Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Unraveled Wednesday

It's time to join Kat and the rest of the Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday, with my never-ending Musselburgh hat. I've reached the point that knitters sometimes encounter, the one where you knit and knit and knit but there is no measurable progress. The tape measure has shown that I have two more inches to go before I start the decreases for several days now, but I have reached gray yarn so there is some sort of progress being made. I trust that I will knit my way out of the measuring tape black hole soon, and hopefully be able to finally show you a finished hat next week.


I finished a few audiobooks this week. The Yarn Whisperer and Knitlandia were pleasant listens while I went through things in NJ to take to Goodwill. I donated two carloads which is a good start to making room for things that I'll be packing up in MD next week. I also listened to The Guncle, which was a four-star book for me. I was afraid it might be a bit lightweight based on the cutesy title and cover design, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was funny, well-written, poignant, and full of depth and heart. The main character experiences quite a bit of personal growth and I'm a sucker for that in a novel. Up next, The Final Case by David Guterson. I hope it's a good book to listen to while I pack. 

What are you making and reading this week? 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Winter Sunsets


I took this photo of the sunset one day last week and thought that I had seen a lot of distinctively beautiful sunsets so far this winter. Looking back through my pictures, I found at least seven in just the last three weeks. I started to wonder if I was just noticing sunsets more often, taking more photos, or if lovely sunsets really occurred more often in the winter. It seems that there may be some scientific reasons for sunsets being better during the winter. 

NOAA meteorologist Stephen Corfidi says that the peak sunset season for the Northeastern United States is November through February due to several meteorological factors. Those factors are lower humidity and cleaner air. This allows more saturated colors to reach our eyes, and because twilight lasts longer closer to the solstices, sunsets also last longer. 

Clouds figure into the picture, too. Well-defined cloud systems are more likely to happen in the winter, and they can provide a backdrop for the setting sun and reflect the beautiful colors back to those viewing the sunset. 

I've simplified the explanation a bit because it involved words like "spectrally pure" (vibrantly colored) and "Rayleigh scattering" (the scattering of light by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the radiation). But if you'd like to read more, you can read the original Vox article here. And for a real primary source, here is Dr. Perfidi's original paper (complete with further reading on the physics and meteorology of the twilight sky). 

Or maybe you don't need any further reading but just want to get out and view beautiful winter sunsets. Enjoy, whatever approach you take!

Monday, January 24, 2022

Daily Bread

It's been grey and cold this week, with sleet, snow, and rain. Weather like that always makes me feel like baking, and I've been thinking about bread since I made turkey soup for my BiL. I took it over to him after he had arthroscopic knee surgery last week, and when you have soup, you need bread to go with it. I didn't want to make something complicated, and since I have a case of Michelob that somebody gave us (but nobody here drinks it), I decided to make beer bread. 


I've made regular beer bread for quite a few years. It's perfect when you want a quick bread to serve with dinner, but don't have time for a yeast-risen loaf. It's especially good to use up beer that nobody likes to drink. My kids used to think they were getting away with something when I "let" them have beer bread.


As good and easy as beer bread is, the variations are also great. I made a loaf of
cheddar beer bread to serve with some beef barley soup I made for us. If you happen to have swiss cheese on hand, swiss beer bread is also favorite of mine.  


For something a little sweet, I started with this recipe for cinnamon raisin beer bread and tweaked it a little bit, increasing the cinnamon to I Tbsp, increasing the raisins to 1 cup, and soaking them in beer for a while before adding them to the batter. Plump and juicy raisins are so much better than dry, shriveled ones.


I did have to try a small slice of both of these, just in case they didn't turn out. They both tasted just fine so I won't have to worry about serving sub-par bread to my family. The cheese was evenly distributed, but Paul Hollywood would probably have something to say about the distribution of the raisins. (Good thing he's not invited.)

I haven't tried any of these variations yet, but they all sound good to me, so I'm sure I'll be making them soon.

I hope your week is a delicious one!

Friday, January 21, 2022

Sold!

I keep getting reminded that the proper term is "Under Contract". Whatever terminology you use, we were very lucky to have sold the MD house in less than 36 hours. 

Last Thursday, the real estate agent listed it as "Coming Soon", and it became active on Friday with showings starting at 11:00. Within a few hours, there were 10 showings scheduled for Friday and five on Saturday.


We left MD early Friday morning before the showings started and came home to NJ. I went over to visit Ryan on Saturday and ended up spending most of my visit on the phone with the real estate agent and John, looking at emails and purchase offers on Ryan's computer. 


Ryan and I had planned to go out to pick up lunch, but we ended up getting it delivered. It seems that every moment is crucial in real estate, and nobody wants to wait an extra ten minutes.

I did have a lot more plants in the "breakfast nook" but took most of them home and will find room for these now that the house has sold. 

We received five offers, all of them above list price. Several of them had escalation clauses to frankly ridiculous prices since I don't think the house would have even appraised for what they were offering. But by the time I left Ryan's, we had a signed contract and it was perfect for us - above list price, cash, and no inspections. 

John is very sad to leave this garden but he's already got a new garden staked out at Ryan's.

John's last day of work before retirement is February 4th, which means he'll need to be in MD at least until then. I estimate that we've got three pick-up truckloads of furniture and boxes to pack and bring back, but that should be doable. We close on February 24th, and then our time with two houses is over. 

John is also sad to leave his beloved shed in MD, but guess what? He's already ordered one for Ryan's house. 

I've complained a few times (John says the word I'm looking for is "incessantly") about the drive and the numerous difficulties of living in two places, but I'm very thankful that selling the MD house has turned out even better than I could have hoped. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Can I Get You Some Wine With Those Brownies?

Last weekend I decided to try the Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Flour I had previously mentioned. Some information that came with the wine flour mentioned supplementing a brownie recipe with this, so that's what I did. 


Here's the brownie recipe I used, but I'm pretty sure you could use any recipe or even a box mix:

1/2 c unsalted butter
1 c sugar
1/3 unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 lg eggs
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 c flour

I added 2 Tbsp of wine flour, mixed it all up, and baked it in a greased 8" pan for 22 min.


I didn't tell anyone in the family what I was doing because I wanted to see if they made any comments about the brownies tasting different. My family has never been shy about offering critiques if they think a new recipe tastes the least bit strange or even just not what they are used to. But I licked the spatula and thought the batter was delicious. 

This is what the brownies looked like when I took them out of the oven:


This is what the brownies looked like 20 minutes later: (and this was before dinner)


Justin finished the rest of them before he went to bed, so I think wine flour brownies were a success. He mentioned that they tasted especially good, but he thought that might be because I hadn't baked brownies for a while. Ha!

"Our Wine Flours are made from wine grapes grown in the Finger Lakes of New York. They are superfood powders that are meant to supplement your baking and cooking. Each pound is packed with fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. We harvest the wine pomace after the wineries press the grapes for their juice. The skins are turned into fine powders that are various shades of gold and purple. Our Wine Flours are meant to supplement your recipes with flavor, color, and nutrition. Please use our Wine Flour with other flours when baking as it is a supplement, not a substitute."

Besides Cabernet Sauvignon, they make lots of other "flavors", like Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling. I think I might order a sampler next time and try Gewurztraminer in Apple Cake and Riesling in Snickerdoodles. This weekend I will be adding some of the Cabernet Sauvignon wine flour to meatballs and/or pasta sauce.

You could probably accomplish the same tastes by drinking a glass of wine with whatever you're eating, but this was a fun experiment (especially because nobody mentioned anything about a "weird taste".)


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Unraveled Wednesday

It seems as if Wednesday has been coming around more and more quickly, but no matter what kind of a time warp I'm caught in, it is indeed Wednesday and time to join Kat and the rest of the Unravelers for Unraveled Wednesday. 


I've been working on my Musselburgh hat and these colorful stripes make me happy. It's been looking a bit big to me, but I measured the width, and there is plenty of negative ease, so I still have high hopes it might actually fit.

Reading has been good this week. I finished Agatha of Little Neon, our current Read With Us book, and I won't say too much besides I did not find it a slog at all, I liked Agatha better than Marie de France, and I think this book will make for a great discussion. 

I was perusing my library's virtual shelves late one night and came upon Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? I checked it out on a whim, and it was surprisingly good. It's a self-help book, which I am usually leary of, but the author has written a book that gives all sorts of ways to help achieve and maintain good mental health. From building resiliency, managing anxiety, dealing with criticism, coping with depression, building self-confidence, to finding motivation, this is a book I wish I had had in 2020. It may be almost a necessity now that we're in the third year of the pandemic. I found it to be both wise and practical.

I purchased Vanishing Fleece from a recent Audible sale when I realized that I had never read any of Clara Parkes' books even though I've been a knitter for decades. This was a fun and educational book where Clara recounts to readers how she turned a 676-pound bale of fine Saxon Merino fleece into yarn. Clara is an excellent storyteller, and her voice is well-suited to narrating the audiobook. I've always had an appreciation for beautiful yarn, but now I have a better appreciation for how the yarn is produced and all the people that make that happen. 

What are you making and reading this week? 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Read With Us: Matrix Wrap-Up (plus a new book!)

Today it's time for a wrap-up of our most recent Read With Us book group selection — Matrix by Lauren Groff.

Kym, Carole, and I each posted questions on our blogs last week and then had a lovely Zoom discussion that evening. If you click on those links, you can read the discussions that went on in the comments. We were lucky to have lots of participants, both on our blogs and the Zoom discussion. The group was pretty equally divided between those who felt like the book was a bit of a slog and those who enjoyed it. But, I can also say with some confidence that those of us who didn't enjoy the book very much developed a better appreciation of the language, setting, story, and what the author was able to accomplish in writing this book.

I meant to take notes during the discussion because I knew I was writing the wrap-up, but you know that saying about paving and good intentions. I do have two pages of scribbled notes, but I can't seem to find anything I wrote that might be useful.

We all had questions about Marie herself, had she gone off the rails (to quote Kat, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."), and we wondered the reasons Tilde might have had for burning Marie's journal at the end. Some wondered if we might have known more about Marie as a real person if more of her writings aside from her poetry existed. Keep in mind that while Marie de France was a real person, who she really was is disputed and Lauren Groff used this to her advantage in writing Matrix

Previous Zoom discussions have enlightened me, enriched my reading experience, and given me a new appreciation for many of the books we've chosen in the past. I had hoped the same things would happen from discussing Matrix, and I can say that they have for me. I still might classify the book as a bit of a slog, and I don't know that I would recommend the book to other readers, but I truly do have an appreciation for the exquisite, descriptive language Groff uses and the story she was able to put together with just the notion that Marie de France existed as a person. 

======

We announced our next book at the end of the Matrix discussion, and I'll do it here in case you weren't able to join us. It's Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette. Yes, it's another book about nuns, but do not be afraid, no matter what you thought of Matrix. I just finished it a few days ago, loved it, didn't find it a slog at all but full of interesting ideas. This is from the publisher: 

"Agatha has lived every day of the last nine years with her sisters: they work together, laugh together, pray together. Their world is contained within the little house they share. The four of them are devoted to Mother Roberta and to their quiet, purposeful life. But when the parish goes broke, the sisters are forced to move. Agatha is forced to venture out into the world alone, to teach math at a local all-girls high school, where for the first time in years she will have to reckon with what she sees and feels all on her own. Who will she be if she isn't with her sisters? These women, the church, have been her home--or has she just been hiding?"

I am very much looking forward to comparing and contrasting the sisters of Matrix with Agatha and her sisters. This is not a long book, and I found it an easy read, but I think it is rich with topics for discussion. We'll each do promotional posts in February and discuss Agatha on March 15th.


I thank you for reading along with us, even if you gave Matrix your best effort but just couldn't finish it. We appreciate your efforts and participation, and hope you'll Read Agatha With Us!