Archive for September, 2011

Knitting season has officially begun.

How satisfying is it to grab a few skeins of wool off the basket, put them together, and fashion a sweater?  Yes.  This is a nice little something for The Girl.  The cap sleeves make it the perfect sweater for this in-between time of Fall.  Also satisfying was how quickly it came together, despite the very persistent beckoning of my spinning wheel, which I’ve answered regularly.

Today has brought rain, the promise of blustery winds, and the pitiful company of a sick boy.  I hope to scrounge up some kindling to light the home fire, brew some catnip tea and miso soup, and rock my sweet little man to the gentle percussion of knitting needles at work.  If that doesn’t banish our collective ills…well, then, I don’t know what will.

Ravelry details here.

PS:  I just got a Big Girl Camera.  Holy. Smokes.  Get ready to live.  (as soon as I shake this lingering sickness)

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Out of the Office

I am currently out of the office.  A business trip has taken me to scour my gardens and those of my friends and neighbors for the last bits of summer color, which I will inject into a giant box of wool.  Our farmhouse kitchen is also out-of-the-office, as it has been thoroughly (and inconveniently) transformed into a dyeing workshop.  While I am away, (mentally, if nothing else) all school lunches will be Hot, suppers will alternate between Popcorn and Frozen Pizza and all laundry needs should be sufficiently met by any one of the four heaping baskets of clean, unfolded clothes.  If you have a matter of great urgency during my absence, please direct your calls to Captain Daddio at ext. 47.  I hope to return soon, though I am quite happily occupied.

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And you thought you didn’t like lima beans.

I’ll bet you’d find that you were wrong.  I’ll bet that, when you cook up fresh, gorgeous beauties like these–lightly steam them, perhaps, toss them in butter and salt–you’d find them to be nothing at all like those gritty, pale green lima posers found in the mix of bagged frozen vegetables.  I’ll bet you’d drop your fork after taking the first bite and look suspiciously at the person who prepared them.  “Lima beans?” you’d say.  “There is no way these are lima beans – these are delicious.  I hate lima beans.” But you’d be wrong.  Perhaps what you really mean, what you’re quickly coming to realize with each passing buttery bite, is that you used to hate lima beans and probably only because they were poorly prepared.  Perhaps from this point on, you’d mark on your calendar that season when lima beans are harvested fresh and hold it in the same esteem as that short-windowed asparagus season.  Perhaps, even, you’d get yourself a seed catalog and eagerly await the order you’ll place to grow your own lovely Christmas Lima beans or the spectacular Scarlet Runner beans, which are eaten in the same manner as limas.

Oh, I hope I’m right.

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I’m about to dive into a giant box of delicious wool.

Like magic, this arrived in the mail last week.  I had sent them a box full of washed fleece packed so tight that I imagine opening it was like playing with a jack-in-the-box.  The fleece that exploded out of the box was washed again, carded, combed, and then spit out into one continuous piece of this lovely wool, called “combed top.”  But I like to imagine that they have a contraption not unlike the Playdough extruder, where you shove in a blob and squeeze out a nice continuous piece shaped like a star.  How fun would that job be?  It reminds me of a textbook I had in 5th grade, with a picture of a crayon assembly line, thousands of crayons lined up in rainbow formation.  I came home from school announcing that I was going to work THERE when I grew up.  My parents quickly squashed that idea, probably because they both work in factory settings and wanted loftier goals for me.

But have I really strayed so far from the crayon ideal I’ve held on to all this time?  I wondered this yesterday as I plucked these zinnias hours before our first frost and placed them for drying in a hanging basket.  Surely this is one of the most sensually rich jobs one could muster, I thought.  From teeny-tiny lamb to sheep to lanolin-rich shorn wool to that lovely combed top to spinning wheel to lovely plant dyebath to skein of yarn…it’s like an orgy for the senses.

The timing of all of this loveliness, though, has been a mixed bag.  The impending frost coinciding with the arrival of this new book – Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess – a fantastically-beautiful book, I might add, prompted me to harvest every last zinnia blossom.  I hadn’t planned on dyeing with them, so I turned to the instructions and quickly learned that they must be used fresh.  Damn.  This seems to be the case with most of the dye plants I’ve grown so far, especially the Japanese Indigo.  I covered that with a tarp last night to protect the tender tips from Jack Frost and will do so again tonight, hoping for balmier dyeing weather next week, after some crucial supplies arrive in the mail.  The zinnias, however, I decided to use on the spot.

At the same time supper was being prepared, the zinnias quietly steeped on the stove.  Then I added the only skein of Irene’s wool that I’ve been able to process so far.  And this is what came out of the dyepot.  A lovely first go at plant dyeing, don’t you think?

(And now I must quickly rant about how irritated I am that the much-loved name of Irene, our fondly remembered ewe, has been sullied the world over with the new context of a devastating hurricane.  Who picks these names?  How about a different naming system, one that doesn’t represent actual names?  I would imagine the Katrinas of the world would agree with me.)

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Mining jewels

The metaphor of precious jewels is irresistible when describing the season of canning.  Reds, golds, vibrant indigo, plum – I now understand that the color “plum” refers to the cooked fruit, not the fresh- those colors of the harvest, as seen through sparkling glass jars, is one hallmark of Fall for us.  It’s a frenzy, though, a race to get through the abundance of everything that has ripened all at the same time.  This year, aided by the steadfast attendance of the bees, we’ve discovered fruit bursting from previously-undiscovered nooks and crannies.

Herein lies one of the most difficult lessons of managing a very full life.  Get as much done as you can and let go of the rest.  It rang familiar to me as I typed this, and I vaguely remembered feeling a similar sentiment in the past.  Oh yes – last year’s garden recap post.  Hee hee.

There are, at this moment, no rotting tomatoes on my kitchen counter (yet) but the little sweeties I’ve set aside for drying are starting to tap their toes.  Setting up shop at my local Farmer’s Market has proved to be a handy impetus to can like a dickens.  I managed to follow through on several years of intent by harvesting elderberries this year and making jam.  A thick, sweeeeet jam, but one that will still prove quite handy at banishing winter colds.  The biggest surprise was that I was able to pick all the berries I needed from our own bushes, without having to forage elsewhere, a feat made possible, no doubt, by the bees.

Stewed tomatoes were my opening act.  See how strange and oblong these beauties are?  They look like giant red peppers.  What you can’t see on the inside is their delicious flesh, almost completely absent of seeds and juice.  They are Federles – chosen specifically for this fleshy-ness. They can up like a dream – all tomato and little juice.

Isadora joined me in the Sisterhood of Canning this year, as a very promising skin-peeler.  I can’t quite put it into words, but I’ve started to get a sense of an almost-primal connection to a larger community of women doing the very same thing this time of year.  I know that, as I blanch and peel and fill my jars, that Mom and Grandma and Aunt are doing the same, perhaps even that very day.  Neighbors, friends, passing acquaintances from the market, too. It’s hard to describe how satisfying that is, how rhythmically appropriate and in tune with the season, and how visceral the pleasure from so literally providing for my family – from seed, to plant, to fruit, to jar.  Gosh, that’s good stuff.  But it’s a lot of busy work.  A lot. Pulling elderberries from their clusters took me hours and was one of those activities that teetered between mind-numbing and meditative, depending upon your mood.  I swayed more to the mind-numbing side, sadly.


What great strides I’ve made over last year.  In the cellar are proudly displayed 10 quarts of stewed tomatoes, 6 quarts of the absolute best marinara I can muster (way better than last year), 6 pints of plums (plums! I bought them on a whim at a Farmer’s Market), the aforementioned elderberry jam, dill pickle slicers, dilly beans, pickled jalapeno-type peppers… and the harvest has only started.  We’ve discovered an abundance of grapes (again, thanks bees!) that might make a nice jelly, there are so many more tomatoes in progress, as well as peppers. What remains to join these jewels in the cellar will be determined by whatever time and energy I can muster in the weeks to come.  And grace.  I’m holding tight to the satisfaction I’ve gleaned so far this season, in case these jewels manage to be the only ones I mine this year.  Winter eating will be our best yet.

 

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Summer’s last hurrah

In the last full week before school’s start, we packed our minivan to the gills – knitting, crayons, fishing tackle, sleeping bags, pugs, and a whole host of other vacation ‘necessities.’  Then we headed up North for a week of uninterrupted recharging.  And it worked.

It was a week steeped in sand, water, fish, horses, lumberjacks, and Paul Bunyan, which turned out to be exactly what we needed.  We’ve now crossed over the threshold and given ourselves wholeheartedly to Fall.

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