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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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More artsy lace!

I eat a lot of vegetables. I live in a land of perpetual summer (okay, not really, but the weather is such here that it’s the growing season for something all year round), which means that I’m very lucky in that I can pretty much always get fresh produce. Our farmer’s market goes year round.

A few years ago, I was part of a CSA, but I stopped because the pickup was unfortunately too far from my house. So now I just hit the farmer’s market. But the cool part of being in the CSA is that I got a lot of different vegetables that I hadn’t really been exposed to. Or that I thought I didn’t like.

One thing you get a lot of in CSA boxes are greens. Kale, chard, spinach, beets with greens attached. I never really thought I liked greens, except for spinach. But I didn’t want them to go to waste, so I learned how to cook greens and make them tasty. (And healthy. This is not the southern method of cooking greens that uses bacon fat!)

This is less a recipe and more some guidelines. I often use this to whip up a side dish to whatever else we are having, and to use up vegetables that I need to eat before they go bad. It’s very versatile

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Some chopped rainbow chard. Don’t be intimidated.

Ingredients

1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced (you can substitute or add onion if you want)
Any other vegetables you want to cook, chopped into smallish pieces, as if you’re going to saute or stir-fry them. (I find carrots, red peppers, mushrooms, and summer squashes work really well, but you can use pretty much whatever you want).
1/8 cup of water or broth
Your greens, washed and chopped into ribbons (I’ve done this with kale, chard, and, collards, and beet greens, it works with them all. Here is good tutorial on how to cut kale, and it works for any green with a stem you don’t want to eat.)
Salt and pepper
Herbs and spices (Go wild here. I’m biased toward Italian flavors because that’s what I grew up cooking, so I usually use thyme, basil, and oregano. But really, you can use whatever you want that will complement your main dish).

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If the oil is too hot, this will burn.

Heat the oil on low/medium heat. Add the garlic and/or onion and a little salt. Cook until they are translucent. You don’t really want to brown them.

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All I had today were some orange and yellow carrots. I sort of need to go grocery shopping.

Add your other vegetables. Add what needs to cook longest first, let it cook for a bit, then add the next ingredient after a minute or two. I usually add carrots first, then mushrooms, then bell peppers. Summer squash goes in last, because I happen to like it close to raw and really don’t like it overcooked. Add more salt, some pepper, and whatever other herbs and spices you are using.

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This looks like a lot, but it will shrink.

After these have cooked a bit, but aren’t totally done, pour your water or broth into the pan and add the greens. Put a little more salt and some herbs.

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Your tasty, healthy side dish for the night.

Cover and let steam until the greens are wilted and tender. This takes about five to ten minutes, depending on which greens you are cooking, how tough they happen to be, and how much you have. I just take a peek every few minutes and try a bit until they are not too bitter or crunchy. Serve with the rest of your meal.

Congratulations, you’re eating your greens! I know this isn’t super gourmet, but it’s honestly one of my favorite ways to add some veggies to my diet, no matter what else I’m eating. It’s great as a side to chicken, steak, or fish; I’ve also tossed it with pasta or served it over polenta. And it’s super easy.

What are your favorite things to do with greens? Let me know in the comments and give me some ideas!

Young Playwrights Festival Banner

The Blank Theater’s Young Playwright’s Festival Banner

Yesterday Ron and I went up to Hollywood to see a play at the Blank Theatre’s Young Playwright’s Festival. My incredibly talented friend Nicole had directed one of the plays.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, but I have to say that I was utterly floored by the caliber of the work I saw. The three plays I saw were written by young adults who were all under the age of 19, but they were written with such mature viewpoints that I found myself truly inspired.

Usually, when I’ve seen plays written by young adults who are in high school or their early years of college, I can see their potential. They are rough around the edges or maybe they haven’t quite found their voice or point-of-view. Often, they are trying too hard to emulate a writer they admire (I definitely am guilty of this as a writer). I can tell in a few years, with practice, with care, with work, they could be really good.

But these kids…I wasn’t seeing their potential to be really good; they were already really, really good. And they already had strong points of view and really knew what they wanted to say.

It’s so inspiring. Seeing really good art is always inspiring to me. The ways that art tells truths about humanity–sometimes deeply painful and uncomfortable truths–has always been my favorite thing. And I was really impressed with the way all of the plays I saw let me live in the discomfort and didn’t necessarily offer an ending that made me feel okay.

As a matter of fact, I relished that. In a time when so much art (I’m looking in particular at film and television) is market-tested to within in an inch of its life and is designed to be comfortable, challenging pieces are refreshing. And I applaud the Blank Theatre for not telling these kids that theatre has to be easy and for letting their plays stand as they were. It gives me hope that there will continue to be art that isn’t the same old escapist boring stuff that I see every day.

(As an aside, there is nothing wrong with escapist art/entertainment per se. I love my light and fluffy silly science fiction and cartoons as much as anyone. I just find it disheartening that there is so little challenging work being promoted and funded. I’m trying to go out of my way to seek it more and support it more.)

So kudos to the Blank Theatre, my awesome friend Nicole, these kids who are writing these plays, and everyone who tries to make art. Keep doing what you do. It makes things better.

Romi Hill Mystery Shawl

Romi Hill Mystery Shawl

When I was at Stitches West, I bought a mystery knit-a-long kit for a Romi Hill Shawl, with yarn by A Verb for Keeping Warm. Last month I needed something to cast on that I could knit in my guild meeting, so I started it that morning. I believe it was the first of my stitches yarn I actually cast on. (It’s okay, the yarn needed to age. Yeah, that’s it.)

I have to say, this shawl was like those potato chips with the slogan about not eating just one. I found myself saying “Just one more row” all the time. Part of it was the yarn–which was very soft and wonderful to work with, because it’s a blend of alpaca, silk, and cashmere. The only issue I had was that the yarn got a little tangled in the center-pull ball. I don’t know if it’s my ball-winder or the yarns I’m using (alpaca and silk can both be kind of sticky), but I’m just making an executive decision to start using my cakes as outside pull balls. I think I’ll be happier.

Romi Hill Shawl Closeup

A close up the shawl. I loved this part of the pattern.

The pattern itself also lent to the potato chip aspect, because it was so interesting, with a nice rhythm. I seriously knit this shawl in about two weeks (we won’t talk about the two more weeks it sat waiting for blocking and end weaving in). The only part that felt even remotely long was the knitted-on bottom border, but that may have been an unfair comparison because the section before it (with the colored diamonds) was just so much fun. (I won’t give away the secret, since it’s a for-pay pattern, but the method for making them diamonds is pretty ingenious and not how you would normally think colorwork would be done).

Romi Hill Shawl

The shawl in the wild.

The design is supposed to be reminiscent of a cactus flower, and even though I used different colors, I still totally see it. And as an added bonus, each pattern clue had a haiku on it that gave hints about the final pattern, until the last clue, which revealed it. I really love small, thoughtful touches like that from designers. It just makes me smile.

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