Monthly Archives: July 2009

The knits go off the rails

Warning: this post is almost unbelievably boring to anyone who is not fascinated by my textile pursuits.

There are two new knitting projects underway, and one new tatting project.  Both knits are eyeball bending — one navy blue laceweight silk on size 0 needles, one jet black wool blend on size 1’s.   Anyway, as you might guess, they are best worked in indirect sunlight.  Further, my brain and the pattern for the black are not getting along.  I am liking the result, liking it a lot so far, but I hope I can stop unknitting as much as I knit.  Soon?

As I need to unpick a couple rounds of the black and I am avoiding it, I worked on the navy.  Tonight I saw that — horrors! — I had dropped a stitch in the silk.  No!  Two stitches!  No!  Three!  I think.  How many rows had they slipped?  I don’t know — maybe 15 to 20?  They have been put on a safety pin and the whole piece is in time out for a day or so.  That one had been swimming along so well.  I actually put a couple of lifelines in, but then it seemed good, so I stopped doing that.  And pulled them out last night, as a matter of fact.  So I am just paying the lifeline deities now, I guess.  I will make my sacrifice and get on with things.  I am still liking both projects (no bad juju for the recipients) but rrr.

While I cool off about the knitting, I think I will tat.  I’d like a mat to line the inside of a little wooden box my grandmother gave me years ago.  And I’d like mimic an Islamic tesselation for it.  Sort of.  The size 10 thread looks all substantial and  awesome but the mat just isn’t going to the be right size.  I am enamoured enough of the pattern at this point that I don’t want to change it, so I’m moving to size 30 thread and I’ll see how that goes.

In related news:  this past weekend a knitting needle was bent in the service of tatting.

In unrelated news:  The baby has teeth, two of ’em.  He’s had them for almost two weeks now.

I can’t get to this place enough

Great Basin National Park.  And the drive there is killer.  I mean that literally and figuratively, as there are few landscapes so clearly able and ready to kill.  To me, only salt flats exceed it that way.  I love them both, of course.

Me and David Arora are going to have a little chat, human-to-book about all the fungus (see below).  And next outing, even if he doesn’t feel like coming along and I don’t really feel like carrying him, he will be wrestled into the backpack anyway.  If needed, he will bump the birding guides, or at least the heavy one.   In case you prefer a clearer opinion, yes, that is my very favorite mushroom book. And I have read or consulted more  mushroom books than one might expect, being still pretty useless when it comes to mushroom collecting.

What’s wrong with US Healthcare 2: Employer-provided

This is more straightforward than my first post about what’s wrong with healthcare in the US:  it’s provided mainly through employers.

While this is a-okay as long as (1) you have a job, (2) your employer happens to offer coverage, (3) the coverage is affordable, (4) you don’t get very sick, when those four conditions don’t coincide there’s a problem.  For many people, they don’t coincide.

You could lose your job — it seems to be happening to a lot of people, even people who are good at their jobs.  How do you pay for COBRA then?  Especially with a tough job market where a new job is hard to find, and also considering that many employers have significant waiting period before a new hire is eligible for coverage?  How do you pay for private insurance when COBRA runs out?  What if you can’t get private insurance because you, oh I don’t know, sprained your ankle last year?  (I’m not exaggerating.  I know a twenty-something athlete turned down for that reason.  At least that was ostensibly the reason.)

Your employer could stop offering coverage or you could have a job where it is not offered.  I used to work in a garden center, and I was not eligible for insurance because my hours were drastically cut each winter, meaning I was never full-time for a long-enough continuous period of time to qualify.  Almost no one at the company was eligible.  You might say, “get a better job.”  Fine, okay.  But who are you going to ask what’s eating your garden next year?  Policies like this encourage an awful-lot of turnover and lack of experienced staff doesn’t make a good knowledge-based business.  Guess why I don’t work at garden centers anymore?  Yes, now you know.  That is, really and truly, the main reason.

Your employer’s coverage could be unaffordable.  I don’t think that needs much elaboration.

You could get really sick.  This is the stupidest part of the whole set-up.  I have personally encountered several people (I’m not including people I know only in cyberspace here) who have gotten very ill, used up all their sick time, lost their jobs and insurance, and basically become bankrupt (sometimes actually so.)  When I last worked for the state (aka “benefit city”), there were several people in that exact situation except they hadn’t actually lost their jobs yet — the other employees were “donating” their leave and sick time to the sick people so they wouldn’t be fired for absenteeism.  That is lovely and kind, but also totally messed up.  What happens with all the donated time runs out?  What if one of the other people gets sick?  Oooooo, it was such a perverse and nauseating situation!  These were people with  supposed coverage!  This is what can happen to them!

There are other valid gripes about insurance being provided through employers: it’s expensive for the employer, it puts small and new businesses at a significant disadvantage in attracting labor, even though small business is the biggest generator of jobs as I hear, it creates an incentive for businesses to hire more part-time employees to avoid the insurance costs of full-time employees, it keeps people from starting their own businesses because they will lose their coverage.  Hm, this is fun in a heart-racing, angry adrenaline sort of way.  Let’s talk about all that later.

Cherries

About all the cherries fit to can. For a person who despises cherry pie, anyway.

Clockwise from bottom left: Maraschino cherries, Cherry marmalade, Drunken cherries (still working), Cherry syrup

Clockwise from bottom left: Maraschino cherries, Cherry marmalade, Drunken cherries (still working), Cherry syrup

Think I’ll dry some tart cherries and see how they are.  And dip some dried sweet cherries in chocolate (thanks, Suz!).

ETA: Um, this is a sample of each type of thing I canned.  I didn’t do just four jars.  That would be sad.

Summer — time to:

Eat whatever you can find between the cracks of the deck

C deck_071609Eat popsicles if you can get ’em

H Popsicle_071609_1

Ditch the extraneous hair

Hair Blog

K C_071609_4

Hair_071609_7

A hunnert bucks

On Craigslist.  The woman who sold this to us was nuts not to ask for much, much more.
IMG_1418
It replaced a bakers rack which was okay but had become inadequate.  I hope you enjoy the extra special picturesque orange plastic water jug and white plastic dehydrator. I know I do. I feel pretty happy and lucky to have some more ample storage and something more pleasant to look at to boot for not very much money.

I was pushed over the edge into haunting Craigslist by a book I recently acquired, The Pantry.  It’s excellent eye candy with some good  ideas as well.  If you’re into that kind of thing, which I am.

It’s a shawlette

Hey, look, I finished something!

Zetor_071209It’s a tiny little shawl! It’s the most unnecessary piece of knitting this side of the Mississippi! But I sort of like it and will wear it as a cool-weather scarf (we will ignore the fact that my climate does not sport a lot of “cool” weather — more hot or cold. But there are a few precious days that are “cool,” you know?)

The tatted bookmarks are reproducing, but there seem to be some problems during meiosis or subsequent mitosis — the original template is good, but the outcome is a little messed up. I’m sure it could have nothing to do with the supreme creator-ess’s lack of attention, could it?

Tatted bookmarkes_071209

Here they are, attempting to understand Wetlands, which is a worthy goal.  I should probably learn to take better pictures of the tatting, all the pictures I’ve done have been dreadful.

There’s another tatted pride snowflake floating around here somewhere too…

If you know how to do it

The other day I read a little column in Salon about home canning. I was not infuriated by it, but I did find it to be uninformed and annoying in its presumption. The conclusion was the home canning is a luxury. I actually registered as a commenter in Salon, typed up a long bit of advice, and then it didn’t post successfully for some reason. By then I’d run out of steam to do it again. But I have been thinking about it since (so much that I screwed up while canning mixed beans last night, in fact!) and I think I’ll just address it here.

It is possible to do home canning very expensively — buy all new equipment and only the most expensive ingredients. Voila! You end up with a $15 jar of jam, just like the Salon writer. On the other hand, I’m not sure it is possible to can absolutely dirt cheap, either. I’d say you can save money, but not a whole bunch. For me, the aim is (1) quality food, (2) a sense of satisfaction, Unabomber Manifesto style, and (3) modest savings. Let me state up front that I DO NOT CARE whether or not one cans. It doesn’t inherently make one a good or bad person. It is, admittedly, hot work, especially for stuff that requires a lot of prep, and it mostly happens in the hot part of the year. It’s probably not for everyone.  I do think it is indicative of certain character traits, and I do love my canning group something fierce, but I also love me some non-canners.   Mmm-kay?

Here’s what you do to save money, in my experience:
(a) Can a lot. That way the equipment outlay is amortized more or less completely. And you become less of a dumbass, too, which reduces waste.
(b) Can stuff that is abundant and inexpensive — canning things in their season also ensures freshness. In fact, it’s kind of the point. I don’t can tomatoes in February, duh.
(c) Be vigilant about finding good recipes for what you’ve got.
(d) If you make something unusual and/or fancypants, it can be a good gift. Even if it’s something quite expensive, you come out ahead. Just make sure it’s something the giftee would like and would think is special.
(e) Can stuff you like and will eat. It isn’t any good to can stuff that just sits there or (gasp) gets thrown out. Last year’s Onion-Thyme Jelly, I’m looking at you.
(f) Don’t can stuff that will kill you (using stupid methods, I mean).
(g) Get yourself a knowledgeable support group to help avoid the worst mistakes and answer the most difficult questions. Also, they will commiserate when you do make mistakes. OK, that last one doesn’t save money, unless it keeps you canning, enhancing (a) above.

That’s the gist of my comment I failed to post on Salon. One of the other commenters on the original column made the statement that people who think they are saving money by canning are “bad at math.” OK, I’ll take up that gauntlet.

Let’s break it down for what I canned last night and this morning, dry beans (which, admittedly, is one of the least expensive things to can, but hey, it’s what I’ve done more recently, and I do like proving a point):

Beans – $0.16 per pint (approx $2.80 for about 2.75 lbs)
18 Pint-jars – $0.11 per pint (at an estimated average cost “new” of $0.45, and an estimated 4 uses already for each jar — rings cost included here)
Lids – $0.14 per pint, bought new at the general local going rate
Salt – negligible
Water – negligible
Fuel – $0.06 per pint (quite loosely estimated — about 4 hours cook time at about $0.25 per hour — this estimate is on the high side)
———————————————————
Total cost per jar = $0.47
Total cost for the 18 jars = $8.46

OK, the cost of a can of beans at the store is about $1.09 lately, so I would have spent $19.62 for an equal number of cans of beans. That’s $11.16 more.

But there’s more. My jars are 16 oz, the cans at the store are 15 oz. The actual cost from the store of an equal number of beans, then, is $20.93, making the savings $12.47.

The labor can hurt. It’s hard to say how much labor this required. Dry beans are about the easiest thing to can. It doesn’t help when you realize partway through that you were daydreaming and packed the jars incorrectly, and have to dump them all out and do them again (before processing, fortunately). I’ll estimate 1.5 dedicated hours. So that’s a little above minimum wage. Ain’t no taxes, but ain’t no Social Security earning either.

The problem, though, with figuring a “wage” for this, is that is not true that every second of my time has the real potential for top wage-earning. I mean, I actually did work quite a bit through the whole process (there’s a lot of standing time in canning, especially pressure canning). If I considered canning my full-time job, it doesn’t pay very well. But I don’t. I consider it my “free-time” job. So I don’t count my labor as a cost. I exercise complete discretion in what I *want* to can, so I feel comfortable with that. Well, during tomato season, Brad wants some serious tomato put-up — he sees it as his “pay” for all the time I spend with canning things he doesn’t like quite as well. Fortunately, I’m a glutton for that kind of tomato-ey punishment.

The other sticking point is the larger equipment. I own about $100 of canning equipment in the form of a small-ish pressure canner and sundry small utensils. If you’re going with a pressure canner, you need to can a LOT to bring the cost down. If using a boiling water bath process, you may only need about $10 worth of the small utensils if you already own a large stockpot.

I’ve owned this canner for a year and a half. I’d estimate I’ve used it 30 times now. So my cost per use is down to $3.33 now. Applying that to the beans, they now cost me $0.66 each.

Still less than the store. AND I have a low-sodium product. AND the container is almost entirely reusable. AND it has very little BPA in the container. AND it’s a custom blend of beans. AND I know exactly how it was prepared, and have confidence that I have proceeded in a safe and proper way and feel no fear of salmonella, e.coli, botulism, et. al.

AND I’m not bad at math.

Can’t talk

The weather today is so heartbreakingly beautiful that I just can’t spend any time at the computer that isn’t work-related. See y’all later, with a finished knitted object. And maybe some finished tatted stuff, with commentary.

Recipe: Bengali Breakfast Grains

My sister made this while I was visiting her and I’m a fan.  The original recipe is here. Sorry, my gluten-free friends, no touchy for you. But I suspect it would also be good with steel-cut oats. Maybe even buckwheat? Cracked corn? Do people eat that as a hot cereal? Anyway, you could throw in all sorts of other goodies, like flax seed or quinoa. Come to think of it, I guess I could do that too.

You know how if you make oatmeal or cream or wheat or grits, they sort of gloop together as they cool and form a really unappetizing lump?  Well, this one does that too, but it softens up again more easily because the particles are larger.  I just reheated some this morning and it was great once I mashed the lumps out (that was easy).

The changes I’ve made are:
-Moooooooooore fennel. This is the secret key to this dish. It fools your mouth into thinking it’s sweet when it’s not, so if you have a sweet tooth that doesn’t quit, like me, you can just add a tsp or so of sugar instead of a more embarrassing amount.  Mine has at least a Tb of fennel.
-Cardamom pod instead of ground cardamom. Really, people.
-More milk.
-Whole-grain bulgur. Then I ran out and got regular bulgur. They’re both good, but the WG takes a little more milk and time.
-Less fruit because berries are expensivo in The Place Where I Live. I dislike blueberries a lot, but I found them palatable in this dish. Raspberries have also been successful. I think it would be very good with peaches or strawberries or, hmm, dates. Again, I dislike dates as a rule, but this dish might be a good home for them.

Knock yerselves out.