Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beautiful in all stages of life

This is one of my favorite plants, Sophora secundiflora, also known as mescal bean and Texas mountain laurel.  These big, lush, flower clusters appear in the spring, delighting not only the eyes but also the nose with their rich, intoxicating fragrance. There's one just outside my office and several others around the campus, so for the few weeks they're in bloom I can instantly brighten my mood and take a vacation of a few seconds by closing my eyes and holding a bunch of them up to my face to inhale their glorious perfume. They don't last well as cut flowers, a day at best, so I try to find reasons to get out of the office and run errands in areas where I know they grow. The plant is a slow grower, which is why I haven't put any in the garden, though I may change my mind about that. Instant gratification isn't everything.
    The grandkids are intrigued, of course, because every part of the plant is poisonous, including the gorgeous seeds that come in shades of orange and red, from pale to rich and deep.  They also found that by scraping them against a concrete floor and then touching it to your skin, you can get a mild electric shock. Leave it to boys to discover something like that.
     What I've discovered is that the seeds make interesting jewelry.

Here's a bowl of them, with one of the unopened pods in the middle,

and here are some in my hand, after they've been drilled for stringing, so you can get an idea of the size.
     After you get them out of the pod (I just put the pod on the sidewalk and stomp on it - don't worry about damaging the seeds; they're tough), you need to drill holes in them, and unless you want to also drill holes in your fingers, you'll need a small drill press. It's tedious work, getting them lined up right, and be sure to tighten the press as tight as possible so they don't shift around. I used my Dremel tool and a fairly small drill bit. The other seeds, in and beside the pink bowl, are from the tranquility tree (I drilled these but haven't done anything with them yet, and haven't been able to find any information on the tree except that apparently the name's used for an online game, so I won't say any more about them right now, except that they're very interesting and attractive).
      After drilling, you can string the seeds like any other bead. I made these earrings, necklace, and bracelet using smaller brown glass beads in between the seeds, and I'm quite happy with them. Even if the temperatures are still in the low 90s (but hopefully cooling off as the week goes on), my jewelry can look like autumn!

Friday, October 14, 2011

It's Fall - Time to Knit

Time to Knit!

(No, I didn't knit the flowers, but aren't they lovely? It's a morning glory tree, not the regular vines, with semi woody stems, about 6 feet tall with flowers about 3 1/2" wide when open)
Even if it did hit 98 degrees in downtown Tucson today, the calendar says it's fall and I am so ready for warm hats and scarves and sweaters and socks - it was much cooler earlier in the week and I actually did wear socks to work a couple of days, which made me very happy. It's also creeping up on Halloween, a friend's  favorite holiday. He and his wife stopped by my office earlier today with Rory, who's almost 11 months old, so I could give her the pumpkin hat I knitted for her.
Doesn't look very impressed, does she? And she wasn't really into letting anyone adjust it to the proper rakish angle at that moment. Yeah, I know, today was hardly the weather for this kind of hat. But I had so much fun making it that I decided to use the last of some leftover yellow yarn to make a matching lemon hat. The pattern is at http://brooksfreepatterns.blogspot.com/2005/11/tuttie-cutie-fruity-hats.html
I'll probably make more in different flavors but right now I want to make a couple of skull beanies for the 2 grandsons we'll be seeing this weekend. That pattern is at http://polarknitpatterns.com/Skull-Beanie-Worsted1.pdf. Can't post a picture yet because I haven't made them. It would be nice to be able to give them to them on Saturday, but I also have some sewing to do for their mom tomorrow, so it may not happen. :-(
      I also knitted some coffee cup cozies out of scrap yarn so I could be all eco-groovy and dispense with the little cardboard sleeves. The first were made from a small ball of orange acrylic, knitted on size 5 dpns, 42 stitches in K3 P3 rib. They're okay and the baristas think they're cool. Here they are on soda cans - they also absorb condensation. I think they're maybe a half-inch too tall.
I like this one better. It's 100% wool fingering weight yarn, leftover from a pair of socks I knitted a few years ago. It's 48 stitches on size 2 needles (I'm a rather loose knitter), 2x2 rib, about 3" tall. It's less heavy but does just as good a job of keeping the coffee warm and protecting my hand from the hot cup.
Then I also knitted a couple of dishcloths for my daughter, who loves them. It would be the perfect project for her to learn on, but so far I haven't been able to talk her into knitting for herself. They do get funky-looking after a while, so although I love the lighter colors, decided to try navy blue this time, for her and for my own kitchen.  44 stitches on #7 needles, beginning and ending with 2 rows of garter stitch and with 2 stitches in garter stitch up each side; otherwise it's all seed stitch, since the little bumps are good for scrubbing.
And that's how I've supplemented my video-viewing and passenger-in-the-car-and-on-the-bus time lately. It makes me happy and as my Grandpa would have said, it keeps me off the streets and out of the bars! (wink)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Brunch in the Garden

A couple of weeks ago we had some friends over for Sunday brunch. It was a lovely, not too warm day, and since one of them is highly allergic to cats (something he discovered while having a nice snuggle with Sophie - apparently he'd managed to make it to his early 30s without much cat contact, but she was furry enough to make up for all those lost years), we ate out on the patio.

Our friends brought a cantaloupe and some nectarines, both yellow and white, and I mixed up a little chopped salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, kalamata olives, and fresh basil. The muffins are the cherry cornmeal muffins from Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Café, but I forgot to put in the butter (I discovered it sitting melted in the microwave after they were already in the oven!), but they didn't turn out too badly, actually, just a tiny bit chewy, though still tasty.  They were even better with a little butter and homemade prickly pear jelly. The recipe for the muffins (butter included) is at http://www.molliekatzen.com/recipes/recipe.php?recipe=orange_cherry_muffins.
    The main dish, of course, was that thing that looks like a quiche, made from a recipe I've had since the '70s, back in the days when real men didn't eat quiche, so perhaps that's why it was called Switzerland Cheese and Onion Pie (apparently whoever came up with it thought the "real men" wouldn't know what it was). I used to make it a lot, but it had been many years, and I'd forgotten how good and easy it is. So here's the recipe:

Switzerland Cheese and Onion Pie
1 9" unbaked piecrust (deep-dish if frozen)
1 large onion, chopped
2 T. melted butter
2 c. cheese, shredded (I used cheddar this time,
     but Swiss, pepper jack, most anything is fine)
1 T. flour
3 eggs
1 c. half and half (or part milk)
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sauté onion in melted butter till tender. In a bowl, toss the cheese with the flour, then mix in onions, eggs, half and half, and salt. Pour into pie crust. Bake 10 minutes, reduce heat to 325 degrees, and bake 30 to 35 minutes longer, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let it cool 10 minutes or so before cutting and serving.

There's nothing like a lovely autumn day, is there?