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Posts from the ‘Knitting’ Category

The Original Paella

I’ve never been overly interested in paella… restaurant versions have always been bland and overcooked, or so varied and upscale they’d be impossible to recreate at home. In fact, that’s usually why I skipped over every paella recipe before I found this one. An ingredient list 15 items long (not including pantry items) is usually an automatic out in my book.

Then I stumbled upon this recipe in Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World, a cookbook that focuses on traditional, authentic and well, cookable recipes from around the world. (Needless to say, I am a huge fan.) It calls for a handful of ingredients, the core of which are rice, shrimp and onion.

Bittman himself says he didn’t understand paella until he happened upon this recipe in Spain, a simple weekday workhorse of a meal, made like this for centuries.

Me? I love it for its humble depth of flavor, because it’s made in one pot (a cast iron skillet at that), and the fact that it’s real food at its best. I mean, you can’t get more simple than rice, onion, broth and shrimp. Yet, something magical happens, and out of the oven comes this tasty, hearty, wonderful dish that you will find yourself making over and over again.

The Original Paella
Adapted slightly from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1 onion, minced
3.5C chicken broth
2C arborio rice
1lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, or as close to that as you can get. Heat olive oil in ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, add onions, and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add rice, and saute for a minute or so. Add broth, being mindful of the steam. (If broth is cold, warm it before adding.) Add shrimp and stir. Transfer to oven and cook for 25 minutes, or until broth is completely absorbed (no longer soupy on top). Garnish with parsley and serve.

Notes: Bittman includes saffron, but as a rule I don’t make things with saffron, or omit it when possible. I simply can’t justify ponying up for a spice that costs that much. Also, he instructs one to heat up the broth before adding, but since I buy my broth in a carton that is stored at room temperature, I have found that to be unnecessary as well. If you are using refrigerated broth, you definitely want to warm it first – both to avoid the steam backlash and to prevent halting the cooking process from such a drastic change in temperature.

Embarrassing admission: EJ and I polished off more than half of that pan by ourselves. We both ate it with gusto, but I will leave you to guess who had 3 helpings.

Vintage Maternity. Awesome.

What? You thought I’d be writing about St. Patrick’s Day? Sorry gang, the parade is out for us until the kiddies are bigger, and drinking is out for me (wine: okay!; car bombs: not okay!) for the foreseeable future. Chances are decent for an impromptu family get together later today, but my father is out of town on business and he’s usually the ringleader.

Anyway. I’m here to talk about sewing. Yesterday I went on a little field trip to the largest independently owned fabric store in New England, The Fabric Stash, on wind of a rumor that they have a good selection, open classes and a clothing designer on staff. (All true!) I picked up some fabric for my Folklore Bag, and was excited to start on it this morning.

And this morning I found out that my copy of the book was missing the pattern insert for this particular project.

After a quick phone call to Storey Publishing, a new (complete) copy is on its way. Very happy with the customer service, but am itching to get started on a sewing project.

Said itch has led me down the rabbit hole of vintage maternity patterns. Check out the awesomeness:


From the 40s. I swear to you this is a maternity pattern. I have no idea how – I mean, in my skinniest (and I have been pretty damn skinny at a few points in my life) there is no way my waist would ever have been that small. But pregnant? What?!?!?!?


From the 80s. Though completely opposite, these are not much better than the ones from the 40s. In fact, these are only a few short steps away from a burqa. Are they trying to hide they have a body altogether? Is there anything that could possibly be less flattering? I mean, really, you feel big enough when you’re pregnant without wearing a circus tent.

I am, however, completely in love with the next 2 patterns:

From the 60s and 70s, respectively. Now those are some cute, wearable maternity clothes. I might skip on the bloomers (perhaps they were a better idea back when the average age of pregnancy was early 20s, not early 30s, speaking from the state of my upper thighs these days), and the ankle length version of the 70s dress, but overall, I heart these.

Wish patterns these days were more than the dumbed-down, shapeless, fashionless tunics I have found so far. With home clothes sewing a dying (dead?) art, there’s just no point in developing a wide range of well designed patterns I suppose.

Sigh.

A meme. For you.

Just what we need around here – a meme to get things rolling again!

1.Explain what ended your last relationship?

Wow. We’re talking about almost 10 years ago now… not as long as some of you guys, but still, a long time. Short answer: infidelity. Long answer: State trooper sting operations, and a long, tangled web of lies.

(How’s that for a tantalizing answer? And no, you won’t get more of it on this blog. There are The Rules you know.)

2. When was the last time you shaved?

Ha! I’m pregnant, with a stall shower, and it’s winter.

3. What were you doing this morning at 8 a.m.

Making coffee. Everything before that is kind of fuzzy.

4. What were you doing 15 minutes ago?

Eating lunch. Mmmmm, waffles!

5. Some things you are excited about?

An upcoming long weekend away to a warm beach. No kids. No dogs. AND we have a direct flight out of Worcester airport, which is 15 minutes from my house, and parking is so easy, get this… it’s on the honor system. That’s right, the airport is so small, parking is on the honor system. So Easy!!

6. What is your favorite flavor of JELL-O?

Red.

7. Your prom night, what do you remember about it?

Hmmmm…. junior prom, I loved my dress, I had my hair done up in Shirley Temple curls, and my date (a friend) picked me up in a cute little sports car. Fun all around! Senior prom, I wore a sundress, birkenstocks, and wish that I hadn’t gone with such a jerk.

8. Do you have any famous ancestors?

My great-grandfather was a captain in the NYPD during Prohibition, and grew up with a bunch of the mobsters. (His wife used to vacation with Al Capone’s wife in Florida.) There is a book and 2 movies about him, and his pivotal role of upholding the law while balancing between the 2 worlds.

9. Last thing received in the mail?

A credit card offer? Supermarket flyers. Other junk. Bleh.

10. How many different beverages have you had today?

Coffee. Water. Which reminds me it’s time for my big glass o’ milk.

11. Do you ever leave messages on people’s answering machine?

Sometimes. Because sometimes there’s just no point in leaving a message.

12. Do you draw your name in the sand when you go to the beach?

Nope. I’m not much fun like that – I think it’s kind of pointless and my New England reserve whispers to me that that sort of thing is kind of narcissistic. However, Eric IS fun, and he always builds elaborate sand sculptures when we go to the beach. Like this. And this.

13. Any plans for Friday night?

Friday night is take-out night! Boring, but at the end of a long week, we’re both pretty excited about not cooking, and not doing dishes.

14. Do you like what the ocean does to your hair?

Once, when Eric and I drove cross country, camping out of the back of my Jetta in various state and national parks, I went almost a whole week only bathing in mountain streams, lakes, and on the last day before having access to a shower again, we camped on the beach at Carlsbad State Park in southern CA and the ocean was the cleanest we were going to get. By the end of the that week, my hair was in natural dreadlocks. It was pretty awesome, and kind of freaky, especially for a girl with super-fine, super-straight hair.

We must have smelled so bad.

15. Have you ever received one of those big tins of 3 different popcorns?

Yes. I don’t like to eat the popcorn, but Eric’s not as picky, and EJ loves playing with the big container.

16. Do you re-use towels after you shower?

Yes.

17. Describe your keychain(s)?

I don’t have one. After years of moving, and moving, and moving, keychains kind of became a pain in the ass.

18. Where do you keep your change?

I keep my change in my wallet. Eric has organized various spots for me to keep my change overflow. Cause he’s OCD like that.

19. When was the last time you spoke in front of a large group of people?

My last UCB show in March 2008, just before I got pregnant with EJ. (Actually, I threw up in the theatre bathroom just before the show, which was weird at the time because I wasn’t nervous or anything, but with the positive pregnancy test a week later, it made a lot more sense.)

20. What kind of winter coat do you own?

I have a dark blue, knee-length down coat that has been fabulous this winter. I also have a beautiful camel, walking-length wool coat, and a black, walking-length black wool coat with woven patterning, but those two (while very warm) aren’t exactly practical when kicking around in the country hauling a toddler through 3 feet of snow.

Souper February

Have I told you about my food manifesto? I’m sure I mentioned it in the early days of the blog, back in ’04 or ’05, but since the archives are down, you’re just going to have to take my word on it.

Anyway, a central tenet of my whole food world lies in the idea that soup is pretty much the perfect food. It has, truly, endless variations. You can get a wide variety of foods in a one-dish, single serving. You can make enough to eat all week AND freeze for later. It can be as fancy and impressive, or as quick and easy as you’d like.

I love soup.

Then Kellee (it is always Kellee, yes? My most favorite enabler and ringleader.) was all, oh my god, my friend started this thing called Souper February. We’re going to make a different soup every day during February and post it to Flickr. You should totally do it. It will be AWESOME. (Or something like that. It was in email form, and Kellee does not speak or type Valley High School.)

And I was like, um, Soup? Awesome. Every day? Um, that’s, like crazy. (See above disclaimer, except apply it to me.)

But, I love the spirit of the challenge and have decided to try for 2 soups a week. I am already behind, but my first soup of February was a little ditty from Jamie’s Italy. (Oh Jamie Oliver, sigh. I love your veggie garden and ragamuffin way of tossing together ridiculously delicious-looking food.)

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)
From: Jamie’s Italy

Ingredients:

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, trimmed and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
spring of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
2 – 14oz cans chickpeas
2.5 C chicken stock
3.5 oz ditalini (I used elbows)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil or parsley for garnish (optional) (I used basil)

Cook onion, celery, garlic and rosemary with splash of olive oil as gently as possible in covered saucepan for 15 – 20 minutes until veggies have lost all color.

Add chickpeas to pot, and cover with stock. Cook gently for 30 minutes, then remove 1/2 chickpeas with slotted spoon and reserve in another bowl. Using immersion blender, blend remaining contents of pot until smooth. Add reserved chickpeas and pasta, season with salt and pepper, and simmer gently until chickpeas are tender and pasta is cooked.

If soup is too thick, thin with water, and season with salt and pepper.

NOTE: Don’t try to get smart or cute, and decide to thin the soup with additional chicken stock, like I did. Jamie knows what he’s talking about. I used a total of 4 C of chicken stock, and the soup was too rich and salty. Water would have cut it beautifully, and let the natural flavors of the chickpeas, herbs and veggies shine.

A One Yard Wonder

Project: Mailbag Pocket Duo from One Yard Wonders

Materials: One yard of fabric bought from fabric.com sometime last year in a fit of sewing enthusiasm. Other sewing accessories: thread, scissors, a sewing machine… the usual.

Time to complete: 3 naptimes.

Useful Quotient: Super useful. We had no designated place for mail in our new house, the result of which was unseemly piles cluttering up our kitchen, and my desk.

Happiness Quotient: Exceeded my happiness expectations. I don’t generally find joy in the act of sewing, more in the finished objects (sewing is just so damn useful!)… but there was something utterly gratifying in sitting down for an hour each day, making solid progress, and then being Done.

Other thoughts: I am completely smitten with One Yard Wonders. I don’t know if it’s just that projects made from one yard of fabric seem so inherently manageable, or if the projects in it seem so freaking useful, but I’m happy I ran across it the other night at the bookstore.

Happy weekend everyone!

That is all.

Coming Clean

As I told you in my last post, there are Things that I have been keeping from you. Time to come clean, I suppose, before we can move forward.

Firstly. I have learned to crochet. And I love it. Maryse gave me a lesson at knit night a few weeks ago, and I am hooked (groan). (sorry, I am a total cheezeball.)

Here is a picture of my first little sampler swatch:

Nothing special, just rows of single crochet and double crochet, except I now have the skill set to make one of these, or these. That’s really the only decision left. Babette vs. Granny Square Blanket. Feel free to weigh in, I am susceptible to good arguments and peer pressure.

Secondly. I am pregnant again. Good news on all fronts: strong heartbeat, nausea is gone, energy is back, and I am not filled with the bottomless, irrational rage that came with my first pregnancy. So I don’t expect this blog to become a pit of darkness for the next 6 months. Lucky for all of us, really.

Thirdly. I have hardly been crafting this past month. (See “Secondly”) I have, however, gotten back on the horse this week with the most unlikely of my crafty pursuits: Sewing. I expect to finish my project today, and am excited to have something real to post soon.

Fourthly. No secret to anyone who has read this blog before I moved to NYC, but holy god I hate February with the fury of a thousand blizzards. I mean, really, it was Negative Five (absolute, not windchill. Windchill was Negative Twenty.) (Fahrenheit not Celsius.) the other morning when we woke up. There are many things that I am doing to mitigate my dread of its arrival, and one is to try to appreciate the good things that belong to February.

The days are getting noticeably longer, and the sunsets can be glorious.

Now, if only I could feel my toes.

A Little Bit of Life

It is a strange relationship I have with you blog. I’ve never pretended to tell you everything, nor treated you as a tell-all confessional. (I have The Rules, after all.)

And yet, when things are afoot that are not bloggable, I completely shut down and hide out, as if blogging something else would be a lie of omission.

I am crippled by my honest, yet private, nature.

I’m not being a tease, whetting you up for some big juicy reveal in a few weeks. There isn’t one. Life in the New Year simply took a sharp turn on many fronts, and I’m now working on things, waiting on things, and watching things that came quite out of left field. And are not bloggable.

What is bloggable is my frustration over the other stuff being not bloggable. Does that make sense?

Pop Quiz!

Q: How many swatches are in the picture below?

A: One.

In a (mostly futile) attempt to capture the accurate color of a swatch the other day, I started fiddling around with the white balance settings on my camera. I had no idea what I was doing, but obviously I was doing something, because that is the same swatch (a gorgeous tweedy moss green in real life) taken over and over with different settings.

I am easily amused, and also, not very good with my camera.


The Land of Always Winter

Eric and I once read a series of books in which, on the northenmost reaches of the map, beyond the known world, was a place called The Land of Always Winter.

Which is, evidently, where we live now. We live north of a remote area of MA, in a tiny town most people (even around here) have never heard of, perched high on a ridge leading to the highest point in the state. It has snowed almost every day for the past 7 weeks. Not always a lot, but some, almost every day.

It is otherworldly and almost magical. Especially in the moonlight, here, where there is little light pollution the moonlight is full and bright, and during the new moon, the stars shine bright and deep in the sky, you can easily imagine fairies or monsters creeping through the woods, silently stalking the snow.

Moonshadows exist here.

This is our yard.

This is our street, plowed.

It is strangely beautiful and peaceful, but I am also glad I have gallons of water stockpiled in the pantry, and also that we have two 4WD SUVs. All guilt over efficiency is gone, it is only mid-January and the weather and terrain have proven their necessity time and time again.

Do you remember when you were little, and snow didn’t mean shoveling and frozen hands on steering wheels and frozen locks and oil bills?

We brought EJ out in the snow one day, and he just laughed in delight at all the snow falling.

That was its own kind of magic.

Cooking, an understatement

And in classic Jackie fashion, I haven’t blogged once in 6 weeks (despite immense crafty productivity in that time) leaving the present of our poor dead dog for any unfortunate soul who happened to stumble over here in the misguided search for knitting.

Merry Christmas y’all.

In this post, I shall attempt to catch you up on aforementioned 6 weeks, mostly in relation to crafty pursuits. In doing so, I hope to clear the plate for 2010, and all the crafty goodness planned therein.

Item the First: Cooking

Imagine for a second these three meager cookies multiplied by 80. Because last week we baked 20 dozen of them. (Yup. 20 dozen. 240 cookies. That is a crapload of cookies, as my kitchen slaves cookie helpers Eric and his sister Dena will tell you in hushed whispers when I am safely out of earshot.)

The ones pictured above are Peppermint Bark, and they were my favorite of the bunch. I am a sucker for the chocolate/peppermint combo. We also made Heath Bar Walnut Chocolate Chip cookies (everyone else’s favorite), and Peanut Butter cookies (Eric’s favorite) baked at a lower temperature to ensure maximum chewiness. All recipes were doubled for my holiday baking frenzy.

But it wasn’t just cookies. We made Mark Bittman’s quick coffee cake for breakfast one morning (easy and perfect), Alton Brown’s eggnog (transcendent), and Ina Garten’s Bloody Marys (strictly necessary, as I was hosting both of our families for Christmas this year. Also, add extra horseradish. Trust me.)

I was especially pleased with these simple yet impressive cream biscuits from Deb at Smitten Kitchen… I made the biscuits the day before and flash froze the formed, uncooked biscuits so that they were ready to bake just as we were carving the ham. It couldn’t have been easier, and they couldn’t have been more delicious.

Oh crap. I almost forgot.

We also made another treat from Smitten Kitchen – Sugar & Spice Candied Nuts. Perfect for packaging into mason jars and giving as a gift (which we did). (Yes, I put my sister-in-law to work on a project that was ultimately going to end up as an element to her Christmas gift. We already know that I am a bad person.)

The piece de resistance however, was the homemade caramel corn from Orangette. Mein Gott. How many foreign languages do I need to destroy to convey how amazing this was, and how proud I was of us for making it? Let’s leave it at two.

Wow, that was a crapload of cooking. I didn’t really expect that section to be so long, so I will leave it there for now, and regale you with my knitting tomorrow. In the meantime, I leave you with this:

And a sincere hope that your holidays are filled with the people you love, good food, and cozy environs.

The Story of Max

In the spring of 2001, when my youngest brother Jimmy was 9 years old, he asked my parents for a dog. They were unsure (our track history with dogs was not good – one was returned to the kennel, one was returned to the farm – but those are other stories).

Jimmy asked some more.

My parents considered that our house once filled to the brim with kids, between the 4 of us and all the neighborhood kids running in and out, was soon going to be more of an only child house. Jeff and I had long since moved out, and Tommy was on the brink of getting his license.

Jimmy asked them again.

They thought about it. We watched My Dog Skip one Friday night, and all fell in love with the little boy and his dog. My parents asked Jimmy if he was sure.

He swore he was.

On a piece of lined paper torn from a notebook, in the clumsy handwriting of a young boy, Jimmy wrote his promise to always feed and walk his dog, even if he didn’t feel like it, even if it were cold and snowy. For years it hung on the wall above my father’s desk upstairs.

They said, if you want a dog, you need to find the dog… my parents decided that a beagle would be a good fit for our family and Jimmy called up breeders and asked them if their dogs would be good for a 9 year old boy.

And one day they drove an hour west of Worcester, to a breeder of beagles. The breeder opened the kennel and out came all the puppies running everywhere pell mell. Except for the runt, who ran right up into Jimmy’s lap.

That puppy was Max.

In his puppy years we loved to feed him Cheeze Balls, the neon orange puffs of deliciousness… Max loved Cheeze Balls. As we realized how terrible they were for him, we switched to Rice Cakes, which he loved even more. You could get Max to do anything for the promise of “Rice Cakes”.

He was a sweet dog, who loved most to snuggle and be loved. He slept in Jimmy’s bed, and loved to curl up under the covers behind his knees. He delighted in being scratched behind the ears, and when you stopped, he would gently nudge you with his paw to ask for more. At the sight of another dog would scrunch down on his belly and frantically wag his tail, letting out whimpers of uncontained excitement. He fought the good fight against the wild turkeys in the woods behind my parents house – barking at them as if sheer force of will would transport him beyond the fence and into their domain.

When we brought our diva shih tzu George into the fold, Max is the one who patiently taught him his dog manners. How to stand still to be sniffed. How to play nice. How to not be an ear biting pest of a puppy.

They were best buddies.

We had always felt like we were one kid short, like our family would have easily fit a 5th child in… and Max had come to fill that place.

After EJ was born, Max solidly performed uncle duties – watchfully minding the tiny baby on the floor, gently eating the Cheerios offered by EJ’s baby fingers, his back and ears happily offering a sturdy handhold as EJ learned to walk these past 2 months.

Over the past few weeks Max started having accidents around the house. Last week his belly swelled and he stopped eating. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and not eggs, cucumbers (his FAVORITE), or hamburger could entice him to eat… and with it the heart medicine needed to relieve and prevent the fluid build-up.

On Thanksgiving, we all spent our time giving him our love, and saying our good-byes.

After improbably making it through two horrible nights, and one day of relief after my mother literally force-fed him the medicine, my mother brought him to the animal hospital, in a hopeful and desperate attempt to do something, anything, to help him.

His heart was failing, his kidneys were failing, and his liver had shut down. There was nothing the doctors could do, and he was suffering greatly.

And so, with profound grief, my mother had him put down.

We miss him terribly.

Bye buddy.

Thankful

An unexpected topic indeed.

1) Coffee.

Iced, hot, lukewarm, hours old…. I don’t care, these days, I drink whatever is close at hand and already brewed.

What would I do without this magic elixir of energy and sanity? I would probably cry several times a day and also probably spend way more time drooling and staring at a wall than I already do. With it, most days I reach the level of a normal functioning human. And usually even get a little knitting done.

Which brings me to…

2) Knitting.

There are several things that disappear, by circumstance and necessity, when one becomes the mother of a baby/small children and ones’ means are not limitless. (I mean, if I were a stay at home mom, and also had access to a full time nanny — ooooh, and a cleaning person, I would definitely have a cleaning person too — let me tell you, I would be doing more than knitting. But I would also be knitting more.)

Things that include needing a babysitter on a regular basis, say for adult classes on any subject; regular social outings that include cocktails; movie theaters in which you don’t want an angry mob shooting daggers at you and in which you actually want to see the movie; restaurants that don’t have pictures on the menu…. you get the drift.

Well, knitting is still allowed. I can do it wherever. I can do it a little bit at a time. I can do it while still interacting with EJ. (Guess how many times I’ve sung “Old MacDonald” in order to get another row finished.) It’s practical, and so I usually don’t feel guilty about it – even though there are so many other things that need to get done – because it’s a sweater for EJ! Winter is coming! It’s cold here! Except, oh yeah, everything I’ve been knitting lately is for me. Whoops!

3) The Internet.

See above. The Internet allows me to be part of the outside world, even when I’m holed up in my living room, in our little country town.

4) Our Public Library.

Our local public library allows me to be part of the Real outside world. Just 5 minutes up the road, it hosts a weekly baby & toddler storytime, which morphs into a playgroup once the story hour is up. And unlike most things like this offered by mommy boutiques, or even the Y, the public library is free and I meet the other moms and babies who live in our tiny country town.

Also, our public library is in a gorgeous stone Victorian, on the town green, at one of the highest elevations in the state, from which you can see the skyline of Boston 50 miles away.

Breathtaking.

5) Being at home.

Despite my constant griping, I am truly grateful that I can be home with EJ. It’s not easy, the work never ends, I rarely leave the house alone and if it weren’t for knit night I would rarely talk to other adults that I’m not related to. (See #2) There is constant stress about relying on only one salary, a constant struggle with guilt about not working for a paycheck (something that until a year ago I had done, often juggling several jobs, since I was 14), a constant search for balance between Eric and I…

But.

I realize how fortunate we are, and I realize how fortunate I am that EJ is nuzzling his head into my waist right now and babbling to me about his teddy bear Curly. When he talks to Curly he uses a tender, high-pitched babble. It’s beyond adorable.

Oh, wait, he might be babbling about breakfast. It’s 8:30, and instead of feeding him, I’ve been on the computer all morning. Mother of the Year! Gotta go!

Happy Thanksgiving y’all.

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