Friday, April 30, 2010

Moving on

  Sometimes life is going so well, so smoothly, so happily that I forget to wait for the other shoe to fall.  And the inevitability of said shoe falling doesn't soften the blow at all.  But it fell on Monday, and the only reply I had was to move furniture.  I now have a sewing room!
In the almost two years since I moved into my house, the back bedroom has been the library, Mom's bedroom, the junk room, loominarea number two, Bella's kennel room, and now, the sewing room.  It's not complete, but the important part, the sewing machine, has a home, finally.
  Before I wove, before I quilted, before I even knitted, I have loved fabric.  Before I learned to sew, I cut scraps of fabric Mom gave me and wrapped them around my dolls.  I think the reason I hate shopping so much is--besides snotty, unhelpful store clerks--I know I can make the same things so much better, so much less expensively and just to fit me.  I love the smell of the sewing machine, that slightly hot oily smell.  With this machine, there's a tiny high-pitched whine from the computer inside.  I have to sit very close to it, because my contacts and glasses have too many blind spots.  It's better to just leave my eyes naked and look very closely, so my machine and I are very intimately acquainted.
  The therapy of making fabric is nice, and fine, and quite magical.  But clothing myself is more immediate, more personal.  And making something to clothe people you love is even better.  Shirts and jackets to keep them warm, swirly bright skirts to wear on date night (sigh), a blouse with pleats and tucks and the sexiest buttons possible, have all come from this machine.  It's the third machine in my lifetime, and I have considered being unfaithful and throwing it over for a new model.  But it does exactly what I need it to do, and it's very well behaved and easy to take care of.  I don't embroider or quilt or want six alphabets.  I want a sturdy, dependable, well-behaved machine that I can not think about while I work.  This is it.
  I went to Textiles in Nashville this weekend, the closest REAL fabric store to Knoxville, and had a lovely time, fondling fabrics of all fibers, smelling that unique fabric  smell, listening to the conversations of other sewers.  I had a budget of $100, which only made it more fun, to try to fit what I wanted within that amount.  I thought I wanted silks, but ended up with cotton, linen and some amazing fabric for a skirt of I don't know what, but a border of flocked black flowering vines running up to the waistline!
  I've got a busy week, and I really need to focus more on the fiber forum organizing, so sewing may have to wait, but the room will be ready when I have time.
  Also in the works is the turned overshot:

     Two motifs are done, and two sticks have fallen,  It's a short warp and should go quickly, but the shafts are being problematic.  They stick to each other, and since 5 and 6 are holding all the tabby threads, they're quite heavy.  I'm pondering as I weave a way to set up the turned overshot with the shafts turned around, 1 and 2 carrying the tabby threads.  I will try it on the next warp, the one for the kitchen curtains.  I love the way the overshot pattern is surrounded by tabby, and have been thinking about all kinds of possibilities for this method.  Fabric for sleeves on a blouse, or the hem of a skirt would be a perfect use of this!  So much better than embroidery!
  At work, I've been learning new things, too.  I made my first batch of barbecue sauce.  It smelled so good at first, just as all savory things smell good to pastry chefs when we get so very tired of sweet smells.  But by the end of the batch yesterday, it just stunk, and so did my clothes on the drive home.  We always laugh at people who tell us we smell so good, always bringing the smell of cookies and bread into the room, but we can't wait to get out of those stinky bake shop clothes and wash our hair!  This barbecue sauce made me smell of vinegar and garlic, and in my tiny car, all the drive home, all I could think was, Yuck!
But here it is, bottled.  Which was another challenge.  The lids are heat-activated, which is no problem with the jam.  I simply keep the jars hot while the jam is cooking, fill the jars and flip them over to heat the lids.  But with these jars, if I flipped them over, they'd tip over, being so bottom heavy.  I filled 8 at a time, screwed the lids on tightly and hoped for the best.  By the time I left yesterday, they had all become concave, a sign of good sealing, so I breathed more easily.  Oddly enough, though, they had all contracted to about one inch from the top, rather than the quarter inch you see here.  I didn't expect that.
  So, new lessons learned all around this week:  Guard my heart more closely, move the tabby to closer shafts and barbecue sauce isn't scary.  I get an assistant at work next week, which should be interesting after a year and a half of having the kitchen to myself.  I haven't yet trained anyone at what I do, since I had to teach myself all this jam making stuff, so I will be learning to train while Abby learns to jam.  Tonight is roasted chicken and g & t's on the porch with Amy, followed by a weekend of strawberry jam and more marmalade.  Have a good weekend, yourselves!

Friday, April 23, 2010

More Strawberries, Different State

I've waxed poetic about Florida strawberries, but in hindsight, I have to confess that it's simply because they weren't apples or oranges or lemons!  Winter is a long time for a preservationist, and this one, with its monotonous gray skies and frequent snow has been especially long.  I drove by a produce market Tuesday that had "SC STRAWBS" on its sign, and I squealed with delight.  The Florida strawberries had a weird vegetable aftertaste, I imagine from being so travel-worthy.  The jam wasn't bad, mind you!  I ate 3 jars in as many weeks!  It's flying off the gift shop shelves!  But it was lacking.
  I bought 20 buckets of South Carolina strawberries yesterday at Horn of Plenty, about 100 pounds worth.  I hulled them all and tossed them with sugar and lemon juice and left them to stew in their own juices overnight.  Today, they will be jam, and I'll stop by HoP for 20 more buckets to make a batch for tomorrow.  These strawberries are delicious.  I ate a few from each bucket as I hulled, and they are so superior to the FL's!
  I'll also make some pickled beets and strawberries, always exciting and cheerful, if I can find some beets that aren't so over-wintered, they have splinters.  Ooooh!  Maybe some baby beets!  I'll look and see.  Meanwhile, here's my strawberry jam recipe, so you can make some, too, and taste strawberries next winter when you're wondering where all that global warming went when you need it!
STRAWBERRY JAM   makes 10 12 ounce jars
10 pounds strawberries, washed and hulled
5 pounds Golden Cane Sugar
5 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice

Toss strawberries with the sugar and lemon juice and cover.  Let sit overnight, either refrigerated or at about 65 degrees F.  Wash jars in the dishwasher to achieve a temperature of at least 150 degrees F.  Rinse lids in soapy water and clear water.
Hold jars in the oven at 250 degrees F while you make the jam.  Pour all ingredients into a heavy bottomed stock pot and, stirring frequently, cook over high to medium-high heat, bringing to a boil and keeping at a good boil.  Stir frequently, being sure to keep the berries and sugar from sticking on the bottom of the pan.  Cook until strawberries are broken down and jam is thick enough to drip off the spoon in clumps.  If you have a Refractometer, the sugar concentration will be 65%.  The jam should reach 218 degrees F.  Pour immediately into clean, hot jars, to within 1/4 inch of the top of the jar.  Seal with lids immediately and flip jars over.  Turn jars right side up after 3 minutes, and wait for the sound of the PING when the jars have sealed.  Jam will keep for 12-18 months, unopened in a cool, dark place.  Once opened, jam should be refrigerated.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Color Theories

When Nick DeFord came to speak to the Tuesday Weavers, I felt like I'd been thirsty for weeks and was only given the dregs of a hot canteen.  Not because of the inadequacy of his talk, but my slowness to comprehend it.  He suggested many books, and brought some with him.  I immediately snatched up a book on Anni Albers' exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and went home to order Josef Albers' book, Interaction of Color.  They sit on my bed table, and when my mind is too clogged from the day, I pick one of them up to look at the pictures.  When I'm not as tired, I try to understand the text.  This morning, I have been thinking about the color that surrounds me, and have shared some of it with you.
  One of my pet peeves as a pastry chef has always been when people add mint to a dessert plate, to add "color."  Well, brown, the color of many, many pastries is a color, my friends!  It comes in about a zillion shades, too.  And one of my pastry heroes, Emily Luchetti said it best:  "Just because it exists in the universe doesn't mean it belongs on a plate."  Another hero and opponent of mint, Pierre Herme says that American pastry chefs suffer from "the malady of the mint leaf."  He, too, says that brown is a color, and that garnish on a plate should only reflect what is in the dessert.
  In an episode of WeaveCast, Alice Schlein says that she learned that peach is a neutral color.  Peach is my favorite color, though most friends would tell you that pink is, and I never thought of it as a neutral.  I simply adore it, and it makes me happy.
  One thing I didn't mean to find but did this morning in my walk through my yard and neighborhood was how many colors "go" with green.  It doesn't seem to clash with anything, as long as it's a flower, bud or seed pod.  Mom and I are going on a plant nursery field trip now, and I will be checking everywhere to make sure that's true.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oranges, and other colors

Yesterday was orange marmalade day.  I have struggled mightily in efforts to make a decent marmalade.  I have read every possible recipe, in books and on line.  I should say that I have struggled because, like all the products I make, I don't add pectins.  Pectin is the chemical that naturally occurs in many fruits, to a differing degree depending on the fruit.  Most "organic" or "natural" pectins are made with citrus pulp, but that hasn't helped with my previous methods of making marmalade.
   I've recounted my success with the lemon marmalade in a previous post, but I wasn't sure it would work with oranges.  Yesterday, with some fear and trepidation, I started a batch.  I should have used fewer oranges, but the produce company I buy from doesn't like me to buy less than a case.  This batch has been in its first boil and is waiting in the fridge for me to come back to work Thursday for its second boiling.  Friday, fingers crossed, it will be lovely, set up marmalade.
  In other news, the Southeast Fiber Forum 2011 forges ahead.  We have eight teachers confirmed, and two more on the line.  Contracts go out to them this afternoon, after our meeting at the center.  Next, we work on getting the word out, and getting more vendors lined up.  Advertising efforts are next, along with getting participants for the fashion show.  I jumped into this feet first, without having the slightest idea what I was getting into.  It's challenging and fun and a little exhausting, already, and the thing is still a year away, but I feel a huge clock ticking somewhere in the universe, warning me how fast the last tick will get here!
  My sister in law has ordered an 8-shaft Baby Wolf, so it's confirmed:  we have a new weaver out there in the world!  She's taken her first class, and loved it.  When she posts her photos, I'll ask her if I can post them here.  She teaches Fair Isle knitting in Phoenix, so I know she's going to love overshot, and any other patterns that use a lot of color.
  Off to Tuesday Weaving!  Have a beautiful, if somewhat soggy day!

Monday, April 19, 2010


Ahhhh... The backyard is mowed!  I finally had to hire someone to do it, since my lawnmower was really two weeks in getting fixed, and when it came back, the chute that keeps the grass from blowing directly up your nose came flying off after one stripe of grass was cut.  Now, if I could only find the flower beds under that grass...

The greens finally showed up, too, and in my enthusiasm, I told the gardener, oh, no!  Two bushels aren't enough!  Bring me two more!  And he did!  And it turned out to be quite a lot.  I cut greens for four hours the first day, four hours the next day, and then chopped the peppers and onions that went with them.
 It looked like a lot, but once I put it in the kettle, it cooked down a lot.  No, really:  A LOT!!!
And it only made 28 24 ounce jars.
But they were beautiful.  I really intended to make them into Chow Chow, but I like the name Pickled Greens better, because, really, that's what they are, and I didn't have any other vegetables to go with them to make them into a proper Chow Chow.
As for anything fiberlicious, I have been put on hold by threads I misthreaded in my turned overshot warp.  Tabby in this case is 5-6, but in the very center of the warp, I threaded 4-5 three times.  I pondered and wondered and tried to figure out how to fix it, but only came up with buying replacement heddles.  Have I ever waxed poetic about Halcyon Yarn?  I love those guys!  I ordered the two different kinds they have, and the heddles showed up two days later.  From Maine!  Unfortunately, I didn't measure my heddles, and ordered 10 1/2 inch heddles, when I really needed the next size up.  They'll fit on my bare naked Artisat, but not on the Colonial.  So, here she sits, waiting for me to get the 
right size replacement heddles.
  Next, the Artisat will get the warp for the Clinch Valley project as soon as my S.O.S. email is answered to my fellow afghanians, asking for the dimensions of the afghan squares (rectangles, really).  
  And then, there are four pairs of socks, waiting for me to learn to turn a heel going toe up...  Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Down on the farm

For those who can't visualize 135 pounds of granola, I submit this photo.  It's a lot.  I used two of these bins of it to fill what I could of the order I had.  I was 30 jars short of completing it, because the jars, from China, are backordered for 3 months.  Didn't know that until I had the second batch going, but between the restaurants and housekeeping, who also use the granola, it will be gone by the middle of the week.  I can't post the recipe for this granola, because it belongs to one of the chefs, but trust me, it is not healthy!  Sugar, honey, butter, apple juice concentrate!  Oh, my!  But it is quite yummy!
I did finally get to start on the blackberries by noon, and have them all ready to be jammed today, but it was such a gorgeous afternoon, I cleaned up early and went over the hill to see the garden.  And this is what I saw:

Yes, a beautiful day on the farm!

Friday, April 9, 2010


If you follow this blog, you'll recognize this scene from this winter.  The last time, it was snowing, the mountains were bare, but it was just about this gray.  I didn't quite capture the "smoke" drifting across the mountain, but the green is getting pretty intense.  The mountains are all turning about fifty shades of chartreuse.  I'd say this is my favorite time of year in the Smokies, but that would be shortchanging the others, which I also love.
   The other day, I said I'd be coming back to blackberries and greens, but the rain was pouring down buckets when Jeff, the gardener came in, and we decided Saturday would be better for picking greens.  Then, I had a long meeting with my two bosses, and instead of cooking berries, I cooked numbers.
I had to completely redo my pricing structure of all the products I make.  When I went to culinary school, I learned to make all types of lovely pastries and creams and doughs.  I learned to work cleanly and alter basic recipes and design beautiful platings.  I learned flavor contrasts and textural differences.  It was lovely.
  Could it have been the language barrier?  Did I miss it when the chefs told us how much time we'd spend in front of a computer?  When you think of chefs, do YOU picture us at a desk, crunching numbers?  How about a bunch of us sitting around in our chef's coats, looking ready to cook, instead trapped in a long, boring meeting?  Well, that's part of the job, too.  Fortunately, while some of us are in meetings, or slaving over a hot laptop, some of us are busy making treats.

After the meeting, I went to get a cup of cocoa--it might be spring but it was cold in my kitchen!--and Krissy showed me ham and cheese croissants she was proofing to bake for lunch.  Katrina had just pulled a polka dotted cheesecake out of the oven, and Krissy had some lovely bread finishing.

I was able to blaze through the price restructuring, thanks to the cocoa and croissant, and was on to the 170 pounds of granola the gift shop ordered.  That's 4 batches of the stuff, but I could only get 3 batches done yesterday, by making two 1 1/2 times batches.  Trust me, it's a lot of granola.  And by the end of the day, I simply hate the smell.  Today, I will bag and jar it up and send it off.  People from all over the country will be eating my granola, which is kind of cool.
Katrina and Krissy are responsible for the beautiful breads and pastries shown above and served all day at the farm.  They do an amazing job, cranking out goodies from too early in the morning until way too late in the afternoon.  Krissy was the bread baker when I started at the farm, and has learned so much about bread since I've known her.  If I ask her a simple question about sourdough, she immediately goes right over my head!  I have no idea what she's talking about!  But I know her bread is amazing and gorgeous.  Katrina was our extern from the CIA a few years ago, and when she graduated, I begged her to come back.  She now makes all the lunch desserts, and invents new ones every season.  I miss working with them both, but get to go over to their kitchen and visit whenever I need some coffee or a missing ingredient.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Haste makes waste

I have been so excited about starting my turned overshot project, and couldn't wait to get it warped and woven to make sure it's magic happened.  I wound it and tried the disastrous back to front, switched to front to back and happily threaded.  I was a bit impatient.  And, as you can see, caused a horrible tangle.  These photos are from after most of it has been untangled by Mom, who came by for Mexican food but was unable to wind with me.  She came by a second time, but I was too cranky from hedge trimming and poison ivy wrestling.  This is what I had left to deal with this morning.

But I turned on the classical station, opened the windows in the luminaria and let my mind wander while I untangled each clump of 24 threads.  I thought about how I really don't mind warping anymore, though I used to hate it.  When I was beginning to weave, the weaving was the thing:  I wanted to make fabric, not push threads through slots!  I wanted action!  Warping was tedious and made my back and shoulders ache.  I don't know when I realized that it was simply another part of the process, but it's been fairly recently that I've learned to relax and enjoy it.  I usually take my time and check everything several times before I thread a shuttle.
This time was different, and I spent many hours over three days paying for that haste.  As my boss, Chef Feathers says, "If you didn't have time to do it once, how are you going to have time to do it over?"  I had time, but it could have been spent so many other ways, so much more productively.

Ahhhh, that's better!  A smooth, lovely warp, with two odd threads that came out far too short.  Not sure how that happened, but I will fix them, and thread new threads through the spaces.  I will get this guy wound on this week and report back.  I am still very anxious to see how this works!
Tomorrow, it's back to work, with 300 pounds of blackberries thawed and waiting, along with the promised greens of last week.  

Monday, April 5, 2010

My vacation snapshots

I am having a lovely vacation, here at home.  Yesterday, I waited until 9 a.m. before bringing out the power tools and waking the frat boys next door.  I worked on the hedge between my house and the one next door, bringing it down to the level it's cut on their side.  I got all the way from the street to the back corner of my house before my body said it had had enough.  The first 20 feet or so was pretty easy, but once the hedge is in the shade of the two houses, it becomes filled with poison ivy.  Two summers ago, when I was new to the house, I got into the poison ivy, not knowing what it looked like.  There is no poison ivy in Tucson, where I last owned a house and tended a yard.  The rash I had was so large and unrelenting, I had to have steroid shots, and was so unnerved by the experience, I let the hedge have its way.  Well, it looked horrible, and I felt guilty about it, so I was determined to tackle it this vacation.  After I'm done writing, I will go out and finish it, except for one small problem:
This picture may not show it very clearly, but there is a vine of poison ivy shooting straight up out of the hedge, about 20 feet into the air.  I have no idea how to get it out of there without causing a great deal of bodily harm to myself.  My plan is to start from the opposite end of the hedge this morning and hope the landlord for the neighboring house shows up in time to help me figure it out.  He has in the past pointed out to me that the hedge lies entirely on MY side of the property, but it does protect his tenants' privacy as well as mine.  I'm hoping we'll be able to help each other, since he hates poison ivy as much as I do.

And, as embarrassing as it is to admit it, this is the state of my mower-less back yard.  I can almost hear the grass growing.  Please Mr. Lawn Mower Repair Man!  Hurry up!
I hope to post some beautiful AFTER photos later this spring, but if the mower isn't fixed soon, I might have to move!

And lest anyone think all my bread experiments with sourdough are beautiful, I offer yesterday's loaf, a very flat, sad representation.  I don't know what happened, because the first rising was fine.  But when I shaped it into loaves, it spread out rather than up.  We enjoyed it on our picnic, a lovely cold dinner of citrus-garlic roasted chicken, bread with Tuscan olive oil, fresh mozzerella, hot house tomatoes, Italian olives and the cutest little individual cartons of ice cream, with Florida strawberries.  The sunset was beautiful, the company charming, the gnats insatiable.  The bread was a bit too chewy, but a good sponge for the yummy olive oil.  Back to the drawing board with the sourdough.  I might not have fed it enough prior to using it.

There is progress on the turned overshot.  I have finished threading through the heddles, and have almost finished tying onto the back apron.  Mom came over for Mexican food on Saturday, but the warp wasn't ready.  She has promised to come over without bribes to help wind it on; I'm hoping today's the day!  It took me a while to figure out how it would make it through the heddles at the patterned area.  I had to sleep on it before it made sense.  I've woven maybe 6 overshot projects, and kept trying to understand this project from reflecting on them.  I've only found two articles on the subject, one from Jean Scorgie, in Weaver's Craft, and one from Sharon Alderman in an issue of Handwoven from 1998.  Neither explained the process in a way I could fully grasp, and have kept waiting for the light to turn on completely.  Then, yesterday as I lay waking up, it came to me.  Each patterned thread has it's own heddle, and I was right to double up on the number of patterned threads I needed, even though as I did it, I was sure I was wrong.  But the white threads that go in 5 and 6 go concurrently with the pattern threads that go in 1, 2, 3 and 4, just the same way that they would be thrown in shuttles in traditional overshot.  The light came on fully, and I believe that once I start throwing that one shuttle, the pattern will be clear.  I hope!  Fingers crossed!