Knit Happens*

Thursday, March 31, 2011
When the going gets tough, the tough get knitting . . .or . . . . I'm not completely sure that the truly tough know how to knit. Nevertheless, I do have a poster hanging over our bed reminding me that life is never too chaotic to get some knitting done.

My mom taught me to knit when I was five. I plunked down on the floor and used some of  her leftover peach color yarn, which I thought was gorgeous and she probably felt smacked of the 1970s, and learned to knit to a nursery rhyme:  
In through the window,
'Round the back.
Out through the window,  
Off pops Jack.

I can still feel the smooth coldness of the silk cord drawstrings of the navy blue corduroy bag she gave me to store my wooden knitting needles and knitting projects in. I didn't knit much as a child, although I do remember making leg warmers for my American Girl doll. It wasn't until my early teenage years that I actually became proficient at knitting. That's when I tackled Barbara Walker's Learn To Knit Afghan and learned just about every basic knitting stitch and technique you need to know. The afghan, with all of its mismatched squares, is draped over the cabin's couch today.

While I've been knitting longer than I've been reading, I didn't put much effort into really improving my skills until 2008, when I discovered Ravelry. By that time in my knitting career, I'd had a fair amount of knitting disasters and I was tried of attempting to transform gifted yarn into beautiful garments. So I gave myself permission to buy myself some yarn and started to tackle progressively more difficult projects: felting, socks, colorwork, et al.  I had a major epiphany last year when I discovered the concept of "blocking" your work (where you wet a garment and pin it out to desired dimensions after you've finished knitting) which helps give knitted pieces their proper shape and also has a smoothing, evening effect on your stitched. It makes everything look so much better!

My latest project was a hooded lace sweater I started just after Christmas. The sweater, entitled Apres Surf (handy for all the surfing that goes on in northern Minnesota, eh?), uses sock yarn on size 3 and 2 needles (translation: itty, bitty needles and thread-like yarn) and although the pattern wasn't especially complicated, it did require patience and concentration. 

My goal with this project was to make a sweater that didn't look homemade. I realize this is rather counter intuitive to the whole reasoning behind knitting, but we're all familiar with the ill-hanging, bulky homemade sweater.  I wanted a sweater where people's first comment was "What a pretty sweater" rather than "Did you make that?"   I'm rather pleased with the results.

I had to slip in a fun little project while the sweater was blocking. This little sweater is for former co-workers' baby-to-be. 
After the success of the Apres Surf sweater, I'm really hot to trot to start in on this lovely little shell by the same designer, Connie Chang Chinchio. 
Photo credit: changcon
Unfortunately I probably devoted a little too much to my own sweater. Now I need to get a "Tree of Life" afghan finished to be a gift for an early June wedding.
Good thing they have their love to keep them warm because it's going to be a while before this afghan achieves the same effect!

 I better get those needles flying.

Do you knit or crochet? Working on any projects this winter?

*Title shamelessly stolen from fabulous fellow "K"rafter Ali.
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Wordless Wednesday: Late Winter Scenes

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tinkling snow banks melting in the sun. Forgotten fishing holes. Snow drifts like overbaked sugar cookies. Welcome to late winter at Of Woods and Words!

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Tofu: Terrible, Terrific, or Tolerable? Tofu Tuesday Tutorial 1!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
I got a lot of reactions when I posted the quip above a couple weeks ago as part of a "semi-wordless Wednesday" post and I think I might have been slightly misleading. I don't really think tofu tastes like wallpaper paste, although it is a pretty unappealing substance when left to its own devices.  

In an attempt to convert all you tofu-naysayers into tofu enthusiasts, I'm embarking on a multi-week Tofu Tuesday Tutorial. In this four week series, we'll cover how to convert that suspicious white blob of soy into something truly (cross my heart!) delicious.

Ready for today's tutorial? Here we go . . .

Tofu Tuesday Tutorial 1:  It's Actually Pretty Good When It's Pretending to Be Something Else . . . aka Sloppy Toes. 

The post below was originally posted at The Happy Home

I grew up in a vegetarian household and ate probably far more than my fair share of tofu dogs as a child. My parents were Diet for A Small Planet generation vegetarians, where it was still believed that vegetable protein was slightly inferior to meat protein and vegetarian cooking was treated as some sort of complex geometry proof. As we grew, my brother and I tasted many recipe hits and misses (barbequed tofu was not a hit) as vegetarian cooking evolved. The joyful result of all those culinary experiments was some adventurous taste buds and the knowledge that food could be just about anything you wanted it to be.

Now that I’m on my own, I’ve incorporated meat into my diet, but we still prepare a large number of meatless meals at the cabin. When we do eat meat, I prefer to purchase organic, free-range chicken and we avoid beef and pork.

Despite the fact that we rarely (if ever) have ground beef in the house, we eat Sloppy Joes on a regular basis. The secret is a childhood recipe which uses tofu in lieu of ground beef. Years ago, my father dubbed the recipe “Sloppy Toes” and the off-putting nickname stuck.  

One bite of this yummy sandwich filling will thwart that inevitable question asked of all vegetarians: “Where’s the beef?” I’ve used the recipe to help tofu-phobic roommates overcome their resistance to soy protein. It’s a great kid-friendly, weekday meal that uses everyday ingredients and happens to be vegan too. The only thing you need to remember is to pull the tofu out of the freezer night before.

Over the years, I've tried to initiate others into the world of Sloppy Toes, with mixed results. Here's my tofu-phobic college roommate Sarah testing it out. (Please note, I was unsuccessful in this Joes to Toes conversion attempt.)
Look at that unbridled enthusiasm!
"Do  I really have to eat this?"
Mmm, delicious!
Try taking the Joes to Toes challenge yourself!  

Sloppy Toes
1 lb. extra firm tofu, frozen and defrosted*
2 tablespoons tamari (or other soy sauce)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ medium green pepper, chopped
1 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Squirt of hot sauce (I use Sriracha)

Squeeze excess moisture from tofu. (I usually place the cake of tofu between two plates in the kitchen sink and place a heavy object – like a bag of sugar – on top of the top plate to press some of the moisture out. Then I use my hands to get the remaining moisture out.) Tear tofu into small crumbles. Place in a bowl and mix with tamari. Set aside.

Saute onion, celery, and green pepper in oil. After about five minutes, or when onions are soft, add tofu and brown lightly for a minute or two. Meanwhile mix up a sauce of the remaining ingredients. Add sauce to tofu and heat gently for a half hour. Serve on sandwich buns.

*We’ve always used frozen, then defrosted tofu because it seems to have a crumblier texture closer to that of ground beef that tofu used fresh out of package.
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Seeking Inspiration: Favorite Writing Books

Monday, March 28, 2011
To be perfectly honest, this March has not been my month.

Remember back when I asked "Do I dare?" Apparently, I dare not because I still have 50,000 words to get tapped out by Thursday to make my goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of March. That's right my friends, I've written a grand total of 0 fiction words this month and unless I got paid to write it, I didn't and even those deadlines were dealt with capriciously. I guess a month that kicked off with a nasty bout of stomach flu about 20 minutes into March 1 and involved lengthy dealings with the auto insurance people (oh black ice, you are not my friend) wasn't destined to be my most inspired 31 days.

But enough about me. While I've gotten a lot of knitting done this month (more on that later this week!) that's not really moving me along towards becoming a self-employed freelance writer. What I need is a kick in the butt. While I try to assure beginning writers that they really don't need to immerse themselves in "how to write" books before actually pursuing a writing career (just get writing!), I do find inspiration and sometimes, answers to puzzling aspects of the lifestyle, in the pages of writing books. When I'm really having a "black dog" sort of writing day, thumbing through one of these tomes is usually enough to get me back on track. 

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is, for me, the definitive writing book. I read this in high school when I was first contemplating throwing away all of my worthy career plans becoming a writer. Since then, I've been assigned the book in college and have come back to the pages multiple times on my own. Heartfelt advice with a healthy dose of humorous real life experience, Lamott tells it like it is and in the process makes us realize we're not alone in our struggle with the blank page. Definitely a book that I think deserves to be on every writer's bookshelf. Actually, it should be within arm's reach on every writer's desk. 

 I've only read Jane Yolen's Take Joy in its entirety once, but I often leaf through it and never fail to stumble upon a meaningful passage. Yolen was one of my favorite children's writers and as a result, it feels like advice in this book is coming from a beloved elder. Yolen's most powerful advice? This writing gig is supposed to be a really good time. If it doesn't bring you joy, what's the point, eh? This advice is so obvious, yet never fails to hit me hard with an "oh yeah . . . "

The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen just came out in the last half-year or so and is a book for those serious about turning their writing in their career and their lifestyle. While book does repeat itself a fair bit (perhaps since Cohen is obviously trying to comply with a 200-page contract), I found much of the advice in this book fresh, helpful, and totally in tune with the reality of writing in 2011. Most importantly, The Productive Writer reminds you that there are enough hours in the day to do meet your writing goals. Turns out it's all about choosing writing over knitting. Who knew? 

I've long be on the prowl  for a freelance writing book that deals with the stuff I don't quite grasp about a freelance career yet doesn't dwell on the stuff that I've already heard many times before. Michael Perry's Handbook for Freelance Writing is the best "how to" book I've found on the craft. Maybe I find the book's writing and advice so appealing because Perry's from the Midwest. He makes freelance writing sound like something even us A- personality types might succeed at. You should note that the book was written in the 1990s and as a result some of the advice (especially regarding technology) is glaringly out of date. The bare bones of the book are good enough to warrant overlooking this "issue" and I would totally buy a revised 2011 version of the book if it was available. Hear that Mr. Perry?

Do you have a favorite writing book? Or a favorite "how to" book? 
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Across the Ice, Over the River and Through the Woods . . .

Thursday, March 24, 2011
You know what's really weird when you think about it? Ice.

For oh, about  seven months of the year, the bay outside the cabin looks like this.

For the other 5 months it looks more like this:

In a neighboring bay, ice turns the lake into a veritable highway.

Of course ice makes a rather capricious roadway. Ice is in its very nature is treacherous. When too much snow builds up on the ice, lake water leaks over the top of the ice to mix with the snow and creating slushy conditions that are anything but fun to traverse. Wind can cover up paths across the lake's flat frozen terrain in a matter of minutes.

We've been getting a lot more sunshine and warmer temps lately and that means the lake ice is starting its slow spring melt. As the layers of ice and snow melt down, past treks across the ice are re-revealed since compacted tracks from snowmobiles, snowshoes, and boots take longer to melt.

It can be kind of disconcerting to walk across melting ice. As I write this I can hear the ice groaning and cracking outside as it adjusts to warmer "spring-ier" temperatures. But our  recent  warm "spring" weather was followed by subzero temperatures in the last couple days which refroze the ice into a concrete like substance. Yesterday Andy and I set out down the new (and short-lived) ice "sidewalk" to see where the wind might blow us.

After all that ice talk, it was lovely to find some running water by the "Ripple", where the lake feeds into a river.

On the way home, we scrambled down a cliff,
cut through a swamp

(which wasn't quite as stable as the lake ice),

found cliff side icicles,

even spied some evergreen polypody poking up through the snow.

It was beautiful springtime hike, all brought to you compliments of the wonderful, mysterious substance known as ice!

Where's your favorite place to wander in the springtime?
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Wordless Wednesday: Flower Therapy

Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Andy and I have spent a good part of the last couple days racing winter storm warnings. (The snow missed us, which makes me so oh-so-not-very sad.) Despite my optimism about impending spring on Monday, lately it's been blustery and cold. Lake Superior's in its second day of  turquoise-hued turmoil. Looks like we're getting a preview of April's "cruelest month" qualities!

To compensate for the wind and grey, I thought we'd celebrate our own little festival of colors here on Of Woods and Words and post some of my favorite spring flower shots from years past. What's your favorite springtime flower? Me? I can hardly wait for lilacs!

Lilacs, Gunflint Trail, MN, May 2010
Daffodils, St. James Park, London, March 2008

Ballintuber Abbey, Co. Mayo, Ireland March 2005

Morrab Gardens, Penzance, Cornwall, March 2008

Iris, The Cloisters, New York City, April 2010
Wood Sorrel, Columbia River Valley, Oregon April 2010
Pink Moccasin Flower, Gunflint Trail, MN May 2010
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The Day I Thought Would Never Come

Monday, March 21, 2011
Spring has sprung!

Must be spring

If the mud splatters on the back of my pants are any indication, it must be spring. Spring around these parts means mud (a lot of it!) and although the snow banks are still being measured feet rather than inches, the road to the cabin is quickly turning into a mucky quagmire. So much for the romantic allure of dirt roads . . .

Beside, the world slowly turning slushy and mushy and mucky, there are plenty of other spring "indicators" around the cabin. It's mating season for red squirrels and let me tell you, if you thought squirrels were obnoxious to begin with, let me assure you that the everyday squirrel has nothing on the sex-craved squirrels. To make matters worse, we're getting to the bottom of our sunflower seed supply and the squirrels are getting rather desperate about their dwindling "free lunch" option. We're witnessed several (sunflower seed) bar brawls in the last couple days. Real nice . . .

Getting ready to brawl
I finally got around to placing our summer seed order last Saturday night. Although we can't safely plant outside until around Memorial Day, plants like peppers, tomatoes, and flowers can get started indoors in early April. In no time at all (okay, maybe like four months), the porch with host scenes like these:

Andy's been hot to trot for the two of us to head out a canoe trip and somehow on Saturday he convinced me that it would be really great if we went on a weeklong canoe trip the second week of May. (I must have been dehydrated, hungry, or otherwise gullible.)  Because who does like sleeping on rocks in 42 degree drizzly weather? I'm consoling myself by deciding a spring (brrrr!) canoe trip is the perfect opportunity to by those adorable Wellingtons I've always wanted.

If those don't say "spring" I don't know what does. Andy says they're not practical. However, we proved long ago that never the twain shall meet when it comes Andy and my opinions on what constitute an awesome boot

Happy Spring all! What does spring bring in your parts?
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Happy St. Paddy's Day! (With Irish Soda Bread recipe)

Thursday, March 17, 2011
Rainbow in Waterford, Ireland, April 2008
 Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! I hope today brings you a bit o' Irish luck and finds you wearing a touch of green. If not, you'd best get some green on, else you're liable to be pinched! Personally, I'm debating between pulling on my "Kiss Me I'm Irish" t-shirt or my "Made in Ireland" t-shirt this morning. Ah, life's tough decisions, eh? 

I was planning to have an Irish Soda Bread tutorial today, but ran out of milk. The result of our milk "outage" is two-fold. One, I've been forced to eat dry Cheerios for breakfast. (True story. Things are pretty grim around here.)  Two, you're getting pictures of my St. Paddy's decorations instead of step-by-step bread instructions.The recipe and story for the Irish Soda Bread is at the bottom of the post.

My family's always celebrated St. Paddy's Day.  My dad's paternal grandparents are from Ireland and I was lucky enough to study abroad just 20 odd miles from my great-grandfather's hometown during my sophomore year of college. I returned to Ireland in 2008 and now am experiencing the heartbreak of watching first my brother and now my parents head off to the Emerald Isle this winter. (Boo to good financial decisions!) Thankfully, my brother was sweet enough to share a taste of Ireland with me. A box of 12 Cadbury Mint Crisp bars (deliciousness) arrived on my doorstep yesterday.

I've accumulated a fair amount of St. Paddy's Day decorations over the years. A friend gave me these snowman a few years back and I love them so much, they're on display from Christmas through the end of March.
 Remember Beanie Babies? This little lass, "Erin," I think, comes out every St. Paddy's Day.
 I bought my Irish flag in the Dublin airport back when I was studying abroad in 2005. It's huge, so it always ends up over a door.
No St. Paddy's Day celebration is complete at our house without a loaf of Irish Soda Bread. My (English) mom found the recipe in a magazine/newspaper in her newlywed days and made it for my (Irish) dad each March. I brought the recipe with me when I studied in Ireland and I can assure you, this bread has graced many an Irish oven. Because yeast doesn't always cooperate in Ireland's damp, cool climate, you'll find soda bread, a quick bread, on just about every traditional Irish breakfast table. Although the sugar coating in this recipe isn't traditional, it's too yummy to pass up. I always put the raisins in, but you can take 'em or leave 'em, depending on your feelings towards raisins. Don't worry, even though we're out of milk today, I made a pre-St. Paddy's Day batch earlier this month.

Bantry Brown Bread 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup raisins, chopped
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (or just add a little vinegar to the bottom of your measuring cup and use regular milk)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Stir in whole-wheat flour and currants. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in buttermilk. Turn dough out onto lightly floured pastry cloth or board. Knead 10 times (or until all the dry ingredients are worked in . . . I've never had a problem with "overworking" this dough). Shape into 7-inch round loaf. Place on cookie sheet. Cut a cross in top of dough. Bake for 40 minutes, remove from oven. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and water in saucepan; bring to boiling. Brush over hot loaf. Return to oven for 5 minutes, or until bottom is golden brown.

Best enjoyed hot out of the oven, slathered with Kerry Gold butter, but also transports well for treks in search of the end of the rainbow. Until you find your pot of gold, here's some more Irish scenery and a blessing to wish you well this St. Paddy's Day.

Irish Road, Inishmor, Aran Islands, April 2008
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
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