Thursday, January 9, 2014

be on the lookout for escaped mojo...

I seem to have lost my knitting mojo.  This is bad for a number of reasons, first and foremost being the fact that I have a cardigan for Julie on the needles that is 90% finished.  I have let so much time go by now since I last worked on it that I am certain I will make a huge mistake as soon as I start up with it again.  So it sits reproachfully in my knitting bag next to the couch, waiting for me to pick it up and fuck it up.

The second reason this is a bad thing is that I have literally thousands of dollars tied up in yarn and needles and patterns and just stuff that is necessary to have if one is going to knit on a regular basis - which I did for some years.  I knit every day for years.  Winter, spring, summer, fall, I had at least two or three projects I was actively working on.    Now, I have, just, you know, that one.

You might not think so, but knitting is good mental exercise.  It keeps my brain and my fingers nimble and quick.  I like the challenge of puzzling out a new pattern - if it's not too difficult - and I like the feeling of pride that accompanies the completion of a successful project.  I managed two Christmas presents this year, but that was more out of necessity than anything else.  Since I didn't have much extra money, I used what I did have - time and yarn - to knit some gifts.  Knitting has provided me with a wonderful creative outlet for the past five years, but that's gone, and I miss it.

Why did I lose my mojo?  I have given that a great deal of thought, needless to say, and I think there are multiple reasons.  But the most compelling reason, I believe, is that I don't have a knitting group anymore, and haven't since I moved here three years ago.  I knew that I really enjoyed my knitting groups, and that I loved spending time with the warm, funny, intelligent women who comprised those groups.  What I didn't realize was that the exchange - the give-and-take of yarns and patterns and ideas  - was crucial to my continued enjoyment of knitting.  But it turns out it was.

I am fortunate to have a yarn shop right here in the town where I live.  I have gone in there countless times looking for, I don't know, some fellowship, I guess, or the spark of a kindred spirit.  I have yet to find it there, and now don't believe I will.   (Also, all the yarn I have is better than all the yarn they have.)

So, what to do?  What to do?  I don't know, frankly.  I am open to suggestions.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

lesson #439 for the life-long learner

So I've lived in Maryland for three years now, and have eaten my share of Maryland crab cakes in that time.  Not as many as Ben, of course, but more than a few.  Until yesterday, however, I had never attempted to make them myself.  And I probably won't have even then without the prompting of the fish guy at my local grocery store. 

There are two different fish guys, actually, and they are both extremely knowledgeable and friendly.  In fact, one of them is too friendly and too loud and a bit alarming.  I tend to shy away from the fish counter when he is working, frankly.  But he wasn't working yesterday, and his slightly quieter co-worker was.  "What's good today?" I asked him.  "Lump crab meat, $7.99 a pound" was his reply.  When I asked him if that was a good price, he was incredulous.  "$7.99?!  A pound?!  Yeah, that's good!   I bought two pounds myself."  When I asked him what he would make with his two pounds, he launched into an explanation of how to prepare salmon stuffed with crab meat.  "Or you could make crab cakes, of course" he said in an offhand way. 

He made the sale, and we came home with a pound of fresh lump crab meat.  Then Ben and I started searching on line for crab cake recipes.  I mean, who uses cookbooks anymore?  We knew we wanted to bake or broil the crab cakes, not pan fry them, so that ruled out quite a few recipes.  We found a likely candidate (one that I had all the ingredients for) and I got to work.  The only glitch was that the cooking time was off, and I flipped them too early.  You can only flip those once, believe me.  But I cooked them longer on the second side, and that seemed to work out okay.  I include the recipe here:

Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes


  • Time 7 minutes
  • Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
  • Few drops of lemon juice (no more than about 1/4 teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup crushed Ritz Crackers
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound fresh jumbo lump crabmeat -- drained of all excess liquid
  • Non-stick cooking spray

How to make it

  • In a medium bowl, combine the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco, lemon juice, Old Bay, salt and pepper. Mix so that all the ingredients are well-incorporated.
  • Add the cracker crumbs and parsley and mix well.
  • Gently fold in crabmeat until just combined (try not to break up lumps of crabmeat).
  • Using wet hands, shape mixture into 6 patties---8 patties if you like them smaller (do not pack too firmly; cakes should be as loose as possible and still hold their shape).
  • Put the crab cakes on a large platter or cookie sheet as they're shaped. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least 1 hour before cooking.
  • Set oven on Broil ( around 450 ) and place crab cakes a non stick sprayed cookie sheet. Put crab cakes in oven on medium height rack.
  • After 3 minutes of initial cooking time open oven to turn crab cakes over
  • using a spatula and your hands. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Drain on paper towels. Serve with lemon and tartar sauce.


I did use Colman's dry mustard instead of Dijon to keep the crab cakes as dry as possible, and I would recommend letting them cook for 4 minutes before trying to flip them and 4 mintues after.  But, keep an eye on them.  I made six of them, not eight, and they weren't very big, so I wouldn't try eight from this much crab meat.  Oh, also, I put them on a plate to refrigerate instead of on the cookie sheet.  It seemed to me like it would take them even longer to heat up if they were on a cold sheet. 

Anyway, our family crab cake expert (that would be Ben) declared them as good as any he has had out here.  I'm going to count that as a huge success, and if you can get your hands on fresh lump crab meat, I heartily recommend this recipe.   Bon App├ętit!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

had ourselves a merry little Christmas

Ben and I did everything we could think of to guarantee ourselves a happy day yesterday, and, you know, it worked out okay.  Ben's work life is so hellish and awful right now that the last thing I want to do is make his home life unhappy, as well.  So we put up the tree and decorated the house and wrapped presents to be placed under the tree.  Our house looked like a happy holiday home, anyway.

Yesterday morning, we lit the tree and the wonderful old Santa Claus we found at an antique shop years ago.  Ben put on the Christmas CDs we listened to every year as we opened our presents.  And we opened our presents.  Just the two of us.  Well, and Rufus and Katie, of course.  They were the absolute highlight of that event.  I had shopped carefully for gifts for each of them, which I desperately hoped they would like.  And they did!  Rufus was the first to sniff out the fact that there were doggie presents under the tree, and he pulled out Katie's to unwrap for himself.  We quickly gave him his own present, and Katie hers.  They made short work of ripping off the wrapping paper, then they actually played with their toys!  I was thrilled.  Ben and I just sat and watched them and laughed.  The money I spent on the dogs' gifts was well-spent.  It made us happy. 

We had decided to have lasagna for our Christmas dinner, which was what I made through the years that the kids were growing up.  Amazingly, everyone liked that.  It's a lot of work, though, and especially for two people.  So this year, for the first time, we tried the Stouffer's frozen lasagna.  And, you know, it was pretty good.  And the clean-up was great.  Perhaps the start of a new tradition.

There was a dearth of Christmas movies on t.v. (like none) so I put on the copy of White Christmas that I got for Christmas last year and searched out an old jigsaw puzzle from the big box in the basement. I have had this puzzle literally as long as I can remember.  It belonged to my parents, of course, when I was a child.  Its snowy winter scene seemed perfect for a quiet Christmas afternoon.  Ben put in a few pieces, but puzzles have always been my pleasure, and working this one from my childhood while watching that old movie seemed just right, calming somehow.

Julie called us and Ben called his parents, and, mercifully, the day was short, as they are this time of year.  With a little effort on both our parts, Ben and I got through another Christmas.  May next year be a happier one. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

annus horribilis

 
Taken all in all, it had been not a bad year. Not a great year, but not a bad year. You know, “Strikes and gutters, ups and downs” as the Dude so succinctly put it. I thought turning 60 was going to be okay. I was wrong. In a day, in an afternoon, in an instant, my life went so horribly, heartbreakingly wrong that nothing can ever set it right again.

Neil Young said only love can break your heart, and I’ve always known that was true. My heart has broken over the years. My dogs have died. People have left me. Sometimes it’s been my fault, sometimes, it’s been theirs. Not that placing blame matters all that much. The pain is the same.

The worst of it this time is that I can’t share it with anyone. Oh, a few people know, of course. That was unavoidable. But I can’t imagine ever sharing this heartbreak, so I’m not sure I can ever get over it. I only know I have to try. To that end, I have decided to give myself until the end of this year, my "annus horribilis" as Queen Elizabeth termed it some years ago, to mourn my loss. Then it will all be in my rear view mirror. That’s the plan, anyway.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday morning musings

I changed the sheets on my bed this morning because, well, it's Sunday, and that's the day to change sheets.  I got to thinking about that, and realized that for probably fifty years now that task has been part of my Sunday morning routine.  My mother pressed my brothers and me into unpaid servitude when we were very young, and one of my chores was to help her change the four beds in our house.  All of our bedsheets were cotton percale and white, of course, and at first we didn't have any fitted sheets at all.  A flat sheet would be tucked in all around on the bottom, then another one was used on top of it.  Fitted sheets were a marvel to me.

My mother was loathe to lose me as unpaid help, and I remember the Sunday morning before I left for my sophomore year of college she insisted I help her change all the beds in the house before she would drive me back to Kent.  I was understandably resentful (why couldn't my brothers do it?) and didn't realize until long afterwards that she probably just wanted to spend that extra time with me.  Oh, that she had only said so.  That was not our relationship, however. 

I desperately wanted flowered sheets in the sixties, and finally got a set for my high school graduation.  Of course, it was 1971 by then, and I was about to go away to college.  The sheets we bought for the bed in my dorm room were flowered, of course, as were all the sheets I bought for years after that.  Ben refused to sleep on flowered sheets, however, saying that men didn't use flowered sheets.  I was skeptical since most of the sheets I saw in linen departments were flowered, but it seemed like a small thing.  I bought a beautiful set of paisley sheets in soft pastel colors, and another set in pale yellow with a green leaf design.  I think those were borderline for Ben, but he accepted them. 

The sheets with the leaf design are the ones I put on the bed this morning.  I am sure they are at least twenty-five years old, and the bottom sheet is almost worn through at one end.  I remember my mother telling me that sheets were always at their softest and most comfortable right before you had to throw them out.  The top sheet has small tears in a couple of places near the top edge.  Bobo and Lucie - both gone now - used to love to dig in the bed sheets, whether toys were hidden there or not.  I never minded, and now I am glad, actually, to have those small reminders of them. 

The sheets I bought a couple of years ago are cotton percale, not sateen or bamboo or beechwood, and they are a pale cream color, which matches the decor.  Flowered sheets are "out" now, and I would be hard-pressed to find a set anywhere, I suppose.  I have no doubt they'll come back in style some day, and I'll be ready to buy some when they do. 

I'm sure the sheets are ready for the dryer by now, and, really, that's all I had to say.

Friday, January 25, 2013

a confession

How does one become a fan of  particular professional sports team?  Well, first of all, one has to love the sport, I think.  I am never going to be the fan of any NBA team because I don't like to watch professional basketball, or any other basketball, on television.  I do love to watch football, though. 

I have very early memories of my dad and I watching football on tv together.  We were probably watching college ball as my dad has always been more interested in that than the pros, but the same rules - for the most part - apply.  I know that my dad was amazingly patient, especially for him, explaining the rules to me over and over again, game after game, season after season. 

I don't remember specifically, but I am sure we watched the Browns during their 1964 championship season.  I know my dad disliked the great Jim Brown, terming him "yellow" because he was so good at running away from his would-be tacklers.  Even as a child I was confused by that.   Wasn't that what he was supposed to do?  So for many seasons I was a Browns-hater because my dad was, but gradually that changed, and I became a member of the long-suffering tribe of Browns fans.  I lived and died - but mostly died - with the Kardiac Kids and their last-minute victories.  I hated John Elway and the Broncos more than any other sports team.  Elway's nickname at our house was "Bucky" due to his protruding teeth, and I loved to hate him. 

I had to break up with the Browns, though, after "The Fumble", as it is known in Cleveland sports lore, left me sobbing in front of my television set.  I just can't care this much any more, I thought, and although I remained a fan, I drew back to protect myself.  I never liked Art Modell, but, along with everyone else in Northeast Ohio, I hated him with a passion after he stole the team away to Baltimore and left Cleveland bereft.

I loved watching Joshua Cribbs play, having spoken to him a couple of times on the Kent State campus.  Once, in particular, Julie and I were walking Bobo and Lucie on campus, when we saw Josh playing with his young daughter near the MAC Center.  His daughter wanted to pet the diminutive (but mean) Lucie, but we steered her towards mellow Bobo instead.  Josh's kickoff returns were electrifying, and when other teams started kicking the ball away from him, it only validated his skill.

So I think I have established that I love watching football.  We faithfully watched the Browns week after week until we moved, mid-season, two years ago to the greater Baltimore area.  And you know what?  They don't show the Browns' games here.  They show the Ravens.  The reviled Ravens.  The team stolen away from us.  I had to watch football, though, so it was the Ravens or nothing. 

Which brings me to the second - and equally important - factor in how one becomes a fan of a specific team:  proximity.  Reading the local newspaper or watching the local news, I learned more than I wanted to know about the Baltimore Ravens and their players.  I had to admit, I liked Joe Flacco, the young quarterback who was at the University of Delaware during the time Julie was there.  And I learned that the party line around here is that Ray Lewis "was young, and running with a bad crowd, and has really turned his life around."  Seriously.  Everyone says that. Even the guy who came out to give me an estimate on a new fence told me those exact words. 

So, yeah, I watch the Ravens' games now, and I do cheer for them.  When the Ravens played the Broncos in Denver several weeks ago, I was filled with delight that my team knocked the Broncos out of the play-offs.  It was deeply satisfying in a way I had not anticipated.  Take that, Bucky, I thought to myself, as John Elway seemed to smile even in defeat up in the owner's box.  With sincere apologies to my friends and family in Northeast Ohio, I will be cheering for the Ravens in the Super Bowl this year.  They're my team, after all.


Friday, January 18, 2013

because I need a new project, part 2

I love to knit socks.  More than scarves or hats or mitts - of which I have knit many - I love to knit socks.  I am hard-pressed to explain why.  Sock yarn is the most beautiful yarn, it's true, but it is what I think of as the architectural nature of socks that appeals to me the most.  I mean, I understand how a scarf progresses from a line of stitches to a very long rectangle.  I understand how the tube shape that is the beginning of a hat gets pinched off at one end to form the hat.  But the sock-in-progess is like a miracle to me. 

I will try to explain.  I am knitting along on this small tube, which is the leg of the sock. When the leg has reached the length I desire, I start the heel.  After following a series of specific instructions, my sock has totally changed direction, and is now heading down the foot towards the toe.  It's magical.  Every single time.  And that is a lot of times because I have knit a lot of socks.

I have knit socks for Tom and Julie and Kristen and Ben's dad and my dad.  I have knit multiple pairs for Ben, who rarely wears them, and Andrew, who always does.  But, mostly, I knit socks for myself.  I have probably knit ten or twelve pairs of socks for myself.  For the most part they sat in my top dresser drawer.  I would get them out and wear them for "special" occasions, but mostly I admired them each time I opened my drawer. 

That changed this year.  "I'm wearing these socks," I thought to myself, and I did.  Almost immediately, my beautiful, hand-knit socks started sprouting holes in the heels.  Huge holes.  In both heels.  I probably have four pairs right now with blown-out heels.  The socks are perfect other than that, and I just can't throw them out for that reason alone.  So I'm going to do the only other thing I can do.  I'm going to learn how to darn socks.  Women have been darning socks for generations, and I can do it, too.  No, I don't know how to do it.  Yes, I hate to sew.  Still, that is what I am going to do. 

I enlisted Ben's help in a very crucial part of my plan.  "Find me a darning egg, will you, please?" I asked him.  If there is one challenge Ben loves, it is searching out just the perfect thing on line.  In no time at all, he had a selection  of darning eggs available as buy it now on ebay for me to chose from.  You might think a darning egg looks like an egg, and some of them do.  But they also can look like mushrooms or maracas, and I knew it was the maraca-shape that I wanted.  Most of those available were wooden, but the one I selected was plastic, half red and half cream-colored.   The red half will show up through light-colored socks, while the cream half will be perfect for dark socks.  Ben agreed with my selection.

The darning egg now sits on my desk, waiting for me to learn how to use it.  And I will.  I'm sure there are dozens of tutorials on YouTube detailing how to darn socks.  So just as soon as I finish this pair of socks I'm working on, I'll get right to it.