Monday, August 31, 2009

Once more, with feeling!

This summer has been hard on my knitting. Granted, I got a lot of spinning done, in fits and spurts, but the knitting has come hard.
I knit a little on the sleeves of my Cotswold sweater while sitting with my mother, but they got set aside when I got home, and I haven't been able to pick them up again yet.

I knit a square for this project right after losing Mom, because it felt right.

I had joined Summer of Socks on Rav at the beginning of summer. (It's all Cookie's fault...) Good thing the theme was Low Stress, because here's how much I got done:

In my defense, that's double-knitting, and I had a hard time wrapping my brain around it for more than a few stitches at a time. It required a lot more focus than I was capable of this summer.

The only thing I've been able to pick up and actually work on is this:

A red scarf for Norma. AnnaMarie gave me the yarn.
Here was some knitting that felt right.

(ETA: I screwed up that last post - hit enter too soon and the little devil published with just the title. Imbrium hit at that moment & commented, and I just had to leave it, after that beautiful comment...)

New! Improved! Now with actual knitting content!


Friday, August 28, 2009

The recipe (because, after all, this IS a knitting blog...)

Okey-dokey. Here it is:


The batter:
3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs (Yay!!)
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract (or almond extract, depending on the fruit)
3 tbsp butter, melted

The fruit:
The sky's the limit here for choices. This is a French country dessert, and can accommodate whatever fruit is in season, or whatever you happen to have on hand.

Peaches - 3 cups sliced peaches mixed with 1/3 cup brown sugar. You can use fresh or canned peaches. If you have canned halves, you can even leave them unsliced - which is what I did in the clafouti I made last night.
Pears - 3 large pears, sliced (or canned pears, slices or halves) Stir in 1 tbsp lemon juice and 2 tsp grated fresh gingerroot. (You can use a tsp of ground ginger if you don't have gingerroot. And I've been known to dust the top of the clafouti with ground ginger before popping it into the oven. For true over-the-top ginger flavor, substitute minced candied ginger for the gingerroot - a tablespoon or two. Or more...)
Cherries - 3 cups of cherries. (I use almond extract in the batter for this one.)
You get the idea. Use roughly 3 cups of whatever fruit floats your boat, add sugar, or spices, or both. (I'm planning to try an apple-raisin-walnut one soon...)

The process:
Grease a pie plate. Dump in the fruit and level it as best you can.
Whisk the batter ingredients together and pour over fruit.
Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes. (It's done when a knife can be poked into the center and comes out clean.)

This is really wonderful warm from the oven, and I've been told that a slab of french vanilla ice cream cozied up to it will be well received.
It's equally good cold, with or without the ice cream... The batter forms a sort of cakey custard (or a custardy cake - it's kind of hard to describe) around the fruit.

One of my favorite things about it is that it's made with ingredients that I always have on hand.
*Ahem* Particularly canned peaches, since I always have canned peaches in the pantry. I think it's some sort of neurological problem, in that if I see canned peaches, I will buy a can. I can't seem to help it. (Madman covers my eyes when we venture into the canned fruit aisle at the grocery store, since he really doesn't understand why we have to have 20 cans of canned peaches in the pantry...)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Drowning in eggs

This is one of my favorite dessert recipes - Peach Clafouti. It's quick and easy, and best of all, it uses 3 eggs!

Fresh from the oven,

and after it's had a chance to cool down and settle a bit.
And, Norma? I also make a knock-your-socks-off Ginger-Pear version. Even without Sweet Ginger Balls...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Doh!, Part II

So, my "Doh!" ended up being 208 yards, bringing the total to 1218 yards pre-wash. I know to expect some shrinking in the finishing process, but still, it gives me much more range for choosing a project. Eventually, I'll find the label for that gorgeous roving, bought at NH S&W last spring.
Where I went wrong is, after spinning all but the last ounce or so of roving, I plyed it all up, knowing that my bobbins of singles wouldn't come out even. (They never do. Ever.) The plying filled one bobbin, and started another. I set that second bobbin aside (and that's the "Doh!" bobbin) while I spun up the last of the roving, trying to get even amounts on two bobbins. The original plan was to continue plying on the "Doh!" bobbin, but when the time came, I apparently forgot the plan, grabbed another bobbin, and plyed up the rest of the singles.
And since 'Out of sight, out of mind' is one of my many middle names, (some others being Cleopatra and Math), the "Doh!" bobbin disappeared into some sort of black hole until I was looking around for a bobbin to continue spinning alpaca onto.

And, continuing in the "Doh!" mode, here's a photo I meant to show two days ago. And yesterday. Making it a "Double-Doh!", I suppose.

That's the cherry tomato plant growing in a 5-gallon pail on our deck.
Last spring I wanted seed for yellow pear tomatoes, but couldn't find any locally, and it was too late to mail-order anything. I did find a mixed packet of seed for yellow pear, red pear, red cherry, and yellow cherry. I started 6 seeds from the packet, hoping for a yellow pear. The healthiest seedling was planted in the bucket, the other 5 were parked in the hoophouse, waiting to go into the ground.
Yeah, they were part of the batch of tomato and pepper seedlings that froze.
So all summer, we've been watching this one survivor, hoping for yellow pear. When tomatoes finally started to form, I had to give up on pear. Round. Very Round. So the last mystery was whether they would be red cherry or yellow cherry.
Looks like yellow cherry is the winner. (The seed packet says they're SunGold.) And look how many are on that first 'hand' of tomatoes...

I'll try again for pears next year.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good news! (of the "doh!" variety...)

So, I admit I can be a tad forgetful.
I apparently forgot I had this:Yeah. It's the rest of the purple merino I plyed.
I thought that final yardage was a little short...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gah! Summer's nearly over!

I can't believe it's nearly the end of August already. And as awful a summer as it has been (on so many levels...), at least there's some good coming from it.

Here's what Madman picked in the garden tonight:

The big honkin' yellow cucumbers will end up as seed for next year. The paste tomatoes (Amish Paste and a few Debarao) are simmering on the stove right now, filling the air with sweet summer's scent. The green and red peppers are Ace - we chop the green and freeze them, the reds will be roasted and frozen. The long yellow-green peppers are Cubanelle, which is a variety we've never grown before. (Both peppers are plants we bought as replacements for our poor frozen seedlings last spring. We normally grow Ace, but Cubanelle is an experiment. I'm still mourning all the Ancho and Anaheim peppers we lost...)

The beet greens are looking good.
And the yellow onions are starting to bulb up!

The red onions, not so much...

Jean's Beans are coming along nicely,

as are the Vt Cranberry beans.

And we've got an Amazon forest of winter squash growing. They're now so overgrown and intermingled that we can't even get to the center of the patch. We peek and poke around the periphery, trying to get a count of the squash on the way. We'll have plenty of delicata, from the looks of things, and lots of buttercup and acorn. Butternut is represented, but we can't get a good look.
But here's the surprise we found tonight, along the upper edge of the patch, growing in or near last year's compost pile.
Normally, our delicata will fit in the palms of our hands. The variety we grow is a single or barely a double serving. This one is at least three times that big.
But the biggest surprise of all was hidden in the leaves a few feet away...

(Madman's hand and a beer bottle included for scale.) That thing is the size of a soccer ball. The markings are delicata, but it doesn't have the ribbing we know and love. Mystery squash...
Madman threw out some old squash seed on the compost pile last spring, and we had a bunch of squash come up (as well as tomatoes and tomatillos) that we just let go and grow. We won't know till frost kills the vines so we can trace them back, if this is something that sprang from those old seeds, or if it's from our acorn hills (which are closest to this area) and means our acorn seed from last year has taken a wonky turn.
Wonder what it's going to taste like?

And it's not all gardening (though it's close!)
I've managed to squeeze a little bit of spinning in. Here's some of that gray alpaca:
Notice the halo. I can't seem to get alpaca roving under control as well as the commercial processors. It might groom itself a little better when I commence to plying - I'm planning a 3-ply. Or maybe it'll just end up three times as fuzzy...

I think I could live with that...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Spin or Burst

Didn't want to burst, so I spun for a bit before I went to work today. My homegrown prep of the fiber means I end up with fuzzy yarn. (Maybe I should add a dash of hair conditioner to the final rinse? The fiber behaves like my hair - all spazzy and out of control unless I beat it into submission drown it in conditioner. Worth a try.)
I'd have pictures, but it's been all dark and gloomy today. Thunderboomers, etc. Exciting for weather, not so good for the photography.

Here's something that bothered me the other day. Two of my co-workers and I were outside on our break enjoying the rare nice weather (it was flat-out gorgeous that day! Sunshine! Balmy temperatures!) when we heard a "THUNK" noise. We looked out to the parking lot and saw that a woman in a large SUV had been backing out of a parking space and had backed directly into a truck in the next parking section over. (I won't even go into her lack of backing-up skills. She had to be a complete moron to have hit the guy.) She pulled forward until she was about 1/3 of the way back into her original parking space, got out of her vehicle, and checked her rear end. At no time did she even glance at the truck she had hit. Then she got back into her SUV and drove away.
I was flabberghasted. In her place, I would have checked the other vehicle first. And I would have taken responsibility for what I'd done.
I watched and got her license number - and get this, a personalized plate. Now there's a certain anonymity if your license plate is something like J68P90 - you could probably count on getting away with being a jerk. But if it says "DUMB-ASS" everyone is going to know it's you. (Her actual plate wasn't "DUMB-ASS", but it was distinctive. And easy to remember.)
I turned her in at the service desk.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

There's no justice...

After all my being good today, I got called in to work tonight.

No carding. No spinning.


Being good is cutting into my spinning time...

So, it's my day off. I'm trying soooo hard to be good and take care of the garden stuff, the Everest of laundry, the despicable state of the kitchen floor.
But the lure of this stuff is almost impossible to resist...

It whispers to me every time I pass by.

And my spinning wheel has started to whimper.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Carding up a storm

So I started carding the gray alpaca. (Is anyone surprised?) I'm using the hand cards, since I don't feel like fighting with the drum carder. Maybe tomorrow...
I've only got a few little bumps carded so far, but they look like light fluffy clouds. Well, rain clouds, anyway. My fingers are itching to start spinning, but I want to get a bit more carded first. Patience... *sigh*

And here's a good one:
When I went for an eye exam to get new glasses recently, the optometrist didn't like the look of my optic nerves. There was an oddness. He scheduled me for some tests, since that oddness could mean either of two things: a) it's normal for me or b) it's an early sign of glaucoma.
I had the tests this morning. There's no glaucoma in my family, and turns out that I don't have it either. I just have weird-looking optic nerves.
The final results - weird is my normal.
I could have told him that...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Okay, there's a reason I never do math after 5 o'clock...

So, it was bothering me - that yardage on my merino laceweight seemed low. It was late when I was counting and multiplying and dividing. (My niddy-noddy yields 5 feet per turn. This would be convenient if I was doing all my figuring in feet. Unfortunately, I need yards. Thus enters Math.)
The last batch I counted as I was niddy-noddying, I wrote down as 103 turns. Upon recounting tonight, I found that I actually had 201 turns. (Obviously I can't even count after 5pm, let alone do math...)
So, if that was my only error, I actually have 1010 yards. (I'm not going back and trying to count the big skein. I had 405 turns by my first count. I'm willing to accept that as a final answer.)

Anyway, that's better. Much happier now. I want a shawl. Maybe Aeolian or Laminaria. Or maybe one I haven't even seen yet...
After all, my heart belongs to Maplewing. I spun my orange laceweight for it. As soon as I can summon the oomph to cast on all 78 bazillion stitches...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Finally finished my Tour de Fleece project

Argh... I got the last of the singles plied yesterday, and finished winding them off today. Either it's too late to do math, or I got 850 yards of laceweight from 8 ounces of merino. (See the original roving here.) I love the yarn I got - very subtly heathered. I didn't predraft the roving, just sort of danced back and forth across the end, keeping the drafting triangle very narrow. This pulled up the colors better as individuals, or at least only blending 2 at a time, instead of all of the colors just muddling together. I'm very pleased with the effect. I only wish I could show it better in the pictures:

Yesterday was a busy day - besides the plying, we butchered a couple of chickens, moved the sheep, and I picked cucumbers while Madman picked beans. Then I froze 12 packages of beans, and made a batch of sweet pickle relish for my sweetie. (I don't like the stuff, personally, but he does, so I try to keep it on hand. It's actually the reason I begged for a food processor - I had always thought I could get along just fine with a knife and cutting board, until the first time I chopped cucumbers for a batch of relish. I always tell Madman, if he ever doubts he's loved, just think of me chopping all those damn cucumbers by hand, and making him relish...)
And in my spare time, I baked a loaf of bread and made a really nifty cucumber and tomato salad for supper. And took umpty-seven pictures of sheep...
Frankly, it was a relief to get back to work today and get some rest. These days off are killing me...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

To Greener Pastures

The sheep, that is.
Madman made a big push and got the new pen for the sheep ready to go. They've comsumed most of what was edible in the old pen, and it was time to move them.
In order to get them from the old pen (in the front "yard") to the new pen (back behind the house, next to the garden), we had to capture them one at a time, and pull-push-carry them around the house, up the hill, and into the new pen.

The Bitch: Goldie had to be first. She's the biggest, the oldest, the stubbornest, the orneriest, and the most skittish. If we had started grabbing the youngsters first, she would have had a meltdown and been impossible to catch.
Madman lured her to him with a cup of grain, while I waited out of sight. (She still gets nervous if she can see both of us at once...) As soon as he got hold of her, I ran up, opened the gate, let him and Goldie out, then got the gate closed before the little ones could escape.
All hell broke loose, of course. Goldie was frantic over the idea of leaving her flock. She bucked and blatted and threw a fit. Meanwhile, the little ones were frantic, too - they added their panicky blatts to Goldie's, which made her even crazier. Madman held on for dear life, pushing her up the hill to the new pen. I got the gate locked down, then barreled after them, to help close the gate once we got Goldie inside.
Then I stood guard on Goldie while Madman went back for Onyx, and it was a good thing I did, since Goldie tried everything but tunneling to get back to the little ones. While still blatting at the top of her lungs, of course.

The Brat: Onyx had to be second, because she would have jumped the fence if Merlin had gone before her, and who knows how long she would have made us chase her. She has a nasty sense of humor... She's the smallest of the three, so Madman scooped her up and carried her, while she shimmied and blatted into his ear. I was the gatekeeper - holding it open long enough for Madman to stuff her into the pen, then slamming it shut before Goldie could get out.

The Buddy: Merlin has handles. He also sincerely wanted to be with the other sheep. Madman grabbed a horn and a handful of butt wool, and walked him up the hill. We popped him right in, and suddenly it got quiet...

Goldie took a look around. Hey, this is a nice place! Lots of room, lots of grass, a view of the neighbor's boat...

Everyone settled down to a nice lunch.

Goldie even took a moment to come over and say thank you, then they all went back to eating.
But Merlin isn't one to pass up an opportunity to be sociable.

He sang for joy -
then kissed my hand.
Then we had a quick round of Peek-a-Boo.

He's such a sweetie, that little guy.

And I just had to share this - there was talk a while back of Merlin being a lap sheep. Well, he almost is.
Madman went out and sat in the pen a few evenings ago, talking to the sheep. Merlin came running over, and layed down between his legs.
I looked out the window, and this is what I saw...

Lap sheep.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Alpaca fleece!

Finally got some of the alpaca fleece washed up.
Here's the black:Lots of VM, unfortunately... These are farm critters, so there's everything from hay and cockleburrs to squirrels in there. Well, maybe not squirrels.

Here's the gray. I washed a lot more than I had planned, just because it was so beautiful. I kept dipping into the bag for another handful. I finally ended up with such a mass that it took forever to rinse.
That picture looks good, but it's much better in real life. Lots of color in there... Madman pronounced it silver. He's got his hand up for something knit in the new fleeces. (I hate to tell him, but he's in line behind my Wicked Good Stepmother, since she's the Founder of the Feast.)
Long long ago, when I asked Madman what his favorite color is, he told me "Black and Silver." When I pointed out that that was a combination, rather than a color, he looked thoughtful for a moment, then replied, "Well, it's still my favorite color." (That's my man. Ask a simple question, get a complex answer.)

Now I just have to finish plying the merino I spun for Tour de Fleece (and beyond. I know, I know, TdF has been over for, like, forever, and I'm still not done. *sigh*)
Once the bobbins are cleared, it's on to alpaca!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Okay, okay, by popular demand...

Peek-a-boo, Carrie!

They're hoping I'll give them some more grass.

These are the Buff Orpingtons we bought as day-old chicks, and the Rhode Island Reds we hatched from our own eggs.
Now they can't decide who to watch, me or Madman. Because Madman had had a wonderful idea for a photo.

First, he scooped up one of our little Orp hens. Then he went to catch one of the meat birds. Then he came back to hand me the Orp to hold, because he couldn't get hold of a big bird while holding a little bird. (They're a little reluctant to take a 'walk with Dad'. They've finally twigged to the fact that no one ever comes back from a walk with Dad...)
We finally got it all together...

Now, these birds are exactly the same age. The white chicken is a Cornish Cross - a chicken specifically bred to eat and grow and eat and grow. Madman can hold the Orpington in one hand, but really has to cradle the meat bird.

Look at the difference in size of feet, alone!
The meat birds are heading to the freezer. Madman and I both have Sundays off, so we're doing in a few of the big birds every weekend until we get them all done. Ideally, we should have offed the lot of them all at once, but we just can't handle that much mayhem in one day...

And even though no one asked for bunny pictures, here's a few anyway. Cuz it's not all chickens (or sheep) all the time, chez mango...

This is Clover. She's grown 'a bit' since my last photo of her...

And Stiffler wants to know "S'up?"

And so, good night. It was dark in the coop...

That's the rooster on the lower rung, watching over his flock. The other hens are over on the perch by the nest boxes. They're not supposed to be there, but you can't tell a chicken anything...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alpacas, and Pigs, and Chickens, Oh My!

So I'm finally almost not tired enough to put up some pics. (In my defense, I worked late on Monday (first day back), and the garden exploded while I was gone, so some freezing of produce was called for tonight. This is seriously cutting into my spinning time...)
First, the alpacas!This is Apache, aka Patch. He's the Head Alpaca. This means that he has to be first to investigate anyone with a camera. It also means that any and all scritching to be done will be done to him. It's a tough job.
He was soon joined by the black alpaca (who is either Chico or Berto. I'll be damned if I can remember which is which...) and Bob. Bob rooms with the alpacas. They don't seem to mind that he's a pig.
Ace, the white alpaca, and either-Chico-or-Berto the gray alpaca, preferred to watch me from afar. They might have been playing King-of-the-Hill, but only because Apache wasn't over there. (He's automatically the King. Of Everything.)
I've already got some of Ace's and Apache's fleeces left from last year, so I snagged some from Chico and Berto to bring home with me. WGS wants a scarf. I'll be happy to oblige.
There was a huge pack of little piggies to admire. (This picture only shows some of them. I just couldn't get all of them into one picture...)
(I was hoping for some newborns to ogle, but had to settle for looking at some extremely pregnant sows. They napped a lot. I remember how that was...)

I got to go along with my Dad to pick up a new little boar pig. This guy is a MuleFoot, a rare Heritage breed. Instead of the standard cloven hoof that normal pigs have, this breed has one hoof - it looks for all the world like the pig is wearing a ballet slipper. (I'm guessing they thought Mulefoot was a better name for a breed of pigs than Balletfoot. I could be wrong...)

Below is the best picture I was able to get of a foot. Unfortunately, his feet kept sinking into the soft straw bedding in the pen.

Dad is working with another guy to raise more of this rare breed. He's got another older boar, already hard at work. So to speak.

And, as if he doesn't have enough to do, here he's raking concrete, getting ready to build an addition onto the addition on the main barn. Busy busy busy. I'm hoping I'll be going as strong at 77 as he is.

Oh, I promised chickens, didn't I? If you look really close at that last picture, you might be able to spy a chicken or two on the left, behind those white rectangles...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

And I'm back!

Though after an 8 hour drive, I'm too tired to mess with pictures.
I had a great time, scritching critters and talking with relatives. (As long as I kept track of who needed scritching and who needed talking, I was fine...)
I've got more alpaca fiber to play with...
And WGS's fabulous mac and cheese to eat.
Catch y'all later...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Off to see the Wizard my Dad

Visiting my Dad for a couple of days. I'll be taking pictures of alpacas, pigs (including mule-foot pigs, which he has just started raising) and maybe a chicken or two.
Relaxing and recharging my batteries, both literally and figuratively.
Ahhhh...... vacation.....

Monday, August 3, 2009

It's August! Or, Crap... Summer's almost over...

Good news! Goldie is no longer afraid of the camera!

You've heard the expression "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" - here's Onyx proving it so.
She's on her front knees (so, like, that's her elbows, right?) with her head through the fence, munching infinitesimal bits of grass.

Just for grins, that's a close up of her fleece. The sun is giving it a redder cast than it has in real life, but I love the crimp. My spinner fingers are just itching to grab it. If I wasn't afraid of her freezing her little butt off this winter, I'd shear her now...
And this little guy, too...
Though his fleece is a little bedraggled at the moment. He's still pretty damp from all the rain we've had, and yesterday was a real frog-strangler. I'll bet he weighs an extra 20 lbs at the moment, just from the wet fleece.

Madman caught a couple of shots of me through the window, feeding a snack of grain to the flock.

To give you a size comparison, I'm 5'4" in my sneakers. One of the things we love about Shetlands is that they're not great big honking sheep. We're little Celtic people. We'd be overmatched in a wrestling contest with the average Merino.

In gardening news, we're this close to having tomatoes:

Those are the Early Girls. We've never grown them before, so have no idea how they'll taste. They were what I chose from the (limited) selection available at the local greenhouses, after our tomato seedlings froze last spring.
Our Amish paste tomatoes are a little further behind, but we have high hopes.
Here we've had to cut the tops of the tomato plants off because they've reached the roof of the hoophouse...
And it's been a great year for bee balm. The pink was gorgeous, but I didn't think to get any pictures (and it was always raining, anyway...)

The purple is now in full bloom. It's so luscious and... and... purple!

Love the purple...