Skeletor as a fiber artist...

it is Tuesday afternoon, and it is snowing in Montreal. get used to that last part, because i will be saying the same thing for the next six... or seven... months. 

i ventured out into biting cold conditions yesterday to pick up a very special item from the other side of town. do you see my new toy?

our next door neighbor took one look at it as we were bringing it up the stairs, and got it on the very first guess.

astute neighbor: holy cow! is that a loom?!?

so, yes. i now own my very own loom. it is a four-shaft table loom to be precise, and i got it for the insane price of EIGHTY DOLLARS!!! that is about a thousand bucks less than the cost of a new table loom. this one was used previously-loved, but all it seems to need is a tiny bit of tlc

i was afraid that the heddles (all those threadlike metal bits) might be rusty on such an old loom, but they are shiny and ready to go. 

the seller said that it was the loom her sister learned to weave on, but this is definitely not your beginner's level apparatus. i resisted asking why her sister would not want to keep it, as this appears to be a hand-built loom that was well cared for over the years. however, i did not want to pry into potentially awkward/sensitive corners... plus, i did not want her to change her mind at the last minute. i will just assume that her sister has moved on to much more impressive things. 

i have very little past experience using a loom—and that was a much simpler model—so there will definitely be a lot of Googling and You Tube tutorial watching on the subject in my future. 

the loom lives in the studio for now, atop the old-school animation light table, where it is being guarded night and day by the animator's collection of childish things. this is only a glimpse. there are more display cases, plus a whole closet stuffed full of boxes of even more such ridiculous things. 

it helps to share one's life with someone who is also a collector of things. there is a firm understanding in place around here that no questions should be asked when a strange package arrives at the door... or when i start wondering aloud how much room there is in the back of the car. 

he is on a "Masters of the Universe" kick, of which i am partly to be blamed, as i have been watching the old cartoons on-and-off in my ongoing quest for distraction. so, my loom is being guarded by He-Man and Man-At-Arms, while Skeletor schemes on ways to steal its awesome power. i can totally see Skeletor as a fiber artist. 


a dish with an impressive pedigree...

we joke a lot about recipes that require you to have previously cooked a whole different meal in order to obtain one (or more) ingredient for whatever dish you happen to be making at present. something like...

me: the first step of this recipe says to heat duck fat in a skillet over medium heat. 
him: is there a step zero-point-five telling you to cook a duck and save the fat?
me: that would have been helpful.

pretty much.

that being said, it is not uncommon to find us making a meal that includes parts of an earlier meal. not because we like to make life complicated, but because we try our best to avoid waste. beyond that, there is a world of flavor in previously-cooked foods. a bone from a roast or the carcass of a chicken can be the start of a phenomenal pot of soup (like our fridge-cleaning soup from last Winter). if there is flavor to be had, we put it to good use.

then there are times when things get taken a bit too far, as was the case with the delicious salmon i had for lunch.

said dish began earlier in the week, when the animator removed a piece of pork shoulder from the freezer and announced that he would be making char siu. now, i can hear you wondering what pork shoulder has to do with salmon. that is the point. it is a story about how something that should be relatively simple becomes completely absurd. 

char siu pork is one of those magical foods that we would enjoy once in a while, usually when it is prepared by someone who we assumed had to undergo many years of special training to produce the elusive combination of flavor that defines the dish. turns out you can get the same results at home (thank you, Google!), and it is laughable how ridiculously simple it is to make. so now, this once-special dish is part of the effortless lineup we like to refer to as "Wednesday food". 

so, he made char siu pork, and it was amazing (as always). he skipped roasting the meat on the metal rack this time around, and just dumped it (and all the marinade) into the baking pan, turning the meat frequently during the cooking time. the resulting dish had all the flavor of char siu, but a thicker, stickier surface that was closer to classic American bbq, it was sooooooo good. 

this is when the crazy began. 

we were putting away the leftovers, and i was lamenting getting rid of all the super-sticky sauce clinging to the bottom and sides of the pan. so, i added a splash of hot water to deglaze it, let that liquid cool back to room temperature, then dumped it over some (frozen) pieces of chicken and left them in the fridge to defrost/marinate for a day.... or two, as they were still half-frozen the next day. then we proceeded to have an amazing meal that featured char-siu-pork-flavored roasted chicken.

and, as we were cleaning up from that meal, i joked that there was still enough sauce clinging to the roasting pan to use as a marinade for some other thing.

him: it's like a turducken. you can add another animal and make it pork-flavored-chicken-flavored. 

he was too busy laughing to realize that i had removed the two pieces of salmon that were lurking somewhere in the back of the freezer. i did the same thing as before: deglazed, cooled, then poured the marinade over the (frozen) fish.

thus was born char-siu-pork-flavored-roasted-chicken-flavored salmon... a dish that (literally) requires that you first prepare two other meals. talk about a dish with an impressive pedigree! and—absurdity aside—it was incredibly delicious. 

the flavor of salmon can be a bit... well... assertive (a fact which is off-putting to a certain animator). however, this... uhm.... strength of character is what makes it a perfect canvas for such a powerful marinade. [random aside: my maternal grandfather owned a fishing vessel, so everyone on that side of the family was more or less raised on a steady diet of things from the sea. the phrase "it tastes too fishy" is incompatible with my DNA.]

i cooked the salmon at 375°F for about five minutes, then switched the oven to broil for another couple minutes, brushing the last bits of that precious sauce over the top to encourage a lovely, toasty surface. 

naturally, i served it up with some rice that was left over from last night's dinner.

best part is, he hates salmon... which means i have that second piece left over for yet another meal.  

and, yes... i am officially declaring the thrice-previously-used marinade (finally) done! 


a little place called "What If"...

i am sat up in bed, with an animator snoring away next to me and a cat curled up between us under the blanket, also sleeping peacefully. it is a slice of something resembling domestic bliss, and i am cherishing the moment. 

every now and then i peer out though a tunnel of leafy limbs to a tree about half a city block away from here. it has gone a deep shade of fluorescent-pink that puts me in mind of Cyndi Lauper's hair back in the day. trust me, the photo does not do it justice, as my camera seems reluctant to believe that anything that color really does exist. 

there is also a little squirrel taking a nap just a few feet away from the window, with his tail wrapped around his body like a cozy blanket. even the local wildlife seems to be feeling the effect of the advancing cold. 

we have arrived (yet again) at the time of year when my so-not-Canadian-ness is on full display. like when i climbed out of bed Sunday morning to discover that my bedroom had been transformed into a walk-in freezer...

me: it's so cold. 
him: (pausing briefly to "test" the air) i guess it's a bit fresh.
me: you Canadians with your "fresh". it is freezing! i'm cold, so i'm turning on the heat.
him: really???

that last bit was said like i had just announced my plan to jump out an airplane using a bra-cup for a parachute. his Canadian-ness may be keeping him insulated against the rapidly-advancing frost, but it is the blood of the tropics that flows through my veins. it may (only) be the first week of October, but the heat is on! i have zero regrets. 

the highlight of this past weekend was the removal of the bug screens from the windows (and the balcony door) so that we can spend the Winter months enjoying unobstructed views of... well... snow. yes, life really is terribly exciting around here. 

the balcony garden project has similarly been put to rest for the season. there are two large heads of celery waiting to be harvested, but all the other containers have been covered up for the year. it is always surreal to look out at the space that just a few weeks ago was a near-impregnable mini-jungle, and all that remains now is a lifeless row of double-stacked containers waiting to be covered in... well... snow. 

on the more serious side of life, the city of Montreal has (once again) tightened restrictions in light of the ongoing emergency, so we are fully prepared for a long Winter of little-to-no contact with the outside world.... more of the same really. the social isolation is not proving to be a problem for either of us, as we tend to be loners (together). however, i have to admit that i have had quite a few sleepless nights of late, and i spend many a waking hour struggling to keep my mind from wandering down the path to a little place called "What If". 

the one glimmer of joy that has emerged from the constant search for distractions is that i have returned (tentatively) to my crafting of things. i am still not ready to pull the cover off the sewing machine, but i have purchased a few new patterns in the recent weeks and i plan hope to put them to use in the near future. in the meantime, i have been knitting. 

that gold yarn i was so in love with last time around is well on its way to becoming a new sweater for self. i cast this on literally right after i hit "publish" on the previous post, and i really wanted to have it done before the end of September, but... distractions. it will be finished one of these days.

the pair of socks that i had spent all Spring/Summer mostly ignoring were finally finished and passed along to the animator. this is the Bavarian Cable Socks from the Socks From the Toe Up book by Wendy D. Johnson. i knit this pair in some yarn i dyed in a colorway i am calling "koi pond"...because it is!

the design features all-over traveling cables that have the effect of leaving the socks all scrunched up right off the needles.

so i gave them a soak, and left them to dry on sock-blockers, which i purchased expressly for this ridiculous pair of socks. they looked fantastic the next day.

i cannot begin to explain how much i (still) despise knitting socks, especially when there are cables involved. naturally, he loves the bloody things. they were on his feet seconds after i handed them over. good grief! [random aside: he is blaming my camera for the paleness of his legs in this photo. i am not sure how to break the unfortunate news to him.] 

i vowed never to knit another pair of socks, then i sat down to watch a podcast on the You Tubes in which the host mentioned that she was participating in something called "socktober" (which is exactly what it sounds like). problem is, she happened to mention this just as he was walking by. you could hear him screech to a cartoon-like halt at the mention of that word. 

him: did she just say "socktober"?
me: i think you're hearing things.
him: nope. i heard it. it's a thing. you are making me socks for socktober.

all of the protest that followed was for naught, as he was already busy selecting his next pair of hand-knit socks. he settled on a pattern called Sea Oats, and i was given the immense responsibility of selecting the yarn from my stash. 

i had dyed a couple skeins of sock yarn in one of my desperate attempts at distraction, so i narrowed it down to those two. one colorway is "Grand Bay" and the other is "Zombie Apocalypse". ten points if you can guess which is which.

having made my final choice, i divided the yarn into two even (by weight) balls. now i just need to muster something resembling enthusiasm to get started on his next pair of custom-made socks... any day now. 


Jultember in a single word...

to be perfectly honest... i briefly considered doing a post-a-day during Jultember. however, as i have been genuinely struggling to find the will to get out of bed some days, said effort was doomed to failure before it even started. so, i took the occasional photo of the random nonsense i got up to over the course of a month that began in one season and ended in another.

this year's balcony garden project has been a literal oasis. beyond being lovely to look at, living like we do in an apartment in the middle of the city, it is especially nice to occasionally harvest something just moments before it ends up on the dinner table.

the inclusion of more flowers in this year's garden meant that there were even more colorful creatures stopping by for a visit. i was (pleasantly) shocked to see a ruby-throated hummingbird zipping around one afternoon (the visit was too brief to get a photo). one almost forgets that there is (non-squirrel) wildlife in the city, and we will definitely be planting even more welcoming flowers in next Summer's garden.

i did have to rescue a visiting cicada from potential death-by-adorable-cat. i formed a human shield between the two, until the cicada eventually climbed back through the netting and  flew away... then i spent the rest of the day threatening to climb a tree to strangle a cicada (perhaps it was the same one) whose noisy antics was driving me up a wall.

the animator was most amused.

him: if you hate that noise so much, why didn't you just let the cat kill it?
me: that would be cruel. they're annoying, but they're cute.

i found myself in need of a quick pick-me-up one random afternoon, so i made some candles. this was my first time using wooden wicks. i am hooked!

the light is stronger than with the cotton wicks, but the candle burns so slowly that it feels like it will last forever. i burned this one for close to twelve hours, and the jar was still near-full. i approve.

i have been neglecting my knitting projects, partly because it was too hot to be bothered, but mostly because i just stopped caring. this top was intended to be part of my Summer wardrobe. maybe next year.

that is some of my own hand-dyed yarn. i will talk more about the genius/lunacy involved in getting this effect on a cotton-based yarn if/when i finish the top.


i did manage to (finally) complete another pair of socks (more about that some other day) for the animator, which i started back in April. i also finished spinning the charcoal-grey yarn that i talked about in that same post. there is enough of this to make a whole garment, so now i just have to find a pattern that is worthy of this special yarn.

it is hard to maintain consistency across such a large spin, but i am satisfied with the end result. this is begging to be turned into a comfy cardigan.

i added some new yarns to my stash. i got a sweater's quantity of each color. they knit up into such a beautiful fabric. the fiber is a cotton-acrylic blend that will make for some comfy allergy-free sweaters for me.

i usually avoid wearing browns, but this warm gold was created to be worn next to my skin. this just screams AUTUMN!!!

we consumed a ridiculous amount of iced tea earlier in the month. there was a stretch of a couple-few weeks were the temperature in the middle of the city was hovering around 40°C (104°F), with the "feels like" temperature a few degrees above that. it was... brutal.

this was a particularly hot, dry Summer, so it was a great relief when the rain finally came about halfway through the month. which brings me to the point of this pointless thing...

if i had to summarize this past Jultember in a single word, it would be "tomato".

we got a large box of veggies from his parents' garden, including about twenty-five pounds of tomatoes... because his father is that lunatic. i roasted half of them (like i did last Summer), and the rest were turned into many tomato salads. [random aside: that plate with the chip is older than both of us.]

that particular salad was served along with a heaping plate of Greek-style lemon chicken and potatoes (made by the animator). said dish was flavored with fresh oregano and thyme from our little garden. the leftovers were equally amazing the next day.

we sent a photo of the salad to his dad, who was impressed by my neat arrangement of the slices... then he immediately began amassing another box of tomatoes. you know, in case we were in danger of running out of the stuff.

meanwhile, every now and then, one of us would step out onto the balcony, and return with a handful of freshly-harvested tomatoes. there is presently a large container of fresh tomatoes occupying half a shelf in the fridge, along with three containers of garlic-roasted tomatoes, all waiting to be used up. it is at the point where we are putting tomatoes into just about everything we consume.

the veggie haul from his parents' backyard also included several heads of celery. i chopped a few stalks at a time, and stored them in the freezer for the coming soup season.

we transplanted a couple of the smaller celery plants to the balcony garden project...

and i placed the bottom of one of the chopped up heads of celery into a pot of soil, where it promptly started to grow new leaves.

then, without warning, Jultember was through... and with it went Summer.

now we are racing toward the part of the year that i love most of all. i ventured halfway across town this past weekend to get my first taste of this year's harvest of concord grapes. i actually bought three containers of the stuff, but the first one disappeared within minutes of getting them home.

but the best bit came when the animator was checking the weather forecast earlier today.

him: apparently there is a typhoon forming somewhere in Asia that is going to bring an early Fall to Canada.
me: that must be one powerful typhoon.
him: it's the butterfly effect.
me: yeh, but with like every butterfly on the planet flapping extra hard. 
him: the last three words of this article should make you smile. you ready for this?
me: go ahead.
him: "definitely sweater weather."

yep. still smiling.


if dragons were a thing...

there is a strange game of sorts that is played out every morning in our home. it is sorta like a staring contest... but with cats. the loser is the one who gets the most annoyed by one (or more) cats walking back and forth across their head, so they "tap out" by getting out of bed to feed the furry nuisance. what does the winner get, you ask? they get to smile and carry on sleeping.

he was up late last night finishing off an animatic, while i was getting mildly-drunk on sparkly cider and calling it an early night, so i abandoned any hope of sleeping in late, and climbed out of bed shortly after five to begin the day's duty of lavishing adulation on our furry threesome.

this was followed by the ritual that everyone (including the cats) has come to look forward to at the start of each day: the opening of the doors to this year's balcony garden project. it is—sans doute—the best one yet.

i usually try to document each year's garden, but... you know. we had skipped the usual trip to the nursery to select plants, because... you know... so we ended up purchasing plants online from Urban Seedling. this is a (new to us) nursery located among the riverside parks on Montreal's south shore, where we sometimes go to waste a few leisurely Summer hours, back before... well, you know.

enthusiasm was (understandably) almost non-existent in the middle of Spring, so we selected just the bare minimum assortment of plants, figuring we could use the leftover space for the grill. when the seedlings arrived just in time for planting outdoors, we wondered if we should have ordered a few more.

boy, were we ever wrong! you can barely walk around out there.

here you see Mama Kitty in repose below the thumbelina zinnias. she enjoys a post-breakfast nap among the plants... until it starts to get too hot, then she retreats to the barely air-conditioned living/dining room, where she will spend the rest of the day in adoration of the animator while he works. me? jealous? perish the thought!

Baby Bear was indoors taking a post-breakfast nap, after which she usually returns to the food area to make a second breakfast of any bits that were left over by the other two. is a Hobbit Cat a thing?

meanwhile, the Little One was visibly annoyed with me for disturbing her while she hunted for bugs behind a pot of herbs. good times.

the pot contains mojito mint, Thai basil, and holy basil (which smells very much like a well-ripened blue cheese). we have been using the basils in cooking, and most of the mint will end up being dried for making mid-Winter cups of herbal tea.

the terracotta pot of rosemary, thyme, and oregano will be become a houseplant once the season is through. until then, we take snips of the fresh herbs to make delicious food.

it is a criminal offense to have a garden without tomatoes, so we planted a trio this year. we selected a large, medium, and small tomato to encourage a bit of variety in how we use them. the first of the (large) Cherokee purple will be ready to harvest once it turns... you know... purple.

ditto for the (small) black cherry.

the (medium) Montreal tasty are showing the first blush of red. this is a locally-developed variety that is good for slicing or canning.

there is also a Georgia flame pepper somewhere out there, but that has been overtaken by the golden scallopini squash.

there are also strawberry plants scattered throughout the space, but we have harvested very few strawberries thus far. we bought three varieties of strawberries from the pop-up outdoor garden center at our local market... the morning after a late-season frost hit the area. they were so badly damaged by the cold, that we did not expect most of them to survive. but, survive they did.

the frost came days after we planted the garden, and we were afraid that most of the plants would be destroyed. our options were to either haul multiple ten-gallon pots of soil indoors for a couple days until the cold spell passed, or to try to shelter them from the cold... without throwing both our backs out in the process. so, we came up with the brilliant idea of tenting a recycling bag over each pot to form a min-greenhouse of sorts.

it worked, and our plants were saved. then they started to grow, and grow... and GROWWWWW! now, you practically need a machete to get through there come watering time. what a difference a couple months make!

in this lush, jungle-like setting lives the star of this year's balcony garden project. do you see it there in the back corner, threatening to overtake the whole space?

this is the (near-mythical) dragon's egg cucumber. the variety is native to Croatia... which was all he needed to hear. he has already recommended this plant for his (very Croatian) parents' backyard garden next year.

this was the only plant that had taken any damage from the frost.

luckily, it quickly recovered... then it began to spread everywhere. when the cucumbers mature, you can see just how the plant got its name.

him: wow! it really looks just like a dragon egg.
me: i realize that you are an artist, so you have a colorful imagination—which i totally respect and appreciate and stuff—but it pains me to have to be the one to remind you that dragons don't exist. 
him: yeh, but that's what the eggs would look like.
me: how can you determine what the egg would look like... of a non-existent thing?
him: because they'd be shaped like that, with that light-green color. that's exactly what a dragon egg would look like.
me: yeh... if dragons were a thing.

then he muttered something about "you Science people", while shaking his head in pity at my adherence to a crazy little thing called Reality. this, ladies and gentlemen, is my life. every. single. day.

i will give him full credit for the two important things that went into making this the best balcony garden project yet. firstly, he convinced me to incorporate lots more color into the mini-landscape. you will have already seen the spray of zinnias, yellow gem marigolds, and snapdragons...

[random aside: i love zinnias. they always remind me of the flowers in my (maternal) grandmother's front yard back in the Caribbean. there is a picture somewhere of my cousin and i standing in that garden as little kids, with the flowers almost over our heads.]

there is also a pot of nasturtiums, snapdragons, orange gem marigolds, and pansies.

and a firecracker marigold, which is about three feet tall...

and produces the most beautiful, large flowers.

given our limited growing space, i tend toward wanting few (or none at all) purely decorative things. however, given the number of curious pollinators visiting our tiny garden, the flowers seem to be working their magic. plus, some of the nasturtium leaves and flowers occasionally make their way into a salad, so this flowering plant is definitely not a waste of space.

the second (and most important) change was that we covered the whole balcony in bird netting.

this one was entirely his doing. in fact, he had ordered the netting before trying to sell me on the idea. we tied the netting to a long bamboo pole which was secured over the balcony doors, and draped the netting over the whole balcony. we positioned a few bamboo poles along the railing to keep the netting elevated above our heads, and we finished by tying the netting off at multiple points along the railing to keep the edges in place

i remained wholly skeptical... until a day or two later, when i realize that we did not have to take turns waking up before sunrise to be on squirrel-watch. in fact, it has proven to be the single greatest deterrent to the scourge that is squirrels in the Summertime. the netting is too flimsy for climbing on, so the closest they can get to destroying the plants is by crawling along the railing, and reaching through the mesh.

so, yeh... it works!

naturally, i got to listen to him continuously reminding me about this one time he was right—and i was wrong—about a thing. then he ruined said victory by following it up with some highly-comical amateur plumbing... which i will save for another day.