For the first time, I decided to enter some of my knitting into the Orange County Fair. I’ve wanted to enter in the past, but I’ve always missed the deadline, but this year I managed to be together enough to do it. I entered 5 pieces, three shawls (Tiong Bahru, the Romi Hill Cactus Flower Shawl, and the Frost Flowers Shawl) and two sweaters (the Alice Starmore Saint Brigid sweater I made my mom for Christmas and the Safe at Home Cardigan I designed as a tribute to Gram Parsons).

When you enter things in the fair, they don’t tell you if you’ve won and they don’t post results online until at least 3 weeks after the fair opens. So when the fair opened last weekend, even though I tried to pretend that I didn’t really care, I really, really wanted to see how I did. (I didn’t expect to win anything, but I wanted to see anyway). So I kind of badgered Ron into going to the fair with me last Sunday. We walked around a bit, looked at some of the ridiculous fried food that was on offer (apparently, fried Jack Daniels is a thing this year), and then made our way to the home arts and handcrafts building. All of the fiber arts displays (which includes quilting, needlepoint and embroidery, sewing, tatting, weaving, and knitting and crocheting) were lovely and there were some absolutely gorgeous pieces. So imagine my surprise when I saw that I was a division winner (which is one step below Best in Show) for both knit and crochet fashion accessories (the Romi Hill shawl won) and hand-knit clothing (for the Safe at Home Cardigan).

Safe at Home Cardigan and Cactus Flower Shawl

Proof of the wins

I was so very surprised, simply because there are so many very talented fiber artists in Southern California, but I’m really happy about it. What surprised me is that the pieces I thought had the best chance of winning (the Frost Flowers and the Alice Starmore, simply because they are both huge and complicated) didn’t even place in their classes. I’m hoping that when I get my stuff back, there will be judges comments, because I’d love to know what I can do to improve myself and what I’m doing well.

Did you enter your county fair? Let me know; I love to hear stories about your triumphs or learning experiences.

Strawberry basil lemonade

Tasty on a hot summer day

Our neighbors left us a big bag of lemons from their tree. What’s a girl to do with an abundance of citrus?

Obviously, lemonade is the answer. But I didn’t want to make boring normal lemonade. And I have an abiding love for sweet and savory flavors mixing together, so I decided to make some strawberry basil lemonade.

It’s very simple and delicious. These ingredients are not exact. I like my lemonade fairly tart and strong. I recommend mixing to taste.

Ingredients: (makes about gallon of lemonade)

Strawberry Basil Simple Syrup:

1.5 cups of fresh water
1.5 cups of sugar
1.5 pounds of strawberries, chopped
.75 cups of fresh basil, sliced into very small pieces

In a small saucepan, add the sugar and water. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is melted. Then add the strawberries and basil. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let it steep until completely cool.

Strain out the strawberries and basil using a fine mesh strainer. (You can save these solids. They are delicious on vanilla ice cream or in strawberry shortcake).

Making simple syrup

Lemonade:
3.5 cups of lemon juice
10 cups of fresh water (or more if you find it too strong).
1 recipe of strawberry-basil simple syrup

Mix the water, lemon juice, and simple syrup in large container and shake well. I recommend adding about 3/4 of all of the ingredients, tasting, and mixing in what is necessary to get the taste you like. And then drink up!

Some of the makings of a good breakfast

As absolutely boring as this sounds, I love oatmeal. It’s actually my favorite breakfast food (yes, that means it beats out bacon). And while I can make do with instant, I really, really love steel cut oatmeal. Of course, if you’ve ever made steel cut oatmeal, you know that it is not the most weekday morning friendly meal–it takes about a half hour to cook. Yes, it’s relatively unattended cooking time, but still, I am not really a morning person, so the less I have to do before I get out the door for work in the morning, the better.

Which is why my favorite thing to do lately is make oatmeal in my crockpot.

I use this Alton Brown recipe as a base, but I have quite a few adaptations.

First off, Brown’s recipe does not call for salt. Which…just no. I have always added a bit of salt to the oatmeal I’m cooking, because it just gives it a little flavor kick. So usually add a bit less liquid than he calls for (generally I take away about 3/4 a cup of water) and a dash of salt. I usually don’t add figs, instead, I toss in two Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored, and diced). I also add a hefty dose of cinnamon and ginger.

If I do a recipe and a half worth, I get enough oatmeal for the three of us (Ron, me, and our roommate) for three mornings. The lovely things is, it refrigerates and re-heats beautifully. I refrigerate the leftovers on the first morning and they can be reheated for about 2 minutes in the microwave and taste pretty much just like fresh.

I don’t have kids or anything, but mornings are really hard for me to get going, so anything that makes the day easier helps so much. And, it’s part of my ever, on-going, sometimes unsuccessful quest to be healthier. It’s a lot easier to say no to a doughnut if I have something I already like.

Super Veggie Shakshuka

The finished product. It was so good.

One of the classes I took at Craftcation was a cooking class with Aida Mollenkamp. It was a great class, and not just because she made us cocktails at the end of it. I love taking cooking classes. I know how to cook a lot of things, but I find myself often falling into a rut of what I know how to do the quickest and what is the most familiar. Cooking classes open me up to new ideas and flavor profiles.

One of the recipes we made in the class was her Tunisian Harissa Shakshuka. It was so, so good and a really neat twist on traditional Shakshuka. But her recipe is a little bit spicy and since all three of us in my house suffer from acid reflux on some level, spicy food is a once-in-a-while occasion for us. So I went searching for a more traditional variation on her recipe that I could make.

I ended up using this recipe from Food and Wine as a jumping off point, but since I’m me, I still made some changes. I made it vegetarian, simply because the store didn’t have any good pancetta when I was shopping. In fact, since I’m always looking to add more vegetables to what I cook, I added both carrots and asparagus to the recipe. I cut up the carrots into small discs and tossed them in when I added the onion, garlic, and chard stems. And I cut the asparagus into relatively small pieces and added it to the pan about a minute before I added the tomatoes.

I really don’t like pre-made tomato sauce. I much prefer to make my own and it’s not difficult (in fact, I’ve shared a really simple marinara recipe of my own in the past) so used a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, and 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, and about two tablespoons of tomato paste to approximate the prepared tomato sauce. I also added Italian parsley to the recipe at the end, right before putting in the chard, just because I thought it would add a little freshness. And I used Romano cheese instead of Parmesan, simply because it’s what I had on hand.

I loved this recipe. It’s not bland (the crushed red pepper gives it a little kick without being so spicy that I end up miserable with acid reflux) and it cooks up pretty quickly. I had rehearsal tonight for a show I’m doing and I was able to start this when I got home from work and be done with plenty of time to eat. As an added plus, the time it was in the oven let me clean up the kitchen before I ate, which is something I always appreciate when I’m on a tight schedule.

I was a little worried that Ron wouldn’t like it; he’s a little picky about the consistency of his eggs, but he loved it too. And since I made such a big pan, we had a lot of the stuff uneaten, so I made some pasta to to eat with the leftovers for lunch today. I love it when I get two meals for the work of one.

I actually have a lot of ideas for variations on this theme. If I made it with roasted red peppers and soyrizo and served it with beans and tortillas it would make a really tasty breakfast. Or I could add chickpeas, sprinkle on some Feta, and eat it with pita for a Greek flavor. But definitely two thumbs up for this quick, tasty, easy, and filling recipe.

Craftcation Program.So, I had reservations about going to Craftcation this year. I’ve gone to Craftcation for the past two years and I’ve had an amazing and inspiring time every year. But I’ve always come back feeling a little down on myself at the same time.

I always have great intentions. I give myself a pep talk every year. “This year,” I say to myself, “I’m going to meet people and network. I’m not going to let my social anxiety get in the way. I’m going to feel like I belong there, instead of like a complete fraud compared to all of these other absolutely amazing and confident women who have adorable dresses with orange dinosaurs and cute flowers in their hair. I’m going to make goals I can actually stick to. I’m going to learn not to be so hard on myself and not hate everything I do in the creative workshops. I’m going to BE BRAVE.” And every year when I come home I’ve managed to disappoint myself a little bit.

This year was no exception. Kari Chapin told me I had a cute dress and of course I became a stammering, mumbling bull in the conversational china shop. After all this time, I still haven’t learned how to take a compliment. Plus, I have a huge creative-girl-crush on Kari Chapin. I want to be her when I grow up. So I was not so great at talking to her.I chickened out on introducing myself to people and asking hard questions about a hundred times.

In spite of all that, I am still so incredibly glad I went.

For one thing, I was not the only person in Kim Werker’s class about confronting our self-doubt/insecurities/other ugly parts about being a creative person. Which isn’t really surprising; a normal person would assume that any class at a conference like this would have a fair amount of attendees. But there are times that I feel absolutely isolated in self-doubt, that on some deep level of myself I did kind of think I might end up sitting alone in a conference room, just me and Kim.

Everyone else at Craftcation has always seemed so amazingly confident and put-together and like a grown up. I was sure I was the only person there who ever felt less than sure of herself or doubted her skills and talents. So when Kim asked us to name aspects of our business that we doubted or felt insecure and everyone in that very full conference room was raising their hand and voicing the same concerns I have felt for years…let’s just say it was a little eye-opening. I tend to compare my insides to everyone else’s outsides and assume that that is an accurate picture of the world. Newflash: It is not. The stark reminder that, oh yeah, everyone else feels that way too, was a relief. (By the way, you can read Kim’s blog post about Craftcation and her class here.)

And really, that’s why I go to Craftcation–the community. Yes, the parties and the food and the beachfront accommodations and the classes are all straight-up amazing, but it’s the great community of supportive and inspiring artists and makers that really makes Craftcation so special and keeps me coming back year after year.

A little less than a week ago, I started my Camp Loopy project for July. July’s challenge is to knit a popular pattern that you have never knit before. Since I’ve knit very few popular patterns (I do not pay enough attention to the knitting trends, so I’m usually two or three years behind the bandwagons), I had a lot to choose from.

I decided to knit the Tempest Cardigan by Ann Weaver. I’m using Dream In Color Smooshy yarn in the colors Charged Cherry (a cranberry) and Rosalita (a pink), so I’ll have a nice tonally striped sweater.

Guys, I have never knit anything so fast in my life, I swear.

This was where I was on late Monday evening:

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Fifteen rows done, not too shabby

This is where I am now:

yarma

That’s a back and one and a half fronts done!

Seriously. This sweater is just flying. As long as I can keep from procrastinating on the sleeves (Ugh, sleeves), it’s definitely going to be done by the end of July. I don’t know if it’s the stripes or the fact that I really love the yarn, or the fact that it’s a pretty easy pattern (Straight stockinette with some increases, some decreases, and shaping that I modified to be shortrows instead of bind offs) so I can take it basically everywhere, but I’ve never had a sweater work up so fast.

It’s like magic. It’s the opposite of the knitting black hole. I feel knitting charmed right now.

(Now let’s hope that my happiness doesn’t totally cause a knitting meltdown where everything is ruined.)

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Artsy lace shot, just because


I spent the month of June at camp. Not real camp, Camp Loopy. The rundown of Camp Loopy is that each summer month, the Loopy Ewe issues a challenge. If you complete the challenge in a month, you win! You don’t win an actual thing, just the knowledge that you did something. Although I think if you do all three challenges you get yarn. It’s hard to turn down free yarn. Or yarn you earn by knitting. (As a side note, I’ve never been to real camp. From all of the various shows and movies that I watched as child featuring kids at a sleep away camp, I don’t know that I’m heartbroken about this.)

The challenge for June was to knit a one-skein project that used at least 375 yards of either lace- or fingering-weight yarn, in a yarn that you had never used before.

I loved this challenge because it’s not like I need an excuse to try a new yarn, but it’s nice to have one. I chose to use some Fleece Artist Saldanha Two Lace Yarn, in the colorway Vermillion. And the shawl I chose was the Tiong Bahru by designer Asa Tricosa.

yarma

The whole shawl, blocking

I loved this pattern. It was wonderful to knit. But blocking it kind of sucked, I’m not going to lie. You see all of those little loops on the edge? They all had to be pinned out one by one.

yarma

Like this. Seriously.

It took forever. Especially because I had to keep stretching and re-pinning. That’s kind of par for the course when it comes to blocking lace, but when you have about twenty times the pins you normally do, it’s pretty painful.

I actually had to throw in the towel the first time I tried to block it. It was a night that I had work the next morning and it was taking way to long and getting way too late for me to finish. So I had to re-do it on a weekend, when I had more time.

I guess it’s worth it though, because now I have this:

2d006819-df0a-41ce-9e63-e140aa8b4ca0

More artsy lace!

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