Thursday, November 30, 2017

Easy Ricotta

I made my first batch of ricotta cheese this afternoon and I can only wish I'd already been making it for years. It's great and very, very simple.
straining the curds

Months ago, when we first got our yoghurt maker, I clicked around to see what might be done with the whey. I came across a few pages that talked about making ricotta using whey from other cheesemaking and a few more that talked about using the whey from yoghurt making. In the end, I just ended up using it in the bread machine when I made bread, rolls, or pizza crust. But I found myself with an abundance of whey and decided to revisit the ricotta idea after reading a book about this guy's travels in Sicily, where various types of ricotta were everywhere. As luck would have it, I found a thermometer in our local shop the other day and picked it up, so I had everything I needed to try out this recipe 
just off the stove
Bill is not usually a fan of this kind of thing plain, although years ago I used to sometimes pick up a tub of ricotta and mix it with fruit and he liked that. He likes this though, even plain. This will be very handy to have around--it can be mixed with fruit or herbs, so can go sweet or savoury. We always have smoked salmon on Christmas Day and mixed with some herbs, this will be much better than cream cheese with that. I plan to have some of it on toast for breakfast tomorrow, topped with some of the cranberry jam I made the other day.  

Tomorrow I am making cranberry orange muffins--I bet this'll be good on those, too! 😋


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Cranberry Jam

I used one of the bags of cranberries I got from veg man yesterday to make a batch of jam.
 It's been years since I last had any, so it has tasted extra good! I had some on toast today, but wanted to try it last night after it had chilled. I didn't feel like a whole piece of toast then, so I put a dollop on a Rich Tea biscuit--yum!

It's so quick and easy to make. I dumped a 340g (12 oz/4ish cups) bag of cranberries into a saucepan and added 3/4 cup sugar (it's a bit tart, which is how I like it--to make sweeter, add more sugar). I put a bit of water in the saucepan, turned on the heat and stirred while it bubbled and thickened and some cranberries popped. It was just a few minutes before it was thick enough to remove from the heat and it thickens more as it cools. If you prefer it thinner, you can add a bit more water as it bubbles. If you don't like it chunky, you can put in a blender, but I leave it chunky.
That's it. So simple and so good!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Cranberries, Chillis, Hail Showers, and a Snowman

It's Tuesday and that means it's veg man day. He sets up his stall every Tuesday, except for the week between Christmas and the new year. Rain, shine,wind,  hail--whatever the weather, there he is under his awnings, surrounded by fruit and veg. Today he was trying to close a gap or two in the awning, because just as we walked up, the hail shower began. It was coming down hard for a few minutes and making quite a noise as it bounced around. Bill was angling for photos. I wasn't paying attention and messed one up--I was too happy to see that chilli peppers were back this week, after being absent for the last couple of weeks. I was reaching for the peppers and not paying attention to Bill, so he had to take the photo again in order to have one without my arm in it.

By the time I saw the chillis, I was already irrationally pleased because veg man had bags of cranberries. Yippee! I was able to get cranberries when we lived in Ballinrobe at both SuperValu and Tesco, but they did not show up until mid-December and they came in punnets in plastic bags--too much packaging and the punnets took up room in the freezer. Once we left Ballinrobe, I did not see them in any of the stores we went to. The ones I got from veg man today are in a bag without the punnet and there are more cranberries, so less packaging, which is good. I got 4 bags. If he has more next week, I'll probably get some more. I've put one bag into the freezer already. I plan to make cranberry jam with a bag or two. And later in the week, I will make some orange-cranberry-oatmeal muffins.

The big tree is up in Market Square. The Christmas lights are strung across the roads. Tree lighting is Sunday night. And shops windows are decorated and fun to look at. I particularly liked this guy, who lives in a shop window down the road from us.
A little while ago, we had another hail shower--they've been coming off and on for a few days. There was a festive nip in the air today. It's the most wonderful time of the year, after all!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Fingerless Gloves Request

Before cooler weather showed up, Bill mentioned that he'd like to have another pair of fingerless gloves. I made him a pair a few years ago and he wears them all the time for a good part of the year. They do come in handy--I wear various pair a lot, too. We both get very cold hands and fingers and we find that the gloves really help a lot.

I thought a bit about which yarn to use. The other pair I made was knitted in sock yarn, so they are thin, which is good. I did not want to make them in thick yarn because I thought they'd be too bulky for regular daily use. I considered sock yarn for the new pair too, but in the end went slightly thicker--not much though.
I had a skein and a bit more of the variegated green/grey left from a hat I crocheted for Bill a few months ago.
I wasn't sure whether it would be enough by itself, so I used the forest green for the cuffs and at the top. As it happened, I would have had enough of the green/grey, but I like them with the forest green, so it worked out OK.

To make them, I cast on 48 stitches with US size 2 double pointed needles, joined and worked in the round (on 3 needles with 1 working needle). I did a 2x2 rib until the cuff was long enough, then switched to the green/grey and continued doing k2, p2 around and around until I got to the spot where I wanted the thumb hole. Then I worked back and forth, still in 2x2 rib, turning the work at the end of the third needle. When the thumb hole was big enough, I went back to working in the round. I crocheted the thumbs instead of knitting them, because I did not want to be fiddling with the dpns for such a small area.

On the thumb hole section of the second glove, I was not paying attention and was turning in the wrong place, so I ended up with one section not growing and I had to tink (knit backwards) in order to fix it. I was glad when that was done! Next time I'll pay closer attention! 😏

I shifted some yarn around today, putting away leftovers from a couple of finished projects and gathering yarn for a few more. One is on the needles, the hooking will start on another one tonight, and the hybrid project will probably be started tomorrow.

And so a new week begins! Hope yours has started off well!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Happy Winter Holidays!

This morning I took down all my little autumn celebration bits and put up the winter celebration bits.  Some of them were newly created.

I used some of the white yarn I had left from my blanket wrap to make something for the window in the front door.

The yarn is DK weight and I used a 5.5 mm (size I in the US) hook. I picked a chart from my Pineapple Lace book and did the centre part and then did a few more rounds until it was big enough. The little things hanging from it are all either reversible or double-sided, so the design shows on either side of the window.

The other night I made a jar cosy using some scrap yarn--a variegated red/white/green with metallic thread and a white with a shiny thread held together.
I was winging this one and hoping it would be the right size. I made it sitting upstairs in bed and listening to Christmas music, but I'd forgotten to bring the jar up with me and I was too comfortable (and lazy) to go downstairs to get it. I brought it down the next day with the yarn still attached to the scrap balls in case I would need to adjust, but it fit perfectly! I wanted it for this arrangement of twigs that I received as a gift a couple of years ago from some friends--one had 4 legs and fur and the other was his servant/companion/best friend. I love the way the twiggy stuff is a Christmas theme here.
The variegated yarn in the jar cosy was left from a skein that Bill got me last year. I made a hat with some of it.
This afternoon I decided to use some of my white to add a small brim. I like it even better now!
I did a round of hdc (half treble in UK terms), then did another round of same in the front loops to 'encourage' the brim to fold upwards. Then I did one more round through both loops.

I have a small cross stitch piece to finish off tonight and then I'll have some fun deciding what to start next.

Enjoy the day!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Still Pickin'

Bill had not been up to the garden in a while, but he went up there today expecting to pull up some plants and put them in the compost. He did that, but discovered that there was chard to be picked.
Since it's supposed to get cold tomorrow night with a chance of frost and some wintry mix for the next few days after that, he pulled the chard plants. We are deciding whether he should plant more seeds in the polytunnel, where he still has a few wee jalapenos, parsley, lemon balm, and lettuce growing. Someone grew lots of lettuce in the tunnel last winter and there seems to be no reason why the chard would not grow well in there.

People don't grow chard around here--we saw what we thought was chard in other people's beds earlier in the season, but then we realised it was beetroot. Bill said people assumed our chard was beetroot, so there was confusion all around. 😁

I used a bit of chard in the tomato sauce I made for supper tonight (along with fennel, courgette, garlic and onion) and will blanch and freeze the rest tomorrow. Our little freezer is currently stuffed full, but I will be removing some things tomorrow, so can fit the chard in then.

If Bill does plant more chard in the polytunnel, it will only be a plant or two, since we have chard in the freezer already. We also have most of the beans he grew in packets, ready to be added to soup over the winter. He discovered that he enjoyed gardening and approached it as a learning experience, since it was all new to him. He did quite well!

I have a small chocolate mint plant out back that I should probably cut back tomorrow.  It's pretty sheltered back there, but might as well get it in just in case we do get a hard freeze. And if it does get cold, a nice hot cup of chocolate peppermint 'tea' would hit the spot quite nicely.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Christmas Blanket Wrap

Months ago, someone gave me two huge skeins of white yarn that is an acrylic/wool blend. It's about a DK weight and at 900-ish yards in each one, there was a lot of it! She also gave me a skein of forest green that was slightly thinner and not as large, but there was still plenty of yardage. A few months later, a friend brought over a big bag of yarn that included a large skein of what the label calls 'paddy green,' and skeins of red, dark red, and a green-white variegated. I had been wondering what to do with the white, because while there was enough there for a big project, I was not feeling the love when I thought about large expanses of white in an afghan, shawl, or poncho. The other colours were perfect to go with some white and I decided on a simple blanket wrap--I can use it either way. In order to avoid the large areas of white, I opted to cut the yarn at the end of each row, leaving the tails at either end as fringe. I chose to do a very drapey stitch combination of single crochets with ch3 in between. The single crochets are very shallow, so the chain 3 loops stack up right on top of each other, providing warmth while not being too heavy or bulky. The paddy green, variegated green, and the reds were slightly thicker than the white and the forest green, but it didn't matter in this project. I used a 6mm hook.
photo by Bill Burke

Since I had so much white, I used that for every other row. I had a lot of the greens, too, so I used them more often and scattered the reds around a bit more. I love it!

I did not even use one full skein of the white and I have scrap balls of the other colours left that will be used in a future scrappy project. I've cast on a hat in the white so I can try out an idea I had. I will decide some other time how to use the rest of it.


Friday, November 10, 2017

This Too Shall Pass

A while back, my sister-friend and I were exchanging emails and were talking about how things happen and things pass. 'All is impermanent,' I said. 'Yes, I have to remember that saying about this too shall pass,' she said, 'I need to find a small thing that says that to hang on the wall.' You know what happened next. Ideas began to whirl around my head. I graphed out words with the intention of cross-stitching the saying and going from there. It wasn't right, so I worked on other stuff and let the whirling ideas settle and present themselves one at a time.

I decided to start with the foundation, so needle felted some black roving with iridescent threads. Her favourite colour is red, so I crocheted a red border. Then I started on the words. I tried a few different times to embroider the words directly onto the felt. Didn't like it. Ripped out, not once, but four or five times. Then I decided to try simple, small words on a scrap of aida cloth. That worked. I attached it to the felt and set it aside until the next morning. I rummaged through the sea glass and the button tin and started sewing stuff on. I remembered a shirt with a highly embellished collar that I'd picked up on the 50 cent rail at the charity shop and cut off a small metal piece to add. Finally, I grabbed a brass ring that had been baked into the Halloween barm brack and sewed it on the back as a small hanger.

I really enjoyed the process of making this and it gave me some ideas for other wordy projects I've been kicking around for a while. 😀

Hope you have some creative stuff to think about and work on, too!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Seasonal Stitches

A friend in Maine belongs to a knitting group called the Knit Wits. Every year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, they hold a sale of work to benefit their helping fund, which is used to help people who have unexpected expenses or who need a bit of help. On Friday, I sent a few things for this year's sale. I just got word that the envelope arrived today, so it got there in good time. Yay!

I stayed with a winter holiday theme. I couldn't resist an Irish rose...
 ...or snowflakes
I included a couple of ornaments, one of which was a simple tree that I did not photograph. The other was a combination of needle felting, crochet, cross stitch, and French knots.
I put a couple pair of earrings in the envelope, too.
I am sure there will be an abundance of wonderful handmade items at the sale and I hope it's a huge success! Kudos to the Knit Wits for doing this every year and for being there for people who need a helping hand!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Bookish October 3

Here is the final installment of my October book list.

Away by Jane Urquhart
I’d picked up another novel by this author in a charity shop a few years ago and quite liked it, so when I saw this one in the charity shop here, I added it to the pile. The story begins with Esther, an older woman who is at the old family home for the last time. She is thinking back to the story told to her by Eileen, her aunt--the story of Eileen’s mother, father, and brother and of Eileen herself. Eileen was born in Canada, but her parents and brother were from Ireland. They were given passage to Canada by their landlord during the famine and they eventually were able to settle on a plot of land there. Although Esther appears here and there in the present, the majority of the story takes place in the past. Esther appears infrequently and we get a glimpse into her thoughts before the story moves back into the past again. I will not say much more, because I don’t want to give away the plot. When I first started the book, I wasn’t sure if I would like it enough to finish, but it did not take long for me to get into it and want to know how things were going to unfold. Some of the things that happened seemed quite implausible, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. After I finished it, I stuck it in the wee free library, where it did not last a day. I hope the person that took it enjoys it, too!

The Case Against Fragrance by Kate Grenville
I am not sure where I read about this book, but it was just a week or two ago. Kate Grenville is a novelist. I had not heard of her and had not read any of her books before this one, but once I became aware of this book, I immediately went to look for it on the library website. I could relate to the author’s description of how she would get headaches more and more frequently when she was out in public. She realised it was fragrance she was reacting to. By this she does not mean only perfumes, but all of the scented things we are bombarded with from all directions on a daily basis. She thought she was some kind of outlier until she started googling. Then she discovered that there are many of us out there. She tried to get more information and was finding lots of technical science writing, but no book for lay people about the public health issues around fragrance. She decided to write one, with the help of scientists of her acquaintance. She talks about how perfumes (even expensive ones), laundry detergents, cleaning products, air fresheners, candles, reed diffusers, shampoos and other personal care products, are full of cheap chemical fragrances. There is no requirement that these things be listed on the label in detail because they are trade secrets. So, when you see ‘parfum’ it is probably a mix of these chemicals, some of which are toxic and carcinogenic. They get passed to infants through breast milk. They cause skin reactions, headaches, respiratory problems, and nausea for increasing numbers of people. The author is Australian, and she compares the situation there with the US, Canada (who was the leader in making fragrance an air quality issue), and to a much lesser extent, the EU. I can’t speak to the EU as a whole, but I can say that Ireland is difficult in this regard. Everything is scented. It has been impossible for me to find unscented laundry detergent, lotion, etc. I take my chances and hope for the best. I am not always lucky and I have to set the sickening smelly stuff aside and try again. When we moved into our previous residence, someone had left a bottle of green washing up liquid by the kitchen sink. It made me ill, so we had to stick it under the sink and go buy the yellow stuff. Lesson learned. Green stuff, bad. Yellow stuff, OK.  I have also learned here that if something says it’s coconut and vanilla, it’s probably not going to make me sick. If I can’t find that kind of shampoo, I have to buy something else and hope it will only be unpleasant and not nauseating and headache-inducing. Soon we will start seeing holiday scented laundry detergent and even toilet paper (!!!) appearing in the shops. Last year the limited edition holiday scent for the loo rolls was mulled wine. I cannot imagine. Things bothered me in the US, too--those nauseating reed diffusers used to give me an instant migraine and once I used shampoo and body wash that almost made me pass out. The book could have been better had it included an index, but that’s my only quibble. It was a good overview of the issues surrounding fragrance, its effects on people, and how unregulated the whole industry is. People have become quite ill in the past because of this lack of oversight and we can only wonder what we are doing to ourselves now, as we are piling these chemicals onto our skin and breathing them in, in ever-increasing quantities. What health guidelines there are for these things do not take into account how they will interact with other chemicals and even air, nor do they consider the fact that people are getting large doses--a little from one product, a little more from that one, and the other, and the other, and on and on. And that’s before considering cleaning products, laundry detergent residue on clothing, air ‘fresheners’ and other things that we encounter in public spaces.

The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin
This is the second poetry collection by this poet. Eleanor Marx was a daughter of Karl Marx who was a social activist and literary translator. She did the first English translation of Madame Bovary and learned Norwegian in order to translate Ibsen’s plays. sadly, she was involved with a guy who betrayed her by secretly marrying an actress, and when she found out, she committed suicide in a way similar to that of Emma Bovary. Several of the poems in the collection are about the life and death of Eleanor Marx. I heard the poet on RTE Radio One’s Poetry Programme and requested the book from the library as a result of the interesting discussion there.

Empty Pulpits: Ireland’s Retreat from Religion by Malachi O’Doherty
This was an interesting book. By ‘religion,’ the author unsurprisingly means Catholicism, by and large although other religions are mentioned in various arguments, mostly as comparison. He makes some good points throughout the book as he takes a sociological and somewhat psychological look at how Ireland has done religion in the past, how they do it now, and how they might do it in the future. He makes the interesting argument that, because Ireland has ‘lost’ religion faster than any other European nation, people here are in a good position to be interpreters, if you will. They know what religion has meant and can explain this to vocal anti-religion people. At the same time, they can explain secularism to religious people. He acknowledges that Spain has also secularized quickly, but they had an anti-clerical faction in that country and Ireland did not. The book was published in 2008, and things have moved on quite a bit since. There’s a new pope with different attitudes about certain things, Ireland became the first country to make marriage equality a constitutional right by popular vote, and people are protesting more about the hold the Catholic church still has on some state institutions. Still, it was an interesting book and provided food for thought as he laid out his reasoning. I found it in a pop-up charity shop over the summer and picked it up--glad I did!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Bookish October 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of my October book list. Today I post the middle section. I also made a personal goal for myself for this month to read at least 7 books that I can bring to the wee free library afterwards. After looking at the library pile here and the list on the website, I think that's doable. Guess I'll see. I have one finished and ready to go, so 6 more to go.

A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody
This is one of the cosy mysteries Bill brought home for me a few months ago when he went into one of the pop-up charity shops that appear in town. It’s a series detective and there are several books before this one. I have not requested any of the others, but I enjoyed this one, so I might in future! The detective is Kate Shackleton and the stories take place in 1920s Britain. The lingering effects of WWI figure throughout the story. Sometimes these sorts of novels can be pretty predictable, even if they are enjoyable to read. One storyline in particular in this book ended in a way I did not expect.

The Maid’s Tale by Kathleen Ferguson
This is a novel that won the Irish Literature Prize for Fiction in 1995. The author grew up in derry and this is her first novel. The story is told by Brigid Keen who, at a young age, becomes the maid to Father Mann, a new priest. After 33 years, he ends up in a care home and she loses her job. The story is told as though Brigid is talking to you and recounting her story. It is a slim volume, but there is plenty to think about in terms of social issues inside and is a good window on the culture of Derry at the time.

Knitting Pearls: Writers Writing About Knitting edited by Ann Hood
This book is exactly what the title says it is. It’s the second one edited by Ann Hood, the first being Knitting Yarns, which I read a few years ago. I didn’t know this one existed until I was scrolling through the results of my search for the keyword, ‘knitting’ at the library website. Every once in a while, I do basic searches like that--I can easily see what new stuff has been added, since it is added to the top of the list. It was a fun read.

Murder Under the Christmas Tree: Ten Classic Stories for the Festive Season edited by Cecily Gayford
These were mostly classic authors with a couple of contemporary ones added to the mix. I enjoyed this book a lot, which is not surprising, considering it combines cosy mysteries, short stories, and seasonal stories. I found it while doing a search at the library and decided to request it now, since it will probably be in demand pretty soon.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Bookish October

Happy November! We move deeper into autumn now, and of course I am thrilled.

We did not get any trick-or-treaters last night. I'd thought we might, and had gotten candy just in case (just one bag). It will not go to waste!

I read some good books in October and here is part 1 of that list.
The Farm in the Green Mountains by Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer
This is a recently reissued book that was originally published in German in 1949 and translated into English for a 1968 publication. The author wrote an epilogue for the later edition. The author and her husband were well known and well off in Germany. He was a successful writer and they had servants, a few different houses in different countries, and a pretty cushy life. They ended up at their home in Austria when the Nazis came to power, but after a few years, they had to flee. They went to the US where they tried living in New York City and LA, where they thought he might be able to write for Hollywood. These places did not work out for them--he was not interested in doing the kind of writing Hollywood required. They spent a couple of summers in rural Vermont and decided to try to find a house there. One day, while on a walk, he found it and brought the author to see it. They talked to the owner of the old farmhouse, who agreed to modernise it and rent it to them, along with 190+ acres. They had to learn how to run a farm. They focused on various fowl, pigs, and goats. He wrote when he could, which wasn’t often. They knew nothing, so relied heavily on local friends and the USDA. The book came about because Alice would write long letters to family in Germany. Her brother eventually had them published in a magazine and she was asked to make this material into a book. For me, the best parts were the chapter about how much the library meant to her and what she had to go through to go spend a day there to do research into topics that interested her, as well as the final chapters. In the last chapter of the original, they’d moved to Switzerland and she was thinking about who she was and how her time in Vermont had changed her and what it had taught her. In the epilogue, they’d gone back to the farmhouse, but realised that they could not stay, so she was on her way back to Switzerland--she had further thoughts on her life as a result of these experiences.

Bird by Jane Adams
Bird is a married mother of twins who is back at her childhood home because her grandfather is dying. He seems to be obsessed with the image of a woman hanging from a tree. Tensions mount and Bird leaves her grandparents’ home to go back to her own, but she is determined to find out what it is that her grandfather is so disturbed about. Her husband and her father help her. As the book progresses, we learn about the dysfunctional relationships between family members from various perspectives. Segments of the book are memories of Jack, the grandfather and others are letters that he wrote to Bird but never sent. I took this book with me when Bill and I went away for a few days and started it in the B&B one night. I had to force myself to put it down and go to sleep. The story kept on moving until the very end.

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves
This is the latest in the author’s series of books revolving around Inspector Vera Stanhope and her colleagues. When she goes to give a talk at a prison, she comes in contact with a former bent cop who has some information for her if she will check in on his mentally fragile grown daughter. She does and the information provided opens up some old missing persons cases, so Vera and her team swing into action.

The Upstart by Catherine Cookson
I was not sure I was going to like this book. Bill found it in the wee free library one day and brought it home, even though he wasn’t sure, either! He said what made him decide to bring it home was the fact that it said on the back cover that it was a story about class attitudes and he knows that has been an ongoing interest of mine. The story (and the title) do have a lot to do with class, but also involved the ways in which the society of the time (Britain in the late 1800s-early1900s) was changing. There are also feminist aspects to the storyline, particularly evident in the character of Janet, the main character’s eldest daughter. Sam is the son and grandson of cobblers and has built something of a shoe empire. He becomes wealthy and buys a big house for his dysfunctional family to live in, even though he’s the only one who wants to move. He and the butler (left from the previous owners) have some issues, but quickly get past them as Sam realises he needs the butler to teach him how to behave properly and the butler feels he has a duty to do this. Sam and family are never really accepted into ‘society’ because he is considered an upstart. His money alone cannot make up for his working class background. This causes ongoing agitation for Sam. The family falls apart and Janet, an outspoken girl/woman who knows from an early age that she will become a librarian stands up to her father on a regular basis. There were parts of the story that seemed kind of formulaic, but overall, I ended up really liking the book. I wanted to read on to see what would happen in some of the storylines. Afterwards, I looked up the author and discovered that her life sounded quite a lot like one of her novels! Turns out she was the most borrowed author at UK libraries for many years running. When I was done with the book, Bill returned it to the wee free library, where it was scooped up within 24 hours. We see books by the author all the time in charity shops, too, so although she is now deceased, she is clearly still quite popular!

I'll post the next 4 tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope you've got some good things to read, too!