Thursday, January 31, 2013

Morning porridge

"Into these bowls, Mrs Squeers, assisted by the hungry servant, poured a brown composition, which looked like diluted pincushions without the covers, and was called porridge." -- The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Charles Dickens

It's a blustery morning here outside Boston, and although the wind gusts are warm, the gray, wet weather calls for a bowl of hot porridge.


We typically think of porridge being a oats-based cereal, but most any hot grain cereal can be considered "porridge." When I was a child and teenager, I remember reading novels where children were forced to choke down their morning porridge, a horrid cold, gray slop. I never made the connection that this dish was the same one I ate most mornings, whether it was the Cream of Wheat or Cream of Rice that my maternal grandmother cooked for us, or the packets of instant oatmeal flavored with apples and cinnamon I'd eat on the run. Hot cereal was always my favorite breakfast, and forty years later, it still is.

I'm the only one in our household who loves starting the day with a bowl of hot porridge. My son won't touch it, maybe because I pointed out to him he shares the same name as a wide-eyed urchin who had the courage to ask for another bowl of porridge. (Actually, poor Oliver wanted more gruel, which is a thin, watery porridge.) My favorite grain for porridge is Bob's Red Mill 8-Grain Cereal. It's not gluten-free, but it is free of wheat, a grain my digestive system struggles with. It consists of ground corn, oats, brown rice, soy beans, oat bran, millet, sorghum, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed.


Here's how I make it. I bring one cup of water and a pinch of salt to boil. I add 1/4 cup cereal and turn the heat down to low, stirring frequently so the cereal doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. If it looks like it's getting too thick, I add some hot water and keep stirring. I like my porridge with a bit of chew, so after about four or five minutes of cooking, I start tasting it. When it's to my liking, I scrape the cereal into a large bowl and the fun begins.

Since porridge is rather bland, it marries well with flavorful toppings. My usual additions are a handful of slivered almonds, a handful of frozen wild blueberries, a teaspoon of coconut oil (esp. in winter!), and a good slosh of maple syrup. Then I top with a bit of milk, mix it all together, then enjoy my porridge while reading my favorite blogs. Not only is this a pleasant ritual, eating porridge every morning powers me through to the afternoon -- I get a quick burst of energy from the carbs and sugars, then more steady energy from the fats and proteins in the nuts, coconut oil, and milk. When I skip my porridge routine, I feel it for the rest of the day.

Are you fan of hot cereals? How do you make yours?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Candide aran cardigan update

Candide Aran

My gift knitting knocked me off schedule, but last week I picked up my Candide aran cardigan and returned to selfish stitching. I started off with a goal of knitting three rows a day, but this weekend I camped out on the sofa and got a great deal done on it.

Candide Aran

Last night I reached the back armholes, so I've been working out how to decrease on seed stitch. I'm fudging it but it all seems to be working out okay. When I look at the panel in good light, I can see how my knitting has improved. For example, the seed stitch near the ribbing has some holes from uneven tension, but near the top my tension is steady so the fabric is nice and even. Then I have the problem of loose knit stitches before a purl stitch, which is very noticeable on cables (and which research tells me will even out after blocking, but still). I learned a trick that helps tighten that wonky stitch; knit the stich, then instead of wrapping the yarn counter-clockwise over the needle for your next purl stitch, you wrap it the other way -- clockwise -- and purl as usual (although I give the stitch on the needle a bit of a tug before purling to tighten up the yarn). When you're knitting the next row, you knit this stitch through the back loop (the stitch becomes incorrectly mounted because of the weird wrap) or orient the mounted stitch correctly before knitting it as usual. And voila! A better looking cable.

My next challenge is to improve the look of my bobbles. They have a bit of a divot, which kind of annoys me, especially when I look at the nicely rounded bobbles on the pattern's Ravelry page. But at least I don't have big holes around the bobble, which I've seen in other knitting, so maybe I should shut up and live with the divots.

Lastly, I do have to say I love my honeycomb stitches. I used to hate this part of the pattern when I was relying on a cable needle, but now that I've taught myself to cable without a needle, I love knitting this panel the most.

In other news ... I read on Deb Robson's blog last week that there's a Kickstarter campaign to help Penny Straker put her classic New England knitting patterns in digital form. I just checked back today (to put in my own funds!) and I noticed that the campaign was well over its $2700 goal with a month to go. Yay knitters! For some reason, I can't get the Amazon Payment thing to work, but it might be a problem with Chrome. Anyway ... I have a box full of Straker patterns, nearly all of them, in fact, but I'm still happy to see they're going to be available in digital format for generations to come.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to dress for the cold

Yesterday I had errands in town, so I decided to leave the house shortly before noon and after things warmed up:

Weds_Jan23_weatherI took this screen shot around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday -- it was actually 12 degrees Fahrenheit or -11 Celsius when I left the house. Brrrr!

With temps like these, biking is out of the question. A 4-mile walk is also a little insane, but the bike trail was clear of snow, the sun was shining, and I like to think I know how to dress for the elements  after living in New England for nearly a half century.

Before I got dressed, I put some body oil all over my legs and arms and some heavy-duty cream on my face and hands to prevent the flakes. Besides my standard-issue undergarments, I wore:

  • a pair of long silk underwear underneath heavy denim jeans

  • a cotton turtleneck

  • a lightweight fleece pullover

  • a toasty-warm zip-up alpaca cardigan I bought in Northampton, MA, home to WEBS. (The irony's not lost on me either.)

  • a mohair and wool full-length coat

  • a bulky wool cowl (handknit) around my neck and tucked into my coat

  • a fleece balaclava layered with an additional wool slouch hat (handknit)

  • one pair wool socks (handknit)

  • my running shoes

  • and a pair of felted wool mittens (handknit and hand felted)

I'm sure I looked a sight.

It was brutally cold but I felt impervious to it. At one point the backs of my calves got a little chilled and the tips of my toes weren't as warm as the rest of my feet, but I was never uncomfortable.  By the time I arrived at the bank I was actually hot -- too warm, in fact, to walk next door to Starbucks for the small cup of hot chocolate I'd promised myself for undertaking the long, arduous walk. :-)

I've knit a half-dozen pair of mittens over the last year for myself. I will not go outside on a cold day without my hands covered because once my fingers and toes are cold, it takes all day to warm them up again. My felted mittens are by far the warmest mittens I've ever worn, even warmer than the $60 ski gloves I bought many years ago and the thrummed mittens I knit this fall.* They're completely windproof, and they can contain my body heat without making my hands feel all clammy and sweaty. Yay natural fibers! They're not the most attractive knitted items I own, but I've had people around town stop me and ask, "Did you make those? I'll bet they're warm."


I'm still chugging away on my aran sweater, but I'm antsy for a quick project on the side. Maybe another pair of felted mittens?

* I suspect the thrummed mitts I made suffer from insufficient and/or inconsistent thrumming of fleece.

My long-lost Scottish grandfather

Before O was born I got sucked into researching my family, thanks to my mother, who used to spend her weekends researching our Norwegian ancestors at the LDS library near her home in Connecticut. Since my mother's side of the family was covered, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about my father's family. When I was in my early teens, my paternal grandmother shared many stories about her childhood, replete with servants and one nanny whom she adored. She had some framed photographs of my great-grandmother, a beautiful blonde-haired society girl named Lulu. One of the photos was of Lulu's enormous wedding party, dressed in their Edwardian finery. It was definitely not a budget affair.

While certainly not poor when I knew her, my grandmother wasn't living with servants like she did as a child, so once I asked what happened to all the money. The distant look in her face faded away and she said, "My father lost it all." She seemed annoyed by my question, so I dropped it. Knowing that my grandmother was born in 1918, I assumed the family fortune disappeared in the Market Crash of 1929. Further questioning on my part was fruitless. No one in the family wanted to talk about my grandmother's father; my own father knew very little and, in fact, had never met him. All he could offer was that his grandfather had died "downstate." My father is a Vermonter, so anything south of him is "downstate," including Brattleboro, the Everglades, and South America.

I got a few more clues from my great aunt and great uncle in the late 1990s. My great-grandfather's name was John "Jack" Forrest and he'd worked as an executive for Remington Typewriter. That was enough to get me started. I eventually found out his full name was John Prescott Forrest, and he was the youngest child of a prominent Canadian minister and scholar, the Reverend John Forrest. Rev. Forrest was president of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served until shortly before his death in 1920. His wife, Annie Prescott Duff, had come from an equally prominent Canadian family; her father, William Duff, was a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister like her husband.

The only thing I knew about Reverend Forrest's parentage was that his father, Alexander Forrest, was an M.D./surgeon and Scottish immigrant. Back in the late 1990s and early 00s, I spent hours scouring microfiche and computer screens at the New England Historic Genealogical Society searching for info on Dr. Forrest, but to no avail. The older members of my family were interested in my research and gave me as many clues as they could, but eventually I had to put the research aside and focus on other projects -- one being the birth of my son in 2001. Since then, my great aunt and great uncle passed away, taking with them any last clues. Or so I thought ...

Fast forward to last week. Every now and then I type my gr-gr-grandfather's name into Google to see what pops up. I was surprised when one of the top hits was a blog that had mentioned his name. My mouth just about dropped open when I started reading the blog and figured out that one of my cousins, C--, had gotten into genealogy and done an enormous amount of research on the family. I quickly added a comment to one of the blog posts and within minutes he e-mailed me.

If you're at all interested in the Forrest family of Halifax, Nova Scotia, I urge you to check out C--'s well-researched blog -- I don't want to repeat what he's written there. Today I just want to talk about my gr-gr-gr-grandfather Alexander Forrest, the Scottish surgeon.

[caption id="attachment_2191" align="alignleft" width="191"]Dr. Alexander Forrest, 1870, courtesy of CThomas Dr. Alexander Forrest, 1870, courtesy of CThomas[/caption]

Some months ago I blogged about a movie called Burke and Hare starring Simon Pegg, a film based on the true story of two Irish graverobbers who murdered and sold their victims' bodies to the medical school at the University of Edinburgh. (Cadavers were hard for doctors to obtain, so they often relied on unscrupulous sorts to get them the bodies they needed for dissection and study.) I speculated that Dr. Forrest was probably studying medicine in Scotland about the time of the West Port murders, although I suspected he studied in Glasgow. C's research confirmed that Dr. Forrest studied medicine at the University of Glasgow from 1823 to 1825. However, he then went on to study at the University of Edinburgh in 1826, and obtained  his medical license from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in December of 1827, the same year Burke and Hare started selling bodies to the University. Yikes, I was closer than I thought!

Dr. Forrest opened a private practice soon after graduation, and also served in the Royal Navy, before marrying my gr-gr-gr-grandmother Barbara Ross McKenzie (a Highlander!) and leaving Scotland for Nova Scotia around 1832.

It's fascinating to learn that my ancestors played parts in history. Now I have a (tenuous!) family connection to an unsavory crime that led to the 1832 Anatomy Act in Britain, which provided legal access to human cadavers for medical study. I have family who fought in the Revolutionary War, others who were chased out of Boston for being British sympathizers, a gr-gr-grandfather shot and killed by Irish nationalists, a cousin who was the American ambassador to Germany shortly before Hitler grabbed power (letters reveal he was not impressed with Adolf), and a gr-grandfather who was friends with Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

The stuff you find out just by digging around! I'm so happy to learn more about my Scottish ancestry, since I already know quite a bit about my British, Irish, and Scandinavian family. How about your family? Any historic connections or wild factoids?


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Car-less in Suburbia update

So ... I've passed the three-month mark of my car-less in suburbia experiment. By now, I figured I'd be missing my Subaru, but it hasn't happened, even with the holiday snow and bitterly cold weather that kept me off my bike. Even when I have use of my husband's car on the weekends, I tend to stay put (if it's bad weather) or use my bike or walk (weather permitting).

DH bought me some nice Christmas gifts for my biking -- a high-powered rechargeable headlamp that I can attach to my front handlebar, handy for when I'm biking down the trail after sunset, and LED clip lights I can attach to the spokes of my wheels, so that people can see me better from the side.

The only thing I really dislike about biking is being in traffic, a necessary evil for some trips. Bedford's a bike-friendly place, but inevitably I run into what I call "road hogs" -- ignorant drivers who think they own the road and that bicyclists should be up on the sidewalks. I wish states would require drivers to review the rules of the road when it's time for license renewal as so many drivers don't understand that bicyclists follow the same rules and are afforded the same rights. When I'm biking on a road with a left turning lane and I need to make that left turn, I have to get my bike over to that lane, making sure I'm not cutting off anyone in the right lane. (I'm equally peeved by bikers who do stupid things like dodge out into traffic.) Now and then I'll get someone behind me who starts honking as I wait to cross the oncoming traffic to make my turn. Very frustrating, not to mention startling. God forbid the extra ten seconds I need to cross keeps them from their morning stop at Dunkin Donuts.

OK, I'm whining. I'll stop. Really, it's all good. I love biking and I love love love the money I'm saving by not having a car. My insurance premium has dropped to $22 a month, I went from two or three fuel fill-ups a week to none at all, and there's no upkeep/maintenance bills to be paid. This weekend, DH and I discussed selling the Subaru and I'm about 90 percent there. He wanted me to think about buying a car for the summer -- we've got an 11-year-old with an active social life -- but I  want to stay car free until October 1. Not sure if I'll be able to get through another winter without a car, but by then I'll feel better/less guilty about buying a "new" car.

Speaking of which, here's what I've been drooling over ...


A Fiat 500. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know ... Fiat stands for "Fix It Again, Tony," but it's so sexy. And cute. I've always been a sucker for Italian design, what can I say?


Friday, January 11, 2013

New Duchess of Cambridge portait unveiled

and ...

Kate_portraitOh dear. What happened? Did the artist happen to catch her after she spent the night with her head down the loo? She looks drawn, tired, and much older than her 31 years.

The royal family says they're thrilled with the portrait, but I guess it's pretty hard at this point to ask for your money back.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Knitted hot water bottle cozy

Like a Victorian, I've taken to the habit of bringing a hot water bottle to bed with me at night:

Hot water bottle cosy - closeup

I used to feel a bit geriatric about this, but no longer. I read an article in the Financial Times by British architect Ben Pentreath that rather than going out in the winter, he'd much rather snuggle up in bed with a hot water bottle and watch The West Wing ... substitute Criminal Minds and that sounds like a good January evening to me! And recently author Jane Brocket blogged about not being able to go to bed without her hot water bottle warming her feet.

I detest electric blankets. First, the thought of falling asleep enveloped by a magnetic force field scares me. Second, around 2 a.m. I tend to heat up ... I know because I wake in the morning with my bedclothes strewn over the floor and blankets kicked off the bed, and an electric blanket is simply overkill. Third, I worry about those blankets catching on fire. Or leaving the house with the blanket on. Hot water bottles can be placed where they're needed -- on a sore back, near icy cold feet -- and there's no danger they'll fry my brain or other parts. (My only worry is that someday my son will jump on the bed and the hot water bottle will explode into the sheets.)

Last weekend I finally got around to knitting a cozy for one of my bottles. The hot water bottle can get quite hot against my skin without a buffer, plus wool is insulating and keeps the bottle warm all night long. I used a free pattern I found on Ravelry and modified it to accommodate the leftover yarn I had from one of my Christmas projects (to be blogged about later). This cozy is knit from the bottom up, which means it has to be seamed, so next time I'll knit it from the top down so I can graft the stitching at the bottom closed. The wool -- a dark olive -- is very drab, so the next cozy I make will be bright and pretty.

Hot water bottle cosy

Are you a fan of hot water bottles or do you associate them with cramps, Charles Dickens, and bruised knees?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Meyer lemon marmalade

From this:

chopped lemons for marmalade

to this:

lemon marmalade

The recipe is easy: chop up lemons finely. I used Meyer lemons, available only from November to early January. Remove as many seeds/pips as possible, as well as the thick membrane that runs down the center of the fruit. This is the messiest part of the job!

Measure the chopped fruit into a heavy saucepan and add the same amount of water. For example, if you get 3 cups of chopped fruit, add 3 cups of water. Bring mixture to a hard boil and cook for 25 to 30 minutes until peels are soft. Remove from heat. Measure out a like amount of sugar ... again, if you got three cups of chopped fruit, measure out three cups of sugar. Add sugar to pan and return to heat. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the marmalade thickens and sheets off the spoon instead of drips. If you use a thermometer, this can be around 217 - 222 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat immediately and spoon marmalade into clean jars. Refrigerate.

Now before you yell at me for not sterilizing my jars ... I get roughly four jars of marmalade from five lemons, all of which will be devoured by next week. Lemons are extremely acidic, which means they're a poor host for botulism, and I store my jars in the refrigerator. If you plan to give your marmalade away or store it for awhile, then I would advise you to consult with a proper preserve-making handbook.

Enjoy the fruits of January!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy 2013!

January skyOh how I love January.

I'm serious. The holidays are behind us, we haven't yet had enough snow where I'm sick of it, the days are getting longer, and the fresh new year teems with possibility. And then there's Maine shrimp, lots of delicious citrus for marmalade making, and it's still plenty cold enough so that no one blinks an eye should I cuddle up on the sofa with my knitting for an hour or two.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are looking forward to the new year, too.

I don't do formal resolutions, but I do think about things I want to do during the year. This year, I've decided that I want to read more. When I was younger, I was a voracious reader, but in the past couple years I've barely read anything beyond cookbooks, knitting books, and the occasional nonfiction title. This year I'm focusing on novel reading. My mother bought me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas, so it's the perfect vehicle for my goal of reading one classic novel each month in 2013. For January, it's Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, a novel I managed to avoid reading in high school and college. So far I'm enjoying it. (Anyone else think Dickens is funny? My husband is baffled as to why I would think this, since his recollection of Dickens' writing is of sheer torture.) And although February is a short month, I think I'm going to tackle the 1,000-plus pages of Alexandre Dumas's Les Miserables (en anglais, bien sûr), which I may have read when I was in high school, I forget.

I have a lot of other little goals for the year, but what I'm doing is making changes month-by-month. For example, I want to move more than I did in 2012, so in January, I've committed that I will walk at least 20 minutes a day, every day. When I break down big goals into easy monthly commitments, I'm more likely to meet with success.

I don't really have any knitting goals, except that I'd like to finish my aran sweater so I can wear it on St Patrick's Day. Knitting is just fun for me, so I don't like to tie it up in goals and production quotas, know what I mean?

How about you? Any resolutions for 2013?