Monday, January 23, 2017

A Gathering of a Few Like-Minded Friends

I didn't really know what to expect on Saturday, but I wanted to add my body in support of the cause. My friends and their 5-year-old son invited me to walk with them. They live just a few blocks away, so we decided to take the bus downtown together.

Officials at the city transit authority, RTD, had said they would add more buses along key routes. If by "more" they meant "one," then I guess they didn't lie. Two full buses passed us, and the driver of the second wasn't encouraging about any more coming along. We gave up and drove downtown instead. We found a spot in a parking lot without much difficulty.

Wow, there sure were a lot of people there! I don't know what the original estimates were, other than "thousands." As it turns out, this is what 100,000 (or maybe even 200,000) looks like:

(I stood on a bench to take that.)

Lots of pussyhats! This gal had a bag full of them that she was handing out. (My mother-in-law, by the way, made 26! She made hers out of fleece.)
The march had been going on for more than an hour before our part of the crowd even began moving in the direction of the march route. That's how many people there were. It took that long to funnel down into one street.

The signs were fun to see. There were so many great ones, and I could have spent a lot of time just trying to get good photos of them. But I didn't. I'm sure you've seen all of the best ones on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, anyway.
My friends' son was a very good sport about all the waiting we had to do, and then the shuffling and finally walking. Of course, he was able to do a lot of it on Dad's shoulders.

I wonder if he will remember the march when he's grown up. I hope he does!

One of the really impressive things about the march was how friendly and calm the whole thing was. There were lots of families with kids, disabled and older folk whom everyone was helping along, and no counter-protesters (that I could see, though later I did see some news photos of a few.)

The men's participation was heartening. Especially this call and response when we passed under the Denver Pavilions Skywalk:



It took us about an hour to walk the whole route, and there were still people just starting at the other end. The youngster was nearing the end of his ability to cope, and we were all a bit tired ourselves, so we headed back home. It was gratifying to read later about the stupendous turnout at similar marches around the world.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Frankenpussy


Too large, cobbled together from spare yarn, and badly seamed. But full of heart.

On my way to work today I got honks, thumbs up, a "Thanks for wearing your hat!" and "See you tomorrow!" The latter referring to Saturday's women's march.

I'll be heading downtown with some friends and their young son tomorrow. Colorado might be a purple state, but Denver is decidedly blue. In more ways than one, today.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Less Fat Cat


Enver used to weigh 23 pounds. Now he's down to about 18, thanks to a strict diet. His sister gets her food separately, in the top of the cat tower, which Enver is afraid to climb.

In the wee hours this morning he woke me up with his weird obsessive sheet-licking. Rasp, rasp, rasp.

I shoved a pillow at him and he promptly leapt off the bed and began sharpening his claws on the scratching pad. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

Then he walked around and mewed piteously. Mrr-owwww. Mrrrowwww!  Nosed around his food dish. Clink, clank, clunk.

Then he got into the litter box in the closet and started re-arranging the litter. Scritch, scratch, scritch.

Enver could very well be a children's picture book character in his next life.

Or a muff.






Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mapo Tofu With Pork

Is it weird to eat tofu and meat in the same dish? A lot of people (Americans) seem to think so. Because only vegetarians eat tofu, right? Why would you eat tofu if you can eat meat?

OK, maybe tofu is an acquired taste. It's a bit bland in its natural state, but it has a variety of lovely textures, from silky soft to firm and chewy, and it picks up flavor from sauces like nobody's business.

And there's no reason you can't mix it with meat. It's just another form of protein to add dimension to a dish. Certainly the Chinese know that, and they invented this yummy dish, Mapo Tofu With Pork, that is a easy weeknight dinner. It serves four, generously.

Ingredients


  • 1 lb. ground pork (you can use less, of course)
  • 1-2 chile peppers such as jalapeño or Thai chile, thinly sliced (2 Thais gives it a nice heat for me but not enough for the Sergeant. He doctors his with pepper flakes.)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 knob of ginger, minced
  • 8-12 scallions/green onions/spring onions, cut mostly into roughly half-inch sections. Thinly slice the topmost part of the greens and set aside separately.
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (you can get it in a tube now, which is convenient)
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground in a mortar. Or black pepper if that's what you have (but invest in Sichuan peppercorns if you can; their flavor is unique.)
  • 1 can low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 pound soft tofu, cut into 1-inch pieces (Do this ahead of time and leave the tofu to dry a little on paper towels, if you can. But it's not critical.)
  • Fresh or lightly dried basil
  • (Optional: 1 package pre-sliced mushrooms that your husband accidentally bought to put on pizza when you'd already bought a package the day before. Heat some oil and sautée them until they are almost caramelized, then set aside. More umami for your dish!)

Method


  1. Start a pot of rice or fire up your rice cooker. I cook 2 cups of rice for the Sergeant and me. That's enough for dinner, plus a generous serving to package up with leftovers for my lunch the next day. The Sergeant makes fresh rice for his lunch.
  2. Heat oil in a big skillet and cook the ground pork for 8-10 minutes until well browned.
  3. Add the chile(s), garlic, ginger, and chopped scallions and cook for 3 minutes (you should be able really smell the garlic and ginger). 
  4. Add tomato paste and Sichuan peppercorns and cook for a minute. 
  5. Then add the chicken broth and  black bean garlic sauce and bring to a simmer. (Add those accidental mushrooms now, too, if using.)
  6. Mix cornstarch with a splash of water in a small bowl and add it to the sauce and stir to incorporate it thoroughly.
  7. Add tofu and gently fold it the sauce over it, then cover the pan and let it simmer for a few minutes.
  8. Remove from heat and fold in the green sliced scallion tops.
  9. Serve the tofu over rice sprinkled with torn-up fresh basil leaves or a sprinkling of dried basil.

This recipe is originally from Bon Appétit. I've modified it for my tastes and cooking style.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

This Is Not a Perfume


Nothing is worse than choking on another person's perfume, so I apply it lightly. A dab on the wrists and throat, Or a single spritz in the air, which I then walk through.

My go-to's have been Chanel No. 19, L'Air du Temps, Hermès Caleche, Eau de Givenchy and Joy, but I haven't worn any of them with regularity for a while. I kind of forget about using them. And they're a little dated.

So it was fun to find this wee sample in a recent Birchbox and to discover that I really like it. Not a Perfume is, in fact, a perfume, but with a single ingredient: synthetic ambergris. It smells fresh but musky to me, and it lingers nicely. I use just a drop of it at a time, so even this little vial has lasted a while.

I thought about getting a bottle of it, but a couple of things put me off. First, it's about $75 for a bottle that would take me years to get through. Second, many reviewers complained that the perfume from the bottle smelled nothing like the smaller sample.

So I poked around online and found this great little "discovery kit" for $20 that includes a larger, 4 ml vial of "Not a Perfume" as well as seven 1.7 ml vials  of other Juliette Has a Gun scents.

I'm enjoying rotating though them and seeing which ones I like best. So far, I find I keep returning to Not a Perfume.

If you really want to try it, you can find individual sampler vials on eBay. Sephora shops might also have a tester available.


As is often the case, my research for this post led me to an interesting website: Fragrantica, "an online encyclopedia of perfumes, a perfume magazine and a community of perfume lovers."

A community of perfume lovers! It's like Ravelry for your schnozz. Which is pretty awesome. .I enjoyed reading the reviews of my favorite scents.

Interestingly, for some people "Not a Perfume" smells like nothing at all.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Birchbox Is Kind of Fun

I don't wear a lot of makeup. Most days I don't wear anything except lipstick, if I remember to put it on. (Yes, Mom, I know a little lipstick does wonders.) But I love little samples of things to try, and Birchbox one way to get them. It was nice to come home from work on Thursday and find January's installment waiting on my porch.


If you're not familiar with Birchbox, for $10 a month they send you samples of makeup, skincare products, hair products and perfume, based on your preferences/beauty profile. It's fun to try out products you might not otherwise purchase or even be aware of.

This month's box was a little bigger than usual because I got a bonus for ordering subscriptions for my teenage nieces as Christmas presents. I would have loved Birchbox when I was their age.

The bonus was the Eyeko All Eyes Kit, which included brow gel, mascara and eyeliner.

The main Birchbox is a sturdy little stationery-size box with a nice design.
Inside were five samples:


That's cleansing oil (for removing makeup), a dry shampoo, eyebrow-defining gel, eye pads and liquid eyeliner (the same as in the eye kit, but that's fine with me). Fun! They're all new products for me, so I'm looking forward to trying them. 

The little sample sizes of makeup are especially good for me because it takes me forever to use up even that tiny amount.  If I bought a full-sized mascara, for example, it would probably dry out and get thrown away long before I used all of it.

The one thing I don't like about Birchbox is the spammy emails. They email you Every. Single. Day. I tried to find a way to set email preferences on my account to reduce the number of emails, but apparently it's all or nothing. I even contacted customer service, and they were like, "Sorry. That's the way it is." 

A co-worker tells me the app works OK, though, for when you want to customize the next month's box, so I think I'm going to just turn off the emails entirely. 

Do you use Birchbox or similar service? (I understand there are others out there.)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Ghost of Christmas Past


We had a lovely tree this year, a Noble fir purchased from the Denver Optimists Club's tree lot. The money funds their various charities, and their trees are high-quality. This one dropped hardly any needles at all in the past month. I'm a bit sad to see it go.

Jackson reassured me as much as he could by standing close and trying to lean on me while I took the lights down. He's very helpful and thoughtful that way.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Patching Denim With Shashiko Embroidery


Not long after I got these nice French Dressing jeans, I fell on concrete and tore a hole in the knee. Dammit! Since then, they've been hanging in my closet, taunting me. They fit well, they look nice, and I really need to patch them in some way.

But how best to do that? I could put a patch on top of the hole or underneath, and try to machine- or hand-stitch for an unobtrusive fix, but I suspect it would just look ... clumsy.

Recently, though, I learned about Japanese boro textiles and shashiko embroidery. Hmmm. Why not go bold?

There's a good introductory article on Design Sponge. I'm thinking I should probably get a little piece of denim and some patching fabric to practice with. Not to mention shashiko needles and thread.

Because and important part of learning a new craft is getting all the right tools and gear. Right?

I'll let you know how it goes!


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Down the Rabbit Hole


I spend far too much time thinking and reading and researching about crafts, and not nearly enough time actually doing them.

I don't think I'm alone, if Pinterest is anything to go by. Do you look at Pinterest? I've not spent a lot of time there because it feels like Too Much Stuff and I just get overwhelmed.

Ravelry (which is a knitting resource) is also a little overwhelming, but I use it to organize my outlandish yarn stash. Here's a portion of my stash, sorted by color:




I also like to look at patterns there, and think about what I'll knit next. Rather than finishing the projects I've already started. So many beautiful or interesting things!

I look at the patterns, then I look at how they turned out when knitted by different people with different yarns. Hours pass.

I wish Ravelry also had a means of cataloging my fabric stash, so everything could be in one place. Despite not being a longtime sewer, I have managed to amass a large amount of fabric, mostly quilting cotton. I should probably learn how to quilt, eh?

Maybe I'll investigate quilting once I'm done exploring shashiko embroidery and boro fabric-repair techniques. Which is what this post was originally going to be about, but I got distracted.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Good Place for a Drink & a Natter


Here's a first world problem (as they say): It's hard to find a decent place to drink downtown that doesn't cost an arm and a leg, isn't a sports bar, isn't too loud and isn't a complete dive. 

Well, we didn't do much research, so we washed up at the Cruise Room in the Oxford Hotel, across from Union Station. Convenient for catching buses and trains, as we needed to do. ("We" being me and a co-worker, blowing off steam.)

The Cruise Room is in the arm and leg category, but the decor is lovely, and there's a certain nostalgic component. I used to go there a lot 20 years ago. It made me feel sophisticated and mature. I suppose it still does, though I think have the maturity thing down now. Mostly. Sophistication is only occasionally in evidence.

The Caesar salad had actual anchovies. We ordered spiced nuts, too. Washed it all down with bourbon Manahattans (her) and rye Sazeracs (me). Talked about work and past jobs, sewing, the women's march, blogging.

It's hard to get back into storytelling mode. Remembering to take pictures. Thinking of an angle. Making it interesting. 

This is a little boring, and the photos are bad. But it's a post!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Go, Pokemon Go!

I did not grow up playing Pokemon. I remember hearing something about the game and cartoons, and had a vague awareness of something called Pikachu, but that was the extent of it.

But I work at a company full of millennials and engineers, so when Pokemon Go came out, there was a lot of excitement.

It also coincided with my purchase of my very first (!) smartphone. Yes, I had an LG flip phone for nearly 10 years, and it served me very well. I stuck with it in part to throttle my screen time, since I'm online at work all day.

Finally, none of the services I used regularly would support it anymore. Couldn't post to Facebook, couldn't get addresses from Google via text. So I bit the bullet and got an iPhone SE, which is like an iPhone 6 in the body of a 5. Small but mighty.

So I thought I'd check out this Pokemon Go game with my new phone. And was immediately hooked. As I mentioned earlier, I walk a half-mile to the train in the morning, and home again at night. I walk through a little business district that comes complete with 10 Pokestops and three Pokemon gyms. Plus Pokestops at all the train stations on the way to work, and lots more downtown. The game makes my commute more entertaining. It scratches my itch to put things in order, to categorize and complete.

I completed my U.S. Pokedex in October, with a rare Dragonite. Thanks to a local Pokemon Facebook group, I knew where to look for it.

Since then, I've focused mainly on leveling up. I should hit Level 35 in the next few days, which is decently advanced. I'm looking forward to the next release of Pokemon characters to catch.

Meanwhile, all this walking has helped me lose 10 pounds and get in better shape. I go out and walk at lunchtime, and do a quick lap around the neighborhood when I need a break.  The Sergeant has been on a diet, so we're eating dinner at home more, and that has helped, too.

I haven't really encountered any negative attitudes about my obsession. People think it's a little funny, but it keeps me entertained. And it keeps me walking, so yay, Pokemon!

Monday, January 09, 2017

Special Needs Poodle


Jackson and Lucy are 11 and 13 years old now. They both used to be much more energetic and robust (me, too!), but now they spend most of the day sleeping, and our walks are slow and short.

Lucy has always been a bit of a willful princess, and picky about her food, but (knock on wood) she's always been reasonably healthy.

Jackson, however, has become our special-needs dog. A few years ago we discovered he has sebaceous adenitis, an autoimmune disorder that destroys the oil glands in the hair follicles and makes the hair fall out. Luckily I knew another poodle with the same problem and recognized the symptoms early on.

Conventional treatment involves regular oiling with mineral oil, baby oil or propylene glycol. Yuck. A soap-making friend suggested I try coconut oil instead, and gave me some to try. It worked! Jackson's hair grew back in the spots where it had fallen out, and his skin looked healthier.

So now he gets a regular coconut-oil massage every couple of months, or more often if he's having a flare-up.

I have a 50-pound bucket of oil from a soap-making supply company; this kind of oil is solid up to 76 degrees, so it's easy to handle. It takes about 2 pounds of oil and two hours to get Jackson all covered and allow for soak-in time. Dogs have a lot of surface area. Then I wash the excess oil off again with Dawn. (It takes grease out of your way!)

More disturbingly, and for unknown reasons, Jackson has also gone blind. His vision was always a bit poor (he could rarely catch a ball, for example), but one day we realized he was not seeing anything at all. He got tested for a bunch of possible causes (SARDS, Cushing's disease), but nothing quite matched. We're guessing it's something neurological.

But we're not willing to have an MRI done to see if he has a brain tumor. I mean, what do you do with that knowledge, then? His only real symptom is the blindness, and his quality of life is still good.

He knows his way around the house and yard (except when it snows; that gets him a bit disoriented). And he still likes to go for walks (with a leash that has "BLIND DOG" embroidered on it). He loves to cuddle, he loves to meet people. He'll lean on someone he just met, if they pet him; he'll essentially fall asleep standing up. It's very endearing.

So we'll just keep loving on him, and steering him away from obstacles. He's so good-natured, he just takes it all in stride.


Friday, January 06, 2017

My Commute (or How I Learned to Love RTD Light Rail)

For the last 20 years, I've worked in downtown Denver, and I always used to commute by car. Most of the time, public transit either wasn't an option or just wasn't convenient or even much more affordable. I had an OK parking spot for $100 a month.

Then I broke my leg (MRI at right). That's another story.

I worked from home for two months, then had to pay $200/month to park in my office building (or risk falling on an icy sidewalk). Yeah, ouch.

In May I decided it was time to start getting more exercise and get that leg fully back up to speed. I resolved to take the train to work every day for a month. We live a half-mile from the station, and the train stops close to work, so that's a mile of walking every day, at least.

One month turned into two, then three... It's now eight months later and I've driven to work maybe three times in that entire period.

No joke; I don't ever want to drive downtown again.


Even this morning, when it was 5 degrees out with lots of fresh snow, the walk to the station was reasonably pleasant. It was up to 7 when I left work, but I was well bundled up.

The train just zipped past all the gridlocked rush-hour traffic, and my husband made dinner when I got home.

Not bad!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Kung Pao Tofu

I probably make Kug Pao Tofu for dinner every couple of weeks. I make it with chicken sometimes, too, but the Sergeant prefers tofu.

It's a good dish for a small dinner party (4-6 people), because most of it can be prepped ahead of time. It can be made completely vegetarian, too (but I think it's better with chicken broth and real oyster sauce).

Here's my recipe, pasted from Pepperplate.


Kung Pao Chicken or Tofu

Loosely based on a recipe from the inaugural issue of Cook's Country.
YIELD
 Serves 4-6, depending on the quantity of vegetables you add

INGREDIENTS

  • For the sauce

    • 1 can low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
    • 6 tablespoons oyster sauce (a vegetarian version is available in Asian markets)
    • 3 teaspoons hot sauce (sriracha)
    • 4 teaspoons corn starch
  • For the Vegetables & Protein

    • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
    • OR 1 block extra-firm tofu, cubed, drained and dried
    • Vegetable oil
    • 1 cup dry-roasted peanuts, unsalted (cashews work, too)
    • 2 carrots
    • 2 celery stalks
    • 1 red bell pepper
    • 1 yellow bell pepper
    • 1 yellow squash or zucchini
    • 1 small red onion
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • Optional Additions

    • Water chestnuts
    • Baby corn
    • Snow peas or sugar snap peas

INSTRUCTIONS

    1. Make the sauce by combining the listed ingredients in a jar and shaking vigorously. Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
    2. Heat up 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet or wok and throw in the chicken and peanuts. When the chicken is lightly browned, remove it and the peanuts from the pan and set aside.
    3. If using tofu instead of chicken, sear the tofu first, then toast the peanuts. Set aside.
    4. Heat another tablespoon of oil and sautée the red onion and carrot until soft and caramelized.
    5. Add bell pepper and celery and cook more.
    6. Add squash or zucchini and cook a little more. (This is also where I add any optional, tender ingredients such as snow peas.)
    7. Add minced garlic cloves and ginger and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
    8. Shake the sauce vigorously, stir it in and bring to a boil.
    9. Add the chicken or tofu and peanuts, gently stir to coat, then cook for a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. Serve with rice.

NOTES

You can prepare the sauce and cut up all vegetables and tofu a day ahead of time, but don't mince the garlic and ginger until just before you start cooking. 

Add more sriracha to the sauce if you like, or spice it up at the table with red pepper flakes (my husband makes his own out of Thai chiles or Chinese dried chiles). 

This makes a lot of food, but it freezes well. You can freeze portions of rice to go with it for a grab-and-go lunch. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Lesson Learned: Busy Fabrics Don't Need Fancy Quilting



I did some straight-line quilting on bags I made a couple of weeks ago (I gave them away before it occurred to me I should take pictures of them). I thought I would try it again on a bag I made yesterday, but with a diamond pattern to trace the design.



It was good practice, but as I discovered, quilting isn't very visible on a busy fabric like this. It's nice for adding a little structure, but simple straight lines would have been sufficient.



Once I sewed and pressed the bag, you couldn't really see any quilting at all. But it turned out nicely, nevertheless.

I only recently discovered that "quilting" is just one part of making a quilt, and refers to the stitching (plain or fancy) you do all over the top of the quilt to secure all the layers together. The other part of quilt making is "piecing," or the process of sewing together the many pieces of fabric that make up the top of the quilt.