Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Starting the New Year without Stale Projects

I finished the shawl. The purple shawl. The one that took forever. The one that was ripped out several times. It has been done for months and I was afraid to block it. And then I said to myself...."Self, you will not feel fresh and renewed starting new projects next year when you have stale, half-finished ones lying around on your desk."

And so, following the advice from a lady at my LYS, I laid out bath towels on the floor of my sewing room. I stretched out the shawl and put pins in it to stretch out the pieces into the appropriate shape. I sprayed it with water. And in a few hours it was dry. Then I crocheted on the edge and wove in the ends, and I couldn't believe it. It was done! Really done! Entirely done!

So I treated myself to a new project--an easy one, a quickly-completed one. Another shawl. :-) This one was a hippie shawl in crochet. It's called a spiderweb shawl. It is 2 strands of worsted weight yarn and a super easy crocheted pattern. I used 1 strand sage green TLC worsted, and 1 strand sand colored TLC Amore. It used just about all of both skeins and it is the perfect size. It only took about 5 hours total. And this one's actually warm :-)

I also found the greatest way to clean out my stash. You need:

All your yarn scraps and ends of balls, including eyelash and novelty bits
A size H crochet hook
A pillow form
2 movies to watch or a TV marathon of a good show

All this is is a granny square that gets very big. Each side of the pillow (for a small pillow) takes 1 approximately 1 movie. Before starting, take all of the balls and ends of yarn and line them up according to size, starting with the smallest. For the outside edges, you may need a new ball of yarn or one with quite a bit left on it. Each round gets progressively larger as you go along so you will need ever increasing sizes of yarn lengths. There is nothing to say you can't go 1 or 2 or 3 rows with one color, making a wider band of that color.

If you look up the instructions for 'granny square', simply follow them, adding a new color whenever you like. When it is big enough for the pillow form, fasten off and make another square the same size. To join them, work the 2 squares together as if they were 1 square and you were making another round. When you have 3 sides completed, put the pillow form into the 'bag' you've made and then continue to close up the final side. Fasten off and enjoy!!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Back By Popular Demand: Recycling Rodents

For anyone who missed this :-) Or just wants another laugh out of it.

Observing pet gerbils and hamsters, and mice, I came to realize that they embody and utilize the perfect ideals of a recycling, reusing, and reducing. We can all learn a few lessons from rodent behavior and benfit from having them around!

1. Bedding. When I first got rodents, I bought shredded pine bedding. It's very nice and smells good, but when you have to clean the cages frequently, it can get expensive. I started to look for ways to 'stretch' the pine bedding so I wouldn't have to use so much. First thing I reached for was craft scraps. I knit, crochet, and quilt so I always have a lot of yarn and fabric scraps hanging around. Instead of throwing these out, I started putting them in a bag and using a handful for a nice, soft bed. They don't care that the color is ugly or the yarn is kinked up. To them it is a soft, warm bed and an ideal nesting material. I started also tossing in the swatches and odd misfires from my needlework projects. A poorly-colored granny square or a too-small hat will make a cozy bed for a rodent!

2. Paper Shredders. In seeking pine shaving stretchers, I saw the mounds of nice shredded paper the paper shredder at my office made. I asked the boss for a bag of it and he was happy to oblige me. I have a huge bag of shreds that has outlived 2 animals already. Paper shreds give a nice volume to the cage for burrowing and digging. They are free, too! Then one night I was looking at a statement from a bank account. I didn't want to toss it for fear of identity theft. And we don't have a shredder at home. I thought about taking it to work, but it was the weekend. Finally I tossed it in the gerbil cage. They banded together and shredded that page in less than half an hour. Won't replace a commercial paper shredder on a large scale, but they got some exercise and extra bedding, and I got to shred a potentially sensitive document. Very thoroughly.

3. Food scraps. When I cut the end off of a carrot or drop a spaghetti noodle on the floor, I rinse it off and give it to my animals. We wouldn't necessarily eat it, but it is still good food and someone can get nutrition out of it. This also reduces the amount of animal food I have to purchase. Animal treats are madly expensive, but small animals are just as happy with a piece of carrot, a piece of cereal, or some spaghetti, and it is less expensive for you and better for them.

4. Cage furniture. Sure, you can buy a gerbil dish but why? Don't you have any Tupperware lids that have lost their bottoms? Or ashtrays that aren't in use since you stopped smoking? How about a little mismatched dish from the clearance bin? I promise the rodents won't care!

So, now that you all have positive evidence I am certifiably nuts, think too about how pet rodents can be our recycling partners!

Have Yourself a Merry *Little* Christmas

A lesson learned from a Christmas tree.

The first year I had my own house, I bought an artificial Christmas tree. A BIG artificial Christmas tree. My family always had real ones, and I figured if I was going to forgo the real tree, damn it, I was going to have the biggest, fullest, most majestic artificial tree I could cram in my living room.

So, the first year, I moved my table to the other wall and shuffled everything around into an odd arrangement to make a corner for the tree. We put it up the day after Thanksgiving and we were so exhausted after we finally got it all up. It took all day. Plus, living with it so *there* and in the way got to be old after...oh, 4 days. I couldn't wait to take it down the day after Christmas. Well, that's no good! What's the pleasure of a tree if it is such a pain in the ass to put up and live with?

The next year, I decided I needed to buy a new tree. A slender tree. And while I was at it, pre-lit so I wouldn't have to screw around with the lights. I went to the store, and couldn't believe how much a tall, slender, prelit tree cost. I went home and started to think. I felt bad about buying a new tree after I bought a *really* expensive one the year before and had only used it once. Besides, I couldn't really throw away the other tree, so I would have to store both. It was a dilemma.

The night we decided to put up the tree, I had a friend over and asked him for advice. How could we arrange the furniture so it wouldn't be in the way, and should we just give up on the monstrous thing and buy a new, skinny tree? While he was playing with the tree, he picked up the top two sections and put them together and it all clicked. We would just put up the top two sections! We would still have a well proportioned, full and bushy tree, but it would just not have an extra 3 feet in height or 5 feet in diameter!

We had the best time decorating that little tree. No one needed to stand on a ladder to put up the lights. Putting up lights took only 20 minutes. It only required 1 package of garland. It only required one box of ornaments. It was awesome! Not only did we not need to buy a new one, the smaller version of the tree didn't dominate the living room--it looked cozily at home.

Now I don't dread putting up the tree or tripping over it for the entire season. I have the perfect *little* Christmas tree!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Cooking Challenge!

So, ordinarily you would have the time to sit and produce lovely culinary creations but right now you have 10 people in the house that all want to eat at different times? Or ordinarily you love salmon and fresh asparagus but you have exactly $3 in your wallet? Well, I'm gonna help. You're welcome :-)

I have $3 in my checking account...Black Beans & Rice

1 onion
2 cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 cup rice
1 can chicken broth
1 can mexican salsa

Saute onion (don't have one, that's okay, just toss the beans in the pot and add a touch of garlic powder) in a large pot. Add beans, cook for 1 minute. Add rice, cook for 2 minutes. (This cooks the starch on the outside of the rice, that way it doesn't stick together). Add chicken broth (don't have any? water will suffice in a pinch, but you'll need extra salt & pepper) and mexican salsa (regular salsa will do fine, too). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until rice is done (about 20 minutes). Check halfway through, if water appears to be gone add a half a can extra water.

put in bowl--eat.

stuff in tortilla shells in place of meat, add cheese, lettuce, olives, whatever you have.

roll in soft flour tortillas, top with cheese, and bake for about 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

We'll be eating sometime this evening...Baked Spaghetti

1 box spaghetti or any pasta shape
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 can black olives (opt)
1 can quartered artichoke hearts (opt)

Set pasta to boil. If using olives and/or artichoke hearts, chop and place in 9x13 pan. Drain pasta and put into pan on top of veggies. Pour pasta sauce on top right away. Top with shredded cheese. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes to half an hour. If you need to 'hold' the dinner, cover with foil and leave in oven on warm.

Gee, I wasn't expecting you to bring someone...Egg Drop Soup

Good for a light supper or to stretch a meal that isn't big enough, or one that will be late getting to the table and you're afraid the guests will start to eat the table cloth.

2 cans chicken broth
2 eggs
1 T water
soy sauce

Heat chicken broth in saucepan. While waiting, crack eggs in bowl and beat with water. Add a generous sploosh of soy sauce to the broth. When soup is simmering, slowly pour eggs into soup while stirring with the other hand (well, use a spoon, please, or you'll burn yourself). Eggs will separate into strands as they hit the hot soup. Serve immediately. Put soy sauce bottle on the table for seasoning.

How am I supposed to clean the house and cook at the same time?...Greek Chicken & Potatoes

3 lbs. chicken pieces or chicken breasts
2 t. dried oregano
1 lemon
4 garlic cloves
olive oil
2 cans whole baby potatoes

Place chicken breasts in a large Dutch Oven. Sprinkle with oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and add salt and fresh cracked pepper. Cut lemon in half. Cut 1 half into quarters and toss into Dutch Oven. Peel garlic cloves and toss in whole. Put cover on and place in oven at 225 degrees for 2 and a half hours. After time is up, bump oven temp up to 375. Place potatoes into casserole. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour at 375, uncovering for last 30 minutes. Chicken should be falling from bones.

Your girlfriend is a what-a-tarian?....Roasted Vegetables

1 red onion
1 red or yellow pepper
1 cup brocolli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 zucchini or yellow squash
4 garlic cloves, whole
olive oil
salt & pepper

Chop vegetables coarsely and place in 9x13 pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with thyme and salt and pepper. Toss garlic cloves in whole. Roast uncovered for about 30 minutes in 375 degree oven, adding more olive oil if needed or covering with foil if they appear to be browning too fast. Serve over pasta and rice for a vegetarian meal, or serve as a side dish for carnivores (this is a good plan if you suspect the guest may be vegetarian but don't know for sure). For those who eat dairy products, a crumble of feta cheese over the top is a nice touch.