Monday, June 30, 2008

Maple Orange Pork Chop Glaze

Not much new to report as I have been a fiber-blending fiend the last several days since getting home from Virginia on Thursday. It's what I did the majority of Saturday and Sunday with the exception of house-cleaning and going to church and going to the pool with Paul on Sunday afternoon. We have had some afternoon thunderstorms the last few days which is fun, but the humidity has been high before it rains so the pool felt fabulous. I will post pictures in a day or two of the fiber blending progress, as it is taking over the house.

Last night I decided to try another one of Rachel Ray's recipes and we LOVED it.

Pork Chops with Maple Glaze

1-2 Tbs. of grapeseed oil (the healthiest oil you can cook with besides coconut oil)
1 cup of chicken broth
Sprinkle of dry thyme (about 1/4 tsp.) Rachel calls for 5 fresh sprigs which I didn't have
1/4 cup of maple syrup
1Tbs. of lemon juice (Rachel calls for the juice of one lemon)
1/4 tsp. of orange zest (Rachel calls for the zest of one lemon)

Heat the oil in a frying pan until it ripples, add pork chops and sear both sides, cooking for 5-6 minutes until done. Remove from pan and wrap in foil to keep warm. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and simmer until the glaze thickens a little. Return pork chops to the frying pan, coat and serve. Pour remaining glaze over the chops.

If you have a rotisserie, try your chops in the basket attachment and start the glaze during the last 10 minutes of cooking the chops. When the chops are done, add to the pan with the glaze and coat. The sauce won't thicken until you add the chops for some reason. The benefit is that if you have thick chops the rotisserie seems to cook the meat inside and out without overcooking the exterior- turns out very juicy and tender!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Color Blending

The Sweater II is coming along nicely-- I spent the last few nights in the hotel room weighing out colored fiber (notice the new antique balance on the left).

I added each color one at a time to the carder

After removing the batt with all the layers of color, I folded it in half lengthwise so that the red alpaca fiber was sandwiched in the middle between the different colored wool. Because it has a different texture than wool, the alpaca has a harder time blending with the rest of the fiber. It seems to blend better if sandwiched between two layers of wool.

The batt was carded a second time.
Believe it or not, this is the finished color! Notice how all the balls match pretty well. This was near impossible (I tried) to achieve without a scale. For example each ball is a blend of 2 grams of lime green, 2 grams of bright blue, 1.5 grams of dark blue, 1 gram of seafoam green, 1 gram of yellow and 0.5 grams of red.

I still have a lot more fiber to blend so it will probably be a few more weeks before moving on to the next stage!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Good That Comes From Getting Lost

The crew that I was meeting on Monday afternoon called me and said that they were near the plant and "...are we at the right one?" There are many plants along the James River as the water is very useful for many of the manufacturing processes. No they weren't at the right one, and I proceeded to give them the best directions as possible, which weren't good because I don't know the street names (even though I have spent at least 6 weeks at this place or more over the past 3 months). The street signs are minuscule and so I go by landmarks such as "turn at the Exxon gas station and a right at the big church and a left past the railroad tracks, etc."

Anyway, eventually they got there and we began work. But the interesting thing is that in the process of getting lost, they found the location where Pocahontas got married! They told me how to get lost and find the same place, which is what I did today after work. I went down the road until it looked like it was going to dead-end at a manufacturing plant, and the followed the narrow road through a gate and down into a hidden town that was obscure from view by the smokestacks, etc. It was a quiet town of about 6 houses and one church and the road ended at the river. On the side of the road was a stone monument that says this town (Bermuda Hundred) is the area where Pocahontas lived and married the Englishman John Rolfe.

What a find! I've come to the easy conclusion that everywhere you go along these major rivers along the east coast you are bound to stumble upon some piece of history. Battlefields from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars dot the area. Yesterday I drove down the road a ways to Petersburg (pretty famous) to see the town and well-known battlefield. It didn't feel to be very kept up and I wasn't convinced it was tip-top on being safe, which is a shame because I could have really spent some time there. I was going to go to the battlefield but it seemed to be a bit isolated and so I didn't want to go there alone. In the end I went into a few antiques stores and then came back to the hotel. I did buy a very cute old-fashioned balance used to measure food and things like that. I bought it to weigh out my fiber and dye powders so that I get consistent results when dyeing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Busy Drumcarding

Well this pile of colored fiber looks quite impressive when it's all together on the table! It did take me some time to card each color separately, as I worked on one color at a time while watching movies and talking on the phone. This was over the course of a few weeks, but it seemed to go pretty fast even though when I add up all the movies I watched, it took me many hours.

Now I'm working on getting the right amounts of each color to get the perfect color blend, and each batt will go through the drum carder a few times to get everything evenly blended. I don't particularly like having the "barber pole effect" which is a look you get when you have sections of individual colors. I like subtle color variations in sweaters, especially if it's for a man.

By the way, I'm back in Virginia for a week of work and I decided to bring my drum carder with me this time. As I had mentioned a few months ago, I had surprised the hotel staff with my hat box spinning wheel and I didn't want them to think I'm a complete nut job, so I concealed my drum carder (which looks like an instrument of torture, especially because it's homemade) in a duffel bag and snuck it in. We finished work early today so I have a few hours of blissful drum carding and the Food Network to watch. :-)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Berry Pie Recipe

This is a recipe I love because it is the only fruit pie that I really like. Blueberries and blackberries were on sale this week and so planned on making a pie this weekend. I've blended two recipes together to get this one, one recipe for blueberry pie and one for blackberry pie, but I also sometimes make it with a Trader Joe's frozen fancy berry blend that also has raspberries. In my opinion the frozen blend tastes just as good as fresh berries, but when they are in season I always use fresh.

Berry Pie Recipe

4 cups of mixed berries in any ratio of blueberry, blackberry and raspberries
3/4 to 1 cup of sugar (taste as you add, because depends on how sweet the berries are)
1/2 tsp. of ground cinnamon
3 Tbs. of tapioca
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 cup of thinly sliced granny smith apples
Unbaked pie crust for a two crust pie (my favorite version below)

In a large bowl, mix the sugar, tapioca, cinnamon and salt. Add the berries and apples, mixing to coat. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pour mixture into pie crust. Slice remaining pie crust into strips and weave a lattice on top of pie for decorative appeal, or if you are having a lazy day, just leave the pie crust whole and lay on top of pie, poking holes to vent. Bake for about 50 minutes.

Pie Crust for a two-crust pie

2 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup of butter, chilled
3-4 Tbs. of ice water

In your Kitchen Aid mixer or by hand mix the flour and salt. Slice the butter into slices and add to the bowl mixing with the mixer (or by hand using a pastry blender) until the mixtures looks like coarse crumbs. Slowly add the water 1 Tbs. at a time and don't add any more once the mixture starts holding together in clumps the size of marbles and there is no more loose flour at the bottom. Pat into two balls, one about 2/3 larger than the other, and roll out on a floured surface to a thickness about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Line the pie dish with the larger crust and save the other for the top.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Our Weekend Getaway Continued

With all of my travel for work, I had some hotel points saved up and we got to stay at a Hampton Inn in Asheville for 2 nights free! So after the stone walling class and walk around Black Mountain, we went back to the hotel in Asheville, about 15 minutes away, and had a relaxing evening.

On Sunday we went to the Biltmore Estate for a leisurly walk and to check out the River Bend Farm on the Estate, which we hadn't seen yet even though we have annual passes. We watched the blacksmith working on decorative items, the wood worker using the lathe, and we checked out all the veggies growing in the garden. The farm area was really a restful place to be and they had lots of activities going on for kids and parents.

Up at the Inn the flowers were out in full splendor...

...and our walk on the trail that leads to the French Broad River was quite beautiful.

Most importantly, this weekend succeeded in our plan of spending some needed quality time together.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dry Stone Wall Class

Paul and I want to build a dry stone wall in our back yard that looks like the ancient testaments of time that we have seen all over England and Scotland. It has been a dying art but is making a comeback as more people are learning from the masters and passing on the fundamentals to the rest of us. Dry stone walling is a technique that involves building a wall (or fence or walkway) without the use of mortar or cement. The placement of stones is critical as the wall is held together by gravity and friction. When built correctly, these walls can last centuries as they essentially become like an extension of the land, expanding and contracting with the earth without cracking and crumbling.

Joe Dinwiddie has his own business teaching this art, and building walls for residential and commercial properties for those who aren't interested in building the walls themselves.

This class was held at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts near Asheville, NC. I couldn't believe I actually found someone who teaches this, as I was just looking on the internet for tips and how-to's but had the sense to know there was more to it than a simple 1-2-3 step format. So we contacted Joe and enrolled in the class for this past Saturday.

The class started off with some basic instructions on the different components of a wall, and note-taking with Joe answering our many questions.

And then we headed outside to get started. Now our class was the 3rd Saturday class to work on this wall. What is pictured below is what the other 2 classes accomplished in their 8 hour segments. We were to continue where they left off, and the idea is that by the end of the classes, the Black Mountain Center for the Arts will have a nice stone sitting wall outside the pottery studio.

We started by learning how to build a frame out of wood to keep angles and levels true.

We ended up building a frame that wanted to twist to the left, lifting the right leg off the ground so Paul was ingenious and came up with the idea of duck taping a rock to the top of the frame to hold it down.

Frame with the rock
We went through the tools needed for hammering the rocks into shape, how to use a chisel and what directions to pound the rocks to get the desired shapes and effects.

The hammering was a LOT of work and we found ourselves sufficiently worn out by the end of the day. It truly took a long time to accomplish such a small amount.

Then we were surprised by some rain for a few hours.

Once rocks were in place we had plenty of fine-tuning to make sure they were stable, solid and fit snugly together.

Small spaces and gaps had to be filled in with small rocks and gravel.

And we always had to make sure things remained level.

After all final adjustments were made, all vertical spaces were filled in.

Paul and I came away from the class feeling like this is something we can do. We want to build a more rustic looking wall with smaller, more uneven stones but the same principals will apply as what we learned on Saturday.

After the class Paul and I went to the Dripolator next door to get some hot chocolate and coffee and a little snack.

This is the neatest coffee shop we had been in! It has a very cozy and homey feel and everyone there was either relaxing in the couches and arm chairs or working on their computers at the tables.

They even had orchids in the windows- now that's my kinda place!

If you are ever in the Asheville area, stop by Black Mountain- it is a very cute town with lots of unique artsy shops and restaurants, and plenty of character!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dyeing Wool for The Sweater II

Last week I had mentioned The Sweater II that was in the planning stages. I had actually done quite a bit on getting started once I realized the mistake with The Sweater (I). The weekend before this last, I went through my fiber stash and found all kinds of wool and alpaca that were possibilities for use in this new project, as I had decided to set myself the challenge of using fiber I already had rather than buying more. Also, to increase the challenge I chose a specific color theme using Deb Menz's book, "Color in Spinning."

I chose to use one of her described methods of using the color wheel and combining different colors to get an overall desired effect. The method I chose was the split complementary which is using a color (red in this case) and the two color groups on either side of it's opposite (complementary) color which is green. This means using red, blue, blue-green, yellow and yellow-green, but not green itself. By being selective on how much of each color you use, you pick the overall color of the blend. In this case, I hope the overall color will turn out to be a dark foresty green with hints of red, and yellow-green.

To start with I used the leftover dark brown merino roving (not shown here) from The Sweater (I) project which I chose to over dye with blue in the hopes of getting a dark, dirty hue of blue. Notice on the color wheel you can use any hue in the same color family. I also had 4 4oz balls of a white merino, rambouillet and alpaca blend which I chose to dye yellow-green and yellow. The blue shown below is a ball of merino that was given to us in a spinning class that I attended at the Greater Los Angeles Spinning Guild last year. The green wool of unknown type pictured below is also from the same class. I also had some leftover gray alpaca from The Sweater (I) project which I chose to over dye with red and some scrap white corriedale wool which I also dyed red to get two hues of red.
I used three colors of Jacquard Acid dyes to blend and get the colors I needed. Red was used as is, and blue was used as is, but to get the yellow green I used about 8-10 parts yellow to one part blue. Now that I tried these dyes, I would have to say I prefer Cushing dyes over Jacquard's for desired color effect (not saying they are better in the color or light-fast category as I haven't really compared these qualities.

Here are the balls of fiber drying on the deck in the hot humid great outdoors. They dried much better once I brought them into the air conditioning! The upper left dark mess is the dark red alpaca and the upper right mess is the dark blue/gray merino. I am skeptical as to whether or not this is going to give the dark foresty green I hope for. Paul is skeptical about all the yellow-green which he says is a bit to girly. I am showing more confidence to him than I feel that it will all work out alright in the end!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's a Jungle Out Here

This field job brings out far reaching emotions in me on both ends of the spectrum. Today was one of those kind of days that fell into a couple of categories because it had moments of adventure, moments of peaceful harmony with the weather and moments of exasperations that made me pause to think, "they aren't paying me enough to do this."

A few weeks ago I was outside all day and the weather was simply perfect and I felt bad for all the folks working in a stuffy office. Yesterday the temperature out here was 100 degrees with 90% humidity (or very close to it) and it was brutal to the max. Today started out cool with the smell of rain in the air that had just cleared up and our first well was stationed in nicely cut grass and in the shade. All that was needed was windchimes and Paul bringing me a glass of lemonade and it would have been vacation.

Shortly after that, the thermometer climbed and we had to head deep into the forest where a well was found that no one knew existed. It was too dense to get the Dodge truck through and so we had to pack in and pack out all our tools and equipment. Since I had found a tick crawling around on my shirt yesterday, we had to wear tyvek suits today on our treck into the undergrowth and overgrowth. This is like wearing a trashbag with arms and legs (hot and sweaty). It was not real fun, but at the same time I envisioned myself as an action hero in a comedy spoof. And although it was hot, it was novel to me that we were actually sampling a well that was lost to the environmental society for who knows how long. Was it a case where the vines just took over and hid the well for 20 years? And who put it there? Anyway, it was kinda cool/adventurous.

Later still, we had to go to a different well further into the woods but we could actually get the truck part way there as there was a road- overgrown and rough, but still a road. The bad news was that the 1/8 mile that we had to hoof it was covered in poison ivy, mosquitos in swarms of 20+ and ticks and who knows what under the ivy and foliage we were tromping through. I was whining to myself and a little to Sean too, and felt that this was a very sad predicament to be in as it was near impossible to concentrate on the data we were collecting. We decided that we could work much more efficiently if one of us took on the roll of mosquito combatter while the other sampled. It helped the progress of the task, but the hour that we were down there was still grim.

Yet we emerged triumphant and I feel like my work life is more enriched by miserable moments like these. When I look back, I never would have imagined myself sampling in such beautiful places like these forests and swamps and shores along rivers, and I can later laugh at all the mishaps and miserable moments. I feel like despite the bugs and beasts, this is a dream come true!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Sweater Saga

The Sweater, near completion with T minus 10 rows left to go on the collar, has switched from being Paul's sweater to mine. This is how it happened:

I was reading my new book, "A Fine Fleece" and was on the sizing section which was describing a scenario uncannily like mine: if the person's chest measurement is 41"..... it went down hill after that.... then you should make the sweater 46-47" to allow for ease and comfort. Uh-oh.

Paul is 41"around his chest and so therefore I had made The Sweater according to the pattern for 41." Dang it! No wonder The Sweater fit like a glove. I could see it in his eyes when Paul tried it on, "Gee, it's a bit snug." But he didn't dare say it, knowing how many many hours have been poured into it. But not to worry, "no biggie either way," to quote Dad, I was ready for a new spinning/knitting project anyway, and so it all worked out in the end.

I have already made some progress on the new sweater, The Sweater II, but I will post pictures later. I tried to tonight but I'm in a different hotel here in Virginia than in my favorite Hampton Inn and the internet connection is lousy. I waited 15 minutes to upload one picture, then wrote my long drawn out story and it all went ca-put and got erased. So the rest will have to wait until I'm back home again!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Black Sheep

While I was away I finished another book called "Black Sheep" by Georgette Heyer. I love Regency era books so this one written very well, was very hard to put down.

Paper Back Reader does a fun description of it: "There is only one cloud on Miss Abigail Wendover's horizon: her beautiful, rich niece, Fanny, has fallen in love with a fortune hunter. Oh, sure, he's got perfect manners and high-pointed collars that suggest a man of fashion without veering into the realm of a tulip of first stare, but his smiles don't reach his eyes, and he, well, he tried to elope with another heiress. Not good ton at all, and certainly not the kind of behavior that recommends him to Abby or her equally protective older brother."

"A chance encounter with Miles Caverleigh, the estranged uncle of Fanny's love, offers Abby a chance to form an alliance with someone who understands that this is not a match that can or should be made. If she can convince Miles that this is a battle worth stirring himself for. After all, he's the Caverleigh black sheep, forced out of England due to an indiscretion (he has some qualities in common with his young nephew), and cannot see why he should be bothered to plot against a mere calfling. Especially one as callow as Stacy Caverleigh, impoverished and not willing to work hard to change that circumstance."

"Miles, of course, cares little about his family, but finds that he's willing to aid Abby in her crusade...
And thus we have our story."

I couldn't have said it better myself

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Joys of Humidity

I'm in Charleston, SC right now, and what a neat place! I will have to come back when I'm not working and bring Paul- it is fabulously historic and beautiful to boot. The only downer is that the heat/humidity down here is worse than our area near Charlotte, though, and so we are having a tough time working in it and adjusting. By the late afternoon I feel like one big puddle!

This reminded me of this weekend. One of the first of many humid days to come was Saturday. Paul needed his haircut pretty bad and he was leaving for Seattle on Tuesday for a business trip to give a presentation to a client, so it really needed to be done.

I'm his barber and so set up my station out on the deck to allow for easy cleanup and a pleasing atmosphere, although halfway through the haircut the temperature bumped up a couple notches and the humidity did as well (sweltering). Besides being uncomfortable, it was hampering my handiwork --I was finding it very difficult to do the "edging" as his hair was not falling away but simply sticking to his neck. By the time we were done he looked like Chewbacca with all his head hair stuck to his back! Paul, the eternal Star Wars buff, was proud of my analogy. We got some of the hair off outside, but he basically just had to march straight to the shower.