Friday, July 27, 2018

Proper camping

Last weekend, we spent several days camping in the Jemez Mountains, within the Santa Fe National Forest, at the San Antonio Campground. We camped there for the first time last summer and just adored it, so we were very excited to camp there again this year. It's a really popular and well-loved campground and reservations need to be made well in advance. I made ours in March or April, to be safe, but was then very disappointed when the National Forest was closed for fire safety by early summer. It was looking like we wouldn't be able to camp there unless the monsoon got off to a good start, lowering the fire danger in the forest.

As luck would have it, this is exactly what happened and the forest was re-opened by early July, meaning that our trip, planned for later in the month, could go forward as planned. This was very happy news indeed. We spent three nights in the campground and it was the nicest camping trip we've had in a while, just because it felt like real, live camping. We'd camped elsewhere in June, where we couldn't have a fire and it was hot and miserable the whole time, which just didn't feel like camping to me. I want a campfire, hot dogs and s'mores, chilly nights. Well, we got all of this at San Antonio, and it was a wonderful time.

We didn't get off to the best start. We arrived at the campsite just moments before the skies opened and rain dumped down for a couple of hours. It really poured. We had just started pitching our tent when the rain began, and it was too late to turn back because the inside would have gotten wet too, so we threw a tarp over it and hoped for the best. As soon as the rain stopped, we rigged up clothesline ropes all over the site for drying our clothes and towels that we ended up using to dry some of our stuff that had gotten wet. This was an inauspicious beginning, needless to say, but it worked out. By late afternoon, everything was drying out - even, happily, the tent.

Generally, we have been camping with two tents for the past year or two, giving the kids their own space. We brought both tents with us this time, but we found that the layout of the campsite didn't lend well to two tents, so we all shared our bigger tent. We slept sardine-style, like we did when the kids were little. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. They're still smaller than we are, and they don't take up all that much room. I think the GB actually preferred it; she and I slept in the middle next to each other and she snuggled right up next to me in her sleeping bag the whole night. I would have preferred to stretch out a little bit, but I appreciated knowing she was warm.

Glamping, it ain't. We rigged up our tarps and poles, with rope guy lines for support, to give us shade as well as shelter in case of more rain (thankfully, it didn't rain again during our stay). We keep our firewood under the picnic table, which I think of as our staging area. I prepare and serve meals there (the fire ring is in the foreground, with the Coleman camp stove set on top of the campsite barbecue grill between the fire ring and the picnic table), wash dishes and faces, supervise dental care, you name it.

We cooked some things on the fire (hot dogs, marshmallows), and others on the camp stove (baked beans, boiled water). I brought one night's dinner, a cold pasta salad, pre-made at home for convenience. We made PB&J's for lunches, with fruit, carrots and hummus, string cheese, etc., at each meal for those who wanted them. Beer and cider for big people, water for everyone. Instant oatmeal for breakfast; tea, coffee and cocoa. Very simple and not particularly photogenic. We don't do anything beautiful when we're camping, but it's all organized and efficient.

Of course, there's plenty of time for leisure, including fishing, hiking, stick-collection in the woods (some people are really into this), reading and crafting. We always bring a guitar. The Bear has become a major fan of this hammock, which he bought last summer. We all take turns in it. On this trip, he was trying something new, where he staked out a rain fly over the hammock for shade. He's planning to try this while backpacking in the near future, as a relatively sheltered way to sleep in the woods. He normally takes a tiny tent, but a friend recently recommended this instead. He'll have to let me know how it goes; I love camping, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

As always, I took time to stroll around near the campsite to look at plants. There was a surprise right at the edge of the site: a peach tree! I don't know whether peach trees normally grow in the woods (I think probably not), but maybe it sprouted from a peach pit someone left behind. The tree was relatively small and young, but I counted at least 40 tiny, fuzzy green peaches on it. I have a feeling they won't get to ripen before the weather turns cold up there in the mountains, but it was nice to see, and I enjoyed having a fruit tree nearby; it fed right into my lifelong pioneering fantasies.

The wildflower growth was slightly disappointing. We had a dry winter and spring even in the mountains (hence the forest closure), which must have led to slower growth in the plants. I only came across about four types. I always try to match them up to a local wildflower guide when I get home (I like this website as one resource; this one is also great). I think what we have here, clockwise from top left, includes: swamp vervain, evening primrose, purple geranium, cinquefoil. There were wild roses everywhere, but we're past their blooming time by a few weeks so there were no flowers at all. I had expected to see more coneflowers, fleabane, larkspur and the like. Still, it was enjoyable to wander and look for wildflowers; that's one of my favorite things to do in the woods.

Evenings were spent around the firepit, making s'mores and talking. My favorite time in the camping day is evening, just before dark. It got chilly and a bit breezy, which felt wonderful after weeks of hot weather, and the company was great. We went to bed relatively early every night and slept surprisingly well (I think it was the cool air). It was a lovely camping trip, all the better for being proper and true - camping like I want it to be every time.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A cowl for Blais

I've just finished making a quick crocheted cowl for our neighbor, Blais, who helps look after our hens when we're away from home, as we will be from tomorrow for a few days while we go camping again. Blais is eleven years old and is friendly with our GB; in addition to living right up the street, the girls attend the same dance school. We pay Blais a little when she helps us, but I still wanted to make her something. I thought a simple wearable item would be a good idea; we don't often need hats or mittens, but a cowl can be a nice addition on a chilly morning.

My design is very basic. I chained 250 to start, then did single-crochet stitches in every chain for the first row. Through the body of the cowl, I mixed solid SC rows like this with rows consisting of double-crochet stitches alternated with chains (a DC in every other SC, with chains between each DC), to give a lacy, open look. I finished the top edge with another row of SC in the same color I started with, for a finished effect. I like the way the mixed rows look; it's interesting, and the solid SC rows give a little bit of structure in between the lacier DC-chain rows. Above, the cowl is wrapped twice around the hanger; it should fall at mid-chest level this way.

She can wear it straight too, it's up to her. Unwrapped, it should reach hip-level on a girl her size.

I joined the ends with slip stitches. I'm not thrilled with the center yellow and green rows where they're joined; I think I dropped a stitch at the same end of both of those rows, so I had to catch those rows a little clumsily in my slip-stitching. It's okay, though. I think this made a generally neat join and unless you flatten it out this way, it's barely noticeable.

All the yarns are Stylecraft Special DK (see color names below). I used a small amount of each in my cowl, probably about 10-15 grams depending on the color. Miss GB was a big help to me in choosing the colors and they were a lot of fun to work with. We think of them as juicy colors! They remind me of Fruit Stripe Gum - do you remember that? Yipes! Stripes! :)

Blais's Cowl
Yarn: Stylecraft Special DK in the following colors: Candyfloss, Fondant, Fuchsia Purple, Shrimp, Saffron, Lime
Hook: Clover Amour G/6 (4.00mm)
Length: about 58 inches (29 inches joined)
Width: about 6 inches
Made: July 2018

Monday, July 16, 2018

July five

Just a few things I'm really enjoying in mid-July...

Homegrown tomatoes! Our tomatoes are better than ever (by a lot!) this year. We tried some new things, such a better soil amendment and fertilization, along with more conscientious watering, but we also tried new plant varieties, which are making a huge difference. We have a "Patio" tomato plant, in a bucket, which is just wonderful. We bought it at Lowe's. It's the first one of this kind we've had, and it outshines our other plants ("Early Girl," "Sweet 100" and "Park's Whopper") by quite a lot. We bought the larger size plant (there were large and small available), and we bought one with fruit already starting (in late April). Something about all of this was magical because we have gooood tomatoes this summer. I'm using them all the time, as in the family-size tomato-basil salad dressed with oil and balsamic vinegar, above...

And tomato sandwiches for my lunch as often as possible. I can think of few lunches I enjoy more than a tomato sandwich. I eat mine very simply: mayonnaise, salt, pepper and tomatoes on toast. Even better when the tomatoes are freshly harvested and still warm from the sun.

Speaking of sun, our sunflowers have done really well this summer. These are volunteers that grew from old seeds in the ground. I haven't planted any seeds in a couple of years but we still get sunflowers from all the years we did plant them. I'm not even sure what kind these are - they were probably in one of those assortment seed packs - but they sure are beautiful, especially on a bright, sunny day.

One of the best things about sunflowers is how they last and last. Each of these big blooms lasts for about two weeks before the petals start dropping. The sunflowers are in a straight line out of my kitchen window and I love to see them out there when I'm standing by the sink. They draw your eye right to them with their height and color. I love to watch them sway in the breeze.

Less beautiful, but oh so beloved already is my new rice cooker, which I've just started using in the past few days. My old Zojirushi, at least 22 years old, finally gave up the ghost. I used the heck out of it, as did the Bear before me (he owned it in college, from before I even knew him). This new one is a little more complex, but I'm figuring it out. It makes terrific rice and it's almost silent, which is a big improvement over the old sputtering, juddering Zojirushi.

As always, I'm enjoying strawberries almost every day. They are my favorite food, after all. I like them best just plain, but not straight out of the fridge. I like to let them warm up on the counter for a while before I eat them. It takes a little planning, but not much, and they taste so much better.

We're in the thick of monsoon season right now. We've had a few really good storms. On Saturday, we received more than an inch of rain in a late-afternoon downpour. I sure do love this time of year.

Every storm is exciting. The water pours from the canales and floods the patios and our tiny patch of grass. We had vivid lightning and very loud thunder with this storm. As I tried to take these photos out the kitchen door, a crack of thunder made me jump back into the house! It was intense. I love being at home during this kind of weather, especially on a Saturday when we're all home together. I cooked egg fried rice (with rice from the new cooker!) for dinner and made a fruit salad while the lightning carried on all around the house. The next day, Sunday, we had light showers on and off all afternoon and into early evening. The rain was light, and intermittent, and didn't stop us from grilling outside or picking up the yard, but it was nice to have it going on in the background. We're all weather-lovers here (maybe me, especially), and it's very exciting to us when the weather is doing interesting things. In every season, we read the forecasters' scientific discussions every day on, we listen to the weather radio (which is surprisingly interesting for reports read by a robot), we watch the sky and try to figure out if that dark patch over the mountain is going to amount to anything. It's fun! And educational, yes, but totally fun.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Crochet lately

After a couple of down months, crochet-wise, I've been feeling very inspired again. I'm taking a break from big projects, having completed three large blankets recently, and trying my hand at some other things instead. I have several projects in the pipeline (I'm waiting for yarn to be shipped for some of them), including some gifts for upcoming birthdays and even something for around the house. First, I'm making myself a purse, or maybe it's a tote bag. I've been wanting to make a nice bag for myself for several years now, with sturdy handles and a lining, but haven't got around to it until now, when I decided that it's time.

I'm using a pattern called Fair Day Tote (Ravelry link) from a designer named Marji LaFreniere. I've had this pattern in my library for aaaages while I worked on other things but it's always been in the back of my mind. I just love the squares, which have a slightly raised "bobbly" round (the black round in my squares) that kind of pops out of the frame. I'm going to have to block it all after I've got the squares joined; I'm using cotton yarn and it definitely requires some neatening. I'm enjoying making the squares so far. I plan to make them with four different center colors, a total of thirteen squares (I'll repeat one color). I've made my squares in blue and this sort-of honey color so far; all will have the bobbly round in black, with gray outer rounds.

I'm planning to line this bag, and use pre-made bag handles. I'm hoping it will look tidy and ladylike but maybe a tiny bit funky too, one-of-a-kind and crafty-looking. I used to be really into cool bags when I was younger; it was probably my main fashion statement. I had a knack for finding interesting bags at super-cheap prices, often at street markets and fair-trade or head-shop kinds of places. My friends rarely asked to borrow my clothes, but I passed my purses and bags around.

I didn't buy any yarn for this project! That's one of the best feelings, isn't it? I wouldn't call it a "yarn diet," but I've been trying not to buy very much yarn lately. For specific projects that I know I'll use it all up for, yes, but not so much just for stash-building. For this project, I'm using cotton yarn from stash, all of it I Love This Cotton brand. The four colors at left are my center colors, with black and gray at right. I have some fabric already that I will probably use for the lining, a basic calico that is dark charcoal with small, scattered white triangles. I will need to buy bag handles, and will most likely buy them at Jo-Ann, but I have seen nice ones on Etsy, so I'll have to look around. I'm really excited about this bag!

I've come up with a new (to me, anyway) idea for project bags. Maybe this could help you too. For years, I've been saving the cloth sacks that new sets of bed sheets come packaged in (the brand of sheets I normally buy, from Target, always includes these bags). I've been giving them to the GB for storing small things, like doll clothes and accessories. She had amassed quite a collection of them with some extras, which she offered to me. Right away, I thought of using them as small-project bags! They're perfect for this; they have a drawstring, they're sturdy, they're easily washed, and they're very compact. I can throw in my hook and a copy of my pattern, and put the whole bag inside a tote bag when I'm out and about, which has been very handy as we run from here to there attending our summer activities. I have two of these sheet bags and I think they're going to get a lot of use.

I hope you're having a good week! Thank you for your kind words and insightful comments lately. Some of you remarked that I sounded happier, and I'm glad to report that I really am. Life is good and we're having a lovely, busy summer. And guess what! The Santa Fe National Forest has reopened and we'll be able to have our second camping trip after all - with campfires! Blackened hot dogs await me.

Friday, July 6, 2018


At our house, it's a been a calm and relaxing week - time at home, crafting, reading and cooking - interspersed with parties, playdates and trips out for errands and eating. I didn't take my camera with me to many places, so I mostly have photos from home but they've all been good things everywhere we've been. It's been a good week. We went to a party at our friends' home for the Fourth of July and had a great time. Lots of kids and food and backyard shenanigans, with fireworks after dark. The Bear brought our supply and our friends had some too, so it was a good hour of dads running around putting on a show. Everyone loved it. Then we came home to find neighbors outside watching the nearby big fireworks show at ten pm, so we joined them and finally went to bed sometime very late. Our neighbor next door has his daughter and grandchildren visiting from Arizona for the weekend and the kids were so happy to see each other; they always play when the grandchildren come to town. I have two nine-year-old girls very quietly, concentratedly, building a box fort in our living room right now.

I've started working on something new on the crochet front. It's a purse! I haven't made anything for myself in so long, but I've been kind of itching for a while to make something different and also wearable. I have plenty of scarves (especially given that I don't need one very often) and numerous hats. I recently started a top for myself but I definitely chose the wrong yarn (burgundy cotton blend) because it looks exactly like a wine-soaked dishcloth and even for me, that's not good fashion. So a bag seemed safe, and if it comes out nicely, it could make a good gift for others in the future. I'd like to expand my repertoire a little while we aren't in the blanket-making time of year. I'll probably start something more blankety in the fall, not that I'm really thinking that far yet.

My reading has mostly been cookbooks for the past couple of weeks, whether borrowed from the library (like Nigella Summer, above), or from my own modest collection. I'm looking for good summer recipes that a) don't have a lot of ingredients and b) don't require the oven. Lately, I've been most satisfied - both in cooking and eating - by my basic tomato-basil sauce over spaghetti. Every time I make it, I feel like I'm finally eating exactly what I want to eat. I can make it three times a week and feel fine about it. I don't usually do this because I know everyone else will object, but I wouldn't mind at all. Still, it's a good idea to diversify; growing children, and all that. So I've been bookmarking my own cookbooks and scanning pages or copying by hand from the library books.

I'm still enjoying my new Mark Bittman cookbooks. Tonight, I'm making a version of his Provencal chickpeas, but having tried it with dried beans a few weeks ago and having it all fail spectacularly (we felt like we were chowing down on gravel because the beans never softened, even after hours upon hours of cooking), I'm making it tonight with drained, rinsed canned beans. We want to eat before bedtime and we want to keep our teeth. No offense to Mr. Bittman, but that was the first recipe since my newfound devotion to him that just didn't work for me. Everything else has been wonderful, though; in particular, I've been making his bean burgers really often and still loving them.

The coming week will get busy again, with a return to swimming and diving lessons, kids' library events (on Tuesday, they're making wind chimes with metal washers, which should be interesting), and guitar and ballet lessons. We've entered the monsoon season, which is so welcome. I absolutely love these gray afternoons and the potential for stormy weather. We don't always have a storm, but the possibility is there. It's just nice to know that it could happen. There are still about five and a half weeks until school starts, and I often feel a little stir-crazy by this time of the summer, but this year, I feel much calmer. I'm sure some of it is the kids getting older and not needing to be entertained through the long days and weeks like they did when they were smaller. Or maybe I'm just learning to let go and relax more, savoring life as it unfolds. I'd sure like to think so.

Do you have weekend plans? Here, we'll be painting some patio furniture as well as a section of our courtyard railing that we have needed to finish for, oh, a couple of years. You don't want to rush into these things. I'm hoping to do some more organizing in my closet and dresser drawers too. We took a load of clothes down to the thrift center this morning and it felt so good! I've been working on streamlining my wardrobe, and have also lost a bit of weight recently, so am feeling good about wearing clothes I already have (some of which I'm wearing anew, due to said weight loss). I have also recently treated myself to new nightgowns and underwear, which look ever so lovely tucked away in my neatly-organized drawers. Otherwise, it will be another weekend of hot mornings and monsoon-watching gray afternoons, grocery shopping for me early on Saturday, yard work and house work, some more cookbook-perusing and bag-hooking too. I hope you have a good weekend.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Fresh strawberry granita

For the last few years, I've been making ice cream during the summer. I'm a huge fan of ice cream, like a lot of people. I could eat it every single day, though I recognize that this isn't a very good idea. I try to keep other frozen treats around, like popsicles and fruit bars, to satisfy the craving for cold sweetness on hot summer days. Really, anything goes for me when it comes to frozen desserts. I'm not picky; I love it all.

I've been looking at homemade dairy-free options for frozen desserts lately, since dairy has become a bit of an issue for a family member. I remembered making a lemon granita with my dad when I was a kid - how much I enjoyed the process, which involved lots of ice-scraping, and how delicious it was to eat. I went looking for something similar to make with my kids, and found an easy, delicious-sounding recipe from for Fresh Strawberry Granita. Have you tried a granita? It's a puree of fruit that is frozen in a flat pan and scraped periodically to create mounds of juicy, fruity flakes of ice. If you like sorbet, or Italian ice, you'll love granita.

Fresh Strawberry Granita
Makes about 6 cups

1 cup hot water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups sliced, hulled strawberries (1 pound whole berries), plus extra berries for optional garnish

Stir first 3 ingredients in small bowl until sugar dissolves. Blend 3 cups strawberries in processor (or blender, which I used because I don't have a processor) until smooth. Add sugar syrup and blend until combined.

Pour mixture into 13x9x2-inch nonstick metal baking pan. Freeze until icy around edges, about 25 minutes.

Using fork, stir icy portions into middle of pan. Freeze until mixture is frozen, stirring edges into center every 20 to 30 minutes, about 1 1/2 hours. Scrape granita into flaky crystals.

Cover tightly and freeze (I transferred my granita to a plastic container with a lid; it can be made 1 day ahead. Keep frozen.) Scrape granita into bowls. Garnish with berries and serve.

You might find that your granita takes a bit longer to reach the stage where it gets flaky, so you can do what I did: freeze it for another hour or so after putting it into a container, then scrape it again really well just before serving. It was much easier to scrape with a little extra freezer time. But it melts quickly - I almost couldn't take my photos in time to show it really icy.

I'm going to make this recipe again very soon with a mixture of berries, probably raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. We all loved its cold, sweet-tart freshness and we can't wait to eat it again! The recipe makes a lot, plenty to share. You could easily adjust the sugar and lemon to your taste. If you're looking for an easy, fruity and fresh dessert for the Fourth of July, you should definitely try a delicious granita.
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