Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My first handknit

I finished my first real hand knit item.
I'm not counting my washcloth or two that were made for practice.
I really feel like I have the hang of it and am so pleased. 
 I'm trying not to be overly confident and take on a bigger project than I can handle.  That's difficult because I see so many patterns that I would like to make.  I browsed through 5 or 6 knitting magazines at the bookstore this evening and resisted the urge to bring any of them home.
I'm slightly obsessive, I think that has been established here.

Totally off subject, but look how green my eyes look next to this teal scarf.
Hand knit scarf

I had seen scarves like this around, and there are quite a few patterns.  Pattern and details are here on my ravelry page.  I think the pattern I chose is pretty vague and I'm all the more impressed that I pulled this off!

Hand knit scarf

Even as a beginning knitter I think it is faster than crochet.  I actually had this finished last week, but couldn't find a yarn needle to weave in the ends. I could have been done much faster but just worked on it here and there. There are also tons more patterns available for knitting and it uses less yarn that crochet. I am not saying that I won't crochet anymore, I will. 

Yay me for conquering my fear of knitting and sticking to my resolution to learn. 
I will be knitting for years to come, I'm sure of it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Winter Favorite

I made a Navy Bean soup last winter that we loved.  Even Frank loved it and he is skeptical of navy beans for some reason.  I saw a similar soup on a blog recently with Spanish Chorizo in it and decided on a second take.  Two weeks ago I attempted to cook a pound of navy beans in the crockpot in preparation for this soup and they turned to mush and subsequently got me off track with cooking.  Last week I got it right.  Five and a half hours on low was just right for my 1.25 pounds of beans.  You could definitely use canned beans, but this is more for your money and easy peasy once you know how long to cook 'em.

Navy bean soup

I topped the soup with a generous amount of grated parmesan
and served with hot from the oven homemade bread.
Navy bean soup

If you aren't on the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day bandwagon you are truly missing out.
So easy, so good.
Crisp and crusty exterior, soft and delicious inside.
Mmmmmm



I didn't use a recipe for my soup, but just winged it.  Here is what I did.
1 small yellow onion
3 Carrots
2 Stalks of Celery
3 Cloves of Garlic
2 small links of cured Spanish Chorizo
2 cans (drained and rinsed) or 3 cups of cooked Navy beans
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 bunch of Kale, I like the Lacinato or Dinosaur variety
Salt, Pepper and spices to taste.  I used Smoked Sweet Paprika, thyme and oregano

Dice your veggies and saute until softened.  Add salt and pepper and diced chorizo.  Cook until chorizo releases it's oils, your veggies will turn red from the chorizo.  Add can of crushed tomatoes, cooked beans and chicken stock.  Add your spices, I just did a generous pinch of thyme and oregano and maybe 1/2 teaspoon or more of paprika.  I highly recommend the Smoked Sweet Paprika in this.  Let simmer so the flavors can come together.  Add the chopped kale towards the end and cook just til tender.
*I had extra cooked beans so I drained and froze them in a freezer bag for a future batch of soup or other recipe.

Serve topped with grated parmesan.  Yum!

I hope you like my soup as much as we do.  It doesn't feel like winter at all right now, more like Spring. It was cold and rainy last week when I made this soup. Though Texas weather is notorious for wild swings in temperature, it has been especially mild this season. I am selfishly enjoying the sunny, warm weather, though I fear we will have hell to pay come summer.  I heard that the long term forecast is for our summer to be as bad as last year.  Noooooooo

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ikebana Tablescape

I have been craving flowers for the house lately.  Most days at work I make up simple arrangements in my head while staring at the floral department.  I always talk myself out of buying flowers at the end of the day.

I needed something on the dining table and snagged a little quince branch yesterday.
It's probably not truly Ikebana, but the simplicity of this little "arrangement" reminds me of that and I truly love it.  I swore I had a flower frog somewhere, but haven't located it, so I just set the branch in a little ceramic bowl and it worked.

Table scape

My Ikebana Quince branch is keeping my gorgeous new table runner that Gretchen made me for Christmas company.

Table scape

Table scape

Table scape

Table scape

I had a boyfriend in college who was Buddhist and had either studied, or more likely absorbed via his mother the art of Ikebana.  I would come home to unusual arrangements of flowers, or branches in my room.  It was very sweet, but comical because he had always clipped them out of some unsuspecting neighbor's yard without asking.  The rule follower in me was wary, but I enjoyed the arrangements none the less.  I broke my rule yesterday and snagged this little guy from someones yard.  I hope they didn't see me and I know they won't notice it missing.  I made myself laugh thinking of Henry and his Ikebana arrangements.

Speaking of the floral department at work, I am going to be helping them out on Friday morning and am so excited.  They need extra help leading up to Valentines and I'm hoping that I can get more time in.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Scarves

I mentioned before that I made eleven scarves as gifts for Christmas but neglected to photograph them.  I made them all from flannels, with two exceptions.  I was inspired by Anna Maria Horner's figure eight scarves.  Though I would love to have and to make them from her gorgeous velveteens and voiles I could not afford to use them.  Another factor is that I don't think Anna Maria's patterns and colors would have worked for everyone on my list, which included four nieces and two nephews.  Joann flannel fit the bill and I was able to make each scarf with a half yard each of two coordinating fabrics.  Some scarves used the same color or print, so there were repeats, but most of them were different.  Two of the nieces and the two nephews got matching scarves, cause that's how they roll. 

Gretchen was kind enough to take a picture of herself in her scarf, which was one of my favorites.  It has a mustard yellow quilting cotton on one side and a gray and white flannel print on the other.
G and her scarfy

I think I'll do a tutorial of how I put these together.  They really make an easy handmade gift and are super cute and cozy.  I am wishing I had made one for myself, so I just might have to do that soon.

Gretchen and I at our house.
G and A

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter Walks

We have been on only two Winter Walks.  Days with sunny, warm weather and both Frank and I being off work have not coincided enough.  It has been a typical Texas winter so far, switching rapidly from highs in the 40's to the 70's.  You know what they say, if you don't like it just wait a minute.  Two days ago I woke up to morning temps in the 60's and thought, oh it's a perfect day for a walk.  Within an hour the wind blew in from the North and the temps dropped into the 40's.  Oh well, there is always another day, and this coming Sunday is supposed to be warm so hopefully we will get out and explore again.

Walking on the trinity trail.
First winter walk

First winter walk

First winter walk

Our first visit to Sansom Park on Lake Worth
Sansom Park

Sansom Park

Sansom Park

Sansom Park

Sansom Park

Sansom Park

I grew up exploring in the woods and always feel better when I'm out in nature. 
In fact, just looking at these pictures makes me feel good. 
The sun being out makes me happy too.
I hope we get to take a lot more walks this winter. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Shrimp Scampi-ish

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen yesterday. I made bread dough and a batch of Salty Caramel Ice Cream, the best one yet I think. After forcing myself to go to the grocery store I came home hungry with a bee in my bonnet to make homemade pasta. It didn't work out so well. I used a Jamie Oliver recipe but didn't let it rest long enough and tried hand rolling (no pasta machine). I knew it was too thick but cooked it anyways and then proceeded to cook some penne to go with my delicious Shrimp that I had cooked in the mean time.

Attempting to make pasta

Attempting to make pasta

Shrimp scampi

Shrimp scampi

So on to the shrimp, the good part.
I was inspired by a customer at work who mentioned a Shrimp/pasta/lemon combo that sounded great plus a picture for a recipe in my Mad Hungry cookbook. I loosely followed the recipe.  Here is what I did.

5 Cloves Garlic chopped
Juice of 1/2 of a large lemon
1 Tablespoon of lemon zest
2-3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
Shrimp, I used maybe 3/4 lb and could have used more but that's all I had on hand
1/2 chopped flat leaf parsley
Lots of fresh grated parmesan
Salt and Pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper to taste

Saute about 5 chopped cloves of garlic in olive oil on low until aromatic.  Don't let the garlic burn.  You can add some black pepper and crushed red pepper at this point.  Add the shrimp in one layer and flip when they are pink on the bottom.  When they are pink throughout turn the heat down and add the lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper to taste and the parsley.  Add cooked pasta with a little pasta water and stir it around good then take off the heat and serve with parmesan on top.

This is just a simple recipe that would be easy to improvise on.  I think adding some steamed broccoli or broccolini to the dish would be spectacular.  I don't know if this is what Shrimp Scampi really is or not, I've never had that before.  All I know is this dish is a new favorite and I will be making it on a regular basis.

I'm so pleased that we are planning our meals, and have only eaten out once or twice so far this year.  In the long run it really saves money, and stress, and is so much healthier.  I hope to keep this habit up throughout the year.

This morning I'm cooking Navy beans in the crockpot for soup and baking a loaf of bread to go with it for tonight.  Better go the timer just went off to put the bread in the oven....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Learning to Knit

I'm doing it, I'm really doing it!
My mom's best friend Kathy had taught me the basics of knitting a couple of years ago.
I made a washcloth or two and practiced on big needles and yarn but just never felt comfortable with it.
One of my New Years resolutions was to finally learn to knit.  I think I've made great strides in just four days of practice.  That's really what it's all about is practice.

I decided to follow a simple pattern for my first project. 
Learning to knit

I have seen these scarves around and always thought they were cute.

I was inspired by Angry Chicken's recent post about knitting small projects that are not overwhelming.  She also talks about how she always felt like a knitter who didn't knit.  I can relate to that.  I have felt for a while that I should be able to knit and was quite frustrated that it wasn't coming naturally to me.  Of course I just wanted to pick up needles and make something complicated.  Washclothes weren't doing it for me.

Well, I'm starting smallish but this project is interesting enough to keep my attention.
I'll be honest, all I really want to do is sit on the couch and knit all....day....long.
I can't do that, there are too many other things to get done. 
Bun I'm so excited that I'm knitting!
Don't get me wrong, I'm still not completely comfortable.  Knit is easier than purl at this point and I'm totally winging it at some spots, but I'm doing it and I'm thrilled.

* One thing that has helped me as a crocheter, is switching from English to Continental knitting.  Do you other Crocheters find Continental style easier?  I was taught English, with the thread in my right hand but it never felt right.  Continental is the way to go for me.

I have the instructions (which are vague) and a knitting book at the ready.
Learning to knit

I'm off the couch now and doing my chores.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Flexshaft...Check

My sweet dad got me a flexshaft for Christmas.  I got it set up this weekend by adding a block of wood to the ledge of my workbench, and I'm up and running now.  I hadn't used one since college and I graduated in '99.  My poor dremel tool was well used and falling apart.

Workbench with new lights and flexshaft

Workbench with new lights and flexshaft

Frank and I had the day off together yesterday. 
I didn't accomplish everything on my wish list, but we did do a lot.
We had coffee and waffles for breakfast.
I practiced Knitting.
We spent time outside with Lucy at the dog park.
Frank fixed the leak under our sink where our dishwasher drains and we set up my flexshaft.

My other wishlist items included, going to the movies, the bookstore, cooking/prepping dinners for the week, excercising, and sewing.  Those things didn't happen, but there is always tomorrow. 

I am teaching myself to knit, and that's final.  I practiced quite a bit this weekend.  I'm attempting to follow a simple pattern today.  I have a little more time before I go to work.

Friday, January 13, 2012

In my absence

In my absence from this space I have been working and spending time with my niece Karlie on my days off. She, mom and I went to the Japanese Gardens to feed the "fishies" last Friday and this week Frank and I had her overnight Wednesday night (for the first time) and I kept her yesterday for the day. We had lots of fun, our primary activity was making sugar cookies. She loves to help and was involved with every step of the process. She really is a great helper.

Last Friday at our beautiful Fort Worth Japanese Gardens
Feeding the fishies

at the Japanese gardens

at the Japanese gardens

We had done the sugar cookies at Christmas, rolling the dough that I had previously made and cutting with cookie cutters.  They were my favorite Sugar Cookies I had ever made and I will continue to use this recipe from Glorious Treats again and again.  We topped the cookies with this frosting and then sprinkles. 
Christmas 2011 197

This time Karlie helped me make the dough.  I measured, and she poured.
Karlie helping make cookies

This time I rolled the dough into balls and flattened prior to baking. 
As I expected, they weren't quite as good as the Christmas batch as this dough is meant to be rolled, creating an even thickness.

She loves sprinkles.
We made sugar cookies

We made sugar cookies

She also loves Lucy. 
Unfortunately it was too cold to play outside yesterday.
lucy and Karlie

I'm so thankful for such a loving, sweet, and fun little niece.  Frank and I both adore her and cherish the time we spend with her.  We are lucky that she loves us back.

Today I caught up on jewelry, temporarily hooked up my new flex shaft and used it for the first time weeeeeeee!  I have to figure out the best spot for it to live on my workbench and rig up a deeper ledge for the stand to attach to.  I'm so excited to really see what it can do. 

We have been staying on track with meal planning and grocery shopping and it is nice to not have to stress about what to cook and eat.  It never made sense to stress about that since we both love to cook, but it happens to everyone at times I suppose. 

I have no lack of ideas for things to talk about here, just a lack of time.  I have been sewing a little and am almost finished with a dress that I started in the fall.  I took an Indian cooking class on Tuesday and plan to share recipes soon.  I will try to post more regularly.

Have a great weekend.
xoxo
Ashley

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Off to a Good Sart!

Three days into the 2012 and I'm feeling good about what I've achieved so far. It didn't hurt that I had these three days off!

Sunday Frank and I took a hike a Sansom Park, a park on Lake Worth that is popular with Mountain Bikers, but was hiker friendly too. We had never been before and though it was not as secluded and awesome as the Fort Worth Nature Center, it was closer, free and still beautiful. We made Turkey Chili in the crockpot with enough for leftovers and freezing portions. We also made a list of potential meals.  Half the battle is always thinking of something to cook.  I figure I can refer to the list when planning my grocery list for ideas.

Yesterday I went on a deep cleaning spree of our nasty utility room. I desperately want to redo that room, paint, new linoleum and new shelving. If we had the cash I would love to put in a tankless hot water heater and turn the closet into a pantry. That would require fixing up our garage for storage of what's in that closet, my whole art show booth contents. Anyways, back to the cleaning. Our dryer has been broken for quite some time and we hang everything to dry. It's fine for now but we will probably want to get the dryer looked at to see if its fixable at some point. I vacuumed ten years of lint from under the dryer, I know, major fire hazard. I also found these treasures under there.
Probably fifteen guitar picks, a few bucks in change and a bunch of pebbles from my pockets. 
Cleaning feels good.
Under dryer treasures

Yesterday I also installed, in about five minutes, new lighting over my workbench. 
My old lighting was terrible and I've had this light strip for at least two years.  I felt so silly after installing it so quickly and seeing what a huge difference it makes.  Now to clean my bench area and set up my new flex shaft.  Did I mention I got a flex shaft for Christmas?  Time to bury the poor old dremel and give it a proper send off.  I can't believe I finally have a flex shaft after sixteen years of making jewelry.  Thanks mom and dad!
New lights over workbench

Here's to making 2012 the year of finishing unfinished projects.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Gretchen and Eric's Blanket

I've given you a couple of sneak peaks of this project, but I didn't want to give much away to the recipients.  This was the only Christmas gift that I started early, I actually started it in July and then put it aside because it was too hot on my lap as it grew. 

Christmas 2011 148

Christmas 2011 149

Christmas 2011 143

This is the Granny Stripe Crochet pattern, more details on my Ravelry page.  I've used this pattern before and love it, it's easy, fast and the results are lovely.  The yarn is a new favorite, Stitch Nation by Debbie Stoller Washable Ewe (available at Joann stores).  It dyes up beautifully and all of this yarn is hand dyed with Kool Aid.  Some are overdyes of gray, purple and yellow yarn, but most are on white.  This was my first time really trying out overdying with Kool Aid and it really expanded my color palette. Purples are quite limited with Kool Aid, but overdying really helped to solve that problem!  Gretchen had told me that her favorite colors to decorate with were Yellow, Purple and Orange, so I created this palette based on her preference.  I love the results, and it was actually really hard to gift this gorgeous blanket. 

swatches

I suppose one of my New Years resolutions should be to finally crochet a blanket for us. I have some of this yarn left over and might just start on something for us. I really need a scale so that I can weigh my yarn and know how much each stripe takes and I'm not running out of a hard to match color mid stripe.