Monday, October 25, 2010

Stitching Lessons

Last week, my oldest sister and her family stayed with us for a little fall break. We had a lot of fun cooking meals together, and I had a chance to share my somewhat limited knitting expertise.

After a trip to Hobby Lobby for supplies, we sat down and cast on. Even my nephew tried his hand at it, but after several frustrating attempts he decided he wasn't cut out for it.  I have to commend him for trying something that wasn't really his thing.  More later on his other stitching skills.  After a short introduction to the knit stitch, my niece ran off to work on her own, which resulted in several do-overs. By the end of their stay, though, she was knitting quite nicely. 
Having crocheted for years, my sister had some difficulty getting used to the feel of knitting, but I am proud to say that she, too, is now knitting with great tension. Not to mention, she can still crochet circles around me and cross-stitches perfectly.  We stuck to the garter stitch (knitting every row), since that's the easiest way for beginners to get started. She's working in the Continental style while my niece found it easier to knit English style.

Since my nephew didn't really go for knitting, my husband showed him another kind of stitching. Using fresh bananas, he instructed the family in suturing wounds. He said pig's feet would have been better but the idea of that sitting on my dinner plates at the table was a little too much for me.  They loved it, especially since the kids have been studying biology in school.  My nephew did an excellent job of surturing and knot-tying.

We had a great time and I miss them already.

Guys who knit and other cool stitchers
I'm all for dispelling the notion that any activity is just for men or women.  I found some refreshing blogs authored by the unconventional, intellectual, and sometimes cheeky. 

The Panopticon


Queer Joe's Knitting Blog

Small Town Knit Guy

The Boy Who Knits

Two Sock Knitters

Knitting Linguist

The Knitting Curmudgeon
About the promised scarf...
In the middle of knitting my Saints scarf, I ran out of yarn and had to order more.  That'll teach me to buy only just as much yarn as I think I'll need, which is always less than what I really need.  The yarn was just delivered and I'm at the end.  In the meantime, I started and finished another scarf and enjoyed a little time off to visit family.  I've still got blocking to do, so pictures will be up later this week.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dinner & Glee

Every week, we gather with friends to watch Glee, taking turns to host. Lately, we've added dinner to the mix. My friends have made some delicious meals, including Mongolian beef and Vodka sauce pasta. Delish! They've also made separate vegetarian versions for me and our other vegetarian friend. Not to too many people would do that. What great friends! I really wanted to treat them with a fabulous meal for all their work to accommodate us. Lately, I've also been trying to incorporate a little meat in my diet.  It hasn't been easy to break the total vegetarian habit, but at my sister-in-law's recent baby shower, I had a sudden craving for chicken and just couldn't resist. I've been eating chicken about once a week since. Shrugging off that twinge of guilt, I feel awesome for it!

For my friends, I decided to make Coq au Vin, using Ina Garten's recipe. She makes it so simple: "It's like Boeuf Bourguignon but with chicken." I love her. I think my favorite part of this dish is getting to set the pot on fire with cognac. For some reason, igniting an intentional fire in the kitchen makes me feel like a real cook.

And I don't think any pot of stew could be bad with an entire bottle of wine added to it. It took a little longer to brown the chicken than I'd expected and my friends waited half an hour for dinner. I was sorry for the delay, but they were graciously patient and said it was all worth it. The meal was a success. Not bad for my first try. It was a great night and we had a wonderful time, watching the fabulous duets on Glee.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Potion Labels and Charm Book

Creating potion jars and a charm book is easy.  Together they make a great Halloween display.  Construct your own following the directions below.
Potion Labels
1. Check out the floral departments in local craft stores for items you think might be useful in your jars.  Be creative.  It’s amazing how you can use a simple filler piece with just a little imagination.  I used dried water lily seed pods, twigs wound into a ball, peat moss, fake bird feathers, and licorice.  You may also want some bailing twine and fabric for the lids.
2.  You can find great jars at any thrift store, flea market, or Goodwill.  You’ll spend a lot of money at craft stores for jars.  If you don’t mind shopping around, you can find them for less than a dollar a piece.
 3.  Set jars and fillers on the table and put on a Harry Potter DVD for inspiration.
4.  Brew a small pot of coffee.
5.  This part is easy because I’ve already done the work for you!  Print the labels and cut them out from the last page.  You may also want to create your own. 
6.  Lay the cut out labels on a cookie sheet or shallow casserole dish. 
7.  Pour coffee over the labels.  Press floating labels down, to make sure they’re nicely coated with coffee.  Leave for 30 minutes to an hour. 
8. Carefully remove labels from coffee and lay them on wax paper to dry. 
9.  The labels should appear aged and yellow-brown.  If you want to make them darker, steep them in the coffee again until you’ve achieved the color you want.
10.  Crumple the dried labels in your hand and smooth them out again.  They should look old and used.
11. Use a glue stick to apply the labels to the jar. 
12.  Fill each jar with the appropriate item, according to the label.  Here's how I arranged them:  seed pods = petrified acromantula occuli; bird feathers = molted owl feathers; peat moss and licorice = wallow worms and swamp nymph hair; twigs wound in a ball = pixie prisons.  Try adding other elements to the jars to make look more authentic.  For example, I added dried soap flakes to the jar of seed pods to make them look like the whites of the eyes.  I also sprinkled blue sanding sugar to the pixie jar to look like pixie dust.  You could certainly be creative and use any item you find. 
13.  If your jar doesn’t have a cork or if the lid is too modern, you can cover the lid of the jar with fabric and wrap twine around the base of the lid.
14.  Add a stuffed owl or crow and maybe some plastic rats or insects around the potion jars.
Charm Book
1.  Go to garage sales or flea markets to find a large hardcover book.  I used an old Physician’s Desk Reference that I found for two dollars.  You could also use an old dictionary.
2.  Print the charms, if you haven't already.  I used a book from my Old English graduate class that features Anglo-Saxon charms and remedies, The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology translated by Kevin Crossland-Holland.  If you want to create your own, you could look up holistic medicine remedies or have fun checking out the medicinal practices of any indigenous people.  Okay, so maybe I’m the only nerd that finds that sort of thing fun.  (You may want to be completely creative and make up your own.  Once you’ve found the text you’d like to use, type and print it out in a script font.  You could also write it out by hand, as long as the paper isn’t lined.)
3.  Repeat the same coffee-steeping process that you followed for the jar labels.  This time, however, do not crumple the pages.  They should lie flat in the book.
4.  Open your old dictionary or reference book to the middle.
5.  Trace a glue stick around the back of the first charm page.  Carefully tuck the page down into the center of the book and smooth it over the page beneath it, toward the edges.  Repeat the process for each page, carefully placing it directly onto an opened page of the dictionary.  They should appear blended with the other pages of the book, not sticking out.  If you have a little extra paper hanging over the edges, trim it with scissors.
6.  Add a few more pages, if you want, in case anyone decides to turn a page or two.
7.  Lay a wand across the open book.  Set up a black plastic cauldron (found at any party or Halloween store) filled with dry ice next to your potion jars and charms book.   Occasionally add water to the dry ice cauldron to make the smoke billow. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Bow and the Boo

It’s here!  The Halloween wreath was completed yesterday after a return trip to Michael’s for more ribbon.  I had a feeling they wouldn’t have the same ribbon, since EVERYthing is 50% off, now, and things are picked through.  Love the sale and even though I couldn’t find the same ribbon, I did find two spools that coordinated very nicely.  They were the last two that weren’t covered in skulls.  Lucky!  Using my E-Z Bow Maker, I made the bow and then wrapped the wreath in the coordinating ribbon.  I used floral wire to attach the pumpkins and the “Boo.”   

E-Z Bow Maker 
This is a great time for crafters on a budget, because both Michael’s and Hobby Lobby have marked fall stuff down 50%.  I also found coupons online:  20% off entire purchase at Michael’s (including items on sale!) and 40% off any regular priced item at Hobby Lobby.  That’s my kind of shopping. 

Here's the rest of the outdoor display:



The pumpkin and owl light up figures were gifts from my BF and Ms. BF Mom, who always have great taste and love fall as much as I do.  Thank you both! 

And I couldn't stop there.  Here are the indoor displays:



The jars I made a few years ago for a Halloween party.  I made the labels myself and filled thrift-store jars with things I found in the floral department.  Coming soon: a how-to on jar labels and book pages on my Craft page.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

After a full day of pulling boxes and boxes of Halloween and fall stuff from the closet dedicated to seasonal decorations, I made soup.  The weather is still cool (for now) and the mood was right.  Too tired to make anything very complicated, I opted for my super easy Red Pepper Soup.  It's low-cal, low-fat, and delicious.  When Mr. Fantastic got home, already impressed by the outdoor décor, he was overjoyed to find soup on the stove and the house dotted with more seasonal displays.  Soup is one of his favorite things, which is great for me, because it’s so easy. 
To make the meal a little more substantial, I poured the soup over barley and sprinkled mozzarella cheese on top.  For something a little different, I put a dollop of plain Greek yogurt on mine.  Both were yummy!  Here’s my version of the recipe, which I have modified from the Southern Living Cookbook (an awesome book I discovered through my BFF) and Robin Miller’s Quick Fix Meals.  You can also find a printable version of my recipe here.    
Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Two 16-oz. jars roasted red peppers
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 1/2 c. vegetable broth
2-3 c. water
Sprinkle of salt                                                                  

Cooked barley or rice
Sprinkle of mozarella cheese                                                  
Dollop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream

Blend red peppers in a food processor; Sauté chopped onions with minced garlic in olive oil, 
for about 5 minutes;  Add puréed peppers, vegetable broth, and water to pot (less water will make thicker soup, but adding water will make more); Sprinkle salt to taste; Bring soup to boil and let simmer for 20 minutes.

Excellent served over barley with mozarella cheese or plain Greek yogurt on top!

Halloween decorations are almost complete!  I ran out of ribbon today, so another trip to Michael’s and Hobby Lobby are in order.  Self-control in check.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gearing up for Fall

The first day of fall has come and gone and it's about that time to drag out the Halloween decorations.  The warm colors and aromas of the season inspire me to decorate, bake, and drink hot spiced tea.  This week, I continue my day job as a writer and try to finish a 600-page book that's overdue at the library.  To break the monotony, wreath creation will ensue.  Last year, we were still in the process of doing house renovations so my decorations were less than impressive.  I spray-painted some pumpkins and put up a tiny wreath that I'd used at our previous house. 

This year, I'm making a greater effort to be festive.  I scored some great ribbon and two new wooden signs last week at Michael's 50% off.  Hobby Lobby is calling, but I'm patiently awaiting their markdowns.  Pictures and details will follow later this week.  Stay tuned!