Friday, December 9, 2011

Teal Bulky Sweater - UFO Finished at Last!

Remember that teal Blue Sky Bulky yarn I bought a few years ago? I started by designing an original pattern for a cardigan, made it too big, ripped it out, and made it smaller. I tried it on at the beginning of fall--it was shapeless and too big for my (happily) shrinking figure. I ripped it out again. I found a new pattern on the Blue Sky website, designed by Sylvia Hager. It looked adorable on the website, so I bought it ($9, yikes!). I knitted four or five inches, found it was also way too big, ripped it out and started over. I had some trouble with the directions for the bust shaping, did more ripping out, re-wrote the directions so they made sense, and continued. The Sunday after Thanksgiving I worked most of the day on the sweater and had it almost finished when a giant hole appeared in the front. I don't know what caused the hole, but I'm guessing it was one of my knots tied too close to a yarn end badly frayed from so much ripping out and re-knitting. Vowing not to be defeated by the yarn demons, I ripped almost 70% of my work out one more time, all the way down to the hole, and knitted the sweater again.

Success! All done, and cute! It's so bulky you can't tell I've lost 25 pounds, but that's okay. It's warm and comfy and I still love the color. Plus I get to check a long-festering UFO off of my list, just before the start of a new year.

Merry Christmas, everybody, and best wishes for a happy, productive 2012!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Recipe Report - Roasted Sweets & Greens

I found this recipe in the October 2011 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. You can also find it here: It's on the website, too, but I needed to log in to access it, and I just refused. I chose this recipe because it packs 6 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein into a 236-calorie serving, and because I love sweet potatoes.

The recipe took about 45 minutes to make. The arugula was expensive (close to $4 for a box) and I think the recipe would have been just as good with spinach or parsley, frankly. DH was wildly enthusiastic about this dish, and would have gladly eaten the whole pan by himself. DS wasn't that impressed, although he ate a good-sized serving, too. I didn't think I liked it much, but then I caught myself going back for more. All in all, if you want a filling, tasty side dish to make up for a lightweight main course, this is it. After a serving and a half, I had little room for anything else.

By the way, counting my calories and upping my exercise has paid off in a big way already; I have lost 17 pounds. I feel like I'm peeling myself like an onion (at 15 pounds lost, I was back to 2007 when we moved to Indiana from overseas; at 17 lost, I'm the weight I was in 2003 when our daughter was a seventh grader and our son was eight). I'm trying not to set any impossible goals, but 20 lost would be a nice start. Anyone interested in committing to a life of eating what your body needs instead of what it wants might want to check out It has been a godsend to me; I have the app on my iPhone and enter every single thing that I eat every day.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where did the summer go?

What a summer! Lots of stuff happened, some of it really good, like the visit by my friend Michelle from New York (shown with yours truly above at Spring Mill State Park) and our trip to Chicago together, some of it really not good, like the four days my mom spent in the hospital (she's better now, thankfully), and some of it just busy, busy, busyness brought on by trying to keep up with volunteer commitments and life in general.

DD had two guests in August; her boyfriend (who has been described in this blog before--tall, handsome, Lithuanian, and now so hairy that her friends have dubbed him "six foot Jesus"), and her former host brother from France, an adorable boy who doesn't speak much English, but when he does, the accent is pure foie gras. When she ran out of stuff to do with them (or food to feed them) in Bloomington, she brought them home to the old jail, which I loved. We traveled around the southern Indiana countryside, we ate, we went out to restaurants, we ate, we cooked up great food in the kitchen, we ate... Did I mention that we ate?

And now time to pay the piper. I avoided getting on the bathroom scale until everyone was back in school and the fun and craziness were over, but on Friday morning I ran out of excuses and faced the music. Not good. Really not good. So now I'm trying hard to get it all back off. I've vowed to work out every day and limit my calories until I can bear to look at a photo of myself in a color other than black. I've appointed DD my "accountability coach" so I won't have to bore you with the details. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I Broke the Knitting Jinx

Some time ago I donated several pieces of woven cotton to a woman who makes bonnets to sell in our museum gift shop. In return she gave me, among other things, a knitted cotton washcloth. I had never understood the passion some people seem to have for knitted washcloths until I took this one to the kitchen and employed it in place of the sponge for washing dishes. It had a nice diagonal pattern that created just enough friction to get the dishes clean, and I just loved the feel of it. Unfortunately I have used it so much that it's looking pretty stained and ugly, so I'm not going to show it to you, but I will show you the new washcloth I was inspired to knit as a result of how much I liked the gifted one.

Oops--I'm getting ahead of myself. What I wanted to explain was, I haven't knitted anything for a while. That teal bulky sweater that you may remember from several years ago now is the reason. No matter what I do with that bulky yarn, it doesn't work and I rip it out again. I refuse to buy any more yarn until I use that up--I paid $100 or so for it, on sale, and my failure to come up with a winning design mocks me every time I look in the sewing room closet. So I putter around in the kitchen, as you know, and work on my little translation, and play Spider Solitaire, now that Lent is over, and in general accomplish very little at home. Until yesterday.

Yesterday was really hot--95 or so. Here in the old jail we don't have central air conditioning, which is pretty inefficient, anyway, and most of the time that's not a problem, but yesterday the heat was just beastly, so I spent the afternoon sitting under the ceiling fan in the living room knitting a washcloth in a corner-to-corner design called a "diagonal bee stitch," similar to the one I was given as a present. I found the pattern here:

The yarn, a high-quality worsted-weight cotton, was left over from some long-ago project; I love the color as much now as I did then. I have a nice hot pink in the same yarn and I think I'll make a second one when time permits. I love the way this one turned out, and I'm crossing my fingers that the knitting jinx is broken and I can make a few more interesting things in cotton before the weather turns cold and I can tackle that teal Blue Sky bulky for the last time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Recipe Report - Garden Veggie Linguine with Cilantro Pesto

The recipe appears on page 161 of the May 2011 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I have been wanting to make it for some time, but there has been a shortage of cilantro in the grocery stores in our town (honestly, I looked at all four and the farmer's market). I finally got to make it tonight, and it was well worth the wait. In the meantime I reintroduced the boys to fresh oranges and zucchini, which I had to buy a couple of times waiting for cilantro to appear.

This stuff is delicious. DS couldn't get enough of it. I made it with fettucine instead of linguine. The noodles end up covered in spicy olive-y goodness, and the carrots, oranges and zucchini offer individual taste sensations that complement the noodles and cilantro well. I cut the salt in half and didn't miss it at all, and I used Grey Poupon mustard instead of dry mustard, which I don't use enough to justify keeping in stock. The recipe is relatively cheap to make. It's a bit of a calorie bomb (518 calories a serving), but could be dinner all by itself, so we'll definitely be making it again.

If you don't subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens, the recipe is also available on-line at the following address:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blame the weather

I can't believe how long it's been since I posted anything. I have lots of excuses--it's fundraiser time at the museum again, and DH and I have been working on a house that we will put on the market this spring. It's out in the country about fifteen miles from our old jail, and once there we don't come back quickly, as you might imagine. Even though he has been doing the lion's share of the work, I have kept busy there, too. Today we finally got the kitchen cabinet doors back on (after taking them off, removing all the hardware, shopping for new hardware, applying several coats of new paint, and putting all the hardware back on). We're one tile backsplash away from finishing the kitchen, hooray!

In the breaks between regular life (work, laundry, cooking, etc.) and fixing up the other house, I've been going through the motions of the spring-to-summer transition here at home, but I haven't been inspired to do anything interesting. I bought new cushions for the porch furniture (you may remember that the old ones were lumpy and faded and basically only suitable for napping cats), but now I hesitate to put the new ones out because Mr. Fuzz and his friends will just make a mess of them.

I did have a very good time the other day pulling up dandelions with the Fiskars Weed-Eater and transplanting the tomato plants. There's something about puttering around outside on a sunny day (we haven't had many of them this year, unfortunately). Maybe that's why I'm not getting much done. It's not that I'm procrastinating, indecisive, and unmotivated. It's the weather, right?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Braised Peas with Scallions and Lettuce

Ever on the lookout for new ways to serve green vegetables, I marked this recipe in a recent issue of Better Homes and Gardens and went out to shop for ingredients. In the meantime, my sister-in-law ended up in the hospital for a few days and I took her a stack of magazines to read, including the one with this recipe. I hunted for it on line and was happy to find it here:

I didn't even start dinner last night until 8:15 or so, after choir practice, so I needed something nutritious that could be prepared quickly. I put a package of salmon fillets in the oven, set DS to preparing whole wheat macaroni and cheese, and started chopping green onions and romaine lettuce. Dinner was on the table in a half an hour and the new recipe proved very tasty, an excellent vehicle for serving green vegetables, including the season's very first harvest of fresh mint from our yard. The picture shows how it looked in the pan; it looked even better next to the orange of the salmon and the yellow of the macaroni and cheese, but I was too hungry to think about taking another picture.

This recipe is by British chef Jamie Oliver, whose "Food Revolution" has sparked more than a little controversy on this side of the pond. Jamie crusades to make school lunches healthier, occasionally putting himself at odds with budget-strapped school systems and frankly, people who just don't want a guy with a chopping knife and an English accent telling them what to do. Not having been much of a fan of peas as a child myself, I'm not sure how this recipe would fare in an Indiana school cafeteria, but DS liked it, praising the tangy flavor, and he backed up the praise by eating two or three helpings. The nutritional content is impressive: 142 calories, only 5 grams of fat, 4 mg of cholesterol, low in sodium, carbs and sugar, a decent level of fiber and protein and 55% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Two thumbs way, way up!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tomato Redux

Faithful readers may remember our tomato debacle of a couple of years ago when my well-meaning DH managed to kill the plants that DS had spent the whole spring nurturing from seeds. Last year DS, stubborn like all the men in my family, refused to have anything to do with plants, but this year there were signs of a thaw, so I planted a variety of tomato seeds in twenty-two pots using some potting soil I bought at Lowe's. DS got eleven of them for his east-facing window and the west windows of the kitchen got the other eleven. We already had the pots, so all I had to buy for this venture were seeds and soil, so I spent less than $10 total.

It took a couple of weeks for the first seedlings to appear. The potting soil is very loose and every time I pour in water the soil floats up and rearranges, which can't be good for the seedlings. DS had already proclaimed the entire enterprise a dismal failure before the first telltale loop of green appeared in one of the pots. We now have more than twenty tomato plants. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for another bumper tomato crop here at the old jail. DS is starting to show some interest, but he leaves the watering to me, and we are both watching DH closely to make sure he doesn't decide to "help."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sewing Patches on Letter Jackets

When I picked up DS from track practice last night, he was grinning from ear to ear and for once wearing enough clothes for the weather. His long-awaited letter jacket had arrived. I had a museum meeting to rush off to, but I promised him that after dinner I would sew on all the patches he had been awarded so far. Five hours later I sat down at the sewing machine and proceeded to make good on my promise.

Attention all well-meaning mothers of kids with letter jackets: First, notice the zipper hiding in the bottom of the back lining. It's there for a reason. I didn't notice this wonderful convenience until I had already sewn five patches on through the lining and made a bit of a mess of them. I had to remove two of them so that I could re-sew them through the outer fabric only. A letter jacket is big and bulky (especially the leather sleeves) and hard to turn in the sewing machine, but with perseverance it is possible to avoid sewing these things all on by hand.

Here's the result of my evening's labors. Someday I might go back and pull off the other three, but they're all right for now. The boy was still beaming from ear to ear as he left the house this morning, and all is right with the world.

Friday, February 11, 2011

We dodged a bullet!

We love our old building, we really do. We are committed to saving it for future generations, no matter what it costs, we really are. That said, anyone contemplating doing anything like this should go into it with eyes wide open. Let's talk about insurance.

Since purchasing this building in 2005, we had had it insured as our home through a regular homeowner's policy with the same company I have used for all my insurance since 1979. Without naming names, keep in mind that I became a military officer in 1979 and said company was extremely exclusive and popular with military officers. The building was insured at approximately the price we paid for it, plus some for our personal belongings and upgrades. A few months ago a representative from this company called and said that the replacement value of our building had been determined to be more than ten times the value we were insuring it for, above the ceiling this company had for a homeowner's policy. Therefore, we could no longer insure our house through the only company I have used for over thirty years. The drop dead date for the end of the policy was set at 12:01 a.m. on February 11, 2011. Today, in other words.

I set out immediately looking for insurance locally. I was told the same thing by every agent I queried--all the companies use the same underwriters and have the same limits. Since I am a regular HGTV viewer, I knew that even the new "replacement value" figure, while outrageous for Bedford, couldn't be that unusual on a national basis (I mean, just last night I saw a condo in New York City listed at $10 million); who insures these high-value homes? One kind agent suggested I call Indiana Landmarks, which I did, and they set me up with a national organization that offers insurance policies for historic landmarks.

This was great, except for one thing: given the new "replacement" value for the building, the cost of the new insurance was going to be more than three times what we were paying before. The monthly insurance payment would buy me a new car. Still, I didn't see any other options, so I said, go ahead, with a desperate sinking feeling in my heart that we would never be able to spend another dime actually renovating the building because our whole budget would go into insuring it. The kicker in all this is that we couldn't sell this property for one-twentieth of the new "replacement" value.

DH didn't take the news well. He's become a real cheapskate in his old age and he loves to send me off in search of bargains. I had already spent a lot more time on this than I wanted to (how fun is it to spend your day on the phone with insurance agents who all give you the same bad news?), so I put it back on him. "Find me an agent who doesn't use the same underwriters as everybody else, and I'll make the call."

Well, bless his heart. At the eleventh hour he got a contact through one of his contacts. I called the agent and left a message in the middle of a big snowstorm a couple of weeks ago. It took a couple of days to get a call back, but in the end everything looked great to start at 12:01 this morning, with premiums based on cash value instead of replacement value, at a cost of one and a half times what we were paying before, but still within reason. The agent sent me a form, and I filled it out and sent it back.

Uh-oh. New glitch. As many of you know, we like to offer our studio space to artists who want to teach classes and such. Recently Tara Jones, a gifted local photographer, has moved her base of operations to the dispatcher room, and Tara has an exhibition scheduled to open tonight. (The gorgeous photos above of our old jail are Tara's work.)

You can guess the rest. The new company was adamant that we would only get our insurance if Tara had her own. Instead of spending yesterday getting ready for her exhibition, Tara spent it getting her own insurance so that she could open her exhibition today. For now no other artists will be able to use the space unless they come up with their own insurance, so the entire "art center" concept has become a lot more complicated. Still, I feel that we dodged a bullet and emerged from the experience older and wiser. Thank you to not one but two insurance agents who really hustled to make this all happen!

If you are in the Bedford area, come on out to the exhibition. It's up all weekend and you can get more information at

Friday, February 4, 2011

Recipe Report - Spicy Chicken with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

The January 2011 issue of Better Homes and Gardens has a lot of recipes that look interesting. I already reviewed one of them (see "Super Bowls" from January 1), but instead of trying something from the February issue, I chose another recipe from January. This one is called "Spicy Chicken with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce." There's a picture of it on page 83 (the picture above is my version, not BHG's) and the recipe begins on page 99. The marinade for the chicken involves some ingredients I don't use often, including fresh ginger, fresh mint leaves, and curry powder. I thought plain yogurt was a strange base for a marinade, but DH says it's common in Middle Eastern cuisine. Add garlic, paprika, cinnamon and cayenne pepper and you've got a great-smelling marinade.

The recipe called for chicken wings or SMALL drumsticks; unfortunately all they had at our local store were big, fat drumsticks. I should have slashed them before they went into the marinade, to make the marinade soak in a little better, but I didn't think of it. DH also observed that instead of baking the chicken fast on high heat (400 degrees) for 40 minutes, it would have been better to bake it longer at lower heat. I was astounded by this observation, coming from the man who cooks everything on the highest burner setting, but maybe he discovered the other numbers on the dial while I wasn't looking.

The chicken was nice; the ginger in particular made for a wonderful aroma. The real winner in this recipe, though, is the cucumber yogurt sauce. If you've ever had tzatziki at a Greek restaurant, you've got the general idea. I used plain yogurt, full-fat, plus grated cucumber, garlic, salt, cumin and mint. Cumin is another one of those ingredients that doesn't get trotted out too often. Anyway, as I said, this sauce was a star. Long before the chicken was ready, DH had eaten half the sauce as a dip with veggie chips.

I served the chicken and sauce with basmati rice. I don't really like to serve rice plain because it tends to be dry, but the yogurt sauce solved that problem. I probably should have added carrots or broccoli to the menu for color if nothing else, but both the boys inhaled their dinner without noticing what it looked like. When I asked DS what he thought of the dish, he said, "Good." When I asked him if I should make it again sometime, he said, "Sure." So there you have it, from the boy who won the "Silent Man" award last year from his cross country coach.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pea Soup Memories

We lived for four years in College Park, Maryland when our kids were both in elementary school. I left at 7:00 a.m. every morning for my job in Washington, D.C. and returned just before six in the evening.

One evening our daughter met me at the door with a dreaded handout from school.

"Tonight's Medieval Night. We have to bring pea soup and we have to have costumes."

I don't remember why I was given such short notice, I just remember that my desperate "My kids will not suffer just because I work full-time" mom gene kicked in. I had exactly forty-five minutes before we had to leave for school. I took a couple of worn-out t-shirts, turned them wrong side out, cut out the sleeves, slit the front neck about six inches, poked holes on either side of the slit and laced seam binding through the holes. The kids slipped them on over their clothes, and voila! medieval costumes.

With a half hour to go, I took one look at the pea soup recipe and saw that it just wouldn't do (back in the Middle Ages they made stuff from scratch). There were three or four cans of Green Giant peas in the cabinet. I dumped all four of them in a bowl, mashed them with the potato masher, added a cube of bouillon and a lot of water, heated it up and voila! pea soup. DD looked at it doubtfully. DS was in first grade and couldn't care less (he would have been happy to stay home and play Freddie Fish on the computer), but we had pea soup.

"Where's your costume?" darling daughter asked, by this time a little awed, I think, and just throwing in things to test me.

With fifteen minutes to spare, I raided my collection of clothes from Africa and came up with a white cotton gauze number with a long skirt and fancy embroidery. I bet they were wearing these things in Ethiopia in the Middle Ages. Anyway, I put it on and off we went to medieval night. No one was any the wiser. I might have confessed to one of the friendlier parents at this tony private school that the pea soup was not made exactly according to the recipe, but the main point of this story is, Super Mom rode to the rescue on her white horse. Again. Oh, wait a minute, that's not the point of this story. The point is, I learned something about pea soup. That last-minute concoction was actually pretty tasty.

Fast forward five years or so. On one of our many trips to the Hoosier state from overseas, I got a cookbook from my mother. It was a simple affair, with colored paper pages and comb binding, called "Skinny Cooks Can't Be Trusted," by a fellow named Dave Kessler. I added it to my cookbook collection, and the first thing I remember trying is a recipe called "All American Split Pea Soup." This recipe marks the beginning of my like affair with real homemade pea soup, not exactly the way it was made in the Middle Ages, but close.

Still, Dave's recipe needed some tweaking. For one thing, you know how I hate recipes that use ALMOST the whole package but not the whole package. Dave's recipe also calls for a whole stick of butter, when a half or three-quarters will work just as well, and a whopping four cups of milk. DH doesn't care for cream soups, so over time I have reduced the milk incrementally, until yesterday when I did away with it altogether. So, with all due respect to Dave Kessler, here's my version of this recipe, perfect for snow days:

Not Exactly Medieval Split Pea Soup

1 package green split peas
One box of chicken broth
As much garlic as you can stand (I use a clove or two)
One large onion, or two small ones if you like onions
Five or six carrots, or more if you like carrots, chopped into 1/4" pieces
Whatever celery you have wilting in your fridge, up to and including the whole package, chopped into somewhat larger pieces
Six potatoes, peeled and cubed
One-half to a whole stick of butter, depending on how much fat you want clogging your arteries and how much it takes to saute the carrots and celery
1 can cream of chicken soup, or you could probably leave this out and be just as happy
A package of Kielbasa sausage, sliced about 1/4" thick
Salt and pepper

Wash the split peas, then cook them in a big soup pot with the broth, garlic, onion and as much water as you think it needs. About forty minutes into the cooking, boil the potatoes in a separate pot and mash them up AND saute the carrots and celery in the butter. When the split peas have cooked about an hour and more or less dissolved, add all the other ingredients to them. Keep the pot on low heat for a while to coax the juices out of the kielbasa, stirring frequently so you don't end up with burned peas on the bottom of your soup pot. If you're really feeling like Supermom, whip up a batch of cornbread to have with it.

Yummy, filling and nutrient-rich, even if you do use up a lot of dishes to make it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Recipe Report - Super Bowls

I read somewhere that the reason the Italians traditionally eat lentils on New Year's Day is that lentils look like little coins, and eating them on New Year's Day guarantees an ample supply of money throughout the year. I'm not that superstitious, but I like even the most flimsily-supported traditions, and the Better Homes & Gardens recipe report is rapidly becoming one as well, so for today's New Year's dinner I prepared a lentil recipe from page 102 of the January 2011 BHG magazine, called Chunky Vegetable-Lentil Soup.

I immediately became disenchanted with the recipe because it called for one cup of lentils. Give me a break. Lentils come in a bag. Who cooks a single cup? I ignored this part of the directions and put the whole bag in, then compensated with an extra can of vegetable broth. The weirdest thing about this recipe was the pound of mushrooms it called for. Mushrooms and lentils are not an obvious marriage, kind of like Michael Jackson and Lisa-Marie Presley. I mean, really! Anyway, I dutifully cut the mushrooms into quarters, since I couldn't find any small ones, and followed the recipe as faithfully as possible. It called for a cabbage garnish, but my hungry teenage son came down to the kitchen near the end of the cooking and nixed the idea of topping the lentil soup with anything remotely smelling of cabbage, so in the end I served it unadorned with a side of cornbread.

The verdict? Edible. Probably very nutritious. Not terribly interesting. I forgot to take a picture, but it looked pretty much like the photo from the magazine, with more lentils and without the garnish. The mushrooms were still pretty firm and their flavor didn't seem to jell with anything else in the soup (lentils, carrots, celery, onions and garlic). If I ever make this again, and I'm not saying I will, I think I would slice the mushrooms thin and brown them in the olive oil at the beginning with the onions and the garlic. I'll probably just go back to my regular Hoppin' John recipe for future New Year's dinners, but who knows? Maybe next year BHG will have a recipe for lentils with peanut butter or something really yummy.