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A perfect Saturday afternoon

So, I don’t talk about this a lot, but it’s really hard to get out of the house. I have depression which makes it hard to get up and move and I have anxiety which means that when I do get out of the house, I can spend a lot of time feeling out of place and stupid, instead of just being in the moment where I am. Now, I’m an adult who is gainfully employed, so I do manage to get out of the house for things like my job and the essential errands I have to run to be a functional adult. But that often means that I have no energy to go out and do anything else.

One of the many reasons that meeting Ron was one of the best things that happened to me is that he makes it easier for me to go out and have fun. He will come with me to run errands, which makes it easier to do them and makes them less draining. And in more social and fun situations, he acts a buffer between me and that voice in my head that tells me I’m too weird and everyone is staring at my stupid outfit and that thing I said was really dumb and I should just go home where it’s nice and isolated. But, about six months ago, I got an amazing job opportunity in the Bay Area. Because Ron is supportive and wonderful, he encouraged me to take the job, and suddenly I am 400 miles away from my main support. (Ron and I are fine; we didn’t break up; we are doing a weird long distance thing for the moment, which admittedly sucks, but we have plans and shouldn’t be quite so long-distance in the not-too-distant future.)

I think ultimately, this has been a good thing, despite how much I miss him. It has forced me to be more independent and I have to say that my new job was right for my career. But I have been a bit of hermit these past few months. I don’t know many people up here; those I do know are busy people (as am I), and my anxiety makes it hard for me to do too much. I’ve been to a few knit nights, forced myself to go play guitar alone at a few open mics (more on that some other time), and gone to a few movies, but have done very little to explore my new neighborhood.

This Saturday the weather was beautiful and with Ron’s encouragement, I went to my city’s incredibly adorable downtown, where I took a walk and explored some of the shops. There is a great used bookstore, where I found an The Art of Fine Baking, an old baking book from the 1960’s, and The Good Housekeeping New Complete Book of Needlecraft from 1971. I love old cooking and craft books, especially ones with handdrawn illustrations, like in the picture below.

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I may never make a swiss broyage (or will I?), but tell me that isn’t an absolutely charming illustration?

I then settled at a little outdoor table in a small local coffee shop with my new book (Knitlandia by Clara Parkes), some tea, and my knitting (plus a cookie, because cookies are delicious). I had a wonderful time out and about and nothing terrible happened, in spite of my anxiety assuring me that it would.

Knitlandia is all about Clara Parkes’ ravels as a knitter to places like Iceland and the people she’s met, sometimes because she was unafraid to go talk to them. It’s a wonderful read, but on further reflections I am struck by irony…I’m afraid to go a few miles on my own, let alone to Iceland, even though I paradoxically dream of seeing far flung places and meeting interesting people. And while I wish that I could change how I feel immediately and be completely unafraid to jet off somewhere alone, that’s not how anxiety works. But I think that I’m going to make more of an effort to at least explore my own backyard. Maybe inch by inch I can make it to Iceland some day.

I’m exhausted. My feet hurt. There are new yarn and fiber pets in my home that I must find a place for….it’s the end of another successful Stitches West.

I did a more low-key thing this year. I didn’t take any classes. I didn’t go to any of the events like the dinners and the pajama parties. Instead, Melissa came up and we shopped and saw a movie and ate at good restaurants. I wasn’t feeling too terribly social (and Melissa is never social). I worked on Thursday morning and then she and I met up at the convention center. After some lunch, we sat and knitted for a bit, waiting for the Thursday night market to open. We hit most of the booths we wanted, but some of them were just too crowded. But I found some lovely, lovely things including some cashmere from Lux Adorna and some vintage buttons. I also picked up some cross-stitch kits from The Frosted Pumpkin, some fiber from Pigeon Roof Studios, and some yarn from Twisted Owl. The last one in particular amused me because they had named a lot of their yarns after classic rock songs.

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Pretty things from the first day

Friday, I worked again in the morning and then met Melissa for our second round of shopping. After a few hours on the floor, the crowds really got to us, so we left and went to The Witch, which was creepy and atmospheric and I really recommend it if you’re into those kinds of movies. Then we ate Ethiopian food and headed home to knit. I was working on the last few rows of a massive shawl (I’ll post pictures when it’s blocked) and managed to get quite a bit done on Friday night while we watched John Wick. (Side Note: I had not seen this movie before, but it was surprisingly good.)

We hadn’t planned to go back to the marketplace on Saturday, but we decided we would at the last minute on Saturday morning. It was then that we finally made it into the YOTH Booth. It had been too crowded before. Melissa managed to snag the very last Puppy gradient set in pink in the fingering weight base. I was a bit sad I hadn’t seen it first, but I decided that it was okay. We only spent a few hours in the market on Saturday. Melissa had hurt her foot last week and had already been walking too much, so we went home and kept her off her foot.

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The Puppy, in all its glory

Saturday night, I dreamed about the puppy. When I told Melissa on Sunday morning, we worked out a trade. She gave me the puppy and has promised me some other yarn she had that I had been coveting in return for a sweater of my own design that I had never really been happy with (because it fits her much better than it fits me). I’m happy that the sweater has a home that will love it now.

Melissa headed back to her house on Sunday morning, and I headed back to Stitches for one last go-round. I got to see Sandra and Jennyfer from the knit shop back home, hang out with the Knitmore Girls and company, and (of course) see Laura from Dizzy Blonde Studios. I picked up a few more things I couldn’t resist. Mostly fiber for spinning, because now that I can spin decent yarn, I get twice the enjoyment from fiber than I do from yarn (I get to spin it and then knit it!). I got some gorgeous stuff from Abstract Fiber, from Anzula, and from Purlescence. I also got Clara Parkes’ new book (which she signed) and some octopus stitch markers I could not resist from Miss Babs.

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More Stitches loot. All the colors!

While I am tired after this Stitches, I’m not nearly as tired as I have been in years past, when I took classes and did a lot more. Which is good, because while all I really want to do is play with my new pretty crafty things, I have to go back to work on Monday. Boo. Farewell Stitches. Until next year.

My mother died August 1st, 2015. Just after Thanksgiving in 2014, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She tried to be very positive about her prospects, in spite of the late stage of the tumor, in spite of her other health problems that would complicate treatment, and in spite of the fact that the doctors all but told her “There is no cure.” In the phone call where she told me, she did her best to make it sound like this was a condition she could live with for quite some time. But I have a degree in biochemistry and I am not stupid, so I knew that we weren’t going to have much time left.

We got about 8 months with her after the diagnosis. She got to see my youngest sister graduate from college. She got to see her youngest niece born. She got to see my other sister get married. We got one last Christmas, one last Mother’s Day, one last birthday with her. When my heart is breaking, I try to be grateful that, but it’s hard, because I’d rather she was still here.

Grief is a funny thing. Some days I’m okay. Really. I feel like I can function and the sadness is not overwhelming. It’s just a small pack I carry…there but not weighing me down. And some days, the weight of my grief is such a weight that I don’t know how to carry it. Some days I’m so sad that a beer and pint of ice cream seem like a perfectly acceptable dinner. And the triggers aren’t always expected. I figured I would feel extra sadness as this day came up. But you don’t count on all the little reminders and digs that pop up by surprise. A pop star’s father dies of cancer and I am suddenly teary-eyed. I was visiting a friend whose four-year-old daughter is learning about life cycles. With all of the enthusiasm and guilelessness of a not-quite-still-a-toddler, she wanted to talk all about how her dad’s mom and dad were both dead. A rational conversation about how people sometimes die is a totally appropriate conversation to have with a kid–and one I have had with children before–but it was not one I was expecting to have that night. It’s easy, especially as someone who works in the sciences, to be a little impassive about death. It is, after all, a part of life. But of course your own deaths don’t feel like a fact of life. They feel like a painful and personal insult to the way things are supposed to be.

My mother was not perfect. She wasn’t a perfect person. She certainly wasn’t a perfect mother. Growing up, there were times I hated her. (She would actually appreciate me saying so, since she hated the very human tendency that we all have to paint the dead as saints. “Every kid that dies is suddenly a straight A student,” was her common complaint about how the media reported deaths. “A dead asshole is still an asshole” I remember her saying another time. She didn’t mince words.) But she was my mother and no matter how hard it might have been to have her as a mother (as I’m sure that at times it was very hard on her to have me as a daughter), she gave me so very much. She taught me that my intelligence counted so much more than my appearance. She taught me to read before I can even remember. She was driven and smart and fierce and funny and fearless–all the things I want to be more of. I miss her just as much as I did six months ago.

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.

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