Monday, October 31, 2011

Nice Try

Monday. Wake up and think, Hey...I think I have a nice long day of sewing and listening to an audiobook. Make coffee, turn on laptop, start remembering things to do...

Maybe not.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Drying Herbs in the Microwave

A few days ago the weather service was warning us of a freeze here in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I cut the last of the marjoram and thyme and brought the big pot of rosemary indoors. (That was optimistic, since the rosemary will simply die a slow death in the house instead of a fast one on the deck, but one of these days I may succeed in overwintering one.) It's a very good thing I cut then, since this is what my herb pots look like this morning:
I didn't cut the parsley because dried parsley is, well, dried parsley. It's easy enough to buy a bunch at the market and leave it in a glass on the sink, like a vase of flowers. The basil, chives, sage, mint, and cilantro are long gone but I had a huge amount of marjoram, and while the thyme will hang on, it was time. Sorry.

Sometimes I hang lovely bunches of herbs in the window of the laundry room, where they dry in days and look good while doing so. These jars are full of herbs that I dried that way, that we'll use for teas over the winter.

This time, however, I didn't have carefully cut and arranged bunches of herbs tied with twine. I had three large tangles of herbs, sopping wet from the rain.

I read about flash-drying herbs in the microwave in the September issue of Cook's Illustrated. A few weeks ago I tested the method on a few sprigs of marjoram, rosemary, sage, basil, and thyme. The kitchen smelled amazing but the only herbs that retained their scent and flavor were marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Using their method, then, I wrapped a "single layer" (messy tangle) of herbs in a layer of paper towels and microwaved on high for 90 seconds (thyme) and 120 seconds (marjoram).
Marjoram, looking cozy.
Marjoram, looking crumbly.

The herbs cool quickly and are then easily removed from the stems, although I am careful not to crush them. This is easier with the larger leaves of marjoram than with thyme, of course. I had to remove a few stems that were still a little damp after microwaving simply because of how wet they were going in, and gave them another 30 seconds. That step was unnecessary when I first tested this method.

In the end it's a few minutes, a great smelling kitchen, and a few more herb jars for the cupboard. Quite nice.

Even though I welcome all the seasonal changes, even this unusual early snow, I always miss having a huge variety of culinary herbs just a few steps away from the kitchen. There is rarely a day of cooking that doesn't include something from the herb pots, and my cooking changes without them during the winter. I have, however, just planted herb pods in my Aerogarden, which was a new process for me last winter. Progress reports to come!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Valentine Wrap

Valentine because that's the color name of the Cascade Eco+ Wool I'm using.
Wrap because it's the awesome Snug Hooded Wrap from Knitting and Tea that I have been wanting to make. Four things to know:

  1. It has pockets.
  2. It has a hood.
  3. The hood has a tassel.
  4. That's right, a tassel.

My phone is tucked into the beginning of a pocket. Stitches, which will be picked up later and ribbed, are being held in front of the phone. A separate lining was knit into the space behind the phone, which neatly accounts for the stitches held, creates the pocket, and prevents any missteps in the cable pattern. I've blogged this picture to help anyone who might be confused about the lining insertion.

More as it grows!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


A little late by a few weeks but it's time for the pumpkins!
The table is overflowing. Going to have to get a new table. 

I add one each fall and a dear friend gave me a new one a few months ago, so I shouldn't look at them whenever I go out. But that seems like a technicality.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Iron Maven

Iron Maven, J420. Best name for an iron ever.
Well, for a steam generator, technically.I've been debating a steam generator for over a year, and after finally deciding to buy one I agonized (hey, it's hundreds of dollars, I agonized!) over whether to go with the Reliable Iron Maven J420 or the Rowenta DG8030. With a difference of only $50 between them I couldn't use price as a factor, and since they both have their supporters on the sewing boards and are established manufacturers, I went with the one that looks way cooler.
I have a shelf under the ironing board that can hold it, but DH and I decided it would be best to reinforce the shelf first since this unit is heavy. For now I have set it on this (recycled newspaper) hamper that I use for storage in the sewing room, placing it right in front of the ironing board, opposite me. This works well because....
...I have this heatproof ledge on the wide side of my board. Handiest thing. If I didn't have a ledge I could remove the plate from the unit and leave it on the ironing board:
That's a nice feature, allowing the iron to rest where you need it when doing close work.

I have used it a few times and am happy so far. I was pressing some bias strips and found myself reflexively pulling my non-ironing hand away from the iron until I realized that unless I press the steam button, this really is a dry iron. By that I mean that with my Rowenta Professional regular iron, I could not use a steam setting and keep my other hand near the tip of the iron without burning my fingers. This is amazingly good. The steam is a burst if the button is pushed, or continual if locked down. Let me tell you, there is steam.

Sauna steam, there-goes-your-hair steam. Now that, of course, is if you are keeping the steam on continually and doing a lot of work, as I did when testing it recently by pressing a large pile of pillowcases.*

It really pushes steam through the fabric, even thick fabrics. I tested it out on a pair of jeans and was surprised at how the other side looked without pressing. The pillowcases were so fast - everything is faster - that I stacked two at a time and it was fine. 

It does take about 7 - 10 minutes to heat, and can be refilled while it's still hot. In the first few days I worried about my decision and wondered if I should have ordered the Rowenta as well and given them side-by-side tests, then I got a grip on myself and let it go. 

It's early, but I think this is a good addition to the sewing room. The steam, weight of the iron, ability to hold more water than a portable iron, and genuine difference between dry and steam are all good qualities. I am concerned about leaving it running for hours at a time while sewing, and the instructions do indicate that it should be turned off to cool down after an hour of use. 

 *Yes, sometimes I press the pillowcases and my more expensive sheets. This helps prevent fraying and wear from the creases along the edge that will eventually "crack" the fibers. Since I'm not a pressed-to-perfection person I have to remind myself that this falls under the category of properly taking care of things and just do it.