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Can't you just see Janis Joplin wearing this?

Can’t you just see Janis Joplin wearing this?

I’ve been jamming on all things ‘granny square’. I stumbled upon this link and yes, it’s in CHINESE and RUSSIAN, but is very photo heavy. Could I do this? Just looking at pictures? It was doubtful, but I thought I’d give it a try. I loved the coat featured in that link, with the main body color being red, as it reminded me of those little Russian matryoshka dolls. But I thought that a more sedate forest green might work, too.

The first thing I did was to tackle the big square that made up the back.

Big granny square.

Big granny square.

 

Then, I started working up some grannies to make up the body of the coat.

Grannies, bordered in main color - 'forest green'

Grannies, bordered in main color – ‘forest green’

 

Next was the sleeve. I did a main granny square for the upper arm, then rows of granny for the lower arms. For the shoulder easement, I added a few rows on top, making them narrower as they reached where I’d hoped the shoulder seam would go.

I made two of these - one for each sleeve.

I made two of these – one for each sleeve.

 

And after sewing it all together like some kind of yarnish Frankenstein monster, and then crocheting several rows along the bottom, and then from front edge, around the neckline to the other front edge, this is what I ended up with!

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I have literally hundreds of tails of loose yarn to weave in, but it’s done, I did it, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Somehow, I thought that the forest green would make this a little less ‘out there’. Hubby, I promise I won’t wear it when I’m out in public with you!

Whew, I haven’t written in ages – we’ve moved house to lovely New England, and between selling our home and building the new one, my creative energy was siphoned off into more practical matters.

But now! I’ve got a few moments to myself, and channelling my dearly departed grandmother, I’ve picked up my crochet hook and started up some new projects. And I’m just mad about this one!

Emme's blanket

Emme’s blanket

Never attempting a granny square afghan before, I thought I’d give this one a whirl, using two different sized squares. I made 15 panels consisting of one 6-round square and five 3-round squares, in shades of purple – my granddaughter’s favorite color! – and a few complimentary colors. I sewed them together with a whip stitch, and then put a simple border around it.

I just love these colors.

I just love these colors.

Despite several attempts, I wasn’t able to capture in a photograph the vintage, ‘muddy’ mood of the colors of yarn that I chose for this project. In person, it has a very boho-chic vibe to it, and I hope my granddaughter loves it. It looks like something you’d pick up at Anthropologie, and I would be happy to have it draped across the leather chair in my family room.

As this is a gift for a little girl, I was tempted to use more child-friendly purples, but then, I was afraid she might grow weary of the brighter, nursery-ish shades as she got older. After all, I still have an afghan my great-grandmother made (although I ruined it by washing it in the regular laundry – I was young and foolish and it didn’t occur to me that yarn might’ve been actually made of real wool!), and it is my hope that this is something she holds onto fondly into her later years.

Detail of panels

Detail of panels

If I had it to go over again – and I will, for my two other granddaughters – I would use a yarn color that more closely blended in with the squares for the whip stitching. For the border, I did one row of single crochet in beige all the way around, and then a row of double crochet followed by a row of single crochet, both in purple. Here is a close-up of one of the panels.

Husband’s protests aside, the dining room table has been converted into a grow room for the season.IMG_0607

On the first day of spring (this was not intentional; the seeds just happened to arrive in the mail that day) I started a partial flat of petunias. Not paying attention to the seed count on the packets, I didn’t have enough seeds to fill an entire flat. Lesson learned. I never grew petunias before, so I was surprised to see (barely!) how tiny the seeds were. I am growing Sophistica ‘Antique Shades’ Petunia and Dolcissima ‘Flambe’ Petunia. It took 5 days for the first tiny bit of green to emerge from one of the seeds, and now, nearly two weeks later, they are still unbelievably small. It’s hard for me to imagine that these nearly microscopic flower embryos will burst into gorgeous, bushy petunias, but I’m hopeful just the same.

IMG_0641A week after sowing the petunias, I started another flat, this time filling it with marigolds. There are different schools of thought when it comes to marigolds being effective pest control in the gardens (aphids apparently don’t care for the pungent, skunky scent of them), but folks have planted them in their vegetable gardens for years. I’m growing Eskimo, Happy Days Mix, and Burpee’s Best Mix. They shot up out of the soil in two days (no kidding) and are well on their way to becoming strong little seedlings.

I’m also going to be planting clumps of sunflowers in various parts of the gardens. I’ll be sowing them directly into the ground once we get past any dangers of a last frost here in USDA Zone 7 (May 1st). But I did start some Autumn Beauty sunflowers under my grow lights, because they take about 2 weeks longer to bloom than the others I’ll be direct sowing. I figured I’ll get a jump on the season and maybe end up with them being the first to blossom if I give them a head start inside under the grow lights. They went into the soil the same day as the marigolds and are already about 2 inches high. I’ve got some 3″ peat pots on their way from Amazon. These little babies will outgrow their current situation in a matter of days, so I will need to replant them sooner than later! Once I make room in my seed flat next week, some zinnia seeds are on deck to get started next.

And speaking of grow lights: after doing some research, I found this fabulous set up by HydroFarm that provides light to two flats of seedlings set end to end. It’s super light-weight, simple to put together, and using two sets of a 72-cell seed starter flat, gives you the best chance to start a garden full of flowers or vegetables without having a greenhouse or other elaborate system.

By the time I realize that I want some cucumber vodka for a crisp spring cocktail, I’m already knee-deep into the season, with the gardens and lawns begging for attention. Distracted, I succumb to the calling, but not without casing a wistful glance about, wishing I’d been better prepared.

When rubber hits the road, I manage to make do with muddling up some cucumber slices in a cocktail shaker. Not a bad substitute. But I always feel a twinge of regret for not having planned accordingly for what has become an annual celebration of the Vernal Equinox.

Not this year, kids! Here it is, cucumber vodka! And it’s not a recipe, really; just a happy marriage of two ingredients, and the gentle passing of time.

IMG_0545Wash, peel and slice 3 cucumbers, and divide between 2 quart-sized Ball or Mason jars. Fill with vodka to cover the veggies, screw on lids, and tuck away in your fridge for a week or two. Give your infusion a (little!) taste after a week. Mark it on the calendar, although you will no doubt be disinclined to forget.

Now, a quick note about the vodka: you don’t have to use top of the line liquor, here. But for God’s sake, don’t buy the cheap stuff. You really will want to drink this when all’s said and done, and if you use a poor quality vodka, I assure you, you’ll regret it.

Once the vodka is sufficiently cucumber-y, strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth and decant into a clever little bottle. Although this infusion will be shelf-stable, keep it chilled and ready for a cocktail.

Making yogurt at home is easy, cheap, and a good way to spend an entire day in the kitchen. OK, I kid. You don’t have to be in the kitchen the ENTIRE day. Just near the kitchen. And, yes, in it as well. Frequently. I really hope I haven’t frightened you off yet. It’s super easy, and does requires a commitment of your time. But trust me, at the end of the day, the view really is worth the climb.

The only ingredients you need to make this is: a few ounces of good-quality unflavored yogurt with live cultures, and a half-gallon of milk. Either Oikos or Fage would be my choice. You can use any percentage fat of milk you’d like, but just know that the lower fat milk will, logically, result in a yogurt with a less creamy mouth-feel and general richness.

The special gear you’ll need is:

  • candy thermometer
  • whisk
  • 5 pint jars with lids (if you use the two-part lids that come with them, be sure to set aside the flat part in a special place, as you don’t want to ever use them for your canning projects!)
  • colander
  • cheesecloth
  • large soup ladle
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Heat milk to 190F, then remove from heat.

Pour the half-gallon of milk into a large saucepan, and clip on the candy thermometer.

Turn heat to medium and stir more frequently than not. In the meantime, fill your sink up a few inches with cold water.

Bring the milk up to 190F. You’ll notice that the milk becomes a bit frothy and smells a bit ‘pudding-y’ as it’s nearing temperature. Keep close watch over it to be sure you take it off the heat no higher than around 195F at the most. Set the pot of milk, with thermometer attached, into the water-filled sink. This will help bring the milk’s temperature down. Your goal is 115F. Continue to stir the milk a bit as it’s cooling. This will happen relatively quickly.

Put the yogurt ‘starter’ in a large mixing bowl.When the milk’s temperature reaches 115F, remove the saucepan from the sink. Put about two ladlefuls of milk into the mixing bowl with the starter yogurt and whisk until smooth. This mixture is now known as the ‘inoculant’. Stir this inoculant into the saucepan of milk.

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Be sure to keep water temperature around 100F for 6 to 8 hours.

Fill your five clean pint jars with the inoculated milk and screw on the lids. Fill a stew pot with hot water straight from the tap about half way and place the jars in the water. You do not want to cover the lids with water. Allow the water level to come up right below the neck of the jars. Place the stew pot onto the stove, and clip on your (cleaned up!) candy thermometer.

And here comes the waiting part. And the commitment part.

For the next 6 to 8 hours, you will need to make sure that the water temperature in the stew pot stays between 100F and 110F. If it dips to 95F, don’t panic. Just turn the burner on for a bit (don’t walk away from it!) until the temperature comes up again. You absolutely do NOT want your temperature to rise above 110F or else you will cook off your yogurt cultures. If the temperature dips to 95F or so for a bit, it’s not the end of the world; the yogurt cultures will just slow down a bit.

After your 6 to 8 hour temperature watch is over with, remove the jars from their cozy, insulating water bath and place into the refrigerator for the night. Nope, we’re not done yet!

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Place lined colander over a bowl to collect the liquid whey.

The next morning, line a colander with a big square of cheesecloth that’s been wet down from the tap, wrung out, and folded into a four-ply square.

Grab your five jars of yogurt from the fridge and open them up. Don’t faint away or gasp in disappointment. They’re supposed to look like that.

The liquid part of the milk – the whey – separates from the solids and will float around in the jar of what appears to be a smaller-sized-than-the-jar blob of white. Now, you can decided to stir it back into the yogurt if you wish, or simply pour it off give your yogurt a stir, and call it a day.

But if you’d like to have a thicker, Greek-styled yogurt, please continue to read and proceed.

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You’ll drain off nearly a quart of whey. Use to soak dried beans, or to replace milk in recipes when baking bread.

Place the lined colander over a mixing bowl in the kitchen sink, and empty all the jars – whey and all – into the colander.

You’ll see that a good bit of the whey collects quickly. Fold the cheesecloth over top of the yogurt and place colander and mixing bowl into the refrigerator for about two hours. What you’ll have is a nice, thick yogurt, perfect for drizzling with honey, and topping with some homemade granola. You have made this granola by now, haven’t you? 😉

Thick, creamy homemade yogurt!

Thick, creamy homemade yogurt!

You’ll be surprised that after draining all the whey off, you’ll be left with enough yogurt to fill two pint jars, and a half-pint jar. It might seem like an awful lot of effort, but once you taste this yogurt made in your very own kitchen, with no preservatives, thickeners, or additives, you’ll feel very smug and self-satisfied.

Speaking of additives: if you are using a lower fat milk, feel free to whisk in about a 1/2 cup of dry (powdered) milk to up the nutritional value and provide a bit more ‘heft’ in the finished yogurt.

Want vanilla yogurt? Split a vanilla bean in half and toss into the milk when you first pour it into the saucepan to heat.

Homemade yogurt will keep in the fridge for about two weeks – if it lasts that long! Oh, and be certain to keep a few tablespoons aside to use as the yogurt starter for your next batch.

I had the best breakfast EVER when I was visiting Iceland last month. The Laundromat Cafe is a quirky little place in Reykjavik where you can have an amazing meal and wash your clothes at the same time. I ordered ‘The Clean Breakfast’, which consisted of lots of healthy, healthy food – and came with a little dish of Greek-yogurt-like cheese drizzled with honey and topped with a crunchy, freshly made muesli (basically, an unbaked granola). After messing around with a few recipes, I settled upon this one, for a delicious – and baked – knock-off. It doesn’t last for very long in my pantry. Here’s how to do it!

  • 4 cups dry oatmeal
  • 3/4 cups oat bran (I like Bob’s Red Mill – in the cereal section)
  • 3/4 cups wheat germ (Kretschmer’s!)
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F. Combine oatmeal through pecans in a large mixing bowl. Combine oil through vanilla extract in a small saucepan and heat over medium flame, stirring to make a syrup (you don’t need to bring this to a boil).

Pour syrup over oatmeal mixture and stir quickly and thoroughly, making sure all the crumbly bits have a little syrup on them. Spread out onto a quarter-sheet baking pan (or two standard cookie sheets) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and stir so there aren’t any bits that get too browned. Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes.

Remove pan(s) from oven and set on the counter to cool completely. When cooled, break up with a spatula and store in an airtight container.

DELICIOUS spooned over some honey-drizzled Greek yogurt and berries. Enjoy!

As luck would have it, I found that I still had a little over 5 lbs. of sweet cherries in the fridge this weekend. This, after having eaten tons of what I’d originally bought, and a friend stopping by with another sack of them to toss into champagne flutes (quite a festive ‘welcome home’ party, but that’s another story).

Last summer, I’d come across different recipes for ‘drunken cherries’; most of them involved soaking them for various periods of time in Everclear or brandy. I experimented with several kinds of alcohol and found that Jack Daniels was by far the most complimentary. I ended up putting up 7 or 8 pints of these lovely jewels, and despite the rather vast quantity, they didn’t last very long. Although perfect straight from the jar, they’re also a lovely garnish for a Manhattan or Side Car, plunked into the bottom of a chilled cocktail glass. Or, tossed with a little cornstarch slurry, make for a decadent pie or cobbler. And the syrup from the jar is heavenly, stirred into some iced tea or lemonade. So many possibilities!

Freshly pitted Bing cherries

(If you’ve ever attempted to pit cherries, it’s a daunting task – unless you have one of these little babies. I can’t live without my OXO cherry pitter! It makes fast work of removing fruit from the stone. Just the same, I recommend wearing a good apron and (preferably) a dark shirt. Juice gets to flying fast when you fall into a rhythm.)

Bing Cherries & Jack Daniels – yields about 4 pints (with a little left over, if you’re lucky, to eat straight from the pot)

5 lbs. sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup Jack Daniels whiskey
juice of 3 lemons (about 1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice)

After pitting the cherries, place them in a large, wide non-reactive pot. Stir in a cup of the sugar and the whiskey and allow to sit at room temperature for a few hours, giving them a little what-for with a wooden spoon every once in a while. Get a water bath canner ready and sterilize your jars.

Stir in the other cup of sugar and lemon juice. Bring to boil over a medium heat and continue to boil at a simmer for about 20 minutes. You want to make sure the fruit keeps its shape; you’re not making jam.

Fill jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Process in water bath for 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a tea towel, undisturbed, for 24 hours. Check for seal after about an hour and refrigerate any jars that haven’t properly sealed.

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