after such a thoroughly rubbish week, i am grateful to say that life has been more of the same here at casa gnu.

picture the scene: it is somewhere around three in the morning. i am unpacking many small containers from a storage bin and lining them up on the kitchen counter. in walks my favorite animator.

him: what are you doing?
me: dyeing yarn.
him: now?
me: yep... wanna help?
him: sure!

i relinquished the role of dye-master and stepped aside with some trepidation. why? to understand that, you need to be familiar with a typical conversation in our home.

me: sweetie, would you describe this more as a purplish-pink or a raspberryish-magenta?
him: [after a quick glance] it's red.
me: worst. artist. ever!

so, yes, i was concerned. however, he did a stellar job and produced precisely the color i described. it was a bit darker in the dye pot...

but it lightened up with drying. behold the lovechild of Lucille Ball and Scully (from the X-Files)! do not get caught up in minor biological details. just look at the yarn and smile.

aside: note the use of wristbands (the type you get at concerts and other such gatherings) as tags. not only do they provide enough room to write all sorts of notes-to-self, but they are waterproof! i put them on before dyeing the yarn, and they held up nicely through the whole process.

the first skein was spun when i received the jumbo flyer as a Christmas present. i decided to go a bit thinner on the remaining fiber, so i dyed that first skein a different color. it kinda reminds me of dark-wash jeans.

on the botanical front, if you are in need of a grow project that will satisfy the impatient curiosity of small children, look no further than your friendly cucurbits (gourds, melons, and their friends). here are the zucchini seedlings just seven days after they were planted.

they are poised to go Little Shop of Horrors any day now, and it is only more frightening from the other end. note the one root that has grown through a drainage hole in the container.

we also took advantage of the warmish weather with a bit of wandering around the neighborhood. we were looking for Easter chocolates for his nephews when this happened. alas, i will eventually have to eat his little face.

i had my first visit in months to the bakery/café at the corner, and i walked out with only a coffee and a bag of meringues. truth.

there was also a trip to my local yarn shop, which did result in some more significant purchases. i was all prepared to photograph said items, but a cat got in the way...

then she decided to take a nap, so i will save that for next time.


it's a lazy afternoon...

it is an intensely lazy, late-Winter afternoon here at la maison gnu. one cat is napping on her hobo beanbag while the other one is staring intently at a patch of green light on the ceiling (it is actually the result of sunlight refracting (through, on, by...???) a half-empty bottle of Perrier, but i will not ruin her enthusiasm by pointing out that fact). then there is my favorite animator, fast asleep on the chesterfield (we are starting a campaign to bring back that term as it is so much more fun to say than couch) and possibly snoring, a suggestion which he will deny vehemently. while i would love to give myself credit for being the sole productive member of the household at present, the fact is that i have not slept since yesterday (for no particular reason), so i am not responsible for anything i may say.

i passed some part of this latest bout of insomnia by (finally) plying the alpaca/wool fiber that has been occupying my jumbo bobbins for far too long. now, instead of three bobbins of singles (crappy photo taken before dawn, hence the bluish glow)...

i have three two-point-five bobbins of yarn (equally crappy photo taken at like three o'the afternoon) ready for knitting... soon as i get around to washing, dyeing, washing again, and drying it all.

i want to go into greater detail about this fiber blend, but that may have to wait till i am slightly more alert. hopefully there will be enough yardage to make something interesting. it may not look like much, but those two jumbo bobbins are packed .

there may also be a recently-completed cardigan hanging out on the clothes horse (that is another term that needs to be used at every available opportunity). the million (or so) loose ends have been woven in (a task that i rank alongside washing a never-ending stack of dirty dishes as my personal vision of hell) and the zipper is installed and ready to go. i gave it a quick soak yesterday and left it to dry in a corner of my incredibly-arid apartment. all that is left now is to get it out of my home and my life.

there is also continued activity on the seedling front.  the peppers and eggplants are proving to be the slowest growers, but everything else is doing well to date.

i especially enjoy the shape on  the young multicultural basils.

there are even signs of life from the parsley (which is notoriously difficult to start from seeds, hence the pre-soaking).

i sowed some courgette (zucchini) seeds earlier this weeks, so hopefully there will be a couple-few of those plants ready to go when (or if) it finally warms up. despite all the prognosticating over the possibility of an early start to Spring, i am still in Canadaland and they do not let go of Winter without a fight. there was fresh snow on the ground this morning to prove that point. now pardon me as i return to staring at a cat as she stares at a wall in what may just possibly be the best afternoon i have had in a long while. until we meet again.



between awaiting the arrival of a much-needed new computer for the studio and the near-hourly inspection to see if any of our seedlings have reared their heads (they have not), the air tingles with great anticipation here at casa gnu. on top of that, the temperature has suddenly jumped above freezing, the snow/ice is melting, and the steady increase in daylight hours has even the kitties growing restless in anticipation of... anything. just, please, happen right now!!! 

i decided to seek distraction with yummy things. seriously. i had to find something to do, so i made a batch of stewed apples. it was either that or make soap. soap-making is fun, but... seriously... given the choice to stew apples and eat them in many different ways or make soap and use it to bathe...?  exactly. stewed apples win every single time, some of which i am presently enjoying parfait style. 

i used a total of six Granny Smiths. while it is one of my least favorite apples for eating out of hand, the Granny Smith is a go-to apple for use in cooked dishes (second only to the Winesap, which is, in my humble opinion, the gold medal standard for all-around-appleiness). due to the relatively high level of tartness in the Granny Smith, i usually skip the step of adding a splash of lemon juice (to brighten the flavor and, more importantly, to prevent browning). it is plenty bright on its own and, as for the latter concern, i employ a little bit of magic to keep the apple slices from going off-color. 

the trick to reducing browning in cut apples is to limit the exposure of the cut surfaces to the oxidizing element in the air. it really is that simple. i do this in two steps. firstly, unless it is a dish where the apple skin will get in the way, i do not peel the apples. the fewer cut surfaces, the less landscape for potential browning. beyond that, the skin is the most flavorful part of the fruit, so it seems wrong on so many levels to toss it away. secondly, i cut each apple in half, remove the core with a melon-baller, then store the pieces cut-side-down until i have all of the apple halves ready for slicing. 

once all of the coring was done, i melted a tablespoon (or so... did not measure) of unsalted butter in a skillet set over a low heat. the objective at this point is not to begin to cook the apples, but to get the slices into the pan and tossed in the melted butter before oxidation has a chance to set in. as each half was sliced, the pieces were deposited into the pan and stirred/tossed lightly to spread the insulating layer of buttery goodness. relax. it was like one tablespoon of butter and six large apples, so it is not nearly as decadent as it sounds, but that thin coating was enough to do the job. i also broke a cinnamon stick in half and added the pieces to the pan. 

the flesh of the apples stayed quite white, even as the skin was losing some of its characteristic bright-greenness.

but that did not last too long. i turned the heat up to medium and added a quarter-cup of sugar to the pan. brown is the default type of sugar around here, so the apples did pick up some of that caramel color. 

i also added a generous shake of ground cinnamon and ground ginger. 

doneness is a matter of personal-preference, as some folks like their apples to be crisp, while others prefer something along the lines of applesauce. i aim for something slightly left of center, closer to the crisp end of the scale, so i cooked the apples (uncovered) over medium heat for about seven(ish) minutes, stirring frequently (and carefully), then i covered the pan and removed it from the heat and let it sit (still covered) for another fifteen minutes or so. not gonna lie... i ate a small bowl of still-warm apples as soon as the resting period was over. the remainder was left to cool to room temperature before being transferred to a bowl and stored in the refrigerator. 

so, what does one do with a batch of stewed apples? i am glad you asked. you eat it!!! as is, over a bowl of oatmeal, atop a short stack of pancakes (if your world permits the consumption of such wonderful things), warmed with a scoop of ice cream, as a pastry filling, alongside slices of roasted meat (i maintain that this would make a far better accompaniment to turkey than the traditional cranberry sauce), or...

grab a cup, glass, bowl, whatever (we have a growing collection of these cups as there is usually one included with each box of our default bagged black tea)...

add a dollop of yogurt and a dash of granola...

spoon on some of the stewed apples...

and top with more yogurt and a garnish of granola. it is a perfect breakfast or dessert and makes for a wonderful pick-me-up when you are craving a touch of sweetness, but trying to resist eating the last of the chocolates that you hid in the pantry behind packages of dried goods. how do i know this? sorry... i am far too busy licking this spoon to answer that question. 

i have also been watching a bunch of making-stuff type videos on the You Tubes and checking out a few (new to me) blogs. full disclosure: despite my ever-mounting fascination with the making/doing lifestyle, i generally avoid blogs on the subject, unless i happen to come across them when looking for instructions or advice on a specific topic. moving on.

the first channel that caught my attention was Cold Antler Farm (here is her blog, which i love even more than her videos). she is a (sometimes) graphic designer who writes books, raises animals (for meat and fiber, so look away if you got problems with either of those things), and is the kind of all around bad-a** i hope to be when i grow up. 

then there was WayOutWest Blowinblog, an Irish vlog that left me in stitches after watching a few of their videos, so i had to hit the "subscribe" button. the narration makes you feel like you are back in childhood, listening to a favorite story. seriously, just listen to this video where she talks about giving the horse a haircut. give me a blanket and i am ready for nap time!

but the best is yet to come!!!

so, there i was watching videos about making charcoal—i really wish i could explain the thought process that leads me to need to look at such things at like midnight, but there is not enough time in the universe for all of that—when auto-play introduced me to my new favorite channel. it is called Primitive Technology (there is also a blog) and it is, simply put, experimental anthropology porn, and i feel no shame for being instantly hooked. 

this one comes all the way from the wilderness of Queensland, but there is no need to break out the Aussie-to-English dictionary, as he never talks. he just builds stuff. incredible stuff that reminds us of the ridiculous resourceful, inventiveness of primitive (hu)man. there was a hut of thatched palm, a hut of wattle and daub, then he fashioned a tiled roof hut using only rocks, wood, and the dirt/clay underfoot... and it was heated!!! as my favorite animator put it, he is all three pigs rolled into one. there i was, all proud of myself for recycling brown paper into a few plant pots, then he pretty much builds a combination lighter-drill from a rock and a twig. clearly i need to step up my game.


(unintended) corporate sponsorship...

[this week's post is (unintentionally) brought to you by whatever clown Amazon pays to make their shipping decisions. or... what to do with all the packing material you end up with when a toaster-sized item arrives in a bathtub-sized box.]

back in my Botanic Garden days, we came across something called a paper pot maker and decided to give it a try. it is a wooden contraption that is used to turn sheets of newspaper into small pots suitable for starting seeds and raising transplants for the garden. it is based on a simple idea: wrap a long strip of paper around a cylinder and fold the lower edges inward to form a bottom to the resulting cup. it is an economical alternative to the commonly-employed peat pot—especially if you happen to have a handy supply of newspaper, packing paper, or even paper grocery bags. however, you can easily produce the same results without the paper pot maker. enter packing material (thanks Amazon) and cans.

i used two adjacent sheets of packing paper for each pot...

folded in thirds to form a long strip.

make sure the strips of paper are long enough to be wrapped around the container at least two times. additionally, select a can with a concave base, as it makes it easier to form the bottom of the pots.

position the can along one edge of the strip...

and roll.

i added a piece of tape to secure the paper, but this is an optional step.

turn the can upside down and begin to fold the paper inward...

until you have formed the bottom to the pot. this is where that concave bottom comes in handy.

turn the can over and press firmly against a hard surface to set the crease along the bottom edge...

then carefully slide the pot from the can. et voilĂ !!!

check out that tight bottom!

i switched to the other can (it was a bit larger), but the process was the same. fold, wrap, tape, crease, remove, then rinse-and-repeat until you have the required number of pots.

i used two soils mixtures: an all-purpose potting soil (left) and a seed-starting soil (right). the seed-starting mixture is more finely ground, making it easier for delicate seedlings to work their way to the the surface, while the potting mixture will provide an adequate growing medium for the developing plants. the white stuff (that looks like styrofoam) is perlite, an expanded volcanic glass that is used to reduce compaction in the soil and to aid in moisture retention.

pro tip: dampen the soil before filling the pots. how damp? enough that it can be squeezed into a clump...

 but will still crumble apart like wet sand.

add potting mix to within one inch of the top.

and repeat for the remaining pots.

now comes the easy part. take some seeds from a pack and sprinkle a few into each pot. they will be thinned out as they grow.

cover the seeds with about half an inch of the seed-starting mixture (also dampened) and take a moment to celebrate. i went for a short walk to the kitchen and returned with refreshment of the liquid kind.

i drank the wine and cut up the juice container (it was rinsed out before going into the recycling box).

one permanent marker later, and i had waterproof labels

there were also bunching onion seeds...

which were planted in rows in a strawberry container.

and parsley seeds...

which were placed into the cap of the juice carton and are (still) soaking in water to facilitate germination.

everything was given a gentle watering and placed on a table near a bright window.

all i have to do now is to water regularly and wait... and it might help if i remember to plant that parsley before i fall asleep.