Jacques Pépin would approve...

i have a scratch on my forehead, a self-inflicted wound involving an extra-sharp knitting needle, and it keeps stinging like crazy, especially in all the humid weather we had recently. naturally, i am waiting for my acceptance letter from Hogwart's to show up any day now.

i am not sure where one buys an owl in the middle of Montreal, but i am sure the cats can manage to deliver a small package between the three of them... although there might be some disagreement over who gets to play with the empty box. and, i have plenty of pointy sticks that could double for a wand... once i stop injuring myself with them, that is.

it is a lovely, crisp, cool September afternoon, and i am sitting here, enjoying an extra-large cup of steaming hot coffee. this is following the two slightly-less-large cups of tea i had earlier in the day. Autumn is definitely here... for real this time.

it would appear that i was a bit premature last time around in declaring the Summer done, because we got hit this past week with a wave of what the weather people described as "soupy" conditions.

hopefully, that is all behind us, as we seem to have finally arrived at the type of weather i love. i was actually shivering a bit this morning, but i was far too lazy to get out of bed to find a warmer cover. so, i just shivered, and smiled, and went back to sleep.

i was sipping my second cup of tea earlier today, and staring out across the treetops, searching for the slightest blush of gold, orange and red leaves. there was none to be found, so i had to settle for a handful of marigolds from the balcony garden. that looks Autumnal, no?

the green leaf in the middle is from the calla lily he insisted on buying this Summer. it may have accidentally broken off when i was watering the plant, so i figured i would put it to use in my mini-arrangement.

the plant has these long, skinny leaves that look like elongated arrowheads...

and flower-like structures that gives it the appearance of some type of pitcher plant.

i may have also broken the stem on one of them while taking those photographs, so now that bit gets to hang out with the marigolds too. happy accidents, as Bob Ross would say.

the highlight of this past week, however, has to be the epic pickling of things. this is just a small sample.

there i was, in the midst of "feels like" temperatures near 40°C (think, 105ish°F), boiling, peeling, chopping, and stuffing a whopping fifteen pounds of beets into jar after jar. then i turned around the next day and did the same with ten pounds of green peppers and pickling cucumbers... minus the boiling, because that would make for really gross pickles.

let me just discuss these pickles for a minute.

as i have noted in times past, i spent most of my growing-up years in New York City. my idea of a "sandwich" is freshly-cooked pastrami or corned beef, sliced thin and piled high on rye bread, with a schmear of mustard... and NOTHING ELSE in between. the only thing that is allowed on the same plate—on the same table, even—is a dill pickle spear, which you can nibble on as a "palate cleanser" of sorts in between bites of your sandwich. how does one cleanse their palate with a pickle? shh... do not disturb me with silly questions when i am taking a stroll down the happy side of memory lane.

back in high school, i used to meet mom most Fridays for a late-lunch at the deli across the street from the World Trade Center, where she worked. we always only ever had the same thing. that sandwich. the meat would be stacked so high, we would order one with two extra slices of bread, and split it between us to make two still-overloaded sandwiches.

and i always got the pickle. it was salty, garlicky, and tasting of dill. it was everything a pickle was supposed to be. i never understood the appeal of those thin-sliced, far-too-sweet pickles people put inside of sandwiches. if you are eating a sandwich that requires candied pickles on the inside to make it taste good... that is the Universe's way of letting you know that you should be eating something else.

so, there i was on day two of my pickling extravaganza, contemplating what to do with the cucumbers that were cluttering up the fridge, when i was struck by the desire to try something a bit different. i do not make dill pickles at home. but, on the rare occasion that i make pickles (which happens ever few-or-so years), i usually prefer recipes that stick to the sour and salty side of things, with little-to-no sugar involved.

this time around, i decided to make my first ever batch of bread-and-butter pickles. however, i did end up using only about half the recommended sugar, as anything sweeter would cross the line into being called a jam to my way of thinking. i had also purchased a giant bag of green peppers for pickling, so i ended up with a mixture that was roughly half pepper, half cucumber, to which i added some sliced onions and about half a head of garlic thinly-sliced.

not gonna lie... this is my favorite batch of pickles to date. [that yellow color is from a dash of turmeric in the liquid.]

i filled five quart jars, and one jar was empty again by the middle of the week. i (still) have zero desire to use them in sandwiches, but we have been treating it (along with the pickled beets) like a side dish with our meals.

which brings us to the pickled beets that started all the insanity.

the supermarket has bags of what they call "ugly beets" in a fifteen pound bag selling for about four or five bucks (the exact amount escapes me). i was fully prepared to have to throw away large sections of grossly deformed beets. what i got, instead, was a fifteen pound bag of beets that looked perfectly-normal to me.

having grown beets on multiple occasions, i can say with complete certainty that i have never discarded a single one because it was not perfectly round, so the idea of vegetables being tossed aside because they lack perfect symmetry (or because they were a little bit ovoid when they should be round) is complete nonsense to me.

i remember Jacques Pépin once talking about buying mushrooms in the supermarket. he said that he walks past all of the pristine white button mushrooms, and goes straight for the slightly-discolored ones with their caps already opened... the ones the markets usually hide away on the discount shelf in the corner, lest a passerby be traumatized by their non-perfectness. his reasoning? they taste better!!!

i am fairly certain Jacques Pépin would approve of my pickled ugly beets.

i have nine quart-sized jars of beets in total, three of which are earmarked for his parents, who will (in turn) give us more tomatoes and beans from their garden... with which i will fill up the remaining eleven quart-sized mason jars. it is the circle of life... with pickles. makes perfect sense to me.

we have been eating all the pickled things just as is, alongside our regular meals. these beets are also especially good with a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh herbs (here i used oregano and basil from the balcony), and a pinch of salt and pepper. it is the perfect accompaniment to (almost) any meal.

i can feel Jacques smiling approvingly.

i am adding a postscript to note that shortly after i finished typing most of this text, i decided to spend some time checking out the newest patterns over on Ravelry, when i came across this beauty. message received, Universe. i am packing my bags as we speak. just waiting for the post to arrive with my letter, and i will be on my way.

him: ooh... you should knit one for the balcony. maybe that will keep the squirrels away.

it is nice to be reminded that i am not the only crazy one around here.


dead to me...

i am snacking on a bowl of concord grapes—the first bowl of many in the coming weeks—on what is shaping up to be a cool, crisp day here in métropolis nord. everyone has a breakfast of coffee and grapes, right?

no exaggeration... i spent most of the last few weeks looking forward to this day. my lips are already itchy, as i am mildly allergic to the skin of the grapes, but it is totally worth the itch.

for the uninitiated, concords are a "slip grape", which basically means that the skin is significantly thicker than the more common types of table grapes. they are usually eaten by sucking (or squeezing) out the pulp, but you can totally eat the skins if you like.  i always leave them behind, however. itchy lips are one thing, but an itchy throat could end in a trip to the emergency room, and i am not willing to take that risk. seriously... why am i allergic to all of the things i love?

there is a plus side to all those discarded bits. the skins of concord grapes make for a great natural dye, producing a color that looks like the stain you get from spilling red wine onto light-colored fabric. makes sense, no?

i made a wall display some years ago of metal canisters mounted on a pair of metal panels through the magic of super-strong magnets. it is home to some of my hand-dyed and hand-spun yarns...

and one of those repurposed hot-chocolate canisters contains two hanks of yarn i dyed (more than four years ago) using concord skins that i had saved for several months in plastic bags in the freezer.

that yellow yarn was dyed around the same time using onion skins as the dyestuff. not bad, eh?

i am going to skip all of the relevant chemistry, but as i noted at the time, i was curious to see how the choice of mordant would alter the end product, so i pre-treated one hank with alum, and i post-treated the other with citric acid. they have both been sitting in that canister on the wall in my light-filled living room for a few years now, and i have to say that i am pleasantly surprised at the staying power of concord skins as a dye. [note: the colors appear much lighter than in that old post, as our old place had very little natural light, while our new place is flooded with sunlight most days].

it is a bit difficult to see with the camera, but upon closer inspection, the alum-treated yarn does show some discoloring along sections of the hank that were sticking out of the canister, which suggests that is it not especially lightfast. therefore, i would not consider that to be a good long-term color choice.

however, the citric-acid-treated hank appears to be consistent all the way around, and the color is a lovely non-girly shade of pink.

i plan to collect the skins from this Autumn's inevitable grape-gorge, and use them to over-dye both hanks, this time using only citric acid as the mordant. i will then try to find a pattern (maybe for a large shawl) that would take advantage of the slight difference in color between the two hanks.

overall, i think we can categorize this one as a win for kitchen experimentation. Science rules!!! and now i will have the "Bill Nye the Science Guy" theme song playing in my head for the rest of the day.

so, there i was with my lips growing increasingly itchy as i pressed one concord after another against them, when inspiration struck.

me: you know the painting i was putting off getting done because it was too sticky and hot to be handling a paint roller with sweat dripping into my eyes?
him: yes...?
me: well... i think i might get back to that now that it's nice and cool.
him: that's a good idea. 

and, just like that, it became official. so long, Summer... Autumn is here!

and just in time too, as August proved to have been the most miserable, soul-draining month i have had in years. i will spare you the details, as most of it falls well outside the range of absurdity i usually talk about here. however, i will say that it got off to a lackluster start and got rapidly worse somewhere toward the middle. then, as i was holding my breath in hopes of getting through that last week with some measure of sanity intact, the universe saw it fit to destroy that plan.

i admit that there were a few moments of humor (like our trip to a fiber festival, and the debacle with a dress that has since been marked for destruction by fire). but mostly it was stress, heartburn, sleepless nights (more than usual), and a whole lot of tears.

so.. yeh... bon adieu, August! may we never meet again. 

and, yes... i do realize that said month will (probably) come around again next year, but i will be referring to it as Jultember. August is dead to me!

now, i get to look forward to Autumn... my absolute favorite time of the year.

there are all sorts of lovely fruits and veggies coming into season, so there will be lots of food adventures in the coming weeks. i have two dozen jars waiting to be sterilized and a massive bag of beets that need pickling. we have been watching "The Big Painting Challenge", so the Wednesday Watercolor Society will likely resume semi-regular meetings... just never on a Wednesday. and, after mostly neglecting my knitting during the extended heatwave, i am so enthusiastic to pick up my needles and get going again.

hopefully i can (finally) finish that cardi for mom during this long weekend... unless i am making pickles... or halfway up a ladder painting walls (although, to be fair, he does all the bits that require a ladder, as my vertigo kicks in after the first rung)... or sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by watercolor paint and paper... or spinning yarn... or washing fleece... or reorganizing my stash as i plan for future knitting... or just hanging out on my favorite sofa with a cat (or three) for company while i sip many steaming cups of tea and alternate between watching k-dramas and documentaries about ancient civilizations.

i love this time of year!