Monthly Archives: August 2008

Starting School

Spring semester was a mess because my wedding was the week after finals, and we were trying to move. Cleanup out of our old apartment tooks weeks rather than days. I was so frazzled that I didn’t know what to do with myself. My wedding is a crazy blur. I’m glad it was just a backyard barbecue, I would have never been able to handle a church wedding and a reception and all that goes along with all that.

Since Patrick got sick and we have medical bills from that, we weren’t sure if I was going back to school in the Fall or if I should work full time and go back to school in the spring, or next semester. We finally decided that I should go back, but I was worried about going back so late. So I procrastinated. Finally, two weeks before school started, I went in and took care of my loan paperwork. Silly me for waiting. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was in and out and done in less than 40 minutes. We’re still waiting for the loans to come in, but they’re coming.

My school history is convoluted with unintelligent acts of beaurocracy. I’ll be something like a 6th or 7th year senior by the time I am done. UAA has requirements that others did not, so I’m not worried about that part of it, but all of my classes for my English major transfered as electives and not regular classes, and I would have been in my fourth semester before I could even TAKE an English class here. Furthermore, the English department notified me that I would have to take another three years of classes because of the rotational schedule and requirements. I told them to go fuck themselves, and I transfered to a history degree (which was my minor). All of my history credits transfer, and some of my English classes transfer to the history department, and even with the extra classes, I’ll still be done in about a year and a half. Thank goodness.

I’m retaking a math class. that. I’ve. taken. twice. before. The first time, fine. I understand math does not transfer well between schools, and the discalcula makes testing difficult for me. The second time? My math teacher withdrew me from the class at the very end of the semester. There were some odd circumstances, but the bottom line is that if she did not withdraw me, I would have finished with a high B. I petitioned, but she refused, saying that “the paperwork was just too much trouble.” I reported her to the dean of students, but regardless of the action taken, I would have had to do the class over, so I dropped it. So I’m retaking this math class, and I’m bored as hell. Fortunately my teacher is really funny. Or there’s something funny about him. Either way, I can coast through it and leave mental energy for the rest of my classes.

All of this combines into me being worried about my classes. I’ve felt really off my game, slow to think, and frozen with indecision. Like the math class, one by one they’re revealing themselves to be less intimidating than I thought, and genuinely enjoyable. This is the true state of things: I love to learn things, and I like the classroom. I think it’ll be a-ok.

Recipe: Swedish Meatballs

Because they were on sale and we were desperate for quick lunches, I bought a couple of frozen dinners, in typical frozen dinner varieties: salisbury steak, shrimp-pasta-something-or-another, lasagna, and swedish meatballs. After nomming on the latter, I realized that I had never eaten swedish meatballs outside of a frozen dinner. Oh, I had had “Swedish Meatballs” of the quick and easy American cookbook variety, a la “meatballs spiced with worcestershire sauce in a campbell’s cream of mushroom soup with a touch of sour cream sauce over noodles” but I’m sure that resembles the Swedish variety about as much as a bowl of instant udon resembles a cauldron of nabeyaki udon:

So I set out to find a fairly authentic recipe and came up with this page from a Scandinavian cooking site: Jone’s Swedish Meatballs.

I was interested to learn that there were so many different ways to cook this, varying the ingredients of the meatballs and the type of sauce.

I worked pretty closely to the meatball recipe, using some crushed crackers left over from our wedding instead of the breadcrumbs, and using all the spices mentioned instead of just one.

Here’s my official notes:

Jone’s Swedish Meatballs (Edited)

Meat:
     2 pounds ground beef

Filler: (to give the meatballs the right consistency)
     2 eggs
     1 cup milk
     3/4 cup crushed crackers
Salt and Pepper:
     Salt to taste (1 1/2 teaspoons suggested)
     Pepper to taste (white or black pepper – 1/2 teaspoon suggested)
More Flavor:
      1/4 minced vidalia onion
      1/4 teaspoon allspice
      1/4 tsp dry mustard
      1/8 tsp cardamom
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

From making German type meatballs, I learned that the torn bread/breadcrumbs/crackers have a better consistency when mixed if you let them soak in the milk and egg before you mix them into the meat. Otherwise mix and form as directed.  Made about 36 meatballs for me, as I like them a bit larger. I pan-fried these, half at a time, browning on one side, then flipping to the other side and covering to steam. This is important when you have larger meatballs, or your center takes a long time to cook and onions can remain crunchy. Beef meatballs always end up swimming in fat, so I sucked out the fat with a baster, saving it for later, leaving a thin layer to brown and to help keep the meatballs from sticking.  Usually I don’t bother as we’re never going to eat all the meatballs I make, but since I was going to make the sauce in the same pan and they were all going to have to wait, I popped the first batch into a casserole dish in a barely warm oven while I did the second batch. This also helps the meatballs drain well and to firm up after steaming. I added the second batch to the oven. Note that at this point, the bottom of the pan is very sticky with carmelized meat juices and you need to be careful when removing the second batch.

I wanted to do a sour cream sauce, but I didn’t have any of the Gjetost cheese (though it is dead simple to make, and I will try it when I make this recipe again). I decided that I would make homemade cream of mushroom soup and add my sour cream to that as a base.

This is also the time to cook your noodles.

Stacey’s Sauce:

1 cup of chicken broth (beef would have been better, but you take what you can get)
1 cup (or so) of milk (at least 2% if you want a thick sauce)
Enough roux (beef fat and flour) to make 2c of sauce. For me this was several tbsp of each.
8-16oz sour cream
1 heaping tbsp mushroom powder
salt and pepper to taste

Caveat: I am the Roux Queen, so I suggest you *not* follow my directions to the letter, but to pour out the broth before you make your roux and add it back in again after you’ve gotten your roux.

I drained most of the remaining fat out of the pan, leaving enough to just cover the carmelized bits. I added some of the chicken broth and boiled it to take up the scrapings. Using the baster, I sucked up all the dark sediment at the bottom of the fat bowl (this will be more flavorful) and added it to the pan, which is tilted to collect all the broth at one end. The fat will not mix with the broth at this stage. I added flour and fat alternately, mixing it to make my roux, and pulling up broth as needed so that it did not scorch until all the broth was mixed in. Once everything was combined into a thick liquid, I added the milk, stirring until it re-thickened. At this point, I turned the pan to low and added the sour cream, mushroom powder and a bit of salt and pepper.

I do not mix cream sauces with other ingredients. In this case, the noodles would soak up the sauce, leaving them dry, and the meatballs would suffer. I combine on the plates at the table. The sauce goes a long way because it melts when it is mixed with the warmer ingredients, so start off with a little and mix, then add more. Also note that the sauce may split if reheated in the microwave, so I recommend reheating the meatballs and noodles to very hot, and then adding the cold sauce, mixing, and letting it sit for 30 seconds or so to warm. If it is still too cold, microwave in 15 second bursts, stirring and testing between each.

We thoroughly enjoyed this meal.  Future incarnations may include mushrooms and green peppers for integrated vegetables. Indeed, the final product was far superior to the “quick and easy” versions, and I found it took no more time and hardly more effort. I will experiment further with sauces, but I suspect the tastiness comes from using full-fat dairy products, making this recipe one to be enjoyed on occasion in all its glory rather than often in a crippled state.

I hope you enjoy, and I would love to hear your incarnations of this recipe.

Who needs a keyboard?

Apparently I don’t. Not according to my computer, anyway. For some unfathomable and incredibly complex reason, my computer decided that it was in my best interest for it to ignore the keyboard for the entirety of this week. Any keyboard. With any sort of plug. USB, PS2, whatever.

I could mouse around to my heart’s content so I could still listen to music, watch movies, read my favorite websites (thank goodness for well-organized bookmarks), and download the podcasts I wanted to listen to, but no search engines, no e-mail, no replying to posts, and no writing of posts. This also meant no recipes. Gaah!

Late last night, desperate with the prospect of no dinner, Patrick monkeyed around under the desk for a while, replugged everything, tried to load new drivers, and nothing. He accidentally bumped the mouse on the desktop, the computer beeped obligingly, and voila, keyboard. He has no idea what the problem was.

It was the first week of school. I think the computer may have just been making a point.

I’m just glad I didn’t have to write any papers.

Organization

I’ve been thinking a lot about the purposes of this blog. I had a blog in a community that no longer served my needs. I have a number of people I keep tabs on, but I rarely post there because I never had anything to talk about. That blog was all about sharing for people I’ve communicated with for years. I’m a different person than I was when I posted copiously there, and I frankly feel a little strange offering differently themed content than I used to. I have felt more liberated in this blog because I only have 2.5 readers because I am writing for me, to organize my thoughts and record my doings.

When I made this journal, I needed it to be about the things I was missing. The overall theme of the journal is loosely “the things that I love doing that I should be doing more of to have a happy life” and happily, since I have been keeping it I have been living a more mindful life full of the things I love to do (hence the paucity of posts at times). Trust me when I say this has been a very fulfilling change from the way things have been for me for quite some time.

In the vein of other blogs that I like, I’ve been thinking that besides the general journal format, I’d like to try to post semi-regularly to more focused themes, while also having regular spots for recipes, crafty projects, animal updates, around the home updates, etc. The artificial structure will help keep me from hyperfocusing on one or another addicting activity.

I need some organizational changes as well. I’ve been busy, and I’ve been knitting for stress relief, but I haven’t wanted to flood the blog with more knitting posts. Crafting is certainly a part of this blog, but even I don’t want to look back on a flood of posts that read: “Knitted more. Tried some stuff. Frogged it. Happy with a pattern, will post pictures soon.” Instead, I will start a new page that has project entries, one project per entry with photos, and dates for the edits. Keeps things organized for me, and better for overall flow. I might do the same with recipes, or book/music/website reviews, or whatever I end up having a lot of.

School starts on Monday, complete with Beginning Painting, so things should stay interesting for me for quite some time.

Around the house

Can you tell what’s been taking up all my time lately? It sure hasn’t been housework. Sometime on Friday I realized every dish and every piece of silverware was dirty. That opened my eyes and I realized that our house had a bad case of scary neglect, and instead of going down to the school to sort out my student loans, I stayed home to clean. Yeow. I did about twelve sinkfuls of dishes and I scoured our bedroom.

I would like to note that we are not adjusting well to not having a dishwasher. I am very picky about the way my dishes are washed, and I don’t like the contaminatey way that Patrick washes dishes, and he doesn’t like to work without company anyway, so that means that either I wash all the dishes, or we wash the dishes together, or I sit there while he washes dishes. Either way, I have have to be present, and lately I can’t be bothered. But I wanted to cook tacos, and since all the pots and pans and utensils were dirty too, well, it seems I had to be bothered if I wanted some dinner.

It doesn’t help that we’re still in the process of moving in. We got to a livable state and then just tossed the rest out the window. I have a fishtank living on the kitchen table. It’s there because I can’t decide on where to put the damn thing. The upside is that the fish are really friendly now, but I would love to keep them in the kitchen. We still have a bunch of trash drywall stacked in one corner of our basement because I haven’t wanted to put it outside and we haven’t been able to get ahold of my dad’s truck. We have a few mystery leaks that we’re trying to locate before we move the furniture into position. We’ve had to rethink the positioning of our computers, because the perfect locations just happened to BOTH be directly under the sometimes leaky pipes from upstairs. Mine is still under some pipes, and I’m not real thrilled about that, but I can’t figure out where else to put my desk.

Yesterday Patrick came upstairs because there was something nosiy happening outside, and it turns out that my dad had come over to mow the grass so that they could start digging the holes for the fence. How funny. He didn’t call or anything. It will be nice to go outside and not have to keep an eye on Penny to make sure she’s not leaving the yard. She’s really good about sticking close, but she’s getting braver about exploring, so I’m very vigilant when she’s offleash in the backyard.

We still have a lot to move in. We still have a lot of space. Unfortunately, we aren’t using our space well at the moment, and I’ll be damned if I can figure it out. I’ve been hoping some distance will help with the perspective, and I think it just might have. I just have to get that damned drywall out of the way…

Yarn Penance

Sigh. I cast on the scarf on both size 11s and size 9s, but, as expected, both were wrong. I didn’t like the look of the lumpy, lacy pattern of the 11s and the 9s? We’ll not talk about the nines, except to say that it’s a very, very gorgeous pattern for this yarn. And, of course, I have no straight tens. Another trip to the store is in order. I just need to make a catalog of all the needles I have, so that I can see at a glance what sort of needles I *don’t* have before I get started on a project. I also can’t decide if I want to knit this pattern on wood or metal. On one hand, the wood is a bit blunt, and it’s sticky. The metal ones are pointier, but be damned if the slipperiness doesn’t make the stars (p3tog/k/p in one stitch) really hard because the yarn falls off the needles. I’ve been practicing hard to keep my tension loose, because those stars are a real bitch. I’m thinking of experimenting either with crochet hooks or with circulars, hoping that will give the flex or delicacy that would make this easier.

I finished knitting the Robin’s Egg hat last night. I have mixed feelings about it. It’s really cute, but now that the whole hat is together, I can see what else I would change. I would cast on a few more stitches, and narrow the band by two rows. It looks fine off the head, but on the head it looks really strange. I might also experiment with turning the brim rather than having it be a false turn. That more than anything else would make a huge difference. I (of course) couldn’t find any of my finishing needles, so I still have to weave my ends, tack down the flap, and sew on the button. I probably won’t be keeping this particular hat, but I have enough yarn to make another one for me. Pictures once it’s finished.

I also began to experiment with what shall be known as the trauma mohair (black and blue and brown). I have four balls of this stuff, and I have a rather sentimental attachment to this particular yarn, despite its really horrid colorway. I taught myself to knit on this yarn, and I think it deserves to be honored. But augh. Another case of the variegated yarns reeling me in. Maybe an overdyed green to put some blending color into the 20% mohair will tone down the funky 80% acrylic. Maybe.

I started playing around with a lace pattern from one of my library books. It calls for laceweight, and this mohair “works up to worsted” though other descriptions call it aran weight. I need to both enlarge the pattern from a M-L to a 2x, but it’s pretty simple. I’m swatching now, and I’ll post pictures once the swatch is finished. I’m pretty sure I have enough to do with what I have in mind, but we’ll see.

I promised myself I would work through some of my stash yarns before I bought any more yarn from the stores. This, this is my penance.

Manos Success!

Several years ago, I came across the Manos del Uruguay handdyed handspun 100% wool yarn. It comes in gorgeous solids and some very interesting colorways. I was going to buy a skein of the Wildflower colorway, and then I remembered that one skein doesn’t go very far, and so I bought two. Which isn’t really enough to do much of with either, unless you’re making hats and scarves and whatnot.

So I’ve hung on to this gorgeous yarn for ages, and the problems just keep wracking up.

1. It’s not very soft. It’s not scratchy, but it’s just not something I want to have against my skin for a whole day. That means no shirts, and no little neckwarmers. Scarves, hats, gloves, sure, cause I won’t spend all day with them on.

2. Vareigated? Seriously, when will I learn. I hate the stripey look this type of yarn gives when the color repeats match up, so I have to pick my patterns very carefully. I swear off this sort of yarn frequently, but pretty colorways suck me in time and time again.

3. It’s kinda bulky. Aran weight? Yeah, but single ply, and it blooms. Don’t get me wrong, I like bulky yarns, but I don’t want to end up with stiff, thick fabric once it’s knit up.

My options have been pretty limited so far. I could, I suppose, go buy more, but I just don’t relish the thought of fighting with stripes I don’t want for a large garment or whatever.

I found a scarf that was designed with this yarn in mind. Even in the colorway. I’m trying to find out if the library has a copy, because I really like it. But I don’t want to buy a book of about 100 patterns, of which I only care for about four. Here’s the scarf, called the Cross stitch scarf.

Reservations? It’s SUPER thick when it knits up. And some days I’m not in love with it. So I guess the search is still on.

I found another scarf called the “My So Called Scarf” and I hate the name enough for me to dislike the pattern. I thought it was pretty. For a while. Now I can’t stand it. I was going to post it, but I’ve come to hate it, and I don’t even want it on my blog.

Then I found it. Absolutely found it. It’s called the “Holding Hands, Feeding Ducks” scarf, and it’s a modified star stitch. There have been many many many scarves knit in manos and in this colorway on Ravelry, and I just wanted to show you how dang pretty this is.

Hopefully I will still love it tomorrow. In any event, I am going to cast on tomorrow and do some gauge swatches. I’ll post pics as they come.