Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Another Use for a Mesh Bag

This is the time of year we buy bags and bags of oranges. I hate to throw the mesh bags away -  they're so stretchable and seem as if they must be good for something besides holding oranges.

Some people scrunch them up and use them to scrub pots (but I already have a stash of crocheted net scrubbies). Others store beach toys or bath toys in them (my beach and bath toys are generally books - which I prefer to carry in a cloth bag). One website suggested using the mesh bags as strainers - although I can't quite picture what I would strain through them. And one very good suggestion was to re-use them - at the grocery store or farmer's market - to carry food.

It struck me today that the mesh bag looked remarkably like a hairnet. Which gave me this idea:

I could use it to store yarny works-in-progress. It's just the right size for a skein or two; it keeps the yarn and the work tidy and safe; it allows me to keep the label with the work until the project is complete. No more yarn ends flopping loose; no more tangling of one project with another as they get jostled in my work basket.

What are your suggestions for re-using mesh bags?

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Silent Trails

A beautiful sunny day today - 25º with a strong, cold west wind as I set out to capture a shot of the thus-far elusive Wisconsin snowmobile. We got plenty of fresh snow this week, and I was sure the trails would be packed.

Right outside the door, squirrel tracks lead across the driveway towards the ash tree.

Detail of the empty building which stands at the start of the trail.

I see that someone has been here before me - but not today. These prints are several days old.

They turn aside at one point, and lead straight to a plant I was looking at only last week. Wait a minute - those are my footprints! (I can't believe I'm the only human that walks this path. Don't people realize what a great offroad trail we have right here on the edge of town?)

Warm days and freezing nights have put a deceptively firm-looking crust on the snow. At any moment you can break through the crust and find yourself knee-deep (as I did later on in my walk).

The field is lapped by frozen waves.

I seem to take a lot of pictures of this little copse. I love the trail that winds through it...

...and the interesting plants that grow to right and left. Here's one with a rather large seed pod:

These red-twig dogwood grow right on the trail. I'm surprised they haven't been run over by snowmobiles yet.

Speaking of snowmobiles, the trail is eerily quiet. Where is everyone? I thought I'd be dodging them right and left, but no one is out except me.

(Cheated of her photographic prey, the Purple Peril turns the camera on herself. Note the chic crochet headband and the casually windswept coiffure.)

A young moon is rising and can be glimpsed between the power lines.

Almost half-full.

The snow has drifted deeply on the edge of the next field, and I break through the crust at each step, wallowing up to my shins. (I am reminded of The Long Winter, with Almanzo and Cap falling through the snow crust on their dangerous sled trip to find wheat for the starving townspeople.)

Ooh - here's a side trail I hadn't noticed before. Where does it lead?

Past a derelict pickup truck...

...right to someone's back yard. Back to the main trail for me.

It's such a lovely day I decide to go as far as I can. The trail leads past a small quarry (to the left of this photo), up a short rise...

...and down through a long cornfield which contains a hunter's stand and a rather nice tree.

Shorn stalks cross my path at a pleasing angle.

The trail leads down to a road and turns to run parallel with it. I'm at least two miles from home, the sun is beginning to sink, and it's time to turn back.

A good time for a shadow picture - an action shot this week.

Blue-shaded snow under the lengthening shadows of trees.

Contrails, wide and narrow - a picture for Project :: Sky 365.

What would a Micawber Sunday walk be without a wildflower silhouetted against the setting sun?

And one last sunset photo, with clouds looking like ruched ribbon across the sky.

All this time, I hadn't seen a soul. I began to wonder if perhaps it was Super Bowl Sunday and I had somehow missed hearing about it (could I really be that far out of the loop?) Some major sporting event must be keeping people indoors on this lovely day. (I found out later it was the Pro Bowl.)

To each his own. I think I'd rather be outside, looking at trees and sky, breathing the cold crisp air, and enjoying the sound of snow crunching beneath my boots.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

More Reasons to be Cheerful in January

This week has gone by in a blur. Overtime at work and a head cold took center stage, leaving very little room for cheerfulness (or cooking or housework or blog-reading). But today the sun shone, the work week came to an end (O happy day!), and the cold is on the mend. All of which has put me in a much better frame of mind for linking up with Planet Penny's Reasons to be Cheerful.

What's chirking me up at the moment:

1. The days are getting longer. My geranium, which has slept through December and most of January, is awake and blooming again. Hooray for more daylight hours!

And an osteospermum, which I couldn't bear to throw away after it somehow survived several frosts and a snowfall outside last autumn, is also sending out blossomy hints. (This plant is an annual, but it seemed so tenacious of life that I brought it in for overwintering, just to see how it would do.)

2. This smiling face, which belongs to J, one of my "honorary" kids from my babysitting years (I have no children of my own). J and his brother spent their early years in our home and are like family to us. Although J no longer needs a babysitter, he and his brother still visit regularly, and his mom and dad keep us involved in their lives.

Today is J's birthday, and since he's not my own child, I can say outright that he's a talented artist, a gifted Lego designer, and a cheerful, friendly, good-looking, intelligent guy. I should add that he loves crafts of every kind and is a true kindred spirit (in the picture he's holding a project we worked on when he and his brother came to visit in December - the Twiggy Star, courtesy of  Flowers & Home). Happy birthday, J! I'm so glad you're part of my life.

3. The sinus headache which has plagued me for days is finally GONE! I feel like a new woman. (Headaches destroy me, I'm sorry to say. They render me helpless and whiny. Just ask Mr. M.) As a cheerful corollary, the cold I caught from my co-worker is not nearly as bad as it might have been. I seem to have escaped the worst symptoms. (Grapeseed extract to the rescue.)

What's making you happy this week? Feel free to leave a cheerful comment here or at Planet Penny, or write a happy post of your own and link it up there.

A cheerful weekend to you all.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hopelessly Outnumbered


then she coughs.
We share two phones,
two keyboards, and a
cribbed confinèd workspace.
Nor vitamins nor frequent
washing of the hands has quelled this
viral onslaught. Defeated by germs,
I raise the white Kleenex of surrender.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Taming of the Curl - A Crochet Tale with a Moral

Once upon a time there was a scarf. A lacy, feminine scarf. Made as a gift for a dear distant friend, in a soft drapey yarn of her favourite hue, with loving thoughts in every stitch.

It should have been beautiful. But instead, it was...


Alas, the unfortunate nature of crochet is to scrunch up and curl in upon itself, and this scarf was merely following its natural bent. 'Tis true, 'tis pity, and pity 'tis 'tis true. But all was not lost.

Enter the shining hero:

See, the conqu'ring water comes

Like a soft spring mist the droplets fell. Gentle fingers smoothed the scarf, and the curl began to recede. But the yarn was stubborn. A complete overthrow was necessary to tame its curly propensities - so the scarf was turned over and sprayed again.

Face down on the ironing board cover, chastened by moisture and time, our scarf yielded at last to its beauteous fate.

Here we see it, docile and lovely, ready to be wrapped and sent winging on its way to delight the heart (and warm the neck) of its wearer.

And the moral is: block your work! Often a good spritzing and shaping with the fingers is all it takes to turn your crochet from crumpled to sublime. Your projects are worth it.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tracking the Wild Arctic Cat

A light freezing rain was falling this afternoon, as I set off in hopes of catching a glimpse of Felix Polaris, more commonly known as the Wisconsin Snowmobile. The temperature was a balmy 20º, and several inches of fresh snow made for prime snowmobile stalking.

On the corner, a tree bears strange bean-like pods. For once I remember to take their picture:

Can anyone identify these?

This is what I see when I turn off the road and onto an old track which leads to the trails:

A romantic-looking building stands empty on the right...

...in a field dotted with these unidentified plants.

Up a slight grade to the favourite tree...

...through snow deep enough to bury my feet with each step.

Then a left turn and I'm on the snowmobile trail proper, which leads across a broad field. Along the way I am distracted by some frozen Queen Anne's Lace:

and a tiny perfect birds-nest, empty of eggs but full of snow.

Across the field is a small thicket, where the ground is covered with...

...snowmobile tracks! Yes, the beasts have been this way, and recently by the looks of it.

As I reach the far side of the thicket, I hear the distant snarl of snowmobiles at play. Perhaps I shall see them in the next field, which contains the prairie restoration project.

No snowmobiles, but plenty of fascinating dried flowers are there. These little beauties are tiny - each blossom less than 1/4" wide:

While this spiny fellow is much larger - nearly 2" tall. Teasel, perhaps?

A sign for the snowmobiles. I can hear them all around me at the edges of the field, but can't see any.

But I do see....

Oak twigs fooled by the recent warm spell into putting forth buds:

The warm peach hearts of empty milkweed pods, some single...

...some clustered like exotic birds.

A fascinating dried blossom draped over a tree branch several feet above the ground:

And an icy thistle drooping under a spreading oak.

I'm back at the road without having seen a single snowmobile. The freezing rain has left a film of ice, so I stop to put on my YakTrax. Just as my hands are fully occupied with the strappy rubber-and-coil contraption, a snowmobile zips across the horizon to my left and quickly disappears behind some trees. (The one that got away.)

Next week, weather permitting, I shall again set off in search of the elusive Wisconsin snowmobile. Perhaps I'll even get a picture.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Bowl of Sunshine

Don't you love it when a kitchen experiment comes up trumps?

A few days ago I mentioned wanting to expand my soup repertoire to include more root vegetables. In pursuit of that lofty ambition, I decided to start with carrot soup. Having searched my small cookbook collection in vain for a suitable recipe (being sadly disappointed by Larousse Gastronomique - I thought that epic volume had a recipe for everything), and being determined not to turn on the computer with its manifold webby temptations, I decided to draw a bow at a venture (or do I mean shoot from the hip?) and come up with something myself. (Dear me, what a rambling sentence that was.)

The resulting concoction was warm, spicy, colourful, and cheering. I shall call it "Sunshine Soup". Here is the loose recipe:

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/8" slices
Salt and pepper to taste
1 quart chicken stock (to be divided)
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger (fresh would be even better but I was out)
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
Dash of cloves
Nutmeg to taste
1 or 2 red pepper flakes
More salt and pepper to taste
White wine (optional but recommended)
Heavy Cream (preferably without stabilizers or preservatives)
Fresh thyme or rosemary for garnish
Sour cream or crème fraïche for garnish (optional)

Heat some olive oil in a heavy pot. Sauté the onion and carrots, with salt and pepper to taste, until onion is soft. Add about half the stock. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until carrots are very tender. Remove from heat and puree, using a blender or an immersion blender. Add rest of stock and spices, with a splash of white wine. Return to heat, cover, and heat through, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and enrich with a tablespoon or so of heavy cream. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Garnish each serving with a dusting of fresh herbs, and sour cream or crème fraïche if desired. (Envisioning a lovely dollop of white floating on a sunny sea of orange, I garnished ours with sour cream. It promptly sank, and is therefore invisible in the photos. But it was quite tasty.)

Sunshine Soup with garlic-rosemary focaccia
and spinach salad on the side.

There's nothing like a shot of orange to dispel the kitchen blues.

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