Friday, April 24, 2009

unfinished everything

unfinished soaker

unfinished arm

Do you ever get into a funk where you can't seem to finish any projects?

This is really bothering me. I don't like unfinished projects. They really aggravate me. But everywhere I look, they seem to surround me.

The sloth softie that was supposed to be done for HWWLLB's birthday on March 27... still armless and lying around in pieces. The big pile of soakers I thought I would have finished by now... still a measly pile of 2.5 completed soakers. Those aren't going to last long. And all my secret plans for cute little booties, caps and blankies - ha! Barely more than a twinkle in my eye.

I don't even want to talk about all the unfinished non-knitting projects. I can't even seem to finish an email lately! What is going on? It really is very unlike me.

Does anyone have any hot tips for breaking out of the Unfinished Projects Funk?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

quiet evening with vegetable stock

Things have been pretty hectic at work lately. It means I have been treasuring the quiet time at home all the more.

Tonight HWWLLB was out for a meeting, and I had the house to myself. Simon and I hung out in the garden for a while, just puttering a bit, knocking butterfly eggs off the baby kale leaves and that sort of thing. I harvested a nice bunch of curly Russian kale for dinner and ate it with a plate of noodles with white bean sauce. It was so simple, and very satisfying.

Once it got dark, I decided to do a little sewing, since I've had a small pile of mending waiting for me for some time. While I did that, I also put on a big pot of vegetable stock. I really like making my own vegetable stock - the kind that comes in a box is so salty and flavorless, and so expensive. I know some people think it's a pain, but I find home made vegetable stock to be really easy, particularly just letting it simmer on the stove while you do other things (like sew or read a book). The way I make it - full of colorful veggies - is much richer than clear veggie broth, and extremely nutritious. It's a great substitute for chicken or even beef broth.

Here's how I make it:

rich vegetable stock

1 big freezer bag full of vegetable trimmings
1 big stock pot full of water
salt and pepper

Whenever you're cooking and have to cut up vegetables, peel carrots, roast squash, etc, keep the trimmings. Just keep putting them into a one-gallon freezer bag until the bag is full. Some of the kinds of things you should definitely save for your veggie stock are:

onion ends and bits
carrot peels
sweet potato peels
squash skins - particularly after roasting
broccoli stems
kale and collard stems

The only things I don't like to add are potato peels and bits, because they make the stock too starchy for my taste. Traditional veggie broth recipes usually call for little more than carrots, celery and onions. Making stock this way you get an extremely nutritious, colorful broth that makes your soups much richer. You can easily water it down if you want a lighter taste.

Anyhow, once the freezer bag fills up with scraps, it's time to make stock. Dump the contents of the bag into your biggest stock pot and cover with water, leaving a couple inches of space at the top of the pot. You can throw in whatever spices you like - I always put in plenty of salt and black peppercorns, and sometimes bay leaves, juniper berries, or whatever else looks good. Cover and bring to a boil.

Once the pot is boiling, give it a good stir and turn it down to low heat to simmer, covered, for at least 1.5 hours. I usually go to 2 hours. Once that's done, scoop out all your floppy veggies and toss them into the compost. If you want a more concentrated broth to thin with water when you use it, keep simmering and cooking it down til it reaches half its volume (this will also save some space in your freezer).

When you're done simmering, let the broth cool, then strain it and place it into freezer-safe containers (I love to recycle big yogurt containers for this - one container holds 4 cups of broth, which is just right for lots of soup recipes). Label with the date and put them in the freezer til you're ready to use them.

Of course, vegetable stock is great for making soup, but I also find that rice tastes incredible cooked in it instead of water. The same is true for quinoa, cous-cous and other grains, and I'm sure they are more nutritious cooked this way, too.

Friday, April 10, 2009

hot critter::two-toed sloth

It's time for the next installment in the Hot Critter series, which has brought you such wonders as the Neuse River Water Dog and the Star-Nosed mole. Today's hot critter is the Two-Toed Sloth.

As you may already know, a creature appearing here in Hot Critter means that said creature is about to get knitted up into a cuddly home version, which is as true as ever in this case. HWWLLB just had a big birthday, and one of his gifts was a knitted, stuffed and felted sloth - his very favorite animal (I'm almost done with knitting it).

So why would someone have a sloth as their favorite animal? Where to begin??

There aren't very many sloths in the world - in quantity or in variety. There are only two species of the two-toed sloth, Choloepus Didactylus, and Choloepus hoffmanni, and just four species of her cousin the three-toed sloth. Sloths are reclusive and prefer remote areas far from humans - which is easy to understand. Because sloths move so incredibly slowly, the can't run away from logging trucks or wildlife poachers, so with habitat destruction eating away at their homes in South America, the sloths are slowly disappearing (they do everything slowly).

Sloths spend their lives hanging in trees, thanks to their powerful claws. They are also pretty good swimmers, but if for some reason they hit the ground, they are extremely vulnerable. Those awesome hanging legs are near useless on land, where they are easy prey for large cats like jaguars and ocelots.

The sloth is solitary, and takes life very slowly. She spends all her days hanging in trees, sleeping as much as 15 to 20 hours per day, and eating mostly juicy plants. She sleeps, eats, mates, births and rears her young all while hanging upside-down from trees, and baby sloths hang onto their mothers for several months after birth.

Believe it or not, there isn't much more than this that the world knows about sloths, two-toed or three-toed. Because of their solitary nature and preference for remote areas, sloths have been severely under-studied. There are a few institutions who rehabilitate injured sloths and study their behavior and biology - the Avia Rios Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica, and the UNAU Foundation in Columbia are two examples, and they deserve our support.

It seems like it's time to revoke the sloth's "deadly sin" status - living a life of quiet solitude, practicing vegetarianism (mostly) and staying away from troublesome people - sloths are a lot more like Buddhist monks than degenerate sinners. If you admire the sloth too, watch this space for the forthcoming sloth softie and knitting pattern, which I am currently working on - slooowly.

Monday, April 06, 2009

hello again

dandelion hill
dandelions in downtown raleigh

Sorry it's been so quiet here. My internet was down for a while. I finally have it fixed tonight and decided to just share some photos from the days and weeks since I last posted.

spring onions from the garden

happy little seedlings staying warm in the greenhouse

fig buds
buds on the fig tree

wisteria buds on the railing behind our building at work

I hope everyone is enjoying some taste of spring. More soon.