Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February's Sweater

... February's Baby Sweater, to be exact.

It has taken me a month to complete, but on the very last day of February this lovely little sweater will be finished and sent off to a baby girl, recently welcomed into her family.  The pattern is from The Knitter's Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman and it was my first sweater!

Forgive the lack of buttons.  I have only about 3 choices at the house, none of which are quite right, so I'll have to buy some and sew them on en route.  The pattern itself, once I understood what dear Elizabeth was saying, was easy enough.  I followed many others' leads on Ravelry who suggested knitting the sleeves in the round so as to avoid any seaming.  While I do hate seaming, I think that next time I might choose that over the several problems I ran into working in the round.  More on that in my ravelry notes.


The yarn is a wool/acrylic blend.  When on a budget and knitting for a baby, it seems like a better choice.  Hopefully the wool will make it warm and the acrylic will make it durable {soft} and machine washable - only I cringe at what EZ would say! 

The weather here seems to be getting warmer sooner than usual but not so warm that babies don't need to be cozy.  I think the pattern on the sweater also lends itself nicely to early spring weather as well.  Hopefully this little girl (or more likely her parents) agrees.

Monday, February 27, 2012


A whole week gone by without a post!  I can't even quite say that it was a busy week, although there were busy days to be sure.  It seems that I have been in a period of waiting.  Waiting for buds; waiting for responses; waiting for warmer days; waiting for longer light hours; waiting to take a next step; waiting until the time is right.

This past week, some of that waiting transitioned into preparing.  I've been accepted to an internship position with an urban farming organization called Growing Power.  This is an amazing opportunity for me to get the hand on experience that I've been craving and I am so excited about all the things I expect to learn in the next few months!  With that said, I don't know what it will mean for this space.  The position requires about 60 hours per week of work (farm work!) - which I can only imagine leaves me exhausted.  As we move through the changes it should become more clear what will or won't be possible, so we'll just have to wait and see.

For now, I'm simply crossing my fingers and hoping that I will be taught how to keep bees - they have 6 hives on the roof of the farm I'll be spending most of my time at!  I may learn to build a greenhouse ... an indoor aquaponics system ... grow mushrooms ... sigh.

I've seen quite a few college friends over the past few days as well and they also are looking forward to new beginnings.  Grad school applications have returned as acceptance letters and as those decisions are made, we each take one more step on our respective journeys.  Of course I wish that we could all go together and I wish I could see further down the road - what glory are you heading towards?  what pain that you need a friend there for?

In times like these I find myself drawn back into the songs of the last show we performed ("we" meaning my graduating class), Merrily We Roll Along.  It follows three friends through their adult journeys but starting from the rather tragic end and ending at the beautiful, hopeful start - exploring 'how did we get where we are?'  It's by taking one step, making one choice, taking one opportunity at a time.  Right now, it is our time.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Remember how I was planning on baking bread yesterday?  Yes, well, I would have to say that was the worst experience I have yet had.  Ah, aside from the time I exploded the glass pan {ahem} don't preheat a glass dish in a 500 degree oven and then pour cold water in it to make steam.  At least this time my failure was funny instead of scary.

I'm sorry - what?!?!?  I thought it seemed like a lot of dough for the pan, but I followed the recipe!  I figured maybe it just wouldn't rise very much.  Hmm ....

Grady's words were, "It looks like a pile of dog poo."  Yes.  Well, it does.  And then the loaf that I continued to bake for the directed amount of time came out looking like this:

Entirely inedible.  Not entirely, actually, the bright side is that we're going to grind it up to make whole wheat bread crumbs.  Silver lining, right?  {For anyone with Nourishing Traditions, this is the Herb Yogurt Bread recipe - have you had success with it?}

On a much better note, Grady bought me these lovely flowers for Valentine's Day and we have put them on the wall right next to my side of the bed.  Now, I am greeted to a new day by my love and by his beautiful gift to me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

{once} more pertaining to food

As I sat typing along on Monday, I realized that I have so much more to say than I'd want to bore you with in one post.  So, two posts it is.  This works out quite well for me, actually, because it seems the only thing I've been taking pictures of recently is food - we'll need to work on that as I don't intend this to become a food blog.

A Brief History:

In November of 2009, I married my wonderful husband and returned to Illinois to make a home with him.  Throughout our courtship I believe the only thing I cooked for him was cinnamon pancakes from a box (gasp!).  He, on the other hand, made me many delicious and creative meals that were beautifully served to boot!  However, I was at home more often than he so it made sense for me to do the cooking.

 (Me at our first dinner in our new home: pan seared steak au poivre, risotto, and a spinach salad)
{Let me add: that might sound fancy but it was one of the only things I knew how to cook}

Now, I did know how to cook a little bit.  I helped my mom make dinner (mostly in the form of putting things in the oven and taking them out again at the right time) - I spent some time in the few months before my wedding preparing dinner for my parents ... with varied success.  This, however, did not go far in preparing me to make every meal we ate from my own grocery list from a budget.  About two weeks in, there were many tears shed over my feelings of inadequacy.

 (My reinvented childhood classic - Broccoli Chicken Casserole - this one sans Campbell)

Enter: the public library (I do so love libraries!).  It took until this time to realize that libraries have a cookbook section.  As I love reading, I would gather a stack as big as I could manage (think fingertips to chin here - did I mention I lived next door?), then read them cover to cover.  This could well have been just an education in how to make edible meals but the books that I was most drawn to also taught me something of how to cook, how to choose ingredients, how to think about food - and so I was drawn into a much larger discussion about food, where it comes from, how it's grown, how it works in the body, etc.  Be aware!  Books can change your world!  {For a list of some books that have changed my world, check out my Resources tab}.

So at this point, I still read many books about food and cooking and farming/gardening and I continue to learn and be inspired.  There is one book, though, that I would say takes things a bit farther than everyone else ... Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.  You may have heard of her from a number of others in the blogging community, or you may have never heard of such a thing.  In any case, as the title suggests, Sally believes the most healthful food choices you can make are returning to the food traditions of our ancestors (an opinion echoed by almost every Slow Food-minded author I've read).

While I agree with much of Sally (and co-author Mary Enig)'s conclusions based on their research, that doesn't make them any easier to do.  She calls for things like soaking all whole grains/beans 8 - 24 hours before cooking, drinking raw milk, and lacto-fermenting almost all condiments.  For her reasoning, I would suggest you read the book.  These things take planning ahead, which I have learned to do much better, but still aren't easy.  So while I read the book originally last summer, we are still in the slow process of adjusting the way we eat to incorporate more of her methods (because, in general, I do think they are better for us).

(Irish soda bread with chicken liver pate, which wasn't actually very good, but we were trying to incorporate more organ meats into our diet.  Now, I just take Cod Liver Oil pills and recommend that method!)

(Tomorrow's breakfast of steel-cut oats and tonight's dinner of black beans soaking)

Right now I am working on making bread.  It seems like it should be so simple, but maintaining a sourdough starter is intimidating me and I would like to use only recipes that call for soaking whole wheat, of which there aren't many aside from Sally's.  I have a batch of yeast-ed bread soaking right now, so we'll see how that goes.  The other challenge I'm taking on is eliminating sugar from my/our diet.  It's way harder than I thought it would be!  I've replaced our sugar with honey and maple syrup so far but now have to figure out how to restrain myself when I'm offered sugared substances outside my home as I find my will-power lacking in those circumstances.  My new go-to for cravings is now eggs with melty, delicious cheese, pictured below!

Isn't food just beautiful?!  Sigh.  Not to mention that if you saute this palette, you get a delicious base to most soups and many sauces as well - like for this delicious, easy to throw together chicken soup!

You must either love food or love me to have made it to the end of this rather long post!  I'd love for you to share your thoughts below, or even questions, if you like. 

I'm thankful for food because it is tasty, nourishing and beautiful.
{My friend Katrina thinks so as well, over at Art & Table}

Monday, February 13, 2012

some {real} winter food

February in the Windy City is what I would consider the dead of winter (this is a phrase, right?  meaning 'right in the middle'??).  We've long since passed the days of late autumn, the Christmas tree hit the curb more than a month ago, and yet it will still be months before we can put any seeds in the ground outside {Indoor planning and planting is coming soon though!!!!}. 

Last summer I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which served as a wonderful education in eating locally and why it matters.  So, we decided to do our best to eat locally.  We decided this in the middle of the summer ... the middle of the winter is a bit of a different story.  Kingsolver's book is the story of her family eating locally for an entire year and includes much research into the national/global food market.  She, however, 1) lived on a small homestead with massive gardens, chickens, and turkeys, 2) was located in slightly more temperate Virginia, 3) already knew how to 'put up' food in jars, root cellars, and freezers.

None of these things are true of me.  I now know how to can, but I learned that at the very end of the growing season.  We have a pantry which goes far for keeping storage foods, but it's no cellar, and (almost) all of our food we had to buy, which is much more expensive than growing it yourself.  All of this to say, we are not surviving the winter the way that she did ... so what do we do?

(Acorn squash baked with butter and maple syrup, barley, sauteed apples with red onion, broccoli)

We do our very best to eat storage crops and we expand our ideal of 'local' to include the entire USA.  Yep, not really local.  Still, our reasoning is this: Produce from Mexico could be traveling about the same distance as produce from California except that we have no idea where in Mexico it was grown and so if it's coming from far south in Mexico, it's coming a much further distance.  Since we don't know, we pass.  Anything from south of Mexico is out because that's a really long plane ride and we prefer to eat food that doesn't fly (we try to include fish in this too and eat only Great Lakes fish or frozen fish).
Part two of our reasoning: storage crops (like apples, winter squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.) also don't need to be brought to the store quickly and can be harvested in season and trucked to consumers throughout the off season {I'm sure it doesn't always work this way, but it can work this way}.  Part three: we also buy frozen fruits because they've been frozen when they were in season and we buy cold weather/greenhouse crops like chard and kale.  These could possibly be grown in Illinois at least for much of the cold season, but we currently buy them from California.  This is an area we're continuing to work on as we could make more of an effort to go to the winter farmers markets around the city and buy truly local, seasonal produce even in the winter. 

(Delicious snack of sauteed apples and yogurt with honey)

The other part of winter eating involves working more dried goods into meals - beans, grains, baked goods and then supplementing with items like eggs.  This also includes canned goods.  Ideally, we'd be eating our own canned produce but that's not a reality for us this winter, so we settle for high-quality canned items from the store.  Again, this may be the kind of thing we could get from the farmers market but we haven't been yet.

 (Breakfast spread of eggs with WI cheese, steel-cut oats with frozen blueberries, grapefruit and coffee)

Finally, we also buy US grown citrus.  Citrus fruits aren't native to Illinois and they are in season in Florida and California during our winter, so we make that our main source of fresh fruit.  Our system for eating/buying food is far from perfect and it's a continual process.  We continue to try to be mindful of our choices and the effect they have on ourselves and our world.  Compromises are part of living in a less-then-ideal system, but they are at least choices that we make on purpose.

What foods are getting you through the winter?  Any good recipes?  Any more ideas for eating locally when the ground is frozen?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

beauty in the mundane

Bringing Order From Chaos: Laundry Day

There are some days when pretty much all I do is laundry.  After reading Home Comforts, I've been inspired to do the laundry well in order to help our clothes last longer - this includes more sorting and hand washing than I'd been doing previously.  The result is that we have wonderfully clean, well folded and ironed clothes but the total process seems to take me all day and somewhere in the middle of it, I look around my house and just see laundry everywhere (yesterday I even had a tie hanging above the kitchen sink).

This is the moment I challenged myself to find something beautiful in it, so I picked up my camera.  Of course, to me, the most wonderful part of laundry day is slipping between freshly cleaned sheets at the end of it but the satisfaction in seeing a of a row of well-pressed, ready-for-business shirts is a close second.

Everyday may not be brimming with excitement, but everyday can be beautiful.

Monday, February 6, 2012


:: A little work.
:: A little rest.
:: A little play.

Although the kitchen isn't quite done yet (and I will give you pictures once it is), we've started working on our bathroom ... our very narrow bathroom.  Anyone with suggestions for a color?

This lovely man of mine spent part of his afternoon writing me a love song.  It was beautiful and I cried.  What a man.

We watched The Game.  Almost as importantly, we ate burgers that we grilled ... we've had a grill since we've been married but weren't able to use it at our old apartment - finally fired it up last night!  Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the Patriots.  Oh, you thought I was from New York?  Well, I am.  Just not a Giants (or Jets for that matter) fan.

The story is like this: I grew up in the suburbs in Massachusetts, a Yankee-loving traitor (we're talking baseball here, folks).  It was the only sport we watched in my house, so that was the only team loyalty that I had.  For those of you who may not know, the Yankees' arch enemy is the Red Sox ... from Boston ... you can imagine how our loyalties went over with our friends and neighbors, causing us to hold them more firmly so as to withstand the inevitable attacks (good thing this was the 1996 Yankees who did quite a lot of winning - I may or may not have had batting orders, ERA's, batting averages and the current AL East standings memorized).  All of this to say, I was very busy defending my one sport, one team loyalty.

This changed in middle school when my best friend and her family were also a one sport, one team-loyalty family.  Their team - you guessed it - the New England Patriots.  And so, having no reason not to root for the home team, I became a Patriots fan - never in the way that I was a Yankees fan, but a fan none-the-less.  From this family I learned the rules of the sport and how to cheer your football team on.  With them I watched, amazed as our team soared to Superbowl victory on that near-impossible field goal by Adam Vinatieri.  Ever since, I have had a special love for American football and that great team, the New England Patriots.

{Full disclosure: I don't follow sports anymore and only watch games if they happen to be on, or happen to be the Superbowl.  But when I do watch the games, I know who I want to win.  I realize this doesn't make me a very good fan, but I don't think my body can handle the adrenaline rushes of that many games anymore.  By the 3rd quarter last night I was jumping off the couch yelling at the screen and pacing the living room.  This is the kind of sports spectator I am - I can't really help it.  So to save myself from the inevitable emotional highs and lows, I simply don't watch very often.}

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

a few little things

Little knitted items for a soon-to-be-here little person.

Grady's co-worker is preparing to welcome a little girl into the world and we're doing our part to make sure this baby looks cute and stays warm.

These are Baby Janes.  Aren't they just so cute?!  The pattern is free on Ravelry, the yarn is Bernat Cottontots (not wool, I know ... but it's very soft and was already in my stash).  The cutest ladybug buttons are from my new favorite yarn store, Loopy Yarns.

This sweet little cap is supposed to have a ribbon running through the bottom edge.  Once I find a craft store, I'll be purchasing something red and possibly polka-dotted to match the ladybug buttons.  I made a few changes to this pattern (also free on Ravelry), which you can read more about in my notes.

These are the first items I've made for a baby and I must say it might become an addiction - they're just so little and cute when finished and they give you near-instant gratification because you can make so much in just a few hours.  Good thing I know another baby or two in the world who I'm sure would love to have a little knitted gift!