Woodpeckers, Squirrels and Jays, Oh My

So between all the driving around in the snow, what did we do while visiting Littleton? I’ll break it down into a few categories, ‘cause that’s just how my brain works…

1. Animal watching

We had great fun watching the flocks of sparrows, house finches and juncos swarming over the bird feeder out the back windows. They persisted in coming throughout both of the storms, and after the first few hours of the first blizzard, my mom went outside to refill the feeder and put out a new one (read: old perch of my parrot, Pogo’s) so even more birds could get in on the fun. You can see some of them in most of Jeremy’s bird feeder photos. We also had visits from several blue jays on several occasions, always readily apparent because they shrieked out warning calls to the little birds to get out of their way just prior to arrival. After the second blizzard, there were flickers hanging out both in the backyard ash tree and on the feeder, and even a little downy woodpecker, who incited a lot of photographic action in the house.

The other stars of the backyard show were the squirrels. We watched them in fascination, as, every time it stopped snowing, they would forge a path through the snow in a brave effort to reach the feeders. We think they were staying in the big evergreen tree in the back corner of the yard, and would virtually swim at top speed through the surface of the snow to the ash tree, after which they had a big decision to make: drop down from the branches of the tree to the roof of the feeder or wade through more snow and climb up? We saw them go both routes, though the former was more entertaining, especially with several feet of snow on the feeder’s roof. It took us a while to realize what had caused the big hole in the middle of that pile of snow.

And I can’t talk about animal watching without mentioning my parents’ cats, Addie and TooCute. They were just as fascinated by the birds and squirrels as we were, and when there was a lull in the wildlife activity, we entertained the cats. TooCute really hated Jeremy and me, and would hiss at us and strike at us whenever we tried to pet her, but she was also constantly hanging around and sometimes even rubbing up against our legs, strangely. The most we could do with her was dangle a gold string in front of her to play, but that was good for hours of entertainment for both cats. I guess we were all easily amused.

2. Knitting

I got in some knitting time over the course of the two weeks we were in Littleton. I was knitting myself a pair of socks from STR Lightweight in the lovely Downpour colorway, using the famous Conwy pattern from Nancy Bush’s Knitting on the Road. The first night there I started the cuff of my second Conwy sock, but after that I concentrated on Christmas knitting. I had ordered a skein of STR Lightweight in Petrified Wood to make socks for my dad (and maybe a skein of the Meteorite colorway for myself, down the line), and it arrived just before we flew out. So I wound up the skein and set myself to knit those socks in the week before Christmas. I didn’t bring any sock knitting books with me due to space constraints, but I had been happy with how Jeremy’s Gentleman’s Fancy Socks came out, so I decided to go with that. The pattern was fairly easy to remember, aside from calf shaping, which I made up to no detriment. I used #1 needles and started with 84 stitches, eventually decreasing to 72 to accommodate my dad’s petite ankles. The colorway received fatherly approval and held up beautifully against the texture pattern and the changes in circumference with no flashing. I used a short row heel and a standard toe, and used up virtually every scrap of the skein, down to the last yard. It was a little nervewracking there at the end, but they came out perfectly, and seem to fit Dad well. I finished them up by the Friday before Christmas, no sweat.

While doing some of our Christmas shopping the Tuesday before the first storm, we just happened to go in a yarn store in downtown Littleton, A Knitted Peace. My mom got a pattern and some needles to make hats, and a little kit for me to knit her a pretty scarf, along with a bagful of Rowan Silk & Wool DK in a gorgeous silver color they call clay, earmarked for the Ogee Tunic in Norah Gaughan’s Knitting Nature. I worked up the scarf, which uses a strand of Kid Silk Haze and a strand of Katia Sevilla held together and worked in a simple garter/drop stitch pattern, after I finished my dad’s socks. That took all of a few hours to polish off in an evening. Then I went back to my Conwy socks, and got the second one finished off the night before we left for Oregon. Not a bad way to bookend the trip, though I had a skein of purple Trekking all lined up to (hopefully) do a pair of knee socks for myself. I’m working on those now with #0 needles and a simple clock pattern from Folk Knitting in Estonia for some visual interest.

3. Cooking and eating

We made some lovely meals over the course of the trip, including both old standbys and some new recipes on the menu. I didn’t write everything down, but here are a few mentionables:

• Our favorite pork loin with leeks from Cooking Light: We’ve made this many times and it came out great, as always.
• Braised lamb shanks with porcini: This was a meal just for me and Jeremy, as my parents had a Christmas party to attend.
• Zinfandel-braised pot roast with glazed carrots from All About Braising: The meat was very tasty but the carrots were awesome and we didn’t make nearly enough of them (this coming from someone who doesn’t care for cooked carrots under normal circumstances).
• Rice-asparagus soup with pancetta and pepper from Zuni Café Cookbook: This was a light, tasty soup that we served with a grating of parmesan and slices of fresh bread.
• Vietnamese braised scallops from All About Braising, served with a whole grain asparagus salad with soy-ginger vinaigrette from Once Upon a Tart: I’ve made the scallops once before, and made them here at my dad’s request. My fish-wary mom bravely ate a scallop and didn’t think it was too bad. The barley-wild rice salad with asparagus went well as a side for the scallops, though the amount of dressing called for was excessive, in my opinion. This was our Christmas Eve meal.
• Leg of lamb stuffed with feta and chard: This was our Christmas dinner. It came out so well the first time we made it that Jeremy and I both really wanted my parents to try it, and I think it was a success. We had a beautiful fresh piece of lamb, and leftovers for days. We kept the sides simple and went with mashed potatoes, fresh steamed broccoli, and the red wine jus from the lamb.

We also did quite a bit of baking, though we had planned to do more, and got cut short a bit by the abruptness of our flight on Saturday. Mostly we did Christmas cookies, but a few other items as well:

• Chocolate chip cookies: I used my favorite recipe, which tweaks David Lebovitz’s fantastic cookies with the addition of toffee bits for a subtle extra hit of flavor. These didn’t last long.
• Sugar cookies: These came from a can, but sugar cookies are really just a vehicle for frosting anyway, right?
• Pumpkin cookies: These are one of my favorite cookies of all time, and we made them partly because we had a partial can of pumpkin left from a batch of pumpkin waffles (very tasty, served with maple pecan syrup). They have chocolate chips and almonds in them, and an almost cakey texture from the moistness of the pumpkin.
• Buckwheat cookies: I’ve made these a bunch of times at home, and they are one of my favorites with tea. This was the first time I’ve made them with a mixer instead of a food processor, though.
• Harvest squash bread: My mom had a butternut squash on the counter when we arrived, waiting to be made into bread. We tried it out with this recipe from Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook, and it came out well, after burning a batch of walnuts and pecans based on the amount of time indicated in the book for toasting them. If I made this again, I’d used hulled pepitas instead of the whole pumpkinseeds we had on hand, as the hulls were not the greatest eating, though a good source of fiber, I’m sure.

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