Grilled cheese and tomato soup

It’s Monday and so it’s “off topic” day. What better thing to discuss but one of my favorite lunch (and dinner) items: tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side.

Everyone has a favorite brand of tomato soup or a favorite recipe to make it from scratch. I don’t think anyone is indifferent about the type of cheese or bread that they use to make the hot, melty sandwich, either. This is no doubt why I know people who make their grilled cheese and tomato soup exactly the same way every single time they have it and that’s the way they’ve been doing it their entire lives. I think a lot people get into a routine with this type of lunch because it’s comforting on a cold day. Part of feeling cozy is having something familiar.

I’m not one of these individuals. I like all different kinds of grilled cheeses and tomato soups. I like to mix up my cheese in my sandwich, using more than one type. I like whole wheat bread, rye, sourdough, all the bread! As far as the soup goes, I like the canned type, homemade from fresh tomatoes, homemade from canned tomatoes, or even a vegetable soup with a tomato broth. In the spirit of variety, I thought I’d share some links to really good tomato soup recipes. I don’t think I need to look up grilled cheese recipes for you, though, that’s kind of easy to figure out on your own. By the way, I’ve tried these and I enjoyed them equally. In my soup making routine, though, I don’t follow any of them anymore.

You’ll notice that they’re only slightly different from each other. The recipe from BBC Good Food calls for fresh tomatoes while the second two call for canned tomatoes. There are also different types of seasonings and vegetables in each recipe. I think nowadays I make a tomato soup that combines some aspects of all three. I prefer mine without chicken or beef stock. Although the creamy soup recipes call for a heavy cream, you can use half and half or even whole milk successfully.

You can also make a lazy microwave-style tomato soup with some tomato juice, sugar, salt, and pepper. I’ve done this often. I fill a bowl three quarters of the way with tomato juice. Then, I add a pinch of salt, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, and black pepper. I stir in some whole milk until I get the color I think the soup should be. Then, I cover the bowl with plastic wrap with a hole in the center and microwave it on full power for 1 minute. I stir the soup then microwave for another minute. After one last stir, I eat my soup with my grilled cheese.


WIPs: Biscornu conveyor belt and socks

I’m stitching away at my biscornu conveyor belt this week. At the top we have the “Winter Biscornu” and at the bottom the “Spring Biscornu,” two Barbara Ana designs.


You might recall that I’ve already made the “Autumn Biscornu” by the same designer. Actually, I’ve done it twice. I think I’ll just have to break down and buy her “Summer Biscornu” as well. My only beef with these biscornu patterns is that they cost about 5 dollars each and they are part of what the designer calls a series, meaning one for each season of the year, yet there are no package deals offered in the online shop. You have to buy each one individually and if you want all four well, you must pay up! Another thing that is kind of bizarre about these is that they are in a series but they are all different sizes. I think I like that, but it is rather odd. Usually a series is a little more uniform. They do all have something in common: They’re fun to stitch and they are whimsical. In the end, I’ll get my money’s worth out of them because I plan to make a lot of them to give away as gifts to people. I’m not just keeping them to myself! They really look good sitting on a coffee table, too, or I could imagine displaying them in a cabinet.

I’ve also been knitting my “Socks on a Sofa” which is my version of “Socks on a Plane.” I got one sock finished and have started the next one of the pair.


My Tunisian crochet afghan is not being worked on at the moment, but I’ll no doubt add some rounds to it this weekend. I want it done. I just get bored with stitching long rounds on it.

Off topic: What I’m reading

So, Monday passed about 9 minutes ago. Oops. I really have no excuse to be late with this post. It has been pure procrastination. As a matter of fact, I’ve done nothing but procrastinate. You see, today I had the day off from work and all I did was drink coffee and cross stitch the day away! I did a little sock knitting, too, but mostly I cross stitched.

As some of you know, I am a former Spanish literature professor. It goes without saying that I think reading is a good, worthwhile hobby. So, why not be off topic on a Monday (in the wee hours of Tuesday) and talk about a book I’m reading? The book in question is this one:


I’m obviously reading it in Spanish, but you can read it in English as I’m Travelling Alone. It was originally written in Norwegian, so if you don’t want to read a translation, learn some Norwegian first!

Anyway, over here in Europe it seems like countries are going through a period of excelling at different genres of literature. Spain has been going through a historical novel phase along with TV presenters and journalists writing all sorts of novels, including biographical fiction. Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and The Netherlands have become famous for their crime and mystery works. I’m Traveling Alone is an example of this literary phenomenon, and as you can see on the cover in my photo, this one has been a bestseller. I’ve purchased it when it isn’t the newest thing out, which made it a lot cheaper.

So far, it’s an intriguing story. I’ve got through the first 100 pages or so. I think what I’m enjoying most about it is that I feel like I know the protagonists personally. That, of course, is impossible because they aren’t real people, but the author has gone through a great deal of trouble to develop the psychology of his main characters. A lot of the beginning of the book isn’t much about the crime that has been committed but rather the two different points of view of the people who will be working together. Another positive aspect about the author is that he has an uncanny gift for capturing the essence of human emotion and people’s mental states. You might think it would be dull to read ten pages of a lonely woman’s thoughts as she pops pills and drinks large quantities of strong alcohol in her home on the sea. In this novel, you find yourself wanting to read more about that. It’s really that good!

I’ve got so into it, in fact, that I started exploring detective shows from Northern Europe on Netflix. I have no idea about the availability of any of them in other countries, but I found one that we spent the whole weekend at home binging on called Broen The Bridge. You can read about it here in this Wikipedia article if you’re interested. The concept for the series is pretty interesting as all of the action unfolds on the border between Denmark and Sweden.

And now it’s time to mentally prepare myself for the real world. Back to work tomorrow! Hi ho hi ho hi ho!


No Friday FOs, no sweater wearing

I’ve got zero sweater wearing and null FOs. I don’t think I’ll be wearing wool sweaters for a while, because of this sudden change in the weather:


The weather indicator on my computer’s desktop might be my favorite thing, by the way. You might think, “How dare this crazy American use Fahrenheit numbers while living in Europe!” I know. I can interpret Celsius a bit, but I can really understand the Fahrenheit number much better. If it helps you to think better of me, I use a 24 hour clock! That is now second nature to me.

Anyway, back on course. Considering it’s been gray and murky all day, it’s probably best I didn’t finish anything, because if I wanted to blog about FOs I’d need some photos of them, and the lighting today has been not ideal for photography, either.

The good news is that I decided to slow my work schedule down for the Spring months. I have not taken on any new students to tutor on Fridays. This means I get some extra crafty time. I’ve spent most of this first day of my long weekend cross stitching on my “biscornu conveyor belt” or “biscornu factory.” In case you missed that, I’ll explain: I got a scrolling embroidery frame and just decided to continuously cross stitch biscornus on a strip of Aida cloth I dyed. If you wish, you can have a gander at that post.

I’ve also made good progress on my “Socks on a Sofa,” which is my customized version of “Socks on a Plane.” The original pattern is excellent, but it did not suit my needs, as you might recall from what I said last Wednesday.

Another thing that was cool – so excellent I was motivated to go out in the rain to retrieve it from the post office – was that my bigger scrolling embroidery frame arrived. It was too big for the postal lady to carry it to my house so she left me a note in the mailbox. It came in a nice big cardboard tube. I’m thinking about which cross stitch project I want to start with it. I might first like to finish one of my ongoing larger cross stitch projects. It’s just that I can’t keep my mind off Elizabeth Almond’s “Pandora’s Box,” which I have the supplies to create. It is a freebie available on her web site, Blackwork Journey.

And now I suppose I’ll go back to doing something crafty. I’m getting pretty close to finishing my first “Sock on a Sofa.”


On your blog, effective writing and editing is key

This post was going to come out on Monday, which is the day I’ve reserved for being “off topic.” That couldn’t happen because I needed to edit this post some more. I’ve been sitting on this post, in fact, for a full week. Which brings me to my off topic subject matter: good writing is essential for good blogging. This might seem obvious, given that a blog is written. It is, however, so obvious that it often goes overlooked, mainly because a lot of writers have difficulty with editing their own text. A very small percentage of the blogging population might even feel arrogant enough to believe their writing doesn’t need any editing. These are the authors who type something quickly and press the “publish” button without blinking an eye. These are also the most impossible blogs to interact with (not surprising!).

Ummmm…. yes, I can tell if your blog is a quickly concocted mass of posts that were produced without much thought or reflection. If it isn’t evident straight away, it will become so when I interact with your post in the comments section and have no clue what I am talking about because you changed the content of your post after I read it and reacted to your ideas that are no longer there. It’s hard to accept, but if you don’t like a comment, or you think a comment is strange, it might be because your idea in your head wasn’t the idea you actually wrote out in your blog post. Alternatively, the thought in your brain isn’t accurately reflected in your writing. You might notice this too late, meaning you realize the problem after you press the publish button. Hilarity, or confusion, will inevitably play itself out in your comment stream. In the end, reacting to your post as an unpleasant experience for the reader will never be forgotten and that person will never interact with you again.

Writing gaffs like this have always been around, quite possibly since the invention of writing. Sadly, I know all about the disconnect between the thought in the brain and the idea actually represented in printed words. I’ve been teaching writing for over 20 years, so I’ve seen it all in my classes, including the students who clickity-clack something and, without even bothering to give their text a once-over, press print and hand it in. I recall receiving papers that were still warm from being freshly printed. Many a student has gone to my office hours, utterly confused, because I read their idea one way and they didn’t think this notion they mistakenly led me to believe in their paper: they were trying to say something else! Of course, sitting down with the student and showing them why they communicated something different from what they were thinking is helpful to him or her. Usually, discovering that our audience can’t read our minds is a sort of epiphany in developing good writing skills. You’d think it would be an obvious truth. It is, which is why it so easily escapes us when we submerge ourselves into the murky waters of writing.

It isn’t really shocking to me to see similar problems (or ineffective writing) in the blogging world. However, I think with blogs an author’s hiccups are magnified because there’s the added feature of interaction. You can write a post asking a question and people can answer your question in the comments section. People can react voluntarily to what you’ve written even if you didn’t ask a question. Certainly, you can control which comments become publicly viewable, but what we often forget is that we can also control the kinds of responses we get to our posts by writing effectively. I’ve been observing now for quite some time that blog authors often get unwanted comments mainly because they failed to communicate their main point clearly. An effective blog post needs this essential element: a main point, clearly communicated, which orients the reader and allows him or her to respond appropriately.

As a matter of fact, something that almost always appears in textbooks on effective writing is the concept of audience. Writing on paper or in print media, where instant reactions are not possible, often makes us forget that we have an audience, simply because the readers are not readily available to react to our ideas. So, when we learn to write, we are often instructed on the concept of writing as communication. Since we are not available to explain to our readers exactly what we meant if they do not understand what we have written, our texts need to be easy to understand without us being personally present to clarify misunderstandings. If we want to communicate a particular idea in our writing, that idea, and no other, is the one we want the audience to receive in the process of communication.

Blogs have the added advantage, or hindrance, of being editable after publishing. Just imagine what it would be like if novelists could change their stories live! Well, that is actually possible now with digital writing. However, let’s say you bought a book at a shop. As you’re lounging around at home reading this work of fiction, the author is constantly making changes to the story and the printed text is constantly being updated. One day you pick up the book and read pages 1 to 20 about a protagonist called Sam. Another day you continue reading on page 21 to discover the author changed the protagonist’s name to Martha. A book about Sam is now a book about Martha. That would not feel right, would it? It might be frustrating. Just imagine following a story about Sam one day and the next that character’s name, biographical details, and everything about him or her is completely different because the author did some live editing on the novel you’re reading. Live editing a blog post can have the same impact on your audience if your edits are too significant. It’s one thing to change spelling, correct the style and grammar, etc. It’s quite another to change the substance of what you’re writing about. I am not kidding, I have seen blog posts about a film suddenly be transformed into blog posts about the book the film was based on! That’s not good, especially when people can react to the blog in real time.

How can this issue be dealt with or, better yet, thwarted? Here’s how I try to avoid these problems on my blog. You can choose to imitate me in some of these regards or perhaps you find some of them unrealistic. Maybe you have other strategies you’d like to share in the comments! Please share them, I think your thoughts and methods can only add to this post and make it even more useful. So, here we go:

  1. I think of my blog posts as I would an article to be published in a magazine. Once I press the “publish” button it’s like sending a hard copy of a manuscript in the mail. That means I won’t be able to make any big changes. This will guarantee that, in the future, all interactions with my post will be “on the same page” so to speak. In other words, everyone will get my main idea in the same way and react to that idea.
  2. Because I do what I’ve said in “1” – treat my posts like hard copies that are hardly changeable since they’re on paper – I sit on my posts for a while leaving them as drafts, as I’ve done with this one. It’s really hard to edit your own writing! If you write something and try to proof it or edit it just after writing it you will probably miss a lot of mistakes and unclear writing. If you write something, put it away for a day or two, and come back to it, you will have more success at editing your work.
  3. If I’m in doubt about publishing my post, I let it sit in “drafts” for yet another 24 hours, then I read it again and make decisions about editing. Sometimes, at this stage, my post could lie in “drafts” forever, or be deleted, or I may have changed my mind about the orientation or main idea of my post and I make huge, drastic changes to it.
  4. When I edit, I try to imagine I’m reading something that someone else wrote. That’s really hard to do. I’ve had a lot of practice with this in writing and evaluating language learner’s speech. The analogy to language assessment might help you: when we test a person’s speaking ability in a foreign language, we evaluate them based on how a native speaker of the language would react. Would a native speaker, who is not a teacher, easily understand the speaker? This runs parallel to writing: is your idea easily understood and received by the reader with little effort on his or her part? It’s challenging, but imagining yourself as “the average reader” will help you polish your post.
  5. Once the post is published, it takes on a life of its own. No big changes will be made to my post and people will comment on it as they wish. Everyone in the stream will be talking about the same piece of writing for eternity. If you make drastic changes to a post, your comment stream won’t be in sync with your writing and, what’s worse, you could wind up with unwanted comments or get involved in very strange conversations that shall inevitably drive you and your readers stark raving mad. So, that is why it’s so important to contemplate your post before publishing it.

As a blog author, also remember that you really can’t cover your tracks and it’s quite difficult to manipulate a comments section to suit your corrections. I think a lot of authors think that if they strictly moderate comment streams they will ultimately control what happens. This isn’t true because search engines cache deleted or changed web pages. Recently, I watched a particularly clumsy blogger completely change the content of their post because they realized they left out three sentences that were essential for understanding what exactly they were writing about. They then proceeded to moderate the comment stream so that a comment responding positively to the edited post came before a comment that reacted in disagreement with the original post, making it seem as if the post was never edited drastically. It was totally obvious the blog author tried to cover up their mistake because the comment that looked “weird” coincided with the post available in Google’s cache. Yeah, that’s right, you can’t save face by deleting or editing things on your blog. Google has a cache of previous versions of your post. Comment stream moderation has its limits.

It goes without saying that it’s far easier to manage a blog communication-wise that has little writing, like mine. I mostly just photograph my WIPs and FOs and say something quick about them. I don’t need to think much about those! A more involved piece of writing, like this one, needs time to simmer. And I think I’ve slow cooked this one enough! It’s time to press the “Publish” button! Feel free to share whatever ideas you’ve got about writing.

This and that

It’s WIP Wednesday! I’ve continued knitting on a sock, stitching my Chinese dragon (I’m backstitching, actually), working on my winter biscornu with the snowmen, and crocheting my afghan. The afghan has got most of my attention. I got all the purple squares done so now I’m crocheting gray Tunisian simple stitch around the edges. I want to get ten rounds done and then I think I’ll switch back to purple and do some Tunisian purl stitch rounds to keep the edges from curling.


I haven’t photographed my progress on the rest of my projects because they look quite similar to last weeks photos, although the Chinese dragon is starting to look pretty snappy with the backstitch details.


Scrolling frames and home dyeing embroidery fabric

I haven’t got another sweater out to wear. I’m rotating the same five this week, so I can’t do a “Wearing Sweaters” post in lieu of an FO.

But, luckily, I have another kind of random crafty post up my sleeve. First of all, let me introduce you to my latest cross stitch discovery, the scrolling frame with clips:


I bought this recently to give it a try. It wasn’t very expensive and it was just the right size to work on small projects, and I liked the idea of having a continuous strip of fabric for making lots of biscornu squares. Loaded into the scrolling frame I’ve got a “Winter Biscornu” in progress, designed by my favorite biscornu designer, Barbara Ana.

I’ve been using the frame for a day now and I’ve decided I don’t want to use anything else. I went back on line and ordered a larger one (20″ wide) so I can work on bigger projects. What I like about this type of frame is that I don’t have to baste the fabric onto the rods. I can clip the fabric in which means I can easily remove it and replace it with another project. The fact that I can keep the fabric quite taught while at the same time view the bigger picture also helps my work a lot. I really like seeing the full “wide-screen” view. The only disadvantage I can see with using this type of tool is that you can’t put masking tape around the fabric edges to prevent fraying. On the bright side, I have a sewing machine with lots of different stitching abilities, so I just zig-zag stitched around my fabric edges. So, I’m just going to scroll through my biscornu stitching and make it sort of like a factory. I can do one for me and a couple more for my friends all on the same strip, remove the fabric, cut out the squares, and sew them together.

My absolute favorite thing about the scrolling frame is that I can leave a project in it indefinitely. All I have to do is loosen the tension, as seen in the photo, and I can put it away. When I’m ready to work on it again, I just tighten up the tension on the fabric again. It’s very convenient.

Another thing I’ve experimented with is dyeing my fabric. I really felt like I traveled back in time to the 1980s when people actually had to do this more often. These days, Aida cloth and evenweave fabric are available in a wide range of colors. The problem for me is that I can’t get lots of different colors locally and even on line shops sometimes don’t carry what I want or sell it at the price I’m willing to pay. Another issue is that I saw something stitched on orange fabric that I wanted to make and I really don’t see the point in buying a yard or half a yard of something in orange that I probably won’t use up. In the future, I’ll use the fabric dye you can buy in the supermarket for the orange color. My immediate needs were different this time.

What I needed was a dark khaki color for my winter biscornus, something dark enough so the white snowmen and snow flakes would show up perfectly. I couldn’t find anything similar to what the pattern directions called for so I followed a tutorial for dyeing Aida cloth with tea, something I remember my mother doing quite frequently in the 1980s. I got good results. I steeped eight tea bags in a liter of water, let the water cool off, and let some white Aida cloth rest in the bath for about six hours. I still have quite a lot of the white fabric in its original color left so you can see how dark it got:


On the left you can see the original bright white color and on the right the results of my dyeing with tea. As you saw previously, the white stitches for my snowmen show up perfectly on this darker color.

I think this is a good alternative to buying expensive, hand-dyed fabrics. That’s essentially what you’re doing, anyway, dyeing your fabric with your own two hands. Using tea has its drawbacks, of course, one of the obvious ones being that you risk shortening the life of your fabric. It’s also time-consuming to dye with tea, and when the fabric dries it’s a real pain to iron out the wrinkles, even if the fabric is still a little bit damp. I did, however, save myself a lot of money comparing the 6 or 7 euro I spent on the fabric (and I still have lots left over in white!) with the hand-dyed fabric called for in the pattern, which costs maybe 400 times that. Tea creates that “hand-dyed” look, with the little irregularities of color shades you can find in antique cross stitch fabrics.

To dye my fabric I followed the directions provided at The Spruce, which includes directions on how to make the fabric colorfast after the soaking process. This blog also recommends experimenting with herbal teas to get different colors, like blue. I might try that in the future, but I don’t think I’ll be making a habit of hand-dyeing my cross stitch material. I’ll do it when I feel like I have no other alternatives, such as what happened for my winter biscornu project.