Sunny Leap Day

Happy Leap Day!

It’s too bad Leap Day didn’t translate into a three-day weekend. The weather’s been warm and dry, and perfect for farm projects.

Unfortunately, my laptop is FULL and won’t let me upload any more pictures for blogging until I dump like 30,000 photos, or something insane like that.  In the meantime, crappy iPad pictures it is!

For a while this weekend I played around with some sock yarn and the dye pot. Specifically, I was interested in seeing how well I could manage multiple colors in one pot. It was a blast, I have to say. Every skein came out a bit different depending on where in the pot it sat,many where the colors were added. It’s definitely more efficient (and less messy) than hand painting each skein, but with less control over the finished product.

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With these colors  I was going for an “Easter Eggs” feel. Even within that theme, and the same colors with each pot, the results varied wildly.

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I may, in the future, open an etsy shop to have an outlet for my fun.

After playing with wool and color, I took advantage of the sun and painted two beehive boxes that hadn’t gotten done last year.  And, having seen a slogan for a cosmetic company that essentially said “Happy Bees Live in Beautiful Houses”, I decided a beautiful color was in order.

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When I was done, I painted the front garden gate the same color. Now we just need new bees and for spring to arrive!

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Growth!

Hey, what do you know? Your knitted objects actually grow when you work on them!

Actually, this is feeling like a pretty quick knit. Maybe because the last knit I finished was my Shepherd Sweater, and with so much cabling it felt like it took forever? Chimney Fire seems to be sprouting at a rate I can actually see.

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It’s growing so well, I’m having trouble fitting it all in the frame with my current lens. And I’m also having trouble getting a picture of it without a cat investigating.

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Since it’s knit top-down, I’ve been able to try this on as I’ve worked on it, and I’m happy to report that so far, the fit is perfect. Honestly, the shoulders and arms fitting is probably the most important bit, so I’m looking forward to a finished sweater that is going to work very, very well on me.

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I’m already tempted to cast on another one in a different color the moment this one is finished. A nice, rich, green for Saint Patrick’s Day might be nice.

If not for the hundreds of beautiful patterns I want to try waiting for me in my Ravelry queue, I probably would.

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I’ve knitted  large portions of this sweater in the car, listening to Serial podcast, while the girls were at Girl Scouts on various Sundays. It’s become one of my favorite times of the week.

My only regret is how little cold weather we will have left once this is complete, and it will have to wait until fall for real wearing.

Saucy!

I’ve got the spring planning bug pretty bad right now.

I’ve been studying all of the seed catalogs that keep showing up, drawing out plans for the gardens, making plans to add more garden space (I know…..scary!), and thinking about all of the projects and cleanup I need to do.  The place is kind of a wreck right now, since none of us wants to be out in the cold more than necessary. I’ve got A LOT of work ahead of me if this place isn’t going to continue to look like it got hit with the ugly stick!

What I’m focused on right now, though, is seed starting. I am ordering a new cover for my tiny greenhouse because it’s torn pretty badly and won’t hold any heat in or keep out the bugs and weather. Within the next week to week and a half I plan to start tomato and pepper seeds in it. This is going to be my year, darn it! Everything I’ve learned over the last few years will hopefully pay off this summer.

Sadly, it’s still February, and we probably have at least one more snow before I can fully give in to spring fever.

Now, on to sauce!

When I was in high school, I dated this guy who was two or three years ahead of me. We were together for a good two years, right into the second year of college. At the time, we had similar interests; Ann Rice was hugely popular and we were both avid readers of her books. He was big into Dungeons and Dragons, and I *gasp* even dabbled in it a bit myself (I just lost some major cool points there, I know. Or gained a lot, perhaps. It depends on what end of the geek/nerd spectrum you fall, I think).  Either way, we were together long enough that I spent many, many nights with his parents for dinner. His dad came from a Sicilian family, and his mom decidedly did not. She was a sweet lady, though, and really tried her best to put familiar Italian dishes in the table. The trouble was…….she really sucked at making sauce. And sauce is pretty central to a lot of your staple Italian dishes.

It was thin and liquidy; more soup than sauce, lacking any body or flavor. When it was poured over your pasta, it disappeared under them and pooled around the sides of it, but not sticking to it at all. I died a bit inside whenever I saw her making it. I’m pretty sure she simply opened a can of tomato sauce and mixed it with an equal portion of water. Maybe she added spices? If she did, you wouldn’t have known.

I think about her every damn time I make pasta sauce, to this day. About how I wish I could go back and show her how to make a kick-ass sauce in next to no time any night of the week.

Instead, I’m going to post it here, in case anyone else needs some help with their sauce game.

First, you’ll need more than tomato sauce and water.

I like to pour a generous glug of olive oil into a sturdy pot – usually one of my cast iron dutch ovens.

Then I add chopped red onion – about half of a fairly good sized one. Once that has sauteed over medium to medium-high heat, I add at least two heaping tablespoons of minced garlic. Garlic is GOOD.

I let them simmer together until they are getting good and fragrant and then I add in some dried oregano, dried basil, dried parsley, dried red pepper (not too much or it will be spicy!), and salt. I swirl that around a bit and let it fill the kitchen with its comforting and enticing aromas. Yum.

Next I add a good 1/3 cup or so of red wine. Honestly, and old cheap red wine will do, so if you’re not a wine drinker and you only buy it for cooking, you can absolutely use the $3 Trader Joes brand.  As for me, I very much enjoy red wine, and making pasta sauce is a great excuse to open a bottle. A glug for the pot, a glass for me!  With Italian, I’m partial to a good Amarone or Barolo, but you do you!

The only caveat here is the sweetness of the sauce. I know some people like their sauce a bit on the sweeter side, and add sugar. I am here to tell you that there is enough natural sugar in the wine to round out the saltiness perfectly, but if you want it a little sweeter, you can use a sweeter red wine to achieve it, and you don’t need to use sugar.

Once the wine has simmered down and reduced most of the way (I like for there to still be about 1/4 to 1/8 cup), I add a big can of crushed tomatoes.

NOT TOMATO SAUCE. It will not give your finished product much texture or flavor.  If you need your sauce to be a bit thinner, you can always add a smaller can of tomato sauce, but your main tomato ingredient should be chunky, not thin.

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San Marzano is my favorite to use. It has a much less “tinny” taste to it. And the gorgeous Italian there is one of my favorite reds to use/drink.

In the summer, when I’ve had a good tomato crop, I will substitute slow-roasted tomatoes for the crushed tomatoes, and puree some fresh tomatoes to keep it from being too thick. But in the interest of saving time, a good can of crushed tomatoes will do.

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See the red wine that’s reduced around the edges of the pot? Adds such a lovely depth of flavor.

Now I turn the heat to low and let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so.

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The finished sauce will stand up nicely to your pasta, and sit on top of it, rather than pooling under.

Am I here to tell you this sauce is life-changing? Nope. Is it the best sauce ever created? Probably not. But it’s fresh, it’s tasty, it’s easy, and it’s quick. For a weeknight meal, it’s a perfect way to serve a sauce that doesn’t taste like it came from a can, or that you threw together at the last minute.

And Dawn, if you’re out there, I hope you’ve found a better way to make your own sauce.

Valentine Catch-Up

Hey there! Seems I’ve been away from my computer a bit too long, and neglectful of this space.

We’ve simply been focused on school and routine appointments and Girl Scouts.  It hasn’t helped that I had the cold from the deepest depths of Hell that lasted for days and days and days.

When I emerged, I had to catch up on school work with the kids and deep clean the house (not that you can tell anymore….amazing how quick the clutter and dirt builds back up!).

I’ve been working on my Chimney Fire Sweater pretty diligently; Girl Scout Sundays are great for that. I hang out and knit for the two hours the older girls are in their meeting. I also finally got around to plugging in to season 2 of Serial. Add in a nice latte and it’s a rather enjoyable two hours for me.

This weekend we’ve been prepping for more snow (which started a few hours ago) and trying to manage the cold. In addition, Paul tore open the ceiling in the kitchen to try and fix the upstairs plumbing issues. As soon as he got the hole open where water had been dripping, a whole lot MORE water poured out, despite that bath not having been used for well over a week. We’ve discovered just how poorly this house was put together, and to boot, I now have a hole in my ceiling until we can be sure it’s properly solved.

In dog news, Lucy has been banished outside with the sheep and working dogs. She managed to slip out the gate last week when I was moving it, and came back with a skunk pelt. She refused to relinquish her prize, and spent the better part of a few days chewing and consuming it. Eventually she came back in the house, where we soon discovered that ingested skunk causes diarrhea.

She’s not in any danger of dehydration (it’s not frequent, but it’s once a day, and it’s awful, and she was doing it in the house), and she’s slowly recovering, but she’s not coming back in until I know she’s over it.

As for the kittens, they are getting bigger and cuddlier every day.

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Little Widget is a regular lap cat for me, and Poppet loves to cuddle with Maddie and her boyfriend John. They’ve definitely been our furry little Valentines this weekend.

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, I took the opportunity to try a few recipes from the Joy the Baker cookbooks I’ve got.  I made a Banana Coconut Cream pie Friday night, knowing Paul would love it (the rest of us aren’t big on banana pie, but it was pretty tasty nonetheless).

For brunch Saturday I put together the Breakfast Nachos.

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Let me tell you.

This was HEAVEN.

Oven-crisped potatoes topped with crumbled breakfast sausage, cheddar cheese sauce, and sunny-side up eggs, with pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream on the side.

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This was a HUGE hit here. It would also be a weekend regular for us if it wasn’t so decadent! Seriously, it is too delicious to resist overeating by A LOT.  And then going back an hour later to pick at it some more.

Considering we also had our traditional Chinese take-out for dinner tonight, I can’t imagine what the scale is going to say in the morning. And you know what? Totally worth it!

 

 

 

The Land of Aches and Sneezes

Greetings from cold virus central!

I had thought we made it through with relative ease, but then either we had a second virus hit right away, or this cold had a nasty one-two punch. This second wind has been much, much worse. With Maddie nannying for a friend’s family, we seem to be passing our germs back and forth between the households (sorry, Lisa!).

Today I’m directing school activities from the couch, under a wool blanket.

Oona has finished most of her reading and is knitting. Emily will draw out her reading assignment for as long as possible while she cuddles various kitties. Neve is handling the home-ec portion by cleaning the kitchen and taking out the garbage (you know she’s desperate to escape another day of schoolwork when she volunteers for dish and garbage duty). They’re all feeling just a bit salty that they didn’t get a buttload of snow days like their public school counterparts did.

Hey, algebra waits for no man.

Also, Happy Groundhog Day!  We’ll be watching the Bill Murray movie after schoolwork has been completed and Oona has made us popcorn.

We’ve also been talking a lot about weather; it’s warmed up quite a bit, and we had rain yesterday. With the smell of fresh, green earth in the air we all felt ready for spring. It’s a cruel joke, of course. There’s still plenty of time left for winter to hit us with more snow or polar air. Still, a couch-bound girl can dream, and spend time looking at seed catalogs and planning out the 2016 gardens, right?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this year’s gardens, and farm work. We didn’t breed, so there won’t be any lambs or kids this spring, but that’s okay. We wanted to focus on getting our current flock healthy and fat, and repairing fences and outsmarting our escapee dogs and goats.

We ARE expecting a shipment of chicks sometime later in the spring, since our current hen situation is lacking; we have maybe 15 hens, and a few of them are getting on in years.

Not only will we be adding to our chicken flock then, but we will also be ordering more bees. My hive seems to have absconded sometime since Christmas. There’s a complete lack of any bee in there, not even dead ones. There is one potentially erupted queen cell, but it’s hard to tell.  I HAVE noticed honeybees flying around the last few days, however. They are going into the old hive and stealing honey from the stores that were there. I only ever see maybe 8 or 10, but I’m hoping that means that my absconded colony found a good home to overwinter.

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There’s also these lovelies that recently arrived. When I’m feeling better I’ll be in the kitchen whipping up some of her yummy recipes. The challenge is choosing one to start with! (well, actually, the challenge is not eating 10,000 calories worth of baked goods every day).

And, since I’m unable to manage much else, I’ve of course been working on my sweater.  I finally got to the point where I put my sleeve stitches on a holder and I’m working on the lower body. I’m really pleased with how it’s going.

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Now let’s all keep our fingers crossed that today is my last day of feeling like garbage; Emily gets her braces on tomorrow!