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Friday, September 27, 2013

Get Out of Town

Three kinds of soup made and refrigerated or frozen. Check. Dark chocolate espresso brownies baked. Check. Sandwich makings in deli drawer. Check. Yard mowed. Check. House cleaned. Che....well, not so much. 

I love to travel, but I hate to get ready to go. I never get things to where I want them. The floors are dirty. The dining room table has become the Chicago outpost of Alabama Chanin's studio, by the looks of it. The yarn/TV room is a disaster. Oh, well. This is my last (scheduled) trip of the year, so maybe I will get organized when I get back. Of course, I never like to not have a trip on the horizon, so we will see!

I am looking forward to days by the lake, evenings by a fire, trips on ferries, hiking in woods, dinner with friends, knitting (or not), walking on the beach, and so on. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013


...for winter...for departure...for whatever comes next.

One of the biggest challenges of life in the city is finding good, qualified, professional service people. It is one of the advantages that people living in smaller places have over us city-dwellers, I think. (My friends in Pennsylvania, where I grew up, seem to have a much easier time getting plumbers and electricians to show up than I do, but maybe that's anecdotal.) I spent all of yesterday afternoon waiting for a heating tech who wasn't coming. When I called, at the end of the time window I was given, it was clear I was being stood up. After several calls, we rescheduled for this morning. The guy came early--frankly, every bit as annoying as being late when you're not ready. I literally ran down he stairs with one shoe on (untied) and the other in-hand. The good news, though, is that he thinks we can eke out another year, maybe two, with our boiler. We shall see if that holds true come January!

On Saturday, I will be headed out to Washington. I travel a fair amount, and sometimes I get organized enough to have food prepped for my husband. Today I am cooking up big pots of mushroom barley soup and vegetarian chili. (Vegetarian options are good, because when I am gone, he is likely to eat three things: pepperoni pizza, orange beef, and steak.) I'll put a few containers in the fridge and the rest in the freezer and he can take what he wants. I also promised him a batch of extra dark chocolate espresso brownies. 

Mushroom Barley Soup

Last night's soup was a big hit. I am (almost always) loose about recipes, and big on improvisation. One of my favorite things to play around with is a roasted soup. Last night I peeled, cut up, and roasted the following at 400F:

3 medium sweet potatoes
1 medium onion
6 or 7 large carrots
5 garlic cloves
1 Honeycrisp apple
All tossed in a few tablespoons of olive oil and a little bit of kosher salt.

When they were soft and beginning to caramelize, I transferred them to a stockpot. I added three boxes of stock (two chicken and one vegetable, because that's what was in the pantry), two teaspoons of sweet curry powder, and a good amount of black pepper. I used a stick blender to purée it until mostly smooth. I tasted and added a bit more salt. When it was heated through, I served the soup with a dollop of sour cream (one could use creme fraiche or even Greek yogurt) and a drizzle of roasted pumpkin seed oil. Walnut oil would also be good. If I had had pears instead of apples, or squash instead of sweet potatoes, I would have used them. I tend to have root vegetables on hand at this time of year, and they make a great base to start with.

The afternoon will be consumed with packing, prepping my travel projects, and maybe some cuddling with my cat, Pitch. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I need several more lifetimes to do and see all of the things as I want to. I wish I'd have come to this realization sooner in my life, but there are several well-worn adages that address that very issue for good reason. 

I am about to head out to the Pacific Northwest for another workshop with Cat Bordhi. I am dithering about which projects to take, how many needles, etc. Since I have been bitten hard by the sewing bug, I also prepped an Alabama Chanin project to take along, a bucket hat. Today I printed out the pattern and stencil, cut the stencil into Mylar using a hot knife (a trickier process than I anticipated), cut the fabric, mixed up my fabric paint, and stenciled the pieces. 

I decided I wanted the stenciling to have a soft edge, so I sprayed the surface with water after I applied paint. I would try some other things next time, but I can work with this for now. If I am lucky, I will be wearing my new hat by the time I return.

This has been a year jam packed with baby knits, and at least one more to go since I found out my cousin is having a boy in January. Yesterday I sewed on the buttons for a pair of cardis for fraternal twin girls. I wanted the sweaters to refer to one another, so I used the blue stripes on both, and I chose buttons in the opposite colors for each. I wish the green buttons were truer to the yarn color, but they were the best I could find. The yarn is mine, Fleur de Fiber Amelie, a merino and silk blend. I know...why did I do that to the girls' moms?! They are soft and squishy and quite delicious, though, so I hope they don't mind the extra care of gentle washing and drying flat.

The house is full of the smell of roasting carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and apples, which will be whirled into soup. Fall is definitely in the air here. I always hope for a long, warm autumn, because, frankly, Chicago winters and springs (when we get them) can be dreadful. Really, fall is the only season I can count on enjoying. I'd feel more kindly toward summer if we had central air, but this summer, it got up into the mid-90s in parts of my house. Fortunately, we won't have to worry about that again for some months. It's always nice if it's mild through Halloween. Fingers crossed.
I am trying a new app for blogging. It's been more challenging to find one that permits picture sizing and links than one would expect. We'll see how it goes. The Blogger app was not helpful at all, and since I use my iPad more than the laptop these days, I need to find a good solution.

Running Stitches

Well, it's happened again. Months have passed. Things have happened that would have made great blog material, but I squandered many an opportunity. Sigh.

This past weekend I made my second trip of 2013 to Alabama. Up until now, I'd really only spent time in western AL, specifically Tuscaloosa, plus a few jaunts to Montgomery and Birmingham. This was my first foray to northern AL and the towns of Florence, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals. I hope it won't be my last.

My relationship with Alabama, like many relationships, is complicated. I first went down there for grad school, but realized that, since I wasn't interested in teaching, the program I was in wasn't a good fit. By the time I left, 10 months after arriving, I had developed a lasting interest in southern folk art, a passion for barbecue, and a deep, abiding love of greens: collards, mustard, etc. I'd also gained a deeper understanding of Southern attitudes, culture, and history. Complicated. Conflicted. Compelling.

Photo: My small collection of (mostly) southern face jugs. I find them quirky and charming. My husband finds them...not so charming.

I travelled to Florence specifically to take a one-day workshop at The Factory, the home base of Alabama Chanin. I have been a fan of Natalie Chanin's work for years, having first seen her years ago at an annual art festival in Northport, AL. This spring, I took a two-hour workshop with her at the Southern Makers inaugural event. After that teaser, I was eager for more, and I signed up for the workshop at the studio. (I would love to do the weekend workshop that is, coincidentally, happening on my birthday weekend. Hmmmm...) The Factory was what I hoped it would be: brimming with beautiful things, inspirational, and fun. The day flew. I want to make all. the. things.

I didn't have a lot of time for sightseeing, but I did get to do a bit of shopping in Florence. I quite liked the town's yarn store, Unraveled, and The Wine Seller was a great find. I got some sale t-shirts at Billy Reid to cut up for some Alabama Chanin-inspired projects. I drove by the legendary Fame Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, and W.C. Handy's and Helen Keller's birthplaces. I fell in love with the pulled pork sandwich topped with hot slaw at Bunyan's Bar-b-que, and paid my respects to the departed canine souls at the Coon Dog Cemetery. 

If you're curious about hot slaw (which is the spicier, sassier Southern sister of Pennsylvania Dutch Pepper Cabbage), try this one:
I am headed out to the grocery store for the ingredients this afternoon!

A lesson I learn repeatedly on my travels is that there are interesting things everywhere you care to look. I love the quirky, odd, off-beat, unique, one-of-a-kind things you find if you wander far enough.