern and at a loose-for-the-yarn gauge. Still, it’s handspun. There’s no more (easily available) where that came from. Perilously exciting.

Also, I chose to start with the sleeves – for a couple of reasons, including getting a better idea of gauge on a smaller part and also because I wanted to just buckle down and get them over with. But sleeves are never any fun, and I’m doing them both at once on a circular needle so it’s a bunch of fiddly knitting. Meh.

So I decided to cast on for some potato-chip knitting – you know, like the junk food that you just can’t stop crunching on. I have this awesome skein of handspun that I bought a year or two ago from Aisha Celia that was just begging to be knit up into a scarf. I’ve been wanting to try that herringbone stitch scarf/neckwarmer thingie that I keep seeing here and there. I knew it would be a quick knit, so I cast on and got this far in an afternoon.

Yeah – and notice how my needles coincidentally match the yarn? It was a total fluke. I didn’t have a matched set of straights, so I settled on a 10 and a 10.5 in two different colors that were laying around. Well, I quickly realized that there was more yarn in this skein than I needed for this small neckwarmer thingie, and I just can’t bear the thought of wasting any more of this yarn than absolutely necessary. The colors are much prettier in person, by the way. I don’t think this stitch pattern really shows off this yarn all that well, and there is a strong bias to the fabric created by this stitch pattern. I just know I can do better. I have another idea in mind, actually. But for now, it is sitting in my office enjoying a little time-out.

The sleeves are sitting here taunting me. I will put a little time in on them tonight after all.

Wow, and there you have it! Happy Thanksgiving to those in the US – we will be with family tomorrow, and I am responsible for only the green bean dish. I’m going to try Alton Brown’s recipe this year. It looks amazing. Julie is looking forward to watching the Macy’s parade and also the dog show that follows. Should be fun!

Yummy Yarn

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Hey look! I made yarn! This is is 8 ounces of Mountain Colors Targhee roving in the Wilderness colorway, spun up to somewhere around 450 yards of worsted weight 2-ply.

This yarn is very soft, and I wasn’t going to get any more of this roving after the first batch that I spun up, because it was really sticky to draft – I think maybe it was a little felted, and this batch was the same way. But I gave the first hank to my neighbor and saw how great it was knitting up into a scarf, and immediately wanted to do the project myself. Oh, and I haven’t been buying yarn really since I started spinning, yet the gift certificate I had at Needlework Unlimited was burning a hole in my pocket, so there you go.

I made more yarn after that. I started with this 8 ounces of superwash merino from Crown Mountain Farms in the Wild Horses colorway. Man, I love this roving. It is so soft, it drafts a dream. And it’s fairly narrow roving, making pre-drafting unnecessary. Crown Mountain Farms is great! Fast, friendly service, and their prices totally rock. They have great colorways, too. Go there, buy fiber!

I weighed the roving before I started, and split it up into three chunks in an attempt to get equal amounts of singles on each of three bobbins. The colors in the yarn look totally different to me than the roving, in a good way. I actually bought this colorway because I’d seen a picture of it spun up on Ravelry.

Eventually, I had three full bobbins of singles, and then I had a little fun plying it up. I keep reading about people who put off plying, who don’t enjoy it. I love plying. It is so fun to watch my finished project coming together after all the work that went into it.

Pretty, pretty sock yarn – right about sport weight.

Daisy likes it too.

I can’t wait to knit this stuff up.

Secret Project

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

Here’s a close-up of one tiny bit of the new sock yarn project I started in the last month or so…

I’m using all the cotton/wool/nylon blend fingering weight sock yarns I collected when I was making the original Blankie. I’m not really *focusing* on this project the way I did on the Blankie, but it was calling to me for a bit, and I felt motivated to try out a couple of ideas. They’re good ideas, and I’m excited about them, I just have about a million other ideas bursting out of my head at the moment and other projects screaming louder to be knit up than this one does.

Oh, the lovely insanity of miles of garter stitch with teeny tiny yarn and needles….

Hat

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Hey, look! I started this hat – well, I’m not sure exactly when I started it. I bought the yarn back in May, but didn’t really get around to knitting with it until maybe the last month or so. And then I started it and set it aside because I wasn’t sure how I liked it.

But the thing is, I really need a new hat to go with the winter coat I bought last year. And it’s getting cold outside – cold enough to rate wearing a hat. So I buckled down and finally finished the thing. I guess it’s okay, after all. Not great, but wearable.

Now I just need to use some of this yarn and knit up some glittens to go with the hat. The thing about these projects is – I don’t mind knitting with two colors. I kind of like it, actually – when it’s going well and I feel confident about the finished product turning out. But the glittens are kind of putzy knitting. Lots of fiddly little bits and parts. And the way I like to do them with colorwork, they tend to turn out either stunningly brilliant

or just really really ugly.

(Poor FIL – he was a really good sport about receiving such a butt-ugly Christmas present. At least they were warm for driveway-shoveling.)

Let’s hope I can come up with something that falls into the former category. Before it gets so cold that my hands freeze off.

Doily Stretcher

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I think I’ve mentioned our family’s favorite librarian here before. Her name is Joanie, and she’s the childrens’ librarian at our local library. She is a sweet lady, great with the kids. Over the last few years, we’ve gotten to know each other a bit during our conversations here and there as the girls and I visit the library each week. They always run to her right away when they see her at the desk, and she chats them up and gives them a sticker.

It doesn’t take long for anyone who meets me to learn about my crazy knitting fanaticism, and of course Joanie knows all about that by now too. Well, Joanie was cleaning out her attic over the last few weeks, and found something she thought I’d like. Her mother and aunts were all crafty people, and one of them was apparently into crocheting doilies.

Joanie doesn’t crochet or knit, but she thought maybe I’d find a use for this antique doily stretcher. Hella yeah!

It’s made out of an old fashioned particle board material, and the words say Hearthside our own trademark Doily Stretcher Sears Roebuck and Co. Who knows how old it is – I’m guessing at least 50 years? I think it’s meant to be laid over a soft surface like a rug or a bed, and then one could stick straight pins through to hold the doily in place.

From the side, you can see the extra worn area in the middle where the original owner laid wet doilies out to block. I am so excited about having this awesome tool come my way! I want to figure out a way to hang it up on my office room wall without damaging it, and still be able to easily take it down to use it. I told Joanie that I would be thrilled to wash and block any doilies she has from her family that she’d like to pull out and use. But also I’m going to have to plan a new doily project of my own – it’s a good thing they’re so popular right now!

The Homefront

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

The kids are both in pre-school this morning, and I have just a few minutes left of free time before I have to go pick Sophie up. I should have been in a parenting meeting this morning, but I had an errand to run and decided to take it as an omen that I needed the morning off.

So I spent my free time taking pictures for the blog, and hopefully I have enough material set up to keep some entries coming over the next few days. I’m going to split it all up instead of dumping all on you in one go so we’ll all have something to look forward to.

Today’s topic: the goings on at home…

And at pre-school. Sophie and I were getting our coats on after her pre-school class on Monday, and she climbed right into the locker. Instant photo-op, and luckily I had the camera at hand.

How cute is that?

Here’s dinner from the other night. It’s weird. Julie asked me to make chicken pot pie, and then she followed through and actually ate it without complaining. How refreshing.

It was yummy. So much better than the crappy Swanson’s frozen ones I used to love as a kid. I didn’t even know that one could make something like this at home back then. Now it is one of my favorite comfort-food meals. I’m still thinking about making my own cookbook with all my favorite recipes and pictures of the food, and that’s why I took this picture. If I ever get around to organizing it, it would make a decent gift for friends and family.

Julie and Sophie saw me with the camera and asked me to take their pictures too…

And after the kids went to bed, I indulged in a little of this…

It’s crazy fancy-ass Greek ice cream that comes in flavours like Chocolate Fig, Honey Pomegranate, and Baklava. All of them delicious.

A knitting entry set up for tomorrow.

They Call it Bleeding Edge…

Monday, November 17th, 2008

A couple years ago, back when Windows Vista came out, I had just bought a new laptop that was touted as “Windows Vista Ready”, and although it came loaded with Windows XP, pretty soon a shiny new DVD showed up in my mailbox just practically begging to be loaded. I’ve always been an early adopter when it comes to computers. It’s always seemed like a good idea to stay on top of the newest technology. Why not go ahead and see what this Windows Vista stuff was all about?

Why not indeed. Joe was a little more reserved. He doesn’t like to interfere in my computer stuff, even to the point of hesitating to even state his opinions when I’m about to do something he thinks might be less than smart. But he did quietly, gently mention that the reviews of Vista weren’t all that great. That Vista didn’t really offer anything new or improved to benefit me…and boy, now that XP has been around so long it’s finally somewhat stable.

But I’m bull-headed, and I went ahead and upgraded. Well, I give up. I give in. It was a huge mistake. From day one, I had to put up with all kinds of weird, eclectic behavior from my software packages – an error message that I had to click through every time I wanted to send an e-mail using Outlook 2003; a funny little error message that I had to click through every time I finished uploading pictures from my camera; Stitch Painter never shut down gracefully. Things like that.

Then, after a Vista update a few months ago – I’m not sure which one because things were always so erratic that I just didn’t pay much attention to the odd lock-up or shut-down. But suddenly I noticed bad things happening more often. I was getting error messages about my video drivers and repeated blue screens of death. Not good. I did all the troubleshooting stuff that a good little early-adopter does. I went out to the manufacturer’s websites and downloaded the newest drivers. I looked for information on Microsoft’s website, and finally I ended up calling Toshiba support (I have a Satellite laptop).

That conversation was really funny, in perspective. The agent was really smart and helpful – suggested checking the drivers and even had me go looking for a save point that I could revert to. But apparently the upgrade that fried my drivers also corrupted the old system backup points. When I mentioned to him that I was strongly considering going back to XP, he hesitated a moment before politely agreeing with me that XP is a great operating system and that he’s still running it on his home computer. Vista is still new technology, he said. XP has been around longer and is very stable. Yes. Indeed.

So over the last couple of weeks, I got my ducks data in order and backed everything up. And over the last couple of days I reset my computer to factory settings, reinstalled all the software I use regularly, and copied all my data back onto the hard drive. Guess what? Everything went smoothly. Everything installed the first time with no weird error messages. Everything is running, and there have been no lock-ups or shut-downs. So far so good. Long live Windows XP.

Maybe now that I hate my computer a little less, I can find time to update my blog on a regular basis again. I have a lot of knitting goodness to share.

I’ll start with another little shawl. A while back, I spun up a 4-oz. chunk of merino-tencel roving. I wanted to keep the colors seperate and make a kind of self-striping yarn, so I tried my hand at chain plying. The first batch sucked. Royally. Somewhere around the last third of the first bobbin’s worth I kind of figured out what I was doing and managed to make some useable yarn. That’s the blob you see on the bottom-left of the photo.

I set the mess aside, and when I came back to it several weeks later, spun up the second half of the fiber and chain-plyed it, things came together and I made some real yarn. It wasn’t a lot of fiber in the first place, and after screwing up a good chunk of it, it was really a pretty small amount of yarn. But I managed to knit up a little mini-shawl that is just big enough to go over my shoulders, cover a good portion of my back, and tie in front. This picture of it blocking doesn’t do it much justice…

But I wore it on Saturday, and loved the way it looked and felt. I only wish I’d gotten someone to take a picture. Note to self: I own a camera, I should use it! It hangs much better than it looks laying flat.

This is another variation on the shawl pattern I got when I attended Candace Eisner-Strick’s class at the retreat last month. I’m obsessed with this pattern right now, and feel like I could knit about five more of them while I’m on the streak. It’s super-fast knitting, and quite gratifying to see my handspun knit up into a pretty garment!

More Fall Fun (and not-so) And Yay!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

If I were the kind of girl who ever chewed her nails, I’d be doing that right now as I try to stretch the lengths of time between hitting the refresh button on NPR’s Election Guide. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that Obama will win – I did my part by voting this morning, Sophie in tow while Julie was at pre-school. It’s looking like Al Franken has a good chance here in Minnesota as well. Even if the “good guys” do win this round, we are still in for a hard slog getting back on track. So much damage has been done to our country and our world in the last eight years. *sigh*

But enough of that. I have a lot of other catching up to do. I tried to post over the weekend, but my site host had changed the server on which my blog resides, leaving me all confused about how to upload my photos and, had I gotten that far, publish through Blogger. But that is all straightened out now.

I am so totally zonked because it was a busy week and weekend for us, and we are sharing around a cold, which Julie came down with on Friday, I started in on Sunday, and now Sophie’s sick too. We’re all stuffed up, snotty and coughing. I’m hoping I’ll be able to talk clearly by tomorrow night since I’m starting a new series of my Blankie class at the LYS. I’m actually excited about that – I have some new tricks up my sleeve to share with my students – ones that I haven’t discussed on the blog and may hold back on for a while.

But here come the fun pictures! The girls and I headed to our local “pumpkin patch” (in Knollwood Mall’s parking lot) and found a few good ones.

The girls were interested in the pie pumpkins, and when I explained that they were meant for pies more than for carving, Julie insisted that we needed to buy some to make a pie. Well. I’ve never bothered making pumpkin pie entirely from scratch – my understanding has always been that the pulp from the cans was pretty much the same as that direct from a pumpkin, with a whole lot less work.

I only wish I had taken pictures along the way, but my take on the issue is that yes, baking and pureeing and straining the pumkins is a lot of messy work and that no, the result is not at all discernibly different from the can. Still, it was a good experience to have under my belt. I ended up making three pies in the end. We ate one, I put one in the freezer, and the third I split in half and gave to my two favorite neighbor families.

This isn’t the most flattering photo in the world, but Julie took it, and I think she did pretty well.

Oh, and look! Julie knitting!

She’s tried knitting before, but last week at the library I was perusing the knitting books, and she noticed one for kids. It sparked her interest, and the next day we ran to Michael’s and bought her her very own needles and yarn. This time, something clicked, and she actually knit a row or two before she got bored and wandered off. Since then, she hasn’t asked to knit again (yet!) but she has been asking good questions about my knitting. “Mama, why are your stitches so much smaller than mine?”

And then there was Halloween. Uncle Dave came over for dinner and then came along with me and the girls as we went trick-or-treating. While I made dinner, they set up some decorations outside. I can’t believe how warm it’s been here lately. We’ve been playing in the yard without jackets for days!

They still had a bit of time left before dinner, so Dave led them in one of those foamie art-and-craft activities. Halloween finger puppets.

And then dinner was over, and my little witch and my little froggie were all ready to traipse around the neighborhood. Sophie kept saying “One mo house!” even after she started stumbling with fatigue.

We only managed to get one pumpkin carved, but the girls did it with me, and we had a good time of it.

I found this awesome stencil on the internet somewhere, and couldn’t resist putting it on the back of ours.

We had a very small candy binge when we got home – two pieces each – and then we left a giant bowl out for the “candy fairy,” who took it away and left a nice little present in its place.

The girls were thrilled with this scenario, and really liked the piggy banks they received. It’s funny – we did keep a bit of the candy, but they really haven’t asked for it yet. I’m down with that.

Sunday, we had a birthday party to attend. It was our second time at Pump It Up, and it was some crazy fun. Sophie was big enough to really enjoy it this time.

I took about a million pictures that night, but it is almost impossible to get a decent picture of kids moving that quickly.

Julie did a good job helping Sophie out when she had the chance.

Joe even managed to have a good time…

And Uncle Dave had his share of the fun too.

We are so lucky to have him in town again. He’s a total smart ass, impossible to have a serious conversation with him…but he is SO GOOD with the kids – so funny, and really a good-hearted guy.

That’s going to have to be enough for now. I’ve been upstairs three times since I started typing this, twice for Julie and once for Sophie. I have a feeling I’d better go to bed soon if I want to get anything close to a decent night’s sleep.

Oh, and guess what – I just did one more refresh on that NPR page. Yahoo! It’s looking like Obama’s gonna win. Let’s hope there’s none of the late-night craziness like there was last time. I can’t believe this, both in terms of the current political turnaround, and in the historical sense of moving beyond the race barrier, at least for this particular milestone.