March 31, 2014

Jungle Crochet

I feel like I've been knitting a lot lately, and with warmer weather (hopefully) around the corner, I'm ready to start crocheting more. There's something about cotton blends and hooks that make crochet more conducive to warm weather fiber fun. 

I don't remember having a single crocheted or knitted toy when I was a kid, although I know I had some hand sewn dolls in the mix. (I'll introduce you to Topsy Turvy Laura and Nelly one of these days...) As soon as I learned to crochet and knit though, I realized how much fun it was to make little gifts for my friends' children.

I made a slew of amigurumi animals long before I ever started this blog; sadly there's no photo proof. Amigurumi is Japanese for the art of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and the like -- even food, like a burger, or meatballs

Amigurumi a great way to make tight stitches so that your stuffing doesn't fall out. I never seem to get such a tight stitch when knitting, but I can sure achieve it with a hook. 

We're not finding out the baby's gender until the Peanut wants to make his or her appearance. We're all for surprises these days. I'm anyways a huge fan of neutral and natural colors -- so when I saw this Into the Jungle pattern, I knew I had to make it. I also didn't want to buy yarn for it since the pattern cost more than I would usually pay, so I've decided it's the perfect way to use up my stash. (For more ideas on stash busting yarn, go here.)

So far I think I have enough of the right colors for the animals. The tree however, was a different story. I had just enough green for the leaves, but in all different shades. I crocheted it anyway. I don't think the Peanut will mind.



And for now, the jungle tree seems quite at home amongst the living plants.

March 28, 2014

Life: Expecting

Today, after cleaning the apartment and making lunch, I said to the Sailor that I didn't know what to blog about. Oh, I have a slew of DIY and craft ideas scribbled in a notebook, but none of them seemed appropriate today. He shrugged and said, 'Blog about life.' 

I moaned back, 'I do blog about life...'

He rattled through the list of things I blog about, cooking, crafting... and said I needed to add a bit more about life in there. (This, from the man that I wasn't even sure knew what I wrote on here.)

The Sailor was onto something. 

I have always been able to express myself better through writing than any other method of communication. I can pour out my soul in journals and with stories in ways that I've never been able to share verbally with friends or even family. It's funny to me that although I have included some of my life on this blog, there is still so much that I've left out, often intentionally.

I am a particularly private person. I may know a ton of people and have a bunch of friends on Facebook, but very few know the ins and outs of my life. I tend to not air my proverbial laundry (whether dirty or clean) in public. 

I have enjoyed writing about bits of my life on Typing Sunflowers -- even if it's all about cooking, crafts and crochet. But there's a lot more going on at the moment, an event that I can no longer hide -- at least if you met me in person. It's quite evident by my growing belly, and it's not just because I have a weakness for Five Guys cheeseburgers. 


I'm expecting.

My initial reaction to the news of this event, was to simply ask the Sailor just how much we trusted a $1 pregnancy test made in China. And then I panicked a little. A baby?! 

Over Thanksgiving, I briefly visited a friend and her four-month-old baby. I held the wee one for a few minutes and when he started squirming and cringing like he was about to cry, I promptly handed him back to his mother. I told her I didn't know what to do with babies. I actually heard a gasp from across the room -- and another friend looked at me quite incredulously, then proceeded to tell me how much she loved babies.

I never said I didn't like babies. But I've never been a 'baby person'. You know the type -- the ones who swarm around a newborn and beg to hold it, wanting to know every little detail about the child's eating and sleeping habits. The ones who dream of being pregnant and having children and feel like life will never be complete without them. 

That was never me. 

The Sailor and I have always loved our life together -- just the two of us. Not even a year ago, down on the farm, a dear friend asked me flat out my position on having kids. Not many friends could ask me that and get an answer out of me, but she could. I'm still not sure what I actually said, but I know I hesitated long enough for the other gals there to chime in and let it be known that perhaps I wasn't ready to have a baby.  

Whether or not I'm ready to have a baby is irrelevant. (The more I think about this, is anyone ever 100% ready...?) Clearly God had other plans for us, because here I am, 21 weeks into this adventure. I haven't turned into a 'baby person' overnight. But I take great comfort in knowing that my own mother was the same way as me before she had kids -- she had hardly held a baby until she brought my brother home from the hospital, and she was and still is one of the most amazing mothers I know. She may not have been a 'baby person' but she still fiercely loved her own babies.  

It's a little crazy to think that I'm now a mama to this tiny being growing inside of me. I've found myself smiling whenever I feel the Peanut kicking, and more than once I've gotten a little emotional when I've heard that heartbeat. 

And even though I panicked a little that first day I heard the news... I also starting knitting baby socks. Because really, knitting socks is about the calmest thing I can think of when life gives you some unbelievable news -- especially when that news is something worth expecting. 



And that, my friends, is life.

March 25, 2014

Ringing in Another Anniversary

The Sailor and I got to ring in another anniversary together this year. Depending on his sailing schedule, we often spend our holidays separated by a sea, but we've managed to celebrate our anniversary together fairly often. 

We're not very typical when it comes to anniversaries... there were no gifts or cards exchanged between the two of us, and not much in the way of wining and dining (unless you count those burgers we ordered at lunch while we were running errands.) 


Last year, we looked through our wedding photos. This year, we simply spent the day together, puttering around garden centers and home improvement stores, and then finally stocking up on groceries. I made soup for dinner. We would have also had chocolate cake if we hadn't already eaten it all by the weekend. 

Today, the Sailor put up the curtain rod we picked out together for the living room. He even vacuumed up the mess afterwards. Then he looked for a good sunny spot to keep our tomato plants in until it gets warm enough to transplant them. I guess some gals need flowers and the works on their anniversaries, but me? I'll take my Sailor any day. Whether he's in the same country as me or not, he still reminds me to live, laugh and love. And that's worth far more to me than any greeting card.
 

March 23, 2014

Cast Iron and Pizza

A few years ago, when the Sailor and I moved into an apartment downstairs from my mother, I slyly tried to manipulate her into letting me 'borrow' one of her many cast irons pans. We were still building up our kitchen arsenal and I didn't yet have many of the things I needed for my tiny kitchen. We were already borrowing several other things from her in the meantime, so I didn't think she'd noticed if I added one of the cast iron pans to the list.

She cleverly retorted, 'The cast iron stays upstairs.' 

That week, we bought ourselves our very own cast iron pan. A few months later, a brand new round griddle pan (minus the ridges) made its way into our kitchen collection -- courtesy of my mother, who said that the Sailor could now have his own dish to fry up bacon. 

Sure enough, that griddle has seen a lot of bacon grease. 

This weekend, I discovered that it's also the perfect vessel to use to bake a pizza. 

We eat a lot of pizza... and going out for the stuff isn't cheap. We haven't found a great place that delivers here, and some days, you just want pizza now. Plus, the Sailor is picky about the amount of sauce on his pizza. The only way around this is to make our own. So, in an effort to get out of my cooking rut, and also to try a new recipe every week, I decided to finally make pizza.

Whole Foods here sells fresh dough for $3 -- cheaper than a slice! (I know, I know... I could make it even cheaper, but let's go the convenient route for now, shall we? If you want to make your own dough, I found this great recipe with detailed instructions here.)  

Once I got the dough home though, I realized I didn't own a pizza stone, or even a chintzy pizza pan. After living in such a small kitchen for years, I dislike having things that are only good for one or two dishes, even though I now have more space to store them. Pizza pans are right up there. But a cast iron griddle? You can make a lot more than bacon in that thing. Like pizza, for instance. 

We halved the dough, since the skillet isn't that big and proceeded to bake a homemade pizza in our oven. It was the perfect size for the two of us and we still had a leftover slice to split later. 


The crust didn't cooperate with us on one edge, and I think I probably should have put the spinach below the rest of the ingredients. Never mind all of that -- the pizza tasted delicious and it didn't stick at all to the cast iron griddle. Best of all, who needs a pizza stone? Win win.

March 19, 2014

Embroidered Details

I will admit that while I'm generally crafty and creative, embroidery has never been my thing. I don't know why I have such a hard time with it... I can hand stitch a hem that looks fairly neat, but when it comes to embroidery, I struggle. 

Nevertheless, I like a good challenge, so I made these baby blue jeans. Months ago, I checked a book out of the library that had the pattern, discovered that Rowan Denim has been discontinued, ordered Den-M-Nit instead from Elann, and then found the pattern for free on Ravely. Thankfully, the latter happened, otherwise I would have most likely exceeded the number of library check-outs before I finished these. 




These are so, so cute, and will apparently fade even more with every wash -- just like a pair of jeans. They are also a royal pain to put together. I never mind seaming garments together. As I previously mentioned, I know how to sew. However, these jeans needed to be embroidered with the pocket and fly details first, before sewing them together. 

I had a hard time figuring out the placement of said pockets. Then, the in-seams and crotch are actually put together with this visible embroidered seam. I don't think I did too terribly, but then I ran out of orange yarn right when I got to the last part. 


Well, it gives me an excuse to redo that part to make it look a bit neater, I suppose. 

Speaking of neat embroidery... my mother was always outstanding at it. As a child, I loved horses, and my mom made me a giant quilt with hand-embroidered horses in every square.


I've never been super sentimental about stuff in general, but this blanket has been an exception. It traveled to college with me and then to England, and even though it never made it to Africa, I missed it while I was there. 

One of these days, I'll have to redo the edges, because they're starting to fray, but thankfully the embroidery is all intact. Otherwise, my mom would have a lot of work to redo, because there's no way I'd be up for that kind of challenge.


March 17, 2014

Finishing

Spring cleaning (even if the weather is less than springy outside) means that I feel the urge to get those WIPs done. So this weekend, I did just that.

It's not usually the actual knitting that takes forever. It's the last little bits -- seaming pieces together, sewing on buttons, and of course, blocking. You know, the stuff that's not actually 'knitting', but is just as important to the final product? 

Remember all of those fiddly things I had to do on several knitting projects? Well, this weekend, I finished two out of three. (The blanket still needs to be stitched together... but I'm pretty sure the sewing machine and I will get a little friendly this week.)
 
Buttons on a wee cardi...



Edging finally finished on an even bigger cardi...


And a few extra things found in a pile that got blocked over the weekend. It's amazing what accumulates in said pile because I'm too lazy to look for a button in the jar, or to get the blocking boards out.



I'm truly happy that everything 'grey' I've been working on seems finally DONE. (Remind me never again to work on so many grey things at once...especially over the winter.) Now I can start working on some stuff with a little more color to it. 


For more info on blocking your knitting, read this past post here.

March 13, 2014

South African Sailor Homecomings

I know I just wrote about needing some recipe inspiration this week... but then I remembered that I promised the Sailor a proper South African milk tart when he arrives home. No inspiration needed there!


When I discovered that it was his favorite dessert while we were dating, I set out to perfect it. I've had a few disasters along the way (once, I actually flushed the contents of the pan because it was so awful. I had attempted to make it at a friend's house and mistakenly used corn meal instead of corn starch. They didn't have a garbage disposal. I still don't remember what we ate for dessert instead.) 

But by now, I've got this recipe in the bag. Or the vintage Pyrex -- which by the way, is the perfect size for fridge milk tart.


I'm sure the Sailor will be happy. I'll be even more thrilled that he's home.

March 11, 2014

Favorite Recipe Inspiration

I feel like even though I've now organized my recipes, I've been dining out far too much lately. To be fair, my city has some amazing restaurants with great food. This past weekend, friends from out of town visited and it was also my birthday. All great excuses to eat out. 

But in general, I've also just been in a food funk and don't really feel like cooking. (Anyone else out there occasionally have cereal for dinner? Go on, you're in a safe place to confess here.) Oh I've baked a cake here and there -- I just made another orange marmalade poppy seed cake over the weekend -- but one does need a little more sustenance throughout the day than simply flour and sugar.

Plus, since the Sailor is also returning to land soon, I'll need to up my game with planning meals. 

One of my absolute favorite sites for recipe inspiration is Annie's Eats. I've mentioned her blog several times in previous posts. I wrote earlier about her mac and cheese (which is fabulous) and about a month ago I made her drool-worthy cinammon sugar pull-apart bread.

She recently started a new section on her blog called reader love, where one of my pics from Instagram got featured last week. It's been neat to follow her story and passion for cooking over the years. Her photography is also gorgeous and that alone often makes me want to cook whatever I see on there.

I'm also a huge fan of Supercook. Sometimes I have a ton of ingredients on hand, but I'm not sure how to put them together. This site is so handy -- just type in what you have and it gives you a list of what you can make! It has saved me from more than one kitchen disaster


Inspiration for gazpacho

What's your go-to plan for recipe inspiration?

March 8, 2014

Happy International Women's Day!

Until the mid-90s, when I first traveled to Ukraine, I had never even heard of International Women's Day. But there, and in many other countries, it's a celebrated national holiday, in honor of women. It started out in the early 1900s, and has grown since then to become a day to inspire women and to highlight their accomplishments.

What could be better than celebrating the lives and accomplishments of my many fine, fabulous, female friends and family members around the globe, for one special day of the year? Well, by having it on the same day as my birthday, of course! 


I'm sure my mother didn't plan it, but it's super fun to have my birthday coincide with such a neat (and somewhat obscure, depending on where you live) holiday.

This year marks the last one in my third decade. I know many people try to do something special when they actually reach 40, but if the past 39 years have taught me anything, it's to celebrate every day, no matter how old or young you are. Today, I plan to eat my way through a myriad of dishes... bask in the sunshine that's already out... and maybe even buy myself a little something special to mark the past three decades, and to look forward to at least the next six. I might even bake a cake. 

After all, I feel like I get a double dose of a holiday on March 8th, every year.

Happy International Women's Day!

 

 

March 5, 2014

Knitting WIPs

This week I realized I'm a little behind on keeping you posted on my knitting projects. I've still been knitting (what else does one do in the evenings while watching TV?) but now I'm at the stage where I have a bunch of fiddly things to do with each project and I'm not sure which one to get cracking on. 

For you though, a little update on three works-in-progress.
(WIPs for those not yet initiated into knitting lingo.)


A stretchy grey cardigan for a special baby: crochet edging in the works, and buttons that need sewing.

I've wanted to make this pattern for a L-O-N-G time and I certainly don't remember paying €5 for it... In fact, I don't remember ever paying for it. Maybe it was offered free at some point? Nevertheless, the pattern can be found here on Ravelry. (Don't be deceived though... while this is a fairly seamless knit, there are a TON of ends to weave in.

The yarn is some cheap acrylic brand -- I can't even remember which one. I first bought it to make these gloves, and then realized it wouldn't work. For $2 it wasn't worth returning. But it makes a mighty fine little cardigan. 

Next up: a bulky weight blanket, again for a special baby. (The pattern costs a whole dollar if you're up for the splurge!)


Does that yarn look familiar? It should. Remember when I tried to make these shrugs, here and here? Yeah, well, I gave up on the idea of a piece of clothing for me and went with some cute, cozy cables for a baby to cuddle with, instead.


Fabric and batting still need to be sewn on so that it's like a little knit quilt. (Try saying that five times... 'little-knit-quilt, little-knit-quilt...') The fabric should look familiar too -- remember this bag's lining? What can I say, I have a thing for giraffes.

Finally, for a mama-to-be, this cardigan is in the works. The pattern is well worth the $4 because it's written for numerous sizes and also in four different yarn weights. I love it when designers figure all of that out for us knitters. 


A whole sleeve is still in progress, and then eventually the body edging and inevitable weaving in of ends is yet to come. If you're looking for a budget-friendly worsted weight yarn, KnitPicks stocks this great stuff called Brava

I realize my taste in yarn color recently has been about the same color as winter. Time for spring to roll in and for me to get some color injected into my fiber fun!


March 2, 2014

Vintage Cooking

Over the weekend, I hosted a small gathering of local ladies as part of a cooking club. Soon after we moved here, one of the members got married and moved overseas, and I got drafted in to fill her seat. Every meeting offers a new theme and everyone brings a dish -- an intimate potluck, if you will. The hostess provides the drinks and party flair. 


This month's theme was my idea and of course I picked 'vintage'. Any excuse to pull out the Pyrex, I say.  

My vintage recipe books hold a cornucopia of old-fashioned recipes, so I was excited to see what the gals would cook up. They didn't disappoint. We had baked brie (divine), old fashioned PA Dutch Pot-Pie (homemade noodles; no crust involved), pistachio jello salad (yum) and a pineapple upside down cake (yes, please!)  

All I had to do was supply the beverages. I desperately wanted to use my punch bowl that I thrifted last summer. But every vintage punch recipe I saw had waaaayyyy too much booze in it. I'm all for a good tipple, but many recipes called for three or four different types of alcohol mixed together. And the quantities were astounding. This was an intimate affair -- not a party for 40. 


I finally found this one from the 1960s -- a bourbon punch. I halved the recipe and I mixed together the lemons, seltzer, tea and sugar first, and it was delightful all on its own. It reminded me of tea cooler -- that summertime blend of lemonade and iced tea. I ended up only using a quarter of the bourbon called for though -- it was plenty strong just like that and reminded everyone of a good whiskey sour. 


I think my favorite part of making the punch, besides getting to use actual vintage punch cups and the bowl, was the giant ice block. I poured water into my smallest bundt pan, added lemons to it and let it freeze. Rather than having small ice cubes melt away and dilute the drink, the giant block melted much slower and was just fun to watch bobbing around in the bowl.



Not to be outdone, the non-alcoholic option was just as tasty. I made this raspberry cordial, ├ála Anne of Green Gables. I halved the cordial and it still made a ton. Considering this hardly took any time or effort, I think I might be making a lot more cordial in the future! 



I served the cordial with a bottle of seltzer water (cordial is far too sweet on its own and should be diluted) on a Pyrex plate, and as an added vintage bonus, I included glass swizzle sticks for guests to stir their mixture together. I've been hunting for vintage swizzle sticks for a long time, and I found these three cute ones with sailboats on them, last week at a thrift store. 

While the vintage cooking theme was a resounding success in my book, I do realize that not all vintage recipes appeared (or tasted!) as lovely as ours. For a good laugh, check out BuzzFeeds's 21 Truly Upsetting Vintage Recipes. If the photos alone don't make you laugh out loud, the captions definitely should!