Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cuke Mystery Solved

It's a loofah.  Huh.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Opting Out (A Gift Guide)

Overloaded.  A quick trip down to the Big City this morning to run a couple of (non-holiday) errands was enough to put me over the jittery edge.  Christmas decorations, sale signs, lines everywhere.  Add to that the mailbox stuffed with circulars and catalogues, the email inundated with Black Friday announcements, and the xmas carols heard over the grocery store loudspeakers long before Thanksgiving, and it's enough to make one want to give up and hide, and pretend that the holidays don't exist.

But I don't.  I love the holidays, everything about them.  The food, the gift giving, the weather, the spirit.  So I chose a few years ago to just opt out of the holiday madness, and observe them in a more measured and quiet way.  No more gifts for everyone and their brother, no more bleeding bank account, no more angst-filled hours trolling the malls looking for presents.

At first I decided that all-home made was the way to go.  That didn't last long.  I think it was the intricate hand-beaded ornaments that I made for all of my co-workers that did me in.  Only one of the 10 recipients of those ornaments that took me hours and hours and hours to make really appreciated the time and care that went into them. 

Now I take a mixed approach.  I make, whether on my needles or in my kitchen, as much as my schedule allows and purchase the rest.  I steadfastly refuse to leave the house on Black Friday, and often rely on my good friend, Mr. Internet.  The best gifts I've received are simple and given from the heart.  I try to keep that in mind, and select gifts that the recipient will truly enjoy.

Here are a few of my favorite gift-giving ideas.  What are yours?

FROM THE NEEDLES.  This year I'm going small but mighty.  First there's the beautiful Cotuit Sands Cowl by Marcy Vandale.   I've already knit one and am going to make another one for....someone who's name shall not be disclosed.  There will be a hat for my brother, and maybe some wristlets for my nieces.  I'm thinking about these slipper socks for the ladies in the family (I might need a pair for myself, too).  There will likely be a few knitted xmas ornaments as well, because I just can't resist.

TO BUY FOR A KNITTER/SPINNER.  There's always yarn and fiber, especially the exotics that folks might not splurge on for themselves (think mink, musk-ox, and buffalo), or a beautiful handspun art yarn.  But how about something different (that also happens to be inexpensive)?  I started having custom rubber stamps made for myself a few years ago, and found that packaged with an ink pad and maybe some gift tags, they make great gifts.  You can design them easily yourself using Word, and small stamps cost only $10-$20.

FROM THE KITCHEN.  Cookies and quick breads are always wonderful.  Homemade granola, walnut halves spread with almond paste and dipped in chocolate, and honey with nuts, chopped dried fruit, and a cinnamon stick (great on top of yogurt!) make good gifts too.  This year I'm thinking about making hot fudge sauce and putting it in pretty jars, and maybe some pomegranate or cranberry-rosemary jelly.  Jars and other containers are great wrapped in a pretty linen kitchen towel, which can then be reused time and again.   Food gifts need not always be sweet.  One of the best gifts I ever received was some homemade herb salt made by my friend Susie.  This was a gift that kept on giving: I used it regularly, it lasted a long time, and I thought of her whenever I cooked with it.  Now I let her know when I run out, and I give her something in return (hey Susie, send salt!!).  Infused oils and vinegars are easy too, and look nice presented in pretty bottles.

TO BUY FOR A BAKER/COOK.  If your favorite kitchen ninja adores gadgets, then you've got it easy.  But for a little something different, try a dough-rising bucket or a bread forming basket for your favorite baker.  A selection of specialty flours, such as Italian oo or French-style flour, would be fun.  For the cook, an unusual sea salt, a special balsamic vinegar, or a local artisan olive oil would be welcome. 

MISCELLANY.  One of the most charming gifts I've received, and another one that keeps on giving, was given to me by my friend Becky.  She formed some pretty art paper into a cone, filled it with daffodil bulbs, and included a little card with daffodil lore and planting instructions.  Every spring when the flowers bloomed I was treated to a splash of color.  On the weirder end of the gift-giving spectrum is a Turducken.  This is a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey, with sausage-cornbread stuffing in between each layer (outrageous, but really tasty).  I sent one to my brother a few years ago and he loved it, so now it's an annual tradition. 

KARMA.  For the office, I gave up on the hand-made (see above) and the Starbucks cards and instead tried to find something practical and inexpensive, but that supported a good cause.  One such find was cotton dish towels screen printed with charming images from the group LA Goal.  I know this group well; my sister-in-law is a member.  They provide job opportunities and social and artistic outlets for adults with developmental disabilities.  The work they do is incredible, and a small sum of money goes a long way in making a difference in the members' lives.  There are similar organizations in many communities; consider stopping by their holiday boutiques to pick up some charming gifts.  Another favorite organization of mine is Heifer International.  Knitting-wise, there's lots of ways to help (premie hats, chemo caps, lap blankets for nursing home residents, etc etc).  This year I plan on knitting a bear for the Mother Bear Project.  I purchased a charming little kit from them a year or so ago at Stitches West, and I hope to have at least one knit up to drop off to them at the next Stitches.

Here's to joyous and stress-free gifting!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Garden Unrest

Figuring it was time to put the beds to bed, so to speak, I meandered down to the garden this morning to check things out and work up a garden-winterizing to-do list.  I hadn't been down there pretty much since we moved in a few weeks ago and I was surprised at what I found. 

A bright and cheery gerbera daisy.

Some type of cucumber.  Tastes different from a regular
cuke, and I think these are well past their prime.

These were tucked under the cucumber vines.  Nothing smells like a carrot straight out of the ground.  They'll go into a butternut squash-carrot soup for tomorrow night's dinner.

An orange cherry tomato variety.  It's been pretty cold the
last week or two, but these seem to be getting a second wind.
With some feta and olive oil, they'll make a nice salad (if I
don't eat them all straight off the vine first).


This is frightening.

Onions.  I think they sprouted after the rains a week or so ago. 
I don't know if they'll continue to grow in this cold.  I pulled one and it was
pretty small.  Maybe I'll get a few pearl onions?

It looks like I still have a bit more time before I need to put the garden to rest for the winter.  Good -- all the more knitting time for now.