Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mittens, Mittens, Mittens & More...

How can two pair of mittens take that long to make? Well, one reason is that instead of just four mittens, I knitted seven mittens to get the two pair. Now why would I do that? See that first mitten on the left? That's the original. But when it was complete, even with the embroidery, I decided it was too big. So then I knit the two mittens on the right, the darker grey ones. They looked better to me.

When that pair was ready, without the embroidery , I started on the second pair, the lighter grey ones. I finished both of those mitts and even embroidered both. But I wasn't happy with them--they seemed too big, so I took them all the way apart and knitted them over. The first one finished in the smaller size is on the left here. Much better! So the one on the right was also completely disassembled, and reknit to match the one of the left.

I wasn't happy with the diamond design so
I took that apart, stitch by stitch, and designed a floral decoration. Did the darker mittens first, and wanted something different for the second pair, the lighter grey mittens. So, another floral design.

I just now finished that embroidery. You know what? I'm not really happy with it. It's not graceful enough. Am I going to pick it out and redo it?

I think I'll go make some cranberry vinaigrette for today's salad: spinach, onions, dried cranberries and sliced almonds.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Suzanne, who writes the blog "SuzieFoods," commented on the sesame bagels. Bagels are not hard to make, and you can avoid the huge, high calorie version in the supermarkets, etc., by making your own. Here's the recipe:

Bagels (8)
3/4 cup water
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 TB wheat gluten (optional)
1 TB sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp yeast
2 TBS bran (optional)
2 TB flax (optional)

Process all ingredients in breadmaker, or make the dough by hand. When dough is ready, form into bagels. Let rise for about 20 minutes. While dough is rising, prepare a large saucepan with about 2 inches of water into which 2 TB of molasses has been dissolved. Simmer bagels, four at a time for 30 seconds per side. Drain on a rack for about 5 minutes. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 375ยบ for 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

This, like all recipes I use, has been "tweaked" from the one I got somewhere. The original recipe called for 1 TB salt. We just don't like that much salt, so I don't use that much.

To form the bagels, I roll the dough out on a pastry sheet, cut circles out with a clean, empty tin can. (I actually weigh each bagel to get them quite uniform.) I pick up each circle and poke my thumb through the middle to make the hole and then kind of pull it into shape around my thumb. The rest of the dough gets rerolled and cut into circles. The last bagel just gets shaped into a circle. (It's always the least attractive of the bunch!)

Don't boil the bagels, just simmer them gently, 30 seconds on one side, flip and simmer 30 seconds on the other side. Drain them. I dry them off with a clean tea towel. Sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.

Vary the recipe by adding raisins and cinnamon, 1 tsp will do, to the dough. This tastes really good with apple butter.

You'll notice that there is no added oil in the dough or the handling.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I wish each of you a Blessed Christmas day, and a year to follow filled with the true joy and peace of the Saviour's advent and what it means in our lives.

Last night we spent the evening in front of the television, for me, a very rare event. From 8p.m. to 9 p.m. we watched the Christmas program from the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. It was lush and beautiful. A huge choir, a massive orchestra, dazzling decorations and great musicianship on the part of all. Natalie Cole was the special guest, and she really surprised me. She was gracious and charming (except for the huge amount of blue eyeshadow). In addition to singing, she recited the Christmas story from Luke 2 with beautiful expression. A truly enjoyable performance all the way round.

Then from 9 p.m. on we were treated to a marvelous performance of The Messiah, from King's College, Cambridge. This was the finest performance I've ever heard. The orchestra was small: 5 first violins, 4 second violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 1 bass, a harpsichord, small organ, 1 bassoon, and (if I figured it out right) 2 oboes. One of the oboes was blond--the oboe, not the oboeist, and I've never seen that before, but I'm pretty sure it was an oboe. This small group was joined by 2 trumpets and tympani when needed. This orchestra was the Academy of Ancient Music and the choir was the King's College choir: 35 young men and boys. And, of course, there were the four soloists. Every musician there was top notch. The piercing purity of sound from the boy sopranos always thrills me, and last night the whole ensemble was the highest musical treat of this season.

The trumpeter deserves special mention as the trumpet was (I'm guessing) a three foot long horn with no valves! His playing was impeccable and thrilling; I was in awe. Such talent! Yes, I know: talent, but hours and hours and hours of work to reach that lofty height of ability.

When I was in college in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the playing of the Messiah by the college orchestra and choir was always the real beginning of the Christmas season. It was performed at the beginning of December in the Civic Center. Downtown was all decorated for the season, and there was almost always snow to make everything look "Christmassy." But we had a choir of 500, an orchestra of 50, and an audience of 4 to 5,000. It was a BIG, HEAVY interpretation. One year I was principal of the second violins and I was scared stiff!!!

This version last night from King's College was light, precise and still robust. What a treat!

Now I'm just hoping we can catch the service of lessons and carols from King's College, Cambridge. That is always a treat of the same dimensions.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Turn of the Year

Just now, at 8:51 a.m., the sun is clearing the horizon. But the good news is we have just turned the dark corner of the year, and from now on until the June solstice the days will lengthen! I don't mind the short days so much because of all the cheerful lights and decorations we put up to celebrate Christmas. Here's the bright garlands and poinsettias atop the kitchen cupboards. The miniature white lights defeat the long nights. And, of course, the prize for having short days and long nights this time of the year is enjoying the super long days of summer when it stays light outdoors until around 11 p.m. and the sky brightens by 5 a.m. I understand that in the tropics the sun rises all year at 6 a.m. and sets all year at 6 p.m. I would so badly miss the long summer evenings! I'm happy to trade them for these very short days and long nights.

Over the weekend I did some baking for this
week, but not the usual Christmas goodies. First up was a batch of sesame bagels. These are 1/2 whole wheat, and we like to eat them for breakfast with a bit of ham and cheese.

Rising in the background are some "special" buns. This recipe started out as "Finnish Cardamom Loaf" and has morphed into these yummy buns with half white and half whole wheat flour flavoured with cardamom and containing a small carton of glazed fruit peel. For some reason these yeast buns take
a terrifically long time to rise, usually two or three hours. I don't have a clue why that is. I used to put the fruit peel into the dough when the breadmaker reached the "add" stage. Now I knead it into the dough when it is removed from the breadmaker. That seems to shorten the rising time a little bit.

Next up is a batch of three coffee tins of "Heirloom Boston Brown Bread" from the More with Less Cookbook. There's no fat or sugar in this recipe. Just whole wheat, yogurt (supposed to be buttermilk), baking soda, raisins and dark molasses. Makes a lovely, healthy snack, with a bit of cheese or some cream cheese and jam. Those are the finished "special" buns on the right.

Did you ever have one of those dracaenas we call "corn plants" bloom? The first time this plant bloomed I was astonished! I didn't know they ever did that. This is the second bloom for this plant in the last eight years. The flowers are not impressive, but at night they put out lots of aroma which I find irritating. We've moved this plant to the sewing/computer room for now. We needed the extra space in the living room for the Christmas tree, and that puts the evening perfume away from where we are sitting reading.

We have another one of these "corn plants" in the bedroom, and that one doesn't bloom, but sprouts new plants from the roots in the pot.

These plants keep growing taller and taller, until they begin to fall over, or take over the space where they are. Then I take a big, sharp knife and chop through the stem a foot or two down from the top. The bottom of the plant is discarded, the top dipped into "stimroot" and replanted in some fresh soil. It's as if the plant doesn't even know it's been hacked off. It stays as fresh looking as ever and just grows upward again. They are very easy house plants and don't mind having less than full sunlight. I water them about once a week in the summer and once in two weeks in the winter: about 4 cups of water with a little bit of fertilizer, and they're perfectly happy to provide greenery inside year round.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Getting Ready for Christmas

This time of the year everywhere you go people ask, "Are you ready for Christmas?" My usual answer is, "I'm always ready for Christmas." Years ago we decided that a Christmas celebration was not about splurging on a plethora of gifts, but should be centered about the celebration of Christ's First Coming. How to do that? For me the biggest pleasure of the season is the music. There are wonderful pieces of music that are played and sung only at this time of the year. This year, surprisingly, I haven't heard "O Holy Night" yet at all. That particular song I think should be heard only once in a season, and not heard at all in a shopping mall. The reason I haven't heard it yet this year is because I haven't been to any malls, just groceries stores.

I've already mentioned the annual community Christmas concert that the Arts Academy produces, which is always well attended and much appreciated. Then last week Saturday we went to the Red Deer Symphony Christmas Concert, which was a real delight. For some of the numbers they included members of the Rosedale Valley Strings, a student group. So much fun to watch how seriously the young students attend to their music! Many were very fine players, as we found out from several solo parts that some of them played, and played very well.

But we do make some preparations for Christmas in our home. One of our traditions is to put up a Christmas tree each year. When the kids were little we used to go to the mountains to cut our own tree. That's always interesting--you spot a wonderful tree, slog through the snow banks only to find that it's missing limbs on one side. But, wait, there's a better one; which turns out to have a major defect also when you reach it. Finally you all agree on a "suitable" tree, that is, the nicest one you can find. Dad cuts it down, stuffs it into the trunk, and we all head home for some hot chocolate.

Well, we don't have to go to the mountains anymore. We just go to the other side of the dugout where we have a three acre pie-shaped field with anywhere from 400 to 1000 spruce growing. They're planted in the fall as 12inch "sticks" and left to grow from year to year. We do sell many of them to people who want to have a nice spruce on the yard, or a triple row of them as a windbreak. They go at about 5 to 6 feet, and the tree mover comes with his truck to dig, transport and plant them.

Each year Jim decides which of the trees out there will be our tree for Christmas this year. I like to get it up and decorated by about the 10th of December, but this year was delayed quite a while by that miserable cold I had. So this Wednesday he went out and cut down the choicest tree in the field. It was big! It was a much bigger job cutting it down than he figured on. It almost finished him for the day.

I went out to take a picture of him cutting it down, but he was already at the end of the driveway, hauling it to the house. I gave a hand and together we dragged it to the back door. Later we pulled it inside where it completely blocked passage through the laundry room. We left it there for some hours to melt off the snow
and ice, and then he pulled it into the living room and set it up on the stand. Had to cut off another bottom branch to get it into the stand.

Later that day I started putting on the lights and decorations. The two long strands of lights we usually use weren't enough for this big tree, so I got out the old lights and started checking the strands for burnt out bulbs. This is so frustrating: one or two bulbs are gone on the strand, so the whole strand doesn't work. You need to replace each bulb one by one to try to find the culprits. The first of the old strands was finally in place. And I worked on the second. At last that was all lit up. I carried it to the tree and started putting it in place, and it went out again. Rats!!!! Rats!!! Rats!!!

That, unfortunately, was the point at which Jim stopped by to ask how it was going. He found out that lights are a pain, and the tree is too big! Oops! This was his baby, his specially wonderful tree that he had raised and spent his
morning chopping down. He retreated to the t.v. room and found something interesting to watch.

By the time he was back upstairs again, the lights were in place and the storm was over. All that was needed was to hang every sparkly Christmas tree ball and ornament that we've collected over the years, including the one ornament that has survived somehow from the very first Christmas we had together. I hang it in a prominent place on the tree, and enjoying remember those early days, long ago now. When the tree comes down I wrap it tenderly in padding and put it into its own little box, hoping it will survive another year in storage.

Also on the tree this year is a ceramic bell that actually
tinkles when disturbed. This was one of a set that hung on Christmas trees during my childhood. My sister inherited most of those precious old ornaments, but was kind enough to share this one with me. So it is also a treasure on the tree.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Time Out

I've had an unintentional time out for the past week, due to a very sore throat, and other symptoms, runny nose, coughs, stuffed up head, etc. Not a pretty picture.

When I got home from the rural quilting group last Thursday there were two boxes of fabric samples for me to dive through. It's always so much fun when my friend leaves a gift of samples. I sort them into piles according to colour and theme. There were even some fleece squares in there. I save out what appeals to me, what I think I can use, and then pass the rest on to one of the two groups I quilt with. So the past week, in between sniffles and coughs and sneezes, I was taking fabric samples off the cardboard headers and organizing them into washing loads. There were three or four loads, I think it was four. Then into the dryer, and then carefully laid flat while still damp, awaiting ironing. Final step: all sorted by colour and theme, and grouped into projects. Some of them just put into the proper colour bin for a resource. Right now my sewing room floor is just about invisible, covered by stacks of fabric. Tomorrow I should be able to get them all organized into the proper bins and boxes, and stashed away in the closet again.

That's about all the got done this past week, other than the necessary: meals, a little cleaning now and then, and the laundry. But I did read four books. Now I feel totally unexercised and eager to get back at my hill hikes and weight lifting. Probably will feel like starting all over!