Totally About to Go All Marie Kondo Up in Here

Do you ever feel like you are a master imitation of a broken record? I finally realized that’s exactly how I sounded when, for the 1000th time, I remarked to a friend this that it’s been a tough year. Scratch that, a tough four-plus years. After losing Dad last year, we went on to lose both our neighbor and good friend, followed shortly thereafter by my uncle. Considering that I already win the award for “Most Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Grief,” I’m not at all surprised that I’ve been operating on semi-toxic fumes for far too long.

But this last week, we took a long-planned family vacation, which was amazing, exhausting, and magical. When we came back to Louisiana, spring was in the air, with the wisteria in full bloom and the grass already filling in the winter-brown lawn. I know the hellfire summer is just around the corner, but something about coming home to a landscape transformed on the tails of a truly epic vacation gave me the kick in the ass I sorely needed. I spent the past couple of days thinking about what needs to change, and as the title suggests, I’m about to go Marie Kondo both literally and figuratively on myself, and my environment. It’s time for some physical, emotional, and spiritual spring cleaning, and part of that is returning to this space and getting back to the things that spark joy, as cheesy as that sounds.

So before I get back to it, let’s take the 50-cent recap of the past months, shall we?

First, I invested in an amazing smoker and subsequently smoked allllll the things, including all my neighbors’ Thanksgiving turkeys, lots of pork butts, bratwurst, and so on. One day, I want to volunteer with Operation BBQ, and help those suffering from disaster or displacement.

Bean joined the Cub Scouts!

She’s having a blast.

I knit a blanket for a special baby and won second place at the State Fair:

We did a winter garden of cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and carrots. (We also planted strawberries in the fall for a late spring/early summer harvest):

And finally, I finished all of the Knitterati 2018 blocks (though I have yet to assemble the blanket and add the border):

Oh, and one more project. Dad’s wife asked me to make pillows from some of his dress shirts:

So, even if I was not at my best this past year, I can say that I kept making. However, I think it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and realize that maybe there’s a bit more nuance between seemingly normal and truly healthy. If anything, at least my house will be cleaner…maybe. Probably.

Definitely maybe.

Summer’s End–Family, Community, and Canning.

School started this week, and for the first time, its arrival felt bittersweet. Usually, by this time, I feel like I will sell my soul to their teachers in exchange for removing the Heathens from my home for a few hours a day. August means we’ve devolved into who-looked-at-who the wrong way, which in turn, ends up being a crossover between “Who Moved My Cheese?” and The Hunger Games.  This year, however, summer seemed to fly by at a too-rapid pace. It doesn’t help that G-Man is a junior, Bear is a freshman, and Bean is in (gulp!) first grade. I wish I had a few more days at the pool or the camp, but in the end, the promise of less than 100-degree heat means that I’ll get over it quickly. So, the summer recap:

We had our epic family reunion with my 80-plus cousins who are just as zany as we are, fun days at the Gulf and the camp, questionable fishing, and general mayhem:

There was some knitting, which I will post about tomorrow:

I smoked and cooked at bit (including hosting 4th of July for our neighborhood, and tackling fresh pasta):

But, if I had to sum up this summer, I would call it The Summer of Canning. We spent the spring installing and planting several raised beds in our postage stamp-sized back yard. We hope to adopt a year-round gardening plan down the road, but ultimately, I think the Husband and I feel called to find a balance between the frantic digital pace of modern daily life, and the skills, traditions, and values that we internalized from our parents and grandparents.

We want to raise well-balanced, knowledgeable kids that have adequate life skills by graduation, or at least some exposure to many things and the attitude that they can figure crap out if they try. This isn’t just about gardening. G-Man must have changed tires on the family car six times this summer as we dealt with failing tires and those pesky nails the contractors down the road kept dropping. He also has a bank account, and I’ll send that kid to the Kroger at the drop of at hat, which means he now knows where to find vinegar and pectin, and the difference between a poblano and a banana pepper. G-Man and Bear can cook a meal, bake a mean cookie, and follow a recipe while adapting if needed. As such, the garden is another extension of our desire for fresh produce and deliciousness, while modelling life skills that might keep our kids from being left for zombie bait in the event of a Walking Dead scenario. Kidding…Kidding…

But, with that garden, came the dilemma of keeping up with it. I swore to the Husband that I would not let his efforts go to waste. I’ve written about canning before, but this behemoth was beyond my ability to manage, or at least my available time. But then, the blessing came. My neighbor had never canned and wanted to learn, so I did a quick recipe with her (that she brought over) so she could get the basics. One thing led to another. Before long, we transformed into a well-oiled operation of shared labor and shared bounty. We worked side-by-side each week, harvesting, prepping, and putting up recipe after recipe. We fought the bugs, the heat, our restless kids, and the burn of hot peppers from forgotten gloves. As the days blended together, we visited, shared stories and memories, and ended up with overflowing pantries of salsa, jalapeno jelly, serrano jelly, pickled peppers and onions, cucumber relish, pickles, spicy tomato jam, pickled jalapenos, and more.


We even put together and vacuum-sealed bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers for fall and winter entertaining. A full pantry and freezer soothes my soul and makes me feel more connected to the strong women in my family tree. That was something I didn’t expect, but I’ll take any day.

Over these intense kitchen sessions, I noted to my neighbor that I can now see why chores like canning, quilting, butchering, and harvesting historically often turned into group events. People helped their neighbors or friends with these labor-intensive activities not only to share the load, but also to connect in a way we now have lost, and which we often miss in our disconnected, overworked, digital lives. (and yes, I get the irony of saying that on my digital blog, but I do believe we can all find a better balance between the power of the internet to connect and educate us, and the temptation for it to consume us at the expense of genuine experiences). Whether we were enveloped by steam from the canner, or got lost in the hours of chopping 12 pounds of tomatoes at a time, we strengthened our bonds as both friends and neighbors in a way that made me feel closer to her, and my family’s history and traditions.

So, as I come to summer’s end, I still feel like it flew by, but as I reflect, I also think of it as time of connecting with family and neighbors, cultivating skills, and transitioning from the tragedy of losing my father to letting the light back in. That, if anything, was probably the best takeaway of all.

But you know what’s even better about summer’s end? I can now plan the Halloween decorations and party. Mwhahahah!

Finished Holiday Knits

Alrighty, now that the holidays have passed, I can post the few last-minute gifts I whipped up in the days leading up to Christmas. I swore not to do any gift knits this year, but finally decided that it just would not be December if I wasn’t knitting a gift or two. All of these were fast projects (at least as far as “fast” applies in knitting terms), and with stash yarn

Pattern: Polku Messy Bun Hat (available for purchase on Ravelry)

Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Country Blue colorway (I held the yarn double for this project/gauge)

Needles: US 10 and 10-1/2

Notes and Mods: Made this for my Mother-In-Law, who requested a hat that allowed for a ponytail. I went up a size to ensure the gauge and yarn would work.

Pattern: Man Hat (available for free on Ravelry)

Yarn: Loops and Threads Charisma in Deep Woods Colorway

Needles: US 8 (wish I had used a 9 or 10)

Notes and Mods: Made this for my sister’s very knit-worthy boyfriend from stash yarn. He has a big head so I think I should have gone up a needle size or two. His son loves it so much, I’ll be knitting him one after I finish up my current WIPs.

Pattern: Man Hat (available for free on Ravelry)

Yarn: I Love This Yarn in Camo colorway

Needles: US 8 (though I used a US 10 just for the cast-on to prevent a too-tight edge).

Notes and Mods: CO 88 stitches to make up for smaller gauge. I have used this crappy yarn before and the color pooling never makes sense. For example, I knit this hat with the yarn in the exact same pattern and stitch count and there was no significant color pooling. The recipient is a big camo guy, so hopefully it’s not too crazy for him.

Pattern: Little Red Riding Slippers

Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick in Constellation colorway

Needles: US 10

Notes and Mods–Made these for my sister who is not a fan of knits, but loves Ugg boots so I took a chance on Ugg-inspired slippers. I screwed up on attaching the cuffs so the seam isn’t going the way I prefer, but I was not willing to rip it out at that point. If I make these again, I will pick a yard that gives better stitch definition at this gauge. She’s actually worn them, so I’ll count that as a win.

Now it’s back to WIP wrangling…sigh.

Super-Easy Petite Cheese Cakes

We had a nice, relaxed family get-together yesterday, and I wanted an easy dessert that I was pretty sure *most* of us would like. These little cakes are so stupid-easy, and for something so simple, they still taste like delicious indulgence.

Petite Cheesecakes

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Ingredients

  • 2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 TBS fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 18 vanilla wafers
  • jam of your choice for topping, if desired

Procedure
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line cupcake pans with 18 paper baking cups. Place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each cup. Beat cream cheese, sugar, eggs, lemon juice, and vanilla extract together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with cream cheese mixture and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until set. Cool 15 minutes on a rack, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Top with jam, if desired.

How easy is that?!?

Easy Gingerbread Cutout Cookies

School is out, which means we are in the final countdown toward Christmas. I’m making cookies with the kids, which is equal parts fun and frustrating as they argue about who gets to use which cookie cutter first. My kids could fight about what air tastes like if given the opportunity.

We are on to sugar cookies today, but ended up making Gingerbread Cookies last weekend. The recipe I use is pretty easy to work with and forgiving, so it’s great if you really want to get into decorated cutouts. If you need to distract restless kids, I highly recommend baking up a batch, and investing in a few dollar tubes of icing from the store so they can decorate and be distracted from arguing about that whole air thing.

Gingerbread Cutout Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder

Procedure

    1. In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg, mixing well to combine.
    2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, salt, and making powder, stirring well.
    3. Gradually add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, mixing to form a soft dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours.
    4. On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out cookies with desired cutters and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes until edges are firm. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Decorate as desired.

8 Gift Ideas for Knitters, and What You Should Not Buy Without Actionable Intel

After spending an inordinate amount of time shopping online yesterday, I was ready to hit the ground running today and spend some money locally. Not 15 minutes after dropping the kids off, the school called and Bean is sick again…sigh. We had to take her to the ER a couple of weeks ago, so the fact that she is sick again so soon is frustrating.

Anyway, if I can’t get my Christmas shopping on, I can have a cocktail and give you some gift ideas for the knitter or fiber enthusiast in your life:

  1. A yarn club subscription. I recently posted about my love of Yarnbox, but there are dozens of suppliers to choose from. This makes a great gift because most knitters are yarn-obsessed and who doesn’t like a treat in the mail? These can be on the more expensive side, but they are definitely a thoughtful gift that all but the Grinchiest knitter will love.2. Knitter’s Pride Knit Blockers. These things are the bomb, and most knitters would love it set or two. They help save time and create more even edges. I have a set, and I swear by them. Good prices too for a mid-range gift. I think one set will set you back about 25 bucks.3. Cute knitting-themed shirts or mugs. These can be easy stocking stuffers, or a super-affordable gift if you are in a situation where you need to spend under a certain amount, like an office gift exchange. You can find these at places like Knit Picks, Café Press, and Etsy.4. Cute stitch markers. I go through a lot of stitch markers, and I am always in need of more. Etsy is definitely the place to look for a fun selection, and you will be supporting handcrafters as well. These are usually affordable, and can be a great individual gift or an add-on.5. A handmade yarn bowl. Again, Etsy would be the place to look for these. They come in so many styles, which means you can find one to fit even the most eccentric knitter’s personality. 6. Personalized tags for knitters. I love adding a personal touch to my gift knitting (for those who have not been booted off the knit-worthy island), and these are not something that most people will splurge on consistently. As a southern girl, I love all things personalized and would monogram alllllllll the things if my expendable income allowed such.7. Along those lines, these types of knitting tags offer a cute way to alert people of the fiber content and washing instructions. Mighty handy, and again, just not something many knitters have lying around.8. As always, a gift certificate to your local yarn store is never a miss. If you don’t have a local yarn store in your area, look at online options, especially hand-dyers. Just avoid certificates to big-box stores because their selection is rather limited for a real fiber enthusiast.

Now, for the cautionary part. Most knitters always have their eye on new needle sets, knitting bags, spinning wheels, yarn kits, or other high-dollar accessories. Trust me, every knitter out there has a wish list in the back of their minds. However, like most people who are passionate about our hobby, we are also VERY PICKY about our core tools. While these make great gifts if they are on your knitter’s wish list, you need to be sure that you know exactly what they want while shopping. For example, I cannot stand knitting with bamboo needles, so brand new expensive set of bamboo interchangeable needles would totally miss the mark. So, if you can get your hands on intel about what they specifically want, go for it! Otherwise, play it safe. If you do want to invest in a big-ticket wish list item, you want to be sure that it’s right, which makes you awesome-sauce!

**Remember, these ideas are mine and mine alone. No one pays me or gives me crap, because I’m just not that cool. There’s no links or affiliate business going on up in here. Also, if you do see an ad on my blog, that’s from WordPress, not me and I have no control over that deal**

 

Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot

I survived Thanksgiving week, which ended up being a relaxed, fun holiday despite the fact that I made more food than any reasonable person should. We ate leftovers for days, and I cranked out 4 big casseroles for the freezer with the remaining turkey. For the holiday, my sister brought a Honey-Baked Ham, and afterward, we froze the ham bone (that still had a good chunk of meat on it) for later use.

A leftover ham bone (or leftover ham in general) is the perfect foundation for 15 Bean Soup, which I typically cook on the stovetop with the above mix. However, I decided to adapt it to the Instant Pot so I could get it done, start to finish, after getting the Heathens from school.

First, I did soak the beans for barely a couple of hours, but I think you can get by without that if necessary. I added the ham bone and rinsed beans to the Instant Pot:

Then, I added 8 cups of water. I did not add salt because the ham itself is pretty dang salty, and the seasoning packet to be added later also contains salt. I put the lid on, and set it to Manual for 50 minutes on high pressure (note–with that much liquid in the pot, it takes about 20 minutes to come to pressure, so plan accordingly). Once it beeped, I did the quick pressure release, and removed the ham bone. I carefully removed as much meat from the bone as possible, then returned the meat to the pot while discarding the bone. I then added a minced onion, three cloves of minced garlic, a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, the juice of a lemon, and the seasoning packet:

I put the lid back on the pot and reset it to Manual for 10 minutes. Once was it done, I did another quick pressure release, stirred, and served with cornbread:

The original recipe calls for sausage and sautéing the onion and garlic. While you can do this with sausage, ham hocks, or generally any smoked meat, I think the Instant Pot negates the need for unnecessary sautéing steps. Overall, we used up every last scrap of ham, which is a good thing because Honey-Baked Hams are not cheap…which is probably why they are so dang tasty. If you want to stretch this, you can also serve it over rice, but I like it as is and my scale could not justify any more calories…like at all…ever. If you need me, I’ll be at the gym.

15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker

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  • 1 pkg. Hurst’s Cajun 15 Bean Soup Mix
  • 1 ham bone with leftover ham if possible
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Remove seasoning packed from beans and set aside. If desired, soak beans for a couple of hours. Place ham bone and leftover ham in Instant Pot. Add drained beans and 8 cups of water. Place lid on pot and set to Manual for 50 minutes, then do a quick pressure release. Remove ham bone from pot and remove as much ham as possible from the bone. Return ham to the pot and discard bone. Add the tomatoes, onion, garlic, lemon juice, and seasoning packet to the pot and stir. Return lid to pot and set to Manual for 10 minutes. Do a quick pressure release, stir, and serve.