Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy Knit Year!

Happy New Year! Almost, anyway.

We took the dogs to the dog park on Christmas Day and someone had decorated a tree with brightly colored tennis balls. How awesome is that?

I'm still working on that brioche scarf. I've got half a pattern repeat to go and then I'm done. Here's a photo of when it was half-done. I'll post another when it's finished and blocked.
I've learned how to sew, too, thanks to my awesome mother-in-law, who gave me a sewing machine. I made a couple of pillowcases, then started making bags. So everyone got bags for Christmas this year. I made a bunch of zipper pouches like this (it's the first one I made and I gave it to my MIL):
I made some drawstring bags, too. They're good for holding knitting projects.
I was going to do another brioche scarf, this time a different pattern in two colors, but I got talked into doing a knit-along by my friend Karen over at Fringe Association, which is an awesome knitting blog, if you haven't been.

The knit-along is of this State Street Cowl by Pam Allen. You can buy the pattern at Quince & Co. if you want to join us. I tried to buy yarn there, too, but all the colors I tried were sold out. Which necessitated a trip to the local yarn store I like.
I picked up this Peruvian yarn from Mirasol called Ushya. It's 98 percent Merino and 2 percent polyamide, and very soft. The colorway is somewhat variegated, called Fern Green.

We cast on New Year's Day. Come join us!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Knitting again: Brioche stitch

I wasn't really planning to start knitting again, but I had an opportunity to take a class with Nancy Marchant, the Queen of Brioche. This stitch is common in Europe but little known here. It's actually a kind of double knitting, with each row knit twice. I'm practicing it on this one-color scarf, but it's really best for two-color patterns. What you get is fully reversible. Crazy, huh?

Here's the back of the scarf. If you're a knitter, you'll see what I mean. No purls!
The orange yarn starts as a lifeline every four rows, then gets pulled to the edge and tied off to serve as a row marker so I don't lose my place in the pattern. I started doing the lifelines after I screwed up at the very beginning and had to rip out 20 rows and start over. Grrr!

Even so, I've made at least one mistake I didn't catch in time and was too afraid to try to fix (it's a tricky thing to do). Oh well. A knitting expert will notice it, but no one else. I hope.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

No, I'm not dead

I left my old job and got a new job and that's been quite an adjustment.

But I'm doing fine. The Sergeant's fine. The cats and poodles are fine.
The bees are kind of hot, so they've been hanging out on the hive leg. I'm debating whether to loosen the bottom board to give them some more air circulation.

I hope you are staying cool!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fried spring rolls at home

In our cooking class at the Vietnam Cookery Center in Ho Chi Minh City, fried spring rolls (cha gio) were the first course. If you're making a small batch, they're not particularly time-consuming, and the ingredients can be adapted to your taste.

We made them at home following the recipe, but will probably modify it the next time, depending on what's available.
Here's what the recipe calls for:
  • 40g minced pork
  • 60g crab meat
  • 30g dried wood-ear mushrooms, soaked and minced
  • 80g minced, raw shrimp
  • 80g shredded taro (or sweet potato or potato)
  • 1 tsp chicken powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp minced shallot
  • 2 tsp chopped spring onion
  • 4 tsp egg yolk

14-15 spring roll wrappers (We tried to find the net variety without luck, but regular wrappers work fine. Make sure you check the expiration date; rancid wrappers are disgusting!)

Coconut water, or beer with a pinch of sugar, or water with a pinch of sugar, to dip the wrappers in for softening.

Vegetable oil for frying (such as soy or sunflower oil. We used peanut oil. Grapeseed oil would also work..)
Mix together the filling ingredients, then roll them up in the wrappers. There's a decent video here that shows the rolling process. If you don't have a deep fryer (we don't), heat about an inch of oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. You don't want the oil to get too hot or you will char the outside of the roll before the filling is cooked through. Fry your rolls, turning them occasionally, until they are golden, then drain them on paper towels. Traditionally, you would cut the rolls in halves or thirds and eat them rolled up in lettuce leaves with rice noodles and herbs. But we like them simply dipped in fish sauce:
  • 2 Tbs fish sauce
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1.5 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp (or more if you like) minced chiles


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Working hard

Life has been busy lately, for me and the bees.

Three days after installing that package at my friends' place, I went back to release the queen. Her cage was completely covered with workers who were keeping her warm and fed. I brushed them off and tried to get the cork out, but only succeeded in breaking it off and pushing half of it into the cage. I had to leave the cage flat in the bottom of the hive so the queen could scramble past the cork once the workers chewed through the marshmallow I'd left in its place.

My friends retrieved the empty cage later and now report that 10 combs have been built out and all appears well, so that's a relief.

Meanwhile, our own hive swarmed (!) while I was at work. The swarm landed 20 feet up in a tree and disappeared later that day. But the bees that remain appear abundant and calm, so I have to assume they've managed to produce a new queen. I'll try to do an inspection next week just to make sure. And perhaps harvest some honey, too.

I received three swarm calls otherwise (two from a local garden center), which I passed along to others. I just didn't have the time to get them.
The alliums I planted last fall have been blooming like crazy, including Allium "Ambassador," a softball-sized bloom that was worth the $8 I paid for it from Brent and Becky's. It's simply spectacular.

Our poppies have self-seeded in random parts of the yard and are also happily blooming. The bees adore them, even after the petals fall off.
I hope your days are busy and blooming, too!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

We interrupt this travelogue ...

... to bring you a post about bees.
Some friends ordered a package of bees for their hive this year. The swarm that took up residence last year did not survive the winter and they didn't want to gamble on getting another swarm from me. Good thing, since I haven't gotten any swarm calls this year, surprisingly.
The bees were supposed to be ready a couple of weeks ago, but delivery was pushed back to today – when my friends were out of town. So it was up to me to collect them. I should've asked how many packages the beekeeper started with; probably three times as many as you see above, as pickups were divided into three time slots and I was in the last slot.
He was also selling individual queens, which he sent home with their new owners in red plastic cups with perforated tinfoil on top.
Before the bees went out, they were given a spritz of sugar water by the beekeeper's kids. (I was impressed when the little girl came over and said, "Daddy, I have a bee in my hair." She knew not to try to get it out herself and risk getting stung!)
The day was hot, so I didn't dilly-dally. The bees rode in the back of the Subaru. A few loose ones hovered around back there, but I had the air conditioning blasting so they wouldn't be tempted to come forward.
My friends' hive was all set up. I rearranged it a little to make the space they would be in smaller. It's supposed to cool off for a couple of days and it's better if they don't feel too exposed in a big hive.
There was one sheet of foundation to give them a head start. (I hung the queen next to it.)
And feeders at both ends, with sugar syrup. Since these bees are not a natural swarm, they did not stock up on honey and will be hungry.
If you have patience, you can watch the video. I didn't get any pictures of the process since I was by myself. I didn't edit it down, sorry. If I start messing around with iMovie it'll take hours.

So. Took the feeder can out, took the queen in her cage and hung her in the hive, then shook the rest of the bees in and replaced the top bars. In a couple of days I'll go back and release the queen, by which time the workers should have accepted her as their own.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Hoan Kiem's temple and turtle

In Hanoi's Old Quarter there's a lovely peaceful lake called Hoan Kiem.
At the north end of the lake there's a little island with a temple, reached by a picturesque red bridge.
The Temple of the Jade Mountain is a Buddhist temple that draws both sightseers and worshipers. It has a dusty little gift shop where you can buy incense to burn as an offering. The temple is dedicated to a 13th century military leader who fought against the Chinese, and to a Confucian scholar who helped restore the temple in the 1800s.
Is this the scholar or the warrior? I don't know. He had plenty of offerings, though, from Chinese money to piles of cookies, rice and fruit, including Buddha's hand citron (which makes a mighty tasty infused vodka, as my friend Jen can attest!).
The island also has a pretty pavilion where chess players gather.
The temple also pays homage to a denizen of the lake – a giant turtle god that gave a magical sword to the Emperor Le Loi to vanquish his enemies. That task accomplished, the turtle took back the sword and gave the lake its name: "Hoan Kiem" means "Lake of the Returned Sword."
In fact, there does live in the lake a species of giant, soft-shelled turtle that is now near extinction. In a room off the temple there is the preserved body of one that was captured and accidentally killed in 1967. It was 6 feet long and weighed 440 pounds!
It is said to be very lucky to see a giant turtle in the lake, and many believe there is only one left. Last year, there was great concern about the health of a turtle that was spotted with some kind of lesions on its head and body. It was captured and treated with antibiotics, then returned to the lake.
As it happened, we were strolling around the lake a couple of days later when we spotted a crowd peering into the water and pointing. People were hopping off their scooters and running over to the edge with great excitement. "It must be the turtle!" I said to the Sergeant, and we ran over, too. We couldn't get very close, but sure enough, there was the turtle, peeking out of the water.
We felt very lucky indeed!
Later we told the receptionist at our hotel that we had seen the turtle, and she said the newspapers and radio have special reports when there are turtle sightings, and you can even get a text message alert when it's been spotted.

Hanoians take their turtle-watching very seriously.

But even if you don't see the turtle when you visit Hanoi, Hoan Kiem is the perfect place to to enjoy some natural beauty in the heart of the bustling city.

Monday, April 30, 2012


The Sergeant was fascinated with Vietnam's scooter culture. He took many pictures of two-wheeled vehicles old and new hauling a variety of goods. But what amazed me was the lack of safety precautions.
There appeared to be no limit on the number of passengers. Helmets seemed to be required only for adults.

And most of the helmets were simply plastic ballcaps. Not of much use in an accident.
Cellphone use while driving was also common. As was driving on the sidewalks or going the wrong way down one-way streets.

We did see a few accidents, but in most cases no one was driving very quickly so the damage didn't seem too serious.

I just worry about all those little kids and their precious noggins.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ca phe trung (egg coffee) with a view

I first read about cà phê trứng on Eating Asia. Then Manisha reminded me about it. I love love love Vietnamese coffee, and I'm fond of eggnog, so something like a mix of the two sure sounded right up my alley.

And right up an alley is where you'll find it in Hanoi.

The Sergeant was a little concerned when I dragged him down this narrow passageway through a souvenir shop. Cafe Pho Co's faded sign out front is not obvious – I didn't even spot it until we were leaving.

But the passage leads to a lovely, if dim, courtyard and an Escheresque series of stairways.
You place your drink order with the bored girl sitting at the foot of the stairs, then climb. Up a long flight of tiled stairs. Up a circular staircase. Up another narrow metal staircase.
You're rewarded for your climb with a most awesome view of Hoan Kiem Lake, the lake of the sacred turtle.
And if the day is misty and the hour early, you might even get a table by the railing, and reasonably speedy delivery of your tasty coffee.
Yep, it is indeed quite yummy. It's made by frothing egg yolks and sugar, then adding strong, hot coffee. I could have had three more.

There were other seating areas, including a second floor overlooking the lake, and an interior courtyard terrace. Can you imagine how much exercise the servers get when the place is full?

Cafe Pho Co has a reputation for surly service (according to reviews I'd read and a couple Vietnamese people I spoke with about it), but we were there for the coffee and the view, both of which were lovely.

You can try making ca phe trung yourself. I found a couple of recipes, one at (if you have time, watch the video, too. Very interesting) and one at (which appears to be a rough English translation of the same recipe I found on several Vietnamese sites).

But for the best flavor, get yourself to Hanoi!
Cafe Pho Co
11 Hang Gai, Hanoi