20 December 2012

money and fear

Recently, I asked myself the question, "Why is it that money can cause me more stress, and more terror, than almost anything else?"

It's a conundrum. We don't have a lot of money, and never have, and our lives are in flux right now, but we'll manage. Because we always do. In the past, when things have been really tight, we've always made it. Personally, I think it's that God always comes through, rather than us doing it on our own. I mean, seriously. I'm not an idiot with money, but I've never been brilliant with it, either. I hate dealing with bills and bank stuff. I really do. It kind of drives me nuts, and my personality type is of the kind that wants to avoid the things that make me nuts. Usually I try to buckle down and deal with it, despite wanting to stick my head in the sand. And yet...at the end of the day, we have a roof over our heads and we have food.

So what does all the stress and fear surrounding money mean for me? Is it a lack of trust? A lack of confidence in my and my husband's abilities to do what we need to do? A matter of wanting the wrong things when it comes to our finances? That is, wanting to be financially stable without doing that much to achieve it, or valuing money more than I value the things I say are more important?

I already know I'm more materialistic than I want to be. Ideally, stuff wouldn't matter all that much to me, and I'd able to be calm about dealing with money, rather than terrified. How much have I really bought into our culture's focus on materialism, despite my desire to be free of it? Why do I have so much stuff, and do I really need most of it?

These are questions I find myself asking a lot lately. I don't have too many solid answers, other than realizing that I need to figure out why I react so strongly when it comes to money problems (e.g., the bank screws something up, and I freak out about it, because it's so frustrating to get it fixed), and why this, of all things, triggers my conflict-avoidance tendencies. Conflicts with other people are so much easier to deal with somehow, and I've never known why. It's easier to deal with my fears about relationships than my fears about money. Why?

J.'s theory is that it's because money's harder to control in some ways. Unexpected things that cost money happen, and you don't have any authority over them. Car breaks down. Someone gets sick. Rent goes up. And that's terrifying. Fears about money add to the stress of something that's already difficult. True enough, but I wish I could control my reactions better. It'd certainly be easier to deal with things calmly (although since that's J.'s typical operating procedure, two of us being calm all the time might get boring).

Well, now I have a whole new list of things to talk to my counselor about. Yay!

12 December 2012

Redeeming the Fruitcake

My family didn't really do fruitcake when I was a child. I'm not sure if this is because my mother didn't feel like baking it and didn't see the point in buying it, or because she felt there were plenty of sweet things around at the holidays, and she didn't need to add to the sugar overload. I know that my grandparents like fruitcake, but I don't recall it ever being out on the dessert table at family Christmas (and believe me, their dessert table was impressive). The only time I've ever had fruitcake at their house was when we were there several weeks after I made my very first fruitcake, and was telling them about it.

I'd heard the jokes about fruitcake, but since I hadn't really encountered it (except for the fruitcake used as a prop in a series of sketches my drama class did for Christmas in grade 7), I didn't really have an aversion to it. Nor did I have a preference for it. I liked candied cherries, but raisins were only good cooked, in my opinion, and I've never been overly fond of nuts. Then off I went to university, and suddenly encountered the cornucopia of fruitcakes at Christmas-time in the grocery store.

I hadn't noticed this before, despite going grocery shopping with my mum quite frequently, so I am inclined to ascribe it to the American/Canadian difference. Americans don't seem to embrace fruitcake quite as passionately as Canadians do. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I may have just been frequenting the wrong grocery stores before I emigrated, and been surrounded by non-fruitcake-eating people.

To go back to the grocery store, I was curious. So I bought a fruitcake from Save-On and brought it back to my dorm and nibbled on it for months. It was rather intense, and there were too many nuts, and the icing on top was absurd. But I liked the fruit part.

The fruit was really the only part I did like. A store-bought fruitcake is really mostly fruit and nuts, held together by the tiniest amount of cake batter. It falls apart into a sticky heap if you look at it cross-eyed, and it tastes of too many bizarre preservatives, since they can't sell extremely alcoholic fruitcakes in a grocery store. And sadly, the liquor store just sells liquor, not cake.

After J. and I got married between third and fourth year university (yes, we're crazy, but it's worked out well so far), I embarked on fruitcake-making that Christmas (I would have tried it earlier, but I'd lived on campus before that, and our university had a no-alcohol-on-campus policy. Well, technically, at that time, they had a no alcohol, period policy, which has since been relaxed. My paranoia about getting caught with a giant bottle of brandy in my hand as I made cake kept me from making fruitcake while still living there). My first fruitcake was okay, but I've since played around with my favourite recipe (I don't remember where it came from at this point; my copy has no citations) and come up with a variation that I, at least, like much better. J. likes it, too, but he'll eat almost anything if it's made of cake.

My recipe eliminates the nuts and chopped citron. I tried the citron, and I just didn't like the flavour it gave the cake. Out it went. I increased the amount of candied cherries in proportion. I switched in brandy for the sherry, and added more of it, and starting pouring it on the cake to help the aging process. I skipped the suggested garnishes (if I didn't like the citron in the cake, I didn't think I was going to like marmalade on top. Plus, it would make the cake needlessly sticky. Have I mentioned before that stickiness truly bothers me? Heaven knows how I'll cope with children).

The cake ends up moist, a little chewy, a little crumbly, and rather alcoholic. It's a dark fruitcake, because light fruitcakes seem like a waste of time. Well, not really. I just prefer the dark fruitcake, the way I prefer dark beer. A slice of it goes very well with hot black tea with milk in. It's quite rich, and I'm sure it's calorie-laden, so you'll probably start to feel full after a single slice.

December 2012's Fruitcake



Fruit Cake



1/2 cup currants



generous 1 cup raisins



1/2 cup sultanas (or golden raisins, if you can't find sultanas)



1/2 cup (or a little more) glacé cherries



1/2 cup brandy, divided



3/4 cup butter, at room temperature



scant 1 cup dark brown sugar



2 size 1 eggs, at room temperature



1 3/4 cups plain flour



2 tsp. baking powder



2 tsp. each ground ginger, allspice, and cinnamon



1 tbsp. milk
1 tbsp. golden syrup (This is not corn syrup or molasses, for those unfamiliar with golden syrup. It's a sugar syrup that's a by-product of the sugar refining process and has a distinct caramel-like aftertaste. The darker kinds are usually just called treacle, but you want the golden kind here)








At least a day in advance, combine the dried fruit and cherries in a bowl. You may change the balance of dried fruit if desired, so long as it all adds up to about 2 cups (dried cherries do well in this, as do golden raisins rather than sultanas). Stir in 1/4 cup of the brandy, cover and soak overnight. Feel free to let soak for a couple of days, adding more brandy if desired.




Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F. Line and grease a 9x3 inch springform tin with greaseproof paper. If you don’t have a springform pan, grease and flour a 9 inch cake tin. Place a tray of hot water on the bottom of the oven.




Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together three times. Fold into the butter mixture in three batches. Fold in the syrup, milk, dried fruit, and liquid, adding the second 1/4 cup brandy.




Spoon into the tin, spreading out so there is a slight depression in the centre. Bake for about 2 1/2—3 hours. When the top is golden, pour a capful or two of brandy over the cake, then cover with foil to prevent over-browning.




Cool in the tin on a rack for about 10 minutes. Pour another capful or two of brandy over the cake while it cools. Turn it out onto the rack to finish cooling, and pour more brandy over the bottom of the cake.



When it is cool, wrap it in parchment paper and store either in a sealed container or a sealed ziplock bag. Sprinkle with brandy every once in a while, to help the aging process. You may eat it right away, of course, but it will be better if it has aged for a week or three.

11 December 2012

DIY Christmas and Body Scrub Recipe


Making Christmas gifts: the aftermath
The picture above illustrates the chaos that is my kitchen table. We're supposed to send off the gifts for the in-laws this evening with J's sister, who is spending Christmas with them, and in my usual fashion, I had procrastinated. Partly this is because they can be difficult to buy for: they already have everything they need and most of what they want, and J. and I don't have lots of money. While I'm sure my father-in-law would be thrilled with a newer, fancier telescope (he's an amateur astronomer, among other things), we simply can't afford one. Same with his mum and her harp-playing. I could have tracked down some harp music, but there aren't any really good music shops in our town, so I'd probably have to go on an adventure in downtown Vancouver, and I haven't been in the mood for that sort of thing lately. It's a 2-3 hour bus and Skytrain rain, depending on the destination, and it is cold and wet outdoors (I'm not a wuss, I just don't want pneumonia this winter).

Anyway, searching for Christmas gift ideas led me, as usual, to making things. It's more interesting, and honestly, less stressful than running around the mall. And it can be more affordable. In this case, yes (although since I had to buy ingredients to make face cream and lip balm, I spent a little more than planned, but now I have supplies to choose from for making lotions and lip balms). As you can see from the above picture, I made a lot of lip balm. Lip balm for everyone!

I'd show off pictures of some of the completed things I made, but I already wrapped them (they don't read this blog, to my knowledge, so there'd be no problem with surprises). I made a table runner, turned a piece of an inkle band into a bookmark, made a couple of hair ornaments (ribbon work is way harder than it looks, btw), and then the lip balm and face cream, which will become gifts for more than just my mum-in-law and sisters-in-law. My mum gets some, and so do my cousins and grandmother (probably). This was mostly in the last couple of days, and I even managed to fit in a very long walk around town to get ingredients that has, for some reason, left me hobbling around the apartment like I have arthritis. I'm probably too young for that, since I'm not even thirty yet (and no, I don't have juvenile arthritis or early-onset arthritis or whatever it's called), so I think it's just a pulled muscle somewhere in my thigh that makes it feel like my hip is 80, even though the rest of me isn't. I'm blaming it on the long walk in the cold and wet. There was lots of rain, and it's been hovering around 5 C this week, which isn't so bad. Unless you're soaking wet.

The DIY Christmas gifts haven't stopped there: I have a ukulele strap planned, as well as a couple other random things. We'll see where it goes. I think I prefer this version of Christmas craziness to the rummaging through the bookstore trying to find something that the recipient will enjoy and not be offended by.

Last week I experimented a little with making a sugar scrub, with the thought of making more, also as gifts. I quickly learnt that I prefer salt scrubs. They're less sticky, and made on the same principles.
Brown sugar scrub
This is a vanilla and brown sugar scrub. It works, but I recommend using it in the shower, rather than in the bath, like I did.

Vanilla Brown Sugar Body Scrub
2 cups brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar, but golden brown sugar would also work)
oil (I used olive this time, but would recommend almond or coconut--they're a little more moisturising and I prefer the scents of those to that of olive oil in a body product)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Scoop the brown sugar into a bowl. Drizzle some oil in and mix sugar and oil together with a spoon, adding oil until the scrub reaches the desired consistency. Add the vanilla and mix well. Put in a jar with a decent seal. Use a body scrub, preferably in the shower, for easier clean-up.

You can alter the dimensions of the recipe pretty easily, since it's "add oil until you're happy with it" and then tossing in some vanilla extract. If you had vanilla essential oil or fragrance oil, you could use that and use less of it (if you use fragrance oil, make sure it's one that's okay to use topically).

05 December 2012

Vampires and the Ick Factor

We have Netflix, so I end up watching my way through shows on there. Earlier this year I watched Bones, Lie to Me, and then Numb3rs. Now it's the X-Files. I was too young to handle watching the show when it was on TV; I was one of those kids who was terrified of everything. And no one does creepy quite like the X-Files.

Early in season 2, there's a vampire episode. What with all the novels and television shows about vampirism, it's not exactly an unusual choice. However, the X-Files takes a different stab (pun not intended) at the vampire genre.

From Twilight to True Blood, vampires in popular culture are generally portrayed as erotic. The odd evil one pops up (the one wanting to kill and eat Bella in the first Twilight book, for example), but the hypnotically sexy portrayal is the one that usually dominates. It's intriguing that monsters who steal lives by draining people of blood, monsters who are dead themselves--dead but unable to truly die, stuck in some sort of half-life that compells them to stalk the living--are idolized. Immortal, but undead. Beautiful and unaging, yet condemned to exist without changing in a world where change is a constant factor. And this is what we claim to want.

My favourite works in the vampire genre tend to lean a certain direction. Sunshine, Buffy--they can interpret the vampiric as conflicted, as good mingled with evil--human, in a sense. But being a vampire, the taking of blood, is not sexy. It's not erotic. It's evil, and it's disgusting. Revolting. Vampires are to be destroyed when possible, because otherwise they will continue to kill. With or without remorse, they are still driven to kill, and being sentient, discerning beings, they can admit that murdering humans, the race from which they have sprung, is wrong. Yet they continue to kill, using a hunger for blood as an excuse (there's an argument for vegetarianism in here somewhere, I'm sure, but since I'm mostly definitely an omnivore, I'm not going there tonight).

The X-Files episode on vampires most definitely leans toward the revolting side of things. It captures the grossness of the vampire, the absolute wrongness of it. Personally, I think there's more to be said for that perspective. It's far more realistic. If I'm going to fantasize, I'd rather have a daydream that involved something healthier than a creepy vampire stalker boyfriend.

04 December 2012

a question posed

Steinel Glue Gun from Howard Electronic Instruments, Inc
Am I a proper crafter when I don't even own a hot glue gun?

24 November 2012

a single candle

Jar Candle
Tea lights and jar candle, made with soy wax
Candle flames are hypnotic. It's easy to sit and stare at the way the fire flickers, watching the heat and movement, following the colours of pale orange and red down to the tiniest trace of clear pure blue.

On dark afternoons, I sometimes light all the tea-lights in the varied holders I have, and let the flames provide warmth that the wall heater simply can't. 

The lights, the way they move, is peaceful, which has always seemed strange to me, given the damage that fire can cause. But beauty and danger have never been exclusive concepts. Nor has peace in the midst of chaos. My tendency to find some sort of beauty or peace out of something that is potentially harmful is not unique. Danger does not exclude beauty, nor does a sense of danger exclude some sort of peaceful transcendence.

With this in mind, I made candles out of soy wax yesterday evening. I read somewhere that paraffin candles release fumes into the air that we're better off not breathing. Since I breathe enough noxious fumes just walking down the street, I thought I'd minimize the ones in my home. Beeswax costs more, and it seemed better to figure out the technique with the less expensive option.

The pictures above include some of the first batch. I made a total of 25 tea lights and one larger candle. These are all unscented and undyed. The batches tomorrow will have scent and colour, and will be Christmas gifts. The basic process is easy enough. Heat, pour, let cool. The large candle managed to crack a bit in the centre, but it's in a jar, and the cracks will disappear as it burns. I'm not a perfectionist. Beauty that is less than perfect is, often, in my mind, even more beautiful.

21 November 2012

Book musings: The Origins of Sex

I've been working my way through The Origins of Sex, by Faramerz Dabhoiwala. The premise of the book is that the Reformation, followed by the Enlightenment, drastically changed the way people understood sexuality and that consequently, some of the principles we think of as crucial to human sexuality are in actuality, relatively new to our world. This book, of course, focuses on the development of Western views regarding sexuality, but it highlights points of commonality that the pre-Enlightenment understand of sexuality has in common with areas of the world that we Westerners find confusing today. Our base assumptions about personhood and sexuality are not the same as those of other people, and there are clear historical reasons for these changes.

It's been an interesting journey through the book, although it is awkward to read on the bus unless I'm hiding the title. Provocative book titles can be quite fun, though if I'm really into my reading, I hate getting interrupted by people wanting to know what on earth I'm reading (not that this happens often). Books are one of the devices which discourage social interaction. Knitting needles are not. (And I discovered that when a man wanted to tell me all about how his dog is like his child).

The earlier chapters discussed religious influence on sexuality and society. Something that doesn't get highlighted often is that pre-marital sex before the Reformation, when the Catholic Church's influence was at its height, wasn't that big a deal, particularly if the couple were engaged. The Reformers, reacting to the lax standards of the Church, disagreed. Then, changing moral attitudes from the Enlightenment slowly eroded those ideas. The double standard was always at work, too. Men were pretty much expected to have pre-marital sex, but not with "good" women, since that would contribute to the ruin of an innocent. It's rather narrow-minded of me, I'm sure, but I'm still of the opinion that if women have to remain chaste, men should, too.

Then there were the chapters on men vs. women and the assumptions made pre- and post-Enlightenment about how they responded to sex. The common view pre-Enlightenment was that women were insatiable, and even if a woman said no, she probably meant yes. Women were seductresses, and men were hapless in their hands. The view flipped after the Reformation and the Enlightenment, albeit slowly, creating the view that women were innocents and men were the ruthless seductors (given some of the citations in the book, I have to say this view had some definite merit, even though I'd rather not be a damsel-in-distress). There was a fascinating section on how this appeared in literature, particularly in the early novel.

The conclusion the book brought me to was that I'm rather profoundly grateful to live in the time I do, in the location that I do. Canada's far from perfect, and North American society has its own ways of damaging our perception of sex and the way we interact with each other, but at least I can challenge those assumptions without being too afraid of them. I'm a person, after all, not an object, and I'm happy to remind people of that.

14 November 2012

I haven't an inkling

 There are days when I really wonder why. Today was one of those. One of my best friends called me in crisis this evening, and I listened, we talked, and I think it helped, but I can do so little to help fix the situation, and ranting about it doesn't work. And it doesn't help that she's 5000 kilometres away, so mid-evening for me is almost bed-time for her.

While we talked, I wove, to keep my hands busy and my heart steady. The picture below shows the newest member of the fibre arts family at our home, an inkle loom which I've christened Miranda. The name seems appropriate, since (according to my favourite name website), it was created in the 1500s by Shakespeare, and the first recorded use of 'inkle' to describe narrow-woven tapes or bands dates from the 1500s. "Inkle" doesn't appear to be related to the word "inkling," from what documentation I can find from online etymology websites, but their similarity in sound is rather poetic.

Miranda, my inkle loom, warped, with a few inches woven
The loom itself may be a more recent innovation--I've found conflicting information stating that the inkle loom only dates from the 1930s, but another site had one purporting to be medieval. I don't particularly care, since I'm not in the SCA at this point, and this is a way to learn to weave that doesn't involve me tying things to a doorknob and tangling the threads up. I can do basic warp-face weaving on this, and I can use it for tablet weaving (again, skipping the tying it to a doorknob, although I may work up to creating a backstrap loom, using a strap woven on my inkle loom--I've yet to get my hands on a table loom, and these are more portable, after all). I'm learning the basics of using this before jumping up to tablet weaving, which is more complex, though very interesting.

I bought the loom on Craigslist, from a seller who was actually in my area, so I didn't have to spend a lot of time lugging the strange arrangement of boards and pegs on the bus. I did get questions, and I had fun introducing people to the concept of an inkle loom.

When I arrived home, I watched a video, read a few how-to's, and then warped my loom. I did the shortest warp that this loom does, using leftover dishcloth cotton for my warp, and crochet cotton for my heddles. Then I wound some more dishcloth cotton onto one of my flat bobbins (it didn't come with a shuttle) and started weaving.

My first two woven straps, made of dishcloth cotton. Number 1 on the left (brown warp yarn as weft), number 2 on the right (crochet cotton as weft).
I'm on strap number 3 at the moment--that's what's on the loom in the first picture. I'm using some leftover cotton-linen-silk blend yarn that has a beautiful mix of colours. I'm getting better as I go--each piece gets a little more even, although my selvedges are still messier than I'd prefer. Not sure if that's a warp or a weft problem. Or both.

At any rate, it's something to do with my hands that's rather different than the knitting. Which, of course, I'm still doing. There's the first of a pair of slippers sitting next to me on the table, and I was knitting on a sock whilst having tea with a friend this afternoon. The new thing for my making repertoire is exciting, even if all I can make right now are belts and ribbons.

And it helps when I feel useless. At least I can make something, and put well-wishes into the fabric as I create it.

08 November 2012

musings: music and introspection


I enjoy writing, but I frequently find myself not really knowing what to write here. And here I have this blog as a writing outlet.

There are plenty of strands I could pick up and follow, see where they go. One possibility today is music. I know, everyone writes about music. My musician brother could tell you all sorts of fascinating things about the topic, but I really only know the basics--I can read bass and treble clef, and I can play piano, violin, and mandolin with varying degrees of proficiency, never tipping over into truly good. I can sing, but when I'm out of practice, my alto range isn't exactly pleasant to listen to, and I tend to "sit on the bottom of the note," which is a creative way of saying I'm more likely to sing flat than sharp. In a musical family, I'm one of the dunces.

This used to bother me, but eventually I realized that my drive lies elsewhere. I'd rather spend eight hours a day working on language analysis than practicing the piano. Granted, a bit more practice on my mandolin would be a good idea. We even have a guitar I could try learning. Because really, I do love music. When phrase has just the right resonance (and no, I don't know how to describe it in musical terms), it's amazing. There's nothing like it.

I've been listening to music more frequently than usual (remembering a thought I had last year--music soothes the savage Anna). Sometimes I can't listen to music because it's too much stimulation. Reading and/or writing while I'm listening to music can be too many things at once and I end up switching the music off and the lack of sound results in a visceral sense of relief, the same feeling I have when the dishwasher finishes its cycle.

I grew up in a household of noise: A busy street, a beagle who bayed whenever someone walked by, three younger brothers, a piano and a drum set in the living room. Noise was normal. I got quite good at tuning it out while reading, to the point that if I'm absorbed in something today, it takes a shout or even a touch on the shoulder to bring me out of it.

As an adult, my tendencies towards silence reflect the quiet girl who occasionally holed up in her closet with a lamp and book. I can spend an entire day without really talking to anyone, without listening to music, without making much noise other than the clack of my fingers on the keyboard. Right now, all I can really hear is the traffic outside, the humming of the fridge, and the keyboard. Oh, and my own breath. This I do enjoy, and appreciate.

However, one can spend too much time with one's own thoughts. Introspection, though important, has the potential to be dangerous, especially for someone like me, with depressive tendencies. Some music intensifies the darkness, while other types lift it. Guess which one I prefer?

07 November 2012

organization


The remnants of having worked in libraries are, for me, the compulsions to straighten books on the shelves (at home, at the library, at the bookstore), to put books back in order when they are out of order, and to organize my own books. This is, as always, an interesting exercise.

When J. and I got married and combined our libraries (admittedly, mine was much larger, but he contributed a number of very heavy science books), I decided that since we were combining libraries and moving in, I might as well alphabetize things and stick them in some kind of file so I'd have a list of what we had. The document included author's names and titles, and no more detail than that. I'd separated the fiction from the non-fiction, but didn't bother to organize based on any other system (admittedly better than my previous system, which involved book size and favourites).

That has changed. When we moved again, having sorted the books into boxes based on alphabet section, re-organizing was easier. Then, last summer, I went on a cataloguing kick. Our nonfiction is now arranged according to a bastardized version of Library-of-Congress and catalogued in an excel document that includes publication dates, editors, translators, and other salient details.

I've been meaning to properly catalogue the fiction and tidy it up (skipping the rearranging by genre, since the collection isn't really big enough to justify that yet--alphabetizing the fiction is fine for now), but it's taken a while to get there. I've been doing it by letter over the last few days. I just finished the "E" section. Eco, Eddings, Edwards, Eliot, Ende. A very short section. The "C" was impressive for my selection of Beverly Cleary's work. I don't own all of her books, but I do have most of them. I'm almost looking forward to the "J" section: between Brian Jacques and Diana Wynne Jones, there's a lot of books there.

Is this symptomatic of some form of OCD? I delight in arranging and re-arranging things. They just don't usually stay organized (which means I get to re-arrange them again). If this is OCD, it is at least a form I can live with. I'm not quite so bad as my brother, who immediately goes to the kitchen and re-arranges the drawer of measuring cups whenever he visits my parents. Speaking of, I re-arranged my measuring cups the other day. The drawer is much tidier now that the odd items that J. put in there are back in their proper places. I have a system. Really. You just wouldn't know it to look at my kitchen right now.

04 November 2012

Tailor's Chalk Tea

Tea and my design notebook; yarn bowl and soan papdi in background

 When one has no car, while living in a city designed around cars as a primary means of transport, one becomes accustomed to public transit, occasional rides from friends, and long walks. Today was a long walk. The florescent lights in our kitchen all decided to go at once--all three of them--so we walked to Home Depot in the pouring rain carrying one 2-foot and two 4-foot glass tubes, to match sizes and to recycle the old ones. We stopped in at Canadian Tire on the way, reasoning that they might have lightbulb recycling. They don't. Not for another couple of months. We got to Home Depot to discover that they'd discontinued their lightbulb recycling and we'd have to go to London Drugs. Fortunately, another person with the same dilemma offered to take ours over, since they were driving, and we were drenched.

After procuring more lightbulbs, since after wandering around town feeling like Jedi warriors, we couldn't possibly stop now (not to mention I'm tired of cooking in the dark), we wandered into the liquor store, where I finally found kirsch liqueur. I've been looking for it all over the place. Now we can do Black Forest cake properly.

In line at the register, the man in front of us took one look at me, and accused me of being seventeen. While handing the cashier my ID, I informed him that I was on the wrong side of twenty-five for that. I know I'm short, and I have a round-ish face. But do I really look like a teenager? Last time I checked, I had to look at least 20. Oh, well. Maybe if I develop grey hair at some point people will stop accusing me of being a teenager.

J. and I got pretty close to completely soaked from the rain on the rest of the walk home. While he put the lightbulbs in (he's the designated tall person in the marriage), I dried off and put the kettle on. Steaming hot tea always makes me feel warmer and happier after a long chilly walk.

I finally got around to drafting a pattern based on one of my skirts this evening. I found some really fabulous wool fabric at the thrift store, enough for a skirt, and I've based the pattern off of my favourite pleated skirt. I've changed things, of course. It has this weird appliqued side pocket, which I appreciate it because it is a pocket, but I'm just doing side-seam pockets. And the buttoned straps on the hips are gone, too.

Fabric, newspaper pattern, rotary wheel
I traced the yoke portion of the skirt onto newspaper, and then drew the skirt piece based on measurements from the skirt. You cut the yoke on the fold and one half of the skirt on the fold and the other half as two pieces, for the zipper. A back zipper lets me do pockets more easily. Plus that's what the original skirt has. The original has knife pleats which I've made a bit shallower here (not enough material), and a box pleat beneath the zipper which I haven't figured out how to replicate yet without essentially adding a gusset.

I'm not a professional at this by any means. In tightening up this version so I could fit the pieces onto the fabric, I managed to cut the skirt pieces short a bit in width (whoops!). I'm adding a couple strips along the zipper to fix it. There's enough in the scraps for that. It's not going to be super noticeable--it'll blend in with the pleats and the zipper line--but it is a bit silly of me to think that would work. I have a blue-and-white houndstooth that I'll probably do in this pattern too, and I won't have to worry about having enough there. I probably have enough for a dress and a skirt out of that one.

The fabric is a plain weave wool plaid, but the colours are subtle, and have almost a dark rainbow feel to them. I'm lining the skirt, of course, since this is the sort of wool fabric that has a scratchy feel to it. Gorgeous stuff, but not against my skin.

While marking the pattern onto the fabric, I managed to toss my tailor's chalk into my cup of tea. That's right. So, there went that last of that tea, and that piece of chalk. Whoops.

02 November 2012

dressing up

Last weekend, I got dressed up in an outfit that included boots, a tunic, a cloak, and a big sword. No. This was not for Halloween. Truth be told, I'm not much of a Halloween person. Something about a holiday celebrating scary stuff has never really clicked with me. Probably something to do with how I was afraid of everything as a kid--spiders, skeletons, zombies, end-of-the-world, clowns, you name it. So, we don't really do much for Halloween most years.

However, I am not opposed to costumes. Quite the contrary. Right now, we're working on the cover image for a book, and this pic is one of the many images from our first shoot.

On the rocks
Obviously, this isn't really the greatest picture. Most of them didn't really turn out to be close to what I was hoping for. J. was busy snapping photos, and I was busy trying not topple over onto the rocks when he insisted I crouch dramatically beside the river and put my weight on my bad knee. Plus we have to re-arrange the cloak. Most of the pictures look like a blue-green plaid blob with a bit of sword showing.

This is the result of being a writer who's decided to take a chance at online publishing on the advice of a friend in the publishing business. You end up nearly falling into a river early on a rainy Saturday morning wearing a wool cloak and trying to hold up a sword that was designed for a bigger person.

But the book's almost done with the editing process, and I need a cover image, and my friend Mika's letting me use her copy of Photoshop to mess around with a photo once we've got one. I have this image in my head, and I'm hoping we can get close to it. Next time, though, I'm insisting on the trail with lots of trees instead of the bit by the water. More stable, and closer to my mental picture.

The book's called Comrades We, and it topples into the high fantasy genre. What happens when you put a group of trainees with an interesting mix of talents together and then add a few high-stress situations? This book's got magic, villains, musicians, some meddling gods, a few games of Go, a couple mysterious pasts, and a legend come to life, together with half a dozen young people trying to figure out how to react to it all. More information to come, including when I'll have the blasted thing up on Amazon and Smashwords.

A long-expected project

Most of the knitters I know have works in progress (abbreviated as WIPs) that for some reason or another, have been put on the back burner. I have a box for these, and when I just want something that's already in progress, I dive in there and grab a project. There's a sweater that needs its fronts finished, and a couple half-knit socks, a shawl or two, and a hat that still needs a brim. My practice of having multiple items on the go has spawned these things that aren't quite done yet, and that will be finished at some point. All of them are things I want to complete, and just because they've been in the works for a while does not mean they'll never be finished. See below:

Glass Slippers Socks
These socks were started close to 2 years ago (yes, I'm ashamed of admitting it, but it's true) on a trip down to Portland to visit my family. I was knitting them on the train and gritting my teeth at the charting and the tiny twisted stitches. I loved the pattern, loved the way it looked, but those twisted stitches were killing me. I managed to finish the first sock eventually, picking it up at intervals and working through a repeat or two before I wanted to pull my hair out. 

I pulled them out back in October, and realized that the second sock was not far from completion. The chart on the foot needed to be worked to the point, and then there was the toe. I figured I could get them done in time for the end of the month. The bonus to that was there's this group on Ravelry I'm part of. It's an extremely geeky sort of thing, but I'm an extremely geeky sort of person. It's know as the Harry Potter Knitting and Crochet House Cup. You sign up, get sorted into a house each term (there's 3 terms per year, each lasting 3 months, with a break month in between each term), and then turn in assignments for classes that fit prompts, most of which are general enough that with a little imagination, it's not hard to make them work with the world of Harry Potter. For month-long projects, you have to start and finish them in a month, but they do have this great class: Detention. For that you get a base number of points, no bonuses, for completing a project that was unfinished before the start of the month. Great incentive to finish that sweater that only needs seaming, or that sock that just needs a toe.

So my pretty blue socks were my October Detention project. I got points, and I finished one of my long-term WIPs.

Close-up of the Glass Slipper sock foot

Oddly, while I was finishing off the chart, it occurred to me that it was much easier than I remembered. I think those almost two years between start and finish have improved my knitting. Sadly, my gauge has not remained the same. I've tightened up ever so slightly from the looser gauge that characterized my knitting a couple years ago. I had to make the toe of the second sock slightly longer so they'd fit properly. It's not really noticeable in the above picture, but it is when I'm wearing them, because the points of the cables don't hit at the same place on either foot. Whoops! That'll teach me to finish things more quickly.

20 October 2012

the language of craft

I'm only running on about 4 hours of sleep here, but I have some thoughts. The first one is that I want a loom. This is not a new desire, but it has been fueled by my stint at Knit City last Sunday, when I wandered over to a demo booth when their loom was free, and they sat me down and got me started weaving. It was pretty much amazing and I had to forcibly separate myself from the loom and go back to the guild table (since I was gone for a rather long time, given that I'd left for a bathroom break and then run into the loom on my way back).

I was reading some of the archived articles on WeaveZine last night while I couldn't sleep. I'd gotten up and spun for a while, set up the wheel for plying today, and then wandered over to the computer. Reading articles on weaving when you barely qualify as a novice weaver is a little like trying to read in a language that is not your mother-tongue. I speak fiber pretty well, so many of the terms are familiar, but like any craft, weaving has a specific vocabulary. Reading about it reminds me of reading in Italian or Spanish when I only know Latin and French: I can figure a lot out, but there are places where I am entirely lost. There are sentences where I, the linguist, can tell you only what function every word in the sentence has, but the overall meaning escapes me.

Weaving has words I am familiar with, such as warp and weft. Ancient words that are heavy with significance. Draft, which has multiple meanings for the spinner, the writer, and the latent weaver. Tabby, or plain, weave. Twill. Heddle. Shuttle.

And the craft has many words I don't know (in the sense of connaitre), and many that I am only grasping at. Shaft. Shed. Beam. Pick. Dent. Reed. Sett. Some seem to be interchangeable, but not quite.

It's really that I just don't know the technical aspects well enough to be entirely conversant. I've done this before, though. Learnt a new craft. The language comes with the action. I learn what to call what I'm doing, and I fumble through my first few projects, and then it all becomes second nature. This happened with knitting, with spinning, with crochet (to an extent), with sewing. As I look around me, I see my wheel over by the sofa, ready to go when we get home from the farmer's market this afternoon. There's a niddy-noddy with a skein of already-plied yarn on it nearby. Tossed over the end of the couch is a length of material and a skirt I'm trying to reverse-engineer because I like the style. There's a pile of knit dishcloths on the table, a housewarming gift for my brother. Two are worked in a mosaic knitting, a technique that reminds me of a cross between stranded knitting and weaving. Another sits next to me. This one's a crocheted cloth, worked in a dense, loopy stitch that would make an excellent rug.

Each craft brings its own language, its own little world, with it. Fluency in that language requires immersion and dedicated practice. A simple answer, really, though not always an easy one to live. It's been a challenge with languages such as Chinese, where lack of practice has drastically dwindled my already minimal vocabulary and linguistic skills. But when I can carry my knitting or my spinning with me, when I can speak fluidly through creation, rather than stammering through a sentence, struggling to make myself understood, I speak a language that connects me to people throughout the world and throughout history.

29 September 2012

new design and a soup recipe

The week is at an end. Tomorrow is Sunday, the fresh start of the new week, wherein I will strive, yet again, to finish things. There are 3 matters on my list for the next week, 3 items that I would like to see checked off. And then, well, we shall see what else happens.

I finished a new pattern this week. Third Beach. It's up on Ravelry, but you can also get it here, on the page for Epenthetical Designs. After hearing my sister-in-law explain that Third Beach in Stanley Park is the absolute best beach in the park (and they live walking distance from the park, so they should know), I decided to do a shawl designed around it. It was an interesting process, as designing always is. I had one picture in my head, one on paper, and then the resulting shawl on my needles. The shawl in my head and in my design notebook underwent several changes before becoming the bluey-green shawl with hints of yellow that is currently sitting on my dining room table.

I have a few other ideas for designs coming out of the Vancouver area. Something for Granville Island, something for Gastown, something for New Westminster. I have to tinker with the ideas, see what happens. It may eventually become a pattern booklet.

The weather's beginning to change. I'm wearing long sleeves, more scarves, and I've waterproofed my boots in preparation for the coming rains of autumn. I love the crispness in the air in the mornings, and fog that swirls around until the sun burns it off. It's the kind of weather for experimenting with soup, which is what I did yesterday for dinner. I made something inspired by borscht, but which was still rather different. It was very pink, and paired well with the crabapple sauce that I made yesterday. I got out the sourdough starter and made buns to go with the soup. They were so tasty that they're already gone, but there's still a serving of soup left. Here's a rough approximation of my recipe.

September Beef and Beet Soup
2 beets, diced
1 steak, chopped into small chunks
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 large pine mushrooms, sliced (button mushrooms would probably be an okay substitute)
2 cups chopped kale
1.5 litres vegetable broth (or beef broth)
1/4 cup red wine (I used a Malbec)
2 bay leaves
1-2 teaspoons basil
pepper and salt to taste
butter

In a frying pan, melt butter and saute the sliced mushrooms until lightly cooked. Remove from pan and set aside. Reheat pan and tossed in chopped steak. Brown and then pour red wine over, and stir. Turn down heat and let simmer.
In a pot on stove, melt butter and then add garlic and onions. Stir until onions are mostly cooked through. Toss in diced beets, and then stir together with onions and garlic. Add vegetable broth, meat with red wine, basil, bay leaves, pepper, and a pinch or two of kosher salt. Stir. Bring to a simmer and then add mushrooms. Let simmer without a lid until soup has condensed a bit and the beets are becoming tender. Add chopped kale, and then simmer for 10-15 minutes more. Serve hot with rolls for dipping in the soup. My version made 6-8 servings.

21 September 2012

Yarn Harvest countdown...last day

The world has narrowed down this week: it's all about Yarn Harvest. I feel like I'm doing theatre again. The event's tomorrow, and I'm really glad that it's almost over, so I can stop stressing about it. There's the part of me that worries it'll all go pear-shaped, and the part of me that hopes it'll be spectacular.

At this point, all I can do is let go and live with it. What happens, happens, and what doesn't, doesn't. C'est la vie; que sera, sera.

Let's just hope that thought'll stop me grinding my teeth tonight.

18 August 2012

boredom

I get bored easily. I really do. It makes me feel shallow, that boredom often overtakes me, but at least my methods for dealing with it are more constructive than sitting around whining, "I'm boooooored," like a nine-year-old.

This shawl that I recently finished is testament to my boredom. Nothing's wrong with the pattern. It's easy. Simple. Quick. And yet.



I started this at the end of December. I finished it two days ago. It's August. Eight months to knit a garter-stitch-based shawl in aran weight yarn on 6 mm needles. Yup. That's because I got bored.

The pattern is really simple: it's a 4-row repeat. But though I loved its simplicity and its garter base, I got bored, and moved on to other knitting projects, picking this one up once in a while to work on it. And it did get done, eventually, just not in the two weeks or so it would have taken had I not been so scatter-brained.

when we go to the thrift store...

Everyone has contradictions in their personality. I am no exception. One of my contradictions is, that while I will happily pay $20-30 for a book or a hand-thrown mug or another piece of art, I won't spend that much on a pair of jeans, and am reluctant to spend $40 on a pair of shoes. Consequently, most of my clothing comes from the thrift store. My husband's the same, except he adds board games into the mix. But this does not exclude us from finding art in thrift stores.

Last week, we wandered up to the Salvation Army, and we found a few things. He needed shoes, which he got. But when we walked in, we were confronted with this:

 Naturally, it came home with us, and is now living on our wall. It's got the whole steampunk thing going on. We love it.

Then I found this, for something like 99 cents. A hand-thrown spoon rest with pretty wood-fired glaze. It's situated on the counter with my tea things.
The thrift store can be a dangerous place, especially when paired with my love of functional art (okay, so the picture/wall thing isn't functional, but the spoon rest is).

07 August 2012

thinking about a year-long project...

In a discussion with my friend Emily recently, I mentioned my growing desire to spin, weave, and hand-sew an entire outfit. She said that it would be a good year-long blog project. Now it's in my head.

Of course, I don't have a loom. The project would have to wait until I did. But I can muse over it until then.

First, I considered the prospect of using flax. Then I thought about how to get that much flax, how I'd have to order it online, since the closest thing I seem able to get around here is hemp fibre, and how much that would then cost. Should I go with combed top or line fiber or strick? I have no idea. It's not completely off the list, but it's much easier to get a fleece. I know a sheep-shearer with a garage full of fleeces, and I have acquaintances who own sheep. Wool is easy to prepare, and easy to spin. I know what I'm doing when it comes to wool.

Second, there's the question of what to use for spinning. Do I go old-school and use a drop spindle, or do I pick the easier option of the spinning wheel? If I pick the drop spindle option, which of my spindles do I use? Since I want to weave this, I'll have to pick something that I can spin finer weight yarn on, which means my favourite spindle, the Turkish one, is out. Or I could just go with the spinning wheel. That'd be easier, but less "authentic," since what I'm going for is the experience of what it was like back in the days when people had to prepare the fibre, and then spin and weave and sew it by hand. I'd have to spin it fine enough to get away with hand-spun thread for sewing it, as well as for weaving, too.

Third: The colour question. Do I dye the fibre before I spin it, after it's spun up, or after I weave it? Would I go with the natural dyes option, or just pick iDye or Jacquard? Would I do more than one colour (thereby affecting what I would weave), or just do a single shade? In this case, I'd probably do the natural dyes, since that would be more in keeping with what I want here, but I have no idea about single versus multiple colours at this point.

Fourth: The loom. I don't have one. I have friends who weave and have looms, but borrowing one for a year isn't a terribly great idea, because we don't have a lot of space. A friend has a line on a (potentially) inexpensive beginners' loom that I might be able to get cheap, but it's not a guarantee. The limitations of that are that it would be a narrow loom--maybe 20 inches, which would then affect the sewing. I'd have to do a lot of panels. But this would be a table loom, so I would have room for it. At this point, I'd have to do basic weaving, since I haven't actually woven anything before. Although...if I did multiple colours, I could weave plaid. And that would just be awesome.

Fifth: The sewing. Easy enough. I've hand-sewn an entire quilt before. I can do that. I'd have to pick a pattern or draft my own, and decide on the style. Given what I'm thinking about, it'd end up being medieval in style, and then I could wear it to the Renaissance Faire.

That's just the short list. This would involve a lot of sampling and swatching, too, before I could get going properly. But it's certainly something to think about doing once I do have a loom.

One fleece, one wheel (or one spindle), one loom, one year. One outfit. Thoughts?

25 July 2012

butter

It occurred to me recently, that, when baking, it might be more cost-effective to make the butter, rather than buying unsalted. So I bought a carton of cream (less than a block of unsalted butter), brought it home, and went to work.

The recipe I found online suggested using a mixer with a whisk attachment, rather than putting it in a jar and shaking. This was absurdly easy--I got to sit at the table and browse Craftster while the mixer did the work. Then I strained it, rinsed it, squeezed it out, and there it is. Butter.

I think we might have tried this when I was a kid, making butter at home in a jar as one of our homeschooling adventures. I don't remember for sure, though. I do remember learning to make a bread with a sponge and homemade ice cream. At any rate, I now have unsalted butter and buttermilk. From not quite a litre of cream (since some of it got used earlier), I got approximately 300 g (10 oz) of butter and 2 cups of buttermilk. Time to make buttermilk cookies, since I promised the husband I'd bake something.



04 July 2012

sewing to prevent yarn over-saturation

Tomorrow (or rather, today) is the day I start making the rounds of the yarn shops for Yarn Harvest. I'm really excited about this, but definitely considering that I may be quite, quite sick of yarn by the end of July. So, to stave off the yarn overdosages, I've been doing some sewing. When I get proper pictures done, I'll try to post them up here, but it's hard to really show off a dress unless you're wearing it (or have a dress model, which I don't possess).

Mostly I've been working with McCall's patterns, which are easy to follow. Next week I'm branching out to making an outfit without a proper pattern. We're planning on going to the BC Renaissance Festival in a couple weeks, and I want to dress up. So I'm going for a simple medieval-style outfit. I'm not terribly comfortable with the whole concept of the general "wench" ensemble, so mine is based off of something earlier than the Renaissance, more medieval. It's also simpler to put together; I don't have to figure out eyelets for a corset-top thing (whatever those are called). It's just a chemise and then a short-sleeved surcoat with a belt that ties around the waist.

The current dress-in-progress (DIP, if you want to do acronyms) uses a fabric printed with Superman comics. It won't be subtly bad-ass like my knitting dress (yes, that's how someone described it recently--what can I say? it has skeletons on it), but it will be quirky and hopefully fun. I'm going to the Yarn Harlot's lecture ("This is your brain on knitting") next week in Vancouver, and I'm torn between the knitting dress and the Superman dress. It'll probably be the knitting dress, but Superman's quite tempting. Might wear that on Sunday to church, just to see people's reactions.

28 June 2012

the yarn addiction (with a side of fabric)

I've been adding to the yarn stash recently...my friend Holly gave me a slap on the hand yesterday after guild meeting when I confessed to having bought a few skeins of Noro off of one of the other guild members. The yarn has pretty colours, is a wool-silk blend, and there were three skeins for $10 total. Kind of hard to resist. Although I should have, given that I'd bought a dress length of fabric yesterday as well (on sale, sort of a girly steampunk print, planning to make it up for a wedding in August).

We're smack-dab in the middle of organizing Yarn Harvest 2012 (by we, I mean Jenny, the guild PR person, and myself). I have a feeling I'm going to be sick of yarn by the end of the summer. We're starting our in-store visits next week, and I think it's going to be good, but I won't want yarn anymore after this. Which, naturally, will be a good thing, since I should probably knit the stash down a bit.

My stash isn't that bad, especially compared to other people, but I have to take into account what's good and bad for myself. Fortunately, J. doesn't mind the yarn infestation, and the books are just as much his addiction as mine (I'm just more likely to buy more books than he is). His board game addiction isn't a problem. I like that he has his own interests and hobbies. But I do feel a bit guilty about the yarn and fabric stashes. Time to work on decreasing them, I think. 

11 June 2012

various

After days of damp coolness, the sort of weather that I love, summer has suddenly arrived. There is sunshine, there is warmth, and I'm sitting here drinking cold water with the window open and the shades on the balcony down to limit the amount of sun exposure.

Today I went on a trip to the library, to return books. On the way home, I wandered into one of the local used bookstores. It's possibly my favourite one, because they serve coffee, there's an actual catalogue of their books, and they have an excellent book-buying policy. I do like the one with the rabbit that lives in the store, but they're closing next month (sadness). I browsed around the bookstore for a while. It's truly amazing that, when surrounded by books, I have a difficult time selecting which ones to get, because most of them just don't appeal to me.

This particular bookstore has a number of tiny rooms for each section; given the building it's in, the shop may have originally been some sort of office, and was easily converted to a bookstore with many nooks. I love that about it, because it feels like I can get lost in this small shop. 

I looked through the biography section, which I don't usually spend much time in, and found Ralph Moody's Little Britches. My mum read me his books when I was a kid, and I love them (well, up until he's an adult--interesting as his life was, I'm not as enthralled by his adventures as a stunt rider during the twenties, for some odd reason). She always used to call them "Little House on the Prairie for boys," but since she read both series to me and my brothers, I don't think it really matters. I think J. will like the book.

Then, after a futile search through children's, philosophy, mystery, and general fiction, I found myself in the sci-fi/fantasy section. I've been keeping an eye out for the Silmarillion, so now that's been added to our collection of Tolkien.

When I ventured back outdoors, and walked through the park on the way home, I noticed that the water playground was in full swing. I did a collage based on that playground a couple months ago, before it was warm enough for kids to play in the water. It's bright, and colourful, and a very fun place. I decided not to run through the fountains and go wading this time (I often do--something about water just lures me in).

I'm still knitting. I finished a sock yesterday. I'll probably cast on its mate at knit-night this evening. Toe-up socks with a heel turn that I haven't tried before--wrapped short-rows followed by a heel-flap. I've done toe-up flap heels, but not paired with the wrapped short-rows. I like the result very much; I might have to replicate it in other socks.

I also finished a hat last week. The colours are a little wonky--I'm still trying to figure out how to get my camera to do colours better. The actual shade is closer to a lavender with hints of blue in.
This is the Cobblestone Slouch hat. You can find it on Ravelry. The designer, Melissa, lives locally and I am slightly acquainted with her. She mostly does awesome yarn dyeing, but she's done a few designs. This one's quite fun, easy, and something I'm considering knitting again. J. told me it makes me look like a homeless person, but that may have been because I was also wrapped up in a scarf and sweater and fingerless gloves at the time. Besides, I'm a grad student/writer/artist. I can get away with it.

07 June 2012

middle of the night musings with red wine

As the title suggests, I am writing this while consuming red wine. It's a fairly inexpensive Malbec. Malbec's probably my favourite type of red wine, although I am quite partial to a good port (but that's in a different class, since it's more of a dessert wine). I dislike Cabernet, which, for a while, made me think I didn't like red wine. I've since changed my mind.

I was thinking more about knitting than about wine, though. We're off on a trip to Victoria in a couple of weeks, and while I've done the arranging to get to the ferry and the booking of the B&B, the things that need to be done in advance, I'm now thinking more about the knitting I should bring. Makes me feel an affinity with the Yarn Harlot, based on one of her recent posts regarding travel knitting.

Last time I had travel knitting, I had the bright idea of bringing a cotton sweater to work on, which really wasn't pleasant. My hands began to hurt quite quickly, and switching to socks only helped a little. Socks are one of those natural things to bring on a trip--small, portable, and perfect in pictures. I've got a number of sock projects slated for the summer, so it's just a matter of picking one to accompany us. We have an hour in the car on the way out to the ferry, at least an hour and a half on the ferry, and probably another hour and a half from the ferry to downtown Victoria on the bus. Then we spend the day wandering around downtown with my family, who's going to be visiting (they'll be camping on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington and then ferrying up from there), spend the night at a B&B, and head home sometime in the morning. That's a lot of hours in transit, especially given that I have to be at Maker Faire the afternoon we get home, and will probably be going straight there from the ferry. That's a lot of knitting time.

Still, I have to say I'm looking forward to the adventure. And the knitting time. I could bring a hat to work on. A hat and a pair of socks. Plus I have plans to stop in at a yarn shop over there, just in case.

02 June 2012

Gluten-free: Days 6 & 7

So we come to the end of the week, the end of the experiment. Based on what I've learned over the last few days, I'm not gluten-intolerant. So I can eat gluten-infested foods without worrying too much.

This is, in my opinion, a pretty good thing. I know that many gluten-free people (in my experience) are quite evangelistic about it, and think that everyone should stop eating gluten, but for me, at least, the reality is that I'd rather just eat fewer starchy things and be more healthy about my eating habits in general, rather than having to worry about completely cutting out something that's all over the place.

So yeah. Not the most exciting trial of an elimination diet. I might chronicle the week I cut out dairy and see what happens with that, but we'll have to see. Or I'll just update on the general craziness that is Unofficial Knitting Month and planning for Yarn Harvest in the fall, and trying to get my blasted thesis done.

31 May 2012

Gluten-free: Days 4 and 5

I may be successfully avoiding gluten, but it really doesn't seem like it's making much of a difference. I'm less inclined to eat random junk food, especially mindlessly, which is a good change, but my sleeping habits and congestion haven't changed.

The other thing is that I'm not having the bread cravings that I'd expected. I'd like some bread, sure, and am debating making some kind of bruschetta on Sunday (we have sun-dried tomato spread, and we have olives that I can turn into tapenade), but it's not withdrawal level by any means. Either this means that I'm not as attached to bread as I thought I was, or I'm just not gluten-intolerant. One of my friends has spoken of feeling practically addicted to the stuff, and how her ADD got a lot better once she stopped eating gluten. Me, on the other hand, well, I've been just as alternately focused and spacey as I usually am, with the typical varying levels of pretty good and depression/anxiety (at least it's easier to deal with than it used to be).

I did try making some kind of snack food earlier, but managed to drop the jar of popcorn on the kitchen floor. It promptly shattered and I spent the next ten minutes cleaning it up. After that, I settled for some cheese and celery sticks and a cup of tea. I think I will get some more corn at the store later because movie night's tomorrow, but I've likely settled for a healthier snack, since I was considering putting brown sugar on the popcorn.

At any rate, my plan is to reincorporate gluten on Saturday (I'm going to a friend's house to put together knit-kits for the next guild event and if there's food there, I don't want to have to worry about it), and see how that goes. Tomorrow will still be gluten-free. If there's anything I've gathered from this, it's that I don't really need bready stuff most of the time, and it's made me think more about what I'm eating. Which is all to the good.

30 May 2012

Gluten-free: Day 3

baking with multiple flours...

Well, gluten-free pizza isn't so bad. I used a recipe based on the one Gluten-Free Girl has up on her blog, swapping out the potato starch for tapioca flour, because that's what I had on hand. It wasn't bad, but I definitely missed how wheat flour makes a great, easily rollable dough. I might need to experiment with the amount of ground flaxseed in the mix if I keep doing this. I did like the corn flour and the way it tasted with the pizza, so that was a good choice, but I think the balance of cornstarch in the mix was a little too high. I'll have to experiment.

I really thought I'd be experiencing more gluten cravings. I want bready food, but not so urgently that it feels like withdrawal or something along those lines. And I'm not noticing a difference with my allergies yet. We'll see how it goes tomorrow, when I spend the afternoon manning a table at the Farmer's Market. There are some quite spectacular bakers there usually, so there will be temptation in the way.

28 May 2012

Gluten-free: Day 2

Day 2 of Gluten-free, or curses on the peanut butter companies...

I probably didn't balance my diet too well today, as I had only a banana for breakfast. My goal tomorrow is kasha, since I can't have the cream of wheat this week, and I'm not too sure about the provenance of the oats. I was craving peanut butter with celery around lunch-time, and after getting home from errands bringing celery with me, I discovered that the peanut butter someone gave us a while ago has maltodextrin in it, which means there's probably gluten in there. So, even though we still have a jar and a half of peanut butter to go through (and one of those jars is huge), if I want peanut butter this week, I'll have to buy a jar of the kind we usually eat--the kind with peanuts and maybe some salt and nothing else.

I did a basic stir-fry with rice for dinner, and that was fine, although I couldn't use up any random sauces from the fridge because they all had, wait for it, gluten. However, at knit-night, I managed to avoid the temptation to buy baked goods at Starbucks because of the gluten and that was definitely a good move. 

I'm feeling kind of hungry right now, but I figure a cup of tea and maybe an apple will quell that urge for the moment, since dinner was about five hours ago (which would be why I'm hungry). So far, the bread craving is surprisingly minimal. We'll see how it is tomorrow, when I attempt gluten-free pizza crust.