We Be Jammin’

A veritable avalanche of ripe citrus fruit littering the kitchen counters, filling baskets and bowls, appearing in recipes and cups of tea of late, resulted in this sampling, which represents the tip of the marmalade iceberbg: from left to right, Blood Orange, Bearss lime, and Meyer lemon.

The blood oranges were contributed by a friend, but the lemons and limes are from our own trees. I kept the sugar low, resisted my usual temptation to get fancy with spices and liqueurs, and added commercial pectin only to the lime marmalade when I saw that the seedless oranges formed a very soft set due to the absence of natural pectin. I supremed all the fruit (although to her credit, the blood orange-donating friend did half of both lemons and oranges) so there are no chewy bits of pith or rind to mar the texture. This is Purist Marmalade. And the resulting flavors are pure bursts of citrus goodness. Oh my.

There has also been knitting going on here. To wit, these Autumn Leaf wristlets. Pattern, my own adaptation of the many mitt patterns out there. I love the Rowan Yorkshire Tweed DK yarn in the Lime Leaf colorway. This yarn has since been discontinued by Rowan, which came out with Scottish Tweed DK as a substitute in fresh colors. Am I the only knitter on the planet to desire this color? I recently went online to try and find more of it in additional colors – it was such a pleasure to knit with on my size 6 bamboos. Alas, the only color out there, on site after site, is the Lime Leaf. What is it that others don’t care for? The lovely little flecks of sunflower and sky that permeate the fiber? The slightly tacky texture that makes it grip the needles so nicely? I just don’t get it. Anyway, your loss is my gain… this perplexing lack of interest just means there is more for me.

I am still hard at work on the Lizard Ridge blanket for my daughter. Coming into the home stretch, even. No more photos until it’s on the blocking board.

Here Comes The Sun

I keep looking out my office window toward the garage and back garden, and bemoan the absence of blooms. With all the rain we’ve had the last few weeks, it’s easy to think everything is gray and wet. Yet right outside my front door, all I had to do was look a little more closely to see there is plenty of color… all the easier to spot with the rare sun shining on it.

The cyclamen are in full bloom in pots on the front stoop, and smell sweetly delicious.

Primroses are brilliant, turning their cheerful little faces up to the sun to catch the rays.

The very first crocuses are up – and I love crocuses! These bulbs got all mixed up in the bag so I didn’t know which colors would appear where along the front walk. These are tiny, precious little ones. Growing up back East, crocuses were always the first to bloom, often appearing through the snow in the dead of winter. A badly needed annual dose of optimism just when winter seems as if it will last forever.

Singin’ in the Rain

Today is my beautiful sister Jenny’s birthday. She is forty-…. well, four years younger than I am, which makes her… oh, never mind. She is lovely, hard-working, funny, and has two exceptionally smart, feisty children. I love her very much. Happy Birthday, Jen!

Hellebores bow their heads to the gods of rain:

I’ve managed to track mud all over the ivory carpet in my office after stepping outside to photograph the effects of 48 hours of non-stop rain. Rather than clean it up (my husband is so much better at that kind of thing than I am… and he really thrills to the application of elbow grease, to seeing the stain sloooowly fade under his tender ministrations, to that burst of superiority he experiences as I, mediocre and disinterested cleaner that I am, praise his efforts. So obviously I mustn’t deprive him of this opportunity to bask in his talents.) I will share a few telling images of the deluge. Anybody got an ark? We could use one…

The pool is as close to the edge as it can be without actually overflowing:

As is the fountain:

And puddles create scenic reflections everywhere I look:

On another note, the Lizard Ridge throw progresses, but there’s nothing photo-worthy just yet. Suffice to say I am 3/4 of the way through with the blocks, far enough along to realize that I have too many duplicate colored skeins of Kureyon. A trip to my LYS is in order to exchange a few of these for the newer shades, just to mix it up a bit more. My daughter may never know the difference, but I will.

A little stash-building has been going on over here, to the tune of this luscious sock yarn from Sundara. It’s 100% superwash merino, color Hyacinth. My photos make it appear more blue and less… well, hyacinth than it actually is.

How about a close-up to see the utterly gorgeous and subtle variations in this semi-solid winner?

Deb over at Fearless Fibers is the creator of these lovely superwash colors. I give you, from left to right, Sublime (isn’t it just?), Butterscotch, and Marrakesh. I’m thinking a few pairs of heavier weight socks, maybe berets and fingerless mitts… Warm, beautiful, and washable. What a concept.

Stay dry!

Never Met a Chocolate I Didn’t Like

Last week I flew down to San Diego for the 33rd Winter Fancy Food Show. Just my luck that the year I decide to attend is the year they move the show from its customary winter venue of San Francisco (a 30-minute BART ride away) to San Diego (a 1 1/2 hour plane ride with all the accompanying hassles of parking, delays, etc.).

In any case, it was quite a scene. Picture over a thousand specialty food purveyors hawking their wares to over 11,000 ravenous attendees. These are gourmet food shop owners, restaurateurs, caterers, high-end grocery store buyers, and people like me – the press. Oh, and let us not forget the individuals who used any pretext to get into the show so they could basically hoover up enough samples to tide them over for the rest of the winter. And most of these gluttons, from my observation, didn’t need the extra calories.

My article on new chocolate creations will appear in our county paper’s Food section the week before Valentine’s Day. “Fair trade,” “premium cacao beans,” “sustainable harvesting methods,” and “artisanal” were the big buzzwords. I made the mistake of letting a couple of the chocolatiers press upon me their personal favorites to try – and found that we were seldom in agreement about what constituted “favorite.” Surprisingly, one of the most smooth, delectable and satisfying samples I tried wasn’t a chocolate at all. “Caffe Acapella” is billed as a “Gourmet Coffee Confection,” made according to the same principles as fine chocolate only using coffee beans instead of cacao beans. Mmmm…

Sunshine on a Rainy Day

These are the first eight of what will eventually be 24 or 25 (depending upon layout) for the Lizard Ridge blanket that will go off to college with my daughter in 2009. Just yesterday we spent some time surfing various university websites trying to decide which schools to visit in the spring. Talking about SAT scores and GPAs as much as about the distribution requirements, campus life, location, the strongest degree programs at each school.

Then she asked me in a slightly lost-sounding voice, “Mom, how am I going to manage my life in college? It seems so soon. Do you really think I’ll be ready to go away a little over a year from now?” She looked scared and worried, and I thought about all the effort we have made to give her the independence and self-confidence to handle herself out in the real world.
And I was torn betwen wanting to scream, “Hell, yes!” and wanting to sit her on my lap and try to assuage her anxiety. Maybe a Lizard Ridge blanket will help. She picked out her favorite colors of Noro’s Kureyon yarn for the project, and has seen me work on it regularly over the last few months in between other projects. She knows how much love and care are going into its creation. All I can hope is that when she curls up under its warmth to study, she’ll feel my strength and love and belief in her capabilities.

When Life Hands You a Lemon… Or a Lime…

The rain let up long enough this morning for me to run outside and pick some of the ripe citrus. We have Meyer lemons, Bearss limes (which are a funny chartreuse color when ripe and make the best limeade) and the first crop of Satsuma Mandarins, which are seedless and tart. I hope as the tree matures, the fruit will sweeten up… but even tart and tangy they’re pretty delicious!

(I confess I already ate two of the Mandarins… there are many more on the tree still green). The lemons are HUGE this year – almost the size of oranges. Divinely fragrant.

There are lemon tarts and lemon curd in my near future, and I want to try a batch of candied lemon peel…

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…

Oh. My. God. The fountain is overflowing, and the pool is almost spilling over its edge, too. Winds up to 100 mph in any other part of the country would be considered, I am absolutely certain, a bona fide hurricane, but here in the Bay area it’s only “rainstorms with high winds.” San Francisco weather forecasters have a talent for understatement, judging from what I saw when I was out on the road today.

Wish I could have stayed inside knitting, a cup of tea at my elbow, but no such luck. I had a birthday lunch to go to, and three friends in the car with me as we splashed our way down the freeway. Quite exciting… like the amusement park rides my family has to bribe me onto.

Nothing photoworthy today, so I’ll sign off with an amazing shot of the full moon rising over the hills behind our house a couple of weeks ago:

Happy New Year

One goal (and I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, to be honest) is to make 2008 a better year for blogging, even though with other projects taking priority right now, there’s not much to report. I’m doing a lot of writing, which is great, but that means I’m not doing very much knitting or gardening.

This being January, at first glance it seems as if there’s really not very much happening in the garden anyway. But on closer inspection, I realize the cyclamen are blooming,

and the hellebores are beginning a new cycle:

I’m encouraged to see that the daphnes we planted last winter are in bud,

and the cymbidium orchids are poised to make a comeback as well. If I look back at last winter’s photos, I can see which plants/colors are putting out the most new bud stalks… it’s exciting, if excruciatingly slow, but with orchids there’s always the consolation that once they bloom, those flowers will last for months.

And there are limes and Meyer lemons! Such an abundance, the lemons have lemons… I just sent a box of them to my dad, and I will make marmalade and perhaps experiment with lemon curd as well. The good news is they keep for weeks in the fridge.

And finally, several weeks ago I planted new irises from Schreiners. To my amazement, a couple of them are already in bloom. This one is called “Maid of Orange.” Stunning. It’s planted by the front walk along with several others, interspersed with variegated-leaf Heucheras. I like the contrast of the sword-like iris leaves with the rounded, mottled Heucheras… gives the walk a sculptural effect even when nothing is flowering.

And, of course, I am knitting, but have absolutely nothing to show for myself right now. I’m hard at work in the evenings on a Lizard Ridge throw blanket. It’s for my daughter to take to college a year and a half from now… which gives me plenty of time to finish it in between other, more pressing projects that will surely appear. Next month, I plan to have more time for knitting.

Autumn Color

I finally brought my camera along on my early morning walk to capture the fall color. For those who live in this part of the country, you know that such a quest requires a sharp eye for infinite subtlety. After living in the Bay area for seven years, I’ve learned not to expect entire mountainsides ablaze with resplendent fall foliage. I’ve learned to seek out the individual tree or shrub, whether it’s in a supermarket parking lot, in someone’s garden, or at the local elementary school. Sometimes it’s obvious, like the brilliant colors of this chinese pistache:

Sometimes it’s more subtle, like the gone-to-seed prickliness of these thistles:

Sometimes it’s a jewel-toned glory that is best appreciated up close, like the pink dogwood we planted last spring as much for its fall foliage as for its delicate spring flowers:

And sometimes it’s a gobsmacking, unexpected miracle like this angel’s trumpet blooming in November, the first year after the whole thing was lifted out of its unhappy potted existence and transplanted directly into a sheltered area in the ground:

Pesto Preparations

Here’s how I spent a good part of my afternoon, determined not to let the last of the garden’s bounty go to waste: These raw ingredients…

….turned over the course of an hour (most of which was spent picking individual leaves off the basil plants culled from the vegetable garden) into these, which promptly went into the freezer for use during the winter months:

Finished a new project in the last couple of weeks, from Interweave’s book Scarf Style, the “Midwest Moonlight” scarf by Ivy Bigelow, which began life in Barbara Walker’s second book of knitting patterns. I used Mountain Colors Mountain Goat in color Northwind, a lovely semi-solid that shifts from sky to ocean blues:

When some knitting friends came to dinner recently, I arranged the table flowers in an assortment of the brown and white transferware pitchers I’ve been collecting for years. Something about this arrangement, in spite of the spring-y tulips and lilies, said “Welcome to fall” to me:

Needle Happy

At long last, here is a recent finished project, EZ’s February Baby Sweater from Knitter’s Almanac. After seeing it several times out in blog-land, I had to try my hand at it even though I have no specific baby in mind for it. The yarn is an old Schaefer variegated I had in my stash, and one skein was sufficient for the sweater, with enough left over for a cute little matching cap (yet to be created). On size 8 needles it went very quickly, and of course I loved having only the sleeve seams to sew up at the end. Found the cute little purple plastic buttons at my LYS.

I don’t love how the purple pooled at the lower half of the cardi fronts (and on the back), especially when it achieved such successful variegation on the sleeves and upper half of the body. But the deep autumnal colors and the soft wool were a pleasure to work with. The cardi still has to be blocked, but I’m pleased to have completed it and gotten the buttons on.

The scarf below is from Interweave Press’ Scarf Style book, which has so many winners within its pages it’s difficult to decide which to try next. They call the pattern “Midwest Moonlight,” but the stitch originated in Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns. It’s the kind of meditative stitch that requires just enough alertness to get the repeat down cold, and then it takes on a rhythm of its own. I am a couple of inches from completing it, but wanted to share the joy early. Blocking will make it longer and a bit flatter, but the stretch will enhance the tilted appearance of the stitch, which is certainly most of its charm. I already love the way the side edges undulate and the bottom edge ripples.

Autumn is in the air

Last week the new irises arrived; lovely fat rhizomes with leaf stalks attached and each one labeled, all lined up in their shipping box filled with shavings. I ordered them from Schreiners’ Irises up in Oregon; several shades of gold, apricot, and orange for up front to border the front walk and mingle among similarly colored roses, and a combination of blues, periwinkle and dark purples for the back garden beds where the colors are generally cooler. Can’t wait until spring to see how they perform.

Imagine my surprise, poking around with the gardening shears this afternoon, to find this early harbinger of fall already blooming in the shade bed. It seems at least a month too early for cyclamen, not that I’m complaining.

Out under the pergola in one of the big pots I planted this summer, the plants are making a come back now that the horrid late August/early September heat spell has broken. The last few days have barely made it into the mid-seventies, and the flowering plants seem grateful for the reprieve. Petunias are not my favorites, but these white ones are prolific and really pop behind the brighter colors of the pelargonium and the little purple one (the name of which I forget).

Once I gingerly picked my way underneath the gigantic and prickly leaves of the vegetable garden’s sunburst squash plants, I discovered a bonanza of babies. I confess I picked them all rather than leave them to get big and mealy. I think there’s a recipe for summer squash risotto somewhere in my repertoire.

Although you’d never know it from these photos, I am knitting a lot. Just have nothing to show for myself yet. Patience.

Tomato Tyranny

A couple of weeks ago, my nine (Insanity or greed? You decide.) heirloom tomato plants seemed to take fertility drugs. There are now baskets and baskets of ripening tomatoes all over the kitchen and family room. I shouldn’t complain, I know. I’ll certainly miss them this winter, and to that end I have already slow-roasted tray after tray of them, put them in freezer bags, and stuck them in the freezer to add to soups and stews on rainy January days. But I’ve also been eating them in salads, sauces, ratatouille, and tarts… every day, and thus a bit of tomato fatigue is setting in. In this basket are the following: Brandywine, pineapple, plum, black Krim, Hillbilly, green zebra, and black pineapple. And there’s more where these came from:

The pears were doing it, too, until recently, when I showed them who’s boss by canning them into spiced pear sauce, pear jam with fig and ginger, and a chocolate pear sauce that is to die for. We’re talking dozens of jars here: I’ll never run out even if I gift them to everyone I know for the holidays.

Not nearly as prolific but even more welcome are the figs on the dwarf tree: I’ve had enough to serve them as appetizers with gorgonzola and prosciutto, and to bake them into a dessert with a sauce of honey, butter, and rum. I licked the spoon clean, but the rest of the family wasn’t as appreciative. Just a little too sophisticated – and not sweet enough – for them.

Finally, here’s my loyal office companion, my furry girl Shadow in all her spread-eagled glory:

I’ve been knitting quite a bit as well, but have nothing new to show yet. One baby cardigan needs buttons, one scarf needs another skein of yarn (I know, I know. I can’t believe I ran out, either.), and another adult sized cardigan is not far enough along to show off. Soon, soon…

Aloha, Mahalo

Returned from a week-long vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, my husband’s wow-did-he-do-good surprise to take the sting out of turning 50. Thankfully, we missed the earthquake, the hurricane, and the tsuname warnings. He was most disappointed not to see lava flowing when we stayed overnight at the only hotel inside the Volcanoes National Park, but steaming craters were quite exciting enough for me.

Unbelievable, though, was this “autograph” tree near one of the waterfalls, where grafitti has been condoned at a new level of tackiness… I guess scratching one’s name into a rubbery leaf has become an integral component of hiking and sightseeing. It just left me scratching my head.

During one of our day hikes, we spotted this tree. Don’t these roots look astoundingly like giant versions of a certain male protruberance? Even my husband was rather awed by their stiffness and “hairy”ness:

While we’re on the subject of awe-inspiring sights, it has been many years since I last saw a night sky as filled with stars and a staggeringly clear view of the Milky Way. In our rental convertible (Was that ever fun!) we could tilt the seats all the way back and star-gaze into the seemingly infinite heavens.

Most of the island seemed incredibly unspoiled and non-touristy compared to a visit we made some years ago to Oahu. We swam in clear ocean water on white sand beaches, ate fresh fish, hiked through rain forests filled with flowering ginger:

And amazing orchids clinging to and growing out of the rain forest trees like the epiphytes they are meant to be:

And these gigantic, prehistoric-looking fern:

We ate ever more fresh fish, hiked to 800 foot waterfalls, ate still more fresh fish, and hiked across a volcano crater that was as desolate and parched as a moonscape:

In the course of the week, we drove around the entire island, stopping in whichever little town caught our fancy along the way. It has been a very long time since I last felt so relaxed.

Maybe others are already aware of them, but I’d never seen a gecko up close before, and damned if they aren’t the cutest little critters! Kind of wish I had suction pads on the soles of my feet like they do.

I gotta ask, however, what’s the big deal about Kona coffee? Feh. Did nothing for me. I’ll take a good strong cup of french roast any day.

Returned home to the Attack of the Killer Pear Tree, which keeps hurling ripening pears onto my head whenever I pass by, kind of like those nasty apple trees in The Wizard of Oz. To get back at it, I’ve made pear jam with figs and ginger, as well as many giftable jars of pears Belle Helene (thinly sliced pears with orange and lemon zest and juice, cooked down with 70% super-dark bittersweet chocolate into a saucy jam the consistency of edible velvet). And pear tarts, and pear butter. Not to mention eating them fresh off the tree, sliced into wedges onto which liberal dabs of blue cheese are applied before they end up in my mouth… Yum!

So did I knit, you ask? Well, yes, but nothing I can show off yet. Especially since I, who should certainly know better, ran out of a particular yarn in mid-project. Decided at the last minute to use the yarn for a scarf that is three inches wider than the one I’d originally intended to make, and that was all it took. Now I have to wait until my LYS gets it back in, which they have assured me will happen the first week of September. And since it is a Mountain Colors yarn, I don’t expect there to be any dye lot consistency anyway. The perfect excuse to start another project. As if I needed an excuse!

Nightmare on Knit Street

If there was any doubt about my sanity during the daylight hours on August 1, the ensuing dark night of the soul confirmed that I could be one wrap short of a full skein. Couldn’t sleep, or so I thought, anticipating a long drive the next morning to the opening day of the big summer sale at Filati, a fabulous yarn shop in Rocklin, California, about 100 miles northeast of me. The mere fact that I’d seriously entertain the idea of driving one hundred miles each way to a yarn shop sale is evidence of my break with reality right there.

I found myself in the yarn shop right at opening, but – what’s this? Not a single shopping basket remained in the rack. A glance around the shop itself revealed… empty shelves! Nothing but file cabinets and boxes. No yarn. Not a single skein. I found the owner and, sweating with fear, asked what had happened to all that sale yarn? Had I driven all that way only to be too late to score? No, she said kindly. Pointing out the door, she informed me that the sale was at their OTHER shop across the street.

Dodging traffic, I scampered across the road to find dozens of women, all carrying shopping baskets that bulged with their sale purchases. Buzzing with conversation: “Did you see all the Noro over there?” and “Ohmigod, I just doubled my stash of Rowan!” My heart lifted as I hastened into the shop. But again, no more available shopping baskets! No yarn for me!

And that’s when I awoke. What a nightmare.

In reality, the drive up and back went smoothly to the accompaniment of NPR’s coverage of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis among other topics. I did arrive fifteen minutes before the shop opened (You try gauging a 100-mile drive more accurately than that!), but I was by no means the first eagle-eyed knitter in the parking lot. No, I was the third to pull into a space in front of the shop, and several others were right behind me.

Once the owners unlocked the doors, I quickly filled my basket with stash-worthy additions such as these:

Mountain Colors Mountain Goat in Thunderhead;

Mountain Colors Bearfoot in Olive;

Noro Silk Garden (evidently a discontinued colorway. I bought enough for a sweater);