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Joy’s visit! July 7, 2009

Posted by jeninmaine in dyeing, food, spinning.
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It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is Joy’s last full day here in Maine. Wahhh! We’ve had a great time even though we’ve only had about a day and a half of not-rain in the entire time she’s been here. Talk about a bummer. I really wanted to make it back to the beach again and do some quality sitting around on the deck around the chimnea but sadly it just isn’t to be. Next time.

Yesterday we did a whole lot of dyeing – we took advantage of the nice weather Monday afforded and the empty counter tops in my kitchen thanks to the ant invasion. Poor Joy – she’s had to deal with ants and all of my kitchen appliances sitting out on the floor in the extension while we battle them. I tried the greenish way of getting rid of them by putting Borax out for them to presumably eat and carry back to the nest, eradicating the whole mess of them, but after a week there were even more ants partying down on the counters than there were before so Michael bought some sort of highly toxic ant bait that resulted in scores of dead ants piled around them the next morning. Hmph, fine.

Joy just pointed out that in their zeal to escape the toxic poison, the ants actually crawled up into the Borax traps and expired there. What an insult.

Anyway. Dyeing. We scored a couple of bags of yarnz from the LYS, I guess I can say she’s my supplier now as she gives me a sweet discount if I buy in bulk. We also cracked open the 22# bump of Falkland I’ve had stashed for a couple of months awaiting Joy’s arrival. I’ve weighed out at least thirty 4-ounce bundles and the damned thing is still bigger than Margaret.

We set up a couple of kettles on the stove, a few crock pots and I have a lidded enamel turkey roasting pan that fits two skeins of yarn or four ounces of roving. We started a bit late around 3pm as I was anal retentive about setting everything up and in the next 3-4 hours dyed around 25 skeins of yarn and at least 10 bundles of roving. Honestly I’ve lost count. They were hanging outside on the clothes dryer, warming happily in the late day sunlight so we left them overnight figuring they could finish fluffing in the morning. Sadly we woke to find it pouring outside so we’re considering adding the descriptor “rinsed in pure Maine rainwater” when we list them to sell. My house is currently filled with hung up bits of wool dripping water all over the place. It’s sort of homey in a “crazy yarn lady” way.

For further confirmation that someday we will indeed take over the world, Joy and I discovered that we have very distinct and different methods of dyeing that yield unique results. It’s kind of cool – the stuff I prefer to do isn’t what she prefers to do and vice versa. It sure made it easier as we weren’t fighting over resources. She also brought her Cushing’s dyes with which I had very much fun. If we could accomplish what we did in just a few concentrated hours, I can’t even imagine what we could get done in a permanent dye studio 2-3 times a week for, say, five hours at a time. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for that invisible trans-US bridge from Montana to Maine.

I am tippy tapping away on Joy’s swanky laptop (of which I am covetous) while she sits beside me on the couch knitting a really giant bag. No, it’s really giant. Like I could fit both of my kids in it giant, with room for the cat. She’s going to felt it when she’s done knitting (it has to get to three FEET long, like whoa) and I feel bad for her washing machine. Maybe I’ll recommend she go to the laundromat.

Another yay fiber thing was finding some amazing waste roving at the fiber gallery – they had a huge trash bag full for 0.75 an ounce, I’m not sure what it is but it’s snow white and so soft. It’s from the Jagger mill so it’s not perfect like combed top, but I combined some of it with some colorful silk/cashmere mill waste and it spun up in a super soft, nubbly and wonderful yarn. So wonderful in fact that we went back today so I could buy three more pounds of the stuff. It was even cheaper with the volume discount.

I used the studio’s drum carder to card up a bunch of it – I had sat and hand carded probably about twenty batts last week and was tired of it. I really need a drum carder someday, talk about useful. Anyway I got a huge bag of the stuff for a song and I love it. I’ll have to see if it felts, I’m pretty sure it will.

After visiting the fiber gallery we headed back to Kennebunkport as we were on a mission to find Cushing’s. I had to call for directions as the rain started coming down so hard I couldn’t see the lines on the road. We did make it there and now I know exactly where it is so I can finagle a visit there when we bring the kids (“Oh look honey! Cushing’s just so happens to be right there! I’ll just be a minute.”).

We rang the doorbell and I wasn’t sure what to expect – it was housed in a gorgeous old farmhouse and barn in a very swanky part of town. The woman who answered the door, Jillian, was probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She was so happy to help us find dye and talk about dye and show us the sample book and talk about dye some more, not to mention she called us “girls” which instantly make me like her because I’m shallow.

We bought dye, of course, and since we came to the studio she put my name in their files so I will now and forever receive the volume discount even if I’m just ordering one packet of dye. That totally rocks! While we were chatting Jillian said, “Hey! Let me get you some dye technique handouts!” and came back with a sheaf of paper covering eighteen different methods. We both stood there with our eyes wide and thanked her. I practically clicked my heels together. I also wanted to try rug hooking so I bought a very small kit and asked if I could have a different background color and she said, “Sure!” and swapped out the wool strips and cut me a new backing on the spot. Talk about customer service! This place could be very dangerous – less than an hour away and super nice. Definitely worth the trip, Joy and I couldn’t stop talking about it as we drove away.

By this point we were ready to gnaw off our own arms out of hunger so we drove up Route 1 and discovered there are a hell damn shit lot of antique stores on Route 1. And tires. And dentists. And storage facilities. DO THESE PEOPLE NOT EAT?! We nearly stopped at a “saloon” (no shit, it was really called a saloon) until we saw a creepy middle aged gentleman leaning out of the open porch in the pouring rain staring at us. Joy held her arms out in front of her with her hands splayed open and said, “No!” Then we saw the attached seedy motel and the signs “no burnouts – no loud acceleration” and decided that perhaps this wasn’t the kind of place for us.

We ended up in a shitty little joint in Biddeford that proudly advertised “PIZZA – SANDWICHES – FRIED FOODS” on the sign outside and discovered that chicken takes a long time to cook. Either that or the dude behind the counter just didn’t want to make chicken right now. I mean, come on, it’s a fucking fryolator for cripes’ sake. We ate something edible and drank something potable and used a bathroom that was nasty (no, not together) and then hit the road.

On the way back we stopped in Portland to pick up our mugs from the paint-your-own-ceramics place, which was cool, then came home. I got one of those befrigged culinary chain letter “Amish Friendship Bread” starters from Jenn and had finally gotten around to baking the bread this morning so we had some of that, which was good (the kids friggin loved it) and I sneaked a bag of starter into Joy’s stuff to take home, heh heh. She said later, “You know, I’ll take one of those starters if you want me to,” and I replied, “Yeah…I already put it in your stuff.” Hopefully it won’t explode all over her suitcase on the plane.

Whew. Well, that’s a lot of what we’ve been up to. I’m going to relinquish Joy’s laptop back to her and I’ll probably update again once I’m back to work on Thursday (wah) since I’ll have to turn my computer on again eventually.

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Yarn and green stuff May 30, 2009

Posted by jeninmaine in Crafty, dyeing, food, kidlet.
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I pulled some photos off of my camera so here you go.

First, we did some major cleaning up last weekend and as a result I was able to do some dyeing again. It was nice to have my space back, things tend to migrate out to the extension and build up, mostly recycling stuff and kid clothes that need to be put into storage, things like that. Every few weeks we go through and clean everything out. Here’s my dyeing table, it’s nothing fancy but it does the job. I love my ghetto $4 GeeDub crock pots.

Dye table

I mentioned winding a huge skein for self-striping sock yarn. Here’s the setup, what I like to call The Definition of Torture. Ugh, SO not worth it, especially when I realized that after dyeing I need to rewind everything all over again so it’s in a usable size skein. And this is two skeins worth, so it needs to be split. Blarrgh.

Yeah, so not worth the effort.

I mentioned kidlet made clown barf, and I wasn’t kidding. I do have pictures of the yarn rinsed and dried and it’s not quite this saturated, I’ll post them when I’ve got them.

Kidlet's clown barf

The only other mildly exciting thing is that I read an entry by one of my favorites who was expressing her love for green smoothies. Being curious I read up on them and they really resonate with me, check out GreenSmoothieGirl.com for details.

Michael and I have already discussed multiple times the idea of moving to more of a whole foods diet and even more of a raw foods diet. Being diabetic he would benefit from it and being overweight it can only help me, and anything that is good for the kids is something I’m interested in. Having so little time and brainpower to get organized has been a challenge, however. I read the website and decided that I wanted to try this for myself – I figure if I can drink one green smoothie a day to start, just to get the hang of it, I can decide if I want to go further than that. I don’t have an industrial strength blender but the one I have works okay, I just have to add the initial greens little by little until it gets enough in there to keep things going.

Yesterday (Friday) I made my first smoothies – I went to the farm stand in the morning where I picked up an obscene amount of green thingies – spinach, red and green swiss chard, endive, parsley, lettuce (for salad), and then a good assortment of other things including bananas, apples, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, nectarines, a coconut, two dozen eggs, cheese curd, dates, carrots, potatoes…I actually had to use a cart instead of a handbasket and even with overfilling a banana box and having a bag to carry in addition to that I only spent $50. It was only that high because of the more expensive items like the coconut and the cheese. I love our farm stand – our usual purchase is 3-4 bunches of organic bananas, a bag of apples, 1-2 dozen eggs, 1-2# baby carrots, tomatoes, an onion or two, lettuce, celery, and sometimes pears for under $20. I feel very lucky to live in an agricultural state.

Anyway. I brought my huge bounty home and decided to mix up something simple so I used spinach, green swiss chard, parsley, strawberries, banana, and a few dates for sweetness. It was really tasty and I felt very full afterward. Best of all I ate more spinach in that one smoothie than I’ve probably eaten all month. It’s amazing how a huge handful of greens becomes a very small and compact volume of smoothie. What a great way to get our fresh veggies! I hate salad dressing and I hate eating salad so this is perfect. I made a glass for Michael and asked him to try it – I think he tolerated it, so I’m going to keep making them and offering them to him.

When kidlet got home from school I asked him if he wanted me to make him a smoothie – I’ve made fruit smoothies for him before, usually from frozen fruit and yogurt. He loves them. So I made him one with lots of fresh strawberries, a banana, a couple of leaves of green swiss chard, a small handful of spinach and a couple of ice cubes. I tasted it and it had a very slight green flavor to it (kidlet doesn’t like “green stuff” in his food like herbs) so I added a small amount of maple syrup to it and he LOVED it. He drank the whole cup I gave to him and the rest that was in the blender. I didn’t tell him that he just had a serving of swiss chard and another of spinach. That’s my little secret. It was kind of a reddish-brown so to hide that fact I put it in a kid’s cup – we have about a million of them from when we go out to eat – and put a color-changing straw in the top that was blue and turned purple when cold. He couldn’t tell what color it was so he didn’t have the opportunity to be weirded out by it.

It really was quite easy, so I’m going to go ahead and keep doing this “one a day” method for a week, maybe two, then work my way up to doing more. I’m really glad to have found this because I was sprouting a few months ago and enjoyed doing that a lot, only I couldn’t figure out what to do with all those sprouts! I just have a cheapie jar with a screen top and it made more sprouts than I could choke down. Now I can use them in smoothies! Yay! To celebrate I dusted off my old jar and set it up with broccoli seeds tonight. Kidlet and I are doing it together as a project, I’m going to take pictures every day and then print them out so kidlet can make a little folder or something with them in it.

Here it is, sprouting, day 1:

Sprouting, Day 1

It might not look like much but trust me, within a week that jar will be filled to bursting. I did this with alfalfa seeds a few times and the volume of sprouts that came from 1-1/2 tablespoons of seed was incredible, the jar was packed tight.

Just trying to find ways in my everyday to get moving, to eat better, to make changes. Little by little.

Jam! April 16, 2009

Posted by jeninmaine in food.
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I was out with Jenn the other night (nothing exciting, just talk and Starbucks as it’s the only non-bar place other than Denny’s that’s open late) and afterward she was headed to Wal-Fart so I went with her (the other non-bar place open late). How pathetic that we can only get together in the evenings after our kids are in bed. Anyway.

Strawberry Jam

At Wal-Fart they were selling strawberries for $1 a pound and had about a zillion of them. I thought for sure there must be something wrong with them but they were US-grown and there was a staffer there who told us they had just ordered way too many so were trying to get rid of them before they went bad, hence the great price. So, I ended up buying a whole bunch as we eat a lot of strawberries (like, three pounds in two days isn’t uncommon) and I have a neat upcycling idea for the plastic boxes they come in. I decided I would try my hand at making jam since I had never done it before.

Here are the fruits of my labor, so to speak:

Strawberry Jam

I started out small with just four pounds of berries, and tried out a no-pectin recipe. I plan to do another batch with pectin to see which I prefer. Anyway, it was a little time consuming getting the whole jar sterilization process down but overall fun and delicious. I even got to try out the food mill attachment I bought (refurbished, so it was cheaper) for my KitchenAid mixer, and it was awesome! I’m glad I wore a red sweatshirt because I learned that pushing too enthusiastically with the food pushing stick makes liquified strawberry shoot out. I like my jam to spread evenly.

Lesson learned: Four pounds of strawberries may not look like all that much while floating in the sink, but once you get into cutting off the stems and those little hard seedy bits at the bottom you realize it’s actually quite more than you expected. I think I’m going to invest in one of those rubber mats for standing in front of the sink.

In the end, though? So totally worth it.

Strawberry Jam

Yum!

Stuff and things. March 30, 2009

Posted by jeninmaine in Crafty, dyeing, food, knitting, spinning.
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I’ve made a couple more baby blanket squares. The directive was No Pink, so I’ve had to make do with derivatives of blues and greens.

Blanket squares

1. Intarsia heart – my first complete intarsia project. It wasn’t all that difficult once I got the hang of it, but all those separate bits of yarn – eugh, so not worth it. I still haven’t run the ends in yet and I am not looking forward to it. It’s cute, anyway.

2. Just another patterned square. Still loving the hell out of that Dream in Color Classy. Yarn love.

While we’re on the topic of crafty things, look what I got the other day…

Fiber

Whatever could be in this big box? I didn’t order any medical supplies.

Fiber

Fiber! This is 22# of roving, tightly banded together. I’m afraid of cutting that band to let it free. Joy is egging me to do it. I’m skeered!

Proof I’m not completely hopeless:

Proof I'm not a total screw-up.

I baked yeast bread! I probably should have kneaded it more, but it still tasted good.

Banana CakeMuffinBread February 20, 2009

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Banana muffins

I made some more banana cake last night, in the form of muffins so the kids can take them to school/daycare. After investing a bunch of money around the holidays on silicon bakeware, it’s ironic that I’ve really come to love my coated aluminum Nordicware pans the best. Ever since I started using cooking spray with flour – I couldn’t find Baker’s Joy locally so I ended up with Pam with Flour – it has completely eliminated any sticking issues. I just have to be careful when I spray it because it tends to get everywhere. I also have to remember to wipe it off the surfaces of the pan that aren’t going to be filled with batter so it doesn’t bake on. Overall, though, I’m a convert. I guess I’ll save the silicon for soapmaking or donate it to GeeDub.

Nom.

Banana muffins

Recipes. Here’s the cake recipe, since I was asked for it – I used to make banana bread which has less flour and is heavier, but was never totally satisfied with the results. The cake, however, this will be my banana bread recipe from now on, it’s spot-on perfect. With a few edits, of course ;)

Banana CakeMuffinBread

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar (recipe calls for 1-1/2, but I don’t think it needs that much)
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup milk (it calls for buttermilk or sour milk but I never have those on hand)
1/2 cup butter (recipe calls for “shortening”, eugh)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla (I use a sploosh)

Combine dry ingredients and 1/2 tsp salt. Add banana, milk, butter, eggs, and vanilla. Beat on low until combined, then beat on medium for 3 minutes (very important!) Pour batter into whatever you’re baking it in – cake pans, muffin tins, Pyrex bowls, bake at 350 degrees (325 if using convection) for 30-35 minutes, test by poking with a knife. Cool on racks. Nom.

And of course no baked good would be complete without buttercream frosting! I use a standard recipe, more or less.

Buttercream Frosting

1/3 cup butter, soft
4-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
sploosh of vanilla

Beat butter until fluffy, add powdered sugar gradually and mix well in between. Slowly beat in liquid, adjusting amounts by how stiff or soft you want your frosting to be. Spread on cake if you want. Nom.