Good night, 2020

Like most of the world, there’s no love lost between myself and 2020. I have been exceptionally fortunate in that the hardest part of this year has been being isolated from family and friends, and not unending levels of tragedy. It did come with some serious creative slumps and plans? Ha! The universe laughs at planning these days.

I aspired to two main ongoing projects in 2020, as I mentioned last year in the blog, and it was a mixed success. The Peppermint Purple SAL actually got completed! On time! It needs a good bath and framing, but the stitching is done. It’s cute, I’m grateful not to be doing the 2021 version, I look forward to a change of pace. To me, all the riotous mix of colours and patterns makes me think of a patchwork quilt. I am glad I did it.

The other ongoing project of 2020 was the more ambitious 12 samples for the 12 Athena’s Thimble categories. That was going along great until the plague, and then it was stumbling a little and then I hit May. May is counted work. I love counted work! I decided to do a piece that was 4 months of work as my ‘sample’ because I am an idiot who probably was unconsciously trying to show off how much I love counted work. (Still do!). I finished May’s piece in December. It looks fantastic, I’m very pleased with it, but it was a looming pile of guilt for 6 months. I dabbled in a couple of other samples.. I tried Lacis and just could not get my restless and not focused brain around it, which was stunningly disappointing. I made a mess of my first smoking sample, which is normal and reasonable, but I did not react reasonably and I just stopped anything new for weeks. Which is silly, but brains ARE silly as often as not. Halfway.. almost half way really, I will want to do another smocking sample is not bad for the year. I’m pleased with my progress and very pleased with 5 of the 6 pieces. There’s a lot of my own dyework in it, and I’m chuffed. Look for more of those in 2021.

I knit doilies this pandemic. I knit a lot of doilies in 2020. More than were in that picture above. They are my happy place, my comfort craft, my handwork mac and cheese. I knit myself a cozy shawl to wrap myself up in when I first started working from home. I am on the home stretch of a sweater I’ve been ignoring for 6 years. (I really do hate knitting sweaters). I’ve baked too much, cooked too much, eaten too much, gamed too much and lost my knack of road trips. I had a vegetable garden for the first time. We met our neighbours. I canned my way through the great canning jar shortage. We are hobbits, apparently.

And now the year is coming to a close, and I won’t be sad to see it go, but there’s been a slow comfort to it all. For me, it’s been a year of quiet comforts at home, and I know how very very lucky that makes me. I look forward to seeing what 2021 brings, it’s got a giant hole to dig itself out of in the big world picture. Be well, be safe and take care.

Bonus Muffins

This is a wholly modern recipe, so if you’re looking for period muffins, well you are probably right out of luck. But if quarantine cooking has landed you interested in a choose your own adventure style muffin recipe, c’mon along for the chattery ride. You’re going to want the commentary on the way the first time through, but I’ll try and condense it into a real-ish recipe at the end. Also, my apologies for being wholly and entirely Canadian about my measurements.

Muffins with bonus granola picture

So! I make these muffins about once a week around here, and they are never the same twice. I work by weight when I bake, so grab that scale you got to diet with and have ignored ever since and make yourself more carbs.

Starting with the dry ingredients you’re looking for:

  • 200g flour
  • 75g sugar
  • 75g oats
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp soda

The flour can be a mix of all purpose and whole wheat but aim for at least half AP. The oats can be quick oats or large flake oats (steel cut oats are no go.) Sugar can be white or brown or a mix. Give that a good mix up.

Add in dried fruit until you’re happy. In this house that’s usually raisins, but it can be chopped dates, dried cranberries, currants, leftover fruit from fruitcake season, whatever’s handy and sounds tasty. Give that a quick mix in. Next up is a scoopy spatula full of jam. Whatever sounds tasty today. This is an excellent place to use that jam that didn’t set, or the one that someone gave you that isn’t really that good on toast. If you’re going to leave just scrapings in the jar after a good scoop, toss the rest in. No one likes someone who puts a jar of just scrapings back in the fridge, don’t be that person. (I’ve been using up a batch of failed marmalade in muffins for the entirety of the plague so far, and it’s been brilliant. It overcooked but didn’t burn, and that deep caramel and citrus flavours have been amazing. I am sad that today’s muffins are the last of it.) Consider how strongly flavoured your jam is and add spices to suit, or just because you love them. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, anise, whatever makes you happy. You want cayenne muffins, you do you.

In a 2 cup measuring cup, measure 1/4 cup of oil. (Canola, veggie, olive.. whatever) Add in 1 cup of liquid. Milk, fake milk, water, herbal iced tea, liquor you were gifted that you think is disgusting (perhaps cut this one half and half.. I didn’t and those were.. interesting muffins.) Add and egg and give it a good mix up. Dump the liquid into the dry and give the whole thing a good mix up ’til there aren’t dry bits anymore. You are not mixing this until it weeps, just until everyone’s nicely sodden.

Grease your muffin tin, pour your goop in and pop it into a 400o oven for 15 – 20 mins. Peek at 10 mins if you’re not sure how hot your oven runs. Every oven is different, and the recipes that are adamant that you will need /precisely/ 11 mins or the world will end are full of not accepting that every oven is different. Stab them with a bamboo skewer (or knife, or tooth pick, or whatever) and if they have no more goop inside, they’re done. Eat too many muffins, and enjoy!

Jammy Muffins

200g flour (at least 100g all purpose)

75g sugar (any combo of white and brown)

75g oats (quick or large flake, not steel cut)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking soda

dried fruit to taste

1/3 – 1/2 c jam (any flavour)

spices to taste

1/4 c oil

1 c liquid (milk, non dairy milk, water, herbal tea)

1 egg

Preheat oven to 400o. Combine flour, sugar, oats, salt and baking soda. Mix in dried fruit and spices. Mix in jam. In a 2 cup measure, combine oil, liquid and egg. Pour wet into dry and mix well. Pour batter into greased muffin tin. Bake for 15 – 20 mins. (Check after 10 to be cautious). Makes 12 muffins.

Odds and sods

It feels like a great many of my posts could be titled this at the moment, although I’m grateful to be feeling a bit more like my creative self again. Apparently the whack a mole I’ve been trying to play with the brain weasels is working, for the moment. I was pretty sure I’d been doing nothing at all, because I haven’t done anything especially exciting, but it adds up. I tell others, all the time, that everything counts (sorry for the Depeche Mode earworm), and apparently I don’t listen to myself very well.

So what HAVE I been doing while trying to get myself back on some sort of new normal ish? Let’s wander through the projects littering my house. (As a note, apparently having people over is what keeps the projects from Taking Over.. the spouse is lucky I haven’t taken over his spot on the couch yet, but it’s a near thing.)


The scrappy side, full of ends.

There’s been some plain knitting, as best as I can manage on the plague shawl. It started out using up what looked like a failed warp in an inherited stash, and now has been just using up bits and pieces of whatever else is in the stash in about the right colours. I can’t work on it much, my arms hate every second of it, and it’s going to be CRAZY warm (I started it when my house was FREEZING to sit in all day), just in time for the weather to warm up. It is literally a triangle made by knit 1, yarn over, knit to the end of the row. Continue until you run out of yarn, or patience. Wait, no.. keep going when you run out of patience, you’ll run out of that early, cause damn it’s boring and those rows get super long by the end.


There’s been some modern textile collage, which was something I did long ago with an embroidery mentor. Basically if Sharron was teaching at our modern needlecraft guild, I took her classes. She is an amazing artist, and I wish I had a 1/10th her skills with a sewing machine. (Not enough to practice.. I happily stick to hand stitching). A modern embroidery page is doing mini challenges every week, and one of them was a collage, and I couldn’t resist the nostalgia. I’m trying not to overthink it, it’s not a stunning masterpiece, but I appreciated the distraction working on it. I’ve only done week 2’s challenge, even if they are starting week 6, but I appreciate watching everyone else’s work.

I have been baking and cooking.. basically every day. Nothing overly exciting, mostly dinner every night, and lunch every day. Granola and yogurt and candied peel and bread, so much bread, another sourdough starter, more bread, cake and curries and pottage and muffins and and.. cooking and baking has been my standby for creative work when I didn’t have brain for string. I’d say I can bake in my sleep, but I over yeasted my bread this morning when putting the dough together before coffee, but somehow it all has survived and it is perfectly tasty bread.

The mending box is.. damn near empty. Apparently global pandemics make me want to darn socks and patch holes in skirts. The clothes that need major alterations, well they might sit for quite some time to come, but that’s besides the point.


A wee tiny bit of knitted lace, to potentially end up on another textile collage that I can see in my head, which is generally a death knell to it actually looking anything like that, and destined to be disappointing, but we’ll see. It might end up just being another random bit of lace hanging out in stash.

I’m sure there’s been more, but those are the highlights that I can remember right now. What have you been up to?

Sourdough brain dump

So, the world has gone crazy for sourdough. Which is cool, and honestly pretty awesome all in all. I’ve played with sourdough before, and I’ve had some failures and some success and every time I go out playing with sourdough, I learn more. This time, no different.  This is a collection of brain dump items that I shared with a co-worker who was working on his first starter, and I’ve no clue if any of this is useful to anyone else, but he found it interesting, so now I’m sharing it with everyone.



Sourdough starters

Flour choice

I don’t fuss too hard about what flour I’m feeding Fred. (Fred’s my usual starter name, I have had Wilma in the past, but I’m back to Fred, I don’t know why.) All purpose, whole wheat, rye. Those are usually my choices, and it seems to be whichever is closer. This house is fully glutened, so I have never experimented with GF flours.

Water choice

Guelph water is only chlorinated, not treated with chloramine. Lemme pause here for a quick chemistry lesson, I promise it won’t hurt. There’s two main ways that city water can be treated to kill off bacteria, chlorine and chloramine. (NB: it is not the same chloramine as in swimming pools.. do not try this at home.. related but not the same.) There are other options for killing off pathogens in water, but those are the two most common in cities. While most use chlorine to disinfect initially, it is the wee bit of residual disinfectant that we care about. Chlorine is quite volatile, it doesn’t really want to stay in the water, it has places to be and things to react with. Chloramine is a much more stable molecule and hangs out in the water allll the way from the treatment plant to your tap. Now, we are attempting to start a yeast farm here, and by rights, that disinfectant that is trying to keep the water clean and safe is also kinda trying to kill our yeastie beasties. By and large, there is not enough residual disinfectant to cause huge problems, unless your tap water smells like a swimming pool. (If it does, I expect you’re not drinking it either.) That being said.. chlorine is volatile, and if you let a clear jar of water sit on the counter for a few hours, it arses off. Chloramine does not. I emailed my city’s water department to ask them which they used (This website has a chart for Canadian cities,  but they are trying to sell you stuff, so take with salt as needed, you may want to just email your public works department) and Guelph uses chlorine. So I just have a jug of water that sits on the counter and my plants and yeasties and cat gets that.

Feeding schedule

I feed Fred once a day, generally and equal parts flour and water. That keeps him at 100% hydration (What does hydration mean? It is what ratio is your water to your flour.. and hey look.. mine are the same.. 100% water for my flour. It’s the most common if you’re looking at technical sourdough pages.) You can measure your flour and water by weight (my preference, but that’s how I bake as well), or by volume. Up to you. I only discard when he’s getting too big for his jar, otherwise I feed him up to have enough to bake a good batch of bread from and still have some left over to continue Fred. There are oooooodles of recipes online for what to do with sourdough discard, but I throw it in to muffins as often as not, or fry it up as griddle cakes, rarely does it hit the compost. It’s just flour and water and some yeasties in there, there’s no reason not to use it somewhere you need flour and water. If there’s a weird layer of liquid on top, that’s alcohol and you can mix it in or toss it. (I toss it, I don’t care for the taste, but it won’t hurt you.) and it’s a sign that your Fred is going too long between feedings.


Yeastie beastie like to be warm, but not tooo warm. (They are very much like me in that regard, actually). Where Fred lives needs to be in the 20s C, and honestly.. my house isn’t from about Oct – June, so he usually lives on top of the fridge or on top of the router (make sure he’s got PLENTY of room in his jar before putting any jars of goop on computer equipment), or in the oven with the light on. I seriously thought about getting one of those plug in mug warmers, but I thought that might be too warm for Fred. This is a major spot I’ve struggled with, and too cold for too long has mucked with my starters in the past. Keep Fred cosy!


​When it comes to baking with sourdough starter for yeast.. it’s all a waiting game. Timing on recipes are vague guidelines. Your yeasties will take as long as they need to double your dough, and they didn’t read the recipe to know what it said. I like two rises, and I don’t generally stick any in the fridge, but my house is cold enough already. Accept that you are going to be eating a lot of bread while you figure out what your favourite baking style is, and that’s it’s a good and delicious thing.

Uh Oh

Sourdoughs are mostly really forgiving. If they get pink or green fuzzy bits, they are compost. That means the turf war between bacteria and yeast went to the wrong kind of bacteria. There are good guy bacteria in there too, they provide the sour flavour (IIRC.. this is where my research is sketch, so correct me if I’m talking out my butt), but really you aspire to keep yeast happy enough that there’s just not /room/ in there for the other guys. Stirring is good, yeasties like oxygen, the sour making bacteria do not, so it might keep things milder too. (This is all WAAAY oversimplified, eventually I will get myself together to do a fermentation class as part of my modern alchemy series.)

More resources

I really like the King Arthur Flour site about sourdough: ​
I really like their site for most baking things, actually. Clear, scientific based information and the recipes have been tasty too.
I turn to Serious Eats a lot for other things and they did a day by day starter-along a few years back:
If you’re interested in current sourdough research, there’s a woman looking for information about your starter:
Most of the internet currently is waxing poetic about starters and sourdough everything, give it a go! Eat more bread!
Any grievous errors, let me know!

Bonus pickle post

Because of the plague, we are cooking even more than usual (and we cook a lot to begin with) and as an added bonus, using up canned stuff (yay empty jars to fill with more things!) I’ve had a request for a couple of my pickle recipes, and so I’m putting them here to be easy to find. Neither are SCA period, one’s 1950s vintage and one is an adaptation of a friend’s family recipe.


Mustard Pickles

(I’ve managed to misplace my version of this, so here’s the original family recipe with some of my remembered changes)

2 qt cucumbers (I’ve done chunks and I’ve done slices. Slices are perfect for putting on things, so I’ll do that again)
1 qt onions, sliced.

(Some folks add cauliflower to this veggie mix, I never have. Amounts are very forgiving of the veggies. The goo will easily coat another quart or two of veggies. Use up what you’ve got left after other pickles.)

Soak in brine (1/4 cup pickling salt to 6 cups water) overnight
Drain and rinse.

In large saucepan:
2 oz whole mustard seed
1 tbsp celery seed
3/4 cup  ClearJel (canning friendly cornstarch, find it on amazon)
1/2 cup dry mustard
1 tbsp turmeric powder
6 cups sugar. (Can go lower)

Add 7 cups vinegar and 2 cups water slowly.
Cook till thickened about 10 minutes
Add cucumber mixture bring to boil. Pack into hot sterilized jars and seal.

Curry Pickles 

This recipe is from a vintage pickle book I found somewhere in my travels, from 1955. I’ve adapted it for the modern palate who no longer thinks a tsp of curry powder is ‘daring’. 

4 lbs cucumbers
1/2 cup pickling salt
Ice water to cover

Wash cucumbers and cut how you’d like them. Chunks or slices work best IMO, but you do you. Combine all together, and let sit for 6 hrs. (ish) Drain and rinse well with cold water. 

4 cups cider vinegar
2 tbsp curry powder
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup mustard seed
2 tbsp celery seed
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tbsp red pepper flakes (or chopped hot peppers, but this isn’t a spicy pickle generally, so don’t go nuts)

Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Pack cucumbers in hot jars, and pour hot brine over. (Swear when you run out of brine and need to make more, because it never works out perfectly. It’s not just you. I scaled the brine up from the original, it should be enough.) Seal and process. 

Mustard pickle is delicious on a fresh bun, with a good strong sausage, IMO and curry pickles are best with a fork and sitting with the jar, hiding from anyone who wants you to share.  Take care and enjoy!


Every so often, working at the University has some unusual benefits to it. One of the recent ones was opportunity to attend a lecture (and book tour stop) about the history and production of pepper. That ubiquitous spice that hangs out with the salt on every table, which is barely thought of these days.

The book was written by a retired professor from the School of Hospitality of Tourism, Joe Barth. (Now part of the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics ’cause with enough money, you can get a whole college named after you.) Full disclosure, I met Joe over 20 yrs ago when I was his IT person and he was actively teaching. I no longer support that college, and he has retired, but I remembered him as an interesting speaker, so I was confident that he would not make a 2 hour talk about pepper boring.


HG Kitty at the talk

I was absolutely right. He’s an engaging speaker, and I’d say we spent almost an hour on the history of mentions of pepper (back to the earliest papyruses! 1550 BCE in a medical guide (Ebers Papyrus) And allllll the way through history, as those of us who hang out in medieval and renaissance cooking well know), and how it informed the spice trade along the silk road and various countries aiming to take over other countries to get a chunk of that sweet sweet spice money pie. His research claims that pepper was the most traded spice in history, and I believe it.

Other tidbits that I found fascinating from the talk.. most foods are fairly bland on their own, and humans like some zip in their food. (Most humans at least.. pungency trips off our endorphins and let’s face it.. endorphins are literally happy making.) There’s only 3 broad things that can be grown in Europe natively that are pungent. Garlic (allicin), mustard and horseradish (both containing allyl isothiocyanate.. probably why I dislike both of them, I’d no idea they have the same chemical compound!) Everything else that we use to spice things up come from tropical places and had to be imported. Which makes it expensive, as we well know from medieval studies. Spices are a show of wealth. Even more so than silk and gold, because you consume them. You still have gold after you work it, spices? Poof, gone in a fine meal.

True peppers (green, black, white and red pepper) are all the same plant, Piper nigrum. The four different varieties are different ripeness of the berries when they are harvested, and the nature of the beast makes it impossible to harvest mechanically. Every peppercorn you’ve ever used was harvested by hand. Even in 2020. Amazing, and crazy. Up very tall trees (pepper is a vine and they are trained to grow up a tree, or post), generally via sketchy bamboo ‘ladder’ (mostly a stick with spikes) and I got a little shuddery just watching it via video. India still grows pepper traditionally (intercropped, high quality, lower yields), Vietnam has gone the factory farm route (monocropped, higher yields, lower quality, required fertilizer and irrigation), and is the largest producer of pepper currently.

Black Pepper Farming Business

Image shamelessly stolen from:

The two other pepper varieties I’m familiar with in medieval cooking are cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba) and long pepper (Piper longam). Both part of the pepper family, but different species. There’s a great many other things colloquially referred to as peppers that have nothing to do with the piper family. Chili peppers spring to mind immediately (capsicum), but there’s also grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) which was sometimes referred to as melegueta pepper, alligator pepper (Aframomum danielli), Sichuan pepper (various Xanthothylum species) and pink pepper (Schinus molle)


Alligator pepper

It was a great talk, we did some pepper tasting (that blows your palette out for the evening, lemme tell you. I had no idea that cubeb pepper was SO wintergreen!) and I’m really looking forward to digging into the book in more detail. (Of course I got a book! Autographed and everything!)

Known World Cooks & Bards

A little lull in posting, because we were off travelling again! This time an epic road trip over to the Barony of Shattered Crystal in the Middle Kingdom, who were hosting Known World Cooks and Bards over Labour Day weekend. (Google says it’s an 11 hr drive, we found it to be closer to 16 hrs with stops and food and border. It’s a good thing we rather love road trips.)


Obligatory hotel room pic. (Thurs night hotel)

Now, I am going to point out that I am not much of a cook and none of a bard. I do cook, yes.. although not much. I research cooking more than I set pot to stove, and given a choice, I’m more likely to be cooking weeds for colour than soup. (I do love to bake, but that’s more feeding a carb addiction than anything.) I also love to sing, but it’s generally in a sing along pack with my songbook in the key of army, although I do some part singing and enjoy it when I do. I play no instruments and write no music. I am no bard. There was a few moments of ‘hunh, I will be the token string person at this event.. it’ll be fine’. And then it was noted to me that /brewers/ fall into purview, and I am certainly one of those, if only a rather beginner one. Problem solved! (And spinning packed, because I am still a string person, let’s not be silly here.)


Vinegar class included mustards. Win!

My class choices can be best categorized as the care and management of micro-organisms. I took classes on yeastie beasties (different kinds, how to capture them), I took classes in encouraging bacteria (yay vinegar!), I took classes in discouraging bacteria (food preservation classes). I chatted with bakers and microbiologists about Wilma (she’s brewing only these days, no more bread from her. Ah well.) We chatted with people about quinces and how to use them in everything. (Class notes can be found here.) I chatted with people about brewing, about life and everything and about nothing much, basking in the afternoon warmth. The mosquitos drove us back to the hotel before bardic really got going each night, which was sad making. I’d hoped to hear more just ambient music during the day, but I think the bards were worried about being too loud, and as a result, weren’t nearly loud enough.


My oreo! Heraldry works!

We chatted with anyone who stopped by. We had a little baronial day camp, and held baronial food court, filled with silly Oreo flavours and fortune cookie scrolls. (Halloween, latte, mint chocolate chip, and the star of this oreo tasting.. Maple Creme). It was, overall, a relaxed weekend of food and good company (for the mosquitos too, apparently!). Ealdormere was where cooks and bards started, and there’s a push to have it come home again, and I’m happily in favour of that. As always when we go travelling, we find so many people that we wish lived closer. The world holds far too much awesome, spread too thinly over it.


HG Kitty at the Michigan Welcome Centre. Almost home!

Plot Twist!


When something goes wrong in your life, just yell ‘Plot Twist!’ and move on.

It’s a ubiquitous meme all over the internet, and it’s trite and vaguely irritating, but I’m willing to run with it. This isn’t the New Year’s post I’d planned on writing. Instead of a post all excited about some of the knitting I’ve been doing, and showing off my temperature scarf and plotting for silk knit gloves, I’m on the rehab list.

A repetitive strain injury (tennis elbow, no racquet required!) in my dominant arm means no knitting, embroidery, drop spinning, crochet, hand sewing, needle lace, bread kneading.. basically everything in my world. Physio and my RMT are working on it, and we’re making progress, but the main thing is resting it, and reality is that I heal Very Slowly. I am looking at easily months away from my primary hobbies, and 2019 might be a write off for the knitting needles (and all of their needlely, hookey and spindlely friends.)

There was some probably unsurprising moping, with accompanied whining (and cookies. Disappointing news around holiday goodies is not ideal for one’s eating habits.), but finally I’ve accepted that we’re not at ‘omg, I can’t do ANYTHING!’, but at ‘Plot twist!’

Things I CAN still do. Brewing. Bread making (with the kitchen aid taking on the kneading for me), big loom weaving, soap making, dye work. Jury is still out on wheel spinning (it’s hard on the leg joints), or tablet weaving (not optimistic).

Which basically reads like 2019 is going to be full of alchemy!

Preserves (w. Onion Jam recipe)

Pardon the brief foray into modernity for a moment, but this seemed like the best place to stick a jam recipe that I’ve tried, rather enjoyed, and has been requested a few times. In theory, I can find it here again. So if you want period recipes, just avert your eyes and move along, but my SCA tasks were paused for an epic canning day. (Sour cherry jam, sour cherry jelly, cherry chutney, zucchini relish, lime marmalade and the one that everyone wants the recipe for: Caramelized Onion jam)

Caramelized Onion Jam

4 heads garlic

1 tsp oil

5 cups chopped onions


3/4 c cider vinegar

1/2 c lemon juice (bottled)

1/4 c balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tsp ground mustard

1 tsp salt

3/4 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

6 cups sugar

1 pouch liquid pectin

Cut top off garlic heads, drizzle with oil. Bake at 400F for about 30 mins. Let cool.

In a dutch oven, saute onions in butter/oil for 30 – 40 mins until nicely browned. Squeeze roasted garlic into the pan, and stir in vinegars, lemon juice and spices. Bring to a rolling boil. Gradually add sugar, stirring constantly. Return to a boil for 3 mins.

Add pectin, bring back to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim foam as needed. Pour into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Cap and process for 10 mins in boiling water bath.

Makes approx 7 – 250 ml jars.


Busy day!