A Vest for Dan

My boyfriend Dan is extremely picky? discerning when it comes to knitwear.

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It can make making things for him somewhat challenging, but after being together for 10 years, you learn how to make things work. He has very strong opinions about vests in particular. They have to have buttons. They have to be all one color. They have to have a stitch pattern, but it can’t be cables or anything too too fancy. They have to look good with blue button-down shirts.

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They have to be BB-8 approved.

Okay, maybe I made that last one up.

Point is, there are a lot of rules. And how do we get around this, being the incredibly patient knitter that we are? We make Dan pick out every single aspect of the project. We sit together for two hours on Ravelry, going through every single listed knit vest pattern for men, until it is narrowed down to only one.

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The winner? A Vest for Charles by Kathleen Dames, from The Best of Jane Austen Knits. This one ticks every box up there: buttons, all one color, an unobtrusive but lovely brocade-inspired stitch pattern…perfection for the picky man.

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The yarn? Well, this is the first time in my life that I have ever done this, but this project is knit in exactly the same yarn and colorway as pictured in the original pattern, Brooklyn Tweed Shelter in the color Truffle Hunt. (Click the link to buy some from Loop! They were super fast and super friendly! Highly recommended.) I gave Dan several suggestions as to other worsted weight yarns and tweedy options, but he had his heart set on the exact one in the picture.

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And you know what? He couldn’t have been more right. Truffle Hunt is a gorgeous color, somewhere between gray and brown (as you can probably tell from the fact that it looks like a completely different color in almost every single picture), with tiny flecks of teal green, dark blue, gold, brown, and white interspersed throughout. And because Shelter is what’s called a “woolen-spun” yarn, it’s very soft, light, and airy, while somehow also providing amazing stitch definition and warmth.

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I mean, look at all that double-diamond action. I’m definitely going to invest in some more when it’s time to make a sweater for me.

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Jane Austen Knits is a really fun book for those who are into regency-influenced fashion, so I felt like I needed to get a picture of Dan enjoying a bit of Persuasion. Fitting, as it’s the character Charles Musgrove for which the pattern is named.

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As for the pattern, although it’s absolutely perfect for my slender, just made-for-an-ascot-looking counterpart, it has its ups and downs. The charts are easy-to-follow, but more complex than they appear at first glance. Keep your stitch markers going (even though it’ll seem ridiculous at first) and take plenty of notes as to where you start and stop for each section of pattern when you get to dividing up for the sleeves. You’ll thank me later.

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Keep close track of your buttonhole rows, because they don’t line up with the stitch pattern at all, even though in the finished project, they look like they do.

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Speaking of buttonholes, this is actually one of the things that I thought was really marvelous about this pattern. While you’re knitting, you knit in buttonholes on either side of the chest closure at the same time, resulting in doubled matching buttonholes all the way up. This is for two reasons: one, so that the vest can be unisex and you can choose for yourself which side to sew the buttons onto; and two, so that when you are ready to sew, you know exactly where that button is to be placed, down to the exact stitch.

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It’s not super easy to see, but the post on that button is going to land directly into the yarnover, which matches exactly with the other side. I know that all knitters have had that moment where, no matter how well you measure and mark out your buttons and pin out everything perfectly, the buttons never, ever look exactly evenly spaced. I’m so happy to know that there’s a solution to that problem.

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The buttons? Dan picked those out, too. Well, more like he was guided into choosing them by the amazing staff at Promenade Fine Fabrics on St. Charles Ave. here in New Orleans. If you go to their website, the fantastic man who helped us is the owner, Herbert Halpern, the distinguished-looking gentleman on the left in the photo at the bottom right corner. He came right over to us, picked up the vest, steered us away from the wooden buttons, and found the absolute perfect match. Dill 1942 Full Metal, style 6486, if you’re wondering.

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They’re just exactly the right mix of modest and military. And just like the yarn, they change color depending on the light. I ended up using 13 buttons instead of the 11 called for in the pattern, because even though I made the 36″ chest circumference size, Dan’s torso is really long in proportion to the rest of him. The result? A super-flattering slim fit that makes him look taller. And even though I made the vest that much longer, I still somehow ended up with an extra skein of yarn left over. Maybe a hat to match? Or an ascot?

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Last, but not least, Dan got to pick out our photo shoot location. Grow Dat Youth Farm is one of our favorite places in the city.

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They teach kids all about sustainable agriculture and sell their food through farm stands and CSA boxes throughout the year. We finally became CSA share members this year, after debating for some time, and we’ve been having a lot of fun so far preparing the seasonal vegetables that they provide.

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I am all about those purple carrots now.

So, if your boyfriend wants to show off his brand-new sweater vest by running around in a field of greens that you’re probably going to eat later, you let him.

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Tastes Like a Christmas Tree – Coconut Mint Chip Ice Cream

At my work recently, we had a summer potluck situation to celebrate our Summer Reading Kickoff, and instead of baking something easy like cookies or banana bread, I chose to delve myself deeper into my new ice cream maker obsession.

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I started with some sprigs of mint from our backyard garden, not really having much else in mind than minty summer goodness.

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Those beautiful green leaves got all blended up in the food processor with the delicious coconut milk vegan ice cream base from the Hungry Mouse‘s fabulous recipe, yet again. I might be addicted to this stuff, guys.

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Things got to mixing, and it became clear that just mint alone wasn’t enough to kick off the summer with my coworkers.

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Chocolate and shredded coconut got involved, too.

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Much better.

I meant to get some pictures of the finished product right out of the freezer, but in the bustle of the day, I’m lucky I got to it before it all disappeared.

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Look at all of those little flecks of fresh mint and chocolate! Yum!

I brought magic shell and two types of cones to make a little ice cream bar, but most people just went for plain scoops. I feel silly saying it, but hearing how much people liked it and how surprised they were to taste fresh mint in homemade ice cream was just a fantastic feeling. One of my more eloquent coworkers, A.J., declared that my ice cream tasted just like Christmas trees.

He tried to explain it to me, but there was no explanation necessary, really. I totally get it. It’s fresh and bright and minty, with a little bit of the almost-bitter-but-not-really oiliness that makes me think of rosemary and basil in the best ways possible. The chocolate is dark, the coconut is chewy, and the whole thing coming together in such a lovely way was a wonderful surprise.

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Coconut Mint Chip Ice Cream
adapted from the Hungry Mouse‘s 3-Ingredient Coconut Ice Cream

Ingredients:
2 13 oz. cans of coconut milk
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 large-ish sprigs of mint (mine were each about 6 inches long)
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, finely chopped
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Directions:
Strip mint sprigs of their leaves and wash well. Put leaves in food processor and chop until leaves are finely shredded and are releasing their oil. Add the coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla, and blend everything together until all ingredients are well-incorporated.

Pour ice cream base into prepared ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Add the chopped chocolate chips and coconut during the last 10-15 minutes of processing, after the ice cream has begun to thicken. With the oil in the fresh mint, the one took a little longer than expected to set up, with the base processing for about 40 minutes by itself before I added the mix-ins. Your mileage may vary.

Pour the finished product into a freezer-safe container and cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a weird freezer-burny skin from forming. Allow the ice cream to freeze for at least 8 hours, but overnight is best.

Then scoop it up and enjoy!

Thankful for Pie – Mostly Wordless 2012 Edition

The simple things this year are what I’m thankful for. The little breaks from stress and school and other ridiculous things. The things that keep us sane (and keep us from freaking out about that dangling preposition up there the first sentence).

Simplicity.

So here we have, presented in no particular order, and without additional commentary, the good stuff.

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Happy Thanksgiving.

Curried Cauliflower & Chickpeas…not so intimidating after all

Vegetables can be intimidating.

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Especially when they are large and have been living happily in your backyard until you ripped them out of the ground. Also, especially when they don’t particularly look like what the grocery store tells you they are supposed to look like.

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However, upon further investigations (looking for two seconds on Google Images), our cauliflower seems fairly standard for home-grown, but it was quite bizarre to me at first. It’s almost like a coral formation. A delicious one.

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Now, what to do with all this cauliflower? The boyfriend is not terribly into the texture of cauliflower, and I can only eat crudité with dip for so long.

Solution? Indian food!

I have always loved curried cauliflower and chickpeas (I found a great recipe here on Epicurious), and this would be my first attempt at making curry from scratch, so we made sure to thoroughly document the process.

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Including my “opening cans” face.

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And my “sauteing onions” face, which actually looks a lot like my “concentrating on knitting” face. Which is kind of a bitchface, unfortunately. I often suffer from chronic bitchface, and people ask me if I’m okay a lot. I’m usually just fine, just bitchface-y. Or concentrating on something. For more information about this terrible affliction, click here and educate yourself.

Do it.

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However, my bitchfaciness tends to go away when I’m narrating everything that I’m doing in my best Mr. Lunt from Veggie Tales voice. (Do you seriously not know the cheeseburger song? Go and watch right now. Seriously. Your life will be better. Done? Good.) There is video that exists of this (and also of me singing “His Cheeseburger” and giving it all I’ve got), but I’m not quite ready for that kind of intimacy. Sorry, Internet.

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A picture that doesn’t involve my face! Here’s our cast of characters for curried cauliflower and chickpeas: cauliflower and chickpeas, of course, diced tomatoes with green chiles, coconut milk, and cilantro. Not pictured: lots o’ curry powder and the onions that were already sizzling away in the pan.

Pictured, but not an ingredient: A nice little drink of Bailey’s on ice for me to enjoy while cooking. Sipping on a drink while you’re cooking is a fabulous thing. Only one, though. Two drinks while I’m cooking, and I’d probably end up with second-degree burns and a kitchen floor full of curry. Especially if the Mr. Lunt voice is already in effect.

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Apparently we skipped a little bit ahead here and forgot to capture some actual cooking. This is when the coconut milk is going in, ready to let the mixture boil away and thicken up, and for that cauliflower to steam and become tender and wonderful.

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Bubbling away.

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Adding the cilantro after the simmering is done…

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…and stirring it in…

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…and finally delivering it to impatient, hungry mouths over some cooked brown rice.

I was super duper happy with the way this came out, and even though the recipe says that there’s only 4 servings there, with the amount of cauliflower that our garden delivered to us, we’re still eating leftovers for lunch days later. The only thing that I’d change would be to perhaps use only one can of tomatoes with the chiles and leave the other one plain. Although I really love Indian spice, that might have just pushed it over the edge a little too much. We want spiced, not crazy spicy.

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I think there’s some in my future for lunch today, in fact. Feel free to be jealous. I know I would be.

Name That Salad

I like making salads that don’t involve lettuce. I enjoy lettuce as much as the next person, but it gets boring at times, plus for some reason it tends to throw up its hands in desperation in my refrigerator and give up the good fight way too early.

It’s better to just stick to the good stuff and not bother with the filler, I say. This delicious salad starts off with prepping some delicious quinoa and black beans. No green crunchy leaves, just protein-y goodness.

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Quinoa layer? Check!

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Black bean layer? Check!

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Sliced up tomatoes and cucumbers from my and my parents’ gardens?

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Check!

Let’s pretend that I took pictures of cutting up some bell pepper, too. And that I actually had some red onion to dice up, even though I didn’t (but it’s super duper delish with the onions included, I must say).

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Crunchy, cold vegetable layer? Check!

Now, I wanted to be boring and just call this Black Bean Quinoa Shaker Salad (because it’s all in little layers in the cups and it’s fun to shake it all up with the dressing, and I’m still really boring even parenthetically). Dan liked calling it Jinger’s Protein-Packed Shaker Salad instead. What do we think?

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The Yet-to-Be-Named Protein-Packed Black Bean Quinoa Shaker Salad that Is Quite Tasty Indeed

Ingredients:
2 cups dry quinoa, prepared according to package instructions
2 cups dry black beans, prepared according to package instructions (or canned, if you’re not hardcore like me)
1 tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, diced

Directions:
Prepare quinoa and black beans according to package instructions, and chop up your veggies while they’re cooking (which takes forever with those dry black beans).

Layer your quinoa evenly into 8 medium containers (I love those big freezer jars with the neon green lids!), and then follow up with a layer of black beans. I tend to mix up all my veggies and then throw them all in at the end.

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Refrigerate everything long enough to get it good and cold. Add a big dollop of your favorite salad dressing in there (I like ranch or catalina with this combination.) and then shake it up! Eat it all up and be super happy.

Don’t Leave Me Alone with Focaccia

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Out in the garden, my rosemary bush is going a little crazy. A lot of crazy. Delicious crackers aside (although they are definitely on deck), I needed something else to use all this wonderful stuff in.

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And I also needed my whole house to smell like rosemary. What exactly does rosemary smell like? Oily, sticky, piney…like the best parts of a forest came home with you.

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Focaccia seemed like just the ticket, especially to pair with the pasta that we made last night with fresh zucchini from the garden. The only recipe for it I’ve ever made before is the Easy Rosemary Foccacia from Farmgirl Fare, and although time-consuming, it is so, so worth it.

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Chop up a whole bunch of rosemary. Smell your hands with glee before washing them. I didn’t mean that to sound as gross as it does.

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Make a giant mess on your countertop while kneading dough and building up those arm muscles.

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Ensure a good rise by not only wrapping your container of dough in plastic wrap, but also in a warm, damp towel. I have had all kinds of bad luck with yeast in this kitchen, so I’m not taking any chances here.

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Success! But there’s still more to go, so don’t get too excited yet. You could still screw up. Good advice in the kitchen, and elsewhere.

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Pat out some dough ovals (doughvals?)

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…drizzle with olive oil and extra rosemary and pepper (which I put in there instead of cheese, so the whole house could enjoy)

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…and then celebrate!

I think we need to marvel at this from all angles, yes?

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Hell yes.

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I had to try a teensy bit, of course, just to make sure it was finished all the way. I’m barricading myself from the rest of it until dinner-time. I can’t trust myself around this delicious, buttery, chewy stuff.

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Anybody got any good Italian sandwich recipes for this before I just shove it all unceremoniously into my mouth?

365 Project – Week 18

I am sitting here right now in my office, dressed as a children’s book character (no giant head this time, though), experiencing severe hair anxiety. I have never learned how to put my hair in pigtails and have anything resembling a straight part back there. I’m sure no one else ever notices or cares, but this will probably plague me all day.

Onto the week!

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I felt as though I couldn’t truly embark on my new embroidery project without finishing up the old one. The orchids are getting their stems and leaves, which is some super exciting stuff.

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French toast with syrup, whipped cream, and cinnamon is an amazing thing. UH-mazing.

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Zucchini everywhere! We’ve had to do an awful lot of intervening with this one, doing the pollinating ourselves extremely early in the morning. Hopefully, these little guys will come through and find themselves in our pasta.

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This is how Bowie helps me read.

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The birds decided to hang out on the porch while the rain poured down, which struck me as quite amusing. Our recent bird feeder experiments have resulted in more birds and squirrels than we ever imagined. It’s like Snow White out there.

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Bubble tea! Greatest stuff ever. Especially coconut.

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I call this Bowie’s “quicksand” pose. He’s quite comfortable, really, but chooses to look like he’s in distress.

Let’s see how easily I can pass the day in knee socks, a belt, and complete hair anxiety – three things which I usually try to avoid. Just keep reminding yourself that it’s all for the kiddos.

365 Project – Week 17

I know I’m a little bit late this week with the 365 update, but it’s been a crazy weekend of bird-watching, garden-watering, and Tekken-playing. Because we’re awesome, that’s why.

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Pay no attention to the fact that the top name up there bears a striking resemblance to #2, which is a thinly-veiled attempt by my friend Jonathan to psych me out. The true situation remains that I beat him by over 10,000 points on In Bloom in Rock Band, and no amount of fiddling with the high score display will change that.

I also totally killed it on Blitzbrieg Bop on expert bass mode, much to our mutual surprise.

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Sometimes work days are a little slow on the creativity, but Dan came out punching with the smoothie-making right before I left. Yum!

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Bowie found a new place to nap in my office. Now he can track my every move in here from someplace other than my lap or the back of my chair.

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Breakfast for dinner! Scrambled eggs, sausage, and spinach is our go-to thing to make when nothing else sounds worth the effort. Delicious!

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Dan and I gussied up a bird feeder that had been languishing under our patio and put it out in the open where the birds could enjoy. Since then, it’s been crazy bird times out there. I predict that when we get to our 60s, we’ll be out in the woods with binoculars, counting warblers while wearing funny hats.

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A new kitchen experiment, created by Dan. A neighbor gave us a big bag full of hot peppers from his garden, and we filled them with homemade mashed potatoes and bits of ham and then baked them, turning them into tiny little twice-baked potato pepper bombs.

Dan enjoyed them, but I was physically unable to eat more than two before being forced to hold in a mouthful of milk for several minutes to quench the burning. Oh, the burning.

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Our library opened! This significance of this event is probably not immediately obvious, but New Orleans East has been without a proper library since Hurricane Katrina. Nearly seven years with just a little mobile-home-trailer Bookmobile sitting in an empty parking lot, but now it’s a real place with lots of great brand new stuff. I intend to be a loyal patron.

SUPER-BONUS-PICTURE-BECAUSE-I-WAS-LATE-TO-POST-THIS-WEEK:

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Baby possum! Opossum? Possum! This little guy likes to cut through our yard every afternoon for some reason, and the first time he was spotted, he trotted into the garage and seemed to make himself at home. He is adorable and probably vicious. I hope he figures out a new route if he chooses to become less skittish and unfriendly. Right now, he’s just big-eared and cute.

Cabbage Overflow

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I made the infinitely intelligent decision to harvest the ginormous cabbage from our garden right before it started to rain. This resulted in a fairly comic tableau of me running into the house, starting to become covered in mud, holding onto the giant stem, raising what must have been like a ten pound cabbage over my head like some sort of crazy umbrella.  (Seriously, look at that thing!  It’s the same height as a decorative beer stein.  It’s the size of a bowling ball!)

That totally seems like something that would happen in a children’s picture book — all of the characters running around with different vaguely-umbrella-shaped objects over their heads during a rainstorm…cabbages, large birds, side tables…I’ll stop now.  I’ve been spending too much time in children’s book land.

Now, what does one do with so much cabbage? After washing it out and discovering what seemed to be an inordinate amount of tiny slugs, of course.

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Make an insane amount of coleslaw! Is coleslaw one word or two? Let’s stick with one, just to be consistent.

Coleslaw That People Who Don’t Even Like Cabbage Will Eat
adapted from 200 Super Salads, Coleslaw

Ingredients:
1 head of green cabbage
1/2 head of purple cabbage
4 carrots
1 red onion

Dressing:
1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise
2 tbsp. white vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
pinch of cayenne pepper
squirt of spicy brown mustard
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Finely shred the cabbages, carrots, and red onion in your food processor. Do it better than I did. Try to make less of a mess, if possible.

Make the dressing by beating all dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl and seasoning to taste. Toss the cabbage mixture with the dressing and let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving so that the flavors can do a little mingling. And before you ask, the name totally rings true. Dan is not a cabbage fan, and he had himself a big helping and is even suggesting more of it for dinner tonight. We may have a cabbage convert.

Now, what to do with the outer leaves? In the past, I’ve made more traditional cabbage rolls to mixed reviews. I wanted to try to make something a little more crunchy and summery to bring for lunches at work.

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Lettuce wraps are a thing, right? In this house, we’re on the cabbage wrap train.

Curried Tuna Cabbage Wraps
adapted from Cooking for Two, Curried Tuna Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients:
2 cans (5 oz.) tuna fish
2 celery stalks, chopped
6 tbsp. mayonnaise
4 tbsp. dried cranberries
3 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. chopped dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
tiny squirt of spicy brown mustard
4 cabbage leaves (break off the large vein at the base of the leaf to make them easier to roll)

Directions:
Mix all the the tuna salad ingredients together well, seasoning to taste, if necessary. The original recipe then has you stuff this delicious stuff into some tomatoes, but spooning some into cabbage leaves, rolling them up, and shoving them into your mouth is also fantastic.

There we go, two ways to use up all that cabbage that I am probably the only person inundated with right now. I wish I had this problem with something slightly less good for me. Like I needed to hurry up and find several ways to use up a whole bunch of chocolate-covered strawberries and rare steak before it went bad. Hmm…our anniversary is coming up soon.  Hint, hint.

365 Project – Week 16

I didn’t take the first picture for this week. Dan did, but somehow I think I’ll be forgiven.

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Now, this might be cheating a bit, but no other moment that day or picture that could have been taken would have make me quite as happy as this.

That’s me. In the Curious George suit. I think at this particular moment, George was contemplating how to best set up his tent for his camping trip with the man with the yellow hat. It was awesome.

I was in the suit for about 30 minutes, and the little fan in the head that’s supposed to cool you off was not working. It came with an additional “fatty suit” to wear under it, but I decided that I had plenty enough padding on my own. All complaining aside, the little kids giving me big hugs afterward and waving goodbye to George made it all worth it.

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The Southwest Anklets bubbling away in a bath of Soak right before blocking. Is there a more satisfying feeling in a knitter’s life? Nope.

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My first crawfish since moving back to New Orleans. Oh, incredibly spicy potatoes that make my entire mouth burn with goodness! How I’ve missed you!

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More crunchy woolly goodness for a new hat, this time for yours truly.

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The beginnings of Claudia, the more delicate cabled partner to Dan’s Knotty, but Nice. I’m past the cable-y bits and right in the middle of the twisted ribbing and loving it.

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This little guy joined Dan, Bowie, and I during our breakfast, and he and Bowie talked a little squirrel-talk. I imagine it went like this:

Squirrel: Hello. I’m a squirrel.
Bowie: I want to eat you.
Squirrel: Hello. I’m still a squirrel, and I’m doing squirrel-type things. Right here. In front of your window.
Bowie: I want to eat your face right off.
Squirrel: I’m a squirrel!

That went on for several minutes as the squirrel investigated our window, our bikes, and the area where Dan sprinkled some birdseed while transplanting the bird feeder. Bowie was nonplussed, vibrating with instincts he did not quite understand.

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This is what happens after you get crazy rain for two days straight and then full on sunshine for two more. Your garden goes insane. The little garden bunny statue was an Easter gift from my parents, and he’s watching calmly as the cucumber intertwines the zucchini and the cauliflower becomes sentient and starts demanding human sacrifices.

Unfortunately, next week will not include a picture of me dressed up as a beloved children’s book character. It’s all downhill from here.