Friday, May 29, 2015

The Past Seven Days

A few pictures showing some of what's been happening around this little place here in the past week.

"Who gives this woman to be married?"
"Her mother and I do."

Toad picking dandelions at Grandpa's feet while Mommy and Daddy say their vows

DS1 & I dancing to 
I Hope You Dance by LeeAnn Womack
(a song that has always, from the day I first heard it in 2000, made me think of him)

irises are blooming

bluebirds are abundant again

DD2 (far right) playing bass drum in the Memorial Day parade

double rainbow 

K3 helping me to put the tomato seedlings in the garden

lettuces ready to harvest

sheep walkin' two at a time

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.21: Moose Drool, Socks & Amish Lit

Joining Ginny on a breezy, sunny Wednesday for the weekly Yarn Along.

Moving right along on the Zigzagular Socks (aka my Moose Drool socks).  With DS1's wedding last weekend, I did not get much knitting time in the past week. (If you only check my blog for the yarn along, and you want to see what kept me from knitting between Wed. and Sun last week, take a look at my post In The Cake Zone.)  In fact, I think I only picked up my needles again briefly on Monday evening, then for about an hour yesterday.

nearly 3 pattern repeats completed

But, as you can see, the Moose Drool is expanding. (And I managed to get a hold of some Moose Drool beer too--it was my private BYOB for the wedding since I don't drink commercial keg beer!)

Also in the photo is Beverly Lewis's newest book The Love Letters.  I just picked it up from the library yesterday, so no opinion on it yet; other than the fact that she is my favorite Amish Lit author.  I'm expecting it to be as good as her previous novels.

I should have a full review of the book for next week's yarn along post--it's a 7-day book so I have to have it back to the library next Tuesday!  Also hoping to have a completed Moose Drool sock #1 to show you then.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In The Cake Zone

The wedding of DS1 and K2 was yesterday.  I'm not sure if I had mentioned it here or not, but I was the baker of the wedding cake.  Not just any cake, mind you (because I am a glutton for punishment), but a reproduction of a cake K2 had seen online over a year ago.  She had asked me if I could make a cake like that one, and, being confident of my mom super powers, I told her sure, I would do my best.

I'll cut out the months of researching and thinking I did, because this post is going to be long enough as it is, and just say that I did a whole lot of studying on wedding cakes and techniques for creating a custom cake. Wedding cake is a whole different ball  of wax from birthday or graduation cakes.

I also spent many hours looking for instructions on how to build a pick-up truck out of cake (you'll see the result of that later).  And how to use fondant, which I personally don't care for the taste or look of, and have never used, and eventually ruled out using on this cake.  Because I have that power, being the (non-paid) baker and all.

There were also a few practice cakes this spring, testing out recipes and cake-stacking technique.

Last week, I spent many hours working on the wedding cake.  First was the figuring of ingredients for each tier of the cake: three tiers, three different flavors.  Then came the purchasing of the ingredients.  On Wednesday, I made two batches of rice crispy bars, only I didn't cut them up and eat them, I carefully dumped them out of the pans as rice crispy/marshmallow sheets, stacked them, and set them aside (you'll understand later).

Then, on Thursday, I officially entered the cake zone (ie, I zoned out on most everything except creating the perfect wedding cake).  I got out my cake pans in the needed sizes.  I got out my recipes.  I got out my ingredients.

three sets of pans, three recipes

Then I commenced to cake baking.  Six individual layers: two 10", two 8", two 6".  I let them cool, wrapped each layer in plastic wrap, and chilled them overnight in the fridge.

cooling cake layers:
butter, strawberry, and cookies 'n' cream

On Friday afternoon, I made the filling for each cake--fudge for the butter cake, strawberries & cream for the strawberry cake, and cookies & cream for the cookies 'n' cream cake.  Then I leveled each layer with my handy dandy cake leveler:

carefully leveling

'dome' removed

fudgy filling warmed up, and layers ready for filling
(Mother-in-law had sent us a couple of bags of 'hot fudge'--like used at ice cream parlors--in April, and I decided they would make much tastier cake filling than chocolate fudge frosting would!)

mmm, butter cake w/fudge filling!

filled, stacked, wrapped, and chilling

Once each layer had it's uneven top carefully sliced off, I glopped filling on the bottom layers, carefully placed on the top layers, and wrapped the whole cake tightly in plastic wrap.  Back into the mini-fridge for a few more hours of chilling.

While the cakes chillaxed, I commenced melting chocolate in my pint-sized crock pot, and dipping strawberries.

chocolate dipped strawberries
(hey, look, I have a cool new skill!)

melting the white chocolate for the white strawberries

chocolate dipped berries drizzled w/the extra white chocolate

Once my berries were all dipped and drizzled, I whipped up a super sized batch of butter cream frosting and did a crumb coat on the cakes.  Also caught DS2 (who finally came down from the U.P. in time to pick up his tux from the rental place) snitching a few fingerfuls of the crumby 'waste' frosting.

Phew!  Think that was enough work for one day?  Nope!  (Actually, yes, but there was still more to do and a looming deadline).  Off to rehearsal dinner for a few hours.

Then back home, get out my rice crispy sheets, and commence truck building.  Yes, I built a pick-up truck out of rice crispy bars!

First I cut the sheets approximately in half.  Then I started cutting,shaping, and pressing into place the various parts of the truck.  At which point I realized I needed more building material, and whipped up a third batch of rice crispy bars!

the initial cut

by George, it looks like a truck!

 I used a biscuit cutter to make the wheels, then dipped them in melted chocolate to make them look like tires.

dowels and duct tape, 
and I have a chassis!

paint job (frosting) applied

By this time, it was past my bedtime on Friday night.  The wedding was scheduled to begin at 4:00 on Saturday afternoon.  I needed to make the final coat of frosting, assemble my supplies, pack and transport the cake and cake paraphernalia--including the cake board I made out of an old counter top cut-out (where the sink went) from when we'd remodeled the kitchen of our previous house--to the site of the wedding and reception.  Once there, I needed to assemble the cake tier by tier, apply the final coat of frosting, pipe the seams and edges, and stick on the strawberries (with toothpicks, which I wasn't totally sure was going to work, those berries were some big heavy suckers).  And, after making the coolest bestest wedding cake ever, I needed to drive home, clean myself up, put on my wedding duds, do my hair, apply make-up (a rare occurrence),strap my feet into some high-heeled shoes (another rare occurrence) and drive back to the wedding venue by the time the photographer arrived to do the pre-ceremony photos.

No pressure.  Right.

But, honestly, I was still in the cake zone.  Nothing else mattered.  Cake, I must do the cake.

Saturday morning I dodged all sorts of distractions thrown at me by others (where the heck is my spare 18 qt roaster?!?  DH needed both my roasters for transporting the meat from the pig he had roasted all night for the wedding meal.  Said roaster seems to have vaporized.  It could not be found despite five people searching high and low).  I made my frosting.  I gathered all my parts and pieces for the cake.  I packed the back of the suburban.  I drove.  I unpacked the suburban.  I commenced cake assembly.  First tier, the frosting looked awesome.  Oh, I was so happy.  Second tier, the troubles started.  No air conditioning.  Warm, humid day. The reception area (the loft of a large old barn) was getting stuffy.  My frosting was getting a little runny from the heat.  It no longer wanted to go on smoothly.  The fruit & cream filling of the strawberry cake began to bust out of the crumb coat, making frosting the sides of the cake even more difficult.  I began to plan strategic strawberry placement to cover the irreparable boo-boos.  Third tier, and still frosting problems.  By now my hands were gooey (I had totally forgotten to bring baby wipes or something similar for cleaning my hands).  

Oh well.  Stay in the zone.  Focus.  Breathe.  Make beautiful cake.  Except the cake and frosting did not want to cooperate.  Breathe.  Lower standard slightly.  Forget flawless smooth frosting on top and just concentrate on getting the frosting flat with as few spreader lines as possible.  Then pin on the strawberries.

Said strawberries were sweating.  At least the chocolate wasn't melting, but they were a bit slippery to handle.  Oh, don't drop any strawberries and break off their beautiful chocolate coating!  Concentrate.  Stab strawberry with toothpick, insert near bottom of cake.  Strawberry immediately falls off cake, onto cake board.

A few minutes of hard thinking ensued, then I jabbed the strawberry back onto the cake again and stuffed a few bigger ones underneath it.  If I couldn't suspend my strawberries, I would build them like a stone wall, with a stable base and each layer balanced on the one below it.  I did still use toothpicks to spear them to the cake, but my aim now was to have the berries support each other rather than relying on the cake to hold them.

Phew!  Crisis averted!  Now, for the truck!  Smear the cake board with chocolate frosting, carefully place truck chassis in desired position, and carefully lower the truck body onto the chassis.  Then, artfully apply chocolate frosting to back and tires of truck and front of cake.  The idea was to make it look like the truck was out mudding and had sprayed some on the cake.  (I later found out it was symbolic to the bride and groom because they had gone to a mud run on their first date.)

Meanwhile, the front end of my truck was slowly sinking.  I noticed a crack developing where the 'windshield' met the 'hood'.  Uh oh!  I snapped a dowel into small pieces, and jammed them up under the front end of the truck. Thinking I had solved the problem, I went back to applying 'mud' to the truck and cake, concentrating on the crack in the truck and the problem frosting spots on the front side of the cake.  

Unfortunately, about the time I thought I had a masterpiece, I noticed the truck was absorbing it's dowel supports under the engine compartment.  Desperate, I grabbed an extra strawberry of approximately the right height, and wedged it up under the front end of the truck.  Genius!

Now, phew!  It was done!  I had succeeded in making the wedding cake of the bride's dreams.  My very first wedding cake (and also the last one that features a 3-D pick-up truck!  Several people asked yesterday, and I politely refused to create any more.  Not in my non-air conditioned home for an outdoor wedding anyway)

The cake was a huge success.  Everyone loved it, and several well-seasoned cake eaters told me it was the best wedding cake they had ever eaten.  The chocolate dipped strawberries disappeared  quickly once the cake was cut.  Sometime soon after, several younger wedding guests absconded with the truck's tires, making it look like it had been parked in one of Detroit's less desirable neighborhoods for a few too many hours.

The rest of the wedding was wonderful too.  Not too big, not too small, beautiful weather, great food, and a good time had by all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.20: The Moose Drool Story

It is a beautiful sunny Wednesday here in mid-Michigan.  Joining in Ginny's weekly Yarn Along today.

I have done little knitting in the past week.  Mostly due to getting ready for DS1 & K2's wedding this Saturday(!!) and sending out invites to DD2's high school graduation open house (in two weeks).  However, I have gotten a little bit done on the Zigzagular Socks I mentioned in last week's yarn along post.  Enough time spent knitting to have gotten the cuff and one pattern repeat done on the leg of sock #1.

starting to zig & zag

I love this yarn!  It is from Mountain Girl Yarns, you can find the shop on Etsy. The yarn is superwash merino, hand dyed in Montana, and it is such a joy to work with!  Absolutely no problem so far with splitting, and it slides along my wooden needles easily yet doesn't fall off--working ktbl and purl cable stitches without a single dropped stitch so far!

I have to confess that I bought this yarn on a whim.  I had followed the blog of the owner of Mountain Girl Yarns for a while, including when she talked about setting up her Etsy shop, and I had looked at her yarns before.  This time, I happened to be looking at new colorways she had just listed, and saw this one:  Moose Drool.

Now, Moose Drool is the name of the brown ale micro brew (brewed in Montana, what a coincidence!) that turned me on to beer.  I was all of thirty years old and did not like beer, didn't drink beer, when DH took me on a delayed honeymoon (8.5 years after we were married--yes, that was quite a delay!) snowmobiling out in Yellowstone National Park.  While out to dinner one night, he asked what local brews might be on tap (this was the early 2000s, before micro brews became so widely available), and was intrigued by the name Moose Drool when the waitress listed the two or three served at that establishment.  So he ordered one.  And, when it arrived, it smelled so good, that I, the beer hater, asked if I could have just one taste.

Well, that one taste was totally unlike any beer I had ever tasted in my life.  This was not the same caliber of beer as the pale yellow stuff in cans.  Nor was it the same as the pale yellow stuff found in glass bottles for a higher price.  This was good!  This, I was interested in actually drinking!

The snowmobile/honeymoon trip also included hot tubbing during a snowfall, where I actually drank my very first bottle of beer (at 30!!).  It was an enjoyable, relaxing trip, one of the very few we'd taken sans children in our 8.5 years of marriage to that point, and it was also where I got interested in drinking craft beer.  Which is somewhat funny that it took a trip to Montana and a locally made micro brew there to get me to like beer; because by then DH had been homebrewing (yellow stuff) for nearly a year and a half.

Anyway, when I saw this yarn on Etsy, loved the colors in it, and read the name Moose Drool, I had to buy it. I had to.  It was fate or something.  I knew it was meant to be a pair of socks for me.  Montana socks.  Beer socks.  I mean, the colors were even the same as on the Moose Drool label. How could this not be a sure sign that I was supposed to buy a skein of this yarn?  So I did.

All I needed was the perfect pattern.  And along came the Zigzagular socks on one of Ginny's Yarn Along links.  

Zigzagular.  That was it!  That was the perfect pattern for my Moose Drool socks.  Because, if I drink two bottles of Moose Drool, I tend to walk kind of zigzagular myself.  :0)

I believe in fate.  I also believe that sometimes God has a pretty cool sense of humor.

Monday, May 18, 2015

She Gave Me Worms

Last week, DD2 went on a field trip with her Natural Resources class.  First, they toured the greenhouse of a university about an hour away, where they learned how roughly 40% of the food served by the campus cafeterias is grown.  They also got to see how the food waste from those cafeterias is disposed of on-site through composting, and the compost is then used in the greenhouse to grow more food.

After that, they went sailing.  Literally.  They went aboard the Appledore IV and spent the afternoon with fun hands-on science education focused on water ecology/marine biology.  DD2 came home and talked non-stop for over two hours about all the interesting things she had seen and done shipboard.  Being as she will be attending college to study wildlife ecology and management (which studies will include marine biology), she ranked this field trip as absolutely the best and most interesting one she has been on in her high school career.  Apparently so interesting that she was the only 16-18 year old female there who failed to notice that the 22 year old crew member of the ship is very good looking.  Or so she told me a few days later after talking with some of her fellow field trip goers and realizing she hadn't paid the young 'hot' crew member hardly any attention compared to how much of her focus had been spent on microscopic sea creatures.  I guess the other girls kept talking about him, and she kept saying "Who?".  LOL

But anyway, this post isn't about the ship.  It isn't about the handsome sailor.  It's about worms!

Because while the class was at the university having the greenhouse tour, those students who wanted to were given a hanging flower basket full of soil, herb seeds, and worms to take home.  Not just any worms, but red wigglers, which are the standard for vermiculture.  Vermiculture being the technical name for composting using worms to break down the organic matter (ie plants, food scraps, etc) into soil.

And guess what DD2 did!  She said "ooh, I'll take one of those!" and she brought it home to me. She brought me worms!  Woo hoo!

Vermiculture is something I've tossed around in my head for a while, but it has not ever gotten to the front of the Try This list.  Now, apparently, it has been moved up to first position on that list.  Because now I have worms to care for.  (And yes, I do realize it's a bit odd for a woman to get excited about worms.  But hey, I'm not your average woman. And I'll admit to being a bit odd.)

Unassuming basket of dirt 
(with a few lettuce scraps thrown in)


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.19: The Button Dilemma

Happy Wednesday, everyone!  Time to join in with Ginny's Yarn Along to see what sorts of knitting/crocheting and reading are going on in the world.

I alllllllmmmmooooosssssttttt finished my Barn Sweater.  I really, really, thought I was going to have a 100% complete sweater to show off today.

I got the sleeves sewn.

I got the pocket linings sewn down.

how it looks on the inside

how it looks on the outside

Then, I went to retrieve the buttons I'd been planning to use. . . Some lovely buttons made from deer antlers that an internet friend in Minnesota had sent to me last year.  I figured they would be perfect for my sweater.  Rugged. Unique. Earthy.  Kinda how I see myself.

What I didn't figure is how much thicker they are than regular buttons.  Cannot get them through the button holes even though the diameter of the button is the size the pattern calls for.  No way, no how.  Just cannot shove them through.

just too thick :0(

Well shit  (oops, can't say that) crap  (can't say that word either, according to K3) manure.  OH MANURE!!  I can't make these buttons work.  Can't make the buttonholes bigger.  Can't make the antler buttons thinner.  I'm not going to be able to use my cool, rugged, unique, earthy buttons for this sweater.

Bummed out, I went through my jars and baggies of loose buttons I've scavenged from old clothing, leftover buttons from sewing projects, garage sales, Goodwill, etc, through the years, looking for buttons of the right size and a natural color to substitute for my antler buttons.  Thought I'd hit the [close enough] jackpot when I found several tortoiseshell looking plastic buttons.  Until I counted and found I had only five tortoiseshell buttons that matched. The sweater has seven button holes.


So, my sweater is, still, not finished.  Honestly, at this point (and unsuccessfully checking locally for some suitable buttons), I'm tempted to get online and indulge myself in some handmade buttons off etsy or somewhere similar.  Not worry about getting buttons in hand in the next few days so I can, finally, next Wednesday talk about a finished Barn Sweater; but instead take my time, get buttons that speak to me (colored plastic or fake metal patina just aren't doing it for me, not for this sweater), and finish the Barn Sweater whenever I happen to procure the perfect buttons.

Meanwhile, to take my mind off of my sweater button disappointment, I've been  reading The War of the Wives, which I picked up from the library on a whim, also been putting together a 1000 piece puzzle, and cast on for a pair of Zigzagular socks using Mountain Girl Yarn's lovely 4-ply fingering Merino in Moose Drool.  These are selfish socks, LOL, a pair just for me, using yarn I purchased several months ago (again, for me) along with another skein of MGY yarn--in the colorway Oslo.  There's a story to why I bought the Moose Drool yarn.  But that will have to wait until next Wednesday.

Oslo and Moose Drool

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sheep Walking

DD2 decided to purchase not one, but two lambs for her FFA project to take to the county Fair this summer.  Kind of an insurance policy, because if she only purchased one, and anything unfortunate happened to it before Fair came, she'd be empty handed and without a project at show time.  Plus, she has become completely smitten with sheep, and I suspect the temptation to buy two sheep instead of one was too much for her to resist.  (Also she takes after me quite a bit, and I'm rather known for tackling things with a 'go big or go home' point of view--after all, how else do I explain birthing & raising four children, buying 40 acres of land, designing and building our own house, seeing how much of my family's food I can grow/raise myself?)

She acquired them on Sunday, while DH and I were driving home from the U.P.  Her employers/mentors (the family with the small sheep farm she has been working at since February) hooked her up with someone they knew who had quality market lambs of the right age range, went with her to do the negotiating and choosing of the lambs, and transported the lambs back to their farm, where the lambs will live until it's time to go to Fair.

Of course, being removed from all that they've known their entire short lives, and taken to a new farm with new sheep and a strange teenage girl caring for them, the lambs were very skittish.  So, everyday this week, DD2 has not only fed them, but made sure she spent some time just hanging out in their pen so they could get used to her.

Then her lessons in sheep training began. Mrs. Mentor showed her how to corner and catch her lambs. And how to halter her lambs.  And how to teach her lambs to lead.  For the past three days, DD2 has spent about fifteen minutes daily with each of her sheep working on leading it around in addition to the time she spends feeding and watering them and all the sheep owned by the family she is working for.

Her lambs are now accepting of her walking in their pen and catching them.  They've stopped running away and now approach the gate when they see her arrive.

"She's here!"

They aren't so sure about me, since I'm still unfamiliar to them.  Yesterday, DD2 asked if I wanted to go with her and walk a sheep, so she could get them both out at the same time.  Always open to new farm-type experiences, I said yes.  And made sure I brought the camera, for evidence of my sheep walking adventure.

Then she caught, haltered, and handed me a lamb!  Which I had absolutely no idea what to do with.  Other than hold tight to the rope and say "Whoa, Lamb" in my authoritative horse training voice when it acted like it wanted to take off out of the barn.  Thankfully, it stopped, and stood, trying to wrap it's head around my leg, while I waited for DD2 to halter and bring out the other lamb.

Then the lambs and I got a lesson in sheep walking.  Sheep walking 101, because apparently when she shows them, they will walk without halters and ropes, just with her hand on them.  So we've got a long ways to go between now and the Fair.

Because right now, one wether (a wether is a castrated male, if you don't know sheep terminology) likes to plant his feet and lean backwards when asked to walk forward.

"Nope, not going forward."

Until DD2 touches him under the tail.  Apparently goosing a sheep makes it walk forward!

"Since you put it that way, okay, forward it is!"

The other wether has a different strategy.  He stands stiff as a board, until you shift to reach behind him, then suddenly it's UP UP into the air with all four feet!  Then you get about 4 nice forward steps, and repeat the sequence again.


"Still no."


"See how nice I can walk?"