Upcycled Wool Cowl (no knitting required) and some blogging philosophy

I feel like I’m in grade five again, pretending to make a fashion magazine–which is appropriate as the project I’m featuring today is entirely doable for any fifth-grader. Because I’m marginally better at sewing than I am knitting (I can knit and sew anything as long it’s rectangular) I thought I might try a no-knit cowl to partner with my new winter parka.

I’ve had the wool sweater for years and used it as a tea-cozy after it shrunk/felted in the washing machine. It worked nicely to keep my teapot warm, if a bit unsightly with the hoodie and arms occupying more table space than necessary, but after I got my purple coat I decided to re-incarnate the tea cozy as a winter scarf:

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The more felted the wool, the warmer the scarf. Although my sweater didn’t felt 100%, it did shrink substantially and I didn’t need to take it in at all.

I cut the arms and hood off, but left the base wide.

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another almost-rectangular project to show off my sewing finesse

I turned down the cut by the neck and seamed it. Then I sewed the armhole cuts together and made sure the cowl was narrow enough at the top to stay up when I need to keep my nose and cheeks covered.

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After Belén took that last photo she said, “You’re not going to put this on your blog, are you, Mom?… That scarf looks weird.”

I happen to love my recycled cowl and told Belén so (I’m used to her comments on my clothes; she’s been critiquing my fashion for years now) but I have to admit, it feels weird posting pictures of myself wearing it. I question why the world needs to see my scarf and why I’m spending time typing out those very questions… which leads me to the bigger question of blogging and why I do it.

Every time I publish a post, WordPress (my blogging engine) flashes a congratulatory message across the screen including a tally of all the entries I’ve written. Once I hit the publish button on this draft I will have reached 100 posts. That’s a lot of hours spent loading pictures, typing, deleting, rewriting, and proofreading. And for what? So family can catch up on our lives? Partly.

So I can practice writing? Yes, that’s one reason. I’m finding that learning to write is a lot like learning another language. The more Spanish or Guarani I spoke when in Bolivia, the more agile my mouth and tongue became at forming new sounds. Similarly, sitting down at the keyboard regularly keeps the pathway from my mind to my fingers a little easier to travel.

So I can share my work with an audience? Definitely. Blogging is an egocentric activity, but it’s also a forum to connect with others. I teach a writing workshop to a grade 2 class and everyday I ask at least one student to read a piece of writing in front of their peers. Once, when a little girl delivered a choppy monologue punctuated by breathy pauses picked up by the microphone, she exploded after her performance. Unable to contain herself, she danced the whole way back to her seat singing, “This is the best day ever!” And then, between twirls she shouted, “I wanted to write a story and read it to the whole class and I did it! I did it! I did it!” I tried to re-focus her energy and speak in a low tones to move the class forward and keep calm, but I totally understood her reaction. It is thrilling to produce something and have other people read, see, or hear it. Blogging might be egocentric but I think it’s even more self-absorbed to pretend that an audience is irrelevant.

And finally, blogging is just another creative attempt to capture some of the curiosities, confusion, and beauty strewn around me. When I consider an ordinary image I might translate to words, it’s like picking up a pebble from a river bed. There are so many and they all look the same under the water, but study one for a moment and it becomes interesting enough to roll around in my hand for awhile. Scripting a scene from our week makes me appreciate the details of it, while it’s still dripping wet in my palm.

And so I guess I’ll keep blogging after all, even if it took me 39 ridiculous tries to get a shot of myself wearing a scarf.

Stay warm and keep creating, however you do it,

Tricia

PS. If you’re interested in creative non-fiction, check out this book I just read. It would be useful for any writer (it’s filled with brilliant essays critiqued by the author) but it’s especially appropriate for mothers. I loved it.

Fermented Salsa

I named this blog experimentingaswegrow for good reason.

My first trial jar of fermented salsa, with the accompanying mess in the back ground.

My first trial jar of fermented salsa, with accompanying mess in the background.

When I told Stan I was planning to make fermented salsa with last season’s tomato crop (waiting patiently in my neighbour’s basement freezer) he raised his eyebrows. “What’s wrong with good ol’ fashioned canned salsa?” he asked. It’s a fair question, but my answer has more to do with why I’m interested in the fermented variety:

  • Fermenting preserves food with less energy and labour than canning, or refrigeration
  • Fermented food is alive; canned food is boiled to death. When healthy bacteria is allowed to grow it produces lactic acid–a natural preservative that improves digestibility and vitamin absorption. Almost every traditional culture around the globe incorporates fermented food into their diet (kimchi, chicha, sauerkraut,etc.)
  • Fermented salsa tastes like fresh salsa

The fourth bullet point, which deserves its own paragraph, is creativity. I find it outright impossible to follow a recipe. I’ve made an earnest effort to heed exact measurements and ingredients on numerous occasions, but I always end up slipping in an extra teaspoon of spice, a little more butter, a little less sugar…  Despite inconsistent results and longer prep times (tasting, adding, re-tasting, and adjusting, takes way more time than simply following instructions) I am hopelessly incurable. I call it Recipe Defiance Disorder.

In that sense, fermented salsa is right up my alley; it doesn’t require exact measurements (unlike canning). You simply make up a fresh salsa, throw it into jars, let it ferment, and then store in a cool spot. It sounds so simple, it’s hard to believe I spent hours reading books and researching online until I was confident enough to give it a try.

There are many different recipes online so I won’t add more to the cloud, except for outlining the basics:

  1. Chop up fresh salsa ingredients (I used frozen tomatoes. They are easy to peel if left in a bowl of hot water for a few moments)
  2. Add salt – the salt keeps unwanted bacteria from proliferating before the lactobacilli culture kicks in.
  3. Add whey – You can make your own whey by straining some natural, full-fat yogurt.
  4. Pour salsa into clean jars and let it sit at room temp. for a few days. Store salsa in a cool place.

Here are some pictures from the process:

Yogurt draining to make cheese and whey

Yogurt draining to make cheese and whey

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Yogurt cheese–what’s left of the yogurt after the whey drains.

The yogurt cheese (top right) put to good use!

The yogurt cheese (top right) put to good use!

Raw ingredients from first batch of salsa

Raw ingredients from first batch of salsa

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I put way more cilantro, garlic, and jalapenos in my second batch. The flavour is intense now, but I am hoping it mellows with the fermentation.

Freshly made salsa, ready to ferment.

Freshly made salsa, on third day of ferment. I will let them sit on my counter for a day or two more until I can taste a bit of a tang and see more bubbles coming to the surface. Then I will transfer the jars to cold storage.

… I wondered (for a moment) if I should wait to post this until I open a perfectly aged jar of salsa… but I’m too impatient. Ahh, so much for writing with the voice of authority. Check back in two months for an update!

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Speaking of updates, if any of you are lying awake at night wondering how my cowl turned out, you can now rest peacefully:

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Are others of you preoccupied with Susanna’s herbal ear oil and lymphatic massage? We continue to faithfully administer both to her, every night. Her hearing still isn’t perfect, but she has not suffered another ear infection (it must be the garlic and oregano!) and her ears are finally starting to pop, indicating movement and drainage (it must be the calendula and massage!)

Experimentally yours,

Tricia