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Kitchen Pets and Projects

It’s time for a blog about the kitchen projects.   I am trying to focus on healthy things we can make to ward off the next viral or bacterial event and to make us healthier in general.  Prebiotics, probiotics, etc. Here are some ferments, tonics and remedies I already have around the kitchen.

A few years ago I started to make Kombucha, the gateway ferment.  If you don’t know what kombucha is, look it up!  That’s what I had to do when this ugly looking Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, aka SCOBY, arrived in my kitchen.  There are many enthusiasts out there ready to tell you about it and give or even sell you one.  (If I know you in real life I will gladly give you a SCOBY for kombucha next time we see each other).

A friend of Oso’s gave us a culture to care for and it chose me.  I made a jar of the sweet tea and put the SCOBY in it to ferment the tea.  Kombucha is supposed to be good for you but I did not like it at first.  (I still add a little water and fruit juice, and fruit pieces if it’s summer, when I drink kombucha.)  However, being that it’s a living organism (sometimes called The Mother), I was unable to discard her so I just kept feeding her and she kept growing.  I feel like I have better digestive health and maybe better skin health when I take a drink of kombucha every day or so.  It’s been a healthy and fun project.


Kombucha on the left, kefir on the right.

Pictured beside the Kombucha the kefir.  Compare to powerful yogurt.  The little “seeds” or curds are another type of Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.  You put them in a glass of milk, walk away for a day, or longer if you leave it in the fridge, and come back to a glass of this yogurty substance.  I have a love-dislike relationship with this food drink.  I love the health benefits, but it could taste greater.  The best description is that it’s almost as good as plain yogurt.  It’s my least favorite of the kitchen pets, but I guess I keep feeding all the living organisms in my house…  It is the highest maintenance, requiring the most care.  Whereas with kombucha, you just pour the drink off the top til you need to make more tea, with kefir you strain the cultures out with a seive and then add them to a fresh glass of milk every time. (You drink the milk they just finished fermenting–I guess you could say they drink the milk, then you drink the milk).  It’s not as gross as it sounds, but it almost is.  You can make something very similar to sour cream or cream cheese from the fermented milk by suspending it in a cloth and letting the whey run out.  The whey can be used to feed the dog her probiotic, or to jump start vegetable ferment like the kimchi…

My next foray into fermenting was the best looking of ferments.  Kimchi.  I don’t make it blazing hot, aiming more for the flavor of a spicy, sour pickle so in theory the kids would eat it.  They don’t appreciate it yet but someday they will.  I make it with purple cabbage and it looks beautiful in a jar or on a plate.  There are a lot of other vegetables fermented with the cabbage, you just can’t see them because they all turned PURPLE.  And so will food served with it.  Oso and I enjoy it as a condiment, not a main dish.


Kimchi in front, pepper mash in back.

When I had a lot of hot peppers in the garden and my library had a featured book with spicy ferments I tried my hand at making pepper mash.  This is not our favorite thing, mostly because I don’t know how to make optimal use of it. It’s way too hot to eat plain. I tried making hot pepper fruit syrup, which you can barely see at the right of the photo.  I mean to try eating this on vanilla ice cream, for the health benefits, of course. But I can’t yet report on this combination. It is sweet and spicy.


Fire cider ingredients.

Here’s another thing I recently tried to make, it’s called Fire Cider.  It’s vinegar, not alcohol based, so don’t get too excited!  It’s an herbal remedy I read about and hope will help with the contagions.  Here’s a picture of it as I put it together.  The vinegar is supposed to extract all the healthy substances from the roots and fruits, then I will remove the foods with a seive. I will drink the vinegar in small doses and throw away the foods.  That is, unless they taste like a delicious herbal pickle, which could happen.  It should be ready to start keeping me well this weekend.


New at My House

I realize it has been a while since I have posted anything so I thought I would give you a few pictures of things that are new around my house.

First, meet Harley.  IMG_0111IMG_0092

She is a mostly-boxer who was rehomed to us about almost two weeks ago and so far has been fitting in fabulously around the house (just don’t ask the chickens).   Today is one of the few days where she will be home alone for an extended period.  Hope she doesn’t eat the house!




Now that you have seen how big Twin B is getting, here’s a photo of Twin A.  They are getting so tall, up past my elbows now!





Next, meet Bianchi.  This bike was rehomed to me by my brother last month.  Notice the heavenly rays enlightening the photo.  That’s how always looks.  Even inside the house.  I am optimistic that we will be spending a lot of time together on the road!








Here is a lace scarf I am currently knitting.  Alpine Knit Scarf with Double Rose Leaf Center Pattern and Diamond Border by Jane Sowerby, published in Victorian Lace Today.   I love this pattern.  Good thing because I have to repeat that little leaf motif about 30 more times before it will be finished.  My sis gave me the yarn.  It’s the Shire colorway, Madelintosh sock yarn.  I am a convert!  It’s such good yarn.


Finally, the obligatory garden photos.  Just when everything starts getting tired and worn out, the mums start to bloom and the roses come back around.  October is nice around here.

Poetry and the Five Year Old

My son, who is developing his charm and his poetic voice, looked into my eyes and uttered

“When I was born

I fell in love.”


I kept listening  for the second verse because I wasn’t sure whether he was declaring his love for his mother or whether there would be a reasonable explanation to follow.

“Because you let me take naps whenever I wanted.”


His father loves me for the same reason.

Karate Pics


One of my friends remarked to me that age 5 was a big developmental year for kids; she is right.  This year we have recovered our ability to go places and do things.*  So while I still can’t take them to the knitting meetup, we have filled our schedule with other stuff.

The boys are currently taking kids karate, a seriously kinetic hour twice weekly where the boys run, jump, work on their balance, kick and punch (targets that look like pillows).  The boys love their karate class for all the above reasons; I have determined to drop it or take some time off.  Happily the 6 week karate trial offer will end in a couple weeks.  These 2-3 hours per week that we spend in class and transit have overbooked this introvert.

Anyway, they got a uniform with their karate introductory trial offer.  So that’s the photo outside their class.

Here are some additional photos taken by my lovely neighbor who watches over the boys for us sometimes.  She asked them to show her some martial arts moves 🙂




*BONUS PARENTING MATERIAL: I’m now going to share an important parenting technique that my spouse has developed to help with the most troublesome part of going anywhere with kids (Getting back in the car to go home).  This technique is called “The last one to the car is a rotten egg.”  Use of this technique has transformed the part of the outting that used to mean transporting two whining, crying children away from the playground all the way back to the car.  It was exhausting and demoralizing and kept us home a lot of Saturdays while I waited for the boys to act more mature.  Due to Oso’s new technique, all I have to do is quietly speak those magic words.  Then the hardest part is hurry to keep up with the children who have willingly abandoned any enrapturing activity to race to the car.  The competitive nature has been harnessed.  It works so well I sometimes feel guilty.

Last Gansey Update, Snakes and Ladders

GanseyKAL - White Background

IMG00142-20170305-1254This is my son, Twin A and this is the Snakes and Ladders gansey sweater.  I finished his sweater a few months ago.  He wore it several times around the holidays when we were up north for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He has worn it only a few other times.  We have had a disappointingly warm winter, for the knitter, that is.  This picture shows what is probably the last time he will be able to wear this garment since spring is here and his arms keep getting longer.  To put this in perspective, he has grown almost 6 inches taller in the past year.  I don’t remember growing this fast when I was young and I wonder when the boys are going to slow down.

To review, this is one of my most successful knits ever.  I wish I had entered this thing in the state fair before it started looking “lived in.”  This pattern, by Beth Brown-Reinsel was a pleasure to knit, and with copious swatching, the process went off without a hitch.  I am especially glad I swatched the cast on, along with the bottom band and first few knit rows a couple times. I found that I had to change up the needle sizes for each texture.  Without swatching, I would have wasted a LOT of time on that tedious cast-on (which looks great, by the way).


Knotted cast on

My son does not mind wearing the sweater, which says to me he is a stylish young man.  He has once or twice voiced the obligatory complaint that it is itchy.  I really doubt it!  But he wears it with a tee shirt underneath anyway.  The dk weight wool is Cascade Yarns Anchor Bay in Scarlet.  I wanted to try knitting with a washable wool cotton blend and this one was on sale.  This yarn was really nice to work with.  The color is rich.  It seems very soft to me.  I like the way the wool and cotton strands seem to have absorbed dye a bit differently.  There is a slight tweedy look to it that I dig, but this tweedy look does not seem to reduce stitch definition. It has held up to about 6 hand washings with very minimal fuzzing or pilling.  I will seek out this yarn again for a dk weight project!

Back to the pattern, the uncrossed cables making up the snakes were fun and easy to execute. While the gansey tradition is replete with ladders, I don’t remember seeing this particular motif while reading up on historic ganseys; the snakes may not be authentic.  However my son and I like this texture a lot–he is a fan of snakes and he can totally see them in this pattern.  Below is a shot of an underarm gusset–they were an interesting design detail, and the side seams that worked out great.


We give it 5 stars!


For Science

My five-year-olds and I have recently enjoyed Superhero, by Marc Tauss  in which a young man travels back in time to collect plant samples and formulate a chemical that saves the day.

My kids re-imagined that story, this time starring themselves, and the following transpired last Sunday.

They built a space ship in the front yard using their dad’s windmill (dont’ ask) and some curved corrugated metal pieces (old window wells) the handy husband has stashed in the back yard.


I went out to the front yard to see what they were doing with the metal and to make some plant cuttings from the garden.  I found them in the herb area of the mostly-dormant winter garden.  They were pulling leaves off plants and smelling them, a gardening activity I support for its learning value even though it’s hard on my lavender.

The boys informed me that they were exploring another planet and discovering things for their collection.  Twin A asked me to trim a piece off a berry bush growing in my garden.  I judiciously cut off a little dead brown twig that needed to be removed anyway.  “No, I want one of those red stems, a long one.”  He said, pointing to a nice long stem I wanted to keep.

“Are you sure it has to be that one?”

“Yes, it’s for science.” His brother came over and opened his fist to show me some wilty crushed specimens they had already collected.

“Alright,” I said, clipping off the nice branch.  “Only for science.”

He carefully transported it to the shuttle.

They then began to ask about some sticks they had found in the yard.  I explained that I had trimmed down some newly planted apple trees to knee-height.  I told them the idea was to keep the trunk short and the branches low so that we would pick the apples easily, a method endorsed by Ann Ralph, in Grow a Little Fruit Tree.

I showed them a small tree we had planted last year and how it had once been a shoulder-height stick but I had trimmed a few feet off of it.  We could see how the buds had branched out last summer and made 4 nice primary limbs a little below knee-height.  Twin B noticed the little scar left by the pruning.  It had almost entirely healed over in the last year.  I told them we would trim more off it this summer to keep it small and to cause each of the pimary limbs to branch out.

Later, in the back yard while I was pushing Twin A on the swing, my little scientist pointed 25 feet up into the giant oak tree and suggested that someone must have trimmed it right there (the spot where the lowest branches leave the trunk).  Probably not– but it’s a good observation, considering our earlier discussion.

Twin B came over while I was setting my plant cuttings in potting soil and asked me if he could prune off the flower from our Camellia japonica. I said “I don’t think so.  I like looking at it and I want to leave it on the plant.”


Camellia japonica, Governor Mouton.

“Please mom?  It’s for science.”

“Well, only if we can put it in a vase in the kitchen after we cut it for science.”

“OK, and I want to use those.” The pruning shears.

“Not even for science.”




For grandma, a gratuitous gardening and grandchild photo.

And here is a pic of Twin B with one of the daffodils we planted last summer.  They have started sprouting, just like we had hoped!



How does that happen?

My sons, age 4.5, are starting to ask important life-span questions.  They want to know how long they will live, relative to how long they have already lived.  They need help to put things in perspective.  They want to know the ages of certain people in their lives.  They want to know about stages of life.  They want to know about babies…  They especially want details of their own infancy.  (Mostly crying from what I remember).  I’ve been able to cleverly dodge the biology questions so far, and I don’t mind the philosophical ones so much.

Last weekend, I fielded a series of questions that went like this.

Twin B: “How old will I be when I have a baby?”

Mom: “Well, at least 25.” (I get to answer these questions in the way I want to.  I’m the mom, remember?).  “When you are at least 25 you will probably meet a woman that you really really love and the two of you will decide to marry.  After you are married, the two of you can have a baby.”

Twin B:  “I will have a baby with a woman?”

Mom:  “Yes, it takes both a man and a woman to have a baby.”

Then I named some couples in my family who have had children.

  • “Mommy and Daddy have you and Twin A.
  • “Mimi and Pawpaw had Mommy, Aunt Mommy’s-Sister, and Uncle Mommy’s-Brother.
  • “Uncle Mommy’s-Brother and Aunt Athlete have Matthew, Mark, and Moses.

Twin B:  “But Matthew, Mark, and Moses are all different ages.  How does that happen?”

Mom:  “Well, that’s the usual way of it.  Most parents have one baby at a time, then later another, and maybe another after that.  Not all parents are blessed with twins.”

That’s the last question about that for the evening.  I guess that was enough to think about.  But who knows which questions tomorrow will bring.*


*Two days later

Twin A:  “When we were babies in your belly, how did we get out?  Did you spit us out of your mouth?”

Mom:  “I wish.”

Halloween Plans 2016

Halloween is coming up and we get a Halloween costume catalog every fall.  This year and last, the twins seized the book with excitement, to see what they could become.  I’m not a huge fan of the dark holiday, but to my 4-year-olds, it’s not about celebrating the dark.  It’s about seeing who or what they can become.  I suppose that’s an idea they celebrate every day at this phase…

Last week, the twins enjoyed making a child sized jet pack prototype with their dad.  I think someone might be planning to dress as Buzz Lightyear for Halloween.  My spouse made the flying machine out of cardboard and duct tape and sketched a few buttons and a screen on the front with chalk.  On the back he sketched on the rocket boosters.  The wearer can manually fold in the wings to pass through doorways, etc.  When released, the wings spring back into position with all the force of folded cardboard.  I saw Twin A struggling to hold the wings in with his elbows so he could release them at the exact moment he pushed the “wings” button.

When I arrived home from work, the boys they were taking turns wearing the costume around the house.  They were having too much fun to eat dinner, so I sat down for my meal alone and listened to their conversation in the living room.

“Quit pushing that button or I’m going to go flying up there and bust through the roof!”

More fussing and a little scuffle.

And then came a tattle that I have never heard before.

“Mom, he’s pushing the wings button and the jet propulsion button at the same time and I keep flying up and hitting my head on the ceiling.”

“Be careful guys.  I don’t want anyone to get hurt or damage the ceiling!”

Knitalong: Casting on to Gansey

Ahoy and Bon Voyage!

We have embarked on our Knit to Gansey!  As for me, I have cast on Beth Brown-Reinsel’s Snakes and Ladders and have completed the bottom band and about two inches of the body of the traditional plain section.

Let’s start from the cast on, shall we?  There are several traditional methods of adding stitches to the needles, gansey style.  I have tried three of them, including

  • Channel Island cast-on, used in the sampler below left, is very pretty.  Beth Brown-Reinsel describes it as “pairs of stitches with a bead of doubled yarn between them” (Brown-Reinsel, 13).
  • Multistrand cast-on, used on the Jerod’s Sweater center, was executed by casting on with two strands and continuing to knit with them for several rounds before reverting to one strand of yarn.
  • Knotted cast-on, used on Snakes and Ladders right, is comprised of “little knots along the base of the cast-on and is formed by casting on two stitches and binding one stitch off” (Brown-Reinsel, 17).

All produce a very nice, sturdy, and decorative result.  I found both the Knotted cast-on and the Channel Island cast-on are a rather tedious exercise.  I wish my camera had focused on the knitting rather than the grass in the background but I don’t want to go back and try again.  Trust me, they all look good!

For the Knotted Cast-on, Snakes and Ladders sweater, I cast on with needles much smaller than I would use with the rest of the sweater to prevent the bottom edge from flaring and looking wavy.  I swatched the bottom band three times to be sure I had this right and I am really glad I did since I guessed wrong the first two times.

Snakes and Ladders features a garter welt, which will “cause the garment to hang straight down rather than hug the body, which decreases stress and wear at the bottom of the sweater”  (Brown-Reinsel, 21).  I think it’s going to work well for my son.

The plain area, between the bottom band and the textured patterning, is where some knitters add the initials of the wearer.  I decided against the initials since I thought the plain area would be too short to accommodate those details.  Wish I had thought it through better because I’ve now decided to add 2 inches to the plain area since I think the sweater should be 15 inches long, not 13 as the pattern indicates.

As a weekend knitter, who does most of my work… well, when I’m not doing other work, it took me a whole weekend to cast this on and start it.  A three day weekend!  The next few inches of knitting have gone faster.  A little more stockinette and I will be ready to start the fun part:  making the snakes and ladders texture.

It’s not too late (unless maybe you don’t know how to knit yet) to join in our knit-along!   We’ve just begun.  As always, stay tuned for more knitting.

GanseyKAL - White Background

Brown-Reinsel, Beth. Knitting Ganseys. Interweave Press, 1993.

The Handy Husband, vol. 3

My spouse has done it again:  He sets his mind on improving our lives and then something we need materializes.


I would have cropped out some of the weeds and spare bricks you see here, but look at the bat-house, not our house!

Sometimes it’s something I didn’t know we needed.  Here is a bat house he made this summer to host those little mosquito-eating mammals.  He did this for me; of my family I am the preferred mosquito feeder and I do not suffer in silence.  As a human being I like to think I’m at the top of the food chain.  Yet I am preyed upon by small, blood sucking, vicious, insignificant invertebrates.   You can’t see much detail in this now that it has been installed about 15 ft in the air, but he put a lot of time and detail into making a comfortable place for them to hook their little feet while they sleep.  Through the building process Oso has become a student and advocate of bat needs.  I have asked him to write a guest column about bat houses but he will probably wait until some bats actually move in.  (Which, to our knowledge, they have not.)

Another nice  thing he made us is a squirrel deflector.  The back story to this is that after we moved into our house two years ago I was delighted to see a bumper crop of pecans festooning the branches of a tree in our front yard.  For perspective, the postman said he had never seen so many pecans on that tree.  Hundreds?  Thousands?  About 6 months later, I was dismayed to see a swarm of suburban pests we call squirrels absconding with ALL of the pecans.  They started in early September.  At all times during daylight, we could look out and see 4 to 6 squirrels crossing the yard.  The ones coming toward my tree had empty mouths.  The ones leaving the yard had 1 pecan or 2 in their mouths.  To be more specific, unripe pecans. Picking the pecans before the squirrels wasn’t an option for us; unripe pecans cure to nothing as they dry.  Those greedy little blighters pick them before they are even ripe and carry them off.  I don’t think they enjoy soft and watery pecans either, but they are compulsive and selfish.

My plans to raise my little babies on rich woman’s fare (pecans) instead of poor woman’s fare (peanut butter) failed.  But I didn’t give up.  I said “If I can’t feed my family pecans, I will feed them squirrels.”  I retrieved my trusty wrist rocket (a fancy slingshot for all of my cultured readers) from my home in WV (where else?) and practiced up.  A YouTube video on sling shot accuracy gave me a lot of tips.

I have made a few direct hits on the squirrels but they just laugh and scurry away.  I can’t even teach them a lesson because squirrels are unable to remember severe fright for more than a few minutes, if they did they would be paralyzed and fail to thrive (Adler, Bill Jr.  Outwitting Squirrels:  101 Cunning Strategems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels, 1996)..

I’m still trying to find a humane, safe (for me), easy, and legal way to put the scourge of suburbia in a pot.  Shooting with a slingshot is not it, obviously.  But as a note to my family, next time we play paintball, my slingshot aim is much improved.

I decided the giant mousetraps I bought might catch our cat instead.


Squirrel barrier (foreground) with T-shaped props (background) supporting the lowest branches.

This year, my husband made our best advance yet in squirrel warfare.  The deflector is a sheet metal barrier positioned high enough on the trunk that they can’t jump over it and long enough they can’t climb up it (or they haven’t learned to yet).  My espOso also intrepidly braced up or trimmed all the sagging branches to deter branch climbers.

So far, it’s mostly working.  It has really slowed the squirrels down.  There is no longer a nut procession across the front yard at all hours.  There is still one squirrel (I really can’t tell them apart but since I only see one at a time I think it’s just one) that climbs into our oak tree and drops from there into the pecan tree and climbs around picking pecans.  A good number he takes one bite from and throws down because, as I could have told him, they’re not ripe yet.  Some he seems to completely peel and eat though, judging from the shell pieces under the tree.  The race is on, I guess.  Will he eat or ruin every single one before they get ripe?   Or will I get to make pecan cookies this fall? Stay tuned for what I hope will be recipe reviews!


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