Thursday, November 5, 2009

Home-Canned Goodness

So…I'm on a bit of a food kick. Not just food, but good food. Yummy stuff, made with good ingredients. Even whole grains, fresh local produce, that sort of thing.

My dad's mom used to make pickles; she also had a wonderful garden, so she froze home-grown veggies, too. I remember how wonderful her butter beans were; I never associated them with the overly-mealy, mostly nasty things called lima beans! It was years before I learned that butter beans are lima beans!

Her sister and mother used to make mayhaw jelly. Once a staple of special occasion meals, the mayhaw is so rare now that it's very hard to find the jelly…and very expensive when you do find it. (But so worth it: I bought two jars at a small store near Unicoi back in September. One is for my mom; I'm opening my jar for Christmas, when the family comes over!)

Anyway, Dorkelf and I have been wanting to try canning for the last two summers, but with two moves in just over a year–including buying a house–it just never happened.

I decided I had to can something. I joined the forums at I Dig My Garden, which is hosted by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Motivated by their suggestions and a post I found for crock pot apple butter, I bought a box of Ball canning jars (half pint, with the new platinum lids) and two three-pound bags of apples.

It went great, and smelled awesome. Three pounds of Granny Smith, cored, peeled, and sliced, one cup of water, half a cup of starthistle honey, half a cup of Splenda, and three cups of sugar. I added a spice bundle, which contained two sticks of cinnamon, 3/4 tsp whole allspice, and 1 1/4 tsp whole cloves.

Otherwise, I followed her directions. My stockpot only held seven half-pint jars, so I ended up with an extra half pint, plus a bit extra. The leftover went directly into the fridge; the extra half pint I filled like all the rest, then inverted on a kitchen towel on the counter while it was still hot. (This is called the inversion method, and it is not safe, so don't use it.) Once it was cool, I checked the seal (yay! It sealed!), but then I put it in the fridge. Bacteria can still grow in it, so I'll use it up as soon as I'm through with the leftovers. Really, I don't want botulism…

I also made a quart jar plus a half pint of pickled okra and a quart jar of sliced cucumber pickles. Both types were made as quick refrigerator pickles, so I have about three weeks to use them up. (Vinegar, a bit of sugar, pickling spice, dill seed, a dried pepper, and garlic. I made it up as I went along.)

All in all, I'm very happy with my experiment.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why do I make things?

Before I start this post, I have to admit I'm way behind on my podcast listening. I only just got around to listening to CraftyPod #94, "Why Do You Make Things?"

At the very beginning, Sister Diane asks, "Why do you make things?"



What do you mean, why do I make things? Of course I make things! Is making things optional? I mean, maybe there really isn't a law of the universe that says I MUST MAKE THINGS. But it feels like it!

I literally cannot imagine what it would be like not making things. I keep trying, but then my mind does this disconnect and runs away from the thought. It is simply too foreign.

But why make things?

Well, for one thing, I love it. I love the feeling of satisfaction I get from a well-conceived, well-executed project. I love the process of making stuff…well, most of the time! I love the shiny or pointy or sparkly or pretty things I use to do it.

I love looking at a stash of supplies and seeing what it could be, how it could be transformed. I can take the most mundane items and make something awesome. A stick, sandpaper, and some beeswax turn into an awesome magic wand for the Half Blood Prince midnight release. My basket of fluffy fiber becomes a beautiful scarf to keep my mom warm as she sits on her back deck, surrounded by her cats and dogs. Some simple cotton yarn becomes a hat to keep a newborn in Haiti warm and improve her chance of survival.

There's also the small detail that my tastes far outstrip my bank account. I can't afford to buy all the beautiful scarves I see in stores and catalogs, but with some good yarn and an investment of time, I can make enough to keep me warm all winter. I can take cheap, beat-up furniture from Goodwill and turn it into something that's presentable enough to use in our home until we have saved up a bit of money. I can create a beautiful home for far less than they charge in stores.

A lot of what I do I have learned from an array of wonderful women, starting with my mom and grandmothers and continuing through Sunday school, Girl Scouts, and school. Some of it I have learned from men, such as my favorite instructor from Georgia State, Kyle Dillehay, who helped me figure out chip carving when I wanted to use it for a self-portrait project. I'm thankful for all these people, and like to feel my devotion to "making things" makes their investment of time and talent worth something.

There has never been a time in my life that I haven't "made things." I hope that never changes!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shock and Awe

My husband and I are in the processing of buying a house. By in the process, I mean we keep driving through neighborhoods, my husband haunts, and we've actually talked to a mortgage guy and a real estate agent. We have not actually chosen a house, but we better if we want to move on time!

In preparation, I have decided I should probably start going through stuff and packing. I think I'd be more motivate on the packing front if I had not shouldered ninety-five percent of the responsibility last year. Maybe it was more; since my husband was cramming for summer classes, all I remember him packing was his cookbook collection. Actually, I think he went through them and I packed them after he had purged his collection slightly, and we had returned his mom's books.

You get my point. Anyway, I decided to start with my yarn, because I've noticed that it has spread all over the house.

I'm still in shock. I never thought I had much stash; I listen to some women talk about their stashes, and theirs are huge! I never buy that much yarn.

Behold! I have bins of the stuff. WHERE DID IT COME FROM? HOW DID I COLLECT SO MUCH YARN?

My Stash (by Maid Mirawyn)

And why do my UFOs number in the double digits? I tried counting some of them as WIPS, but I had to admit that if I've knit less than a row in the past three weeks, it's not really "in progress", per se.

A Few of my UFOs
A few of my UFOs

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Give Socks a Chance

I tried making socks once before, but I hated them. The pattern was easy enough: Wendy's Generic Toe-Up Socks from Wendy Knits. The construction made sense, and I had no problem with the short row toe and heel.

But I hated making them. I made it all the way to the ankle on the first sock, but I had to make myself do it. I hated the fiddly tiny needle with the skinny yarn. I had to pay close attention to holding the needles, and it took a bit of finger contortion to ensure that the needles I wasn't using didn't fall out–especially the one next to the working needles.

That's not good when you do most of your work on the bus in tight quarters.

However, the wonderful ladies at the Yarn Garden in Lawrenceville showed me the most amazing tiny circular needles! It's only six inches long!

Finally I decided to give them a try. I bought a size 0 (or was it size 1) needle, because I knit loosely (it's the only way I avoid knitting so tightly I can't get my needle in!). I also bought a skein of Malabrigo sock yarn, to entice myself into knitting. (I don't actually have a stash of sock yarn, unlike the rest of the yarn-obsessed universe!)

I also switched to an eyelet rib pattern I found; since I've proved I can grasp the structure, that leaves me free to do something interesting.

The skinny yarn and skinny needles still require more of my attention than I might like, but at least I won't lose needles and have to scramble under my bus seat for them. As much as I love interesting socks, I need to learn to knit them!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Danger! New Addiction!

Guess what? I discovered yarn falls! I made a red, black, and grey one for Sunday night's dance show at Nicola's, because my new, henna-enhanced hair color doesn't match my fake ponytail.

And now I find myself looking for reasons to wear it. I've had it one week, and tomorrow morning will be my fifth time wearing it. See, I made it Friday, then decided to give it a test run when the Atlanta Christian Gaming and Anime Meetup went to Suno and karaoke. I figure I needed to see what it felt like, and I knew my friends would love it.

Then Sunday I wore it for the show. Monday, I was going to the Whole Foods/Harry's Farmers Market in Roswell for the BPAL Georgia Will-Call. I knew they would love it, so I put it on after work. Thursday, I went to knit night at the Yarn Garden. Well, I had to wear it, right? Who better to appreciate my clever use of stash than a group of knitters?

And by request, I'm wearing it tomorrow to Worldwide Knit in Public day, hosted by the Yarn Garden and being held in downtown Lawrenceville. Yay!

I'm serious about it being addictive, though. By Sunday night, I had plans to make two more, at least. I need one in black and gold, and of course I need one in browns. I mean, that is the other staple of my wardrobe. But could I maybe do one in blues, too? Or maybe black and white? Hmm…

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Save Handmade from the CPSIA!

Save Handmade! BuyHandmade.orgHave you heard about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, or CPSIA for short? No? Well, our government has really done it this time!

The CPSIA is a new requirement for all items intended for babies and children. Its aim is good: keep kids safe from lead. But it's insane! Under its provisions, handmade items, especially one-of-a-kind handmade toys and clothes, are no longer feasible to make and sell.

In a nutshell, it requires that every single item intended for children and babies be tested for lead and the like, and have a tag permanently affixed to it. That may sound reasonable, right?

Think about it. If your neighbor is a seamstress who makes custom christening gowns for babies, she now has to make TWO IDENTICAL DRESSES and send one off to be tested (which destroys it). The remaining dress must have a permanent tag affixed to it, stating that it is safe.

If a handmade item is sold in a store, the store must display a certificate for that item, and for every other children's item! How does that work?

It's insane! For more information, see Craftzine's excellent post on the topic.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Pink! It Burns!

Back in November I made a wavy hat for my mom, using Patons SWS (Natural Raisin and Natural Indigo from the Soy Wool Solids). It was the second chemo cap I made for her. Unfortunately for me, my sister saw it, and she wants one. And sadly, my sister likes pink.

So I'm crocheting with pink. Blech. I hate pink. In fact, I hate pink even more than orange…and I detest orange. One facet of pink that drives me nuts is the assumption that women want pink. Manufacturers look at their product and say, "Oh, we need to target the female market segment. Um, make it pink. What's next on the agenda?" It's insulting, really.

But that's a different rant. Back to the fiber-y goodness!

I decided that if I was going to crochet with pink, it was going to be good pink. This cap has one saving grace in my book: it's Malabrigo. Malabrigo Merino Worsted in 021 Cactus Flower, to be exact. And it is simply one of the most divine yarns on this planet. It's wonderfully soft, and the colors are gorgeous. It's kettle-dyed by a women's coop in Uruguay, and if you've never tried it you should run straight to your local yarn store and buy a skein or five.

Did I mention the wonderful colorways? The traditional Malabrigo–Merino Worsted, the one that made them famous–is available in true solids and semi-solids as well as variegated. All the colors are sublime. The dark colors are deep and rich with real dimension; the brights are clear and clean; the pastels are pure and soft. There are colors that I don't particularly care for (like pink), but there are no bad colors.

Oh, right, I'm making a hat. Back to the wavy hat.

If you like crocheted ripple afghans and you enjoy a little whimsy, you'll like this hat. It's from One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant, and it uses the traditional ripple construction (grouped increases alternating with grouped decreases) to create the same type of points.

The top is very fun: each point is stitched together, so it creates a star shape when seen from above. In the book, it's stitched with a contrasting color, and a couple of dangling tassels are attached. This is my third wavy cap, and I haven't actually used the tassels yet. I do, however, use the contrasting stitching.

All in all, it's very quick to make; I started this one yesterday, and it should be finished tomorrow. That's only three days of rather limited crochet time.

It's a good thing I love my sister, because this pink overload may kill me!

Update: As you can see, I finished the hat. Trust me–it looks WAY better on my sister!