Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The adventure begins...

I finished wrestling the aborted back-to-front warp off the raddle and away from the kitten, and moved up to the front.  Here you see the completely sleyed reed.  I would love to know where that term comes from, and I dearly love to use it.  I feel as if I've accomplished something more daring than pulling threads though a defenseless, captive frame of metal slots.  I feel as if I should have singed hair on my arms and that my sword-arm should be tired.  Instead, I have a slight tingle in my right hand, and my rear is a bit numb, as well as a twinge between my shoulders from being hunched over the loom for a couple of hours.
 But!  No matter!  The deed is done, I am back at the front, where nature intended a weaver to warp!  I actually did this yesterday morning.  Today was far too beautiful to sit at a loom.  I turned off the furnace, opened a lot of windows and went out to do yard work.  The plan had been to mow, but even my incredibly gifted mechanic of a sister was unable to fix my mower, and it had to go to the repair shop.
Here is Leo, the day after his 9th birthday, enjoying the open window.  At one point during my yard work, I looked at the house and all 3 pets were watching me.  I had no camera, though, so you'll just have to take my word as to how adorable it was.  Soon, the tree in the corner will be able to go out on the front porch, where it will soon be covered with purple cones of tiny flowers.
  Tomorrow will be prettier than today, but I'll be at work, making chow chow from greens.  Photos will follow!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Front to Back vs. Back to Front

Today, the pets decided that 2:22 was a good time to get up.  Now, I usually get up at 4, so maybe that doesn't seem like a big difference, but 4 is the morning, and 2:22 is the middle of the night, as far as I'm concerned.  I tossed and turned and couldn't go back to sleep, so at 3:20, I decided it was as good a time as any to warp Jennifer with the turned overshot project.  For some reason, I thought Jean Scorgie recommended warping this project from back to front.  I have no idea why I thought that, but I did.  I got out the Weaver's Companion, because I've given my Learning to Weave by Deborah Chandler to my sister-in-law when she last visited.  It says:  Loop the ends through the apron dowel, put the cross on the lease sticks, set up the raddle, wind the warp on.  Sounds simple.  But then my chain would only unchain on two out of four chains.  I decided it would straighten itself out, so I started winding.

What is it about that *PING* of a broken thread that can make
a weaver want to throw up?  If you look closely, you can see the broken thread hanging down.  I drank one more cup of coffee while staring at the warp.  I decided that, whether Jean Scorgie says to or not, I would not be warping this back to front.  I cut the warp ends and knotted them in neat little groups, carefully pulled the warp out of the raddle and brought the whole thing to the front.
When I began to learn to weave, I learned from Deborah Chandler's book.  I warped my first project back to front, because she said to!  It was okay, but for my next project, I thought I'd try front to back, because she said to.  Well!  So much easier!  Less equipment!  It just made more sense to me!  And that's the way I've done it since, though recently, I've started using lease sticks to keep my hands from cramping while threading the reed.  I will need help when it comes time to wind the warp on the back beam, because Jennifer is a big-boned girl, and I can't hold tension on the warp and wind at the same time.
  I pulled out the issue of Weaver's Craft about turned Overshot and Monk's Cloth, and found that Jean Scorgie does NOT say to warp from back to front.  In fact, each pattern clearly says, "If warping from front to back..."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Vegetables with Passports

These okra have accumulated frequent flyer miles to get here, only to be pickled in their prime.  They're from Nicaragua, where it's late fall, perfect okra season.  Outside, in our garden--photos tomorrow--greens are bolting, but everything else is waiting to be put in the ground after the last danger of frost.  Some things have gone in:  root vegetables, onion sets, peas.  My job as Preservationist is to take what's ripe at it's perfect time and preserve it for when we most long for it.  It goes against my grain to do this, pickle Nicaraguan okra, but our chefs are asked to cook all over the country, and they like to take foods indicative of the south with them.  I don't blame them for their eagerness to spread the love of Southern food and culture, but I am certainly going to make sure that this year, I pickle enough okra and make enough Chow Chow to get them through their winter travels!
  I taught a class yesterday to a delightful woman from Kentucky who grew up canning with her mother, something I didn't do.  She could have taught me many lessons, I'm sure.  When I found out she'd grown up in Florida making strawberry jam, and her children grew up making the same with her, I felt foolish for my lesson plan of making it, too!  So, we dutifully made the jam, then started some Spring Thyme Marmalade.  Today, we'll finish it, picking thyme from the herb garden outside the larder door.
  Here's my pickled okra recipe, but I need to make everyone promise they will not make this until okra are really, truly in season!  Promise?

4 pounds okra, washed and drained
4 cups distilled white vinegar
4 cups water
1/3 cup pickling salt
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seed per jar
1/4 teaspoon dill seed, or one frond dill weed per jar
1/8 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes, or a sliver of hot pepper per jar
1 garlic clove, peeled per jar

Stuff the okra as tightly as possible into clean jars.  Put mustard seed, dill seed or frond, chili pepper flakes or sliver and garlic clove into each jar.  Bring vinegar, water and salt to a full boil.  Pour hot liquid into each jar, filling within 1/4 inch of rim of jar.  Screw lid on very tightly and place jars in boiling water bath, making sure to cover jars with 1/2 inch of water.  Leave in boiling water bath for 20-30 minutes, depending on size of jar.  Turn heat off water bath and let pickles sit in hot water for 5 minutes more.  Remove, draining on towel-lined sheet pans until completely cool.  Store in a cool, dark place until ready to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Endings and Beginnings

This is the last motif on my set of lace towels.  I've been working on them since December, and I've loved them all.  I will miss this project!  I cut it off early Saturday morning and carried them to Townsend to show my weaving buddies, because they understand what it means to cut a finished project off the loom.  I thought I'd wound a 12 yard warp, but then again, I never actually measured the distance between dowels on my warping board!  I ended up with 9 towels, and very little loom waste.
When I came to work today, I saw the new herb garden between the larder and the barn.  Jeff Ross planted it while I was off on Tuesday, after asking the larder folks--me, Michael, the Butcher and Adam, the Cheesemaker--what we wanted in it.  He's only planted the stuff that will make it through the one month more of winter we have to go.  The rest of the stuff, like my rose geraniums, will have to sit in the garden shed a little longer.

It may still be too early to plant a lot of things, but I saw this outside my kitchen window and had to go out to take its picture.  I don't know what it is; Jeff would know immediately, but I think it's beautiful.

Also beautiful are the Florida strawberries I got in yesterday, and made into jam today.  I love the smell and the colors of strawberries!  These aren't the best I'll have this spring, but they will tide me over until the local berries come in, in about 3 weeks.  They make lovely jam, much better than the jam I made at the end of February when Florida strawberries were first in.  They've also gone down 9 cents a pound! Tomorrow, it's more jam, then pickled okra.  Okra's not in season here yet; I simply have to do it for the chefs who need it for a special event.  It's from Nicaragua, well-traveled okra!  When the local stuff comes in, it'll be the end of summer.  Right now, it's sweet dream time for me.  I still smell like strawberries enough to fuel some jam-o-licious dreams!

Monday, March 22, 2010


Tedious:  adjective; Middle English, 15th century:  Tiresome because of length or dullness.  Webster's Dictionary Online.

The other day, I had a group of people come through the kitchen on a tour, and since I was in the middle of making the Spring Thyme Marmalade, I explained the process to them.  One man said, "Whoa!  Sounds tedious!  And the others chuckled and nodded in agreement.  And a few weeks ago, my friend Bonnie, after reading my blog entry on Loomy Tunes ( said, "That sounds like fun.  But tedious."  And I remember my first impression of being a professional pastry chef:  We make the same things over and over!  How tedious!

It made me think about what that word means and how often I've heard it applied to things I love to do, which made me wonder about myself.  The things that make me happiest are very technical, very repetitive and very unforgiving to those who don't follow the rules.  Is one person's tedium another's bliss?

This week, I finished the lace hand towels I've been working on since before Christmas.  I say I've finished them, but I really only cut them off the loom.  This morning, I washed and dried them, and tomorrow morning, very early, I'll serge them, iron them and cut them apart to show my Tuesday Weaver buddies.  I'd do that tonight, but it's day-off eve, and I've already had a beer.  I'm not going to work on something for 4 months and ruin it!

Today, I also finished the Spring Thyme Marmalade, after a week of preparation.  I just love the way the day's production looks, all lined up and glowing in the light!  The marmalade took 3 days; not the entire 3 days, but at least 12 hours per batch, and this is two batches.  Peel the zest, cut off the pith, supreme the segments, boil one day for ten minutes, the next day for ten minutes, the next, cook until it's marmalade.  But this one has one more step:
Yes, I have to pluck thyme leaves off the stems!  .10 ounce per pound of fruit.  This is 2.5 ounces.  Since each batch was about 25 pounds, that's 5 ounces, which doesn't sound like much, until you realize we're talking itty-bitty leaves that weigh next to nothing.  It gets blanched for 30 seconds, shocked in cold water, pressed dry in a towel and thrown in the marmalade at the very last minute before it goes into jars.  Tedious, but oh, so fragrant!

I don't quilt anymore, not since I got my first loom, but I quilted for 25 years (impossible!  I'm not old enough!), and what I liked best was hand quilting.  I watched baseball while I quilted, during baseball season, because it was two really boring things combined to make one sort of interesting pastime!  I made two quilts in my quilting career that were made completely by hand.  One is too big to take a picture of in my small house tonight, but one is hanging in the hall:
I bought one big piece of fabric while I lived in Paris that faded from dark green to light green, and pieced this from an idea in an article in Threads magazine.  My son and I designed the quilting pattern, and it kept me busy for many months in my t.v.-less apartment, listening to Radio France and practicing French.  When I returned to the states, I started a new quilt from scraps from a summer dress.  I worked on a lot of other quilts at the same time, but this particular quilt became my first machine quilted quilt.  I found out that I hated machine quilting; it was a way to get quilts done faster, but it was an unpleasant chore for me, not the restful, monotonous, tedious rhythm of hand quilting.  So, I hand beaded all around the border, and into the applique:

I have lots of sweaters with fussy patterns and socks with complicated methods, but the most arduous knitting I have ever done is when I decided it would be fun to knit lace edging for pillow cases and make my nearest and dearest hand made pillow cases.  I finished my mother's and my sister's, but didn't have time to finish my son's.  I still have to sew one strip on:

And then, there's baking.  How many times have non-bakers told me how much they love their bread machines?  And how they just don't have the patience to make bread by hand?  Here's my lunch yesterday:

I made it while I cut lemon segments, mixing the first sponge, setting it aside; mixing the rest of the flour and the salt in to get it to a lovely, elastic dough, then forming it.  Four hours total time, but maybe 20 minutes of work, for a lovely, fragrant, hot lunch, made by my hands.

My life is filled with wonderful, creative tedium.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Paying it forward

Saturday, Mom and I went to Townsend, TN to participate in the Smoky Mountain Fiber Festival.  When we arrived, Carol and LouAnn were already set up in a corner of the vendors' room, the Townsend Elementary gymnasium, ready to demonstrate weaving.  They had their Shacht Wolf Pups warped, and LouAnn had lots of straw weaving kits to sell and demonstrate.  Kay was there, in her beautiful handwoven skirt and shawl.

We taught people to weave with the straw kits, young and old alike.  We had families, stray children and adults, bleary eyed from their morning classes in need of less stressful creativity.  It was a little slow getting started, so I wandered through the vendor area.  I fondled Alpaca rovings, met friends who lured me to angora skeins, bumped into Mom at Walter Turpening's booth of amazing stools and chairs. 

And then, it happened.  I fell in love.  I didn't mean to.  Does anyone ever really mean to be unfaithful?  I've been ignoring the siren song of spinning for a very long time, since that day the Center had "spinning day."  Everyone who had them brought their spinning wheels and drop spindles, their rovings and plies.  I tried each method briefly and announced to all that "that's why there are yarn stores!"  And went back to my loom.  But here, among the perfectly good, already spun yarns, was the wheel I wanted.  Sleek, unadorned, complete in every way; sealed ball bearings and lazy kates and bobbins and multiple speeds, able to do stuff I do not understand the importance of.

I tried to think of other things, teaching children to weave belts and headbands, making a difference in their lives, and maybe making a weaver for life from one or two of them.  Some children stayed for hours, making several bands each.  Some took their weaving outside, and while their friends played, they wove, on the freshly mowed lawn, on this beautiful first day of Spring.

Mom and I had a lovely early dinner in Maryville, talking about her weaving history, which will be the basis for my blog entry in the Tuesday Weavers' blog on Wednesday.  I went home and napped--a beer after a full day of teaching!--and drafted my first turned overshot pattern.  Thanks to Carol's wonderful weave structure class, I can see a pattern before I warp or weave it, to make sure it's what I want to do!  But I fell asleep later, dreaming of spinning, feeling beautiful fibers running through my hands, becoming yarn I've created, to weave things just that more special.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lemony almost spring day

Yesterday, I forgot my camera, but it wouldn't have mattered because all I did was make Grain & Nut cereal.  I made one batch and promptly received three emails, buying more than I had made.  So, I made another batch.  Yesterday was boring!  To the left is the cereal.  It's yummy, full of nuts and not much grain, and way too much sugar to be healthy, but it takes so long to chew, people think it's good for them.
Today was more colorful, although it pretty much just stuck to one color.  I washed a case and a half of lemons, and peeled their zest off. I cubed the zest and blanched it three times.  I put the peeled lemons away to finish Sunday.  I had already started the other case and a half Monday, and 

needed to "supreme" the peeled lemons. "Supreme" is a culinary term meaning to cut the meat out of the segments with no membrane attached.  I kept the membrane and weighed them, and weighed the segments, added that together and added half that weight of sugar and all the weight of water.  I put the membranes in a cheesecloth bag and brought the whole shebang to a full, rolling boil.  See the kettle behind the finished product?  That's my good friend, Steam Kettle.  It rarely lets me burn things.  
Here, to the right, is the first day's cooking, done.  The paper on the table is to cover the top, so everything stays moist.  I'll put a lid on it, label and date it and put it in the fridge.  On Sunday, I'll bring it to a boil again and put it back in the fridge.  On Monday, it'll cook to a lovely gelatinous Marmalade.

But today wasn't all marmalade-y and sunshine!  I got in the final color of yarn for my kitchen curtains, the yellow.  It's a bit more...YELLOW than I thought it would be.  It'd be great if I was making taxi cab curtains.  Instead, they're supposed to look like pansies.  I'm hoping the white will calm that yellow down.  Hmmmm...that yellow reminds me of...lemons!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Let's try this again!

I have had so much fun posting once a week to my weaving group's blog, Loomy Tunes, that I have decided to go ahead with this blog on my own.  Life has changed enormously since my first posting.  My hair is short, for one thing.  I have new pets, a new house--almost 2 years ago-- a new job, a new relationship.  So, on to the next adventure!

I don't bake for a living anymore, for one thing.  I'm now called The Preservationist, a fancy title for the person who cans.  I make jams, jellies, pickles and preserves, all day long.

This is what my kitchen looks like when I've been busy.  This weekend, I made 255 jars of blackberry jam, and I'm not sure how much work that sounds like, but it took from 8:30 in the morning until 5:15 in the late afternoon, running full tilt.  Five batches, 300 pounds of berries, 150 pounds of sugar and 150 ounces of lemon juice.  One of the things I like about this job is that, at the end of the day, I usually have something to show for what I've done.

Yesterday, I prepped lemon thyme marmalade.  I washed the lemons, peeled them with a vegetable peeler and cut off all the white pith.  I cut the zest into fat cubes and blanched it all 3 times, bringing it all to a full, rolling boil, boiling for 3 minutes, draining and rinsing in cold water until it was all cold.  Thursday, when I return from my days off, I'll cut the segments out the membranes, put the membranes in a cheesecloth bag and put it all, segments, zest and cheesecloth bag, in the kettle with half its weight in sugar added.  I'll boil that for 10 minutes, pour it out into big buckets and refrigerate it over night.  Friday, I'll pour it back into the kettle, add half its weight in sugar, stir well and boil it for 10 minutes.   I'll pour it into clean buckets and back into the fridge it'll go.  Saturday, it goes back in the kettle, and I'll cook it until the sugar concentration is 65%.  I will turn off the kettle, throw in a fistful of Thyme leaves and stir well.  I'll pour it into jars, seal the jars and sigh with happiness.

The day before, I made pickled beets and strawberries.  This is a picture I took last year when I made them the first time.  This time, they came out much darker--no idea why--but I forgot to bring my camera.  The recipe is based on my boss's beet and strawberry salad, his strong suggestion that I pickle them and my dessert background.  I toss a bunch of strawberries with lemon and sugar in a big metal bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it over a pan of boiling water.   In about an hour, the strawberries have exuded all their lovely juice into a clear strawberry consomme.  I drain the ugly dead-looking strawberries out and use the consomme in the pickling liquid, with distilled vinegar, pink peppercorns, black mustard seed, salt, sugar and pickling spice (cinnamon, allspice, cloves, hot peppers, black and green peppercorns, fenugreek, celery seed).  I thinly slice peeled beets and thickly slice more strawberries.  When the liquid has boiled for 3 minutes, I throw in the beets and take it off the heat.  The messy part begins when I cram the beets into the jars and put strawberries in between layers of beets.  Pour in the liquid and put the lids on, while everything is covered with gorgeous hot pink sticky liquid.  I put them in the tilt skillet, a humungous frying pan kind of thing, that is filled with boiling water, lined with an oven rack to keep them off the surface of the skillet.  I boil them for 25 minutes, let them sit in hot water for 5 minutes and take them out to cool on towel-lined sheet pans.  The next day, they're cool enough to wipe the jars, label them and put them away until someone orders them.

This morning, my day off, I'm working on this, making some sourdough bread and getting ready to go to the center to meet my weaving buddies.  Bella wants desperately to go for a walk and can't understand why I've been sitting so long in one place.  The sourdough is from a starter I made 6 years ago, when I first moved to Tennessee and wanted to change the way we made bread at the hotel.  I took 8 ounces of Belgian dark beer, made in a yeasty cave over there and mixed it with 8 ounces of unbleached flour.  I let it fester for a week, then fed it twice a day for a week.  When I brought it into work, it exploded on the passenger seat of my car, a mess that never completely came out of the upholstery.  That starter lives on, in two forms--one "liquid," one "stiff"--but I no longer make the bread.  My friend, Krissy, does that and teaches other to do it, too.  She's carried the bread program far beyond my aspirations, but I still get to go over and steal a little starter now and then!

Time to get on with my day!  I'll send this out to the blogosphere, and hope that someone out there enjoys it!