Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. Thomas Merton

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Ready eHart

This quote is taken from the Catholic Digest Daily e-Quiet Moment. I wanted to share it with you.

Monday, May 19: When I look at the earth so lovely in springtime readiness, I reflect on what it is like to have my heart ready for the word of God.

American writer, present day

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Tour de Fleece

This is some green and orange roving that I got at a favorite fiber shop last year. I got it all spun up into singles, but had not done anything else with it. One of my Tour de Fleece goals is to get it plied. I love the mix of colors in this blend. It is a generic wool blend that was done on site at the shop, so the quantity is limited. One of the things that I enjoyed about it is that there are many more colors blended into the roving than just the orange and green. As I spun, I got a little surprise now and then when a hot pink, hot orange, some black, and various other colors would pop up. It has given the yarn more dimension and interest. I plan to start plying it tonight. We'll see how it works up.

I have chosen this lovely aqua wool carded roving, from the same fiber shop, for my spindle spinning during the Tour. I love this color. It makes me think of the ocean or of a rich aquamarine gemstone. It is really nice to spin, too!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Butter Making: The Final Chapter...????

Well, we've shaken up some butter in our Mason jar. Now it has to be removed from the jar and worked to remove all the buttermilk that remains in the glob of butter. This is usually done by working the butter in a bowl with a pair of butter paddles similar to the ones below. As you work the butter by turning it and gently squashing it, the milk that remains in the butter is gradually removed. It is important to remove as much of the milk as possible because it improves the texture of the butter and makes it keep longer. The milk will spoil before the butter gets rancid (remember it is just fat). Usually, the butter is eaten far too quickly to worry about it going bad. However, if you aren't much of a butter eater, it will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator. The buttermilk can be saved for cooking, drinking, or feeding to critters. I like to drink it. I was raised on buttermilk. Unfortunately, it was rarely the freshly made sweet cream butter like we are making here, which I only got when my aunt happened to churn up some butter, but it was the best stuff that you could get at the grocery store--usually cultured, salted buttermilk. Boy, is it good with some yummy old cornbread crumbled up in it. Eat it with a spoon for a tasty treat.

The day of our Dairy Day event, the temperature was too warm to allow working the butter in the usual manner. Trying to work it with the paddles only resulted in a gooey mess of butter stuck all over everything it came in contact with. I considered chilling it slightly to make it easier to work, but due to the time factor involved in the processing, it was not possible for us to chill the butter of each person who tried making butter--and believe me, there were more than a few! Instead, the butter was removed from the jar with a large spoon and put in a dish towel, repeatedly squeezed and dunked in cold water to rinse the buttermilk from the butter. This required frequent changes of water. I used a glass bowl so that the kids (and grown ups) could see the milk gradually rinsing out of the butter. Then, the maker had the option of trying the freshly made butter on some French bread or putting it in a baggie to admire on the trip home.

Here we have some freshly rinsed butter and the finished product spread on some bread and ready to eat. Yum! Makes me hungry just looking at it.

I'd like to thank all the great folks at the living history museum, both staff and volunteers, who helped me prepare for the Dairy Day butter making station, all the wonderful folks who visited us that day and tried their hands at making butter, and my son who was a great help in so many ways, especially in keeping the Mason jars washed and dried throughout the day.

Tour de Fleece update

Tour de Fleece is a group of spinners who have joined together to challenge themselves to work on their fiber stashes and challenge themselves a bit with something a little outside their spinning comfort zones during the Tour de France. Members of the group try to spin every day of the bicycle race and watch a little of le Tour--hopefully while spinning. It is a great way to keep up with the race and reduce the amount of unspun fiber that we spinners manage to somehow mysteriously accumulate during the course of our spinning endeavors.

I decided to try to finish as many of my unfinished spinning projects as possible during the days of le Tour. I know that I will not get them all finished (like that beautiful light fawn alpaca fleece that I have just waiting for me to get my hands into), but if I get even two or three of them completed, I will be very happy. I am not sure what I am going to do for my big challenge on July 23, the last hard mountain climbing day of the tour. One of my spinning friends, Phyllis (, has decided to spin cotton on her charkha for Challenge Day. I am pretty comfortable spinning cotton, having spun it on both my charkha and the great wheel, so I don't know what I might choose to do. Well, I still have a few days to come up with something.

Here is one of my projects that is actually getting spun up. It started out as two 4-ounce bundles of Three Rivers Blue-faced Leicester handpainted roving that I got at a Lynne Vogel "color in spinning" workshop that I participated in at one of my favorite shops. The photos do not do the colors justice. The colorway is named "Tropical Bird" and reminds me of the beautiful colors of the rainbow lorikeet. I have a friend who has an Amazon parrot. I cannot honestly remember whether Maggie is a yellow-fronted or a double yellow head, but the colors of the yarn and the parrot inspired me to spin up something for Maggie's owner, Rosanne, my dear friend of about thirty years now.

Rosanne and I have known each other since I transferred into the undergraduate program in Memphis in 1977. She was in the early stages of the graduate program at the time. She was living in Memphis and working at the university library as a reference librarian while working on her Master's degree. My family moved to Alabama in 1987 and she eventually relocated to her hometown in Georgia, so we do not get to see each other very often, but thank goodness for the internet. I'll have to get her to email me a photo of Maggie to post here.

Rosanne liked the samples of yarn and knitted swatches that I sent. She told me that her mother was standing nearby when she opened the envelope of yarn and unspun fiber and that her mom's comment upon seeing the colorful stuff was, "It's Maggie!" That's exactly what I thought when I saw the roving lying on the table at the workshop. I passed up all the tempting blue-green-purple varieties of roving that I am usually drawn to and chose to spin Tropical Bird in honor of Rosanne and Maggie. Once I get it all spun and plied, it will go to Rosanne for her to knit a wall hanging in which she will incorporate Maggie's feathers, pearl buttons, and maybe other interesting stuff.

Here is the first bobbin of singles wound into a ball. I am about two-thirds of the way through spinning the singles. It is tempting to go on and ply this ball to see what the finished yarn will look like. I'll try to get some photos made of the knitted swatches with Maggie feathers that Rosanne sent back.

Making Butter--Chapter 2: Heavy Whipping Cream and Mason Jars

Here we have a quart of heavy whipping cream and a Mason jar with the finished butter and buttermilk in it. It was not my intention to advertise for any particular brand of cream, but I wasn't making the photos. For the past few years, our cream has been donated by various companies. This year we did not have a donor, so the curator purchased the cream at the best current price at one of the local retail clubs. Any brand you choose to buy will do fine. The fat content should be between 5-8%.

We begin by letting the cream set unrefrigerated for a bit to warm up. If you are concerned about not keeping it chilled, then you can go on and make butter with it cold, but it will take a lot longer and you'll do a lot more shaking. When I've used chilled cream, I've had to shake the jar of cream for about 20-30 minutes or longer. When I use cream that has been allowed to come to room temperature, it only takes about 5-7 minutes of vigorous shaking. You can also make butter by using a blender, hand mixer (use one blade), or a food processor, but shaking it up by hand is more fun. If you are shaking it in a container and are in a big hurry, you can also put the container in the microwave for 15 seconds or so to take the chill off.

You will need room in your shaker to allow the cream to slosh around so that the fat molecules get agitated and begin to coalesce and stick together. I have shaken up butter in the carton that the cream was in, shaking without opening the carton, but it is kind of hard on the carton once you get to the whipped state and have to bang the carton against the heel of your hand or the kitchen counter. I recommend using a jar or other container that is sturdy and can withstand some bumping and banging.

How much cream you use depends on how much butter you want. You will have about half the amount of butter as cream you start with. Try a half a cup for starters. Now, this is very important: make sure the top of your shaker is on securely!! Once you are all set, begin to shake the jar (or other container). Shake, shake, shake. Shake, shake, shake. Keep on shakin'. Then shake some more. When I have done this with cream that is at room temperature or just slightly warmed cream, I can shake up butter in about 5-7 minutes. Honest! Here are two helpers who are just getting to the whipped cream stage.

As you shake the jar of cream, listen to how it sounds. At first it will be very sloshy sounding. The liquid cream is sloshing around inside the jar and covering the sides of the jar as you might expect. If you set the jar upright, the cream will run back down the sides of the jar. Eventually, the sloshing will decrease and stop as you shake the cream into whipped cream. You will not be able to see through the jar because of the whipped cream coating the sides. You will not hear any sloshing or anything else at the whipped cream stage. Carefully remove the jar lid at this point and take a little taste--yum. All you need is some strawberry shortcake. Important: securely replace the jar lid. Continue to shake. Do not stop shaking. Keep on shaking even though you think nothing is happening. After a bit, you will begin to hear a sort of plopping sound and you will see that the sides of the jar are no longer covered with whipped cream, but with a thin, runny liquid with little globs in it. You will also see a consolidated mass of something in the bottom of the jar. Hey! That's your butter you have just shaken up. Open the jar and take a look inside. The thin, white liquid is buttermilk. The yellow mass of stuff is all the fat molecules that have stuck together and formed a blob of beautiful butter. Congratulations! You have just made unsalted sweet cream butter. aren't done yet.

Well, since I began this draft back at the end of June, I should really go on and post this chapter in the continuing saga of butter making. Check back for the final chapter, which I hope will be posted soon.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Time Lag

Boy, am I behind in my blogging!!! I just don't know where the time goes. I must apologize for taking so long to get another installment of butter making posted. I want to get it finished today, but at the rate things have been going, I'm not too hopeful that this will happen. Hopefully, I'll at least get the next step posted. Phyllis, one of my spinning friends (be sure to visit her blog at also invited me to join the Tour de Fleece group through Ravelry. I am happy to report that I have been doing quite well in working on the goals I have set. However, as with the the butter making, I have not been successful at posting anything about my progress. I recently told Phyllis and Evelyn, another spinning friend, that if I could figure out a way to spin and keyboard at the same time, I would!

Well, wish me luck on getting the next exciting installment of butter making posted...