Thursday, February 13, 2014

Victorian Ginger Beer

My last post was pretty hopeful.

Not so hopeful today, but I'm still enjoying winter. There's a rather large snow storm (Pax? They name snow storms now?) that's blown in since dawn. I was up at around 4am and didn't see any snow, but I went back to bed only to wake up to at least two inches down.

I work from home, so I don't really have a "snow day" wherein I get to skip work, but my workload was light, so I set out making all sorts of things today in the house in between working.

Ginger beer "tea"
Today, I was inspired by the BBC's Victorian Farm to try some ginger beer. I don't think I've ever had real ginger beer, and this looked painfully simple to make, even in modern times.

I had ginger. I had sugar. I had lemons and water and yeast. So I made a batch. Modern recipes call for things that I surprisingly don't have laying around. Some recipes called for club soda, most recipes indicated I should store my soda in 2 liter bottles. I have neither of these.

So I made my own way. I'm using two quart jars with lids only just barely held on in place. The yeast will be gassy, so I have to be sure the gas doesn't build up too much.  I have no idea if this is going to work, but I don't see why it won't.

I read a lot of modern interpretations of ginger beer. Not really interested in having to go to the store in this snow storm, I just did what I felt was best.

  1. First, I grated my ginger. I had a bit left over in the fridge from previous meals, so this was perfect! While I grated, I heated 2 quarts of water over the stove. I used the jars to measure out the 2 quarts to be sure there'd be just enough. 
  2. Add a cup of sugar to the water and let that heat up nicely, as to dissolve all the sugar. 
  3. I broke out my lemon and squeezed about 1.5-2 tbsp. of lemon juice. I threw that into the pot of sugar water, seeds and all. Don't worry, you're going to strain it eventually.
  4. I took my heap of ginger and threw it in the pot with everything. I didn't bring the pot to boil at any point... just a low heat to keep things interesting. The ginger was a decent amount... at least 3 tbsp I'd say. 
  5. Let the ginger/sugar/lemon juice mixture steep for a while over the heat. I don't think I'd let it boil. Just heat well enough to see some steam rise gently. 
  6. While all that is heating up nicely and steeping, set aside 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast. You're going to split this in half between the quarts if you use this system, so maybe you want to split it evenly to give to each jar.
    Don't mind the flour, I was making bread at the same time!
  7. Once you have a nice gentle steam barely coming off your mixture, strain it out into your quart jars (or whatever you're using) with a fine strainer of your choice.
  8. When the temperature of the liquid in the container(s) is warm to the touch, but not too hot that you can't stand to hold your finger in it, add your yeast and stir it in well.
  9. Put in a darkish place that doesn't get too cold and let it set for a couple of days. It should be good to go after day 2, but I think I'll wait until day 3 or 4.
Just a little bit of yeast goes a long way!
Apparently ginger beer will keep only about a week in the fridge, so drink up!

I'll let you know how it comes out!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The end is in sight

This winter has been long. I feel like it's been forever since I smelled the wet leaves of fall.

Christmas passed without a hitch, which is more sad than good I think. Christmas has become a kind of ritual that I don't seem to enjoy anymore. Is that typical of getting older? Without kids, it's decidedly depressing. We bought LEDs for the tree this year, and spent a few hundred on buying LEDs for the outside display.

Still no feelings about that. The LEDs lend a coolness to the tree (and the holiday, really) that I am not fond of at all. I'd rather put the thoughts of dark, cold nights of December behind me.

New Year's went down without any emotion. My sister and her boyfriend invited us to her place in a neighboring city, and we enjoyed a quiet evening in playing games, getting tipsy, and talking about all the things you're never supposed to talk about with strangers.

The sun is starting to climb higher in the sky these afternoons, which feels like it's woken something up inside of me and all of the things outside my window. 

Sounds silly, I know, but the snow doesn't seem so obstinate now. The sun is higher, and brighter, and can stand for longer to fight off the dark and cold. Winter is letting up on its grip, and some color is starting to wake up.

Strength is coming back to us all for spring, and boy am I ready.

Monday, November 25, 2013


November, November. You've come on strong. Last night, after walking my family out to their cars after our early Thanksgiving dinner (long story), I noticed my lawn was frozen. 

The cold winds are blowing through the leafless trees again, and the squirrels are hurrying around to gather up what they can before the first real snow.

So, with all of these signs of the looming darkness of winter, just before real snows and Christmas celebrations, I wanted to share the images that really make the season more beautiful amid all of the hibernation.

Print available on Etsy

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the Needles: A Hat for Every Season?

I've been knitting up hats like a mad banshee. I've had a couple of requests from friends, and a couple of Christmas gifts to near strangers, just to warm their noggins in hopes of spreading some holiday cheer.

Below is an image of my handsome husband sporting the Men's Ski Hat. This was my favorite hat thus far... plenty of interesting cables to dote on, the yarn was pleasant and natural (albeit corporate), and it looks like there was a lot more work put into it than there really was.

Designed by Irina Dmitrieva
It's a great little hat if you're into cabling, but there's enough of it to overwhelm a beginner with cables. The majority of the cables are comprised of three stitches, and there aren't more than 4 stitches in a cable at any point. Nice and simple, with a great affect!

I got a little bored of the same old hats and started this cute little thing for a friend... I can't be more specific here, just in case she reads it. It's the Butterfly Hat, available for free on Ravelry. Do you get better than cute and free?

Designed by Sofiya Cremin
The picture is horrific, and I was knitting this in the summer. I apologize in advance ha ha! It was a fun knit, and it stayed interesting. It was knit in a wool/alpaca blend, so it's nice and soft. It's also pretty lavender in color, despite the misleading colors in the picture. 

Next up is a second attempt at a slouchy hat for a teenager I know. Officially it's known as the Star Crossed Slouchy Beret, and it too is available for free on Ravelry. 
Designed by Natalie Larson
I really didn't like how the color combination on this squishy and luxurious yarn came out, so I'll probably end up ripping it and finding another use for the yarn. I had made a slouchy beret using the same pattern, but Peace Fleece instead. I love it, but I didn't have enough yarn to complete it, so it's kind of wonky-looking.

The other hats I've made or am making are relatively boring and don't deserve much of a mention. I'm switching-hitting about three different projects right now, so it'll be slow-going anyhoo.

Monday, November 18, 2013

New deck!

The holes, back in summer months
At the end of September, when I left off, I think we were still digging footing holes in the backyard for our deck. 

It was probably the longest time we've ever taken to do anything around here. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't help very much in digging the four 48" holes in the ground. That was all Chris. I feel horrible for him, too. 

We knew there was a huge tract of slate under our property. Our neighbor told us this when we first moved, and wished us luck ever digging more than a few feet into the ground. we've since planted shrubs and flowers without too much issue, but the deck footings turned out to be quite the project.

The "skeleton" of the deck, right over the crappy patio
My father suggested that we use an old fashioned pinch point pry bar and a sledgehammer to slam through the slate, piece by piece. A pinch point pry bar is pretty much a very painfully heavy bar with a beveled point, as to force rocks to split.

Rocks that are 36"+ inches under the surface of the ground. It was tough. Took us a while.

Once the inspector came and signed off on our holes, my father and I took over and went at break-neck speed. Within three days, we had the 12' x 12' deck done. It was certainly a learning experience, but hot damn, did I enjoy it. 
The end of the second day of work
My father and I work great together. I'd never really had the chance to work with him, side- by-side, in any manual labor kind of way. I've worked for him in his company for more than a decade, but we never really worked outside, building something out of nothing before. It was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done with my father, and I'm grateful he had the patience to deal with my questions. 

Dad checking out the gutter under the finished deck at the end of day 3.
So now, we have this deck. The city has signed officially signed off on it, and oddly asked about the front picture window we had installed about 2 years ago. Apparently, Lowes never closed out that permit, which is lovely. The inspector took note and said he'd close that out in the system since it's quite clearly been installed successfully. 

Despite probably not being technically permitted to do this, we put two layers of some of the old patio pavers on the corner of the deck and bought a nice chiminea to plunk down and have fires with. We've already enjoyed quite a few fires out in the chilly air. 

We plan to put up minimal railings and stain the deck come spring, so this isn't the finished product. It's too cold out to stain now, and the deck needs to dry out a bit too.

All in all, we're looking forward to some fun on the new deck in the better weather!

Monday, September 30, 2013

A little change

I think I'm in the minority when it comes to changing my environment. Almost once a year, sometimes twice, I will completely change the furniture layout of a room. It's like spring cleaning at the same time. 

This past weekend, Chris and I decided it was time to tackle the office. The office was, I admit, a complete and absolute disaster zone. The room that we had my home office, three desks, two small filing cabinets, and an exercise bike was way too small for all the stuff we had. The window that I faced out of gave me the pleasant view of the neighbor's south side of their house, white and bright and crisp, about 15 feet away from our wall. 

Meanwhile, the third bedroom was a bit larger, and was going mostly unused. We had a large queen guest bed set up, but we rarely have overnight guests. The afternoon sun was just too much to simply walk by, and when the leaves of the maple are starting to fall in the backyard, it's hard to resist just sitting in the spare bedroom to enjoy the west breeze in the sun.

The Trouble, enjoying the sun in the window with me 

We had talked about switching the rooms only briefly about a week ago. The office was on the to-do list for at least two months, though. We were ready to make the change. It was going to be an all-day affair though. 

We started at around 1pm on Saturday, which is really quite late to start anything substantial in the house, but we were nervous about committing to such a large task.

We finished well past sunset on Saturday evening, but that's alright! I was nervous it would bleed into Sunday, which it didn't. 

We ended up getting rid of the two small filing cabinets, a desk, and a lot of garbage. Old files, papers, technology, and electrical wires. I'm elated we switched rooms, if only because the crap we cleaned out was well worth it. We've got a queue of junk to go in the garbage bins for the next couple of weeks! 

Now, I have the warm, bright, afternoon sun to greet me as I work, and crickets in the backyard, under the maple tree. It's so much more pleasant, I hardly want to work!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A new luxury

I'm not a "buy new" kind of person. Almost all of my clothes, furniture, and linens are used. I don't skimp on some things, but most things, I'll cut corners if I can. This includes buying cars. Until recently.

The old lady
Chris has had his 2004 Nissan Sentra since he drove it off the lot, brand new, in 2004. When I met him in 2006, he had only racked up about 35,000 miles. When we had a new transmission put in this past winter, we were at the 98,000 mile mark.

Ever since we spent $2500 on a new transmission (yikes), we knew we were on a downward spiral to the death of the car. The transmission shop also put a lovely ding in the side of the passenger door, and we didn't notice until we got it home. The car has been getting worse and worse since. We've overhauled the exhaust, had all sorts of menial repairs done on it, and it's been failing its annual inspection almost every year for the past few years.

This past spring, we decided that in September, we'd tackle the car problem, provided there were no other major expenses in view. 

We did a lot of research to find which car(s) we wanted to investigate. Our priority was really a car that was compact and had a great MPG rating. We have my 98 Jeep Grand Cherokee work horse, so we didn't need to worry too much about hauling and storage and snow. 

The new kid on the block
We decided on the Honda Fit. I actually had a crush on the car since I saw it on the streets, but there was no way I was buying a new car. 

We went to the Honda dealership in the next city over, as they came very highly recommended. We wanted to test the cars that were highest on our lists, but the dealership only really seemed to have 2013 models, and nothing used in the models we wanted to try. So we test drove the 2013 Honda Fit and, unfortunately for Chris, the 2013 Honda Civic. 

I've got to say, for the money, the Civic is an astonishingly amazing car. Luxurious, smooth, and has a sense of class that I didn't think that kind of money could get. Chris fell in love with instantly. It has all sorts of bells and whistles, buttons and gadgets. Those kinds of fancy things actually make me really nervous, so it wasn't really a thing for me. 

We didn't have that kind of money, so we settled on the Honda Fit. I say "settle" because Chris is heartbroken that he can't have the Civic, but maybe we'll trade up someday. I absolutely love the Fit, though!

It'd be a hell of a lot more fun to drive if it was a manual, but Chris doesn't do stick. I'd probably be dangerous on the road if we got the manual, since I'd treat this boxy little Mongolian pony like my own rally car. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Best set of slippers ever!

I have no idea how long ago I discovered this pattern, but I have used it over and over and over again since I bought it. It's perfect for gifting, and it never fails to please.

These "clogs" are also incredibly functional. I got two cold seasons out of my last pair. My husband even requested a pair a couple of years ago and they're still in service. I work at home, so in the winter, I'm in them all day. They keep my feet nice and warm, and I have virtually no complaints about this fabulous pattern.

They're very popular on Ravelry as well. It looks like there are well over 9,000 projects for these clogs, and with good reason. Many folks rave about the ingenius design and functionality.

They knit up in about a day or two, depending on how much time you give them. My newest pair for this winter season were knit in two days using scrap Eco+ wool. They're felted too, which makes them even cozier and more wonderful.

I kind of wish I could put some solid soles on them and use them outside, for longer use. I already wear them outside to get the mail and things like that, but without a solid sole, they wear a little more quickly.

If you're a knitter, give this pattern a go. $8 is a lot of money for a pattern, but I assure you, I've gotten my $8 worth. Maybe you will too.

If you're not a knitter, find someone who knits and get a pair of these made up! They're worth every little bit of wool that goes into making them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Autumn Recipe

Well, it's starting to get chilly in the evening and the leaves in my back yard are starting to compete with a spot on the lawn. I enjoy a nice chill, but I enjoy fall cooking even more.

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes for the onset of autumn. 

From Mountain Mama Cooks, here is French Onion & Mushroom Soup!

A couple of notes from the kitchen: I add the barley to the soup dry, not cooked. This will require more liquid, but I add some water to accommodate for it. I also use vegetable broth in place of beef broth, and I try to use my own broth.

I also add some cooking time so the barley gets nice and tender. It stretches the soup a little further and makes it a hearty meal for when the sun goes down. 

This recipe makes enough for a few dinners, and it's even better after a day or so. It's fantastic with some homemade bread after pumpkin picking or baking an apple pie.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mattoon Street Arts Festival

Every fall, we like to head out to Brimfield to take in a nice afternoon walk through a huge town common full of antiques and old stuff. We never really leave with anything in-tow, but we enjoy getting out in the cooler air and walking through large crowds of people finding all sorts of neat, old things. 

Brimfield is hard to compete with on an early autumn weekend for a spot of entertainment, even when you can't afford anything you'd even be slightly interested in there. But we found a good rival. 

I had heard about the Mattoon Street Arts Festival in downtown Springfield a year or so ago via Townhouse Turnaround. Last year, we didn't have too much time to spare to head down and check it out. This year, we had a whole Saturday free! Imagine that!

So instead of immediately heading out to Brimfield to explore the acres and acres of old junk, we started out to the arts festival downtown.

Okay, so, I'll admit. We've been living in this city for almost four years and I had no idea what the Mattoon Street area was like. We parked in a church lot, which we probably shouldn't have done, and walked in. This neighborhood rivals Boston's charm. I don't think it was just the festival's presence. It was full of charm and character... I would have never guessed it was there. 

The city already has some impressive architecture, if you just stop and look. Even some of the more run-down buildings still impress me with their stonework and craftsmanship.  

It's even more difficult when you drive through some neighborhoods of the city which are quite clearly struggling, and you find these absolutely stunning homes with incredible detail that you would die for, if only they weren't in such a state of disrepair and in an arguably unsafe part of the city. I grew up in Worcester, and while Worcester has its fair share of beautiful old homes, some of the ones I've seen here in Springfield make me just a little more proud to live here.

We had a really great time at the fair, and I even bought some yarn from Hampden Hills Alpacas to play with. Super, super soft yarn if you're into that kind of thing. Now I just have to select the perfect thing to make with it!