Finished Knit–Zuzu’s Petals

imagePattern: Zuzu’s Petals, available for purchase on Ravelry

Yarn: MadelineTosh Pashmina in Moorland colorway

Needles: size 8

Notes: Very easy, cute knit that will be perfect for fall/winter. I picked up a skein of this yarn at my LYS’s mega sale, and since it’s discontinued, I had to find a project that would work with the yardage. I had about 15% of the skein left when I was done, so no yarn chicken here!

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I’m about to cast on for a sweater for my husband, and actually took the time to swatch, though we all know swatches are lying liars who lie. I’m hoping to make it my summer project, but I also have enough yarn on stand-by for three more projects in case I get bored. My stash is overtaking it’s storage space, so I better get to knitting!

Cookbook Review–Food with Friends: The Art of Simple Gatherings

I’ve been on a cookbook tear lately, trying to get some inspiration and get back my cooking mojo. I’ve also been trying to reframe my approach to casual entertaining, as my OCD usually drives me to be Martha Stewart-perfect when I have people over. You know what that means? I don’t have friends over as much as I would like. I want to embrace an attitude that every gathering does not have to be an over-the-top affair I slaved over for a week. This new book caught my eye, and it seemed like just what I was looking for to jumpstart a season of summer entertaining.

This beautifully photographed, highly stylized cookbook showcases how the author’s international travel experiences influenced her cooking. On it’s own, it’s a nice book that I think features very unusual, creative recipes that many people will find inspiring. However, I truly believe that this book is misadvertised and that unless you flip through it before you buy, you may be in for an unfortunate surprise. First, with the exception of eggs, cheese, and yogurt, this book is exclusively vegetarian. You’ll find no fish, beef, pork, or shellfish in these recipes. I double-checked the description on Amazon, and nowhere does it mention this as a feature. Also, as other reviewers noted, this book leans heavily toward sweet recipes, and while she includes some savory options, I still feel like it was unbalanced if we truly want to see this book as a more comprehensive approach to entertaining.

Another drawback to this book is that many of her ingredients must be sourced from specialty stores, or are very specific to a region (and she doesn’t necessarily offer substitutions). For example, I know that I can’t find organic untreated rose petals, ghee, or bee pollen in my neck of north Louisiana. Furthermore, I think that many of her recipes are small batch and labor intensive (i.e. fussy), which limits them to smaller gatherings. As a family of five, our gatherings are never really small by default.

Finally, I really didn’t find a lot of practical tips for simplifying entertaining. Rather than tips for selecting drinks, or setting up a buffet, she focuses more on “styling” with a full page on how to photograph food. I don’t know about you, but when I have guests over, I’m not really concerned with styling my food for photos–I’d rather focus on my guests and setting a tone of heartfelt hospitality. Ultimately, I feel like this book is way more niche than the description would have you believe.

However, for all these issues, this truly is a gorgeous, interesting book! I just think it was not what I expected at all, and the publisher did not give it the best description. I’m not saying don’t buy it at all. I’m saying I’d flip through it first at your local bookstore so you have a better idea if it will meet your expectations.

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*Disclaimer–I was provided this book in exchange for a fair and honest review*

Finished Knit–Grrlfriend Market Bag

imagePattern: Grllfriend Market Bag

Yard: I Love This Cotton in Pewter and Buttercup

Needles: 6 (base and handle), 10 (body), 7 (top band), plus crochet hook for magic circle cast on

Notes: Super stretchy, quick knit just in time for farmers’ market season! I love this project, and would definitely make it again.

When Life Lessons Slap You In The Face

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In case you missed it, I work from home. After I birthed the tornado commonly known as Bean, I painstakingly developed my writing/editing business that, while it certainly doesn’t produce a full-time income, it fills in the cracks and lessens some of the month-to-month budgetary pressures.

But here’s the thing about freelance work–if you can’t advocate for yourself, you’re SOL because no one else will. After four years, I’ve learned many good but also many harsh lessons, including that some clients will never be happy, I need to own up to mistakes and do everything in my power to correct them, and that working from home means that you actually have to, you know, work.

This past week, however, introduced me to a situation that I finally realized is all to common for many women, and I believed I was better than. It also helped me see that I have a long way to go before I can be the kind of role model that my daughter needs.

So, let’s set the stage: I have a great client. This was one of my first clients, and we’ve had an incredible, long-term business relationship. Great client merges with larger company and that’s when the trouble starts. Great client is still my boss and the work is still the same. But new company now handles billing/payments/taxes. Soon, payments become sporadic, and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to get new company to pay me in a consistent manner. Now, a logical person would have put her foot down months ago, but my inner-need to be a people-pleaser prompted me to keep working and let months go by with no payments. In fact, I’ve never been paid without having to ask (as in “could you please pay that two-month old invoice…pretty please?”).

Finally, this week, I essentially went on strike. I told great client that we’ve reached the breaking point, and that I wasn’t working anymore until I received payment and my long overdue tax documents. Right now, you’re thinking “good”…but let’s back up and see what the heck is wrong with this picture:

  1. Why in the world did I let this situation drag on for 10…yes, 10 months?
  2. Even worse, when I did go on strike, why did I feel the need to send an apology-laden, meekly-composed email that was basically a sugar-coated crap fest?

It only took me a few days to wake up (as well as some strong words from the hubs), and to realize that I was playing into every stupid stereotype we have about women in the workplace. As I waited and agonized, he repeated the same phrase over and over, “It’s business! The only person that’s making this personal is YOU!” Why was I fretting over a perfectly reasonably request? Why was I shying away from standing up for myself? But most importantly, why did I feel the need to apologize for asking that my client fulfill the most basic element of a contract?

What’s really pathetic is that, even with all my fancy (and expensive) education, and a plethora of strong female role models, I still approach advocating for myself with apologies, disclaimers, and deep, inner panic. Hubs is right in that I need to eject the emotion and treat business like business, and I need some serious self-awareness when it comes to this issue. I can teach my daughter to have determination, but how can I teach her to be her own advocate if she sees me apologizing my way through life as I ask for fairness?

So, I’m still on strike, and while I don’t want to lose my best client, I’m reminding myself that you teach people how to treat you. If I teach them that this is acceptable by not standing up, then I am giving them my permission to continue.

 

Finished Knits–“Molly” Hat and “Exploration Station” Shawl

I finished up a couple of knits recently, just in time for the end of the pathetic winter we had. It’s already unseasonably warm here, which make me anticipate summer with abject fear, If it’s nearly 90 degrees in March, what the hell will July look like? Time to switch knitting gears and decide what’s next.

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Pattern: Molly (Available for free on Ravelry)

Yarn: Berroco  Comfort Worsted in Burgundy colorway

Needles: US 4 and US 6, both circulars and DPNs for the decreases

Notes: Molly is a great, well-written pattern for a slouchy-fit hat. This is the second time I’ve knit it, and I just used leftover yarn from the Antler Mittens I made in December. Great pattern for advanced beginners.

ES 1ES 2Pattern: Exploration Station by Stephen West (Available for purchase via Ravelry)

Yarn: MadelineTosh Tosh Merino Light in El Greco, Betty Draper’s Blues, Black Currant, and Moonstone colorways

Needles: US 6  circular

Notes: I’m not a big shawl person, but something about this pattern kept me coming back for a second look. Stephen’s patterns are always an interesting combination of techniques, and some are more like artwork than what I would consider wearable accessories. This shawl, however, had so many interesting components I finally just had to knit it. It combines short row shaping, brioche, slip stitch rows and more. I learned a lot during this project (including that brioche knitting is not for me), and I’m happy with the final results after blocking. Overall, this was a really well-written pattern, and Stephen even put up a couple of tutorials on YouTube, which made it well worth the 6 bucks I paid for it.

Tasty Tuesday–Mom’s Pound Cake, a Good Book, and a Reworking of Priorities

cake

After two straight months of working myself crazy, I decided last week that enough is enough. While I’m blessed that I’m able to earn extra money while working from home, I’ve always sucked at that whole balance thing. When you add the post-holiday budget strain, I felt this maddening need to cram as much work into my days as I feasibly could, which was in direct contrast to my pesky resolution to not do that anymore. It’s so easy to slip into survival mode, and let your days fall into a continuous series of necessary tasks. Where’s the joy in that? None, I can tell ya.

So, rather than let my clients’ needs become my life, I’m enforcing a daily limit on my worktime so I can also focus on my home, my kids, and things I actually enjoy doing. That includes getting back in the kitchen.

So, it’s Tasty Tuesday, and since I’ve been felled by a cold/allergies that are slowly sucking the life out of me, I decided to stick with classic comfort. My Mom’s Pound Cake is oh-so-easy, and also a simple staple that was almost always on hand when we were growing up. It’s a basic, effortless recipe that everyone should have in their back pockets, and it can be repurposed in so many ways. For example, it can serve as the base for strawberry shortcake in a pinch, or you can go all Bobby Flay and throw it on the grill.

ingredients

Remember that, unless a recipe specifies differently, you should shoot for room temperature butter and eggs when baking. It helps your batters mix up and bake evenly, and is one of those baking tricks that separate the boys from the men. (not really, but if you’re gonna dirty up some dishes, why not hedge your bets for the best outcome?)

cale 2

Mom’s Pound Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 sticks butter (preferably room temperature)
  • 6 eggs (preferably room temperature)
  • 1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract (seriously, dude)

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a standard Bundt pan and set aside.
  2. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds, or until you’re sure it’s not going to fly all over the place. Increase speed to medium and mix for 10 minutes, stopping once halfway through to scrape down the sides.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until done.
  4. Remove pan from oven and place on cooling rack for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto cake plate and let cool completely.

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Finished Read

book

Speaking of cake, I just finished reading The Cake Therapist, which is the debut novel from cookbook author Judith Fertig. I picked this one up because, not only was the cover attention-grabbing, but the summary reminded me of Sarah Addison Allen novels, which I love. I truly enjoyed this book, and was impressed by her descriptive prose. The plotline resolutions could have been a little more satisfying, but overall, I’d definitely recommend it. Unless you’re on a diet, that is.

 

A Finished Knit…or Three, New Year’s, and Fun with Kitchen Appliances

We made it through Christmas, and despite the lingering sadness that permeated the season, we ended up with a simple yet wonderful celebration. Good food, good family and friends, and new memories. Even with the pared down festivities, I still ended up running around like a madwoman, and left too many tasks until the last minute. When I wasn’t working, I cranked out a few more knitted gifts:

mittenPattern: Antler Mittens by Tin Can Knits (Available both on their site and through Ravelry). I selected the adult medium size.

Yarn: Berroco Comfort Worsted in Burgundy Red

Needles: US Size 6 and 8 DPN’s

Notes: This was a super easy and fast project, though the decrease sections were a pain in the rear. Otherwise, great project that was a gift for the neighbor.

slippers

Pattern: Non-Felted Slippers (available on Ravelry).

Yarn: Loops & Threads Cozy Wool in Moss and Pewter.

Needle: US Size 9

Notes: The original pattern is about a US women’s size 7. I researched plenty of other Ravelry members’ project notes and upsized them to a men’s size 13 for the husband. Quick knit but it’s a tight gauge, making those decreases a little challenging.

headbandPattern: Blue Leaf Headband (available on Ravelry).

Yarn: Lionbrand Woodspun in purple colorway.

Needles: US 10-1/2

Notes: Well-written, fast pattern. I made it in less than a few hours. I followed the buttonhole option for finishing, rather than adding icord ties.

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As for me, I received the spirializer attachment for my KitchenAid, which came just in time for much-needed New Year’s resolutions. Since Mom passed, my gym time has been sadly lacking and the scale informed me this morning that something’s got to give. The fact that my jeans feel like they are cutting me in half should have clued me in sooner. I played with it last night and made spicy butternut squash fries with maple-yogurt dipping sauce. I passed on the rice and ate that with my chicken instead, then made it to the gym bright and early this morning. Baby steps indeed:

squashI’m jumpstarting this New Year with a good attitude and a list of goals a mile long. After all, as Adam Duritz once wrote: “It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.” I certainly hope so.

Finished Knit–Snappy Hat Version 2.0

Back in the day, I made Bean this hat, which her melon head quickly outgrew:

So, for Christmas, I decided to whip up a larger version, especially since this pattern takes no time at all. Normally, I refuse to use variegated yarns on patterns with cables because they end up looking too busy. But, alas, Bean is often a too-busy hot mess who marches to her own drum anyway:

Pattern: Snappy Hat (available on Ravelry and it’s free). This is the medium size, while the first pic/hat was the child’s size.

Yarn: Premier Yarns Deborah Norville Serenity Chunky Prints in DN 6005-15 colorway.

Needle: Both circular and DPN’s, size 10.5

Notes: After making this again, I think something about the decreases at the crown give this hat a tendency to pull back off the head. That’s not a good trait in a kids’ hat as she keeps having to pull it back down to stay on. However, it is a cute, fast hat, and ensures that all the Heathen’s get something handmade from mom this year. Let’s call that a win, even if it looks like unicorn…never mind.

Advent Traditions–Motivating the Heathens to Be a Little Less Heathen-ish

adventWhen the kids were much younger, I started an Advent tradition for our family that I hoped would bring some sanity to dinnertime. Each night at dinner, as we light the Advent candles, we take turns reading a small reflection and prayer. It helps everyone get a small daily reminder about the meaning of the season, and also helps the kids keep at least some focus away from gift fever. Last year, as I was struggling with my own inner-apathy, I added a new component to this routine.

I place a Mason jar in the center of the wreath, and next to it, I add a small container with blank slips of paper and a pen. Each day, everyone writes either a good deed that they did that day, or something for which they are grateful. They fold up the slips and place them in the jar. On Christmas morning, after the bustle gifts, we sit down to a big breakfast. While we are eating, we pass around the jar and each person takes out and reads a slip. It’s amazing to hear all of the wonderful things the Heathens did or thought, and drives home how blessed we are. The unexpected side effect is that this really motivates the Heathens to do good deeds so that they will have something meaningful to add to the jar.

This year, as we continue to grieve and heal, I hope those good deeds help bring some holiday spirit to others. In the meantime, that whole dinnertime sanity thing is still pretty much a pipe dream…

Post-Thanksgiving Rest

towelWelp, I survived a Thanksgiving marathon like no other. To be honest, we had a great holiday, and despite hosting 20 of our family and friends, things proceeded smoothly and happily. As I was giving my dad the event recap, he asked in exasperation, “Who even has 20 chairs?!?” This girl, Dad…this girl.

During the days of preparation, my neighbor’s daughter stopped by and handed me this kitchen towel as a sweet pre-holiday gift. That 11 year old was on to something. I accepted ahead of time that big holidays can be chaotic, and that if something went wrong, it really would be ok. I’m  so over the pressure for picture-perfect gatherings, and I realized that once you have that mentality, you certainly enjoy them a lot more. I enjoyed the preparations, and approached the whole she-bang with very uncharacteristic calm. We ended up with a wonderful meal, a bucket of leftovers, and happy memories. We even got to spend unexpected extra time with my husband’s great uncle, which resulted in days of happy stories and tree trimming.

As I talked about in this recent post, we made a special effort this year make the most of our leftovers and to stretch them into as many meals as possible. We did the traditional next-day paninis with everything  on them:

 

panini.JPGWe also made and froze several casseroles of turkey tetrazzini, several quarts of turkey soup, and ham pot pies.

Now, it’s time to slow down a bit, catch up on work, and enjoy the first bit of sunshine we’ve seen. Not to mention my pressing need to pick up the pace on those last-minute knitted gifts! We won’t even get into the mess that has overtaken my house. Or the laundry pile…Dear God, the laundry pile…

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well! I’ll just be over here, closing the laundry room door.

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