In Love with a Mediterranean Climate: Souvenir and Wrap-Up

When we went to Italy, the first thing I noticed was plants. They were everywhere! Spilling from balconies, planted in public parks, growing out of walls, on restaurant patios. Everywhere I looked,there were plants. Each week, I’m sharing a different aspect of the plants I saw in Italy. Last week it was flowers. This week, I’m wrapping up and sharing my favorite souvenir from our honeymoon!

Thanks to all who followed my botanical side tour of Italy! Even though I'm out of photos to share with you here, I'm still living the vacation at home with some fresh flowers in my favorite souvenir - this little Tuscan pitcher!

This was a premixed bouquet at Whole Foods...not too expensive given how long it's lasted and how bright and cheery it is!

P.S. If you've missed any of the posts in this series, you can see them all by clicking on the tag "Italian flora" below!

Mermaid Scales Socks

There's something about unraveling a knitting project that just takes all the steam out of me. It's momentum, really, and it's why I do everything I can to forge ahead. That's why most of my socks don't really match - I love to use self striping yarns, but I've only managed to make the stripes line up twice. Usually I just embrace the quirkiness of a pair of socks that almost match, but not quite.

On this pair of socks, however, I wanted to make the stripes line up. I thought I had the problem solved. But I had it exactly backwards. They didn't even come close to matching. Whoops.

So in the spirit of forging ahead, I decided I'd finish both socks, then buy a second ball of the same color and end up with two matching pairs. Great plan, right?

Only one problem: when I got to the LYS, they were out of yarn. Not totally out of yarn, just out of my color. So, ripping back was my only option. Of course, that threw a wrench in my momentum, and these socks were a drag for a couple of days. 

I'm glad I pressed on and finished them when I did  - we were staying at a hotel with an indoor swimming pool, so that presented the perfect photo op.  Though I will say this - taking selfie sock photos over a large body of water is not the safest situation for any camera, and I was a bit nervous.  But, just like pressing ahead to finish the socks, I was glad I took the extra time to take these pictures!

Ravelry project page here.

Apple Crisp

Is everyone done with their New Year's resolutions yet? Believe it or not, I'm still sticking to mine. Luckily, they don't involve avoiding sugar. (Maybe that's why they're easier to keep this year...)

Anyways, I had some apples rotting in the fridge. It was gross. They weren't really rotting, but they were past their prime for eating, and covered in bruises. Which was why I didn't eat them in the first place, I guess.

So, I sliced them up, covered them in cinnamon sugar, and topped with a cinnamon-sugar crumble made of gluten-free flour mix, sugar, cinnamon, and butter. I was going to sprinkle some vanilla over the apples, but I forgot. The whole thing went into the oven for about an hour at 350.

Topped with coconut cream ice cream (half coconut milk, half whipping cream, with some sugar and vanilla), the apple crisp was perfect for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

No real recipe for this one, since I mostly just threw things together willy-nilly, and there are plenty of recipes for both of these things all over the interwebs.  But if you've got some fruits languishing in your fridge, I hope this will inspire you to save them from the compost heap and enjoy them fully!

Weekend Links

Last weekend Mike and I went to Cedar City, Utah, mostly to get out of the bad air that has kept me holed up inside all winter. (I'm not kidding when I say I can't breathe here...) We went on a couple of hikes, checked out the local winery, ate at our favorite Utah BBQ joint (they've got gf options!), and had a Harry Potter marathon back at the hotel. It was so nice to be able to breathe and bask in the sun, if only for a day and a half. Pollution from fossil fuels is real, people, and it doesn't just affect China and LA. Anyways, here are some links that caught my eye last week:


The sock and blanket knitting continues apace, but I have yet to pick a sweater to knit. In the land of distractions, the name and subject matter of this knitting pattern echo my sentiments exactly.


One of my goals this year is to start making my own lotions. In addition to being gluten intolerant, I'm allergic to nuts, so I have to be very careful about what I put on my skin. (Usually allergic reactions are to proteins, which aren't supposed to be found in oils, but I prefer to be super-cautious.) I've discovered that the missing ingredient in my homemade lip balm was probably calendula, so that will be going into the next batch, as well as into lotions. This recipe looks promising for a future hand lotion.


Most of my houseplants are migrants - plants that I'll send back outside once the weather gets warm enough. I've always thought most common houseplants looked a bit ... generic, but I'm reconsidering. Many common houseplants are exceptionally good at filtering toxins out of the air and providing oxygen. We've got an air filter running 24/7, but I'd love to have the more natural kind as well.


I LOVE lemon bars. They're so bright and sweet and tart all at the same time. I'm sure there's a gluten-free version around there somewhere, but I'm itching to convert this one to be gluten-free. Shouldn't be too complicated.

What caught your eye over the weekend?

In Love with a Mediterranean Climate: Flowers

When we went to Italy, the first thing I noticed was plants. They were everywhere! Spilling from balconies, planted in public parks, growing out of walls, on restaurant patios. Everywhere I looked,there were plants. Each week, I’m sharing a different aspect of the plants I saw in Italy. Last week it was fruit. This week, I’m sharing flowers - perfect for brightening up a gray winter day!

I'm a total sucker for flowers. When we first got to Italy, and I started taking pictures of flowers, Mike looked at me like I was a little nuts. Maybe I am. But I love having some bright, happy flowers to look at when it's cold and snowy outside, so here we go.

Cyclamen were everywhere - in front of a restaurant menu, tucked into succulent gardens...

And sitting on pedestals in lovely pots.

Then there were the roses. Ah, the roses. Like this one in front of the Murano glass factory.

And this one at a farm and winery we visited,

 And these, that graced the Roman Forum...

 There were also lots of geraniums, like this one that I almost tripped over...

Butterfly bushes...


Thanksgiving cactus...

And dahlias, like this one in a public park in Venice.

I hope these flowers brighten your January day. They've certainly brightened mine!

Gluten-Free Beer, Bottled

On New Year's Day, Mike and I brewed gluten-free beer for the first time. After primary and secondary fermenting, it was ready to bottle last weekend.

The beer was still quite cloudy after primary fermentation, and we hadn't quite figured out how to use the siphon, so we lost two gallons...eek!

But the beer cleared considerably after fermenting a second time:

And we figured out the siphon this time. Now we wait another week or two before tasting.

I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out!

Cheese, Please

I've been dying to make cheese for a while now. Not just lemon juice ricotta (which is still pretty awesome), but cultured cheese too. Around Christmastime, I bought a kit with cheese cultures and a ton of recipes. Last week I decided to try it out.

It starts with warming up some milk, adding calcium chloride, and cultures. Ok so far.

Then you let it sit for a while. After that, you add some rennet, and let it sit again. It sets up, almost like a loose jello. Then you slice it, heat it gently, and it starts to look like this:

Wild, right? Then you scoop it all into a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Once most of the liquid whey has drained out, you hang it. Not as simple as it might sound. I didn't have anything to hang it from, so I rigged up this contraption with a pot and some chopsticks:

Then you press the cheese for about 24 hours, turning it a couple of times. Who said you could only use weights in the gym? (Don't worry, it's clean, and not touching the cheese)

Finally, after about a day and a half, I got to unwrap the cheese. It looks like this:

A little lumpy and misshapen, for sure. Now it sits for 3-5 days in the open air, before I wax it and let it cure for two whole months. I'm feeling totally impatient, but also super-excited that soon I'll have my very own made-at-home cheese!

Weekend Links

I'm overwhelmed by the positive response to Ice Glider ... my very first published knitting pattern. It just confirms that I want to be designing more!

This weekend I did a little bit of, catching up on housework, knitting, working on some other projects, reading, and sleeping. I slept 12 whole hours Saturday night, which means that I must have really needed it. I hope everyone is enjoying their long weekend. Here are some links that caught my eye this weekend:


I'm in love with this pattern. It's not a garment I would normally buy, but I have a good feeling about this one...


We don't have glass recycling here, which is a shame. I have plant nannies, which put quite a few old wine bottles to use, but I'm itching to try some more DIYs with wine bottles. The biggest hitch is getting the labels off. Some peel off easily, while others are a bear. You can bet I'll try this tutorial next time I need to peel labels off bottles.


I never did jump on the pallet gardening train...mostly because I worried they'd look too silly (and that the dog would tear all the plants out...ahem). But I love this idea of turning a pallet into shelving for potted herbs. Is it spring yet?


When Mike and I were in Italy, we had some amazing gluten-free pizza. The crust was so chewy and delicious, we had to double-check to make sure it was gluten-free. (It was. More about it soon.) Since then, I've been searching for a recipe to try. This one's next on the list

What caught your eye over the weekend?

In Love with a Mediterranean Climate: Fruit Everywhere

When we went to Italy, the first thing I noticed was plants. They were everywhere! Spilling from balconies, planted in public parks, growing out of walls, on restaurant patios. Everywhere I looked,there were plants. Each week, I’m sharing a different aspect of the plants I saw in Italy. Last week it was plants spilling into the streets. This week, I’m sharing the fruit we saw hanging on trees.

How would you like to walk outside and just pick your afternoon snack off a tree? Sign me up! 

Grapevines aren't just for wineries - we saw some grapes just begging to be eaten in Venice.

In Siena, there was a farmer's market that I was just dying to visit. Unfortunately, the tour guide didn't think that was touristy enough.

At Murano, where they make their world famous glass, I saw this pomegranate tree.

And there were oranges everywhere. When the oranges get ripe, the leaves often fall off the tree. I thought it looked like an orange Christmas tree.

And then there was this little plant on my patio in Rome. Anybody know what it is? My guess is an ornamental pepper, but I'm not sure.

Knitting Goals for 2014

Normally, I don't exactly set knitting goals. Sometimes I decide I'd like to knit a sweater, and then I do. Wanting to wear that sweater for a particular event is definitely good motivation to finish the sweater, sure, but I've never made yearly knitting goals. 

Until now. 

Some of my goals are doable, and some of them are flat-out cray-cray, especially when you consider that I don't normally get to sit at home and knit all day, except on the weekends. But isn't that what goals are about? To plan on something realistic, and to plan on something you totally want to achieve but haven't yet.

So, without further ado, here are my knitting goals for 2014, in no particular order: 
  • Knit 12 pairs of socks (at least a pair a month)
  • Knit 3 sweaters
  • Knit a blanket for a king-size bed out of leftover sock yarn
  • Publish 6 knitting patterns
The one that is a stretch is the king-size blanket. I'm doing it all in garter stitch, making log-cabin squares that will be seamed together. It's a design challenge that involves harmonizing all the colors of every pair of socks I've ever knit. Based on the size of my squares, I figure I'll have to knit about 144 squares to cover the bed with some overhang. And all on size 2 needles. No biggie. 

But on the sock and knitting pattern design front, I've already hit the ground running. Two pairs finished, one pattern written, all before January is halfway through. 

The first pair of socks was all about improvising the cable pattern, then charting it.

The cables go from small, medium, to big, and undulate back and forth across the surface of the fabric.

The second pair was about pattern drafting. Writing the pattern, working out the kinks, and doing a test-knit.

I'm happy with both pairs of socks, and definitely thrilled to add to my sock drawer. And yes, those are my real feet modeling the socks in the snow.  It was cold, but totally part of the plan.

So, without further ado, here's the pattern! If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear it.

Ice Glider Sock Pattern

Couscous with Spinach and Feta

This recipe is such an old favorite, I can't believe I haven't' shared it with you before. The ingredient list is a little lengthy, but every ingredient is worth it, and it really doesn't take that long to prepare, unless you're cooking the meat while you make dinner. I usually use some leftover meat - just about anything will do. The original recipe called for chicken, but I love it with leftover lamb, beef, or even venison.

Couscous with Spinach and Feta


  • 8-12 ounces beef, chicken, or lamb, cooked
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free couscous (I use this. If you're not gluten-free, regular or Israeli couscous would be good too)
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Zest of one lemon, plus the juice
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 6-8 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

In a medium pot, saute the shallot in the olive oil until it begins to soften. Toss in the garlic, half the lemon zest, and red pepper flakes, and saute until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the couscous and toast for about one minute. Add 1 cup water (or the amount recommended on the package), and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and let sit about 15 minutes, or until the couscous is cooked.

When the couscous is cooked, stir in the spinach, a handful at a time, until it is all wilted. Remove the pan from heat, and stir in the meat and half the feta cheese.

Divide between two plates. Top with the remaining feta cheese and drizzle with the remaining lemon zest and lemon juice.

Makes two generous or three modest portions. Can easily be doubled (or tripled) to serve more people. Keeps well one or two days in the fridge.

In Love with a Mediterranean Climate: Plants in the Streets

When we went to Italy, the first thing I noticed was plants. They were everywhere! Spilling from balconies, planted in public parks, growing out of walls, on restaurant patios. Everywhere I looked,there were plants. Each week, I’m sharing a different aspect of the plants I saw in Italy. Last week it was plants filling up balcony spaces. This week, I’m sharing plants that spilled out onto the street!

There isn't much dirt on the ground in Italian least, not the ones we visited. So gardeners have to use pots, and the first rule of container gardening is to go big! That's what this street gardener did with these bushes.

But sometimes, you have to go small, like the moss below this neat water fountain.

My favorite place in all Italy was San Gimignano, where we saw this walled garden, not to mention the vines on the house to the right.

At the edges of San Gimignano, was this house with its garden spilling out onto the street...

...As well as these potted plants lining the stairway between buildings

In Venice, the streets are literally made out of water. And this restaurant, like many others, had boxes overhanging its outdoor eating area right over the canal. (And look at all that produce on display!)

Also in Venice, we saw quite a few private gardens spilling out into the street, like this one:

Winter Blooms

It's a cold, cold week, isn't it? All over the place I'm hearing about schools closing, pipes freezing, and freak cold fronts sweeping the nation. It's mighty cold here - I've taken to knitting socks like a madwoman to keep my feet warm - but it's *only* about 5 degrees colder than normal. 

Even so, that's still pretty darned cold, plus we've got that smog to contend with. Luckily, I planned ahead for this. Around Christmas, I bought an amaryllis at the grocery store, and it's just now coming into bloom.

And, drumroll please, this is the first year that I've forced narcissus on my own. Some people hate their cloying smell, but I love it. Whenever I catch a whiff when I walk by them, I think of springtime. And how could you not love these sweet little blooms?

This one just coming into bloom now, and I've got a whole army of pots that are in various stages of getting ready to bloom. Hopefully they'll see me all the way through these cold January weeks.

How are you keeping warm?

Spinach-Avocado Sushi

I've discovered the secret to making sushi with leafy vegetables as a wrap instead of sushi nori - wilt the leaves first! If the leaves are still fresh and crunchy, they don't like to stick to each other or the rice. But when you wilt them slightly, then lay them flat on top of each other, they make a pretty nice sheet for sushi. If you're going to try this, you'll need either large spinach leaves or to lay the leaves several deep and wide - you want it wide enough to wrap all the way around your filling.

A yummy alternative if you don't have nori on hand! Enjoy!

In Love with a Mediterranean Climate: Balconies, Windowsills, and Terraces

I hope you had a happy New Year, celebrating some old traditions and making some new ones! As winter gets up its big guns, I'm continuing my series about plants in Italy. When we went to Italy, the first thing I noticed was plants. They were everywhere! Spilling from balconies, planted in public parks, growing out of walls, on restaurant patios. Everywhere I looked,there were plants. Each week, I’m sharing a different aspect of the plants I saw in Italy. Last week it was succulents. This week, I’m sharing all the little windowsill, balcony and patio gardens I saw.

Along with the succulents happily spilling over all parts of the balcony, this little garden proudly waved the flag of Venice.

Our hotel in Florence was up two flights of stairs, but there were still spider plants lining the hallway.

And this "Orange Cafe" had plants lining its outside terrace.

This balcony was one of my favorites, not just for the tree that took up most of the space, but for the ornate leaf-shaped ironwork of the balcony itself.

Abundance was easy to find, but even a couple of pots spruced up a concrete wall.

Yesterday, and Today

I hope your had a wonderful New Year. Our big celebration was last weekend, so last night we took it easy. I made a decadent salad with spinach, beef braised in red wine, and bacon. It was dressed with a red wine reduction made from the braising juices, and some cheese. We also had more pie. Then we sat on the couch with some wine and watched a movie, and were asleep before 10.

This morning, we brewed gluten-free beer for the first time. It was a bit like making soap or canning vegetables. Lots of steps, precision, and sterilization of equipment required.

We didn't have a pot big enough for all the wort, so we split things between two as best we could. Hopefully it turns out alright, but it will be a while before we know.

Tonight, we'll have Hoppin' John for good luck. This year, I tried to grow blackeyed peas in my garden, but Odie tore them out of the ground before they could even get going. No matter - I scored some dried ones from my Dad's hometown.  When I cooked them this afternoon, I forgot to look back at my regrets from last year's Hoppin' John, and made a full batch again. Whoops. Looks like we'll probably end up with a frittata again.

Here's to hoping for a wonderful 2014! Hopefully all those blackeyed peas will bring oodles of luck!