Now, where did I leave that?

Monday, March 26, 2012

More Pictures than Words

We've been busy planting seeds (so far we've planted mesclun mix, arugula, radishes, snow peas, beets, kale & chard) and starting the new chicken coop, but there's also been time for a little knitting (less once we started building; hammering exacerbates tendonitis) and appreciating Spring...

We realized that the future coop was in danger of being drowned as water poured off the garage roof, so before we could start building, we needed to remedy that situation. We installed a gutter (no downspout yet)...I was even the 'handy one' this time, in that I actually read the directions!

Once we installed the gutter, we could begin building!

It may look odd, but that is one sturdy--and absolutely level-- floor.

I finished the first sock! It's too big, and the kitchener stitch was weird, but it's a sock. Now I'm working (when my hands will let me) on sock #2; once that's finished I can try some of the easier patterns people have shared with me.

Working outside lets us really appreciate the glories of Spring, like shy hyacinths, 

dancing daffodils,

and exuberant, exultant forsythia!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ode to a Quince

Wanton flow'ring quince,
Demure pink blushing can't hide
Your round pregnant buds.

(copyright Ashling Kelly 2012)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring Has Sprung

  And it feels like Summer is biting at its butt. It was in the 70s yesterday, will approach 80 today and Wednesday, and will be warm the rest of the week. I suspect we'll have the fan on tonight. We've moved Susie, Mots & Dottie and their beds back out onto the sun porch (from mid-October on, they get a sunny room with fleece-lined beds in the house, with a cat door leading to the sunporch, and another leading outside); the older they get the more they want to stay inside! Mots, our 16 year old sun-loving Buddha cat practically hibernated this Winter, not venturing out even on the warm days. She and Dottie are the same age, but Mots is showing it more. I suspect by next year Mots will have been moved in permanently.

  You all saw the hoop house greenhouses we built, but we still haven't planted a single seed! Yesterday we put up a fence around the beds using deer-netting to keep out the cats & dogs (we already have fencing around the yard itself to keep deer out). We have a plan for a permanent structure, stealing shamelessly from the ethereal, poetic garden enclosure at Sycamore Garden Center (click on the link, choose 'photos' from the menu; it's the photo marked 'vegetable garden'). We saw it as we drove by and I made Linda turn the car around so I could get a better look. Randy, the owner, was kind enough to allow us to photograph it, and by Fall we'll have built something similar. The image of it has stayed with me for months; there's a grace, poetry, other-worldness about it that I absolutely love. So ANYWAY, the temporary fencing is up, the location for the coop is staked out, along with the game plan for getting started (it's going to require we install gutters on the garage; deep and heavy sigh), and I'm taking Wednesday off from work to plant seeds and get the coop floor built. So we were busy even if we haven't started the fun stuff.

 Another sign of Spring? The changing of the dishes, from cozy, playful Winter moose

to the elegantly rustic Copper Leaf stoneware.
  About the Beast mentioned in the last post...I didn't give in. What I did do was was frozen pineapple, coconut milk and agave nectar to make a delicious, no-refined-sugar sorbet that did the trick. Can I confess something? I bought tortilla chips this weekend. I even had that processed-beyond-recognition nacho cheese dip in my basket until I read that it had sugar in it, and then I put it back on the shelf and replaced it with real shredded cheddar and Newman's own sugar-less salsa. As soon as I got home I made a plate of 'nachos'. Ya know what? It was good, but didn't wow me. I didn't crave more. In fact, I didn't touch the chips again all weekend. And the ginger beer craving? Well, I've discovered that 100% fruit juice--like an orange-pineapple blend--mixed with club soda is pretty darn good! The club soda cuts the natural sugar of the juice, lightens it up, and gave us the feeling of a indulging in a cold, refreshing soda when we'd been working in the sun for hours. Great discovery! Linda saw the doctor last week, and she was told her cholesterol is higher than it should be, so now we need to take that into account when planning meals. I'm still feeling we're having to be far too food-obsessed, which is good in that we're being so much more conscious of what we eat, but bad because I have lots of other things I'd rather think about! I've lost a few pounds; next step is combining this new way of eating with the Weight Watchers PointsPlus program. The doctor also told Linda it's time to exercise (yeah, same doctor told me that three months ago, too). So  we've agreed to do it together, starting with three evenings a week, taking turns on elliptical and treadmill. I need to do a shout-out to A Polish Grandaughter, and her Gypsy Soup blog post. We made this Moosewood recipe Saturday, and loved it!
It's lighter than one would expect, but filling, both sweet and savory. Thanks, Shel!
  So that's where life's at today...Spring's here despite the calendar, I'm holding back the Beast with whip, chair and Gypsy Soup, and another week is under way.

  How was your weekend?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Beast Awakens I'm wanting something delicious and decadent and forbidden; I'd commit crimes to have that something...not a 'taste' of something...I want the something in quantity. I'm not could be tortilla chips w/ cheese sauce, or a creamy pint of Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra, a Big Mac, or a big bowl of tomato mac & cheese. It could be a chocolate malt (with real powdered malt, thank you) or a (large) bag of BBQ potato chips or really good fish & chips (the latter served with a sharp, crisp ginger beer). I'd settle for Freihoffer chocolate chip cookes, or dark chocolate-covered marzipan. I don't want salad, or fruit, or quinoa or veggies in any form or one more piece of chicken.

I've gone 8 days without SERIOUS cravings, but they're here today.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday, Monday

  I'd like to file a complaint, please. After much experimentation, and ample trials, I've come to the realization weekends are far too short. I'd like to request that they be extended to a minimum of three days. Thank you.
  Saturday was a blur, and Sunday was its twin. Have to say it really felt like I lost an hour this time. Read an interesting article about the 'myth' of Daylight Savings Time, and wonder if it has some real truth to it. Anyway, slept in a little bit (thank you, Yeti & Lola; your moms appreciated you skipping that usual 5 am wake-up call), then we took our time waking up as fire warmed the livingroom and coffee cleared the fog. We had a delightful breakfast courtesy of my friend Cait who shared her 'recipe' with me for this unprocessed, not-too-sweet, no-wheat apple crisp:

4 apples, cored and chopped
2 tbl butter
1/2 cup (ish) rolled oats
1/4 cup maple syrup (the real deal only)
Cinnamon to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Saute the apples in melted butter, tossing with cinnamon, about 5-10 minutes (you don't want them soft, maybe with just a little give). Combine everything in a bowl, toss well, then put in a casserole dish or square baking pan and put in oven. I used a glass baking pan, and in 30 minutes the apples were tender & it was ready to go. This recipe works as a dessert or a breakfast; we ate it with sharp cheddar and it was perfect! Because it uses oats and maple syrup rather than flour and any sugar, it works in my food plan nicely.

  When the temperature warmed up to a balmy 50+ degrees, we headed outside to clean up the raised beds, turning over and amending the soil. Didn't photograph the dirt, but it was rich and dark, already warm enough to work easily. I can't wait to plant in it! And we'll be able to plant next weekend because we built these:


Some electrical conduit tubing, painters' drop cloth and galvanized pipe straps have let us make hoop houses (Linda's a genius)! We did two of the beds yesterday and will tackle the third next weekend. For now, it's being protected from cats who use the beds as litter boxes and dogs who subsequently use them as lunch boxes (this is probably why cats assume they're the superior species, and it's a tough supposition to argue with) with two layers of stacked tomato cages. Here are two of the culprits, looking oh-so-innocent:

  We ended the day with a dinner of oat-baked chicken (need to tweak the recipe, but I have now discovered that marinating chicken breasts in buttermilk for a couple of hours before 'oven-frying' makes the most tender, juicy chicken you could ever want) and roasted veggies, and Worst Cooks in America.

  Oh, and long hot showers and a heating pad. We never feel as old as we do that first day in the garden each year!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

4:00 on a Saturday

Somehow the day is drawing to a close already. Had class four of Sheep-to-Sweater. It was all about sampling spun wool, knitting up what you've spun to answer questions like, "Will this work for my project?"; "Should it be 2-ply or 3?"; "What needle size works best?"; "Too much twist, too little, or is it just right?". And we have homework before the next class; I like the idea of having a plan! One of the people I've been delighted to meet at class, someone who is discovering natural dyes and shares her experiments (and beautiful results) here most generously surprised me with a gift:

a book that makes the supposition I'll one day get beyond the basics...but if I do, this book is going to totally cool to work with. Thanks, Shel!
  The food plan has been largely successful this past week, less difficult in some ways than I'd expected, probably in part to what was likely a stomach bug that left me queasy and disinterested in food much of the week. I'm pleased with my progress though. For example, as I sit blogging, rather than my typical Saturday late afternoon ginger beer, I have this:

a glass of water flavored with lime. A simple baked chicken breast, baked potato and two broiled pineapple slices replaced my usual 'I'm sick'  go-to meal of store-bought rotisserie chicken, instant mashed potatoes, ginger beer and frozen fruit bars (which have lots of added sugar). Managed not to eat sugar or anything processed until last night's fried fish dinner, and today I'm back on track. Just cleaned out one cabinet and stocked it with the quinoa and whole grain & no-sugar muelsli, raw sunflower seeds (not even salted), and assorted beans. The fridge has been re-stocked with veggies, and a no-sugar, heavy-on-the-vegetables, no refined/processed foods menu is in place for the week ahead. And now that the thought of it doesn't make me turn greener than a kale leaf, will try my hand at some juicing this week! The TCM practioner suggested during the week I come off the herbs to see if they could be behind the stomach issues, and they're still a suspect, but we're trying again with a lower dose. The pay-off for this first week? The hives are much better, not gone by any means, but much better. I've lost 4 lbs, and my whole body feels less bloated. Cravings? Definitely when I was sick I yearned for my usual comfort food, and last night I was jonesing for a ginger beer. Walking through the grocery store, one is assaulted by the aromas of baked goods and chocolate, and having to wait in line at the candy-bar riddled register is brutal. But hey, one week has passed. People keep telling me it'll get easier.
  How about you? Several of you posted you were making some big changes, too. How's it going? Tips, tricks, recipes? Have the cravings left you?
  And now I'm going to settle in with wool for a few hours....leaving you with the obligatory Spring-is-springing blog photo:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


These are side-by-side ads in the April 2012 issue of This Old House. If the two ads were placed in different parts of the magazine, oh well...I could live with it. But side-by-side? I want to know if anyone ran this by the Girl Scout Council...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Of Socks & Food

  Wow--the whole food change thing has really struck a chord with folks! I'm so grateful for the support 'out there', and amazed that there are so many others facing the same challenge. Is this what the age of convenience has done to us? Have we abandoned and forgotten 'real food' and are now suffering the numerous consequences? Sunday we shopped for the week's food; I was down with a nasty stomach bug and barely got through shopping, but went because I was determined to start this plan first thing Monday morning. Poor Linda was stuck making the first batch of the Ultrabroth. It took an hour of prep, and another 90 minutes of cooking; she's so good to me. Yesterday, came home from work and was immediately tied to the kitchen, chopping and prepping for dinner; even with Linda's help, it was over an hour, and included a lengthy discussion of whether to start mauling vegetables for the next batch of broth or wait until tonight when dinner itself will require less prep (and you better believe we're going to make a bigger batch of broth this time!). Told her this 'new' way of eating will make me crazy, because it suddenly feels like it's consuming me. Planning, prepping, considering what I 'can' or 'can't' eat have taken over my life already. I had no idea how much I relied on convenience/processed food, and how little time I spent preparing fresh, healthy, unadulterated food. And yet, I would have said that I cook alot and use plenty of vegetables and such. After all, I live for Farm Market shopping and go into ecstasies of glee over fresh brussels sprouts and tomatoes. But clearly, convenience, not freshness, was my go-to ingredient.
  The first day went surprisingingly well! I stayed with the plan...breakfast was plain, fat-free Greek yogurt with a dollop of Simply Fruit stirred in, and an apple later. Lunch was Ultrabroth, edamame & grape tomatoes. Dinner was Lemon-Garlic-Basil chicken breasts and Gingered Carrots with Red Onions & Broccoli. I admit, I'm so accustomed to a sweet treat at night that all the knitting in the world couldn't silence that wee voice whispering sweet nothings in my ear (and I don't mean Linda) about 9 pm. My solution was half an apple, nuked with cinnamon and a teaspoon of maple syrup. It worked, comforting and shushing that voice without throwing the day's efforts out the window into the cold, dark night. And I was very surprised at how little I was tempted to answer the call of the vending machine yesterday afternoon. It's awfully close to my office, and its siren song of Twix bars and Rice Krispie Treats often drowns out all other sounds. But yesterday I just covered my ears, sipped the salty-sweet Ultrabroth, and went on with my work. Pretty cool. Drinking the Chinese herbal formula twice a day--ugh.
Less manageable with each cup, but the hives are improving, not dramatically, but noticeably, so I'll suck it up at least until the next visit Friday.
  This blog is not going to become all about food and changing my eating lifestyle, I promise. It's a big part of the picture for me at the moment, but there will always be wool, and critters, and life in our neck of the woods. Ya know what I've been doing? Knitting a sock! Settled myself down at CountryWool's 'sit & knit' Saturday afternoon, and Claudia was infinitely patient. I hadn't made as much of a disaster as I'd thought, but because of one significant and irreparable error, we pulled it out to the start of the heel flap, and I worked it right through the heel turn & the gusset! By golly, it looks like a sock!

I am knitting a sock for real!! And it might one day be finished! On the easy part now, just straight knitting for several inches to complete the foot. I refuse to even look at the toe directions at the moment; having too much fun watching this actually become sock-like! Do I dare envision a sock-filled world ahead of me?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Sweet Life and Embracing Change

  In some ways, I'm practically a Puritan. I don't drink alcohol, not a drop in two decades. I don't smoke cigarettes (although there were those two weeks of walking on the wild side at 14), or anything else. I love a big bowl of tomatoes, a juicy apple, spicy carrot soup. However, I also love cheese of all kinds, chips and dip, daily (or twice-daily) Saranac  ginger beer, brownies, cookies, ice cream, Rice Krispie Treats, cheesy get the picture. Know what I don't like? Exercise, other than the occasional leisurely ramble through the woods, cooked vegetables, tofu, seaweed, things that don't taste delicious. Aside from being overweight (with capital letters). I have high blood pressure, chronic heartburn, asthma, achy muscles and joints...and newly diagnosed chronic urticaria with angioedema (read 'hives & swelling'). A biopsy confirmed the hives are not allergy related; the allergist said "your immune system has gone haywire." He added more medication.
  My sister recommended I see an acupuncturist. Okay, beats more drugs. So I called hers, who is also a practioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine. We talked and she told me I should see the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead . It was inspiring, if scary. I'm not seeing a juice fast of a day--let alone weeks or months--in my future. I went to see her yesterday, and along with doing a little acupuncture to help with the itching and a cupping treatment (weird!) to help with detoxing and stress (including the stress of the upcoming life change I've agreed to), and giving me an herbal formula--"Sagely Unblocking"-- to drink twice a day, we had a serious discussion about diet (the aforementioned 'life change').
  The premise is that white sugar and white flour cause inflammation, and that the more sugar and (at least) refined carbs are removed from the diet, the less inflammation there is, and that diet is really the first and most significant change to make to un-haywire my immune system. What that's going to look like is primarily vegetables, with some fish and chicken, a very small amount of fruit, a very small amount of dairy. That's what I 'can' eat. There's no sugar/sweetener at all except for a very small amount of maple syrup, and little or no carbs from grains except maybe a small amount of oats (alot of 'very smalls' in there). Although the recommendation is that I substitute a juiced meal for a regular one once a day, I'll wait a bit before spending money on a juicer; those suckers are pricey!** There will be alot of Dr. Hyman's Ultrabroth, soups and salads.
**since writing that sentence, my sister has offered me the loan of a juicer she doesn't use!**
  This is scary's a big change. The payoff could be huge--good health and weight loss, energy and the physical ability to do things like work in the yard comfortably & romp with the dogs. But to change 50 years of bad eating habits is also a serious challenge with the potential for crushing failure. Linda's on-board with it, and wants to follow the same eating plan, which is awesome and very helpful. I'm embracing the need to make a serious change, and part of me is actually kind of looking forward to this as an adventure. I'm also looking forward to keeping my hands permanently occupied with knitting and spinning in the snack-free evenings. I hope you'll share suggestions and recipes...