Thursday, January 22, 2009

Good News All Around

Sorry I haven't been around. It was just so exciting seeing our new president being sworn in and seeing so many people filled with the audacity of hope.

Plus, there's more good news. You might not have known that it's been a little stressful around here as we waited to see what the military was going to do with Al--move him or keep him here. Well, I'm happy to say we are staying here. They've extended him for another year and by the time they could give him another assignment, he'll be well within the window to put in his papers to retire, if that's what he wants to do. That decision changes daily; luckily, he doesn't have to decide right now.

But, we don't have to sell the house this spring! We don't have to rush to get the last of the updates done. We'll be here for the next Scotland trip with our friends from the Dell. We can go down to Kansas City for the Highland Games and maybe stay a few extra days. We can take some small trips. I can find a part-time job. I get to stay with my doctor. Cosette gets to stay with her vet. Al gets to stay with his motorcycle buddies. I can sign up for some classes I've been wanting to take. I can make plans for . . . hell, I can just make plans.

So, 2009 has started out pretty well. I feel like the gods are trying to tell me to keep up the energy that's already been started here. I better get busy!

Monday, January 12, 2009

In Stitches

Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit, either. ~Elizabeth Zimmerman

Years ago, Al was diagnosed and successfully treated for testicular cancer. He has been cancer-free for almost 12 years, but I remember every minute of sitting in those cold waiting rooms while he went through more scans and while doctors reviewed the results before talking to us. “The Price Is Right” was showing in every room, and to this day I can’t listen to the theme music for that show.

I always had a book with me, but I couldn’t concentrate long enough to read even a page. I tried crossword puzzles, but same problem. So, I mostly just sat there, tapping my foot. Near the end of his treatment, he had to have a long surgery to remove the scar tissue, and I knew that I would have to find something to do with my hands. I could hand-stitch quilt pieces together, but that would take a lot of prep work to cut out the pieces first. I decided to fall back on cross-stitch, an old favorite. During his over-6-hour surgery, I finished an old project and gave it to a friend for Christmas. Cross-stitch was the perfect thing for me at that time because it kept my hands busy and following a simple pattern was about all the concentration I could handle. Besides, the repetition of making those Xs was comforting some how. I haven’t done much cross-stitch since.

Flash forward some 6 years or so. After trying quilting again, honing my cooking/baking skills (gaining 40 pounds in the process), playing with paper and stamps making scrapbooks, and writing bits and pieces of a novel that wasn’t going any where, I took a good friend’s advice and tried knitting. My mother had tried to teach me when I was a teenager, but I didn’t like it, probably because I wasn’t good at it immediately and my pattern was to quit and move on to something else. I believe it was cross-stitch, actually. Anyway, I got the book Stitch and Bitch, some needles, and yarn and got started. Something my mother taught me must have been hiding in my subconscious because it came very easy to me. Not only that, I liked it! I felt I had found the craft for me, the one I could concentrate on and get really good at while still loving what I was doing.

As a bonus, learning to knit came at a time when I really needed something to keep me from cracking up. Yes, I say that flippantly, but for a couple of years there, I don’t know how I kept it all together. Actually I do know how, I knitted. I obsessively focused on learning how to knit, playing with yarn and learning how to follow a pattern. I won’t go so far as to say knitting saved my life, but it came damn close.

When I thought things were getting ready to turn around for me, I had an MRI done, expecting a migraine but finding lesions, the first step in diagnosing MS. Thus, I started spending a lot of time in waiting rooms again. The diagnosis process is a long one for MS, mostly because it is difficult to diagnose. One of these days, I’ll write more about why that is, but the point is that I now had something to do in the waiting rooms and at home while I waited for test results. As long as I followed simple patterns, I could easily sit and knit for as long as it took. Unfortunately, I couldn’t knit while in the MRI machine nor while getting a lumbar puncture.

It’s a testament to how much I love knitting that I haven’t turned away from it after my diagnosis and after things started to turn around for me. Whereas I can’t watch “The Price is Right” nor do I have any desire to cross-stitch, I happily continue to knit. I haven’t ignored the fact that I have a disease that could affect my dexterity, but luckily, my case is pretty mild and it hasn’t interfered too much. Actually, knitting is a pretty good gauge of how I’m doing. Sometimes, even on a bad day I can knit as long as it is a simple pattern not requiring a lot of concentration or the need to follow a chart. Then there are those days when I knit even a simple row over and over again and can’t get it right. We all have bad days, but I know that when I can’t complete a simple knit 2 purl 2 rib, something else might be going on and I should pay attention. But even on a bad day, I can listen to a knitting podcast (yes, there is such a thing) or look at a magazine to plan my next project. Sometimes, it’s just a bad day.

And now, knitting will help Join the Movement by raising money for MS research. At both of The Knitting Guild of America’s (TKGA) 2009 Knit & Crochet Shows in Portland, OR and Buffalo, NY, a silent auction will be held, featuring socks by various designers. Socks are a favorite project and an obsession with many knitters, so this is a wonderful idea. Proceeds will go to The National MS Society (NMSS). In their statement, the NMSS said, “The mission of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is to end the devastating effects of MS. Support from organizations like CGOA (Crochet Guild of America), TKGA and the Knit & Crochet Shows helps us to pursue new treatments so that no one will have to forgo the pleasure of being able to participate in activities that are so rewarding.”

Maybe knitting really is a life saver.

Another little life saver who wants to take a nap with Al.

My latest project--a market bag

Monday, January 05, 2009

Yes, You Can Make Bread

Love artisan breads, but in this economy, don’t want to spend the money? Want to make your own bread but are afraid of the yeast? Want to eat hot, fresh loaves of bread but don’t want to put in the effort? Come over to the yeasty side, my friends.

Al and I have discovered No Kneading Bread. It’s been around for awhile, but we were reminded of it in an article in Mother Earth News and decided to give it a try.

I was leery. I’ve made bread and enjoyed it, but it’s an all day event and a lot of work, which is why I don’t do it often. This article made it sound practically, well, easy. How could it be good and easy? That’s why we buy frozen rolls at Thanksgiving—because they are good and easy, easier than praying that the rolls rise. It’s why we make quick breads—no yeast equals quick and easy. So, I was skeptical.

Al, however, was gung ho. He went to Breadtopia and watched the videos and got the recipe. The only thing you really should have that everyone might not have is a cast iron Dutch oven or a terra cotta baker with a domed lid (called a la croche). Otherwise, it’s easy peasy. And yes, it tasted good, really good. It was crusty on the outside, with a soft, holey crumb on the inside.

I can hear you saying, “Get on with it! Just tell me how to do it!” OK, OK, jeez. I’ll tell ya, but you might want to go to Breadtopia to see the instructional video.

The ingredients are

3 cups bread flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (We didn’t get instant, so we bloomed it with a ¼ cup of lukewarm water)
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups water (actually, the recipe called for purified or spring water, but pffffft. Our tap water is pretty darn good)

So, here’s what you do:

1. If you didn’t get instant yeast, mix the yeast in about a ¼ cup lukewarm water, just to give it a head start.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together (if using instant yeast, that’s included in this step).
3. Mix in the water until it is incorporated. The dough will be wet and sticky.
4. Cover with plastic and let it sit at room temperature for 18 hours.

Here's what it looks like in the bowl after 18 hours:

5. Scrape that yeasty goodness onto a well floured surface. Flour your hands and the top of the dough, then press it into a rectangle.
6. From the short side, fold a third of the dough onto itself, then fold the other third of the dough on top of that first fold, so you’ll have a rectangle. Then fold it in half to form a square.

7. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes.
8. Dust a kitchen towel with flour and transfer the dough to the towel or into a proofing basket (which is basically a basket with a towel), cover with another towel and let rise for 1 ½ hour.
9. With the Dutch oven in it, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
10. Flour your hands and form the risen dough into a ball.

Put the dough into Dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes.
11. Remove the lid, reduce heat to 450 degrees, and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

12. Let cool completely, for at least 45 minutes, on a rack.

13. Reward yourself for waiting by eating a thick, warm slice with butter and honey.

We were so excited about this lovely little loaf we had created that we wanted to try all of our favorite things on it. While Al went to the store for a bottle of wine and tomatoes, I cut up a platter of leftover prime rib, ham, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, and summer sausage.

I also poured a small bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and got out the butter, jam, peanut butter, and honey. When Al got home, we just ate ourselves into oblivion. I have to say, that my favorite was the peanut butter and honey. It reminded me of the 15th anniversary Al and I celebrated at this lovely bed and breakfast outside of Ohio called The Murphin Ridge Inn. It was in the middle of an Amish settlement, so they used bread and other things made by the Amish. The Inn owners offered a box lunch of thick slices of Amish white bread, slathered with peanut butter and honey. I’m salivating just thinking about that sandwich.

Since this first trial, we’ve made 2 more loaves—one with dried cranberries and walnuts (my favorite so far) and one with Asiago cheese. And the house smells amazing.

So, give it a try. There aren’t many more things as comforting as warm bread with butter and jam and a cup of coffee, unless, of course, it’s bread with peanut butter and honey.

And for your amusement, here's a picture of Cosette enjoying her Christmas present from Uncle Jay and Grandma.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

And Another Big Thank You

Thank you to The Background Fairy. While I was at over at The Knitting Contessa and admiring her site, I discovered that I, too, could have a pretty background on my blog just by going over to The Background Fairy's site. She has samples with the instructions and code that you just copy and paste into the html of your Blogger blog.

The button for the her site didn't come through, but I'm working on that. Until then, you can use the link in the post to check her out.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Big Thank You

Thank you Jay for the awesome header!