Taking on too much

I was not knitting (or crocheting) much for quite some time but fortunately, I have gotten back into it.  This is good because (a) I enjoy it immensely and (b) it keeps my hands busy so I am less likely to snack while watching TV.  The problem is that I get excited about new projects then jump into them with both feet, buying materials and making plans even when I have a plethora of unfinished (or even unstarted) projects taking up space in my home and brain.

In the past two weeks, I have started one project in earnest and bought yarn for two more.  Additionally, I have a project on my spinning wheel along with several on crochet hooks or knitting needles strewn about my apartment.  I know for sure that I have at least the following:

  • a beaded lace shawl which has been in progress for years
  • a double-knit scarf that has one direwolf head knit so far
  • most of a bunny in various scattered pieces
  • the legs and tummy of a sky bison whose back I could not figure out
  • a doll sweater that is unfinished because I ran out of yarn, leaving the sleeves on DPNs and a stitch holder
  • a colorful cotton blanket meant as a wedding present for my cousin who got married three years ago
  • A sweater that I started at least five years ago for which the body is complete but I have started and lost the sleeves no fewer than three times
  • A pair of fair isle mittens that I haven’t touched in probably ten years

There may well be more, but those are the ones that occur to me.  I don’t even want to think about the multiple quilts, dresses, pillowcases, and curtains worth of fabric I have bought and done nothing with for a long time now.

Anyway, all of these piles and shelves and boxes of shame do not keep me from making new plans.  I decided recently that I want a Captain Marvel sweater.  After spending a lot of time looking at pictures online of Carol Danvers’ movie and comic costumes, I sketched out an idea for which I am pretty excited.  I even have some yarn (superwash wool) in blue and yellow already.  Of course, after finishing my bear stack, I needed something to do right away, so I turned to a bag of yarn I had lying around.

blob_medium21.jpgEven though there are a ton of great sweater patterns out there, even if limited to free patterns and those I already own (in book form or otherwise) I felt the need to design something unique for the beautiful turquoise merino yarn my parents bought me on a trip to New Zealand.  I was disappointed, however, to find that on the first ball I used, there were many places where a ply was cut, requiring me to cut the whole yarn and join it to the project in order to prevent future unravelling.  I hope that it is not indicative of the next eleven balls I have.  At first I tried spit joins, but they did not work very well, so I just have hanging tails for now.  Pattern-wise, I am using The Incredible Custom Fit Raglan Sweater for advice.  I am making a V-neck with cables.  The one on the back increases with the raglan increases, which is kind of awkward but I think it is working.  I plan to have some 2×2 ribbing on the sides, probably in lieu of shaping.  At the front, I will pull from the body of the sweater to twist with the cables when I get that far – at least I plan to.  So far, the sleeves just have a simple cable running down the length but once I separate them from the body, I am thinking about doing something more complex although I am not totally sure what yet.  There is a cable in the Vogue Stitchionary that inspired me but I changed several things and recharted it, so I am calling this cable my own even though I am sure it has been done before – haven’t they all?

thumbnailWhile I have not yet finished the blanket I started for my cousin who was married in 2016, I have already started planning a blanket for my cousin getting married in June.  I decided that I wanted to try that picture crochet thing but not with a photo because that seems a little too cheesy plus I would feel guilty if it did not turn out to be a good likeness.  So, I ran a map of the world through a pixilation thing and came up with a seven color chart.  I ordered acrylic yarn from KnitPicks when I saw that they had a coupon code for 15% off and threw in enough superwash wool to make that Captain Marvel sweater of which I have been dreaming.  So, I am getting $90 worth of yarn (and one impulse book) delivered next week even though I am nowhere near done with the sweater I have already started.

So, I guess I need to get to work!  I also keep planning to make curtains for my windows but instead, I wake up with the sun, so I do not have the highest hopes regarding my stick-to-it-iveness.  Still, hope springs eternal!

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We Bare Bears

I have always liked silly things.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with liking “childish” stuff as an adult, in my opinion.  That being said, I do not tend to seek out cartoons and the like to watch, I often stick with standard sitcoms and the like.  My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a connoisseur of animation and is introducing me to a plethora of new media of the animated sort.  This, of course, has provided a wealth of ideas for crocheted toys.

plush-appa3I did attempt to crochet an Appa (from Avatar: The Last Airbender) but I found the undulations of his body too difficult to improvise freehand and never got around to seriously working on a design.  There are six unstuffed legs floating around my craft room somewhere along with half an awkward torso.

SU-frontSU-posterLater, I attempted a Steven Universe doll.  The result was not a little creepy, partially due to the too-lean shape and partially to the terrible face I embroidered for it.  I may try again someday and apply the lessons that I learned this time around but for now, I want to keep making new and different things.

we bare bearsWe Bare Bears is an adorable show that makes me want to cuddle the characters; brothers Grizz, Panda (a.k.a. Pan-Pan), and Ice Bear.  The show is currently on Hulu and Netflix although for some reason the one season that Netflix has is the third one.  The continuity is incredibly loose though, so it can be started anywhere along the run, really.  Obviously, cartoon bears make good fodder for stuffed toys, so crocheting them seemed like a no-brainer.  Also, they do this thing where they stack up and walk around, so I thought that putting Velcro on the bottoms of their feet could be really cool, assuming it catches on the cotton yarn because I do not want to put Velcro patches on their backs, that would look super weird, I think.  The paws are more easily hidden.  After finishing the brothers and putting them in a stack, however, I realized that the legs do not go straight down (and they won’t unless I make one side of each leg higher to fit with the curvature of the body so if I was to put Velcro anywhere, only the belly would make sense.  They seem to stay together fairly well though so I don’t think they need any help.

I was fairly sure that I have some brown cotton yarn somewhere, so I decided to buy black and white.  Well, I do have white cotton but it is Hobby Lobby’s I Love This Yarn (which I actually do like better than Lily Sugar ‘n’ Cream but I cannot buy it anymore because I refuse to go to Hobby Lobby for political reasons and I wanted all the yarn to match) but not the other colors and the brown I think I have is Sugar ‘n’ Cream.  Anyway, I bought a skein each of the colors I needed at Jo-Ann along with a package of noses.  I have a ton of black eyes thanks to a good deal on Amazon already, so I have my pick of sizes there.  Jo-Ann only had two sizes of noses, so I grabbed the smaller ones and set to work.  I decided to start with Panda because he is the only one with two colors and after him, the others would require just following the pattern I had written.  After finishing Ice Bear, I realized that I had very little brown yarn left so I had to pick up another ball.  I used the Super Size balls of yarn (4 oz) although I am pretty sure that the regular size would have been fine for black and brown.  I did use most of the white ball.

buttObviously, the main part of the toy would be a cylinder so I started by making increasing concentric circles.  I first tried to build in the tail by doing some double crochets on a few rows then crocheting through the back of a lower stitch to make a bulge but it did not right.  I also considered learning to do a popcorn stich (which I have actually never done) but in the end, I decided to just sew a tail on after the fact.

torsoAll of the parts I made started with a six-stitch circle.  The ears were folded in half to give more of a 3-D effect.  The muzzle was the hardest part to get right, and I have to admit that I don’t think I quite managed it.  I also think that I overdid the neck shaping.  I will probably try this whole project again at some point, but for now, I think what I achieved is adequate.

startAs a note, it is important to keep track of the first stitch of the round, especially when you are neither increasing nor decreasing so no stitches look different.  Split ring stitch markers are one way to do this but I like to use a little scrap piece of contrasting yarn and weave it back and forth each row before the first stitch.  I find it convenient and harder to lose.  Additionally, I always leave plenty of tail when done with a piece to sew it to the main body, there is no point, in my opinion, to weaving in ends then using other yarn to construct the product.  Most people probably do that as well, I just wanted to mention it anyway.

Legs and ears can be sewn to the body as you go or at the end, even after the body is stuffed but I think it is easier to do it before the body is closed up to allow for tail burying.  I tend to be pretty paranoid about things coming unraveled, so I probably overdo that.  I put Panda’s legs and tail on as I went which meant that I had to sort of adjust where I made the face decreases in order to have him be not terribly crooked.  I think it is better to wait until the face shaping has begun in order to easily tell where the top and bottom should be, that is what I did for the two solid color bears.

done

Panda Bear Pattern

  • Yarn: Lily Sugar ‘n’ Cream 1 skein each Black & White
  • Notions: small black safety eyes, black plastic nose, stuffing such as Polyfill
  • Tools: size H crochet hook, yarn needle

Legs (make 4)

legWith black yarn:

  • Ch 2
  • SC 6 in 2nd chain from hook, PM for beginning of round (6)
  • *2 SC in next ST, repeat from * to end of round (12)
  • SC around (12) for 6 rounds
  • Fasten off

Ears (make 2)

earWith black yarn:

  • Ch 2
  • SC 6 in 2nd chain from hook, PM for beginning of round (6)
  • *2 SC in next ST, repeat from * to end of round (12)
  • Fasten off
  • Fold in half and sew together along half circle

Eyes (make 2)

eyepatchWith black yarn:

  • Ch 2
  • SC 6 in 2nd chain from hook (6)
  • Fasten off

Tail (make 1)

20190312_195521[1]With black yarn:

  • Ch 2
  • SC 6 in 2nd chain from hook, PM for beginning of round (6)
  • *2 SC in next ST, repeat from * to end of round (12)
  • *SC2Tog, repeat from * to end of round (6)
  • Fasten off

Body

With black yarn:

  • Ch 2
  • SC 6 in 2nd chain from hook, PM for beginning of round (6)
  • *2 SC in next ST, repeat from * to end of round (12)
  • *2 SC in next ST, SC in next ST, repeat from * to end of round (18)
  • *2 SC in next ST, SC in next 2 STs, repeat from * to end of round (24)
  • *2 SC in next ST, SC in next 3 STs, repeat from * to end of round (30)
  • *2 SC in next ST, SC in next 4 STs, repeat from * to end of round (36)
  • *2 SC in next ST, SC in next 5 STs, repeat from * to end of round (42)
  • SC around (42) for 8 rounds
  • Switch to white yarn
  • SC around (42) for 8 rounds
  • Switch to black yarn
  • SC around (42) for 6 rounds
  • *SC2Tog, SC in next 5 STs, repeat from * to end of round (36)
  • SC 12, *SC2Tog, SC in next 4 STs, repeat from * 2x more, SC 6 (33)
  • Switch to white yarn
  • SC 12 *SC2Tog, SC in next 3 STs, repeat from * 2x more, SC 6 (30)
  • SC around (30)
  • SC 12, *2 SC in next ST, SC in next 4 STs, repeat from * 2x more, SC 6 (33)
  • SC 12, *2 SC in next ST, SC in next 5 STs, repeat from * 2x more, SC 6 (36)
  • *SC2Tog, SC in next 4 STs, repeat from * 1x more, **2 SC in next ST, SC in next 5 STs, repeat from ** 2x more, SC2Tog, SC 4 (36)
  • Repeat last row 1x
  • SC around (36)
  • SC 10, *SC2Tog, SC in next 5 STs, repeat from * 2x more, SC 5 (33)
  • SC 10, *SC2Tog, SC in next 4 STs, repeat from * 2x more, SC 5 (30)
  • *SC2Tog, SC in next 3 STs, repeat from * 5x more (24)
  • SC 8, * SC2Tog, SC in next 2 STs, repeat from * 2x more, SC 4 (21)
  • The stuffing should mostly go in at this point (or before) because otherwise it is really hard to poke it in there.
  • SC 8, * SC2Tog, SC in next ST, repeat from * 2x more, SC 4 (18)
  • SC around (18)
  • eyeball insideno muzzleSew eyes to appropriate locations on face
  • Attach safety eyes, tightening to ensure they do not come out
  • *SC2Tog, SC in next ST, repeat from * to end of round (12)
  • *SC2Tog, repeat from * to end of round (6)
  • Fasten off
  • Attach nose, tightening to ensure it does not come outalmost done
  • Add stuffing as required to fill out face
  • Sew opening closed

Finishing

If not already done:

  • Sew four legs in place along the bellyface
  • Sew tail in place at the top of the rear
  • Sew ears in place at the top of the head
  • Weave in any loose tails

Abbreviations / Notes

  • Ch – Chain stitch
  • SC – Single Crochet
  • ST – Stitch
  • PM – Place Marker
  • SC2Tog – Single Crochet 2 stitches Together (draw up a single loop from each of 2 adjacent stitches then draw a loop through them both)
  • (#) – number of stitches in round after completion

ice bear

Ice Bear Pattern

  • Yarn: Lily Sugar ‘n’ Cream 1 skein  White
  • Notions: small black safety eyes, black plastic nose, stuffing such as Polyfill
  • Tools: size H crochet hook, yarn needle

Instructions:

  • Using white yarn only, make all of the parts for Panda Bear EXCEPT the eyes (note: the body is 22 rounds between the last increase and the first decrease)
  • Assemble as for Panda Bear, omitting the sewing on of the eye parts before installing the safety eyes

grizz

Grizz Pattern

  • Yarn: Lily Sugar ‘n’ Cream 1 skein Brown
  • Notions: small black safety eyes, black plastic nose, stuffing such as Polyfill
  • Tools: size H crochet hook, yarn needle

Instructions:

  • Using brown yarn only, make all of the parts for Panda Bear EXCEPT the eyes (note: the body is 22 rounds between the last increase and the first decrease)
  • Assemble as for Panda Bear, omitting the sewing on of the eye parts before installing the safety eyes

Stack bears for maximum cuteness!

the stack

My Ravelry project is here.  I should have a PDF pattern available on Ravelry soon.

 

Breaking and Entering

I had a pretty nice trip to Georgia between Christmas and New Year, where I spent time with my family and cuddled my little niece all that I could before she gets big enough to stop me.  After that, I returned to Michigan and spent New Year’s Eve with my boyfriend.  I did not consider the year to be off to either a particularly good or bad start until I got a phone call early in the afternoon on New Year’s Day.

Since I did not recognize the number, I ignored the call at first then listened to my voicemail on my way home.  It was the property manager for my apartment / flat / whatever you call one floor of a duplex that has its own address.  When I called him back, he informed me that there had been a break-in the night before so I should not be surprised to see some chaos when I got home.  I thanked him for the heads’ up and proceeded to drive to Detroit.

I can be a very emotional person but when it comes to external stimuli, I can also be pretty stoic.  I think I inherited that from my mother; a woman who is so calm and practical in many situations that it can still surprise me even after knowing her for thirty-five years.  Anyway, I took the news calmly and was not worked up when I pulled up to my place and noticed that there were lights on which I definitely did not leave that way.

My front door was still locked (both the knob and the deadbolt) and I did not really see signs of forced entry when I went into the house although I immediately noticed that the light was on in my storage room, where I rarely go.  Weirdly enough, I do not think they took anything from there.  There is an empty spot on one shelf but I honestly do not know whether something used to sit there or not.  I can say for sure that my foot and neck massagers were left behind, even though they were in clearly marked boxes.  Also, I have an almost brand-new leather jacket that was still hanging on the shelf, so that was either a missed opportunity on their part or they are strict vegans.

S20190101_152235[1]tepping into the living room, it was obvious something had happened since there was a big empty space where my television used to be!  Also missing from my entertainment center was my Blu-ray player, Fire TV stick, HD antenna, sound bar, and enormous CD wallet containing almost all of the music I have purchased since CDs became a thing in the nineties.  Also, for a reason I do not really understand, a shelf was pulled partially off of the wall although the only thing on there had been pictures, which they did not take.  Strangely enough, despite stealing my music, they do not appear to have touched my movie collection.  I later found the antenna on the floor behind the unit, torn away from the cord that had connected it to the TV but they managed not to knock over my glass Galileo thermometer so, thanks?  For a  short time, I thought they had stolen my internet (well, the devices that make it happen, at least) but no, they had just been unplugged, so at least that was an easy fix.

I did not immediately notice anything missing from my dining room / library although that place is pretty messy.  I would later discover that my old computer had been taken from my desk.  This was especially devastating because they took my current computer from the couch along with the backup hard drive that had been sitting right on top of it.  I was smart enough to be backing up my data but I was preparing for computer failure, not theft.  I guess I learned a tough lesson that way!

20190101_152323[1]Moving on to the kitchen, the obvious issue was my refrigerator.  The door had been left open.  I found that very weird.  I mean, maybe they were hungry but since I was out of town, there was not really much left; mostly just leftovers I had not dealt with yet, condiments, and cheese.  I decided to keep the vinegar-based condiments because they are probably still fine and get rid of the more perishable stuff.  It was sad because I had wanted to eat that brie!  I did not notice it at the time, but for some reason they took my good chef’s knife.  It was not crazy expensive but I liked it and was very annoyed to see it was missing.  Even in the chaos that is my standard of living, I only keep knives in so many places, so I am pretty confident that it is gone.  This confuses me but whatever, maybe they needed it to commit some more crimes.  I had recently sharpened the blade, so it might be fairly effective.  They took my brand new Echo Show, a device I did not really plan to buy but got because of a bundle with the new cell phone I had just treated myself to.  That thing was surprisingly heavy and totally unnecessary but kind of nice for watching television while I cooked and did dishes.

20190101_152452[1]My bedroom was the worst hit.  The whole apartment felt fairly chilly, as I had turned my thermostat down to 50° before leaving the state but in my bedroom, I could actually feel the wind whistling through the obvious point of entry.  There was broken glass all over the floor and my bed.  I did not notice until later when I went to change my sheets that there was a huge rock or chunk of cement sitting right in the middle of my bed.  When the property manager came by, he took it out with him and estimated the thing to weigh 40 lbs.  All I know for sure is that it left a big divot in my memory foam mattress topper and introduced at least a couple pill bugs into my bed.  Even though I have been in my apartment for six months, I do still have the paper temporary window coverings up in my bedroom.  I guess it was better than if they had torn the nice ones that I bought then never put up.

Having not been involved with a crime before, from either the victim or perpetrator point of view, I was not entirely sure about how to proceed.  I probably should have taken more pictures but I think I was just cynical enough to assume there would be no actual investigation.  I texted my boyfriend and my best friend, informing the latter that I might be returning to his house to spend the night.  I then looked up the City of Detroit’s non-emergency police number and planned to report the crime.  The woman who answered and took my information (which turned out to be incorrect, I had not had much of a chance to really look around to discover what was missing) did ask me my race as one of the very first questions.  I believe in statistics and tend to accede to authority figures but I have to say that I did not like that question.  It actually made me a little uncomfortable – how is it at all relevant to a burglary that happened when I was not even home?  I am sure she was just doing her job, so what we need to do is update the forms.  Anyway, she gave me a case number, which I dutifully wrote down (and soon lost) and told me that I could update the report at any time when I noticed more stuff that had been stolen.

My next call was to my insurance company.  I have been paying for renter’s insurance since I moved out of my grandmother’s house several years ago.  Fortunately, I have not had to use it before now although that also means that I had not carefully reviewed all of the limitations and clauses.  While on hold, I started to read through some of the documents I was able to pull up on my iPad.  Electronics and jewelry are both capped and my deductible is relatively high.  Well, great!  At this point, I headed back to my room, I had not even thought about my jewelry yet.

20190101_152444[1]Unsurprisingly, the place on my dresser which had been covered in my jewelry was starkly bare.  When I left town, there had been a handful of necklaces sitting there, indicative of my simple beaded style and made of pearls and semi-precious stones.  Also, a plastic tackle box that had held no fewer than one hundred pairs of earrings.  Only a few of the pairs were actually worth much individually but as a collection, that box was irreplaceable.  It had the fun and quirky earrings that I had purchased at comic conventions and from Etsy along with the antique button earrings my mother picked up at quilt shows and unique earrings purchased in India and other countries that my parents visited without me.  All I had remaining was the handful of earrings I had taken on my trip and the few pairs scattered about my place due to my lack of organization.  Upon further investigation, I found that they had opened drawers in my nightstand and taken the necklaces I purchased for my best friend for Christmas although they left my passport behind.  I know they saw it because it used to be in that same drawer and I found it sitting on my bed on top of the broken glass.  I guess they were not interested in identity theft.  That is one fewer hassle for me, at least.

At the end of the day, I decided to stay home.  It was important to me not to run from my own home.  I think instead of not being afraid, I was actually afraid of something different – that I would drive myself away and not ever want to return.  It also really helped that my staying was optional.  I could have gone to my boyfriend’s house at any time.  His house is less than half an hour away and not an unreasonable commute (I did have to go to work the next day).  Since I had the choice though, I was able to decide to stand my ground.  I convinced myself that I was actually far less likely to be in danger since the broken window made it fairly evident that I had already lost my valuables.  Why would anybody bother to break in again?

20190102_172149[1]Still, I did not sleep particularly well that night.  Partially it was the psychological ramifications of having my home violated but the wind coming through the shattered window was probably also a major factor.  The next day, a board was put over my window although two weeks later, it has not actually been fixed yet.  Apparently it is a special size or something and should arrive next week.  This was fine until it got particularly cold the other day, since the board is not great at insulating and it is right next to where I sleep.  The property manager promised to seal it up with some plastic to get me through the next week or so, I guess that will help although I do not look forward to seeing my heating bill for January!

20190102_172134[1]My neighbor was robbed as well on the same night.  He was also not home at the time and returned to find a big mess.  I do not know exactly what he lost, at least his television set.  Apparently, he had been planning to get renter’s insurance in the new year.  I wonder if this will affect his rates?  His back door was destroyed and I do not know what sort of patching-up situation they have for him but the door to the outside has a board nailed across it, which I did not notice until I went to take the trash out later in the week and had to walk all the way around the house through the wet grass to perform the chore.  He does have a dog but I guess the burglars managed to deal with that.  At least the dog did not seem hurt when I saw it the next day.  (I do not like dogs but that does not mean I wish them harm, I just do not want them to be too close to me for both allergy and fear reasons.)  I know that he has some expensive drums.  It is hard not to know when one’s upstairs neighbor plays a percussion instrument.  I somehow doubt they took that though, they left my spinning wheel and sewing machine alone, so I suspect that they were not going for specialty items.

Anyway, that is what happened to me on NYE.  What a great start to my year!  The aftermath has been pretty annoying too but that might be fodder for another post.

Reinventing the chart – Undertale Scarf

I decided to make a unique Christmas present for my boyfriend and, instead of using a chart that I can find online, I determined that I wanted to start from scratch and make my own chart.  So, this is my process:

First, I decided what characters I wanted to put on the scarf and the technique for doing so.  I ended up with Papyrus & Sans from Undertale and double knitting in order to make the scarf reversible.  I have done double knitting before but never with the number of colors that I plan to do for this.  It should turn out sort of like Fair Isle with internally held floats.  I am a little concerned about weaving in the ends but am optimistic anyway.

So, there are already charted versions of these characters out there but for some reason, instead of just using those, I decided to start from scratch.  My excuse was that the charts I found were for cross stitch and therefore used square blocks when knitted stitches are more rectangular, so I would end up with weirdly short characters.  Anyway, I started with these images:

papyrus downloaded image  sans downloaded image

I put both images through a program called KnitPro 2.0 to turn them into knitting charts.  There were a lot more colors than I wanted though, so I had to make the charts a little more simple, especially when it came to Papyrus.  I had to play with adding white space to the original Sans file in order to get the height differential approximately right.  Here is what my generated charts looked like:

papyruschart   sanschart

Now, I had some work to do!  I wanted to use as few colors as possible, so I narrowed it down to black, white, red, yellow, and blue for Papyrus and black, white, blue, pink, and gray for Sans.  Obviously, I needed to make the lines sharper and simplify some shading that the program picked up.  Also, I applied some artistic license.  Thanks, MS Paint!  I cannot believe that Microsoft is getting rid of the legacy program, it can be pretty useful although I am sure that other programs are actually better, this is one I know how to use already.  Anyway, I digress.

papyruschartnew   sanschartnew

I actually ordered yarn at some point prior to this and totally forgot about the pink.  Hopefully, I have something close enough color to make up for it but I don’t think that I have pink worsted wool, so the slippers might end up gray or purple or something.  I know that I already have yellow (Semolina) and blue (Blue Ink) in KnitPicks WotA and some light gray worsted wool that will work together with the others.  While there was a sale on, I also ordered black (Coal), white (White), and red (Red) for the characters as well as green (Everglade Heather) and light blue (Wonderland Heather) for background colors.  I designed a fairly boring background that is not quite the same on each side.

bkgchart

In order to merge the charts to make one for double knitting, I decided to use MS Excel and letters to make it easy to switch colors around (and print it black & white because I would put a letter in each cell and do not have a color printer right now).  Also, then I could have some fun with VBA when it came to turning the chart colors as well as turning three charts into one.  I wrote and ran my macro then did some manual cleanup for the repeating motif and it ended up looking like this:

undertalechart

I have no idea how actually knit-able this thing is but I am going to try when my yarn comes next week.  I am both looking forward to and afraid of the possible outcome!  I am concerned that it will be too wide but I did not want the characters to go all the way to the edges so I had to add some buffer room.  I should use smaller than normal needles anyway for the double knitting to look good.  Well, I will start the project and see how it goes.  Worst case scenario, I start over!  I do like the process of charting anyway.

I updated the chart above after finding that I do not have an appropriate pink yarn to use for the slippers.  I considered using a gray/purple heathered yarn that I have leftover from another project but decided that plain gray would look just fine and simplify it a bit.  (8 is less than 9, after all!)

I started by holding two strands together (light blue and green) and doing a long-tail cast on, being careful to keep the strands in the right order.  Then, because of the odd number, I cast on a single light blue stitch at the end.

20181118_161220[1]

Then, I had to actually try to start following my chart, which I did not have printed.  For some irritating reason, on my iPad, the image kept jumping back to no zoom if I so much as breathed funny, but I persisted because I wanted to get the colored portion done before leaving for Thanksgiving so I could take just the two main colors with me on the plane.  On a side note about the colors, it turns out that the Blue Ink WotA I have is super dark, almost indistinguishable from black, and therefore not really appropriate for this project.  I do have a decent color called Celestial in WotA Superwash and decided to use that after I realized that the Semolina I have is Superwash as well so neither is a total outlier.  Unless the scarf gets washed wrong and/or accidentally felted, it should not make a big difference.

20181118_171937[2]20181118_210604[1]

I joined new colors by just plopping them in and leaving the tail end hanging.  I don’t really know what my plans are for weaving the ends in later but I figured that it would be my future self’s problem.  Also, it got super tangled with so many strands going in and out and back and forth since every color had to be pulled to the front and back with each stitch in order to keep the floats internal.  Since there is no balance between the varied colors, this cannot be done (as far as I know) without twisting the proverbial hell out of the yarns.  For that reason (and because I made the mistake of trying it) I do not recommend using one of these cool knitting bags that holds the yarn inside and has a hole for the working strand, that just makes it impossible to untangle properly.  I ended up stopping every other row to detangle my yarn, which is kind of ridiculous but is also the best I was able to do.

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The colorwork part is obviously tighter than the main body and is even a bit puckered.  Plus, at one point, I messed up some of the background pattern by shifting it up a row (or maybe down, I forget).  Anyway, I am debating frogging the whole thing and starting over at this point.

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Okay, I have thought about it and decided to rip it back and start over.  I will do that weird slip stitch edge with both strands that I have done before in double knitting and get rid of the pattern along each edge.  This should help me not have to wrap the green yarn around the light blue before working the second stitch which I think is negatively affecting the tension.  Not that I have any consistent tension to speak of for this project but hope springs eternal.  I can only console myself by assuming that blocking will help in the end.

I am very glad that I wrote a macro to create my dk chart because I just had to fiddle with the background and Sans then I could put them together again fairly easily.  I made Sans the same width as Papyrus (instead of one stich narrower) which should also let me work them upside down on opposite sides of the scarf like I had originally planned.

newchart

I also plan to mark on my paper copy (which I will actually make this time and probably enhance with colored pens) where each color will be joined and held because that was an issue for me.  It will just be a matter of technique if I can keep the work from puckering this time.

I had to fix a few mistakes in the chart where I had failed to clean up some of the background pattern but overall, my new version went way better.

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There is still some puckering and some loose stitches but I plan to keep going this time.  I am concerned about weaving in the ends although the internet assures me that the stray tails will be fine just buried in the yarn sandwich, I am too paranoid to really believe that and feel like I need to find a way to actually secure the ends.  Of course, the yarn is wool so, with the possible exception of the superwash colors (blue and yellow) it should mat / felt into something pretty sturdy in there.  That is sort of how steeking works, right?  Ha, I would never have the proverbial balls to steek!

20181119_2331371.jpg 20181119_224017[1]

When I look at the pictures, it does not really look too different than my first attempt (except for getting further) but in person, I can really tell the difference.

What I am ruminating on now is whether I want to just do the basic pattern (plain with a few chevrons) for the body of the scarf or whether I want to chart something else to go in the middle, like the title.

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Capture

So, I made a chart that could work by putting a black outline around the white letters to make them stand out on a green or light blue background.  The letters are only about half the width of the scarf but that is for the best, otherwise I think it would take a whole scarf to spell out!

Capture

I don’t know though, I only bought one skein of white yarn but I have four each of my background colors!  Also, I would have to chart it backwards for the other side and while it is not nearly as complicated as the two brothers charts, it is still probably too much work for an underwhelming payoff.  Also, I have no desire to play yarn chicken with the lettering so I am going to go ahead and skip this idea.  Maybe sometime in the future.

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I really wanted to finish the character portions before leaving for Thanksgiving so I only had to take two colors with me.  I did not quite make it but there was little enough left of both black and white (I only had the top of Papyrus’s head to go) that I cut off the yarn and hoped the tails were long enough to finish.  They were but I cut it a little closer than I would have liked with the black, especially since I had a couple of errors to fix via duplicate stitch before burying the ends.  I also forgot to put chevrons next to the head since I was working on the plane and not looking as closely at my chart as I should have.  Consequently, I will skip them on the other end since I want them to be symmetrical but duplicate stitching does not seem worth it.

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What I did duplicate stitch was a black stitch on the mouth (green arrow) and a white stitch above the eye (red arrow).  I did not notice these mistakes until a few rows later and decided it was not worth it to tink that much since I could fix it when weaving in the ends.  Papyrus’s head does seem especially lumpy to me but I don’t know how to fix that short of tearing the work back and trying again so I just did my best to smooth it out (which was not very effective) and decided to go with it.

Once I got back from my Thanksgiving trip, I buried the ends by doing some duplicate stitches to help lock them in and then just hiding them between the layers.  I am not sure that was the best option as parts of the scarf seem extra thick now (there were already up to eight strands of worsted weight yarn sandwiched in some places) but I do not think there was a better one, so there it is!  You can really see where the scarf pulls in because I have tension issues with the floats but I think it still looks good enough and will keep going.  I do think they are a little too tall, I might have been okay using cross-stitch charts after all!

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I decided to go ahead and chart the other end of the scarf even though I am not anywhere near needing it, mostly because I love the “projecting” stage.  Also, I had to test my Excel macro.  It was okay but I had some issues with the worksheet names – that was a silly mistake.  Fortunately, I did not save the spreadsheet after I wrote over the original chart.  The reason I had to make a new chart instead of just turning the old one upside down is that I decided to put Papyrus on the green side and Sans on the light blue side for the other end.  Originally, this was not going to be possible (since Sans was an even number of stitches wide while Papyrus was odd) but now that I can do it, I definitely want to.

chartend

I think that I will add a few rows to the top and bottom of the scarf for my final pattern, it should look better than the chevrons starting right away.  I did readjust the numbering on my charts to shift the chevrons by one row.  It does not matter with the colorwork  but the way I had originally charted it, each chevron started on the wrong side, by which I mean the side where I could not see its predecessor.  I cannot, apparently, remember how many stitches to count before starting one so I just look down and the way I wrote this chart, I have to keep turning the work over.  I am definitely not going to start over to fix this although I am considering doing the next set with 9 or 11 rows between them instead of 10 in order to flip it around.

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On the Sans side (light blue on green) I shifted the center chevrons over one stitch for a few repeats.  By the time I noticed, it did not seem worth it to either rip back the knitting, drop one stitch at a time to fix it with a crochet hook, or duplicate stitch new chevrons and background stitches to make it even.  Instead, I decided that nobody will notice the small error unless they are looking super closely and if they are doing that then they will be too distracted by my terrible tension problems to think much of it.  So, I shall leave that and probably make the small “error” mentioned above in order to make the rest of the scarf easier on me.  I did already fix the chart to start on a different row so that this will not happen to any brave soul willing to try this once I have published my pattern.  By “publish” of course, I mean offer for free on Ravelry.  This was kind of a lot of work to make up and it would be cool to get paid for it but the characters are licensed and I did not give the company any money to use their likenesses, so it seems shady to charge for a pattern that uses them.

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Once I decided the work was long enough, I started my second chart; the upside-down one.  I omitted the chevrons next to Papyrus’s head in order to make it match the other end but I have left them in the pattern.  I really thought that I could control the tightness now that I have learned something from the first chart but I seem to have failed at it.  There is no stretch and it pulls in a bit on the sides (again) but I am still pleased enough to go on.  This would definitely be easier if I had access to a color printer so that I could print a pattern that was follow-able without squinting (since I like to knit while watching TV) but I am making do with my iPad and a piece of painter’s tape to help me keep track of the row.  Also, I made Papyrus’s “arched eyebrow” on the wrong side because my chart is close to symmetrical at that point and I was reading in the wrong direction.  I would like to say that I learned my lesson but I did not; I had to tink an re-knit a few rows where I made the same error later in the chart.

20181211_235934[1]Weaving in all these ends is the worst!  That is always my least favorite part of knitting (or crochet) and it felt like there were a ton of them.  Overall, I think it looks okay though.  When I came to the end, I cast off in as close to a manner of the cast on as possible – I held each pair of stitches together and worked them as one, binding off using both working strands together.

20181212_002924[1]I did not do a great job, workmanship-wise.  It is evident that I am not good at colorwork / float tension based on the amount my work pulls in on each end.  I am satisfied enough to leave it though, especially because I have other Christmas projects to get to and am running behind.  The lack of squareness is pretty obvious where I sewed on my label but whatever, I am still proud of the result.

20181212_0030231.jpgWhen folded up, it fits almost perfectly in a small Amazon box, which is convenient because I have a bunch of those, even if it is not fancy-looking.  That is okay, I will cover it in wrapping paper and hopefully the box will not be the main event 🙂  Obviously, I cannot display both characters when it is packaged up, so I picked Sans because he is shorter and I would have to fold back Papyrus’s feet (or head) to make him fit.

So, here are some views of the finished product, flaws and all:

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I will be writing up the pattern and posting it on Ravelry before I post this entry.  Posting this will have to wait a while just in case my boyfriend reads my blog, I don’t want to spoil the surprise 🙂

Hopefully I will not mess things up and the pattern can be viewed / downloaded here, on Ravelry.

Chicken Mushroom Enchiladas

I like when I can make dinner out of things that I already have lying around.  Well, maybe not lying around, but I did not have to buy anything specific for this meal except for tortillas!

A couple of weeks ago I made matzo ball soup and bought a family pack of bone-in chicken breast halves to do so but only used two of the five pieces (I already had stock for that from a rotisserie chicken carcass and just needed the meat) so the other three went into the freezer for some future meal.  Then, when grocery shopping for the week, I bought lots of shredded cheese and mushrooms because of a sale.  Combined with my pantry staples, I was good to go.

This is only the second time I have poached chicken.  It always seemed like a silly way to cook it to me – the fat makes things delicious!  Even grilling, fat-free is better than boiling for flavor.  I now see a reason for poaching chicken.  The meat is moist and can be shredded.  Also, you get broth as a byproduct, which can be great.  I would probably not poach chicken just to eat but I think it was the right way to go for enchiladas.

As always, I did not actually measure while making this but I am trying to get the amounts close to right.  Not that anybody will read this but for my future self or whatever.

Ingredients

  • 3 split chicken breast halves
  • water
  • 4 onions
  • 1 head garlic
  • bay leaf
  • 1 T peppercorns
  • salt
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 T thyme
  • 1 t chili powder
  • 12 oz package mushrooms
  • 4 T butter
  • 1 can red enchilada sauce
  • 1 can / box tomato sauce (or another can of enchilada sauce if you are not a wuss / like spicy enchiladas)
  • 10 soft taco size flour tortillas (I actually only used 9)
  • 3 cups shredded cheese

Not Really Directions

  1. Start by putting the chicken breasts (bone in, skin on) into a big pan with two quartered onions (skin on), half a head of garlic (skin on, smashed), the bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme, chili powder, and some salt.  Cover with water and turn burner to high until the water starts to boil.20181128_175423[2]
  2. Cover pan, turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes then check internal temperature of chicken with instant read thermometer.  If it has reached 165° F, remove the chicken to a plate and let cool until it can be handled.  (If not, keep simmering until it is done.)  Leave the liquid in the pan for now. 20181128_191921[1]
  3. Shred chicken, separating the bones and skin but reserving them. 20181128_194641[2]
  4. Return the reject chicken bits to the pan and turn the heat back on (unless you forgot to turn it off in the first place) and simmer, uncovered until the liquid has reduced to about half.  This will give you concentrated, delicious bone broth.  If you end up with a lot, you can save it for chicken tortilla soup or something but since I did not have a lot, I used it all for the enchiladas. 20181128_195318[1]
  5. Wash the mushrooms and slice them.  Also slice up the remaining two onions and dice the rest of the garlic.  This time, you can throw out the skins. 20181128_202625[1]
  6. Strain the bone broth and set aside.  Throw out the gross bits that have had all their flavor sucked out at this point.  I put the broth into the fridge to help solidify the fat for easy separation later.  It did not work super well but neither did it hurt. 20181128_204720[2]
  7. On medium heat, melt 2 T butter in a pan (I used the same pan after cleaning it out to get rid of any bone shards) and add the sliced mushrooms along with the oregano.  Cook until the liquid has released and is evaporating. 20181128_204401[1]
  8. Make a space in the center and add 1 1/2 T butter, the sliced onions, and the cumin.  Sauté until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are starting to get a caramel color, which happens after all the liquid has evaporated.  20181128_210541[1]
  9. Make a space in the center and add the last 1/2 T butter along with the garlic.  Sauté for a minute or two.  Do not let the garlic burn! 20181128_2106431.jpg
  10. Deglaze the pan with about 1/2 cup of the reserved broth.  (Remove the fat on top of the broth first if you can) and cook until liquid disappears. 20181128_211530[1]
  11. Add 1 cup of broth and 2 T of enchilada sauce, cook until liquid is reduced and not runny anymore.  Turn off the heat. 20181128_210911[2]
  12. Add shredded chicken and stir to combine until the sauce coats it all. Add a little more sauce and/or broth if necessary to fully coat all of the chicken.20181128_211758[1] 20181128_211841[1]
  13. Add 1 3/4 cups shredded cheese to the chicken mixture and fold in.  20181128_215720[1] 20181128_220036[1]
  14. Mix together remaining enchilada sauce, 2 T broth, and tomato sauce in a bowl. 20181128_215619[2]
  15. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with the sauce mix. 20181128_215908[1]
  16. Put 1/2 – 2/3 cup filling mixture into a tortilla and fold / roll it up like a burrito. 20181128_220149[1] 20181128_220245[1]
  17. Place filled tortilla into dish, seam side down. 20181128_220212[1]
  18. Repeat last 2 steps (or 3 steps for multiple dishes) until all tortillas and/or filling is used up.  I thought I would use two dishes with 4 enchiladas in each of them but then I had filling left so I made a single enchilada in a tiny dish for a single serving. 20181128_2203581.jpg
  19. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese over the filled tortillas. 20181128_2211452.jpg
  20. Cover them with the sauce mixture.  (Divide it as necessary among multiple dishes.) 20181128_221304[1]
  21. Sprinkle the remaining 1 c cheese over the sauce. 20181128_221428[2]
  22. The enchiladas can be frozen or refrigerated at this point to be baked later if desired.  Obviously, freezing lasts longer.  That is what I did with the little one. 20181128_2214461.jpg
  23. When ready to eat: Preheat oven to 350° F.
  24. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. 20181201_182524[1]
  25. Eat!  (with lime, salsa, sour cream, and refried beans, as desired)

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Summer Eating

Later in May, I still had some pesto left and wanted to do a caprese-style salad but of course, that would lack the protein I need, so I decided to add some chicken to the mix.

20180526_105757I diluted some pesto with a bit of olive oil and marinated smallish pieces of boneless skinless chicken breast in it overnight.  Then, I pan fried them in a bit of olive oil and set them aside for when it was time to actually eat.

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To make salad dressing, I used an immersion blender to combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and roasted garlic.  On a whim, I added a clove of raw garlic which may have been a mistake in hindsight.  It did emulsify though and it was nice to not have to constantly shake the dressing although it was a bit too thick.

I cut tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese into slices, chiffonaded some basil and served it all with a green salad.  Adding corn on the cob made it higher carb but extra summery 🙂

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I took the leftover chicken to my grandma’s house where I threw together a Buddha Bowl kind of dinner.  In addition to the chicken, I added bean sprouts and pickled radish (leftover from making a bad approximation of Pad Thai) as well as sun dried tomatoes, chickpeas tossed with pesto, and lettuce.  Of course I added parmesan cheese because it makes everything better.

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Honestly, I do not really know what a Buddha Bowl is and this probably does not qualify but it was reasonably healthy and pretty delicious, so whatever it was – it was dinner!

 

Pasta* with Pesto

According to the camera time stamps I made this in May but the photos are sitting in my media library and I should probably do something with them at some point, so here we are.

20180512_174159.jpgI love pasta.  I just adore it in all its forms so not being able to really eat the stuff post-surgery has been tough.  Consequently, I have been trying a plethora of not quite substitutes, by which I mean pasta made out of things that are not wheat.  This time around, I went for Banza, which is made with chickpeas and has a whole lot more protein and fiber than the standard stuff.  The texture is pretty good and it tastes just fine.  The elbow shape is good for a pasta salad although I like mini shells too when they are an option.  Anyway, Banza costs like three times as much as a box of standard pasta and is only half as big (8 oz) but that is to be expected when you get into specialty foods.  Because we were feeding a small crowd (six people) we made two boxes of it.

It is weird how much the water foamed when boiling the pasta but I don’t think it was an actual problem since I stopped it from boiling over.  That sort of thing makes a big mess on those flat top stoves like my grandma has when that happens.

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20180512_174207.jpgMy mom loves making pasta with pesto as a quick and easy dinner that does not require too much work or thought but I am not great at that, overthinker that I am and I baked tofu and sautéed mushrooms to add to the dish.  I seasoned them both with pesto, partially to be lazy and partially because I had a big jar of the stuff that I got at Costco.  I do love making my own pesto but this was (a) on sale and (b) in my fridge so it won out.

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As per my mother’s usual “recipe” I also cut up a few tomatoes and grabbed a handful of pine nuts.  Since we had the already toasted kind from Trader Joe’s, I did not have to do anything to the latter but if I get the raw ones, I usually toast them for a bit in a dry pan on the stove.  They are super easy to burn though so the pre-toasted ones are a great idea if you have an attention span like mine, by which I mean almost non-existent.

While I was in charge of the pasta dish, my mother made her classic five bean salad to accompany it.  I love the stuff but rarely make it because I cannot handle such a big dish but do not want to give up any of the types of beans in order to make it smaller.  The bean salad consists of:

  • 1 can lima beans
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 1 can green beans
  • 1 can yellow wax beans
  • 1 can lima beans
  • 1 small bottle zesty Italian salad dressing
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 small handful of parsley, chopped

The ingredients are all mixed together, allowed to sit, then eaten.  It is both easy and delicious.  I actually like the garbanzo beans least, which is weird because I like them so much in other things but I think it is that they are firmer than the other beans so it makes the texture a little weird in my mouth.  I still would not give them up though!  My mom usually buys a little half-size can of lima beans because they tend to be unpopular no matter how many times I tell her they are my favorite bean in the salad.  I think maybe she just doesn’t like them!

Anyway, I grated some parmesan cheese over the completed pasta salad and we had a pretty decent and low-ish carb dinner!

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Pasta with Pesto Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 boxes Banza (pasta made from chickpeas)
  • pot of salted water
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 8 oz package cremini mushrooms
  • 14 oz package extra firm tofu
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (plus more for serving, if desired)

Directions

  1. Slice the tofu into slabs ~3/4″ thick and place on slightly angled cutting board (I put a small book under one end) with paper towels and a baking sheet on top.  Place something heavy on the baking sheet and wander off for about half an hour to let the tofu drain.
  2. Preheat oven to 400° F at some point during the waiting period.
  3. Remove everything on top of the tofu slabs and cut them into cubes.
  4. Mix together 2 T of the pesto and 1 T of the olive oil in a large-ish bowl then add the tofu cubes and toss them until they are all evenly coated.
  5. Spread the tofu cubes onto the baking sheet (wipe the bottom off first if it is the same one you used in step one) and put them in the oven for 15 minutes.
  6. While the tofu is baking, wash the mushrooms (in whatever way best calms your anxiety about eating fungus that lives in dirt) then slice them sort of thinly.
  7. Heat the remaining 1 T of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. nce the it is hot, add the sliced mushrooms and 1 T of the pesto.
  8. Sauté until the mushrooms are done – first they will get wet then dry again as they release their water and it evaporates.  They are done with they start to brown after that.
  9. When the timer goes off for the tofu, stir the cubes gently, turning as many as possible, then return it to the oven for another 10 minutes.
  10. Bring the large pot of salted water to a boil then add the pasta and cook according to package directions.
  11. While pasta is cooking (and tofu is baking) chop up the tomatoes and set them aside.
  12. If your pine nuts are not toasted – toast them.
  13. Drain the cooked pasta and mix it together with the remaining pesto in a bowl you don’t mind serving in.
  14. Add the rest of the ingredients, folding gently so as not to break the tofu up too much, it is sort of fragile.
  15. Put more parmesan cheese on the top if you like that sort of thing.
  16. Eat!

I don’t really know how many people this serves.  We had leftovers but we also had  crackers / bread for the non-carb-conscious and the aforementioned bean salad.

 

 

Go Ready Made

After moving, I decided to give a meal delivery service a try.  There was a Groupon for six meals at GoReadyMade for $30 and there was a 20% off coupon code and $4 per meal seemed pretty reasonable to me so I decided to give it a shot.

My first problem was that I redeemed it like a day too late to get the delivery my first week after moving, so I had to wait an extra week but that was on me, I think they were pretty straightforward about the cutoff dates, I just did not read anything about that first.

Overall, I think the meals were fine but not exciting and I think that there needed to be more seasoning for the proteins because this sort of meal (no cooking required except some light pan frying) seems aimed at people who don’t cook much and therefore may not have a variety of seasonings available nor the knowledge of what might go well with the sides.  I decided to season the meats with just salt and pepper, partially for simplicity and partially because the box with my spices in it was trapped under a heavy box of cookbooks that I was not ready to open yet.  I doubt I would get this meal service again in the future unless I am moving or otherwise unable to access cooking implements because I like to be creative and make up my own stuff and this is very structured.  Also, obviously, none of them looked as good as they do in the pictures, but that is just to be expected.

The serving sizes of the proteins might not be enough for some people but, since my surgery, they were more than enough for me.  I ate maybe 2/3 of most meals in one sitting and saved the last bit for a snack later with one exception (the salmon).

Anyway, I got six different meals and ate two of them at work and four at home.  Here are my observations:

Orzo and Tomatoes (with mozzarella and spinach)

orzo grm

I took this one to work with me because it had microwave-only instructions.

orzo and tomatoes

I cooked it in the microwave and ate the meal right out of its container, so I don’t have any pictures of it plated but it is pretty obvious that it did not look like it was supposed to.  There was a ton more orzo than any vegetables.  I think there were three tomatoes total in the whole thing.  Having fewer bell peppers was actually good because I picked those out due to not liking them but I really could have done with more spinach and tomatoes.  I kind of feel neutrally about the corn.

The cheese was all melted in and the orzo tasted pretty good because of it.  I actually quite liked the flavor of this dish, which is good because I ate it at work and did not have the option to add additional seasoning.  I was only disappointed by the dearth of vegetables.  This was probably my second favorite meal of the six.

orzo real

Beef Steak with Peppercorn Sauce (and herb roasted potatoes)

steak peppergorn grm

I did have a frying pan unpacked but I think I turned it up too high and/or should not have used butter instead of oil because my smoke detectors went off and with my nine foot ceilings and lack of a ladder, it was a pain in the ass to get them turned off.  That was 100% my fault though and not at all a problem with the meal itself.

steak with peppercorn

Just like the instructions said, I cooked the steak (seasoned with salt and pepper) on the stovetop and microwaved the sides.  Due to my little alarm fiasco, I ended up undercooking the steak a little bit but again, that is on me.  I am certainly no connoisseur, but I think the quality of the steak was perfectly fine.  I think that the potatoes and green beans were a little limp but had good flavor.  Perhaps they would have been better cooked in the oven but there was not an option for that.

I liked the peppercorn sauce although it was actually a little too spicy in a few bites, maybe there was a lot of pepper in those!  It made the steak taste interesting and went well with the vegetables.  Despite my poor job of cooking, I would say that this was my favorite meal of the six.

steak peppercorn real

Butter-Basted Chicken (with thyme carrots and parmesan mash)

butter chicken grm

 

I did use a little bit more butter than was included in this package but otherwise, I seasoned the chicken just like the steaks, with just salt and pepper.  I chose the Pan Fry & Microwave option, first browning both sides of the chicken with butter before adding the sauce to cook it for the remaining time.

butter-basted-chicken.png

The chicken was pretty much your basic boneless, skinless breast.  It was not any more trimmed than I get it from the store, so I had to cut off some bits of fat, which you can see in the picture below.  The extra brown stuff I put on the chicken was delicious bits from the pan and added to the flavor.  Taste-wise, I would say that this was pretty decent.  My only real flavor complaint was that there was not enough thyme to really come across on the carrots.  I would rate this as a tie for number three/four of six.

butter chicken real

Steak and Mac & Cheese (with cauliflower)

steak and mac grm

I seasoned the steak with salt and pepper and cooked it with a bit of olive oil on the stovetop using a lower heat (I was still getting used to having a gas range).  It turned out just fine.

steak and mac

I wonder whether the Mac & Cheese would have been better in the oven because the texture was kind of rubbery in the microwave.  The flavor was good though.  I could taste the cauliflower, which I like.  The steak itself, however, was boring.  I know that is on me because I could have seasoned it more but I did not know where my McCormick’s was (well, I did, it was just hard to get to still).  Anyway, this dish was fine but disappointing for those two reasons (lack of sauce for the steak and texture of the side) so I would rate it fifth out of the six meals I had.

steak and mac real

Teriyaki Salmon (with snow peas and rice)

teriyaki salmon grm

I made this in the microwave at work (I know, I’m that jerk, but the smell was not actually too strong) and maybe it would have been better cooked another way but the fish was not actually my problem with this meal.

teriyaki salmon

I cooked this for less time than the instructions dictated, which was probably for the best.  The snow peas were extremely limp and the rice was very dry.  Adding the sauce did help the latter and made the salmon itself taste pretty decent.  My first problem was the appearance of a terrible looking pea that had gone bad.  I discarded it and the rice surrounding it before cooking and checked out the rest of the vegetables, which did appear to be fine.  Again, I ate this out of the container so I did not plate it but I definitely could not have made it look like it does on the label anyway.  This is the only meal I did not finish although I did eat all of the salmon (except the bits that sort of exploded as you can see on the sides of the container) and most of the not-fuzzy snow peas, there was just no point to me eating more white rice given my stomach size restriction.  Maybe it was the gross pea that turned me off or maybe it is the fact that I always get top quality salmon when I visit my parents, so I have been a bit spoiled, but this was definitely my least favorite of the six meals.

teriyaki salmon real

Soy Glazed Steak (with wasabi mashed potatoes)

soy steak grm

I cooked this the same way as the last steak, with salt & pepper in oil on the stovetop while I microwaved the side.

soy glazed steak

The steak itself was fine.  The soy glaze was a little sweet for my taste (and sesame seeds aren’t my favorite) but it went well with both the steak and potatoes.  I do think that the steak would have benefitted from being marinated but I actually think that about pretty much all of the proteins included in GoReadyMade meals.  The wasabi potatoes were just fine although less flavorful than they could have been.  I like to add horseradish to my mashed potatoes when I make them, so I think I was expecting something a little hotter but it is probably best to err on the side of not hot for most consumers.  I am actually a giant wuss spice-wise so I am hardly going to make a big deal about that.  Anyway, it was fine although nothing special.  I rank it at the same level as the chicken above, tied for third/fourth place out of six.

soy steak real

Going the wrong way

For several months, I did not lose any weight.  I was not too concerned about that since I felt good and my numbers seemed to be improving but recently I have actually gained weight, which is actually worrisome!

I started a new job in May, which involved a much longer commute.  This was great for things like audiobooks and podcasts (and also my bank account since they are paying me more) but bad for my physical activity.  Since it was no longer on my way and I was in the car for a couple of extra hours every weekday, I just stopped going to the gym.  I kept planning to start a new one but things were constantly up in the air.

First I moved.  Unfortunately, I am further away from my grandmother but I cut my commute from 60 – 75 minutes down to 20ish.  Then, my company moved, cutting the commute down even further.  I don’t really know what it is yet because we are still on day 2 at the new office but it is about 4 miles away from my new place although it is right through a city, that city is Detroit, so there is a lot of traffic and construction but it is not as bad as more “bustling” cities might be.

So, not going to the gym is one of my two problems, or maybe half of one.  The other half is that I significantly decreased my daily step count.  Now, I spend most of my time in front of a computer and if I want my watch to not judge me (it gets a little red line when I haven’t moved for a while) I have to purposefully get up and move around.  That was never a problem at my old job.  There, I was constantly running around a 100,000 square-foot production facility.  Well, not really running, but people demanded my attention in different places so I moved around plenty.  Even though my current company’s new office is at least three times as big as our last one, there is not a lot of need to move around it so I still will have to make an effort to keep my watch happy.  One positive is that there are food trucks and restaurants within walking distance, which will be helpful during non-snowy weather at least.  Of course, if I bring my lunch, which will be a much healthier and cheaper option once we get a fridge installed (later this week, I am told) I will have less of a reason to walk midday so I may have to work on self-motivation.  Also, the parking is further away, so I have to walk a couple of blocks to get to work.  Well, it is a couple right now because of construction, it will only be one block at some point but the parking structure and my office both have stairs so I could conceivably get some exercise that way, we shall see.

My second problem is snacking.  Gastric sleeve surgery has significantly reduced the size of my stomach so that I can only eat so much at one time but it is not a protection against grazing, which I am doing way more of now that I am sitting all day.  It doesn’t help that my workplace provides snacks from Costco but at the end of the day, it is my impulse control that is the real problem.  I don’t know if it will help to chew more gum but it is one thing I am considering trying in order to stop myself from shoving food in my mouth all day long.  This mindless eating is a real problem and doing it the way that I am is not prevented by my surgery!

Another issue I am having, although I don’t think this is directly related to the weight gain, is dehydration.  I don’t really feel thirsty but I can tell I am dehydrated by (sorry for the grossness) the dark color of my urine and the slight constipation I have been experiencing of late.  It is not too severe, but I know that drinking more water should really help, especially with the latter which, of course, is quite annoying.  The problem is that sometimes, I just don’t want water, especially if it is not really cold.  Also, and this is not a huge deal but still bothers me, my Brita filter does not fit on the kitchen sink at my new apartment.  Detroit is close to Flint but has a completely different water source, so I should not have lead issues but still, I want to drink filtered water and at some point I discarded my filter pitcher because of the tap filter I had bought.  Also, it was starting to crack and I had had it for over 15 years, so I should just buy a new one to keep in the fridge.  I am glad I talked myself into that.  Anyway, sometimes I just don’t feel like water so I have been drinking a lot of Crystal Light / Mio (and various off-brand versions of both).  I know that artificial sweetener is not good for me but I figure it is better than juice or not drinking at all.

So, this was an introspective and kind of complain-y post and I don’t have any relevant photos to add but I think it is important to record my frustrations and my non-successes (I don’t want to say failure) as well as things that go well.  For now, I have purchased a small amount of exercise equipment and plan to try walking more and snacking less.  I just hope I can stick to those goals, at least to prevent any further backsliding!

Deep Fat Frying

Everything tastes better when it is fried, which is among the problems that America has as a nation, food-wise.  It has not, historically, been a big problem for me as long as I don’t eat out because I did not used to fry much at home but then I decided to make my own falafel and that might change.

It actually started when I had some pita left over from a takeout dinner and decided to try frying them to make them as delicious as the fare I have always enjoyed at Shawarma King (although probably not anymore since I loved their lunch buffet and those aren’t really for me these days).  Anyway, I put some oil in my wok, heated it up and promptly burned the proverbial crap out of the very thin pita.  So, I turned off the heat, set the oil aside, and when I went grocery shopping the next day, I picked up a package of pita bread that was a little thicker than the restaurant stuff.  That fried up just fine.

pita in oilI cut the pita into wedges with a pizza cutter then separated the two sides and fried them individually, netting 16 chips per pita loaf.  I fried them a few at a time over medium-high heat, flipping each chip once and not leaving them in very long.  I did not own any sort of slotted metal implement that would be appropriate for fishing out the finished chips, so I went with tongs, which was fiddly but worked.  I did not eat too many myself but man, fried pita chips are delicious!  I tried it again with whole wheat pita and could not really tell the difference.

pita chipsTo go with the chips, I made hummus.  I am actually not snobby about the stuff, I like store-bought hummus just fine but when I make it myself, I can put in as much garlic as I want!  I neglected to take any photos of the process but basically, I just mixed everything up in a food processor until smooth.  The ingredients I use (noting that the quantities are approximate because I do not measure) are:

  • 1 can chickpeas / garbanzo beans, drained & peeled (yes, peeling them is a pain in the ass but the finished product is so smooth and delicious, I think it is worth it.  I generally do the work while watching something mindless on TV anyway.
  • 1 head roasted garlic, cloves squeezed out
  • 4 raw garlic cloves
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon pepper (I really don’t measure this, I always add it straight from the grinder)
  • salt to taste (again, straight from the grinder, unless I am using truffle salt, which I have in a jar)

I also sprinkled a bit of paprika over the top for serving but I am not sure it makes a big difference, really.  Anyway, my hummus is always full of garlic and lemony goodness, you usually don’t find those both used so heavily in the store-bought kind.

Not long after, I thought about my slightly used oil and decided to try to make falafel.  I actually don’t always like falafel when I get it at a restaurant.  This is weird because it is (a) chickpeas and (b) fried, which are two things I love.  I think the problem is that I never have any that is as good as I get at Haifa Falafel.  I have just been spoiled by deliciousness.  Anyway, I decided to try making my own so I looked at some recipes online and they pretty much all say to start with dried chickpeas.  Sure, those are inexpensive and not hard to make into the edible variety but I wanted falafel now (then)! So, I decided to try it with canned beans because I always have those on hand.

future falafelIn my trusty food processor, I mixed a drained (not peeled) can of chickpeas with some garlic, onion, parsley, cumin, salt, pepper, and flour (not very much though).  I processed it way less than hummus so that it was still kind of gritty and then formed it into balls, which I squished flat-ish before tossing them into the hot oil where they immediately disintegrated.  Okay, maybe not immediately, but they definitely fell apart when I tried to turn them over so it was pretty clear that I had done something wrong.  I think my mixture was just too moist.

So, instead of totally giving up, I grabbed some breadcrumbs and stirred them into the mix.  It worked out okay and the end result was delicious but I really shouldn’t be adding carbs like that so next time I am going with dried chickpeas and no breadcrumbs.  The tongs still did not really work well even when the falafel was not totally falling apart so I switched to a serving spoon with cutouts to let the oil drain.  I have since purchased a holey paddle meant for frying but have not gotten around to actually using it yet.

falafelSince I made the falafel after the hummus was gone, I needed something to eat with it.  I decided to try making toum (Lebanese garlic sauce) which is something I have always failed at and this was no exception.  It is a fluffy amazingly white emulsion of oil, lemon juice, and raw garlic, seasoned with salt.  That’s it, just four ingredients.  The way to screw it up though is to add the oil too quickly (or too slowly?) and let the emulsion “break” or separate, which always happens to me.  It did this time too but I decided to eat it anyway by mixing my messed up sauce with some tahini, parsley, and sour cream to make a dip that was actually pretty good.  The sour cream actually made it feel a little like eating latkes but the garlic and tahini made it decidedly more Mediterranean in flavor.  Overall, I would call both of my improvised substitutions a success!

I have since bought dried chickpeas but have yet to reconstitute them, which I obviously will not even attempt until after I move this week.