Monday, October 25, 2010

Yarn Store Reviews - DC

Well, this is a little late, but I mislaid the chip with the pictures on. In fact, as is usually the case, it was in exactly the right place ..... but I'd not remembered where I'd decided that "exactly the right place" was (this time).
A couple of weeks ago I was down in DC and the AG decided that that just wasn't good enough, and that she should also get a chance to go to the nation's swamp - sorry!- capital. I've been there enough times to realise that anyone running for office in Washington, DC, is not only totally untrustworthy (pre-requisite for being a politician), but also certifiably insane (the federal government got DC because nobody else wanted it!). Have you seen the rats there? - bigger than most cats.
So, after leaving the Spawn off after taking him to the PA Renaissance Faire (seriously recommended!), we set off for DC and our hotel room. Bless Red Roof Inns - we got there at about two in the morning and there was a guy in reception, wide awake and smiling to say "hi" and give out keys and directions. Way more awake than we were!
Next morning, after a looong stop at a World Market, where we bought one of about 10% of the whole store, it seemed, we drove off to find WoolWinders. After that, we went further on to an absolutely wicked good chicken lunch at Pollo Rico and then chased down The Yarnista who was visiting at at The Yarn Spot.
Now the photos. They're all from a phone camera, I'm afraid, but seem reasonable, all the same.

This shop is on a street in a modern area of Rockville that seems to be just a suburban residential area, but then you find shops interspersed into the housing, just like in Europe and, just beside a Quizno's, the Local Yarn Store, Woolwinders.

It's been run by a new owner for almost a year, is spacious, airy, and was full of sunlight on the sunny Sunday morning when we visited. My AG is mainly on the look-out for sock yarns, and commented that, although it didn't have a huge amount of the "standard" brands (Opal, Trekking, Regia), it did have a lot of "indie" labels. The AG bought some Spud & Chloe Fine Sock yarn, so doubtless you'll see pictures of that here in a few months, after it hits the needles.
One yarn that Woolwinders has quite a bit of, and which has great (to my fingers) texture and certainly great colours, is Blue Ridge Yarns, from a lady in Amissville, VA.

Another nice thing about this shop is that, with all the light, they also have lots of knit-up samples, so you can see just how a colourway will turn out - useful if you've no experience with the dyeing patterns.
For all the pictures that I took of Woolwinders please see this album on PhotoBucket. You'll see how roomy and well-lit the shop is.

The Yarn Spot
Laid out very differently to Woolwinders, The Yarn Spot on Georgia Ave, Wheaton, was actually our real reason for being in DC ...... the AG belongs to the Three Irish Girls yarn club, and the Boss Lady of the three was due to teach and have a trunk show and sale there that Sunday. As she's been moved to the far northern wastes of Duluth, MN, for most of the year, getting a chance to meet her in the area (well, only 150 miles away) was irresistible. As a result, I regret to say that the photos are almost all of her yarn, and not of The Yarn Spot, which is a rather nice and very friendly shop, despite being totally overrun with Yarnista-fans!

Here's the AG with The Yarnista herself (fresh from the wild northern wastes, of course, first discovered by the Sieur de Lhut). I, of course, was handed her rather swish Nikon to take a picture of her with two other customers, and blazed off three in a row to demonstrate that only a man can make the same mistake twice in under a second! (She might have warned me that it was on burst repeat [grin]).

To the right is what the AG scored from the afternoon. I'm now looking forward to more sox!

Here are some pictures of the Trunk Sale.

Please excuse the odd blurred area - if you look closely you'll see that most of them are actually people taking or replacing items, and being "caught in the act"!

For the rest of the pictures please see my PhotoBucket album here.

So thank you to both stores for being welcoming, friendly, having great wool, and being totally worth the 300 mile round-trip.

Just one item today - for those involved with SSIS there's a great resource at Sherry's BI Corner.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Comfort food!

Here's the product of owning just two pieces of modern kitchen equipment - The Magic Bullet and a Slow Cooker. The former means that you can make smoothies without all the elbow-grease, and the latter that you can good food slowly without having to have an open fire going for about three days!

[Today's Smoothie]
We needed to clear out bananas, so I split four, each halved, between two cups. Apple "cider" (american name - no alcohol, so really just unfiltered apple juice) to about two-thirds full, two or three teaspoons of syrup, two tablespoons of vanilla ice cream, and top off with milk. Wizz! Wizz again!! Open, drink, and let the world envy you!

[Beef Stew]
  • Slice an onion and chop another; fry them gently with three heaped teaspoons of chopped garlic (BJ's, of course) until they are getting translucent. Add parsley (a big pinch), sage (another big pinch), rosemary (a teaspoon), thyme (a teaspoon), and bay (two leaves), stir well in with some salt and pepper and let fry some more. The mixture will start to dry out as the herbs absorb the fat: after a few minutes put the mixture into a bowl.
  • Slice up and fry (in butter) about a dozen button mushrooms; once done, these go into the slow cooker.
  • Chop up about a dozen baby carrots and put them into the cooker, along with a good helping of peas (fresh or frozen).
  • Cut up about a pound and a half of chuck into cubes about 2 cm (3/4 inch) on a side. I cooked the meat in thirds - it depends how big our frying pan is! Fry it in some oil for a minute or so, stirring to get it browned all over, and then add in a portion of the onion and herb mix. Fry on for another 3 or 4 minutes and then add to the crock-pot.
  • Repeat the last step for the remaining portions of meat and herbs.
  • Add a bottle of red wine (Not too expensive, but try not to use the cheapest plonk!) to the crock-pot, put it on High until it starts to boil, and then set on low and leave for three days or so. Remember to stir every few hours and to turn off when you go out!
  • When getting ready to serve, take two teaspoons of Bisto powder (buy at Wegmans or any English Store), put into a small bowl or large cup, and add about a cup of cold water. Mix until smooth. Then add lots of juice spooned from the crock-pot, mix well again, and return the whole to the pot. Bring to the boil and the liquid will start to thicken.
  • Serve when thick enough with mashed potatoes and more veggies like peas, broad beans, carrots, and the like.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food, Study, and a New Job


I was out at the green-grocers (Produce Junction) the other day with my son, and we picked up a couple of cauliflowers. A few days later I gathered a little flour, some butter, some whole-seed mustard, and set some water to boil. I cut off the bottom stalks and broke the flowers into florets and, once the water was boiling, I dropped them in for about 7 minutes. Meantime I melted the butter in another pot, put in three teaspoons of flour, and stirred rapidly on a fairly high heat. From this point I had to alternate the ingredients of this sauce - first some water to thin it out and then some grated or shredded cheese to thicken it up again .... and repeat, and repeat ... until there's a full pot of sauce.

After the cauliflower has cooked for about seven minutes it'll be cooked but still pretty hard. Drain the water and put the cauliflower into a dish for baking. Add the mustard (2 or 3 teaspoons will be enough to have black specks through the sauce) and then pour the sauce over the cauliflower. Bake uncovered at 350F for a good 40 minutes.

I'm slowly getting into the PL/SQL studies, with the intent of shelling out the $125 for an exam in a few months time. Hopefully it won't be a case of studies getting overtaken by work events, as has happened to me before. Oracle's version of SQL is somewhat different to Microsoft's, so it'll definitely be a matter of concentration. However, it looks like I may be using it in the near future, which will make life easier all around. One neat thing that Oracle has done for many years, and which Microsoft only started relatively recently, is to make full copies of their flagship database available to developers for almost or actually nothing.

You have been able to download - or get on CD - the latest version of Oracle since, I believe, version 8 (maybe even before then). Microsoft has offered a "mini" version of SQL Server since 2005, but also a Developer version - essentially the Enterprise Edition - for just $50, which is an absolute steal! You just have no excuse not to learn how to develop for one of these two systems other than that you don't have the time or interest!

Oh yes - and before I forget. The email restore I mentioned the other day was to recover a backup from 2005 - I didn't know I had it, and it brings back emails from 1998-2005. Some of these I already had, but many not. I now have about 250,000 emails on my hard drive, managed by my email client, RIT Lab's The Bat!. Take that, you overbearing Exchange Administrators, trying to keep me locked in to 5,000 messages!

For those who are configuring computers and looking at what to use for security, I use Alwil's Avast! for anti-virus and Check Point Software's ZoneAlarm for a firewall. Yes, I know ZoneAlarm can come with an anti-virus package, but Avast! was there first, and ZoneAlarm came to my machines second! I happen to like the way Avast! works, and also the fact that the three programs all work together well. Now if I could get something that would take an Outlook appointment announcement and set it up in my Google calendar I'd be very happy!

[The Bad News and The Good News]
The AG has decided that she doesn't really relish freezing her pretty little buns off again at Rhinebeck, so we're not going. So there won't be a picture gallery of images from Rhinebeck this year unless some ShutterFreak sends me a heap to comment on and put up for you all to see.

On the other hand, we're going to the PA Renaissance Faire this Saturday, and a yarn store in DC on Sunday, so I should have pictures for you RSN (real soon now)!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Notes to Self

1. Take photos of food!
2. There was something else but I can' remember what right now - probably to keep a to-do list!
A few random thoughts to pass the time as I'm waiting for a few tens of thousands of emails to restore ...
  • Don't Panic! (Douglas Adams)
  • On a clear disc you can seek forever. (Anon)
  • The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen all at once!
  • Programming is like pinball. The reward for doing it well is the opportunity to do it again. (Rick Cook)
  • We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming. (Wernher von Braun)
  • In the fight between you and the world, back the world. (Franz Kafka)
  • A Polar bear is really a Rectilinear bear after a coordinate transform!
  • If you think the problem is bad now, just wait until we've solved it! (Arthur Kasspe)
  • Adding manpower to a late project makes it later (Fred Brookes)
Ok. The stuff's recovered and it's time to quit for the night!

Monday, October 04, 2010

More Greek Food!

Last night we had the Sister Missionaries over to dinner. One had expressed a hankering after Spanakopita, so they got the Tiganites to start with, and Spanakopita for main course. They must have liked it, as they refused ice cream on the grounds of being over-full already, and went off happily with all the left-overs. Next will have to be something Hawai'ian for the new arrival. In the meantime, though, here are last night's details.

[Food part 1]
Tiganites is a variety of Saganiki, or fried appetiser. So, you beat up a couple of eggs (about 1 per two people you're cooking for, and lay out a good healthy carpet of flour mixed with some salt and pepper. Put a fair old amount of olive oil into a frying pan - about 3 or 4 mm deep - and set to heat. Slice block feta into slices about 5 -7 mm thick. Dip each slice in the egg, dredge it very well in the flour, and lay it gently in the hot oil. By the time I have six pieces in (all that will fit in my smallish pan) the first ones should be almost done on the bottom - a rich golden-brown with some darker specks. Turn them all ... by the time all are turned and another couple ready and waiting these should be ready for taking out. You can put them straight onto the plate with some veg (I used chopped orange peppers and slices of tomato, for colour), but they can come a little drippy with oil. If you think that this may be too much for your guests, lay them first on a slice of plain white bread to soak up the excess fat before putting them onto the plate. The bread later can give wonderful toast!

[Food part 2]
Spanakopita. Spinach and cheese pie. Lots of people love it at the Greek restaurant, but never dare to make it at home. That's a shame, because it really is very easy to make. Here's how.

You'll want a box of frozen phylo dough, 2 pounds of frozen chopped spinach, a pound of crumbled feta cheese, a stick of butter, a couple of eggs, half an onion, and salt and pepper. You'll also need a baking dish that's about the size of a piece of letter-sized paper - 13 by 9 - as that's about the size of pieces of phylo dough. Before you start you'll need to leave the phylo out of the freezer for zbout two hours, and the spinach too - unless you like getting frozen hands! Before starting cooking, take the phylo out of the box and unroll it to let it warm evenly while flat.

Chop the onion up and start frying it gently in a prety big frying pan - it should take about 5 minutes for the onion to get to the translucent stage. In that time you can open the spinach (thawed, of course), put it in a bowl, and dump in all that cheese. Mix the spinach and cheese and then take it out in handfuls, squeeze it hard to get the water out, and add it in to the onion. Stir it all up and pop it back into the big bowl you mixed it in, add some salt and pepper, and let the mixture cool.

Now the delicate part! Melt the butter (I use a microwave) and brush the inside of your baking dish with melted butter - all over! Now gently peel off just one single sheet of phylo dough from the pile of sheets and place it carefully onto the bottom of your dish. Smooth it gently down, rather like wall-paper, and then brush it over with some more butter. Now repeat this with another half-dozen sheets, remembering to "paper" the sides, ends, and corners.

By now the spinach mix should be down to room temperature; mix in well a couple of eggs and then fill the dish with the mixture, getting all the corners well-filled. That's the easy part done - now back to being careful! "Paper" over the top of the dish with more phylo - at least another 7 sheets, brushing off the last sheet with butter too so as to get a good golden colour when it cooks.

Put in the oven for between 45 and 60 minutes at about 300F, checking at about the 45 minute mark: it should be all crisp, flaky, and golden when it's done, and it smells unbelievably good!

Computers are wonderful things - utterly reliable and safe. When they're turned off!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Two High-speed Efforts at Feeding People

[Food 1]
On Wednesday I get to the ex-wife's at 6 pm, with a 6.55 departure ETA for "Back To School Parents Night" and a hungry offspring (male, 13) to feed. I brought Spaghetti, eggs, and bacon, and the memory of the Spaghetti Carbonara that my wife made from a Ruth Reichl book some months ago (warning to reader: Ruth's page is here: eat before you go to visit there - otherwise you'll suddenly start to feel excruciating hunger pangs). As the Offspring seemed to have no homework I enslaved him and sat back to instruct.

Fill that pot with water, salt it, add a few drops of oil, and put it on to boil. Then open that pound of bacon, take half out and return the rest to the fridge. Put a frying pan on to heat. When the water gets hot, put in the spaghetti. Chop the bacon up into pieces about a centimetre long and put them into the frying pan. Fry somewhat gently until about half-done, and add two large teaspoonfuls of chopped garlic. While the bacon continues to cook, break four eggs into a bowl or measuring jug and beat hard.

When the bacon and garlic are done, take them off the heat and leave them in their pan to keep warm. By now the spaghetti should be just about cooked, so pour out the water and pasta into a sieve, replacing it in the pot with the eggs. Add the spaghetti back in again and start mixing it up to get it coated with egg - the heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs. At the same time, add in the bacon and garlic mix - just pour the whole pan in! Keep stirring until the egg is just about all solid, and serve!

Time taken - 16 minutes!

[Food 2]
This afternoon I was in BJ and saw some smoked salmon at a good price, so bought a pack. Later, I needed to feed the Offspring and AG. Put a pound of tagliatelle on to cook, and take out about 4 ounces of salmon. Chop the salmon and put it on to gently fry in some butter. I added basil and chives - nice green flecks! When the salmon is nicely cooked (it changes colour) add some milk and some cream in order to create a sauce. Keep adding the dairy to get the right volume, and add shredded cheese to thicken it up.

When it's done, drain the pasta and replace it in the pot: pour the salmon and sauce over the pasta and mix before serving. Again quick, about 20-25 minutes. Enjoy!

[Food 3 & 4]
Thursday night we'd been doing far to much and I didn't feel like cooking in the slightest (besides which there wasn't too much in the fridge to cook!) so we went to Balsamo's for a 16" Works pizza. Definitely hit the spot, as I'd missed lunch (as the AG realised as she watched almost half the pizza vanish in a matter of minutes). Friday night we had the Offspring, and he wanted pizza, so back to Balsamo's for a Conway (lots of ricotta and ham). You'd really think that pizza two nights in a row, with lunch in between, would jade the palate, but not yet.

Today was clear-out day. Two AMD-based towers went off to the computer store for refurbishment and whatever happens to PCs when they retire. That means that we're down to six computers in the house (not counting the fridge or the car), a level not seen in at least three years. Tomorrow is Oracle-study with overtones of PL/SQL until I have to cook for visitors.