Thursday, June 28, 2007

i heart wednesday :: tofu recipe

Wednesdays are good days!

There's a new little routine forming since the downtown mid-week farmer's market opened back up earlier this spring. The market takes place from 11-2 in a park that's two blocks from my office. So around lunchtime, I stroll down there, catch up with friends and colleagues and make my purchases, always the same: lunch, flowers and berries.

Since the CSA delivery is Tuesday night, I don't ever need veggies on Wednesday, but no amount of berries from the CSA could really ever be enough, so I always buy some more on Wednesday. The flowers are for my desk at work. Here's this week's bouquet:

zinniabunch

And Wednesday night is yoga night! What a great way to get through the middle of the week: stock up on beautiful, tasty things, catch up with friends, and then stretch and bend all the tension out in yoga class.

: : :

I mentioned tofu subs last week and a few folks were interested in tofu recipes. I love making marinated tofu and using it for all kinds of stuff, including lately subs. Here's the recipe:

marinated & grilled tofu

1 block extra-firm tofu
1 glass baking dish

marinade of your choice (here's a suggestion):
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp tamari sauce (it's just fancy soy sauce)
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp thyme (dried)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, smashed
Mix the marinade ingredients in a jar & shake to blend thoroughly.

Start by pressing the tofu to remove excess water: Stick the tofu on a plate, put another plate on top, and then put something else on top of that to add a little weight without crushing it (usually a small cookbook does the trick). After 20 minutes or so, pour off the water that has been pressed out of the tofu and then cut it up into whatever shape & size pieces you like. For subs, I cut it into thick strips.

Put the tofu into the baking dish and pour on the marinade. Gently mix to make sure it all gets covered. Cover the dish with plastic wrap or something and stick it in the fridge for an hour or more to soak up the sauce. This is a great thing to do in the morning before you leave for work, to eat for dinner that night.

To cook, turn on the broiler in your oven. Pour off some of the liquid (back into the jar - you can use it again as dressing), leaving a small amount in the pan so that the tofu doesn't dry out. Uncover the dish and stick it in there to broil. You can also add chopped veggies to the pan, like thick slices of red onion, bell pepper, or tomato, to roast with the tofu. Broil for about ten minutes per side, and you're done!

You can also do these outside on the grill, but I'd still use a baking pan -- tofu tends to stick to the grill and fall to pieces. Close the cover to make sure it gets browned on top.

To make subs, be sure to roast some onions & peppers along with the tofu. Pile everything onto a toasted sub roll, add a little of that leftover marinade to juice it up, top with havarti or muenster cheese and broil for a minute or two to melt the cheese. YUM! Invite some friends over and have it tonight - it's very easy and very kid-friendly.

Monday, June 25, 2007

two days of rest

Thanks to all of you for your kind and enthusiastic comments on George. That was, by far, the pattern that I have put the most design time, re-working, fiddling and fussing into, and I am really pleased with the final result. If you knit him, please let me know how the process goes and what kinds of modifications you make to the pattern.

So in response to some of your questions:

Why felted? How would he look just knitted?
Just knitted, he looked pretty floppy, though pipe-cleaners would have been an option for bendy legs - they just couldn't make a tough felted leg do anything, but would have worked in knitted legs I think. I wanted him felted so that he'd be tough enough for actual playing, snuggling, etc. by the rough-and-tumble kids we know.

Let's hear one of your Grandfather's octopus stories...
Pop-pop's octopus stories were usually comic one-liners. I remember when I was about 9 telling him that I'd gone riding on a pony. He told me that he'd had a pony once, but he took it riding on the beach, and a giant octopus came out of the ocean and ate it. You'd think that might have been upsetting, but of course I was sort of expecting it, so I thought it was pretty funny.

= = =
In case you're dying to hear me ramble on about what a nice weekend I had, you're in luck - this is quite a ramble...

Saturday and Sunday were two wonderful days of much-needed rest. There were a few really exciting (to me) bits sandwiched among the general loafing, doing a little homework and household puttering.

First, a neighborhood yard sale! My sister scored a Super-8 movie camera in its original case - with the instruction book and even the 1960 packing slip. I got a milk glass vase (just like my Grandma's) and a 60's ice crusher for summer slushy rummy tropical drinks - whee! Grand total between the two of us: $10.

yardsale2
i hear the call of the islands

yardsale1

Second, treats in the mail! I ordered two fused-glass rings from the multi-talented Marsha Penner (one for me and one for Sis), and both arrived on Saturday. They are so dreamy. The same mail delivery brought me the new White Stripes album as well. I'm interested to hear what y'all think of it (Stacie?) - I've only given it a rudimentary first listen.

ring
this is my ring - my sis hasn't received hers yet

Lastly, and most greatest, lovely people! I got to spend a lot of time this weekend with with dear ones and some new friends. The girl next door had a birthday party and graciously extended the invitation to us. I have been itchingly curious about her and her partner, because they look about our age and have an old Kucinich sticker on their car. My curiosity really began burning one afternoon when I saw her coming home with a rack of hand-made skirts and I realized why she seemed so familiar: the girl next door is India*Romeo, of the Handmade Market. My surging curiosity was stricken with sudden shyness, and alas, I never went over to make friends. Until the party, that is. You know what? She is the bomb-diggity. I can't believe I was so shy - how stupid! But that's how I am sometimes: rather stupid. A crafting, designing, thrifting goddess right next door, and it took me 6 months to meet her.

It was a lovely gathering full of cool people from our new neighborhood, and full of crafty, crafty women. I spent most of the night talking with Tess, who is so cute and talented it's almost criminal. We ate tofu beer brats and raspberry birthday cake and drank La Fin du Monde and generally soaked up the great vibes from a backyard stuffed with friendly, creative people. Did I mention this all went on right next door to my house? I think I might have mentioned that.

This two-day weekend thing was so great, I think I'm going to have to try it again some time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

free pattern friday: george

george3

My grandfather had a real soft spot for octopi. Every story my grandfather told us inevitably contained an octopus, even if it was just a walk-on character. Maybe because of him, I have always loved octopi, with their many legs, their pacifist ink-blot self-defense system, and their crafty ways. This felted octopus was named in honor of my grandfather George, who always loved a new toy. I hope you have as much fun making it as I did!

size: one size

materials
  • 2 skeins Cascade Quatro (shown in color #9440) 100g/220yd, 100% wool
  • size 10 needles (US) - one set of DPN's and one 16" circular
  • size J crochet hook
  • tapestry needle
  • sewing needle
  • stitch markers in multiple colors
  • polyester fiberfill or other fluffy stuffing
  • small amount of scrap or craft felt in contrasting color, and matching sewing thread
  • sewing thread to match the main-color yarn
  • two 3/8-inch buttons
  • pinking shears
gauge before felting: around 4 st/in

construction
First you will knit the body, which is basically a big ball knit in the round, with the bottom left open. Once the body is knitted, you will knit 8 legs, and then using a crochet hook, sew them onto the body, leaving them open towards the inside for stuffing. Then you'll pick up the remaining cast-on stitches along the leg tops, again knitting in the round, to knit the underside of the octopus. You'll leave a big hole for stuffing but knit a flap to cover it, which will be sewn down after felting and stuffing is done.

Finishing will consist of cutting two eyes out of contrasting felt and sewing them down, then sewing on buttons to complete the eyes. Once the octopus is stuffed, you'll sew down the stuffing portal - and that's it!

knit the body
Using DPN's, CO 6 st. Divide evenly across 3 needles to knit in round. PM and join to knit in the round.
R1: Knit
R2: Kfb of every st (6 st inc, 12 st total)
R3 (and all odd rnds): Knit
R4: *Kfb, K1. Rep from * to end. (18 st).
R6: *Kfb, K2. Rep from * to end. (24 st).
R8: *Kfb, K3. Rep from * to end. (30 st)
Continue in this manner, inc 6 st on every other rnd until there are 78 st on your needles. You can switch from DPN's to the circular needle once you have enough stitches.
K 10 rnds even.

Dec R1: *SSK, K11. Rep from * to end - 6 st dec.
R 2: Knit
R3: *SSK, K10. Rep from * to end. 66 st rem.
R4: Knit. 66 st rem.
R5: Knit, dec a total of 2 st this rnd, spaced evenly. 64 st rem.
R6: BO loosely.

knit the legs
Using DPN's, CO 16. PM to K in rnd.
K in rnd until leg measures 12" long, then begin to taper.
Dec rnd 1: K to last 3 st, SSK, K1.
K 3 rows.
Dec rnd 2: K to last 3 st, SSK, K1.
Continue dec 1 st on every 4th row until 9 st rem.

At this point you can move all st onto one DPN to knit the rest of the leg as an I-cord.
Now dec every 3rd row until 4 st rem. Cut the yarn, thread the tail through the 4 rem st and pull tight. Make a discreet knot and thread the tail into the inside of the leg to finish.

Make 8 legs.

attaching the legs to the body
You will use the crochet hook to sew the leg openings to the body opening. Holding right sides together, SC 8 st across each leg onto 8 BO body st. You are leaving 8 leg st free, so that the leg still opens (opening towards the inside of the octopus body) once it's sewn on.

Repeat for each leg until all 8 legs are attached, spread evenly around the body opening.

leggy1
using a crochet hook to attach the legs - remember, right sides together!

knitting the underside

Turn the octopus over so that it's resting on its head with the 8 legs spread out in a halo around it, with the underside facing up. Using the circular needle, pick up and knit the 8 rem CO st from each leg, all around the edge of the body. When you finish, you will have 64 st on your needle, as shown in in the picture below. PM and join to K in the round.

prefelt1

R1: Knit.
R2: Dec 4 st, evenly spaced. As you do this, place 5 more markers (a different color from your first marker) around the body, so that there are 12 st between each marker. 60 st rem.

R3: *K2tog, K to 2 st before M, SSK, slip M. Rep from * to end. 12 st dec.
R4: Knit
Repeat rows 3 and 4 until 24 st rem.

You have finished knitting the body and will now leave a portal on the bottom for stuffing, with a round flap to cover it.

stuffing portal
Loosely BO 18 st. K the remaining 6 st.
Using the backwards loop method, CO 24 st. Join these 24 to the 6 st on the body and PM to knit in rnd. 30 st total.
R1: Knit.
R2: *K2tog, K1, SSK. Repeat from * to end. 18 st rem.
R3: Knit
R4: *K2tog, SSK. Repeat from * to end. K2tog. 6 st rem.
Cut an 8-inch tail of yarn and thread through rem st, pull tight. Knot and weave in tail end, trim.

Sew up any large gaps as needed.
Weave in all loose ends and trim.

felting
Place the octopus into a pillowcase and tie the end. Felt it in your washing machine.
I threw in a a couple of bath towels to add agitation, and a tiny dash of liquid soap. On hot water, run the washer for two 10-min cycles, stopping it each time before the spin cycle.

leggy3
here's george's body before felting

Once you take the octopus out of the washer, remove it from the pillowcase, and don't be shy about pulling, pushing and tugging it into shape. Use the blunt end of a straight knitting needle to open up the insides of the legs for stuffing (they will have fused together somewhat in the wash).

Stuff the body well with plastic bags, shaping it as you want it, and leave it to dry ast least overnight. Once the octopus is completely dry, move on to the finishing touches.

eyes
To make the eyes, use a pencil and trace a quarter (or other small circular object) onto the craft felt. Cut out the circle using your pinking shears to create a zig-zag edge all the way around. Pin eyes into place and then carefully sew them on, being careful to make small, neat stitches (unlike mine), because your stitches will show.

Sew buttons into place to complete the eyes.

george1

stuffing & finishing
Use polyester fiberfill (or your favorite stuffing material) to stuff the octopus, beginning with the legs. Use very small bits and stuff them in gently, shaping as you go.

Stuff each leg gently and loosely - tightly-stuffed legs will stick out like the octopus has been electrocuted, and you want them to flop around nicely.

* Optional: You could add wire to each leg to make them poseable. Do not use pipe-cleaners -- they are not strong enough to hold felted legs in shape!

Now stuff the head firmly, making sure that all the nooks and crannies are well-stuffed. Shape the head as you stuff. Once you think you have enough stuffing in there, use your fist to tightly cram it all into place, and then tightly stuff the hollow you just made with your fist.

Once the head is firmly stuffed, sew down the stuffing-portal using a needle & matching sewing thread.

You're all done! Hug and squeeze to your heart's content.

george2
i want a crabcake

important notice: This is a free pattern and you are welcome to use it for all the non-commercial purposes you like. However, you may not reproduce this pattern to sell, and you may not sell what you make with it. You may donate what you make with it to charity, and you may use it for charity fundraisers only if 100% of the proceeds are donated to the charity (and by charity I don't mean your kid's college fund). Thanks for understanding!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

fun in the backyard

Sunday we made a little time for lazy fun with friends at home. Sis and RB came by after an afternoon of good music and we had fun doing nothing in the backyard before a simple dinner of grilled tofu subs and salad, with a strawberry pie for dessert.

backyardaction5
she is just about to laugh at the punchline we all know is coming

You can tell summer is here because suddenly doing nothing at all seems like a great time. Backyards are just the right place for that kind of entertainment.

HWWLLB has been working so hard on the garden, growing all kinds of tasty stuff to eat and neat things to look at. He has nasturtiums that seem to glow in the dark, flowers that taste like cucumbers, and habitat for all kinds of creatures, from the mockingbird family in the holly bush to the random swarm of ants on a flower. There's a lot to explore in that tiny corner of nature.

I think we have a division of labor going here that works well: he makes it interesting, and I try to make it comfortable. I pick and trim and straighten and he grows and grows and grows.

For a while now I've been looking for a table and chairs for our patio. It's a great spot: shady in the afternoons, with a full view of the garden, yet totally hidden from sight from the front and sides of the house. Here's what I found over the weekend:

patio1
wash me

Clearly it needs a coat of white paint, but I'm pretty stoked. Those chairs are swivel rockers. They're so comfortable and so sturdy - it's amazing that something sixty years old still works just as it was designed to, after a whole lifetime outdoors. I believe that says something about how they don't make 'em like they used to, or about our disposable culture, or something, but I don't feel like speechifying right now, because this post is about lazy backyard fun. Though I guess after a beer or two speechifying can be a big part of lazy backyard fun, right?

Aside: I was just realizing how in English we don't have such good words for the end of sentences like the one above. If this post were in German I'd have written nicht wahr? or if French n'est-ce pas? but in English we are impoverished for flavorizers like those, and 'right' was about the best I could do. Is flavorizer a word?

Anyhow, I'll be painting that patio set soon, and then you must come over for a cup of tea. Bring your knitting.

Friday, June 15, 2007

oops

What made me think that I could get a mid-term exam and a new pattern written in the same week? I'm sorry y'all, the new pattern will be out next Friday.

In the mean time, there's always the new issue of Knitty to peruse -- complete with a pattern by Olga (and photos by the multi-talented Paloma!).

But I won't drag the suspense out any longer... you are all right, 8 legs is a sure sign of an octopus! It's a felted octopus for your toy-knitting pleasure. And I can't tell you how delighted I am that octopus knits came by to say hello. Coincidence? Hardly. Octopi are powerful creatures, you know. But I love Stacie's idea of knitted calamari - maybe that will be the next project in line. So - check back next Friday for the pattern. Again, my apologies.

Here's a photo of my desk at work. Just so you don't think I'm spending my knitting time someplace fabulous. I got a new desk this week (thank you larger, richer environmental group for the hand-me-down) and re-arranged the office a little. I think the black-eyed susans are the best feature.

desk
wish you were here

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

colorful surprises

Here's a tantalizing glimpse of the soon-to-be-unveiled secret whatzit project. I'll be posting the pattern this week on Free Pattern Friday. It's taken me much too long to bring this fun project to a close:

whatzit5

Any guesses? It's not any of the things that you all guessed before (though now I want to make all of these things): leg-warmers, hat with tubular ties, gloves or a uterus.

Also in the surprise category, I'm putting the final touches on the last package (sniff!) to my Secret Pal. The theme for this package is rainbow. See, it's a theme and a color at the same time - brilliant, eh? The big question is, will she notice??

The main feature is some undyed superwash merino sock yarn, a rainbow of Kool-Aid packets and some other little dyeing-related odds and ends. And of course some random treats to further convey the rainbow theme. I hope she likes it. I've had a great time getting to "know" her and putting prizes together.

I also can't wait to find out who is the sweet and thoughtful knitter that's been spoiling me!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

my pal

It's not quite time yet, but soon all will be revealed. June is the final month in the tenth round of Secret Pal.

I can't tell you who my pal is just yet, but I am enjoying finding things here and there to include in her final package. Today I picked up a wonderful-smelling eucalyptus candle for her while I was doing some grocery shopping at the Whole Paycheck Foods.

I like to put a package together slowly, usually starting with the yarn, and then building some kind of theme around it. It's very important that the colors coordinate, and that there be a little something for as many of the five senses as possible. But not too much of any particular thing - too much smell, for instance, would be very bad.

So what can I tell you about this Pal without giving it away?

She is funny. She is a stylish geek, which warms my heart to no end. I love a scientist with style. She's kind of sporty, in a way that at first I found a little intimidating, but she spends plenty of time on the couch with her cat, too, so I can relate to her pretty well. Her cat is great - he is big and happy and spoiled like my cat, and he's so cute that I think I will include something for him in this last package. She has a significant other who seems to be highly supportive of the yarn fetish (always a good sign). I'm not going to say where she lives, but it's a place I'd love to visit. I have been there once - much too briefly.

One of the challenges of making packages for her is that she's not a beginner, and she's a yarnaholic, so there's not much out there in the knitting world that she doesn't already have (her various yarn diets go right down the drain as soon as she gets near a yarn store, though she always finds a good get-out-of-jail-free card). So I have tried to find fun, out-of-the-way knitting pleasures to share with her, and to focus on color and texture rather than introducing her to "new" yarns - since I don't think there's a yarn that gets past her untrammelled. She is the kind of person that I'd love to have in my local Stitch & Bitch - she'd be a terribly good influence on my knitting, if you know what I mean.

To my Secret Pal - soon we can be real pals, or at least virtual real pals, or whatever we call each other out here in the internets. I love surprises.

Monday, June 04, 2007

finish what you started

unfinishedsocks

Some of you are going to laugh at me, because you have untold numbers of projects "in progress" hiding in bags and baskets all over your house. I don't know if it's my Puritanical upbringing or just my rabid thriftiness (a.k.a. cheapness), but I really don't like to leave a project unfinished. I don't even like having more than one project going at a time, because of the delay conveyed to one by progress on the other.

I recently pulled out this wonderful yarn I bought a while back from Lazy Perry Ranch to try my hand at toe-up socks. This being the first time for the toe-up thing, I stuck to plain old stockinette, thinking that the toe-uppiness would be challenge enough and I should just keep it simple. I will say that the short-row heel was somewhat challenging the first time, and I ripped and re-knitted it once. But otherwise, it's just a sock, backwards. Not really brain surgery.

So I knitted and knitted in stockinette and eventually realized that this was going to be a really boring pair of socks. I also wanted to knit all the way to the end of the skein on each sock, since the color is "Fade to salmon" and I wanted to be sure use the really intense part at the end (remind me next time to start with the intense part, okay?). So the boring stockinette sock is destined to be a boring stockinette knee-high.

That's all fine and good when you're sitting through a three-day conference and flying around on airplanes with lots of stockinette-knitting time on your hands, but now that I'm back home with one sock and one toe finished, I can't possibly imagine knitting the second one. I think it's worse than second-sock syndrome, because despite the lovely yarn, I didn't even really enjoy making the first sock very much. And there are so many other projects waiting to be knitted!

I'm thinking it's time to cut my losses and stuff this into the back of the yarn cabinet. For shame! Hopefully after a few months my guilt will grow sufficiently strong for me to rip the whole thing out and rewind the yarn for future use. And when that day comes, I will start with the part I wanted to use in the first place. And I think I might also start at the top.

Friday, June 01, 2007

curb the enthusiasm

My horoscope today said " This can be a fantastic day, as long as you can contain your enthusiasm enough to direct it productively." That's exactly how I feel: sort of like a train full of steam (steam=enthusiasm) and moving very quickly... it feels exciting, and productive, but I just hope I don't go off the tracks on the curves ahead.

Hm, maybe the train metaphor isn't quite right. Maybe it's more like a hyperactive puppy with too many toys to choose from... or a bee flitting from flower to flower in a giant field full of things to be pollinated... (can you hear "Flight of the bumblebee" in the background? That's about the right pace).

I am eating lunch just before jumping on a plane to head to Chicago for a conference. This will be my first time there since high school, but I don't think I'll see much of the city beyond the square block where the conference is being held. But I love the feel of big cities. I don't know if I could really be a big-city dweller, but visiting them is so exhilerating.

The city where I live is really a small town that thinks it's a city. We have four or five tall buildings, one or two "wrong side of the tracks" type neighborhoods, and a bus system, which seems to be what it takes to qualify as "city" in many people's minds. But as in a small town, I see the same people on the street downtown, day after day, and most of all, in the arena for which I most love big cities, you really have to go out hunting for "ethnic" food here. If you want really good Thai, Ethiopian, Indian, you need to know someone who knows someone, and you need to venture out into secret shabby suburban strip malls to find the place. In big cities, there seems to be interesting food everywhere, and I always think the prices are much better. So wish me luck in Chicago, I'm hoping to eat something from a country I can't locate on a map.

Also, a big warm fuzzy shout-out to Susanna and Mike who came through town this week! It was such a delight to see these old college-years pals as they whizzed through our big-small-city-town. We ate a lovely outdoor lunch together at a one of the secret ethnic restaurants (sshhh...). Big hugs to you Philly pals!