Today’s Culinary Experiment

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Cooking

141210 Butter (1)

There are things I have never done.  Sometimes it takes being cooped up in the house for a couple of days to give me a little push.  There actually were a number of factors that contributed to the butter experiment today.

A couple of days ago, with the impending bad weather, I decided to find Side Hill Farm in Hawley.  It’s the closest dairy to me and they sell raw milk.  I was thinking cheese but went to stock up for the inclement weather.  This farm has a wonderful little store that is run on the honor system (something you don’t see much anymore).  There are freezers full of pastured pork and beef as well as the cooler full of dairy.  I got a half-gallon of milk and a half-gallon of cream (hey, it was cheap and I figured I’d just mix my own half and half).

This morning I mixed my half and half – the cream was as thick as sour cream, it was a feat getting it out of the bottle.  I then had a quart and a half left along with a slip of paper with instructions to make butter that I picked up at the farm next to the cash box.  I pulled out the food processor and the experiment began.

There’s something about the properties of milk.  Every time I make cheese, yogurt, pretty much anything I feel like a scientist.  Things all have to stay within certain parameters but it with any of these things the milk is transformed.  Butter is no different and it’s amazing to watch.  It churned for a good 3 to 4 minutes looking like cream whirling around in the bowl.  Suddenly it turned into butter and whey.  It was crazy to watch.  I made it in two batches, washing one while the other churned.  Once the whey was kneaded out I added salt and packed it into a container.  It made a little over a pound.

141210 Butter (2)Before putting this into the refrigerator I confess to slathering a good bit onto a piece of toast.  Mmmmm, definitely worth the trouble.  The bonus is how soft my hands were after playing with butter for a half an hour.

 

Ice, Ice Baby

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Uncategorized

141209 Ice

So this is the view from upstairs this morning.  It looks a little worse now.  The weather predictions were right so far and I have done a little planning ahead.  I’ve been watching the squirrels slide on the ice below the feeders and Sophie walked herself this morning (with difficulty) because I wasn’t going to venture past the shed door.  I loaded up the chickens last night, bought some groceries in the afternoon ready to hunker down and stay put.

I absolutely LOVE these days, especially this close to Christmas.  This year all of the gifts I give (well, most) will be handmade.  My list is not long but as with everything else I wait until I’m under a lot of pressure before I do anything.

141209 Maille

I’m still playing with chainmaille, it’s so calming to make and so beautiful when finished.  I can do it while having my morning coffee or pick it up when I have a few minutes.  It’s one of those things that is mindless, repetitive.  Another form of meditation.

141209 Wool

Then there is this stack of wool.  I’ve been mulling this over for a couple of weeks now.  I finally have the patterns I need and all of the material gathered in one place.  I see sewing in my future.

Snow/ice days are such a blessing of time for me.  They are extreme crafting sorts of days.  It may be a throwback to childhood when you had the day off from school and had nothing but the day ahead of you to do whatever you wanted.  There were games, books, the great outdoors.  It seemed as if those days were gifts allowing big blocks of time for pastimes you only had minutes to usually do.

The other aspect is having blocks of time before the holidays.  It’s a time when I do the most baking.  Snow outdoors?  Bake some cookies.  Smells of cinnamon while warming the kitchen to a cozy temperature, something that’s more of a treat than the norm.

So I will be the ultimate multi-tasker today doing things that need to be done (laundry) interspersed with things I love to do.  It makes me think the weather should last the rest of the week.  Just think of what I could accomplish!

 

Two Things at Once

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Craft

141204 Doubleweave (2)There are some projects that just don’t go the way you expected.  This is another new structure for me – complimentary doubleweave.  I pulled out a couple of cones of 5/2 mercerized cotton using the colors that were in the studioand wound my warp.  I picked a simple overshot pattern, I figured simple would be better since I would be weaving the pattern in a whole different way.

I started Tuesday with what seemed to be little more prep than usual.  The loom only had 3 harnesses on it and all of the harnesses required more heddles.   Things went onto the beam smoothly.  Uh-oh, I just know things can’t go that easily.   The woman on the loom next to mine is doing the same project, different pattern and colors.  She was a few hours ahead of me and started to weave while I was threading my heddles.  It didn’t look the way she had expected.  The weaving was taken out and the sett changed.

I’m thinking this is a good thing.  I changed my sett to what she was now using.  Crisis averted.  I was feeling pretty smug about the whole thing.  I tied the warp on but had a lot of trouble getting the tension even.  I left it at the end of class and figured I’d tackle it today.

When I arrived at class I began weaving and found a couple of threading mistakes.  I rethreaded one and tied a string heddle for the second but now I had to tie on the warp all over again, what the heck?

I wove about 5 inches – two repeats of the pattern – and it just doesn’t look anything like I expected it to.  I took photos and if I squint my eyes it looks like there is some sort of repetition to the pattern but . . .

141204 Doubleweave (1)

Yup, I got up and walked away.  Now I’ll think about it until next week and then we’ll see what can be done with this.  One way or another I will be getting 6 doubleweave placemats out of this but at this point what they’ll look like remains to be seen.

There may be a bit of a problem with weaving two entirely different projects at the same time.  The project on my loom at home is an 8 shaft pinwheel pattern in 20/2 alpaca silk.  It requires a really soft beat in order to keep the required picks (to keep it from looking squished).141203 Scarf (1)

The fiber is more elastic and so soft.  Everything about this has gone smoothly.  Stark contrast to the red and white.

I’m thinking it could be in my best interest to work on similar projects at class and at home.  I have to say at this point I’m wishing I was weaving wool in class but I’m sure after another couple of hours the cotton will turn into something I like and I will be able to flip from one project to the other with ease.  Until then I’ll just fret.

Thanksgiving Reflection

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Family

141126 Back Forty Snowstorm

I woke up this morning to the silence of a house without power.  It wasn’t unexpected.  Around 5:00 I decided to get up and stoke the wood stove, try to get things together for coffee without a coffee maker.  As I walked down the stairs the lights came on, the furnace fired up and within minutes coffee was hot in my cup.  Ahh, little gifts.

The anticipation of this holiday always keeps me awake the night before.  It’s a throwback from childhood when family gathered at the house for food, fun and the Macy’s parade.  Most of these relatives I only saw once or twice a year.  I loved being surrounded by people who loved me, what child doesn’t?

While lying awake I considered all that I was thankful for, an exercise that I do fairly often.  It keeps things in perspective.  Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  I try to look at everything as being a miracle.

The thing that continues to come into my head as both a miracle and something I am profoundly thankful for is my ongoing reunion with Scott.  It’s been difficult to wrap my head around having a son that is back in my life.  Left as an infant, returned as an adult.  Bone of my bone flesh of my flesh.  Someone who has been with me through most of my life’s journey in spirit yet I was the only one that knew it.

My daughters bringing him into the fold – slowly, cautiously at first then with open arms.  They speak of him with love and amazement at the similarities only relatives have.  My husband helping me work through the demons that have followed me from one lifetime to another.  My friends that continually point out what an amazing story this all is.  A miracle in many, many ways.

Look around you today, take notice of those miracles – those little gifts.  The beauty of the snow, the birds that grace our feeders, the fox tracks through the yard.  Look at the smiles on the faces of those you love. Treasure those messages from those unable to join you for the holiday.  Remember those that have gone before you that made the traditions you celebrate now.

Everything is a miracle.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Birds and Snow

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Birds / Family / Photography

141126 Birds (2)

You can always tell when the weather will be bad by the number of birds on the feeders.  The chickadees demanded I put them up about a week ago while I was doing a walk about.  I relented figuring it was cold enough so the bears might have entered into hibernation.

Yesterday the activity stepped up and we all knew it was because a storm was coming.  They are much better forecasters than any human being (that and the joints were screaming).  This morning the snow started in earnest at about 9:00 and it went from nothing to blizzard almost instantly.

The birds continue to come, all varieties now, loading up.  Their feast for the holiday.

We have people travelling from all over.  Some are beginning to arrive, some I’m hoping will wait until tomorrow with the snow coming down the way it is now.  They predict up to 12 inches and at the rate it’s falling now I wouldn’t be surprised.

Here’s hoping everyone stays safe this coming long weekend and enjoys time spent with friends and family.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Krokgragd Finished

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Craft

141118 Krokbragd (2)To date this project took me the longest to complete.  I started it the first week in August and took it off of the loom last week.  It’s stunning and the photographs do not do it justice, you have to feel it.  Wool, there’s nothing quite like it.

Initially I did twisted fringe for a finish and HATED it.  So I took it all out and got out my Weaver’s Companion – almost on the last page they had directions for a woven edge and I knew this was it.  Very easy to do and it’s clean.  I thought the geometry of the piece called for a clean edge and it also tightened everything up at the beginning and end.

141118 Krokbragd (3)

As I probably have posted this color combination came as somewhat of a surprise.  I was using yarn that I had.  When I got to the center I found two other colors in the weave studio I thought would work and kept weaving on.

I love that moment when you cut your warp threads at the end of a project and release the breast beam – the project rolls off and you get your first look at the project as a whole.  I was so please with this.

141118 Krokbragd (1)

It’s finished dimension is 24″x 36″.  From every angle it looks wonderful.  I have to tell you that I don’t think this will be spending any time on the floor.  I’ll keep moving it around until it finds its home.  This is one project that won’t be given away.

 

For the Record

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Family / Photography

003 j.semanie©josephs

There are times you do things that are uncomfortable for the sake of family and history.  For my entire life I was always the photographer.  I took the photographs because I always hated the way I looked in them.  If I took the photograph I would never have to be in it – for me a win win.

A little over a month ago I decided that I needed to have a family portrait taken – for many, many reasons.  I think everyone needs to do this, if for no other reason than a record for future generations.  I have uncovered photographs in my attic clean up of my great grandparents weddings, or them with their siblings and mother.  Photographs taken around 1900 – over 100 years ago – that give me a little glimpse of their lives.  For me a gift.  Having this portrait done was my gift to grandchildren and great-grandchildren yet to be born.  A little piece of my life.

There was a lot involved with this whole plan on my part.  First and foremost was the photographer.  I messaged an old friend with the request.  His work is something that I have admired for a long time and he was one of the very few I trusted with photographing me. (It’s all about me you understand, I knew everyone else would look great).  I’ve known Joe since the early 80’s, there is no one I would trust more with this photograph.

It was also important to me to have Scott be photographed with us.  Although he is a new-found member of our family he is one that has been fully embraced.  It was also important to me as part of the record that he be involved.  My only regret about it is I have to tell people who he is – over and over.  In years to come he will just be my son and my daughters’ brother.  He is one of us, he just came late to the party.

The appointed hour came and we met Joe of Josephs at the appointed hour at Forest Park in Springfield, MA.  We have a history of photographs in this park and it seemed the perfect setting to me (even though Joe thought Fort Pelham Farm was where it should be – another time maybe). We had a great time.  Joe was entertaining and comfortable in his work.  He also did an amazing job and it was everything I hoped it would be.

I looked at 176 proofs today.  What I was struck with is how old I am.  In my head I will always be around 27 but in the photographs I am an older woman.  I know it’s me but I’m shocked in a way at how old I really am.  Having my adult children around me just brought it home.  They all have lives quite separate from mine.  I see little glimpses of them as children but my days of parenting children are sadly over and have been for quite some time.  It’s all a little bittersweet.  The record has been made, we all look like we still love one another.  I know at this point that the likelihood of this happening again is pretty much nonexistent.  That’s okay.

I can take these photographs and enjoy them for the moment that they captured.  A beautiful fall afternoon, warm with a slight breeze, spent laughing with the people I care about the most.  Maybe 100 years from now someone will find a few photographs in the attic and glean a little about the people in this little family group.  I hope it just shows them how happy we were on this afternoon and that we care about one another.

 

 

First Snow

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Craft

141114 First Snow

I woke up this morning to the first snow of the season.  I thought once the sun came up it would go but it’s mid afternoon and it’s still on the ground.

The fact that it snowed was somehow a signal to me to finish up a few projects in need of just a couple of hours of my time.  My rug is a row of twisted fringe away from lying on the floor.  Skeins of yarn were wound in anticipation of a new warp.  Drafts were reviewed with the planning for Christmas in full swing.

Twisting fringe gives you a lot of time for meditation and today I was thinking about what allows a person to do seemingly mundane, repetitive tasks that build into the finer crafts that I have been playing with lately.  I used to tell my husband that there was absolutely no way to bore me as long as I had something to do with my hands.  I think it comes from seeing multiple generations of my family always busy with their hands.  From knitting and quilting to mechanics and wood working everyone was always doing something.  I’m fortunate that they also thought it was important to pass on the knowledge and interest in one way or another.

My interest in the things I learned when I was younger has grown as I age.  When I was cleaning out the attic I came across the first piece of crewel embroidery I made with my grandmother. I think I was 8 or 9 years old.  She bought some little kit and showed me the stitches.  I would work them while she did some sort of handwork of her own I’m sure.  If she wasn’t there my mother would show me what I needed to know.  I learned many, many things from those women.  I think the most important is the work of your hands can be a form of meditation.

Doing the same small thing over and over allows your mind to work out the problems of the day (or week or month).  Almost all crafts allow you to do this.  There’s a learning curve to everything but there always comes point where the work becomes known and it’s only in the beginning stages that it requires concentration.

Every new craft that I have learned to do I have always worked to perfection over whatever time it takes to do so.  I will make one thing after another, honing my skill until I’ve worked it to death.  For a number of years I made teddy bears, not ordinary bears but beautiful, jointed stuffed animals.  The reason I did it?  I needed to perfect the embroidery of their noses.  Once I got to the point of knowing they could meet the expectations of even the harshest critic I taught others to make them.  It finally ran its course.  I know that if I decided someone needed a bear of their own I could make one with little effort and it would meet my exacting standards without the frustration of the first 10 or 20 bears that I originally made.  Also, in making that bear now, I would be able to meditate my way through the entire process, think about its recipient and put more of my good thoughts into the gift.

So it would appear to an outsider that I have craft ADD – and I do in some respect but it’s also a sick pursuit of perfection that drives what to others looks like a crazy, boring craft project.  I will work a skill a little at a time until I master it and continue to learn the possibilities within the craft.

That may be the appeal of weaving, I know there are so many aspects to it that it will take the rest of my life just to explore them all but there are little pieces of it that I can work until it’s perfected, then move on.

I think that’s the way life is, you have to break it down into little pieces, perfecting or finishing it one bit at a time.  Not everything allows meditation but with patience and practice it can all feed your soul.  For me it’s all about finding that sweet spot in everything I do.  Now the season has shifted once again and I bring out the things that have been waiting for months for my attention.  In a few more months all I’ll want to do is dig in the dirt but for now I’ll be doing those cold weather projects.

Bread and Jelly

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Cooking

141103 Bread and Jam

I finally broke open a jar of Elderberry Jelly yesterday.  When I had made it I thought I was going to be stuck with jars of Elderberry syrup. I put the jars into the cupboard with hopes that given a little time it would set up.  Turns out it’s perfect and delicious.

With cooler weather here and the wood stove going it’s also time to start making bread once again.  I had high hopes of making it all of the time but found that I was throwing away a lot of it during the summer because it would mold before it was half gone.  Another reason to love the cooler weather.

I also hear that eating Elderberry jelly or syrup daily helps ward off colds and flu.  I’m feeling some sniffles coming on.

 

Winding Into Winter

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Uncategorized

141026 Sunrise

The temperature was at freezing this morning.  I lit the stove using last nights coals and made my coffee.  The morning temperatures have been in the mid forties for the past few weeks but I start the stove every morning to take the chill off.  I love the cheeriness of that fire when I walk into the kitchen.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity as it always is when winter approaches.  Most of the wood is in, the fall cleaning is finished.  Things are moved around (like sleeping areas) to be the most comfortable for the winter.  We do not have heat on the second floor of the house so the electric blankets went onto the beds.

Everything left was dug out of the garden, a bumper crop of carrots this year both Danvers and Atomic Reds.  The Atomic Reds were one of this years experiments and I would plant them again.  I was disappointed that they don’t stay red when they are cooked much like those purple beans.

The month of October was also a time of connecting with friends, both old and new.  A very dear friend of mine stopped in to visit me while on a trip here from New Mexico.  I haven’t seen her since 1995 yet we picked up as though we’d seen each other a month ago.  It was wonderful reminder of how dear my old friends are.

Our 2nd Annual Harvest Party was a success other than the weather, but all that really did was keep us in the house.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon – eating great food with great friends and family.  This event is always an interesting mix of old and new acquaintances.  It’s always fun to rehash the day with newcomers who are trying to learn who the players in my life are.

Then there are the newest “friends”.  My cyber community has evolved into the most interesting ways in the past few months.  I have become acquainted with a few like-minded people who are working towards some self-sufficiency.  They are craftsmen, farmers, artists, renovators.  They have similar interests and through our frequent posts we get to know a little about each other.  This has offered me an opportunity to learn a lot about some of my interests.  They are generous in conversation, answering questions I might have about weaving, gardening or livestock.  The readers of this blog offer words of wisdom in situations I write about.  It’s a little  support system.

The changes in the past few months have been interesting and not always as expected.  Rowe is an isolated area and you have to work harder at being social.  I’m not always able to leave and the ability to converse over the web has in some respects kept me sane.  It keeps me connected with my kids, spouse and friends – old and new.

As we wind into winter, a time when serious arts and crafting come into full swing I’ll continue to share interesting tidbits of what is happening here and welcome the interaction of those who read it.  I’m looking forward to the down time.  Having the quiet and solitude always turns my mind towards creativity – I’m always thinking, planning.  There just is never the time during the warmer months for sitting at the loom or hooking a rug.  Winter will offer a respite from the yard work and gardening, it will allow me to recharge and dream about spring.  By the time it arrives I’ll be ready.