Saturday, October 30, 2010

At The Last Supper by Sr. Christine Kresho

This review was written specifically for CatholicFiction.net: 

At The Last Supper 
by Sr. Christine Kresho

A murder mystery written by a Catholic nun? How daring could that be, I wondered when I first received this book. Sister Christine Kresho, the author's bio tells us, has a background in education and technical writing and, being a nun, an insight into the workings of the subject matter: two priests have been stabbed to death and a third is in a coma following a similar attack. It is up to Detectives Chris Coleman and Rick Russell to solve the mystery.

The story unfolds quickly when two much loved priests, very popular in their parishes, are murdered and the two detectives, one a devout Catholic, the other an agnostic, begin their investigation. Of course there is a fair amount of discussion of Faith and how it impacts their respective interpretations of the information gleaned throughout the interviews, some of which is rather surprising and even shocking. Without giving away too much of the plot I found the underlying theme to be quite a surprise and very timely. As the parishes are left without priests to minister to the congregation, the bishop employs the only solution he can in drafting a well-educated, well-loved nun as the Eucharistic Minister to fill in until a solution can be found.

We soon discover that there are two opposing forces at work in all three of the parishes whose priests were attacked. One is a group called Magdalene Witnesses, a pro-woman organization within the parishes which educates members on the role of women in Christ's life and ministry and advocates for advancing the role of women and female clergy in the Church. The other is a group known as God's Troops which is a dogmatic, fundamentalist organization with very traditional, unyielding ideas on a mission to make sure the Church stands firm in its 2000 year old beliefs and rules. All three of the priests were known to be present at meetings of the groups and all three were considered liberal, progressive men (one arguably too much so). So it is up to Coleman and Russell to figure out what role these groups and their members played in the attacks. Along the way they find themselves confronting their own beliefs or lack thereof.

The book is a typical “cozy mystery” in that there is no explicit violence or sex but some interesting twists and turns. The solution relies on the investigative powers of the detectives and there certainly are no shortage of clues along the way – as well as red herrings. Most of the characters have considerable charm and, not surprisingly, the author takes the opportunity to address a few issues at the forefront in the Church today, especially that of the roles of women.

I won't give anything away but will say that this was a pleasant read with a few surprises. If I have any complaints it would be that I would have liked to see a little more character development, especially of Sister Emily, and would like to remind the author of the first rule of writing fiction: show, don't tell. But none of that detracts from the enjoyment of reading an interesting mystery with enough spice to keep me turning the pages.  

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jyotika's Rice Pudding & Risotto

This rice pudding, rich with vanilla, cardamom, honey and pistachios, comes from a recipe given my many years ago by a friend from India named Jyotika so I've decided to name it for her. I don't make it a lot because it requires endless stirring but recently, since my conversion to crockpot risotto, I decided to try making it as a risotto and, let me tell you, my first try yielded a luscious treat. Next time I'm going to add more milk and see if I can get it even creamier but I'm going to post both recipes – the rice pudding and the risotto – and let you take your pick.

Normally the recipe calls for golden raisins but I forgot to buy them so last night when I was making it I stirred in some pomegranate-flavored craisins and they were delicious.

Jyotika's Rice Pudding

In a deep, heavy pot combine 1 cup jasmine rice, 3 green cardamom pods that have been crushed with the flat blade of a knife, and a fresh, juicy vanilla bean that has been split own the center. Add a quart of whole milk and bring to a simmer then adjust heat and continue to cook, stirring almost constantly until the rice absorbs the milk and the pudding becomes thick. Add more milk if needed to the desired thickness. Stir in 1 c. golden raisins (or other dried fruit), and ½ c. honey. Serve topped with crushed pistachio nuts and a little more honey drizzled over it.

Over the years I have made this with coconut, crushed macadamias, dried mango or papaya, figs, dates – it is always delicious. The secret is the cardamom and vanilla which gives it a “hot”/smooth flavor that is hard to describe.

To make the risotto my only changes were to switch from jasmine rice to arborio rice and from whole milk to condensed milk. The condensed milk does better in a crockpot – it won't curdle or separate like whole milk can. There is also butter and a little less rice.

Jyotika's Risotto

In a heavy skillet melt 1 tablespoon butter. Stir in 2/3 c. rice and stir as the rice turns opaque and absorbs the butter. Spray the inside of your crockpot with buttery cooking spray and add the rice. Place the cardamom pods and split vanilla bean inside. Add 1 can of evaporated milk and 2 cans of water. Turn to high and let cook for an hour and a half.

Check the rice and add more milk to thin it. At this point you can use whole milk just keep stirring it in to the hot mixture and it will get absorbed very fast. Add your raisins or dried fruit. Cover and cook for another hour. Check the mixture and add more milk as needed . I added 2 extra cups of milk. At first it seemed like it was too thin but I was surprised at how “thirsty” the rice was – it absorbed it in no time. Add ½ c. honey. Serve hot topped with pistachio nuts and a little more honey drizzled over it.

That's all there is to it. I'm going to try it again soon with more milk on hand and I may even try the risotto with jasmine rice. It's worth it to make this rice if just for the way it makes your house smell. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Four Fabulous Foodie Finds -- Online!

I guess it has something to do with winter coming but I always want to start cooking at this time of the year. All summer long I live on salads, fresh fruit, toast and iced tea but when the days get short and the air gets cold I get to the kitchen. One of my problems these days is I have NO time -- I can't justify excursions into Boston or various places in search of a special treat but as things are now I can find amazing things online and here are my four latest finds:


Taza Chocolate
I was reading about the real Mexican chocolate and the fabulous hot chocolate like that made in the movie "Chocolat". Problem is the store that carries it is a 3 hour round trip drive for me and I don't have a spare three hours. So I went online and the ever-reliable Amazon of all places yielded this store: Taza Chocolate. They carry the very chocolate shown in the article I read in the original chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and chili!!! I placed an order and it should be here any day. Now all I need is Johnny Depp!
My Spice Sage
I was dying to make a rice pudding recipe that I love which required whole green cardamom pods. I went to the local grocery store and discovered they were $14.99 per ounce! Let me tell you there was a time when I paid that much for an ounce of pot!!! So I went online and discovered My Spice Sage! What a great place! The cardamom pods were $3.99 per ouce. Plus on the day I placed my order they were giving away 8 Madagascar Vanilla Beans with every order. So for the price of an ounce of cardamom here in town I got an ounce of cardamom, 4 ounces each of smoked Spanish Paprika, and ground Chipotle pepper powder, and 8 vanilla beans. The order arrived in three days and everything so far is delicious (I did indulge in a few more spices). Lusciousness.


Nuts Online
In my never ending quest to find a way to cook great food while keeping carbs down, I read about using nut flours instead of wheat flour in cooking. This seemed like such a good idea I had to look into it and that's how I found Nuts.com. They have everything -- coffee, spices, dried fruits, 44 different salad toppers, and, of course, nuts. I ordered hazelnut flour and chestnut flour to get started along with a bunch of other goodies like pistachio paste and several different passion fruit products since I just can't get enough of passionfruit. I placed my order at 2:30pm Friday and it was delivered at 11am Saturday! How can you beat that? Just now I put 1/2 cup of hazelnut flour in a bowl with a teaspoon of onion powder and a heaping teaspoon of the Smoked Spanish Paprika from Sage Spice. Stir it up, get a pan with a little cooking oil in it piping hot. Roll some boneless skinless chicken thighs in the mixture and sate them until they are crispy and golden on both sides. Reduce heat and let them cook for 20 minutes. Heaven! Just heaven.


Valley Nut and Fruit
Continuing with the desire to improve nutrition while lowering carbs I wanted to find some fresh nut butters which lead me to Valley Nut and Fruit. They don't have a vast selection of products but they had what I wanted: fresh nut butters in 1 and 4 pound jars. I decided to start out with hazelnut, pistachio and macadamia but they also offer pecan, almond, brazil, walnut, cashew, and pumpkin seed. The order hasn't arrived yet (I placed it last night so I guess that's why) but I'm looking forward to it. I'm a big fan of When Pigs Fly's Lo-Carb and Multi-Grain Anadama Bread so the idea of starting my work day with their toast and a delicious nut butter (with a cup of French Market Chicory Coffee) sounds like heaven to me.


The risotto is cooking now. I'll let you know when it is done....


Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gorilla "Hunting" in Rwanda - Updated!

My friend Sharon from Houston just returned from a trip to Rwanda to go hunting (with a camera) for Golden Monkeys and Mountain Gorillas. She sent the following pictures and writes:


The people there are wonderful.  It is amazing what they have done in their country since the Genocide in 1994.  We visited the memorial museum in the capital city of Kigali and it was very moving.  I had no idea the depth of what happened.  Everywhere we went were reminders of the Genocide.
While we were there we met the head veterinarian (from Indiana) and toured the Gorilla orphanage of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program.  Amazing woman - Dr. Jan Ramer.  I always feel insignificant around someone who is doing such great work.  She works with Primates throughout Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, trekking into the mountains every day to check on them.  She met Dian Fossey years ago in Kigali when the program was first started at Dian's request, and she came back to the US with the goal of getting her DVM.  She got some medical experience at her zoo where she had been a keeper and then applied and was accepted at MGVP.  Dr. Jan met Dian Fossey just before she was murdered and she said Dian was quite a person.  I would loved to have met Dian.  Gosh, I admire her strength and courage.  Many felt she was a bit crazy/mean, but you have to be to do what she did (especially in Africa) and she single-handedly saved the Mountain Gorillas.

The guides:
The first sighting: 
A Golden Monkey: 
 The Land of a Thousand Hills:
 A Mountain Gorilla Family - notice the baby in the middle:

Sharon added the following:
Got into Rwanda late in the day and headed to our first lodge.  The weather was hot like Houston and there is no A/C anywhere in Rwanda (not even the airport - you have to walk out onto the tarmac to board your plane).  Not much hot water either.  Not complaining - it's just a fact of life.  You have to be careful what you eat and drink, and you have to use bottled water to brush your teeth.  That's hard to remember to do. 
 
The weather was a bit cooler once we got into the mountains.  Not much though.  You must have a permit ($500 per permit) each time you want to trek into the mountains.  This pays for former poachers to track the Gorillas plus guides and porters to take you.  It's a great way to save the Gorillas.  There is a national park where the Gorillas are - Volcanoes National Park.  Those wanting to trek met at the Trekking Station early in the morning and we were assigned to a guide (Mr. Edward who was wonderful).  We then walked about 2-3 miles to the base of the mountain.  I saw the Sabyinyo Group whose Silverback is the largest and oldest of all the Gorilla groups.  He is magnificent!  In my photos that I sent you.  Once at the base of the mountain the guide radioed to the trackers to find out where our group was and we then started climbing.  I asked for an easy group - one that had been spotted low in the mountains.  When we reached where they were - guess what - they had just moved to another spot.  Straight up the mountain.  At least it seemed straight up to me.  Very steep with mud and nettles.  When I went to see the Golden Monkey on Friday it was pretty much the same thing except the GMs were further up a different mountain so the climb was longer but not as steep.  I like the GMs as much as I did seeing the Mountain Gorillas.
 
Dian Fossey was murdered in her camp high in the mountains.  Most feel it was the government that had her murdered.  They wanted to sell the Gorillas to zoos all over the world and she fought them tooth and nail.  They wanted to come in and start capturing them until all were gone.  After she was killed, the government said it was poachers (and it may have been), but circumstances did not point to that.  Her murder was never solved.  The government didn't care to investigate.  She went to the world animal community to keep them from taking the Gorillas.  They wanted to make money and get rid of her because of the illegal charcoal trade. 
 
It is hard to believe one person can do so much but they can.  There is a woman in Namibia who has done the same thing with Cheetahs.  Dr. Laurie Marker.  I've applied to volunteer at her facility in Namibia next year and just received permission to do so.  You have to provide all kinds of references and fill out a three page questionnaire (and pay for your trip over and expenses).  You have to be serious to be accepted.  I would love to stay with her group and do work like that for an extended period of time but I can't retire yet.
 
The most amazing thing about Rwanda is how the people have bounced back from the Genocide.  They are still struggling but doing very well in my opinion.  We had two drivers who stayed with us the entire time - Paul and Francis.  At the time of the Genocide Paul was away at boarding school (his family saved enough to send him off for an education so that he could come back and help the family out) and his entire family was killed (mother, father, brothers).  Francis' family fled to Uganda and still live there.  He travels back and forth to do the tour work (guides make excellent money and he supports his entire family).  Guides must speak at least 6 languages and go to school before becoming a guide.   
 
The country is beautiful.  It's called the land of a thousand hills.  Very tall hills.  Mountains - not hills.  The people take pride in their country and you do not see trash anywhere.  Plastic grocery bags are illegal.  One person in my group took one out of her bag and she was told to put it away immediately.  They will arrest you - they don't care who you are.  The first Saturday of every month each person must clean their area.  So when you drive around it is spotless.  Even the dirt is neat and tidy. 

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Fuschia Cashmere Cowl for Winter - Yummy!

In my never ending quest to own all the cashmere yarn (and all the silk fabric) in the world, I bought several more lots of recycled cashmere from an eBay vendor. I absolutely love this stuff. Everything I bought was either pure cashmere or a cashmere/silk blend. It arrived in two days and could not be prettier. The new must-have knitted item is the cowl which is much like a lace scarf only knit in a tube so it can be worn conveniently around the neck and then pulled up over the head too.


I started with some 100% cashmere in the loveliest shade of fuschia. It was originally a Banana Republic sweater but is now well on its way to becoming a lovely, lacy cowl. In the picture below you can see how much of this pretty yarn there is. I'm working two strands together on size 5 needles.
 I started out by casting on 170 stitches and working 10 repeats of 17 stitches in Old Shale. The advantage of doing this for the end of the cowl that will go around your face is that Old Shale used this way creates a naturally elastic border. After 5 repeats of Old Shale I switched to a combination of Horseshoe Lace and my favorite Trellis lace.
 My intention is to naturally transition this pattern into Madiera Lace which will require the addition of a few stitches per pattern repeat and, because Madiera Lace is much "lacier" it will fan out more to fit over the shoulders.
You can see here how it is progressing. It is a beautiful piece and is working up really fast. I love the design and it is so deliciously soft it is just amazing. I plan to make another one from the violet cashmere I got in a different lace combination.


So that's what is going on in my knitting world. As the days get colder these lovely, lacy, super warm cashmere cowls will certainly come in handy.


Thank for reading.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Knit To End Homelessness - November 7

On November 7 the annual Knit-A-Thon to benefit Pine Street Inn will be held at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. The goal this year is $50,000. Among the prizes awarded during the event are copies of my two Mermaid books: The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls Cocoons & Wraps, a collection of original knitwear designs, and The Old Mermaid's Tale: A Romance of the Great Lakes, the perfect novel to read while wrapped in your mermaid shawl.Visit http://www.knit-a-thon.org/ for more information.




Ending Homelessness, One Stitch At A Time!


Thanks for reading.

Review: Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice

I once heard a story about Satan that I have never forgotten. In the beginning God created the Angels and then He created Man. As God was contemplating His newest creation He called all of His Angels together and He said that He had a problem: He had decided to give this new creation a gift called “free will” and this free will would be completely under the control of every Man but, the problem was that there would be no reason for Man not to remain good and completely devoted to God just as the Angels were. So, God concluded, He wanted one of the Angels to volunteer to act as a sort of testing agent who would tempt Man away from goodness and do his best to turn Man against God. This was important, He said, because without genuine temptation Man would have no reason to test his free will.

The Angels were upset by this and declared, one after the other, that they could not do it. The Angel Michael said, “God, I cannot do what you ask, it would be too painful to try to make Man turn against you. I cannot do this because I love you so much.” And then Satan spoke up and said, “God, I do not want to do what you ask because it is true, it would be painful to try to make Man turn against you. But I will do this for you because I love you so much.”

I thought about this story a lot as I was reading Anne Rice's 1997 addition to her Vampire Chronicles series, Memnoch the Devil. Her choice to write this story as a novel is a bit challenging but, as I've written before, a novelist has a right to tell their story however they choose to, so why not? The story opens with Lestat, the most flamboyant and beguiling of Rice's vampires, hot on the trail of a drug dealer and collector of religious art whose daughter is a well-known and genuine televangelist. In the course of stalking his prey Lestat becomes aware that he is, in turn, being stalked by a creature who turns out to be Memnoch, a creature who rejects the title “devil' and yet ultimately identifies himself as such. From this point on the novel is mostly a long monologue by Memnoch with occasional input from Lestat. Memnoch recounts for Lestat the history of Creation, of his own quarrels with God and how he wound up in the position he is in. The story is a tour de force of ideas assembled from a number of religious traditions, legends and mythologies with a fair amount of the author's own creativity and, because I love stories and am a great fan of the suspension of disbelief, I found Memnoch's tale engrossing. At times I felt like Lestat's occasional interruptions to remind the reader he is there were annoying but, on the other hand, it was kind of fun to see Lestat in the grip of a personality bigger and more audacious than himself.

Basically, Memnoch's story is that he found God to be aloof, cold, insensitive and unaware of how fragile and vulnerable his creation, Man, was. Memnoch pleads with God to be more compassionate toward this fragile creature and more sensitive to his suffering. God counters by saying He will prove to man how much He loves him by sending His Son to suffer as man does. Memnoch objects saying that the only way that will prove anything is if Jesus does not endure his passion as God – he must endure it unaware of his divinity. Thus begins the great conflict that has kept humankind guessing – if there really is a God, why is He such a meanie?

I read this book shortly after Ms. Rice made her very spectacular and much discussed break with Christianity “in the name of Christ”. Since the book was written before her return to Catholicism and I read it after her departure, I couldn't help but think maybe this story was more closely aligned with her own core beliefs than those books she wrote while she was a practicing Catholic. Since I have engaged in discussion with Ms. Rice on Amazon forums I have come to the conclusion that, whether or not I agree with her, I believe she did what she honestly feels is the right thing to do. Much like Memnoch, she has chosen to exercise her free will and follow a path that puts her in a position she might not have expected but which she finds allows her to follow her conscience.

Memnoch the Devil is not for everyone. It does not follow the classic form of traditional novels and, if you are looking for gorgeous but naughty “bad boy” vampires in crushed velvet and vintage lace you won't find them here (well, not much – Lestat manages to hang on to his violet eye glasses, if not both of his eyeballs). But if you have a sense of adventure and can let go of your disbelief there is plenty to think about. There is one delicious scene in a New York bar during a snowstorm in which Lestat has a long conversation with the ghost of a man he just killed that is so fabulous it deserves its own book.

Will Catholics/Christians find this book heretical or offensive? Just keep reminding yourself, if you can, it's just a story, it's just a story, it's just a story...

Thanks for reading. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Irresistible Flavors

Since I've been experimenting with my latest obsession, making risotto in the crockpot, I started thinking about flavors that one finds utterly irresistible and then imagining whether they could be used for a risotto. Over the weekend I was online looking for spices that I wanted for creations I have planned and I began thinking about why some flavors are just so irresistible, why they have such appeal. I'm sure everyone has their own list -- and I'm willing to bet chocolate is on a lot of them but aside from chocolate this is mine.


#1 (with a Bullet!) - Maple Syrup!
 I don't know what it is about the flavor of maple but I think I love it more than chocolate! In recent years, since I'm trying to keep the carbs down, I don't often indulge in real, pure maple syrup but I've found I can get my maple fix by purchasing a good quality organic maple flavoring (Wild Harvest makes a great one) which can be stirred in to apple sauce or added to ricotta cheese with a little stevia powder and raisins for luscious maple pudding. Celestial Seasonings makes a delicious Vanilla-Maple Tea that is maple-rich. But every now and then drizzling some real, first quality maple syrup over fruit or a piping hot buttermilk biscuit can send me into Maple Heaven. Mmmmmmm - maple!


#2 - Passionfruit
The first time I ever tasted one of these homely little fruits was in a Mexican marketplace. We were having lunch and they served us a tiny little flan-like custard floating in the most succulent sauce. When I asked how it was made they told me it was a blend of passionfruit and mangoes pureed together. Thus began a  lifelong romance. The actual fruit can be hard to find outside of urban areas but the syrups and concentrates can be found in South American markets or the ethnic food section of many grocery stores. Passionfruit iced tea has become an obsession. The puree can be added to fruit salads, made into succulent mousse and for the treat to end all treats add some puree to a fresh peach pie or crisp. Lusicous!


#3 - Chicory (with Coffee)
Well, the only way I've ever had chicory is in coffee but that's good enough for me. When I lived in the south every restaurant and market had coffee with chicory. To me nothing smells better on a cold winter morning than hot coffee and if there is chicory added it is so much better. Recently I discovered the local Market Basket carries French Market Coffee with Chicory and I buy 3 or 4 cans at a time. Can't start the day without it.


#4 - Black Truffles
 Again, the first time I ever tasted the exotic, thoroughly addictive flavor of black truffles was in an Italian restaurant where they served fresh pasta flavored with olive oil, garlic, shaved black truffles, and asiago cheese. That is still my favorite way to have it even though I'm not a pasta lover. Now I buy the powdered truffles and add a spoonful to crockpot risotto - with some garlic and shaved asiago cheese. Delicious. Also amazing with scrambled eggs!


#5 - Smoked Paprika
Once you start using Smoked Paprika the addiction takes hold and it is powerful. Put it in chili, pasta sauce, sprinkle it over steamed cauliflower or mashed potatoes. Try it on sweet potato french fries or a hamburger or scrambled eggs. Luckily it is cheap and easy to find. Delicious. 


#6 - Hazelnuts
I am generally not a nut lover but hazelnuts have such a distinctive taste I make an exception. If you can find hazelnut butter (which you can online) you'll find many uses for it. The chunky is the best and is ideal for tossing with pasta or adding to a risotto. Hazelnut coffee is second only to chicory. Chopped hazelnuts add a delicious taste to chopped salads and hot veggie dishes. Try them in a squash casserole.


So there are some cooking ideas for fall that use some delicious flavors. I'm sure you have a list of your own.


Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Corn + Cashmere = COMFORT on Knitting Day!

Today was knitting group day, my favorite Saturday of the month  during the off-season here on Cape Ann. And I especially love our October knitting meeting because the house we meet at is in such a gorgeous location -- on Brier Neck here in Gloucester overlooking Thacher Island with brilliantly colored leaves at this time of year. Brier Neck is just one gigantic rock with lots of nooks and crannies and twists and turns all decorated with blazing red creeping myrtle, sultry purple asters, wispy golden ferns. It is always a delight but in October even more so.


I recently went on another yarn buying binge on eBay. I found a new vendor who sells recycled (reclaimed) luxury yarns, almost all cashmere and silk. I bought several large lots in either 100% cashmere or a cashmere silk blend. Now that I am getting old and my hands are so arthritic I find working with fine, lightweight yarns is much easier on them than using heavier weight yarns. So I now have some gorgeous fiber to choose from. There is a lot of pure cashmere in lilac and another in pinkish-lavender which I think I will double strand using one strand of each. The second is a lot of black cashmere (what is more luxurious than black cashmere?) and another lot of black silk/cashmere so I think those two will be worked together, too. The last is a good sized lot of pure cashmere in the prettiest shade of red-violet. I'm knitting a lace cowl with two strands and it is just gorgeous so far.


So, I went off to Knitting Day with my cashmere lace cowl to work on and a big pot of hot saffron and sweet corn risotto. Let me tell you, this was one of the best risottos I've ever made. I did it in the crockpot and it was luscious.


Saffron-Corn Risotto
In a frying pan melt 2 T. butter and saute a medium onion, chopped fine in it. Add a healthy pinch of saffron and blend well. When onion is translucent stir in one cup of arborrio rice and saute until the rice is well-coated and turning opaque. Transfer to crockpot.


Add 1 can evaporated milk and 2 c. chicken stock. Cover and cook on High for an hour and a half. 


Add 2 c. fresh sweet corn (or frozen) and more stock if needed. Cover and cook for another hour. If mixture is very thick and sticky add milk and stir until mixture begins to thin. Let cook on low for another half hour. Stir in 1/2 c. good quality parmeggiano-romano cheese.


Serve hot with more cheese.


And there you have the recipe for a perfect day of comfort: color+cashmere+corn = Bliss.


Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Woman vs. Squirrels

I've mentioned before about my recently acquired romance with my back porch. Even though I've lived here for over ten years I never really used my back porch all that much but this year I fell in love with it and try to spend as much time as possible out there reading. I've read a lot of books out there in the past few months. Now that it is getting colder I still go out but for shorter periods of time. Mostly because I've developed a new fascination, tormenting squirrels.

Last week I bought a bag of peanuts. Peanuts, for anyone who doesn't know, are Squirrel Crack – they will risk almost anything for a peanut. There are three squirrels that I see regularly in the cemetery behind my house and they really are fun to watch. One of them, I call him Bold Guy, comes right up on the porch and sits there looking at me like “got food?” So, really, I bought the peanuts for him. Over the past week I've gotten a ridiculous amount of entertainment out of watching these three. The other two, Shy Guy and Girlie Squirrel, aren't quite as bold but all of them have figured out that when I am on the porch peanuts are immanent.

Girlie Squirrel is the most bashful. I don't know if she really is a girl but she's very cute and fluffier than the other two and she won't come as close but hangs back in the clump of purple asters at the edge of the cemetery and darts away with only slight provocation. So, because I'm a soft touch, I'll throw her peanuts to her and she grabs it, scurries off and I won't see her again for quite awhile. Mostly she lurks around in the vines overhanging the vaults set into the side of the hill at the back of the cemetery. Shy Guy is a little braver than Girlie Squirrel. He'll come out of the bushes and pace around on the ground below where he knows I am. Sometimes he even sits up and looks at me to see if I've noticed he's there. I drop a peanut down for him and he scuttles into the purple asters and gobbles it down and returns within minutes for the next one. He can usually be counted on to go through the most peanuts in any session.

But Bold Guy is a riot. He comes scampering up the steps onto the porch and will sit there looking right at me until I roll a peanut toward him. He snatches it up and takes off. There is a fallen tree at the edge of the cemetery, sun-bleached and moss-covered and that is his favorite place to dine. Of course, since this has been going on for a week now some of the blue jays have tried to get in on the action. This generally causes quite a commotion and Bold Guy and Shy Guy are not above scurrying up the trees and jabbering at the jays at the top of their little squirrely lungs.

The other day I came out – with peanuts – and, much to my surprise, my three little friends didn't come running like they usually do. In fact, the whole cemetery was dead still – no squirrels, no blue jays, the little Carolina Wrens I love so much were nowhere to be seen. Then I spotted the reason, one of the peregrine falcons that lives in the City Hall Clock Tower just three blocks up the street was perched on a low branch no doubt looking for lunch. Finally, he soared off, so beautiful, and, within minutes, the squirrels crept out of their hiding places.

It's really quite amusing. Partly I think it's ridiculous to be this entertained by some squirrels but, on the other hand, why not? They have such unique personalities it is hard to resist them. When the feral cats are around the squirrels stay in the trees. One day I couldn't get rid of the cats so I left a handful of peanuts on the porch rail and a few minutes after I came inside it sounded like there was a stampede on the porch. Guess the cats left.

A couple days ago I was sitting here at my desk working when I heard the familiar squirrel jabbering that usually means “get out of here, bad cats, and bad blue jays” but this was much closer. I looked up and there was Bold Guy sitting right outside the window by my desk flicking his tail and jabbering. I was working late and I guess it was past his feeding time. He was not pleased. I put up with a lot in life but getting yelled at by a squirrel is a bit tough to take.

So, well, I guess I'll just keep stocking peanuts and feeding my little friends, fattening them up for winter – or the falcon...

Thanks for reading.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mmmmmm, Sweet Pumpkin Risotto, Crockpot-style

Ever since I learned how to make risotto in a crockpot, I've been a risotto addict. There are lots and lots of recipes for pumpkin and squash risottos but I wanted to make a sweet/spicy one and it turned out sooo good! This is how I did it:

  1. In a frying pan melt 1 tablespoon butter and add 1 c. arborio rice. Heat in the melted butter until all the rice is nicely coated and is turning opaque. The quality of your risotto will be directly proportional to the quality of rice you use. It's worth it to buy good quality arborio rice.
  2. Scrape the rice into a crockpot that has been sprayed with butter-flavored cooking spray. Add 2 ½ c. apple cider (or apple juice), ½ c. golden raisins, 1 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Cover and cook on high for an hour checking once in awhile to see if you need more liquid.
  3. Add 1 c. mashed pumpkin (either fresh or canned), 1 can evaporated milk, and ½ c. honey. I added another tsp. of cinnamon because I like lots of cinnamon but you can or not, depending on your taste. Cover and cook for another hour. Check to make sure liquid is being absorbed. Stir well, lower heat to Low and let cook another hour.
That's it. It makes a delicious, pumpkin pie-like risotto that can be served as dessert and which makes an excellent breakfast. Serve hot or cold, with or without milk. Next time I make it I'm going to add a cup of fresh cranberries when I add the pumpkin.

Delicious. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quick Easy Hair Ornaments for Gifts, Part 2

To get started on your hair ornaments you cut the Polar Fleece to the length and twice the width of the hairclip you want to use. the one here is a straight clip unlike the circular ones in the previous blog but either one works. Wrap the fleece around the clip under the tension bar and stitch in place. It doesn't matter if you aren't the neatest hand sewer, the thread will blend in. But make sure you secure the fleece by stitching 3 or 4 times through the holes at either end of the clip.
 Here I've selected the beads I want to use for this clip. I picked 7 aurora borealis crystals, also from Fire Mountain Gems, in a dark color. The beads are 12mm so the hole in them is quite large and they can be stitched with a regular sewing needle.
Stitch through each bead 3 or 4 times with a double strand of thread and pull it securely. I found stitching them on with the hole perpendicular to the barrette worked best. 
 Next we are going to add some tiny seed beads. These are too fine for a needle to go through so a beading needle is used. I've discovered these wonderful beading needles that an be purchased from most bead dealers. As you can see in the photo below, they are very, very fine but the "eye" runs almost the length of the needle so, by bending the needle slightly, you can pop it open, slip the thread in and then pull it up tight to the top to secure it. This is so much easier than trying to get a thread through a teeny, tiny eye. I recommend waxing the thread well to help eliminate tangling and strengthen the thread. 
In the picture below you can see some of the beads I had to choose from for the accent. The black package in the center shows an assortment of the large eye beading needles I used. I got this package for $5.99 on eBay. Just search for "wide eye needles". 
So I decided to use the little pink iridescent beads. I stitched one in between the bigger beads on either side of the barrette. 
And here you have the finished barrette. The focus is pretty bad but the barrette is lovely and cost under $5 total. These make awfully nice gifts for anyone on your list whose hair is long enough to accommodate a barrette. 
Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Mermaid Shawl is now on Kindle!

My book of knitted lace shawl patterns, The Mermaid Shawl and other Beauties, is now available for Kindle through Amazon.com! This book, which was published in March 2009, has done very, very well in both paperback and PDF download - it amazes me and makes me so happy. I thank each and every person who purchased it for your support. Now you can buy it for your Kindle.


The book has been in the Top Ten of lace knitting books on Amazon on and off for a year and a half. Thanks again for buying it!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Some Quick Easy Very cool Hair Ornaments for Gifts, Part 1

I posted before some hair ornaments I made using metal barrettes with fabric bows attached to them. So then I decided I wanted to try making some with beads. I think these are quite attractive and, with a small initial investment in the bases and a few notions, you can make a bunch of them in a short period of time. They make great gifts for all the girls of all ages with long hair on your list.


The first one I made was on a plastic comb I just happened to have. I wrapped some scraps of black Polar Fleece around the comb and then with a needle and thread stitched on some crystal beads I had left over from an earlier project.
 This is a lovely, easy way to make a quick French twist. Just insert the teeth of the comb into your hair, twist it around and tuck it in securely. You can see in the photo below how this works.
 This is a simple metal clasp that I wrapped with Polar Fleece, stitched it in place and sewed on six 12mm aurora borealis crystals from Fire Mountain Gems. It took less than half an hour and it makes a great ponytail barrette:
You can see in the picture below two of these barrettes. I discovered that Polar fleece is the secret. A half yard of Polar Fleece will cost about $5 and you can make dozens of these with it. What makes it great is you don't have to worry about it unraveling and it is cushy and soft to stitch things to:
Here are a few of the supplies you'll need: thread, scissors, sewing wax (to keep thread from tangling and give it strength), and a few of the metal barrettes before they are decorated. I bought a dozen of the metal forms on eBay for $4. The beeswax cake is a staple in my sewing box and costs about $3 in most fabric stores.  
 So tomorrow I'll show you the other notions that make these easy to whip together and a step by step look at how it works.


Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 08, 2010

You're Beautiful: An Act of Unselfishness

One of the delights of the internet is that you can entertain yourself endlessly with all kinds of peculiar things that people somewhere invent and put online for others to enjoy. I remember once finding a little program where you could pop virtual bubblewrap which completely cracked me up and caused me to waste hours just popping bubbles. My sister just told me when she really needs mindless entertainment she plays FreeCell and listens to old rock music videos. I was tickled by Warren Buffet's recent revelation that he is a YouTube addict who can spend hours watching old “Rat Pack” videos – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. etc.

One of my favorite things on YouTube is “fan vids” - videos that people make to express their admiration for all kinds of folks -from the sublime to the ridiculous. I've watched a lot of them, mostly made for actors or other performers that I happen to fancy myself – Timothy Dalton, Gabriel Byrne, Adrien Brody, Angel Corella. One of my very favorites is a fan vid someone made based on the Masterpiece Theater production of Daphne DuMaurier's Frenchman's Creek. I loved that production and this video is like the whole thing in a few minutes. Man, oh, man, can Anthony Delon smolder or what?

I love to think about the people who made these. I imagine them sitting at their computers searching the internet for the very, very best pictures and clips of their subject, selecting perfect music, assembling the visuals and adding the effects, so much work all in honor of someone who floats their boat. It's sweet really. In its own way it is an art-form, especially the really well done ones, and I don't blame the video artists for being proud of their work and wanting to share it with the world. Judging from the comments a lot of them get, their work is much appreciated. It's beautiful when you think about it.

Recently, however I discovered a fan vid that really captured my imagination. It was in honor of one of the most unlikely people one might imagine, a priest. Not just a priest but the Pope's secretary Monsignor Georg Gänswein. Now, I'm the first to admit that Msgr. Gänswein is a very handsome man and, as we used to say in Catholic school, a candidate for Father Whatawaste, but, by all accounts, he is a man of impeccable character and devotion. So the idea that someone made a fan vid about him sort of surprised me. And yet I watched it several times trying to decide what was captivating me. I finally got it – it's the song the video-maker used, James Blunt's “You're Beautiful”.

It's a lovely song about a man who sees a woman on a subway and is completely smitten by her beauty. In the song he says he knows he will never see her again, that he cannot have her, but he knows she belongs to someone else and, therefore he will never be with her. The song is, to me,an acknowledgment, that some of the most beautiful and memorable experiences in our lives are also the most fleeting.

My last novel, Each Angel Burns, had as a main character a beautiful and highly desirable priest who happened to love God more than he loved the woman who loved him. My Father Black chose God because, the way his heart and soul were made, he could not divide his love. As I was watching the video for the third time I realized that the person who made the video understood that. All the pictures of Msgr. Gänswein selected for the video show this beautiful man doing the work he has chosen to do and, in the final lines of the song, when the singer concludes “You're beautiful but I'll never be with you” is a photo of Msgr. Gänswein bending to kiss the feet of Christ on the Cross. It touched me so deeply and I thought this video is a lovely, spiritual recognition of this beautiful man's choice. It is a video of praise and unselfishness – and I found that so sweet. The person who made the video is to be commended.



Thanks for reading.

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