Some Thoughts

So, as I’m reviving this blog (though, “reviving” is a generous term, since I’ve managed to forget to post for ten days), I’ve been thinking about what I want from this space, and what I hope to contribute to others from this space. And so, with this sort of navel-gazing in mind, I’ve been trying to come up with lists of things I’d like to cover.

But, all of that is kind of secondary to who I am, and what I believe in, particularly as it relates to hand and home crafts.

I happen to believe that craft work- particularly skilled craft work, such as knitting, woodworking, gardening, and sewing (and cooking and baking, to a degree) are incredibly mentally active fields of pursuit, if you chose to engage in them as such. Matthew B. Crawford talks about some of this in his book Shop Craft as Soulcraft, which is pretty well distilled in this essay of his. This mental engagement is part of why I love farming, as well as my craft work.

A lot of this sentiment- this deep respect for the difficulties of working with physical things to create or repair them- is deeply political. I wasn’t raised to respect these types of work- my family considered them to be largely inappropriate for someone of my intelligence, and for the number of opportunities available to me. I don’t think it’s going to blow anyone’s mind to say that certain jobs are associated with certain socioeconomic classes. And these sorts of jobs? They were definitely not associated with the class my family aspired to be.

And yet here I am, at age 26, with some pretty deep fondness for working with my hands. For the sort of tasks and activities that require me to engage with physical things- inanimate (yarn, wood, and fabric), animate (livestock), and somewhere in between (plants). I can’t really identify where this affinity comes from, but I can say that I find more satisfaction out of finished physical work than out of finished knowledge work. I’m sure someone (my own jerkbrain, perhaps?) will suggest it’s got to do with my not being clever enough to appreciate and understand abstract work as its’ own reward, though, well, I doubt that’s the case. I’m pretty damn clever.

But where does that leave me? Leave us? How do you represent the challenges and difficulties of doing, and making, in a way that is not only didactic (should someone else want to try a thing), but is also engaging and interesting? How do you represent the full spectrum of mental challenges that go into creating a thing? How do I express the full complexity of the physical things I work with, without sounding either overly dramatic or potentially delusional?

I think I’ll be trying something a bit different here from now out- while I’d still like to write about food, and crafts, and animals, I think I’ll be leaning towards some more discursive posts about process and materials, that will hopefully start representing what I see in these processes that engages me. While I’m sure there’ll be plenty of falling on my face, and seeming foolish, I hope that this will lead somewhere useful. Like I said, my love of physical work is fairly political- I think respecting the complexity and difficulty of the other people’s work (even when we don’t understand those complexities or difficulties) is an important part of being a better person (for myself, at least). I hope to share some of that with you.

Posted in navel gazing | Leave a comment

Throne of the Crescent Moon

So… I’ve kind of slacked on the “books” front on this blog. I apologize.

To make up for it, I want to let you know about the most amazing book I’ve read lately- Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon.

throne of the crescent moon cover

The book’s main character is older- Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is in his 60’s, at least. His young apprentice, Raseed the dervish, is a skilled fighter, but his youth is pretty evident in his character. And while both men are committed to fighting the ghuls raised by evil men, their attitudes and philosophies on this topic are totally different- sometimes complimentary, sometimes conflicting. Several other characters (including kick-ass Zamia Badawi) emphasize and illustrate the various ways of viewing this conflict and duty, to fighting evil. And it’s brilliant.

I mean, how often do we get a straight up swords-and-sorcery novel that actually talks about the personal costs of the fight against evil? This book isn’t perfect (the pacing in the last third is a bit quick- while exhilarating to read, I had to go back and figure stuff out once or twice), but it’s both entertaining and meaty. And we’re spending much of our time with older characters- you can really feel the exhaustion, exaspiration, and physical toll that years of physical battle have taken on Adoulla and his older colleagues. And while many of the younger characters do have the zeal and energy characteristic of most young fantasy protagonists, seeing such energy through older eyes tempers and humanizes everyone involved. 

map of the crescent moon kingdoms

The other thing I loved about this novel was how fundamentally urban it was- Dhamsawaat, our primary setting, is described in loving detail. And while not all of our characters love it (and the novel switches between multiple points of view, so you get a good sense of everyone’s opinions), Adoulla does- and that love is a fundamental part of what makes Adoulla amazing and interesting. I mean, this is a city that our characters fully admit is crowded, smells of sewage, and corrupt. And yet it’s Adoulla’s home, and that sense of home is so complete it fills the novel, and gives us a sense of purpose when some of the more interesting philosophical conflicts are running slow.

This is also a novel that is fundamentally Arab- in all of the best ways. Everything about this book, from the way the characters think and speak, to the beautiful setting (including one of my favorite descriptions of tea, ever) feels like home, to me.

So, this novel hits all sorts of genre standards. It’s fast-paced, and action-centric. But it’s also got all sorts of fun philosophical stuff going on, and the most amazing setting. I think there’s something in here for most people- and if you love fantasy, this is definitely something new. So, affiliate linky, here ya go. Let me know what y’all think!

Update: You can check out the first chapter here, on the author’s site. It’s awesome. Go read it. 

Posted in Books | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wow.

So, zombie blog is alive!

Uh, I don’t have much useful stuff to say right now. So I offer up some photos from the last year or so since I updated…

mister kitteh

farm sign

mister kitteh on a chair

dewey running in the snow

gilbert's hungry face

mister outside

Life’s going fairly well. Sadly, Mister Kitteh (the feline in the above photos) was lost to cancer this spring, but all the rest are doing well. I’ll try to take some photos this week, since apparently I haven’t taken any decent pictures since early spring.

 

AAAAND… In case it wasn’t obvious… I’m back! Zombified and moving about. No cricket bats to the head, please, we’re still getting the hang of this undead thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Red Pepper Curry

Well, I fell off the face of the world.

Or rather, things are going well in life, and as such, anything involving computers has been forgotten and ignored. I’ve got a new job, and it’s pretty seriously fantastic, but it’s also (obviously) a job that involves not being in the house very often, and doing things that aren’t very interesting to anybody besides myself. It is, however, pretty exciting- lots of things I love and yet somehow I can get paid to do. Oh, and it’s technically still non-profit sector, so yeah, I’m excited.

 This weekend, however, I carved out some time to do some cooking (for lunches during the week, oh yay!). And some cooking was awesome. 

Oh, yes, a giant pot of red pepper curry. Well, “curry” in the loosest sense, in that it is vegetables cooked in an Indian style with some sauce (mostly juice from the veggies).

I made a giant pot, to take to work and eat through the week, but the dish itself is pretty and simple and could serve six, which would make it a nice dinner party dish. Particularly alongside some white rice, yogurt, and if you’re feeling ambitious, some roasted lamb or goat.

I have a mild craving for goat, but that’s another issue.

  

The curry is pretty sweet, though the ingredients are pretty simple: red peppers, onions, zucchini, grated fresh ginger, and some spices. No sugar, just the natural sweetness from all the ingredients. There’s a lot of spice, but it creates balance with the sweetness from the peppers and onions (and plus, what’s a curry without spices?). The final result comes out more deeply flavorful than spicy, and I loved it.

Red Pepper Curry

Ingredients

  • 5 mid-sized red bell peppers
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 and 1/2 tbsp Garam Masala*
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 1 tsp Coriander
  • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3-4 tbsp butter
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • water

Cooking Instructions

  1. Slice onions, red peppers, and zucchini into pieces roughly 1/4 of an inch wide
  2. Heat half the olive oil and butter in a pot large enough to contain all your ingredients on the stove, until butter is melted and oils are hot enough to make an onion slice dropped in sizzle slightly. 
  3. Add sliced onions to the pot along with 1-2 tsp kosher salt (as needed to caramelize), and immediately lower heat to medium-low. At this point, add in Garam Masala, Cumin, Coriander, Cinnamon, grated Ginger, and Black Pepper to taste, and continue to cook. Add in remaining olive oil and butter as needed to keep onions caramelizing and spices cooking.
  4. Once spices begin to deepen and color, and onions are about halfway caramelized, add in the sliced red peppers. Stir thoroughly, and then cover pot. Stir the dish regularly until red peppers are halfway to the texture you want.
  5. When red peppers are halfway to your desired texture, add in zucchini slices, stir thoroughly, and re-cover. Continue to cook, stirring regularly, for around 4 minutes. This is a good point to taste, and add more spices and salt as needed. 
  6. Once zucchini are nearly cooked, uncover pot, raise heat to medium-high, and add water in one-tablespoon increments until you reach a sauce consistency you like.  If you overdo it, like me, just simmer, stirring regularly, until sauce reduces back down to where you want it. 
  7. Remove from heat, and serve.

Serves 6. Best served alongside a plain basmati rice, and plain yogurt. 

*Garam Masala is technically a spice mix. I’ve never had a problem finding it (if your grocery doesn’t carry it, check an ethnic grocery), but if that’s a real problem, try making your own by following a recipe such as this one. 


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Strawberry Chocolate Sauce (and cake)

While working on several other things today (particularly, making this behemoth birthday cake for my sister), I had to clean out the fridge and lit upon an idea.

I mean, what else could I do with a pound of strawberries, just this side of turning? I was already making a cake, and figured I could use something to stick in the middle. Something a bit runny, that would kind of melt into the bottom layer of cake. Something that would complement the neat yellow cake and not-too-sweet chocolate icing I was making. 

(actually, on the icing: it came out a bit sour, and tart, and not quite what I wanted in an icing that’s supposed to mimic the stuff out of a can except better, and so while I used it straight for the crumb layer, I mixed in a dallop more oil and a bunch of confectioner’s sugar for the top layer, and it tasted awesome).

So I chopped the strawberries, stuck them in a pot, stirred and tasted and added until I had this:

It came out so deliciously, I put some on the cut-off cake bits I had laying around and ate it right away.

Strawberry-Chocolate Sauce

created to work with Smitten Kitchen’s Best Birthday Cake

  • 1 lb strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin

Rinse strawberries, and then remove tops and chop (or just mash, you’ll mash them later anyway, but I chopped them because I like making more work for myself) until you’ve got a nice big pile of strawberries.

Put strawberries, water, and sugar in a small saucepan on high heat, stirring frequently, until you reach a steady simmer. Once simmering, lower heat to medium-high and continue to simmer gently, stirring frequently.

Once strawberry mixture has turned into what is best described as “a giant pot of scary liquid that looks like it’ll never reduce,” or if you’re more technical, once a good portion of the strawberries have liquified and the pot appears to be composed of more liquids than solids, add the cocoa powder and gelatin. (Also, do whatever it takes to overcome your fear of this giant pot of liquid).

Continue simmering gently for about a half-hour, until the mixture reduces by half, stirring throughout.

Once mixture has reduced by half, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before applying to cake (or scones or muffins, or just toast- whatever you’ve got around that’ll make a good vessel for fruity chocolate deliciousness).

Posted in Dessert, Food | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catching Up

I have neglected you, poor blog.

I’ve been inconstant, but you know I love you…

In any case, I’ve been knitting, and doing many things, but mostly knitting.

I found some owls in my stash…

A new Ganomy Hat:

And and and, a surprise:

A Baby Surprise Jacket!

I received a (second) copy of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac for christmas, and found a renewed joy in her simple, but efficient and pleasing, patterns- thus zimmermania of my knitting.

I’m chugging along on a sweater, and a few other crafty projects, and will post about them when they’re done.

This morning, however, I’m enjoying the view…

pony naptime!

a nice big cup of coffee, and my knitting.

Posted in Knitting | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

snow ponies

So yesterday we got the first “good” snow of the year, about four inches in total.

The ponies were displeased, at first, since they couldn’t go out when the snow was falling and had to wear clothes last night. It went down to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, so I don’t feel too guilty about this last part.

 

Today, however, everyone got to go out in the snow, and they were very happy.

Dewey felt the need to put on a show.

Yes, Dewey has the most pathetic buck in the world. It’s part of why I love him.

Posted in Horses | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

snow

We got our first snow since October two nights ago.

Seriously- we got a doozy in October, and then practically spring-like weather until two weeks ago. And then finally, our first snow, and we got barely an inch. It was also followed by an afternoon of rain, making the world muddy again (but also meaning I didn’t need to shovel, so I guess it’s okay).

In any case, I used the few morning hours between snow and rain to snap some photos of my kids, and our barn.

My black, white, and mud-colored Booger

Snow is not a good backdrop for stained grey ponies.

The snow was gone a few hours after I took these photos, but I love seeing my barn in the snow- it looks so classic. With the split-rail fencing on either side, and the snow obscuring any modern convenience, we could be out there at any time – now or two centuries ago. It’s part of why I love horses.

Posted in Horses | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

cats and things

So this evening, I’ve got the place to myself, and I’d decided to make catnip concentrate.

This may have been a mistake.

Mr. Kitty is the cat with no name. Well, no, he’s got a name, it’s Mr. Kitty. I adore him. He’s my baby. When I traversed the skies to return home from livin’ in Egypt, I brought Mr. Kitty with me. He’s my boon companion, my dear friend.

He’s also seriously crazy.

Now, about Mr. Kitty.

I’ve had him since he was a kitten- he was the only of three littermates to survive some moderate neglect, and so I decided to step in and “rescue” him. He’s a bit cracked, but he’s a sweetie- he loves to cuddle and get attention, and he’s the most personable cat I’ve ever known.

Since coming home with me two years ago now, he’s grown into a handsome, sweet cat who occasionally goes outdoors – primarily to sleep in the hay in our garage/hay shed. He originally had the name “Lando,” (as his neglectful owner called him Mocha, mistaking his orange tiger spots for brown), but he’s now a Russian kitty, with more nicknames and no true “name,” just Mr. Kitty.

Well, Mr. Kitty is doing just fine, even if he does have a rather slapdash name. He adores my dogs, avoids the horses, and gets to run around being confused about many things (name, species, gender… he’s not a very determinate fellow).

But tonight…

I was trying to make some simpler cat toys- just felted bits of leftover roving with some catnip scent- and it turned into a catnip essence experiment, and Mr. Kitty here got very stoned.

Now I adore Mr. Kitty, and I usually love his antics… but half an evening spent with a dVERY stoned cat just forced me to take pictures of his indignified state. I suppose he’d be  offended if he had any dignity but, well… Mr. Kitty was more focused on the catnip steam pervading the house this evening than his dignity. Meowing, chasing shadows, more meowing, knocking stuff over… it was a night for Mr. Kitty’s craziness to shine.

Posted in Cats | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

In which atrocious photography maligns a truly delicious dessert

So this story, I guess, begins a while ago.

About two weeks ago, I had some vanilla beans, and some butter, and some sugar, and I made vanilla butter. The caviar of one vanilla bean, one stick of unsalted butter, and a quarter cup of sugar mixed together, then stuck in the fridge.

And then I got some blackberries, and some pears, and I felt like making something.

So I went online and searched way too many recipes and couldn’t find anything I really loved the idea of, so I combined ideas from a few things I saw, and then came up with this.

With a slightly modified pastry dough grabbed from Smitten Kitchen, and a modified filling recipe from Savour Faire, I came up with what has to be some seriously delicious dessert. I know it looks mildly disgusting, but it tastes so good I’ve had two slices since it came out of the oven, before I even got it together enough to take pictures.

So, without further ado, here’s my recipe:

 Blackberry-Pear Galette

Pastry Dough

  • 1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1/4 c sour cream
  • 1/4 c cold water
  • juice of 1/2 of a lemon

Filling

  • 12 oz. Blackberries
  • 1 pear, sliced
  • 1/4 c heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon

If you don’t have vanilla bean butter (because you’re not crazy like me), you can just mix the sugar, vanilla, water, lemon juice, and sour cream together when you’re preparing the dough.

I also rolled my dough out between two pieces of parchment paper, and then refrigerated the resulting circle for a few hours. I’m pretty new to this whole dough-rolling pastry stuff (I usually go the cakes-and-cupcakes route for desserts) but this seemed to work pretty well. I also used an egg wash to seal the corners of the galette together.

Baked at 400 degrees for about thirty minutes, and eaten with vanilla ice cream- it tastes amazing.

 

Posted in Dessert, Food | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment