All the food, fiber, and gardening of summer

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This summer I had my head in the game but not my butt in the chair when it comes to writing (to steal a phrase from the #AmWriting podcast). I missed blogging but let myself be swept up in the moment. They won’t be teens at home forever and, despite what one often hears, these are great parenting years.

Lots happening around the Yarnstead with the basement finally getting spruced up and the tree that’s too close to the wires coming down. There was gardening, cooking, going to the farmers market, learning lots about food photography (a great day of learning and sisterhood plus my debut as a hand model;), making of yarn, making of things with yarn, and going to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Many but not all of these photos will be familiar if you follow me on Instagram. Off blog topics, there were visits to both of our amazing Great Lakes and many hours of teaching my eldest to drive (gulp).

A trip to Tolt Yarn and Wool

On a recent visit to western Washington state, I not only connected with family but also with all three of my blog’s topics by way of delicious homemade Dungeness crab sandwiches, two visits to a farm-to-table restaurant, many glimpses of a gardening season ahead of ours, and a visit to Tolt Yarn and Wool.

I’ve tended to be in Washington when the weather is very pleasant, so sometimes I look at the place with rose-colored glasses. Plus I was on vacation, right? When it comes to Tolt, though, I know its fabulousness is the real deal. I first heard about the shop on the Woolful podcast but had dismissed the idea of going there on this trip because of time constraints. My sister-in-law however has hoping to see the trunk show which Tolt was hosting and suggested a quick Sunday afternoon jaunt. I couldn’t say yes fast enough!

We had a 30-minute scenic drive from her home in a Seattle suburb to the town of Carnation. Tolt has spacious premises in Carnation’s downtown. You will find plenty of yarn, books, and notions to choose from, plus fiber for spinning or feltmaking. They also have room for crafting together and classes. I look forward to discovering more treasures on a future visit. 

Of course, I had brought some knitting with me (I made a hat on the train on the way out and had enough yarn for another, hats being excellent travel projects), but I knew when I walked into the shop where I was going to spend my souvenir money. 

I looked particularly at yarns that were from the Pacific Northwest and chose Snoqualmie, an organic Blue-faced Leicester and Clun Forest wool DK yarn. I really liked the store sample of the Cherry Creek Shawl, and just like at Costco, samples sell. So I bought three skeins of Snoqualmie in light blue (indigo-dyed, be still my heart), the pattern booklet (print copy includes a code for PDF download from Ravelry), and needles. You are probably thinking I already own the right needles…but they were in Wisconsin. I left the shop thinking that even though we’d just arrived, I win at vacation.

What’s happening in the food and gardening department? Well, April kicks my backside every year by making me extremely busy in every area of life, which is why a vacation by train was such a treat. I was able to do some garden prep work when it was mild in March and early April. My kale came back from last year on its own, and the berry bushes and cherry tree are doing great without any attention. The farmers’ market started in mid-April, so fresh greens are back on the menu. May will be a good time for a spring garden progress post!

Chex mix and podcasts: fuel for a creative holiday season 

 Snow is falling again right now, and I’m grateful for a chance to regroup and recharge indoors after a busy summer and fall. For starters, homemade Chex mix is WAY better than store-bought, especially if made from this recipe and using Cheez-its Duos (sharp cheddar and parmesan mixed together) for the cheesy crackers. Annie’s Organic Worcestershire Sauce is vegan, so my vegetarian family member dug right in too.

For company on your snowy commute or as you busily prepare holiday treats or even just do your housecleaning, may I suggest some podcasts? They spice up even ordinary activities and give listeners all kinds of creative ideas. I listen on my phone using the Downcast app, but you can listen straight from your browser too. Here are a few of my current favorites:

The Feed with hosts Rick Bayless and Steve Dolinsky

5 Minutes on the Farm, a local food podcast featuring a different southern Wisconsin food producer each week (monthly over the winter)

Prairie Girls Knit & Spin. “May your drafting be consistent and your gauge never lie.” If only.

Woolful, interviews from the fiber world

The SweetGeorgia Show, color, craft, and creativity

and always, Science Friday! Because science. Love it.

I’d love to hear what your favorites are. Please share them in the comments.

Five years of blogging!

On October 21, 2011, I pressed “Publish” on my first post, Adventures in wool dyeing.pablo-2A lot has happened in five years!

90 posts, the most popular of which was my May 2014 review of the stash2go app for iPhone and iPad

4 recipes: ground cherry salsa, savory potato, easy sauce from roasted tomatoes, and improvised cream cheese pockets (chicken & vegetarian versions)

1 free knitting pattern

A fair number of garden layouts that didn’t last

A lot of experimenting to find the right balance of gardening/CSA/farmers’ market as sources for produce

A three-year old picture of creeping bellflower in my yard three years ago with the caption “volunteer bellflower” with no irony at all (it is pretty-but ah, such naiveté … followed by the devastating discovery that is a really, really invasive species)

An easy way to dry herbs

Tips for success with your CSA box

A lot of happiness from growing and cooking with local food (especially my homegrown herbs and berries), talking blogging with friends, and building my cookbook collection

Recurring struggles with making creative space, finding family balance, setting goals that are challenging but not crazy-making, and getting spinning back into my life

A pattern of circling back to natural dye plant gardening and yarn dyeing

65 finished fiber arts projects of various sizes (no clue I was that productive, absolutely no clue. Ha, just said that to my daughter, who said it sounded about right and lovingly mocked me bringing my knitting everywhere. Ahem, anyway, thanks to Ravelry for making it easy to keep tabs)

9 frogged fiber arts projects (plus some that never got far enough to get on Ravelry in the first place)

Guest appearances on the blog by crochet, weaving, felt making, and needlepoint. In an ideal world, I’d be good at sewing, have time for it, and use Grandma’s sewing machine for more than mending!

And just in the last year or so, some developments that help me look forward to the next five years: Wisconsin Whisk welcomed me to their blogging collective, my blog got a new look and domain name, and thanks to a Whisk blogging workshop, I’ve gotten lots of advice and encouragement for additional improvements.

Thank you, readers, for your support! Stay tuned for my new challenges: whole grain baking, more food preserving, my fiber arts activities as part of slow fashion, and a deeper dive into how gardening, food, and fiber arts interconnect.

Garden to Table August 2016: tech support for food & yarn lovers

IMG_0120The long days of summer with a chaotic mix of heat and rain make everything grow like crazy! August is a time of great abundance in the Midwestern garden, and the farmers’ market tables are loaded with so many choices that we forget how hard it was to wait for tomatoes. Maybe you’ve picked up some yarn at the farmers’ market too…after all, fall is coming in a couple months.

Some times you might want a little help figuring out what to do with all that goodness. Here are a few of my favorites that you can use for free on your computer, smartphone, or tablet (or some combo of those):

Evernote – Great for saving online articles, blog posts, and recipes. Free to join on up to two platforms. Syncs between platforms so your notes are always read t0 go. Also great for writing draft blog posts and note taking!

Google Keep – While I can keep lists in Evernote, I like to use Google Keep for lists instead. This no-frills and easy-to-use app loads quickly, syncs between platforms, and allows quick and easy sharing of lists and notes with others.

feedly – Great for reading blog posts. Subscribe to your favorite blogs. feedly checks them regularly and compiles the new posts in your account. You can organize them by category (I have Assorted, Food, Fiber Arts, Gardening, Science) or just enjoy them any which way.

Ravelry – Love yarn? Then super-fun and useful Ravelry is for you. So easy to use, it has a database of yarns and patterns (so helpful to see what that pattern you’re considering looks like in different colors and yarns), online forums for many topics, online pattern shop, and sections to keep track of your projects, yarns, needles/hooks, and library! I love using Ravelry to search through my library from the comfort of the living room (“Hmm, I know I have a pattern somewhere in the house for a worsted weight scarf. Which book is it in?”). Want to access Ravelry on your phone or tablet? Try Stash2go for iOS or Android, or use the Ravelry mobile site.

E-books – Not everyone loves to read or work this way, but I’ve been able to get a lot of books for very little money this way! E-book publishers have short-term sales (and you can always check the Kindle bestsellers list in categories of interest on Amazon), so follow them on Twitter or subscribe to their lists (Storey Fresh Picks is one of my favorites for cooking, gardening and craft books) to find out about them. The picture above shows some of my favorite Kindle books and PDFs.

NYTimes recipes – A good iOS app and a really good website to get you access to the many recipes the Times has published over the years.

PDF reader – Really handy to be able to “mark up” a PDF of a recipe or pattern. I like GoodReader (iOS) and save a copy of both the original and my marked-up PDF knitting patterns that way.

Craftsy has online classes for crafts but also cooking and gardening! They have a number of free ones to get you started, and if you sign up to watch some, you can get notifications of sales on classes.
What did I miss? I look forward to reading about your favorites in the comments.

Fiber arts and food: an early 2016 update

Pebble rug! Pattern by Rockpool Candy, available on Ravelry. Crocheted “pebbles”, stuffed, fulled in the washing machine, and assembled into a squishy rug. Puffy paint on the bottom to reduce sliding.
Sock yarn bunny, pattern by Susan B. Anderson. This is the project I started in a great class at Knitcircus Studio this fall.
A “quick, get a picture of Mom in this sweater before we all dash out of the house this morning” shot of my big 2015 project, Sea Foam cardigan by Yumiko Alexander. I shortened the sleeves so I’m not always dangling them in the sink or mixing bowl 😉
2nd try and 2nd fail at making crockpot yogurt! It’s a proven technique, but my crockpot doesn’t have good enough temperature control for it.
Good thing I hung onto my yogurt maker! Yum.
Good thing I hung onto my yogurt maker! Yum.
When the days start getting longer, rhubarb comes to mind. I made this rhubarb snacking cake (recipe from The Homemade Kitchen by Alana Chernila) with rhubarb from the freezer.
When the days start getting longer, rhubarb comes to mind. I made this rhubarb snacking cake (recipe from The Homemade Kitchen by Alana Chernila) with rhubarb from the freezer. Still working on clearing out the cabinets and freezer as I mentioned in my last post.


Mini-reviews: The Make-Ahead Cook and all things Mason-Dixon Knitting

Happy Holidays, dear readers! I’ve got a few short book reviews for you today.

IMG_3130First up is The Make-Ahead Cook from America’s Test Kitchen. Long-time readers of this blog will know that this is right up my alley because I am always looking for ways to get delicious food on the family table and keep life as simple as possible at the same time. The cover displays the eight strategies explored in the book: preparing meals ahead so they are ready to cook when you get home, making stews and braises ahead for reheating at meal time, oven-ready casseroles, shopping smart to get multiple meals from a minimal amount of ingredients, cooking a big roast on the weekend and basing additional meals on the leftovers, slow-cooker favorites, and cooking larger batches so you can freeze some for future meals. I’ve only just begun trying the recipes in this book, but with the extensive testing it’s gone through, I know this book will keep its place on the top shelf. I’ll do a cookbook follow-up this summer.

If you’re in the mood for more recipes, check out Wisconsin Whisk, a group of food bloggers to which I’m pleased to say that I belong. From this link, you can see featured recipes and get info on all the member blogs.

IMG_3124Next up is Mason-Dixon Knitting, the blog and the books. I found them in a round-about way. When my children were still wee, I was one day out at a bookstore to Get Out Of The House Without Children and determined to treat myself to a new knitting book. Happily there was a large selection at the bookstore, and eventually I pulled Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne’s first book off the shelf. ‘Mason-Dixon Knitting, what an unusual name for a knitting book,’ I thought.’What in the world are they knitting?’

Ha. It was the name of their blog…because Kay lives in Manhattan and Ann lives in Nashville. And they are knitting up a great time, which I didn’t know previously because of aforementioned mama busyness. I was immediately delighted by their sense of humor, friendly writing style, and the fun projects. So my new book led me to the blog, instead of the other way round, and it’s still my favorite knitting blog! I very happily got their second book, Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside The Lines, a few years later.

Their newest project is A Coloring Book for Knitters with drawings by Juliana Horner. You don’t need to read the blog or books to enjoy this grown-up coloring book, but regular MDK readers will see familiar projects and themes (and pets;). I started paging through the book from the back and nearly panicked:’Ack! They HAVE to have lopi sweaters…whew, there they are at the front. Of course, they’d never forget those.’ I think I’ll use that page to try out color combinations for the next lopi sweater I’ll knit. Yup, just as soon as it stops being 50-60F in December.

Since it’ll be a while until gardening gets equal coverage in my blog, I’ll leave you with a new header picture: blueberry leaves in the fall!