Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tannenbaeume Take Many Forms.

Mine's my mother's ceramic tree with a few accessories from friends.

Enjoy your day, however you may be spending it.  Am wishing everyone a good, peaceful and happy move into 2015.

Thursday, September 04, 2014


Since the north paw* is still on the mend, I'm doing my best to take it easy.  Occasionally I'll whack my hand, or touch something on the keyboard just right to make me cringe.  Happily, though, I'm not being woken up by the pain anymore.

Tried knitting some swatches recently, but that bothered me, so laid off.   The moratorium isn't too bad as it's causing me to look for other things to work on, like messing with watercolors, taking pictures or playing with the sewing machine.  I do miss knitting, though.

* As lefties are called "southpaws," I'm assuming that a rightie is a "northpaw."  I've never heard that term used before, though.

Monday, September 01, 2014


Birds and bats don't buzz humans like the cicadas do, especially during daylight. It's unnerving, but nothing that one can't get used to.
Tonight, after dinner, had a little one buzz its way behind a screen on the back porch. I worked for a bit to get the poor confused, and probably immature thing dislodged. Finally just left it where it was, with enough room for it to figure out how to exit.
"I'd never be able to do that," housemate marveled.

"Do what?""Touch that insect like you did.""Oh, Pshaw. It's not venomous, so what's there to be afraid of? Besides, you do understand that I have a background in etymology."

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Easy to Overcome Obstacles.

Ooch - had a weird accident that broke my right pinky and sprained the same-hand ring finger. 
As I’m left-handed, generally just pooh-pooh the right hand. This is a humbling experience, in that I’m learning just how useful my right hand is.  The vast majority of piano music favors the right hand.  Knitting's possible, but difficult if one's working on a large project, even for the minor hand.  Opening Jars Kills.  Then, there's typing.  Ooch.   (Hurts to stop sentences, for example. Don’t even get me started on how many words end in P or L or M … gritting teeth.)  As stuff heals, I remember that there are folks who've lost so much more than I have, and permanently.

Since I couldn't knit very well, dyed stuff.  Didn't think that I was too pleased with the results until I started turning the hanks into balls.

Have also found that the new colors (tea dyed natural aran wool over dyed with various food colorings) play incredibly well with navy blue or brown.  
Food wise, it's been tough, as I'm the main shopper / cook.  We've been eating a lot of chops and steaks with broiled onions, as this stuff's low - prep.  
Have you ever tried a whole broiled onion?  Easy to fix:  just cut the ends off, peel the top layer of skin,  place on a piece of foil (or better yet - parchment - ran out of foil tonight, so tried the paper.  Wow.  Stuff caramelizes, as opposed to steams), then give a dollop of butter or bacon grease.  Seal and put in oven to broil.  When it's soft, it's ready.  Wicked good stuff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Did a number on my back yesterday while tackling the task of taking care of the grounds of the Spring Hill Grange.  Last night's hot bath helped, as did the Icy Hot treatment.  Sleep was still disturbed, though, since moving wrong in bed would wake me up.

Today, mostly confined myself to Indoors.  Dyed some wool, did a lot of laundry, cleaned.  Stretched.  Did what passes for me as meditation.

Hate feeling so tired.  Hopefully tomorrow will be better.  (Just heard some thunder; thought I saw lightning.  Maybe that will help things.  We really need rain.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dynamic Stationery.

Am getting back to my old habit of actually writing letters.  Am ashamed to not have responded to a long one (30 pages) from a long-standing friend who I hope to meet one day in real life.  Anyway - letter-writing paper's in short supply and can cost a fortune for a large letter-writer. 

Decided to tinker with some printer paper and an old set of watercolors to start towards getting to speed with my girlfriend from Away.  I think that I have packed away in the boxes down below, both a paper cutter and some better quality than the copier stuff that we run through the printer.

Kind of like my results.

Jams and Jellies, ii

For the inexpensive fruits at market that I just can't resist buying in quantity, I use this basic recipe:

3/4 cup of sugar to 1 cup of either fruit or juice.

For each six cups of fruit/sugar mix, I add either two tablespoons of lemon juice, or 1/2 a squeezed lemon, peel and all into the pot (the fruit makes a nice treat after being fished from the recipe and cooled for a bit).

Wash fruit, pit and peel.  Slice up and pack into measuring cups.  Mix with the proper ratio of sugar and lemon juice.

Stir constantly until mixture comes to a boil.  Turn heat down.  If foam's a problem, skim it (have found it a huge problem with berries; not so much with stone fruits or apple juice).

When the mixture starts to gel (my best gauge is seeing how it runs off the spoon - if it doesn't drip like water, but rather sits for a couple seconds, then drips slowly from two sides of the spoon. You can feel it.  There are references for this stuff online, too.  Google "Soft Gel Stage," for example.), usually after 25-40 min, turn heat off, fish out lemon peels (if you used a whole lemon), spoon into sterilized jars and seal.

Part of this year's peach batch

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Jams and Jellies, i

This year, despite the cool temperatures, production's been pretty good.  Since Spring, I've put up a dozen or so jars of each of several different kinds of jams and jellies, mainly for gift-giving.  We don't eat a lot of sugary stuff.

Now, I have a whole politic / philosophy around the fruit used for preserving:  it has to be good, but not so good that one would rather eat it raw.  It also has to be cheap.  For this reason, I almost never use local stuff, unless I've foraged it.  We have such a short growing season in New England, that the fruits and veggies that we do have are *precious.*  For example:  I am totally willing to pay $6+ for a quart of local strawberries, but not to boil them for 1/2 an hour or more with sugar.  That stuff gets eaten raw.  However:  when the grocery stores start selling the California or Florida berries at maybe $1.50 - $2 / quart, I'm all over these deals.   Though it isn't my favorite, I like to make a lot of strawberry jam, as my friends seem to like it a lot.

Same goes for the peaches.  Gosh, how I miss my old place on Winter Hill with the weird, bug-bitten peach tree in the neighbor's yard.  Despite our best efforts, the fruit was more or less inedible unless cooked.  We made such good jam, cakes, pies and other pastries from those rock-hard fruits, though.  Maybe New England isn't Peach territory?  I would someday like to visit points further south (like Georgia, for example), to sample the fruit in season.  That not being possible right now, have sort of just resigned myself to the stuff that goes from rock-hard to moldy mush in as little as an afternoon.  At peak transport season, however, those rock-hard peaches for for something like $.70 / lb.  Prime Jam Fodder.

Jam time for me is dependent on the value of the bargain fruit, the price of sugar, whether or not I have enough jam jars / lids, and my energy levels.  When all of this comes together, am happy to spend a good day in the kitchen, even in mid-Summer, to make what becomes my main holiday gifts.

Apple Wine and Strawberry Jam.  My recipe for the jam's pretty well established, now.  The wine one needs tweaking, though.

A very interesting read:  Virginia Postrel's take on how both local food and trucked in stuff can (and should) happily cohabitate.  Please enjoy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Protein Power.

Over the past couple years, it seems that I've acquired this spare tire.  Having battled with weight all my life, this doesn't throw me into a panic.  It does pose some inconveniences, though.  Namely:  the vast portion of my wardrobe that no longer fits.  (I'm stubborn, not to mention on a very tight budget, so haven't run off shopping yet, or anything.  Did make myself a couple skirts, though, so I'd be able to vary what I wear somewhat.)

After watching Tom Naughton's "Fat Head" a while back, my housemate decided to do a bit of research into low-carbohydrate / high protein diets to see if this might be an interesting course to follow.  He ended up losing around 30 lbs in a few months, having a life-long acne problem clear up, and seeing a serious abatement in this weird gut - migraine sort of problem he'd have fairly regularly. 

As the house has a decent library on the subject, have been reading a fair bit on the theories behind why all that bread / pasta / sugar is not good for us, as well as some of the different takes on low carb, be it the Eadses' plan, Paleo, Primal, etc.  Am currently kind of loosely following  the Thirty Day Low Carbohydrate Solution, and finding it not difficult at all.  It sort of reminds me of the old Weight-Watchers before it got kind of loosey-goosey and started pushing low-fat in general, their products specifically.  

The only thing that's been kind of weird has been no oatmeal / muffins / tartines for breakfast.  Still, resourceful sort that I am, am managing to find ways to not get tired of eggs for breakfast.

This morning's breakfast:  a bit of avocado for the potassium, veggies and a couple of deviled eggs.  Made them with homemade mayonnaise (surprisingly easy to make - here's my go to recipe, with a couple tweaks:  1.)  I use all olive oil.  2.)  I use the whole egg.) and some dill from the garden.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lemons? Lemonade, not to mention marmalade, chiffon pie, citron givre, etc, etc...

This Summer's been an odd one, in that it's the first in a while that I've stayed in New England.  Normally, I'd be crisscrossing the Hexagon, visiting Roman (or even Greek) ruins, wandering around the foothills of the Massif Central, or furtively tip toeing my way through the dunes along the Atlantic Wall.

Stuff happens.  As it currently happens, have been enjoying the relative quiet of my urban cocoon.

 Instead of ruins from Antiquity, I have beautifully preserved 18th century farmhouses to examine.  I get my exercise climbing and descending the Seven Hills of my city.  Haven't made it to the beach yet (a pity, as I'm less than five miles from the ocean), but do wander along the banks of the two rivers that sandwich my neighborhood.  There, there are plenty of trees to look at (and bring fruit home from); plenty of birds to add to the life list.

Picturesque Sunset.  It weirds me out to no end to not have the sun set over the ocean.

To make things at home seem more resort-like, scrubbed down a couple patio chairs and an inherited little Ikea table.

Thought about painting the chairs, but decided against, as they seem to be on their last legs.  The table's in great shape; all that was necessary was a citronella candle.  Oh, and a little placemat I found at the dump Downeast; gives things a rustic look.

I'm spending an awful lot of time up here in my little treehouse perch.  It isn't much, but it's nice.  Have convinced the landlord to sit out and drink a cup of coffee every now and again.  The best are the Working Lunches, though.  Food tastes better out doors, even if one's view is of the cinder block building out front.

Mediterranean Salad and Green Tea

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Il faut cultiver son jardin.

After a couple years of just not caring, I finally got back into gardening a bit.  Nothing particularly high-yield or intensive, as I'm just not invested enough in where I am to wage serious battles against the nuisance wildlife or petition the landlord for better facilities.  Still, the current combination of fruits and flowers is pleasing me.

The particular high-yielders have been the kale which keeps reseeding itself, the sage and the mint.  The squash plants are absolute monsters, but they're producing more flowers than fruit.  (Not a problem, as I've a serious weak spot for squash blossom fritters / omelets.)  My tomatoes aren't doing so well, as, apparently, my random plant purchase at the local Stah Mahket turned out to be a variety that doesn't do so well in containers.

Flower-wise, the now four-year-old geranium plants are absolutely stunning, as are the firecrackers (purchased along with the tomatoes).  Picked up a couple chrysanthemums yesterday to fill in the gaps left from a disappointing cilantro and dill turnout.  The former were kind of expensive for what they are, but seem like good replacements.  I promise a photo of all this in a bit.

Anyway, despite what appears to be a sort of bloom-end blight in some of the plants, the tomatoes are actually producing.  

I'll end up with something, even if we just harvest the fruits while still green.  Turned the housemate on to fried green tomatoes.  Wouldn't mind making green tomato pickles, as I've been craving them lately.  Other options:  green tomato marmalade and chutney.

The only thing lovelier than roasting the seeds from cleaned out jack o lanterns is saving them to plant the following season, because you never know what you're going to end up with.  I swear:  melons / cukes / squashes are the poodle hybrids of the plant world!  

A few years back,  we planted a few seeds from an oversized, kind of watery cantaloupe that the Frenchie brought home from Trader Joe's.  The resulting fruits varied between golf-ball and soft-ball sized;  tasted like a combination between cucumber and cantaloupe.  We found the lovely, pale-green fruits an amazing salad component after chilling them and slicing thinly.

Anyway, this is one of the fruits from last year's pumpkin.  Kind of looks like a combination butternut / zucchini, doesn't it? 

I'm keeping an eagle eye on this one, as I'd really like to both taste it and save the seeds for next year.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Simple Stripes.

Years ago, Boston had something called the “Women’s Educational and Industrial Union.” To fund it partly, they had a gift shop and a tea room, if I remember correctly. On the upper level of the shop, there was a little needlework boutique. I don’t remember their having many knitting supplies; seemed as though it was mainly geared towards embroidery and needlepoint.

At about the start of their decline, they phased out the needlework section. Had absolutely no use for it, but ended up buying something like six skeins of a fine Persian wool (from Paterna / Paternayan, I think) more suited to crewel or cross stitch than knitting. The ridiculously low price and a little improvised knitted pattern convinced me.

This yarn has sat in my stash for something like 20 years - the longest of anything.

From just the blue and the gray, made a Morehouse inspired triangle, all garter stitch. It's served me well, but is currently residing across the ocean. Decided to use the leftovers, along with the lovely lily pad green for another of the prime-number stripey / Scandinavian-inspired shawls.

Good, peaceful, mindlessly mindful knitting.

Monday, June 30, 2014

First World Problems.

I'm really bummed that all my nice Summer clothes are on the other side of the ocean. Over there, I have four skirts (two are sportswear ones - for hiking and such), two wonderful pairs of dressy/sensible sandals, a pair of seersucker pants, a marine striped hoodie in light cotton and my lovely, lovely paper hat from the milliner near the Old Port in Marseilles.
Since surface mail is no longer an option, sending this stuff back to me makes absolutely no sense, as the fees would cost more than the clothes are worth. What I have in Boston that fits is largely threadbare, knockaround stuff.
Am thankful to have my sewing machine and a good supply of fabric. I'm also thankful to be living in close proximity to a couple good thrift stores, as well as a Target. For my most immediate needs, have been hacking up tee shirts and giving them the Wobi-Sobi treatment. (Have two skirts in the works; just cut up one of the Frenchie's one euro tee shirts into a nightie.) Also turned a couple pairs of pants with frayed cuffs into pants.
With a little bit of time, I'll lose the spare tire and acquire the good quality basics I need. I'd really like my pair of Born sandals back, though. Miss them desperately.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Keeping Cool.

For as long as I can remember, the transition from Cool weather to Hot in my part of New England has never been a gentle one.  One day, you're wrapping yourself in shawls and donning the fingerless gloves to enjoy the morning coffee.  The next, you're struggling to get the air conditioning unit into the window and seeing how few clothes you can get away with wearing without being considered 'indecent.'

This season, my hair's in an unwieldy transitional phase and the layers are all curling in the wrong directions. Since it's too thick to be properly restrained by barrettes, figured I'd try knitting a headband to keep things out of my face.  This one's a simple pattern knit in my favorite classic lace:  the Gull Lace pattern found in Elizabeth Zimmerman's "Knitter's Almanac."  I chose a worsted weight cotton, Lily's "Sugar n Cream," because it knits up quickly, is soft, absorbent and easy to care for.  Honestly:  not only do I love knitting with this yarn (even in Summer), I like to see it used in things beyond the usual dish cloths and market bags.

Enjoy the beautiful weather, and keep cool!

Gull Lace Headband  (Pattern Available Here.)                 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Spring Blossoms.

Spring is more than making up for her late arrival this year.  All of the below (in no particular order) started making their appearance in the neighborhood over the past week:

American Dogwood 
Sugar / Red Maple
Cherry (on the south side of the hill; haven't seen any trees on the north side blooming yet.)
Norway Maple
Bradford Pear.  (Possibly my favorite.)

Next up will be the cherries and lilacs on the north side of Spring Hill, apples, Japanese dogwood...

Better Late Than Never.

Started the squash seedlings; prepped up a 'test' to see if my tomato seeds are still viable.

Pulled norway seedlings and other undesirables out of the containers on the back porch. Planted peas, cukes, curly-leafed lettuce and a new (to me), hopefully bitter green: mustard spinach.
If the weather holds up, will turn the soil over out back and sow some wildflower seeds.

Am wondering if, instead of flowers in the front boxes, I might want to plant herbs. Cilantro, parsley, catnip and sage might all work out nicely in those long, shallow, rectangular containers. Might have to sow the dill elsewhere, though.

Am very pleasantly surprised that the kale planted 3-4 years ago continues to reseed itself.  Found in one of my containers a lush start to a lovely salad / stirfry season.  The plant with the saw-toothed leaves that is sharing space with my lovely kale is a dandelion, of course.  Those do NOT get pulled; they're one of my favorite potherbs.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

May Bells.

This is the first time in memory that the May Bells hadn't bloomed in time for the First of May.

For those who celebrate, I offer you a bouquet of stems and leaves.  Have a peaceful, restful day.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Something that I really love but can't handle like I used to is milk. Could still manage yogurt and cheese, but in fairly limited quantities. Going out for an ice cream cone is done after a cost/benefit analysis on my part*.

Last Fall, all hell seemed to break loose stomach-wise; became too frightened to eat. First thing folks worried about, of course, was appendicitis. That ruled out, allergies were looked into - mainly celiac and soy. The Celiac was easy to determine; all it took was a blood test. A few days later, the doctor called me to let me know that I was okay in that regard. She then suggested that I lay off of all dairy and soy of all things.

Now, the dairy part I'd been dealing with for some time, so that wasn't a problem. Soy however: how to live without that? Soymilk's what I'd drink instead of regular milk. Miso's like peanut butter to me; soy sauce like ketchup. For crying out loud, Tofu was my staff of life. I could serve it for all three meals and have it for dessert. This was going to be tough**. Then I discovered almond milk, particularly the Diamond Brand stuff. What I like best is the unsweetened, low-fat, fortified with calcium kind; taken neat, it's got a nice, subtle, nutty flavor. Also seems to be a good, neutral taste for most recipes, sweet or savory.

Interestingly enough, had a hard time finding the same quality of almond milk when I returned to France. Everything I'd found was a.) more expensive b.) shot up with sugar c.) with nut : water proportions considerably inferior to what I'd gotten used to here. Found oat milk (of all things - labeling in the EU is not so clear as here, so it took a while to figure out where this came from. Thought the brand was Italian; turns out the contents are Swedish.). It's a pretty acceptable drink, but am not crazy about cooking results.

Back to the States again, found that my lovely almond milk nearly doubled in price.*** Since I ain't made of money, am trying to work this out. I consume about 1/2 as much of the almond milk as I'd like and have been trying to spoon a bit of regular yogurt or buttermilk on things from time to time. It's not been too bad. Still haven't touched the soy, and I really don't plan to. A visit to an emergency room last Winter in France (same pains, just worse) showed something interesting though not completely related to the GI and which could be influenced by the soy. We'll see; have to hit the doctor again soon.


* Is it good enough to make it worth the pain afterwards? There are relatively few places where this ends up being the case: Christina's in Inman, Dairy Queen because of its rarity here - love the soft serve dipped in their nuclear red flavored coating, a stand in Fort Mahon that still is allowed to serve treats from unpasteurized cream. Normally I'd be a bit iffy about that, but they're very clean and am sure that at the first case of Resort Town Diptheria, they'd close. Anyway, my favorite there is sea-salt caramel. The Frenchie likes mint.

** Particularly, too, because I found that if I got a good bit of soy in me in the weeks before my (ahem) time of the month, the PMS symptoms - migraines, cramps, a chest that felt like there were two Ridley Scott aliens just waiting to burst forth - would be vastly reduced. Even the depression symptoms went from, "just give up, Be" to, "sigh, and this too shall pass."

*** Not surprising, given the general rise in commodity prices, not to mention transport.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pancake Day.

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed today; knew that the only thing that'd help was bacon.  It being a Friday in Lent, that wasn't an option.  Decided that the second best solution would be something that I'd been craving a lot lately, but rarely indulge in:  Pancakes.

Took a look in the largely paleo-prejudiced larder to see what I could scrounge up to make something more cakey than omelette - y.  Adopted, Adapted, and, if I do say so myself, seriously Improved upon the classic Joy-Of standby:

1/4 c spelt flour
1/2 c almond meal
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1Tbs honey
2 eggs
1/2 c butter milk

Combine spelt, almond meal, salt, baking powder.  In a small bowl, beat together eggs, milk, honey.
Add liquids to dry ingredients and mix together until smooth.  (You'll note that the batter is pretty liquid; this is okay).

Spoon the batter in your desired pancake-sized dollops onto a greased skillet.  When you see bubbles formed all over the cakes, flip carefully, then continue cooking until the down side is lightly browned.

These turned out thin like crepes, but more substantial.  The combination of spelt, almond, honey and buttermilk was wonderfully tasty.  Though I could have eaten them plain, knew that the the day was going to require some serious lily-gilding.  Ended up with butter, some of last Summer's peach jam, a handful of blueberries and a dollop of sour cream.

This was a pretty hefty portion for one.  Downed it all and called it Brunch.  Would make a good, lighter meal for two, with the inclusion of something like bacon and more fruit.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Knitted Hug.

Would that I'd not have broken my nose four times over the course of my life (eyeglasses will never set straight). Would that I could find a decent haircut here at < $75. Would that I'd stop looking so sad when I was actually pretty happy.

This said: had to show the front view of my gorgeous new shawl / shrug / sweater thingy.

It appears as though there'll be plenty of time to get some use out of it, as, gosh, it's darn cold out.

This was what was to be my Birthday / Valentine's Day present to myself this year. The darn thing's huge, with a wingspan of something like 8', so decided to tie it in back to wear like a Scandinavian heart warmer shawl.

Warm and Soothing.

Are there usually aren't leftovers from Pizza Night, I don't often have the joy of partaking in a warmed-over or even cold slice for breakfast. 

Was so glad to have this bit waiting for me in the fridge. It really helped change my attitude after a sort of challenging start to the day.

-Crust: spelt / buckwheat / flax
-Toppings: mousse of last Fall's jack o lantern (to which I added cream, butter, an egg), bacon, cheddar, canned tomatoes, caramelized onions, mushrooms, olive oil. A liberal sprinkling of the proverbial 'parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.'
Had a glass of an Unpretentious Red with it last night. Found out this morning that a good, milky chai also goes well.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I need to put this recipe up, because I get so many compliments on the finished product (and the online recipe seems to have disappeared).

Clementine Marmalade

2 cups thin strips of clementine peels
4 cups cold water
Pulp and juice of 8-10 clementines
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cups boiling water
3 cups granulated sugar

In a heavy saucepan, combine clementine peel and cold water.  Bring to a simmer, covered, over moderate heat.  Continue to simmer until peel is tender (about 30 min); drain thoroughly.  Remove seeds and white membrane from peeled fruit; dice fruit.

To prepare marmalade:  combine cooked peel, diced fruit, lemon juice and boiling water.  Add sugar and blend thoroughly.  Quickly bring to a boil and cook until mixture is thick and reaches 220 deg F on a candy thermometer.

Remove from heat, skim off foam, and ladle into hot sterilized jars.

(Process if you feel the need to.  Have never bothered with this, myself.)