Friday, January 24, 2014

Grow Your Blog!

It's the 2014 Grow Your Blog party, hosted once again by the lovely Vicki of 2 Bags Full. Welcome to my little part of the celebration! I'm delighted to be participating again. The 2013 Grow Your Blog Party brought me into contact with many lovely bloggers who now both share and enrich my world.

Thank you, Vicki!
Thank you, my bloggy friends!

So this is where I came in, one year ago, as a brand-new, wet-behind-the-ears blogger. Today I looked back at my first post to see what I had envisioned:

"I'm just going to give it a go. And keep it very simple:

a place to post photographs, thoughts, and words that make me think,

and a place to record projects, creative endeavors, and some of the ordinary magic that seems to go on all around."

In retrospect, this is pretty much (exactly) how the blog has developed. Which just goes to show:

if you keep your initial plan broad enough, it is possible to stay right on track!


If you'd like a quick idea of what you'll find on Comptonia, you might take a scroll through my 2013 pictorial retrospective post of monthly collages. Here is one example:

February 2013 highlights: fiber-dyeing, cashmere-combing, playing and working in deep snow, sewing, cooking, and a little attitude from a goat.


The regular cast of Comptonia is mostly four-legged. 
Some are cashmere goats:

First-time mum Lily, and her daughter Tsuga

Violet teaching her daughter Sambucus to dance

but the star is a Piper:

"Yes. Yes, I am. The Star. Yes."

And if even one of those critters would learn to type 
and work the camera, I'd be reading the blog, not writing it.

By the way, there are hens here, also, but I don't expect my hens to be able to type. That would be silly, wouldn't it?

(Of course, now that I've written that, it's clear the hens would be the best typists of the bunch, with their innate hunt-and-peck method. Hmmm. Something to think about. Stay tuned.)

So, there's some gardening, and a little cooking, and reports on the International Space Station, and walks in the woods, and highly technical analysis of market trends (just kidding), and generally a little bit of whatever comes up.

Welcome! I'm glad you decided to visit Comptonia and have a look around. If you find something you like, I hope you will come back again!

And now for the Grow Your Blog Party giveaway:

a handknit hat.

Knit by me, in Cascade Superwash, which is a soft Peruvian Highland wool you can machine-wash and machine-dry without fear of...well, without fear of anything. No shrinking, no felting. Truly fearless machine-laundering of a handknit. Woohoo!

The color is a dark reddish-brown heather, with hints of green and gold. It's surprisingly hard to photograph accurately: the first picture shows the darkness quite well, and the others are too light but do show the subtle multicolor-heathery quality. It's a pretty yarn. It reminds me of the ground covered with oak leaves in late Autumn. Oak, and maybe beech. With a little bit of moss peeking out between the fallen leaves.

The hat should fit a medium to a large head, as it is quite stretchy.

Fibery note: I made this hat ages ago as a test-knitter for the Goose Chase Hat, designed by Sarah Roy. The pattern is Sarah's interpretation of a sweater worn by John Watson (Martin Freeman) in "Sherlock" - how clever is that? I finished the hat, washed and blocked and dried it, reported back to Sarah on Ravelry, then tucked the hat carefully away in the Future Knitted Gifts box, for when someone special would need a cozy hat.

And here we are: it's The Future.

Do you need a cozy hat?

The giveaway is open to anyone, anywhere. Just leave a comment and be sure to include a way for me to reach you if you are the winner. I will draw a winner on 15 February and announce it in a post on that day. Good luck!
A follow-up note: I won't reply to your comments here on this post, because it will be easier to do the drawing on the 15th if every comment is an "entry."
But I'll come and say hello on your blogs! :) 

Monday, January 20, 2014

happy hour

There's been more snow. And ice.

When I start morning chores, it's often rather gloomy.

Piper usually comes along, but to be perfectly honest, she doesn't always help. This morning, for example, she went straight off on some mission of her own. Very busy, she was.

While I dealt with frozen latches. I use these double bolt-clips for all sorts of things, such as hanging each goat's feed bucket.
It's hard to hang a feed bucket when a latch is frozen.

The answer to a frozen latch is directly-applied heat.
Glove off:
(Not my favorite thing.)

This morning, Sambucus had a suggestion.

"Never mind that frozen latch.
You can just stand right here
and hold my bucket for me while I eat!"
"See? Perfect! Don't move!
I'll only be ten minutes or so."

 Yes, Bui, that would work if you were my only goat. But I can't hold everybody's bucket at once, and naturally everybody likes to eat at the same time. This is why we put on collars and ties, and everyone has their own bucket, hung up with a latch and...


"What are you saying?
I am NOT your Only Goat?!"

This morning, after everyone had finished their grain and been turned loose, and I had collected the collars and topped the water buckets and distributed the hay and filled the mineral feeders, the sun suddenly came up. It sent bright lateral rays here and there across the paddock.
Lily, searching for that one perfect blade of sweet, dry meadow grass hidden deep inside a million lesser blades, was lit by a dazzling ray:

I wonder if everyone with livestock enjoys hearing them eat.
The goats' little munch-munch-munch always makes me smile. 

As I headed back to the house carrying the empty water buckets, I whistled for Piper and she raced up to reveal the success of her mission:

"Found it!!"
It's amazing how much can happen in an hour.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

because it was there

Very strange to be bake something without an apple in it, I know. But here goes.

I hadn't planned to bake anything this morning, until I discovered several leftover Portuguese sweet rolls in my cupboard.
They were just slightly too dry to be used for sandwiches, and would probably make terribly sweet breadcrumbs.

So...a venture into bread pudding.

 Cut into little blocks...

...and placed in a buttered baking dish.

Not too tightly, but filling the dish.

Then doused in a mixture of 4 eggs, 2 c milk, 1.5 c sugar, 2 TBS vanilla extract, and 1 TBS cinnamon.
(The recipes I found called for 2 c sugar, but I just couldn't do it.)

Baked at 325F for an hour.
(Because I use Pyrex. In a metal pan: 350F.)

Here's what the pan looked like as I removed it from the oven...
Action shot! 
Feel the heat!!!

I had a little taste while it was still hot.
And because I didn't make a sauce,
I added a little sliver of ice cream.

Not bad. Especially considering the absence of apples.

I've never made a bread pudding before and can only recall one cold, bland, raisin-studded serving, eaten in a cafeteria somewhere, sometime. 
(Now that I'm thinking about this, there may be a connection between the second part of that sentence and the first.)

This bread pudding tastes rather like French Toast, as one would expect from the ingredients. But the texture is different, with each individual chunk of bread saturated and baked through, and all the chunks forming one cohesive dish.

It would be nice for serving a group for breakfast: simple and quick to put together and pop in the oven, and - unlike French Toast - no one standing, plate in hand, waiting for the next slice to come out of the skillet.

What's your favorite way to use leftover bread?
And if you make bread pudding, what do you like for a sauce?

Friday, January 17, 2014

in a rut

In the past two weeks

I have baked this apple and cranberry tea cake

 three times.

Perhaps not every rut is a bad place to be?


The recipe is Marian Burros' Plum Torte, with minimal modification which varies every time I make it. This is a very simple and adjustable recipe.

The result when made with plums is what I would call a cobbler, with gooey pockets of fruitiness scattered in a plain cake. When made with apples, or with apples and cranberries as above (and above, and above), I would describe it as a fruited teacake. It is not overly sweet and has an even, dense texture. It's a nice take-along cake, and a good choice for a packed lunch that may be jostled a bit in a pocket or backpack.

My only advice is to watch the baking time toward the end, as a full hour may result in a slightly overdone edge. I check it at 45 minutes, and then every 5 minutes til a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

If you try it, please come back and share!
I'd love to hear more ways to play with this recipe.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

wordless wednesday


building to plan

The Bedford Book of Hours, 1423 ©The British Library Board
Noah running his crew, from the 1423 Bedford Book of Hours
©The British Library Board

Big news:

I have finally hired a builder to make another little shelter for the herd. Nothing elaborate - just a simple 10x20' shed - but I am pretty excited about it.

I've been actively trying to get this done since late Summer, but have had a very difficult time finding a carpenter. A very, very difficult time. I will spare you the details, because life is short and precious.

Now it is the middle of winter. Not an ideal time for building in New England! But we've been having extremely variable weather so far, and there is at least a possibility that we will have a few consecutive days of warm, dry weather between now and March, and the little goatbarn may be built before Spring.

Wouldn't that be lovely?

Just imagine: a tidy new shed, right smack in the upper paddock that I can see from the house. With partial interior dividers to reduce squabbling (I'm looking at you, Violet). Designed with lots of doors on one long side, to be left mostly open during good weather (like a run-in shed), but with the option of closing it all up snugly if necessary. And with a small section just for feed storage, which means I could get my workshop back.

Oh my!

Memory Lane:
This is the day I built the stanchion. This is my crew.
Behind, you see my workshop.
It is now filled with bales of hay and barrels of grain and sacks of loose minerals and kelp. And salt blocks and tie-outs and collars and feed buckets.
I can barely see my workbench anymore.
I miss that workbench.

Some hoped-for advantages:

Temporary kidding pens could be built within the general herd space, instead of in a separate paddock.

Daily feeding would be simplified, as goats, buckets and feed would be under the same roof. No more carrying armloads of feed buckets in and out of my workshop, through gates, in multiple trips, to multiple paddocks, twice every day.

The stanchion I use for cashmere combing could be moved permanently into the goat barn. So much easier than leading each goat to the stanchion in another shed, or dragging a stool into the paddock and tying each goat to the fence for combing. (By the way, here's a tip for when you start combing your own cashmere goats: outdoor combing only works on days with absolutely no wind. Cashmere is nearly weightless, and it is a disheartening thing to watch those little clouds of combed fiber floating away!)

As you can see, all these advantages are related to routine tasks that go on day after day, or season after season. Making improvements to routine livestock chores is hugely satisfying.  Whether it's something as small as finding a gate latch I can open with one hand, or something as large as designing a new shelter to help keep everyone contented and safe, this is the kind of change that I will appreciate and feel truly happy about, on a daily basis.


And even if we now have three solid months of snow and ice and bitter cold that make winter construction work impossible, I can feel confident that - barring unforeseen difficulties - the new shelter will already be in place by mid-May.

Which is important. 

Especially for two of the does.

Guess why!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

zero pressure

I've been thinking about some things I might like to try in 2014.

No resolutions, no pressure.
Just things that seem both 
challenging and exciting to think about.

For example...

In the Baking Tent: making pie crust.

Old Reliable: a storebought frozen pieshell.
Can I do as well? Can I do better??

I haven't made my own piecrust (or rolled cookies) for decades. Mostly this is because I don't have a kitchen surface large enough to work easily with a rolling pin. This year I will try: either learning to feel comfortable working with a tiny rolling pin on a small surface, or coming up with a larger work surface, or perhaps even making good piecrust without rolling it out at all.

And if I can make a decent piecrust, it may be a short step to...fruit turnovers! Meat and veg pasties!!

In Goat World: building a better cashmere comb.

Betula says: "Lift out the cashmere, leave the topcoat...
and no pulling, please!"

Combing cashmere goats is a long process, both in terms of the time spent combing each individual goat and the weeks during which the goats continue to shed, thus inviting multiple combing sessions of each goat. A proper tool would make a big difference.

Each year, I've added at least one different type of dog or human comb to my collection, and (not surprisingly) none is ideal for combing goat undercoats. In fact, the most effective "comb" so far has been one that I cobbled together a couple of years ago using bits and pieces of things I had lying around; in fact, my usual method of addressing a design problem. But while the prototype showed promise, I did not tinker with it last year. Instead, I used three different combs every day, and although I got the job done (eventually), the process was far from ideal.

This year, before the harvest begins, I will at least give it a go and try again. It would be very rewarding to come up with something that would make the harvest easier for both the goats and myself.

In the Arts Department: linocut printing.

(Sorry, no illustration, because I've never, ever, done it before!)

I have always loved prints made from woodcuts, but have never tried making one. And as much as I love wood, and love working with wood, I think carving a block of linoleum for a linocut would be a more sensible and less dangerous way to experiment. A potato might be easier still, but I've decided to bypass that medium in favor of something less likely to rot.

So...linocut printing!

I don't even know if I'm using the correct term, so please feel free to correct and inform me in the comments. I have no experience or knowledge, but what I do have is endless inspiration all around. Also, a strong leaning toward a creative process that will encourage simplicity and - speaking as a person who can overthink to the point of immobility - may require getting out of my own way.

Could be fun. Could be great fun! Will almost certainly by messy, which, come to think of it, is often a byproduct of fun. I can handle messy for the sake of fun.


Now that I've begun putting these ideas into words, a great many projects are leaping into my head, all with the word "should" attached. But I don't want this to become a "to do" list, nor a "must do" list. So I'll stop here, with just three "might like to try" things: one a revisit, one an evolving creation, and one a completely new experience.

Onward, 2014!

Betula says, "Bring it!"


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

cold times three

When tiny little birds
look three times their normal size, 
you can be sure it's very, very, very cold.

I hope everyone is staying safe and well.