Other items of interest

National Scotch Day

© ReserveBar

There are national days to commemorate just about everything and if your favorite is not already on the list of 1000s you can apply to have a day added.  If you missed National Hot Dog Day on July 21 hang on a month and join ice cream fans for National Spumoni Day, August 21.  But as someone who eats hot dogs only at the ballpark out of tradition and has never liked Spumoni ice cream, I am more in tune with what I will drink tonight on National Scotch Day.

My first taste came during grad school summer travels, 1977.  Whether good or not my memory is hazy but I suspect the pour may have been a bit harsh for my unsophisticated palate as it was four decades before I discovered the pure enjoyment of a good dram of whisky.  Once I tasted Highland Park my quest began to discover what I had been missing as Richard already had his preferred labels and I needed to catch up.

Thus far my favorites (in alpha order) are listed below but there is always room for tasty indulgences and new treats. Plus, my wish list includes the Rowan Tree Travel 2022 Wool & Whisky tour. Sláinte!

Knitting · Travel

Two months & counting the days

sheep and snow crusted rural mountain landscape
© Rowan Tree Travels

Two months from today*, I officially begin my Danish adventure in Copenhagen.  As a small tour company, Rowan Tree Travel continues to satisfy.  They have a great sense for just when I might be edging toward anxiety and need information.  This morning, my in-box held a detailed, 20-page itinerary with a link to their customized travel app (after all “…there is an app for that…”) so I can keep the details on my new phone.  The app also hosts a private messaging service to chat with my yet to meet fellow travelers and fiber-enthusiasts.

This international trip, originally scheduled for September 2020, will be a big first as I come out of our Covid quarantine.  To date, my travels have included only small jaunts — two hours to Eau Claire to visit Mom and my recent two-day excursion up-north with my retired friends, The Directors.  Certainly nothing far away and nothing by plane since February 2020.  And, while I am sure I will cope, it will be strange traveling solo which should make great blog fodder. 

Bon voyage or, as they say in Danish:  “hav en god tur.”

*Although technically my two month countdown for a Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Paris (CDG) to Copenhagen (CPH) flight began July 22.

Knitting

Sommer Camp: More knitting fun

square of gold knitted yarn on maroon background
Fireworks Swatcheroo

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it is off to Sommer Camp I go!

As you can never have too many projects on your needles and I love the idea of joining knitters from around the world, whether brought together for a shared project or to celebrate a creative designer, I just cast on a new shawl for the first day of Sommer Camp with Martina Behm.  And, yes, Sommer is spelled correctly as Martina is hosting this six-week event from Germany.  In addition to podcasts and prizes, the bi-lingual discussions may also serve to re-draw a few of my long dormant neural pathways as some posts may be written only in German.  My goal is to use Google translate as a last resort to verify my translation guesses.

While the rules of Sommer Camp allow for any pattern, I chose a two-toned shawl designed by Martina that she describes as looking a bit like Intarsia but without the worry.  Since stash-diving is always a laudable goal, I can check that task off my list as the two contrasting yet complimentary skeins were purchased as souvenirs during pre-pandemic travels; perfect for the project I have dubbed Zwei Farben (two colors).

All the while, work continues on my Fireworks sweater as part of Marie Greene’s 4-Day knit-along (KAL).  The top-down, yoked pullover features a new stitch which resembles bursts of light against the night sky on the 4th of July or bright celebrations when the home town baseball team wins a game. The yarn fireworks are anchored by a row of delicate bobbles; a capricious design element that has only now, in retirement, entered my wardrobe.

Gardening

Beans – No Beans

pottery bowl filled with fresh green beans

I am in a harvesting war with some critter or multiples thereof.  One day I have succulent beans needing just a touch more sun-filled nutrients to go from too small to just right which then disappear, leaves and all, with only bare stems remaining.  For years we grew our beans vertically in a true square foot gardening technique but they always seemed to develop a late summer rust as our garden has just barely enough but not quite enough sun plus the added inconvenience of growing so tall so as to be out of my five-foot, five-inch reach.  Several years ago we reverted to bush beans and, while taking more room in our six – four foot by four foot raised bed squares, they have always produced.  And, this year too, we have produce it is just that something is beating me to our crisp haricots verts, despite the fence. 

Summer gardening versus neighborhood fauna – the war continues. We may have to revert to trellises.

Other items of interest

Tree Squares

When you grow up the daughter and the granddaughter of carpenters, you appreciate trees and the lumber they provide.  Fond memories of tagging along to Kleiner’s Lumberyard while Dad handpicked boards to be planed accompanied by harsh noise without benefit of ear protection in those days long before OSHA required safety and the sweet smell of sawdust or sweltering summer days spent planting trees at The 40 – trees that have grown from seedlings as small as my hand to stately pines.

As BeckyB of Winchester’s Square Challenge moves into week three of TreeSquare, I wondered what photos I might have of these natural wonders, these organic composites of cellulose fibers which have graced our planet for more than 375 million years.  It turns out – not too many but enough to cover a year of seasons.

Tree locations ( although some no more):

  • Spring blossoms – St. Paul, April 2021
  • Summer loss – Rochester, July 2013
  • Autumn brilliance – Moldova, October 2018
  • Winter calm – Inseli, November 2012

Baking

Summer sweets for our winter pleasure

left to right: two triangular scones, three slices of bread, five blueberry muffins on a clear plate with painted blue flowers
Rhubarb Pecan Scones, Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread and Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins – July 2021

The beauty and the bane of summer bounty are the kitchen hours required to transform a morning’s abundance into delicious treats.  On blue sky, temperature-perfect days just made for hours of pleasure on my screened porch knitting the 4-Day Fireworks KAL sweater, I joined the women of ages past toiling in summer kitchens.  Admittedly, my experience was far more pleasant as my work time was spent in air conditioned comfort with good tunes coming from surround sound.  Some of the tasty delights will be eaten immediately and some will be stashed in our small deep freeze to be enjoyed on frigid winter days as a talisman against the cold and a sunny reminder that spring will come, even in the North Country.

My Sunday & Monday garden-to-kitchen yield:

  • Blueberry Sour Cream Muffins – two dozen regular-sized and 24 minis using  a recipe shared by Betty D. from Older Mommy Still Yummy
  • 16 Rhubarb Pecan Scones – an annual favorite from Rhubarb Renaissance by Kim Ode 
  • Two loaves of Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread – courtesy of Mary Ann H. and the St. Ann’s Parish Cookbook, Olmitz, Kansas; and
  • Tsatsiki – The Enchanted Broccoli Forest variety just because we have an abundance of cucumbers and it goes so well with toasted pita bread and Greek seasoned chicken-kabobs.

Bon appétit!

Gardening

Pesto with thoughts of Genoa – no actually Madison

a large bunch of fresh garlic bulbs with roots and stems on a red metal background
Our garlic harvest – August 2017

As I prepped this morning’s basil harvest for the second batch of summer pesto, I smiled and remembered the first time I had this savory concoction.  It was summer 1977.  I was in library school and a friend who was in town for a library association meeting had offered to treat this poor grad student to dinner.  We met at Helen C. White Hall, wandered over to Memorial Union, spent time on the Terrace before strolling up one side of State Street and then back.  Reaching the small second floor storefront Italian restaurant where we had dinner required trudging up narrow wooden stairs.  (This was long before ADA required accessibility.  It was a restaurant Dad hated when I took him there not because of the food but because he worried about exits – or the lack thereof.  But that’s another story.)

My friend was quite excited with the chef’s pasta du jour which featured fresh pesto on tortellini.  I had no idea what pesto was but as I did not want to appear anything less than sophisticated, I ordered the same entrée.  I remember my surprise when I was served a dish far more green than pasta white; heavy on the garlic.  For this first sampling, it was a good there was a nice red wine accompanying our meal. 

Despite growing up with big vegetable gardens at my house and my grandparents, basil and garlic were simply not things we grew.  From my narrow culinary perspective at the time, basil and garlic were dried herbs from McCormick; used infrequently, mostly just for Aunt Thelma’s spaghetti sauce.  But now, basil graces pots just outside the back door for quick access and grows in the tomato squares as a companion plant.  While we do not have garlic growing this summer, we have harvested splendid crops in years past.  With a nod to food writer Beth Dooley and author of our well used The Northern Heartland Kitchen cookbook, we will fully enjoy this batch of savory almond basil pesto.  Bon appétit!

Gardening · Writing

Blueberries after a year & a month of blogging

First Picking – 2021

Inspired by Suleika Jaouad, I started Knit+ Librarian as a Covid survival technique early into our worldwide pandemic quarantine hoping to capture random thoughts and images.  Over the past year and a month, I never gave any thought to what might happen as topics cycled back through my life.  I knew the Knitting and Reading blog posts would stay fresh as there would always be a just-knit sweater or shawl to describe or a new favorite book to review.  But with today’s first picking of blueberries even while reveling in their dusty blue hues, I realized there may be some repetition in the Baking and Gardening categories whether I am describing the last rhubarb crisp of the summer or this season’s blueberries. 

There is a simple beauty in the natural cycles each following one after another, season by season which especially deserve our appreciation in this northern clime where we go from warm days of verdant greens to frigid, frosty whites and grays and back again.  And, I am certainly in good blogging company, as Christina Campbell on The Healthy Knitter shares monthly posts about each full moon and Solène Le Roux at Knit Pause leads meditative knitting retreats focused on nature.  As I celebrate the ebb and flow of the seasons in our garden sans any exotic varieties and filled with plants I can only describe by their common names without knowledge of scientific nomenclature, I will simply enjoy “playing in the dirt” and you may see a similar but never identical new post or photo.

Reading · Travel

The Directors’ Getaway to the Shades of Green Garden

assorted pots filled with summer plants
Entering Shades of Green Garden – 2021 © M. Brechon

A restless night spent worrying about my first public overnight outing proved needless as the two-day excursion with The Directors was as fun filled as expected.  As the last member of the group to travel so far as to necessitate a motel room, I was also the last to indulge in restaurant dining.  While I did make that first brave step on tax day, this trip required my second restaurant experience.  My friends were exceedingly gentle as I ventured (still somewhat timidly) into our formerly masked, now vaccinated world.  As we wove through the green farmland of east central Minnesota and western Wisconsin, there were stops along the way for wine tasting and shopping, and while this later activity is usually not a high priority for me the company made the day enjoyable.

I attribute my lack of shopping enthusiasm to a career move to Georgia just after grad school.  My next door neighbor was also a northern transplant, a cataloging librarian from Michigan, and she loved to shop.  Faced with unexpected resistance to implementing what I considered standard library operations like offering storytimes for the public rather than only by appointment, I took solace from workplace challenges by joining her at the mall.  (Remember when window-shopping under one roof in a temperature control environment was a new, novel experience?)  When we moved after 18 months on the job, she to Augusta and me to Peoria, I had two maxed out credit cards.  And, while that debt was paid off years ago, there is still a residual caution when considering what I want versus what I need.  Although, on this trip, I was less hesitant at the bookstore and the two wineries as evidenced by the assorted vintages and the stack of new books that filled the boot.

Also on this trip, The Directors (my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends) initiated a new but to-be-repeated practice of secret book gifting.  We each brought 1-2 recently read titles, wrapped to hide any clue as to content other than to know we were exchanging books.  After tours of the Shades of Green Garden and delicious home-prepared meals our hostess initiated a quick game of “I am thinking of a number between 1 and 100…” and we picked our surprises.  Each book will guarantee good reading for the weeks ahead, as well as a promise to exchange these gently used reads next time we meet.

Gardening

Nasturtiums

orange nasturtium blossoms and green leaves
Our 2013 Nasturtiums

Easy to grow, nasturtiums provide vibrant color all summer with the added treat of edible leaves and blossoms which bring culinary diversity to simple salads.  They have been a staple in our vegetable garden for years plus they are beneficial companion plants for our raised-bed tomatoes. 

This spring, I was overzealous and planted an entire seed package with a thought to experiment with drying leaves and blooms for winter flavorings.  But, alas, unlike the fertile yield of previous years, the 44 seeds produced only five plants which we are carefully tending with a hope to enjoy the peppery flavor by summer’s end.