Gadget Girl Goes Gaga (yes, it’s a post about the Instant Pot) (and also about my other obsession: homemade Greek yogurt)

For someone who loves old-fashioned, slow things like knitting and spinning and weaving, I sure do love gadgets. So I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that I would fall in love with a kitchen gadget. I just really wasn’t prepared for how very hard I would fall.

I had read about the Instant Pot on NomNomPaleo’s blog for months before I finally couldn’t take it anymore – I had to try this thing. I gave my husband some pretty blatant hints (things like sending him a link and saying, “Hey, I would love one of these for Mother’s Day!”), and – what a nice surprise! – I received one for Mother’s Day: the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Programmable Pressure Cooker 6Qt/1000W, Stainless Steel Cooking Pot and Exterior

Twenty years ago, I dated a guy who loved to cook and specifically loved cooking in a stovetop pressure cooker. He persuaded me to get one, and I did. But I was always so scared of that thing that I probably used it less than a dozen times over the years. But the electric pressure cooker takes away that fear for me, because it takes away the risk. It also takes away the guesswork. I was attracted to this particular electric pressure cooker because it’s a 7-in-1 gadget- it works as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, yogurt maker, and it sautés and steams.

But here is my confession. For the first six months of owning this beautiful baby, I only ever used it to make yogurt.

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There were two reasons for that. One: I was intimidated by all the functions and options on the machine. Two: the yogurt is amazing.

I started eating yogurt again (after years of reducing and occasionally eliminating all dairy) last winter, after a really nasty stomach bug. When I was getting back on solid foods, there wasn’t much that appealed to me. Then I suddenly had a deep, undeniable craving for Greek yogurt – thick, plain, whole milk yogurt (I believe in eating fat). I had some raw, local honey from my stepson and his fiancé (they raise bees) that I stirred in, along with some raw nuts. It was total bliss, and I was hooked.

In May, after receiving my Instant Pot, I started making my own plain, whole milk yogurt. I used to make yogurt years ago, when the boys were toddlers. I have a dedicated yogurt maker for just that purpose. But this was even easier than that:

  1. pour in the milk, lock the lid, hit the Yogurt button, and the pot brings the milk to boil. It beeps when it’s ready.
  2. Take off the lid, turn off the machine, let the milk cool to 115F or below (this is the hardest part of the whole process).
  3. Stir in yogurt starter (I use Fage Total yogurt or some of my previous batch of yogurt). It needs a lot less starter than you might think. I stir in 1 Tbsp per quart (and I usually start with half a gallon of milk and so stir in 2 T yogurt).
  4. Put the lid back on, hit the Yogurt button again, and adjust the time (I usually do about 10 hours, but it can be as few as 8 or closer to 12 – I just set it depending on what else is going on with me that day). When the timer goes off again, you have yogurt. It can go straight into containers in the fridge to chill at that point.
  5. But since I like Greek-style yogurt, I always strain mine first. I pour it into a strainer lined with a clean cotton tea towel, set over a large bowl. I then set the whole thing in the fridge for 2-4 hours, which makes for a very thick, very creamy yogurt (and a good amount of whey, which can be used for many other purposes).

I know that food bloggers always take pictures and show you each step. But I’m not a food blogger and my kitchen is poorly set-up for capturing those moments anyway. So I’m just going to assume that you can visualize the pushing of buttons, the closing of lids, and the straining of yogurt, and skip right to the goods:

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It is SO GOOD, y’all.

And so thick:

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And since it’s plain, everyone in the family can stir in whatever they like (or leave it as is). I like mine with honey, almonds, and fresh berries.

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As delicious as this yogurt is, and as unbelievably easy as it is to make, I decided over the holidays that it was high time I started using the Instant Pot for over things, too. So I joined this amazing Facebook group dedicated to the Instant Pot, and it has been really educational and inspiring. My gal Heather and I text about our Instant Pots all the time, and she’s been encouraging and helpful, too.

So I finally took the plunge and went beyond making yogurt. And I have been ALL IN. In the last 11 days, I’ve made Buffalo Wings, Kalua Pig, Chili, Vanilla Custard, Mocha-Rubbed Pot Roast (a dish I usually make in the slow cooker but was even better in the Instant Pot; actually the same could be said about the Kalua Pig), Mexican Beef ( AMAZING), Crispy Chicken Breasts with Lemon and Capers, Potato Soup, and absolutely perfect easy-peel boiled eggs (twice). (I will try to come back and add links to all of those when I have a minute – this post is already getting out of control!).And of course, I’ve also made more yogurt.

My mind is hopping all the time now with Instant Pot ideas, so I figured I might as well subject all of you to it, too. I’m probably going to need to write up some of my ideas and experiments, too, so consider this fair warning – you may have to see many more I Love My Instant Pot posts.

But in case you came by for crafts and not for yogurt, here’s a thing I made with all the time my Instant Pot has saved me:

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Hello Yarn “Blossom” on Finn – my first spin of 2016 – 3.5oz, 252yds 2-ply DK. Love this bright, happy yarn on these cold, grey days!

Disclaimer: Yes, that is an Amazon affiliate link up there. I was not paid anything for gabbing about my Instant Pot. But if you are thinking about getting one and you use my link, I will get a tiny commission to support my blog habit. No pressure. HAHA SEE WHAT I DID THERE? #imsopunny

 

 

Almost Mindless Knitting

Last summer, I found myself very briefly between Big Events in my life, and I needed to knit something that didn’t matter. Too much else mattered in my life at that time for me to also be knitting anything with emotional investment. Besides, my mind felt too soft to focus on anything that required much brain power.

What do you make when you need your hands to be active but your mind to rest? What do you make when you need to feel like you’re moving forward but you don’t want to put too much hope in the outcome?

I made dishcloths. I haven’t made dishcloths in years – they just aren’t the type of thing I typically want to spend my time on. But it turns out that all the things that make me usually shy away from them are what made them exactly the right project for me last August.

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This is the Almost Lost Washcloth, a round scalloped washcloth I find perfectly adorable. I can’t tell you what yarn or needles I used, because I kept no notes (and didn’t even log it on Ravelry until today). It was just some cotton yarn I had on-hand. I made these in almost no time at all.

And quickly followed up with a Mini Almost Lost Washcloth, equally adorable but on a smaller scale.

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The thing about knitting dishcloths is that, unless you are giving them away, it really doesn’t matter if you make mistakes in them, because they will still be perfectly useful These are by no means perfect – I think the wee one even has an extra petal in there – but the knitting was therapeutic and the final product is functional, plus the colors make me happy. Knitting therapy at its finest.

2015 Spun Up

Two weeks into the new year (can I still call this year “new”?), and I’m already behind. I spent the first several days sick, and the next several trying to catch up from having been sick, and I’m still trying to recover my knitting mojo (not to mention finishing up the photographing and logging of my 2015 knits). It’s been a little demoralizing.

But this right here has perked me up:

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That right there represents the most I’ve ever spun in a single year – just shy of seven pounds. This was in large part due to getting an electric spinner (a Hansen miniSpinner) for my birthday in June. The first seven yarns I spun this year happened over a period of five months, on my Ladybug. The next 20 happened over the next seven months, on my miniSpinner.

I am sad to say that my Cherry Matchless has seen no action at all this year, and she is in a high sulk. I need to make some decisions about her this year. The miniSpinner has completely revolutionized my spinning, and I’m just not sure I need two wheels on top of the spinner. I’ve always adored treadling, but the truth is, I’ve done no treading since June. It’s hard to justify keeping my Matchless under the circumstances, but it’s also hard to consider letting go of such a beauty. So … we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’m in love with spinning these days and am hopeful that I can maybe spin around 10 pounds this year, while honing my technique.

Also, just because I like to see the numbers, here’s what I made:

  • basic 2-ply: 19
  • chain-ply: 4
  • singles: 4
  • already knit up (or in the case of 2 of them, woven): 15

Even after almost seven years of spinning, it still always amazes me that I can make yarn with my own two hands (and a tool of some sort). Such a deep and simple pleasure, and one of the brightest spots of 2015 for me.

Winter is Coming Spinalong :: Annunciation

At the end of the year, I finished up my third (and final) spin for the Winter is Coming Spinalong (in the Southern Cross Fibre Ravelry group). Considering themes and images as inspiration for my spinning is a new way of doing things for me, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

For this spin, I chose “Bloodstone” on Superwash Merino:
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I absolutely adore this colorway – so deep and rich.

Initially, I thought of its resonance with winter fires, or with red Christmas decorations, but in the end, I was drawn to something altogether different. It was an icon of the Annunciation – Gabriel’s visitation to Mary – a story I get to read at our church’s Christmas Eve service every year. I loved the particular depiction I found (which I won’t post here because I don’t own the rights to it), because Mary is holding yarn. It’s red yarn. In some icons, she is depicted as spinning (and, in at least one, even knitting). In this one, she has dropped her yarn to listen to the angel. What’s more, she’s also wearing red socks. Okay, maybe they are shoes. But I like to imagine that they are socks. I also like to imagine that they are handknit handspun socks, that she made for herself. The deep red really enchants me. I wanted some for myself, so I spun up the yarn.

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The spinning itself was a total delight. The chain-plying was another story entirely. I’ve been having trouble with my chain-plying lately, and I don’t know what the problem is. I ended up with more twist and less yardage than I’d hoped. I actually ran it back through the spinner to take out some of the twist, and that helped (though it didn’t increase the yardage, of course).

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I think I need to go back to one of my wheels for chain-plying, because I do believe that part of the issue is my electric spinner tempts me to go faster than is wise. That works fine for regular plying, but not for chain-plying. But even on the wheel, I struggle with consistency in my chain-plies. I am very, very interested in hearing any words of wisdom from those who have this process a little more down pat. What advice would you give me?

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Even with my plying issues, it’s hard for me not to love this yarn. The color is so deep and luscious (which I didn’t capture very well in these photographs). I’m looking forward to knitting it up!

 

Notes from the Sick Couch

I am trying hard to transition off the couch and back to the desk (my big goal for today: last for a full day at the office). I spent three solid sick days at home, on the couch, in my jammies and sheep socks:

It was cozy, but it was less fun than it sounds, primarily because I was too sick to knit.

On the fourth day (which was actually day seven of being sick), I switched from sheep socks to a sheep scarf and tried to go to work:

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I lasted for about three hours before I realized that where I actually needed to be was Urgent Care, where I was promptly (well, not promptly – there was a long wait involved before the doctor gave his prompt verdict) diagnosed with a sinus infection and prescribed antibiotics.

I’m still feeling rough, but at least I’m vertical and less dizzy than I was, and my voice is coming back, and my sinuses hurt marginally less today than they did yesterday. I’m hopeful that not only will I last all day at work, but that I’ll feel like knitting for a few minutes (or more!) tonight.

In the meantime, I now have a whole lot of new shows to love and/or explore. If you are sick, or if you just want to hunker down on winter nights with the TV, here are a few you might to add to your queue.

  • I did watch all of Making a Murdererand would definitely heartily recommend it; it is very well-done and completely captivating and also thoroughly maddening.
  • Then I stumbled onto a Netflix show I’d somehow missed hearing anything about: Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston. I’m only two episodes in, but it’s pretty cute (if a little too sitcom-y for my usual tastes). It’s very fun to see these four actors (now all in their 70s) in a comedy together.
  • I also finished Master of None, which I had started watching before Christmas. I think it’s completely brilliant.
  • And then, after more than one friend suggested it, I started Mozart in the Jungle, and it is FANTASTIC. My husband isn’t quite as entranced with it as I am – the fact that the conductors and musicians don’t actually seem to know how to conduct or play their instruments is a huge stumbling block for him. I completely ignore that fact and find it a thoroughly charming show.

In addition to these four shows, (all of which are on Netflix), I received some other really great suggestions in my comments section here, as well as on my Facebook page (including Jessica Jones, Happy Endings, Continuum, The Bletchley Circle, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Longmire, and Foyle’s War).

There’s enough there to last me several illnesses, but I am very, very hopeful that I will soon see the end of sickness for awhile. And as soon as I feel close to normal, I am hitting the reset button on this new year!

On the 9th Day of Christmas … I Collapsed

Thank you for your very kind words on my post yesterday. I’d planned to come back today and actually talk crafting, as well as do some crafting, as well as take the Christmas tree down, as well as make some progress on my doctoral project (one of my goals for 2016), as well as many, many other things. Instead, I am collapsed on the couch. I’ve been sick the last few days but seem to be much worse today, so I guess I’ll just sit here and catch up on my Netflix queue. (Making a Murderer, coming right up!) 

 

I’m wearing new jammies and sheep socks I got for Christmas. I’ve got orange juice, chicken noodle soup, saltine crackers, and tissues at the ready. I’ve got knitting nearby in case I feel like picking up the needles (right now that feels doubtful). And I’ve got a dog to cuddle with. What am I missing? What do you find most comforting when you’re ill? And what shows or podcasts might you recommend if this lasts longer than a day or so?

Hello, New Year

I see your hope and optimism, your big dreams and courageous goals. I see your positive thinking, your ambition, your resolved commitment. This is going to be your year – for happiness, for financial security, for physical fitness, for love. I see you wishing all the best for the year ahead, for friends, for family, for strangers. I see it all, and I cheer you on, and I hope all good things for you, and for everyone.
As for me, I’m stepping through this threshold a little more cautiously this year.

Christmas, without my mom, was difficult but not as overwhelmingly painful as I’d feared. Then my aunt died that afternoon, and that brought fresh grief for my whole family. But the funeral, the time with family, the holiday gift-giving and celebrating – all of it was sweet. And my mom’s absence was so large that, in a way, it felt like its own presence. She was everywhere I looked. She loved Christmas and was an extravagant gift-giver, and I saw her in everything we did.

The turn into the new year has been more difficult. I didn’t expect it, quite honestly. I was braced for the grief of Thanskgiving and Christmas, but not this. Part of it is the flood of memories of New Years Eve past, which we always celebrate with my parents. But more than that, I think, is the sense of how hard and strange it feels to be entering a new year without my mom. It’s like the turning of the calendar is taking me further away from her. What’s more, I am daunted by the realization that the new year may hold more unexpected losses and unforeseen grief. This time last year, I had no idea how hard 2015 would be, and how many losses it would contain. 

This is not to say that I don’t have my own big dreams and deep hopes for the coming year, because I definitely do. It’s just that I’m entering this year from a more tender, more vulnerable place than before. I’m more aware of my own fragility, of the fragility of everyone, of everything. This means I’m starting 2016 with less a sense of steely determination and more a sense of a soft heart. This feels like a good thing (even though it’s a hard thing), because it is giving me clarity about what really matters, about what lasts and what doesn’t, about what to hold lightly and what to embrace fiercely. And it is leading me to a more profound desire for real relationships, authentic selfhood, and a daily commitment to kindness and gentleness and compassion. 

I am writing this on my phone, from the road, which feels appropriate. Because I am on a journey – we all are – and even the best parts of it will pass. So will the hardest parts. I don’t know everywhere this road will lead, but I have a better sense of the kind of person I want to be as I travel. And I have a clarified commitment to be kind to fellow travelers.

It could be that you, too, start this year from a place that doesn’t feel entirely celebrative or optimistic or determined. If so – I see you, too. I see you, and I hope you will be gentle with yourself, and kind. 

In the meantime, whether you are in a happy place or hard one, Louie would like to cheer you on:

  
Happy New Year, dear readers. (I’ll be back soon with crafting!)

Winter is Coming, Second Spin

It was Tuesday, and I blinked, and then suddenly it was Friday. I’m sure I’m not the only one trying to find that sweet spot between Getting It All Done and Enjoying the Moment. It’s a tough balance to find any time of year, but especially as we move further into this season.

Waking early for quiet time to think and create is one thing that really helps me find my breath. The fact that I end up with something beautiful to show for that time alone is quite a nice bonus!

Last month, I told you about the Winter is Coming Spin-along in the Southern Cross Fibre Ravelry group. I’ve had a lot of big plans for this, but the spin-along will be up in two weeks and I’m realizing I’m not going to make everything I dreamed of. But I did finish my second yarn this week.

With this spinalong, I’ve been experimenting with using pictures as inspiration to guide me in the process of spinning. It’s been really fun! For this spin, I used this picture for inspiration:

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That’s Jon Snow’s direwolf “Ghost” (from Game of Thrones), and I adore this picture. It seemed a nice match to the Southern Cross Fibre October Classic Club offering:

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I love those luscious colors so much! This is Comeback Wool, an Australian wool I’ve never spun before. It was a total delight.

Ordinarily, I would just spin this up and ply it with itself, with my biggest decision being whether to have it barberpole or line up the colors. But this time, inspired by the picture of Ghost, I really wanted to add a significant amount of white to the finished yarn. So I ordered some undyed Falkland from Spunky Eclectic and spun that up. Then I plied it with the October Showers. I had 4 oz. of the October Showers and 3 oz. of the Falkland – I had uneven amounts because my original idea was to use an undyed grey fiber in there as well. So I ordered 1 oz. of an Icelandic blend in a natural grey from Spunky Eclectic. The color was great, but the feel of the fiber was so different from either the Comeback or the Falkland, that I ended up deciding not to use it.

With an uneven amount of fiber, I decided to ply a small portion of the Comeback Wool with itself. So when I ran out of the Falkland, I wound the Comeback with my yarn winder into a center-pull yarn cake and plied one end with the other, which yielded a nice long streak of lavender at the end of the yarn.

Enough shop talk! Here’s the final product:

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This is 7.25oz, 362yds worsted 2-ply, and I love it.

I’ve been toying with the idea of plying it one more time – chain-plying it for a really fat 6-ply. But I’m torn, because I also really like it as it is. So … we’ll see!

As I’ve been writing this, snow started to fall, hard. Maybe, after these strange couple of weeks of record high temperatures, maybe winter is coming after all!

 

Done. Just Like That.

To knit is to protest the mechanization of life, to remind oneself of the value of sitting down, taking time, going slow, being patient, persisting. To knit is to resist the notion that efficiency is everything. To knit is to embrace the value of the process as much as the product.

And still. Sometimes it’s pretty darn exciting to make something so fast you can only shake your head and marvel.

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I warped the loom late Saturday afternoon, and by Monday evening, the weaving was done. And it’s not like I spent every waking moment, or even every free moment, weaving. I did it in little bits of time here and there. Amazing!

I hemstitched one end first thing this morning. Now all that’s left is hemstitching the other end, cutting the fringe down to size, and washing it.

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If I had to do it over again, I would’ve omitted the horizontal stripes, but I can live with it. It also turned out slightly shorter than my calculations told me it would. But I’m learning from my disappointments and missteps, so they aren’t really losses, and I can live with how the piece looks overall.

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Even Louie is pleased.

I’ll show you better pictures once it’s all finished up. In the meantime, all this weaving put me in the mood to wear something woven, and today it’s almost cold enough to actually need a scarf (what is with this crazy weather?).

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By the way, if you want to see a truly gorgeous handspun handwoven piece, check out Knit Bug Val’s latest post. WOW.

A Thing I Thought I’d Do a Lot of This Year

For Christmas last year, my mom gave me a loom. Actually, it was from both of my parents, but everyone knew my mom was the chief gift-giver in our family. In fact, giving gifts was something she was especially good at and took great pleasure in. As the grateful recipient of many of her gifts, I took great pleasure in her gift-giving ability, too!

A few years ago, my husband gave me a Schacht Cricket loom for Christmas. I still love that little loom (though it has seen precious little action), but I eventually wanted something bigger. Since I adore everything else I have by Schacht (two wheels, a lazy kate, and the little loom), I decided to go for a Schacht Flip (the 20″). My husband gave me a stand to go with it.

I absolutely love it, and I got to weaving on it, at my parents’ house, right away. If you’ve ever knit a scarf and then you decide to weave a scarf, it almost takes your breath away how fast it goes.

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Before I knew it, I had this squishy handspun scarf all done.

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As you can see, my selvages left something to be desired. But the scarf was really just for practice, and for the sheer enjoyment of weaving. The warp is my own handspun Hello Yarn Shetland in “Minerals,” and the weft is, I think, some white Stonehedge Shepherd’s Wool worsted.

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I love the fringe, with that party of colors. I bought a fringe twister but didn’t actually start trying to twist the fringe until a few days ago (and I’m still not done). That’s how I do – make something and then drag my feet on the last little detail for … awhile.

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Maybe once I get the fringe all twisted, I’ll manage some better pictures.

At any rate, the process of making this scarf was so enjoyable that I couldn’t help but get started on another one immediately.

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Love me some pink and brown! For this scarf, I paired two different handspun yarns, both from fiber I got years ago from Funky Carolina. The warp is “Little Lady” on Shetland; the weft is “Scutterbotch” from batts. The Scutterbotch was one of my very first yarns (I think the third one I’d ever made, and my first from batts), and it is very much a beginner yarn. When I sampled it, it didn’t look great knit up, but it worked perfectly as weft; it’s nice and skinny and neutral and allows the colors of the warp to shine through (bonus: I still have a bunch left, for more weft).

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For this scarf, I tried hemstitching for the first time, and I really liked the effect. I did better on my selvages, too, though there’s still some unevenness here and there. I also haven’t twisted the fringe yet (of course). But who cares, I love it.

I made both of these scarves in January, marveling all the while at how fun it was and how fast, and thinking that I’d maybe weave a scarf each month. And one thing I espiecially wanted to do was to weave a shawl for my mom, for this Christmas. But none of that was to be. The year slid sideways, especially this second half, and since the end of January, I have woven precisely … nothing.

For awhile after my mom’s death, the loom just made me sad. Partly because it was her last Christmas gift to me, and partly because I never got to make her anything on it. But I’m trying hard to embrace the ongoing nature of the many gifts she gave me, and the loom is certainly a gift that, in the using of it, will keep being given to me, if I let it. And I’ve realized, too, that when I use it to make gifts, my mom’s giving is even further extended. She would like that.

So that’s what I’m doing now. And it feels really good, and really right.

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