Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Striped Esjan Shawl and Early Fall Baking

With all the looming holidays from Jewish, Christian, Pagan, and Secular you are definitely going to need a great party shawl.  And it doesn't matter what age you are it is always fun to get dressed up and wear something flirty with a bit flounce to a party.   The Striped Esjan shawl delivers just that with a sophisticated vibe to boot.  Roll on with the holidays!


I fell in love with this design a long time ago and made several attempts to knit it using contrasting stripes (as the design called for) but that just didn't work for me. I think the stripes made it too busy or something.  In any event I forgot about this pattern until I was trying to decide what to make with this gorgeous variegated yarn.  When walla I serendipitous remembered that I had some smoky grey mohair yarn for contrast and after that it was an easy decision to turn it into a Striped Esjan sans stripes, if that's possible.

Knitting with this yarn reminded me how much I love a variegated colorway.  For one thing I love how a highly variegated yarn becomes your own unique colorway based on how you use it.  For example if I had used this yarn to knit a pair of socks the yarn would have looked very different because the short rows would have pooled the colors very differently.  Or if I had used a different needle size, shawl design, or contrasting color it would have look different as well. With all the recent hype over speckled and brightly colored yarns I'd forgotten the unique beauty of variegated yarns. Where as a speckled yarn pretty much creates an identifiable homogeneous design.


It's thanks to Andi who writes the popular blog MySistersknitter that I found this yarn.  She often features lesser known Indie yarn dyers. When this dyer was on Andi's blog she called her shop Mountain Girl Yarns but subsequently she closed that shop and has since reemerged as Woolou Yarns. So many LYS and Esty sellers have closed over the last few years.  I don't know if that is due to fewer people knitting or the state of the economy in general.  I do know that there are some very popular dyers who can't dye yarn fast enough for demand but there are many more independent yarn sellers who struggle to make a living.  I try and be adventuresome and support the lesser known dyers.  After all you never know when you'll find a gem like this yarn! And diversity of choice is good for everyone.  We don't all want to be walking around wearing the same popular colorways, do we?  As awesome as some of them are! Note to self: snag a skein of speckled birthday cake ASAP. Incidentally I checked on Ravelry and there are only 7 projects made using Woolou Yarns.  Andi's beautiful Linus is one of them.  My yarn has been discontinued.


Particularls:  Striped Esjan; US 4 and 6 needles; 1 skein SW BFL/Nylon (464 yrd) dyed by Mountain Girl Yarns (colorway Big Creek) now known as Woolou Yarn; 1 skein kidsilk haze dyed by Hedgehog Fibers (colorway Crystal - left over from my Northern Skies Shawl).  I knit the body of the shawl (and all parts using Mountain Girl Yarns) using US 4 needles and I knit the kidsilk haze section using US 6 needles.  Because I had less of the Mountain Girl Yarn than the pattern required I knit the body until I had used 60% of my skein (leaving 40% for the edging).  That was a pretty good guesstimate and I almost made it... I ran out of yarn halfway through the BO and switched to a complimentary green color to finish.

Previous designs by Stephen West that I've knit include Pogona; The Doodler; and Marled Magic (pictured below).  I don't see myself doing a full post on Marled Magic but I am very happy with how it came out.  I knit the large (shanklet) size and I know that Steve is looking forward to using it this winter as a throw.



Early Fall Baking ~



It's not technically Fall yet.  I know that.  But September 1st saw me begin my day happily munching on a fragrant slice of pumpkin spice bread.  Already I feel the mornings are cooler and the evenings are getting dark earlier and small signs of fall are appearing about the house.  Soon colorful gourds will be predominately displayed and apple butter will be bubbling away on my stove top.  It's a very happy time for me as it celebrates many of the things that make life special including a welcoming home with a loving family, wonderful food, and an appreciation for the harvest.  And of course I get to wear the sweaters and socks that I spend so much time knitting!

If you are interesting in trying this Sourdough Pumpkin Spice Bread it's a free recipe from King Arthur Flour.  As it's made with a sour dough starter it's not your typical sweet bread.  It's more a breakfast bread that is nice toasted with your morning coffee, and I really enjoy it.  But if you prefer a sweet pumpkin bread you might try my Pumpkin Bread with Walnut Topping.


Until next time be well, love well and slow down and notice the early signs of Fall.  They can be subtle here in Southern California but they can be seen in the surrounding foliage, shifting daylight, and falling temperatures.  May you also have fun on your search for the perfect gourds and pumpkins to decorate your home!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Israel and a Taste of the Middle East


It's been weeks since my last post so I'll quickly update you on what's been happening this summer. We have had both amazing highs and frightening lows.  The high point was obviously our trip to Israel which was amazing!  The low was my father being seriously injured in a fire that required him to be airlifted to a burn center here in Los Angeles which was a blessing as Steve (a retired doctor) was invaluable in making critical medical decisions that effected his recovery.  It's now six weeks since his injury and I am extremely happy to share that he is at home recovering and his wounds have almost completely healed. It's nothing short of miraculous and largely thanks to Steve's decisions and my dad's wonderful healing capacity. But a very stressful time as you can imagine.

As I promised in my last post I do have a wonderful vegetarian dish that I am dying to share!  It's a knockoff of a dish that I had while in Jerusalem that was served as a main course.  I enjoyed it so much that while in the restaurant I carefully and surreptitiously wrote down all the ingredients on a napkin sothat I could recreate it when I returned home. You might find that some of the ingredients are not your typical grocery staple but they all have a long shelf life and I think once you try this dish you will find that you make it over and over again. I know that I do.  It's also a great dish to have in your repertoire in this day and age when everyone is either a vegan, vegetarian, or some other enlightened or otherwise picky eater.



Red Quinoa and Mushroom Salad

~ serves 4 ~

Salad Ingredients:

3/4 cup red quinoa (measured raw)
1/4 cup fine Bulgar (measured raw)
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup raw slivered almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries or tart cherries - chopped
1/2 a small red onion or medium red sweet pepper - diced
7 medium to large sized brown mushrooms - quartered
2 Tbs. olive oil for sauteing mushrooms
Coarse Kosher Salt (used to season the mushrooms)

Dressing Ingredients:

1 tablespoon tahini
1 tsp. Chia seeds
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice* 
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup olive oil (I use Greek Kalamata extra virgin olive oil - available at Trader Joes)

*For a Southern California twist try substituting 2 Tbs. sweet wine vinegar for the lemon juice and eliminate the added sugar.  It's a little pricey but I love using Blackberry Roasted Pepper Vinegar and use it on all my salads.  

Optional Garnish:
Parsley 

Steps:

N.B.  There is a long soak period to soften the bulgar grain so I generally begin my salad preparation roughly 2 hours before I wish to serve.

1.  Cover raw bulgar in cold water and allow to sit at room temperature 1 hour covered.  Drain and set aside.  N.B. If you are using a whole grain bulgar it will take 1.5 hours up to 2 hours to soften. Parenthetically I prefer a cold soak to using hot water because it retains a better texture for salads, but you could always use the hot water method for a faster process if you prefer.

2.  Boil red quinoa in salted water for 15 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  

3.  While bulgar and quinoa are being prepared chop celery, cranberries, red onion (or red sweet pepper) and quarter mushrooms.  Set aside.

4.  Toast almonds in a dry pan until slightly browned and fragrant.  Set Aside.

5.  Saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons olive oil until soft and cooked through, then season with coarse kosher salt.  Set Aside.

6.  Prepare dressing by combining all ingredients in a small jar and shaking well.  Set Aside. Incidentally this is a lightly dressed salad.  If you prefer a lot of dressing on salads you might want to consider doubling the dressing and adding to taste.

7.  Prepare Salad by combining all ingredients except mushrooms and dressing.  Add dressing to mixture retaining 1 tablespoon and mix well.  Sprinkle mushrooms over top of salad and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of dressing.  

8.  Serve at room temperature either as a main course or as a side dish as I typically do.



Sojourn to Israel ~

Of all the amazing places that we have traveled and sights that we have seen Israel is my favorite for its religious and historical significance are truly awe inspiring.  And the food is pretty delicious too. Which I always count as a positive for any vacation destination.  As a preface we went as tourists and not as pilgrims. This means that we saw and explored everything from the formation of the modern Israeli state to cultural and archaeological sites and both Jewish and Christian holy sites and never had enough time at any one location.  Our trip left us exhausted and profoundly impacted by our experience.  Someday I would like to return as a pilgrim and stay just in the old city of Jerusalem.



We began our trip in Tel Aviv which is a vibrant modern city (as seen above) with a young population and a liberal culture self described as Jew-ish, i.e. the residents identify themselves as Jewish but they pick and choose the commandments they follow.  For example almost everyone has a tattoo which are forbidden in the bible.  


The food is also outstanding in Tel Aviv (and throughout Israel).  Both at hidden away bakeries and the famous spice markets.  I'll never forget the incredible savory bourekas I had in Tel Aviv made with hand pulled fillo dough.  They were melt in your mouth delicious and just the memory makes my knees go weak. It even crossed my mind that I should learning how to make hand stretched fillo dough. But then I realized I wasn't insane. So I'll be sticking with frozen fillo dough.  Warning. There are potato bourekas pictures below.





I did come home with a variety of spices from the markets and in particular I love Zaatar (a blend of hyssop, toasted sesame seeds, salt and lemon) that is use as a dipping spice for bread.  I like it on my morning toast drizzled with olive oil for a savory start to my day.  I find it strangely addictive. Traditionally it's a topping for pita bread although I first tasted it as a dry rub on a Jerusalem bagel in the old city of Jerusalem.  Which reminds me, definitely add eating a Jerusalem bagel to your to do list.




But our trip wasn't just about the food.  We visited incredible archaeological sites including the ongoing excavation site commonly called Abraham's Gate at the city of  Dan.  It's called Abraham's Gate because Dan is the city where Abraham rescued his nephew Lot and both Abraham and Lot would have walked through this arched gateway to enter the city.  

And of course we visited many Roman sites including Harod's Palace and the Roman theater in Caesarea where Steve and I sat on on the public toilets located near the entrance to the amphitheater. But don't let Steve holding his nose fool you.  These toilets are no longer used by the public.  I can not even imagine anyone thinking it was a good idea to have open air public toilets where people entered and exited the forum.  Although you do need a bathroom at public events. To think I am squeamish about pit toilets which are at least private.

The Golan heights was another interesting place to visit.  We took a guided jeep tour up to the Syrian bunkers where troops used to snipe at the Jewish settlers in the Huleh Valley below until Israel seized this area in the Six-Day war in 1967.  You can see from the bunker pictured below that the Syrian bunkers were well camouflaged and it was only through the intelligence of an Israel spy who infiltrated the Syrian army that Israel was able to pinpoint the exact location of these bunkers and was quickly able to neutralize them.  The story of this spy (Eli Cohn) is told in the book Our Man in Damascus written by Eli Ben-Hanan. Eli Cohn was eventually captured and hanged for espionage by the Syrians.


But for me, a Christian, the most significant and profound experience was to visit the places where Jesus lived and performed his miracles including the miracle of loaves and fishes, walking on water at the sea of Galilee, and where he gave the sermon on the mount.  In the old city of Jerusalem we visited where the Last supper is believed to have been held, King David's tomb, the Western Wall and the Jewish quarter. But without a doubt the most significant experience of the entire trip for me was visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where Jesus is believed to have been crucified.  To actually place my hand into the rock where Jesus was crucified and to think what he suffered for humanity was very emotional. The picture below was taken while waiting in line and shows the wall hangings above the rock where Christ was crucified.  The Holy Sepulchre is also believed to be the site where Christ was buried after being crucified and rose again.  


As you can tell we had a once in a life time experience.  If you are thinking about visiting Israel we have only the highest praise for Arza World tours and our guide Yishay Shavit who was incredibly knowledgeable, humorous, balanced in his opinions, and someone you would want to entrust your trip and safety to.  Yishay is an independent tour guide and leads tours all over the world.  Our trip was organized and led by our Chazzan Danny Maseng and his lovely wife Terry Maseng through Makon LA and next year they plan on leading a tour through Spain.  Non members are welcome and all faiths are included!   Lastly here's a picture of me looking very much the tourist in Tel Aviv and I hope to be a tourist in Spain next year too.  


Until next time be well and love well.  Already my thoughts are turning toward Fall and I'm getting excited to share the knits, flavors and holidays of this my favorite of all seasons!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Summer Garden Shawl and Carrot Cake Recipe

We are back from Israel and had an amazing time!  I am definitely going to share some pictures and talk about our experiences and I'll even share a regionally inspired vegetarian dinner recipe (that I know you will love!). However the task of reviewing the pictures is daunting and I am still recovering from jet lag so in the meantime I want to share a project that I finished before we went on our great adventure that is perfect for summer.


This is decidedly a summer shawl and, as a result, not what I would call super versatile.  Principally because of the pastelly speckled yarn color that I chose.  It is, however, the perfect accessory for a summer garden tea party! If you like that kind of thing. And I do.  I should explain that I have a very loose definition of a garden tea party. For me a garden tea party simply requires a spot in your garden where one can sit and enjoy a large pot of tea and a scrumptious treat.  It's an appreciation that I acquired growing up in a household where every afternoon my mother served an English tea.  For those of you not as familiar with this quintessential English tradition and might need some help I have shared below a simple carrot cake recipe that would make an ideal treat and for tips on brewing a proper cup of tea I refer you to my post Put the Kettle On ~ It's Time for Tea.  Now all you require is a garden.


On a different note, it's hard to believe that it's already creeping toward mid-July.  Am I the only one who sees July 4th as the end of summer instead of the beginning?  I think it's the knitters' mindset to always be thinking a season ahead.  And there are a lot of hot long days ahead before fall arrives here in Southern California.  Yet from now until Thanksgiving all I'll want to knit are fall projects. Despite the fact that the window for wearing fall projects is like a month long because it won't cool down here until November.  Does anyone see anything wrong with this scenario?


But enough grousing about the long hot summer.  Instead I shall discuss this shawl in a little more detail.  It's hard to see in the photos but the dark blue edging decidedly rolls up.  This is a factor of its being knit in a very light weight and lofty yarn better suited to a smaller needle and also because I deliberately encouraged the rolling effect in the blocking process.  Why would I do that you wonder. Because I think a softer flouncy edge makes the shawl more appealing. Snicker.  Using the word "flounce" always makes me laugh because it reminds me of the time (many years ago) that an opposing lawyer told me that they had seen me earlier "flouncing" about the courthouse.  Apparently I still like to flounce about.  In any event I rarely block a shawl exactly as the designer suggests and for more tips on creative blocking I refer you to my Lunna Voe post.


Particulars:  Whippoorwill Shawl, designed by Carina Spencer; US 6 needles; Main color: 2 skeins GarnStories Merino Sox 465 yrds 75% merino 25% polymide (colorway KarmaKoma (at least that is what I think is written on the label)); contrasting color is Sundara Merino Fingering (dark blue).  I knit the large size and used only a small amount of my second skein in the main colorway and I definitely have enough left over for a pair of socks.  Although this is a pretty thin yarn at 465 yrds/ 100 grams.  But then again it does have 25% polymide so perhaps....

And a bit about my garden.  We live on top of an arid mountain so I don't have a lush garden.  But I have found a few plants that do well including the pink (and red) flowers seen in the top pictures. They are Dipadenia which are very hardy, climbing, and prolific bloomers and my favorite container plant.  The small birdhouse in the above photo is a fun and easy crafting project that I painted a few years ago (I purchased the unfinished birdhouse from Michael's) and is featured in this post.



Carrot Cake Recipe ~



I absolutely love carrot cake and you will love it too if you use this recipe!  It makes a light, not oily or overly sweet cake and I think it's the perfect treat to enjoy this summer with a cup of tea in your garden or to serve at a garden tea party. The recipe makes a single layer 8 inch cake and is an adaption of Jenny Keller's 3 layer carrot cake recipe.  I often bake just for myself and a 3 layer cake is simply more cake than I need.  I've also changed the frosting to a lemon butter cream instead of cream cheese and made a few other small changes to the cake ingredients to better suit my tastes. It is a winner no matter how you slice it and I'm sure the original recipe for a larger gathering would be a huge hit too.

Carrot Cake Recipe
~ yield ~ single layer 8 inch cake

Cake Ingredients:

4 oz. crushed pineapple
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup grape seed oil
2 eggs
1 cup grated raw carrot (peeled)
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Lemon Butter Cream Frosting Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sifted confectionery sugar
1/2 cup sweet butter (room temperature)
1 tsp lemon extract or oil
1 Tbs or less whole milk
Pinch table salt

optional garnish with chopped pecans

Cake Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare 8 inch x 3 inch cake pan (you can probably use an 8 x 2 inch pan in a pinch) by greasing well with butter. Line cake pan bottom with a cake liner or make a cake liner by placing cake pan on a sheet of parchment paper and tracing around base to make a template.  Cut out round template and use as your cake pan liner.

2.  Drain pineapple through sieve using back of a spoon and measure by weight (I used a generous 4 ozs of the pineapple meaning that I tossed in an extra tablespoon after measuring by weight 4 oz); grate carrots and chop pecans and set these ingredients to the side.

3.    In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and sugars (white and brown).  Then add grape seed oil, and eggs.  Mix well using an electric mixer.

4.  Remove bowl from mixer and using a spoon stir in carrots, pineapple, and pecans and stir until well incorporated.

5.  Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for 40 minutes or until cake tester comes away clean.
Cool for 10 minutes in pan and then using a knife loosen the cake from the pan edges.  Turn cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Frost when completely cool.

Adapted from Jenny Keller's ~ Best Carrot Cake Ever

Frosting Steps ~

Steps:

1.  Beat sweet butter until light and fluffy.

2.  Add sifted confectionery sugar, lemon extract, and a pinch of salt and beat until well combined.


3.  Add a small amount of milk (a teaspoon or two but no more than a tablespoon) and beat until desired consistency.

4.  Using a table knife frost cake after it has cooled to room temperature.  You will have enough frosting to frost the side as well as the top or just the top as I have with some left over.


6.  Garnish with chopped pecans, if desired.

Frosted cake keeps well at room temperature for 24 hours and then refrigerate.


Until next time be well, love well and take time to enjoy your garden this summer and maybe throw yourself a garden tea party!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Macadamia Nut Cookie Recipe and Dotted Rays

There are certain events and foods that you encounter in this world that are so unique that you remember forever where you were when you experienced it.  And that is how it was for me when I first tasted macadamia and white chocolate cookies in my early 30s while living in the Midwest. Before then I had not been a fan of white chocolate and if I had not receive those cookies as a gift that probably would have continued to be the case.  But ever since my first bite of this delightful combination I've been a huge fan.


Finding the right recipe to repeat that taste sensation however proved elusive. What I wanted was a cookie that emphasized the macadamia nut, wasn't too sweet, and also wasn't in proportions to feed an army. Having been disappointed in recipes I've tried in the past I decided to come up with a recipe myself.  The result I'm happy to report is a crispy cookie with a slightly chewing texture that isn't too sweet that I absolutely love.

The reason cookies are on my mind (and the impetus for this recipe) is the long flight we are facing for our upcoming trip to Israel.  After researching how to survive a long flight (as knitting is not allowed) I decided to pack a picnic basket to help us pass the time more enjoyably.  Because while our airline is know for it's excellent security it is not known for its delectable cuisine.  To say I found that piece of information disappointing is an understatement. However, I have chosen to rise above it. Now despite the probable discomfort, boredom, and length of the journey I know that I will have wonderful cookies and other tasty treats squirreled away.   I feel happier already.  And I hope after you try these cookies you will feel happier too.


Macadamia Nut Cookies ~

~yield~ 2 dozen good sized cookies

Ingredients:

5 oz. (10 Tbs.) unsweetened butter, softened
1/2 cup white granular sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup macadamia nuts (I used dry roasted with sea salt), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup flake coconut (sweetened)

Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

2.  In a large bowl using a wooden spoon or mixer set on low speed combine butter, white sugar, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla.

3.  Combine flour, soda and salt in a small bowl.  Add to the butter mixture using a wooden spoon or mixer set on low speed.  Combine until mix comes together as a dough.

4.  Stir in nuts, white chocolate, and coconut.

5.  Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheet and flatten slightly to promote even baking.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are golden in color.  Remove from oven and let sit 30 to 60 seconds on baking sheet before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

6.  Store in air-tight container or freeze left over cookies.




Dotted Rays Forever ~

This is Stephen West's Dotted Rays design which is a super easy and fun knit.  I think it also looks fantastic with my jean jacket so I'm seriously considering taking it on our trip!  It's one of those pieces that is easy to throw on and makes you look stylish without any effort.  As Simcha can attest.

I asked Simcha to model this project to show how it can also be worn like a cowl.   I was, to be honest, surprised at his level of cooperation and enthusiasm for the task.  He was a model german shepherd throughout the session.  Just like the brochure claims all German Shepherd Dogs are. Hahaha.  Frankly a few years ago I could not have envisioned ever saying that about Simcha!  But those early years are all forgotten now.  We do love him to pieces and he's been an amazing gift to us.  Did you know that his name translates to "joy" in Hebrew?  Steve named him Simcha because after the sadness and loss of Mr. Puffy he brought joy back into our lives. And he truly has.   


You might notice that on one side my scarf is not shaped like a smooth crescent.  That's because I creatively blocked that end to create a flared scallop edge which I think makes the scarf more dynamic and interesting visually.  This is an example of how doing something very simple such as creative blocking can change your piece into something original and an expression of your own personality.  For more creative blocking tips I refer you to my Lunna Voe post.

Particulars:  Dotted Rays designed by Stephen West; US 6 needles; Fiberstory Sock Gradient set (colorway "summer punch") 560 yrd 100% merino.  I had less yarn than the pattern calls for so I simply knit until I ran out of yarn.  It's still a nice size, although I wouldn't recommend going any smaller than this.  Blocked relaxed dimensions:  52" by 14."  I say "relaxed" dimensions because merino wool will not hold a block well.  Already it has shrunk from it's 58" immediate post blocked length and it might continue to shrink and require reblocking periodically if it gets too small. That merino wool will not hold a block well is something to consider when choosing a shawl yarn.  Previous Stephen West designs I've knit are his Doodler Shawl and Pogona Shawlette.

Until next time be well, love well and whether you are traveling or staying at home this summer I hope you will take time to enjoy a picnic and if you do be sure to toss in a cookie or two!  And perhaps some crusty sourdough bread too.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Elton John Socks and a Day at the Zoo



I actually intended to show a different project in this post but it didn't happen and, as it turns out, these socks are the perfect project for this post because I gave them to my mom for Mother's Day this past weekend.  And they also tie in with the zoo theme because they are striped like a Zebra!  How perfect is that?

I loved knitting with this yarn because of the beautiful colors and the nice feel to the base, but it wasn't without its challenges.  I wanted to knit something special both to showcase the unique dying style and also because they were going to be a gift for my mom.  So I poured over a ton of patterns to find something unique and cool and ended up purchasing two beautiful patterns, neither of which did I end up using.  I won't bore you with the details but suffice it to say the experience left me with lighter pockets and a broken cherished rosewood needle (sob) before I threw in the towel and decided to let this gorgeous and unique yarn shine with a basic sock pattern.  It's best not to fight against what a yarn wants to be.


I called these my Elton John Socks because the colorway is Tiny Dancer and that of course is the title of a famous Elton John song.  I am an L.A. Lady after all and this is the music I grew up listening to in the seventies.  It's an association, and appreciation, that I fear will be lost on my mother.  When I listen to Tiny Dancer it takes me back to my teenage years and the parties at the beach, dancing in the sand and in general getting into mischief.  Something I did far too much of true be told.  But I did have fun!

I'm feeling sentimental so I've linked to few few music videos from that era with the caveat that the technology back in the 70s wasn't the best so the songs aren't well preserved:

Tiny Dancer    Elton John
Driver's Seat  Sniff 'n' Tears
Touch me in the Morning Diana Ross
Sweet Home Alabama  Lynyrd Skynyrd
Everything I Own  Bread
Make it With You  Bread
You're So Vain   Carly Simon
Maggie May  Rod Stewart
Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
Dreams  Fleetwood Mac
Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
Comfortably Numb  Pink Floyd
L.A. Woman - The Doors

I could go on but hopefully these songs will bring back fun memories for you too or if you are younger than me perhaps it will introduce you to the music of my generation.  Although you had to be there because as I said the videos do not do the music justice.


Particulars: Colorblock Sock Pattern, a free Mr. Puffy pattern (I use this pattern for its basic sock construction); US 1 Needles; size: 60 stitch count; 1 skein Republic of Wool, twist fingering, (colorway Tiny Dancer).  I love, love, love these socks and found them hard to part with!

A Day at the Zoo ~


My mother loves visiting the Zoo so this year to celebrate Mother's Day we took my mom and dad to the San Diego Zoo which is a world famous Zoo located in Southern California.


To make the experience more special we bought tickets to the Zoo's Animals in Action program which allows visitors up close encounters with some of the exotic and endangered species and is a program designed to highlight the plight of these amazing creatures.  This world is increasingly a hostile place for animals that are at the mercy of human activities and desires. If you want to learn more and/or become more involved in ending practices that lead to extinction, I recommend visiting San Diego Zoos wildlife conservancy website EndExtinction.org and One Green Planet which are organizations that are dedicated to saving and protecting wildlife from poachers and environmental devastation.


On a lighter note, a fun part of the Animals in Action program is that you learn interesting trivia about the animals such as that a zebra can (while running full speed no less) bend its spine backward so that it's teeth can reach its tail to bite a predator that might be trying to pull it down from behind. That's amazing flexibility!  Note to self: enroll in a yoga class.  And in case you ever wondered if a zebra is white with black stripes or black with white stripes they are in fact black with white stripes.

But the very best part of the experience for me was seeing my 90+ year old mom feeding a Rhino!


Incidentally the top picture is a Clouded Leopard and the other cat is a Cheetah.  Both are beautiful creatures to watch in action and need help protecting their habitat.


Until next time, be well and love well and this summer why not plan a trip to the Zoo!  Or at the very least knit yourself a pair of striped socks.  We are traveling to Israel in June so if I don't have a chance to post again before we leave I'll see you later this summer!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Botan Shawlette and Spring Sugar Cookies!

This was such a fun and fast shawl to knit!  It's Botan designed by Helen Stewart and it's my new Spring-y Shawlette for the season.  I'm always super pleased when I find a quintessential seasonal piece and this couldn't be more perfect for Spring.


While this is an asymmetrical design I've blocked it to more a traditional scarf shaping (long and slender) because I find asymmetrical designs can be slightly awkward to style and wear.  Maybe if I had more panashe that wouldn't be the case.  In any event I wanted it long so I could throw it over my shoulder or let the ends curl down in front.  In other words I prefer a more traditional shaped scarf. But because I really liked the bits and bobbles of this design I simply modified it slightly and wallah I had a more traditional scarf shape but with all the cool design funk.  And I still have the option to wear it bib style, should I wish.  For your visualization if I had knit this as designed the length would have been 40" (instead of 58") and the wedge would have been 16" deep (instead of 11"). Ponder those dimensions and you'll see why they gave me pause and perhaps they will give you pause too.  If you are interested my modification is explained below.  But do so at your own risk. Wearing long scarfs does have its hazards and you don't want to end up like Isadora Duncan!


I love how well these colors worked together even though they are different bases and from different dyers. The main color is a much loved light soft tonal colorway with soft speckles throughout handdyed in Germany by Baerenwolle; and for my contrasting color I used an unloved Ysolda 2016 club yarn dyed in the Isle of Sky by Shilasdair.  It's a funny thing about Ysolda's club.  The first year (2015) I absolutely loved each and every yarn and pattern.  But still.  The club yarns and patterns from 2016 just didn't resonated with me.  I think the difference might be that in 2015 her club yarns were unique and exclusive to the club members and the designs were not released to the public for a whole year which made the club projects something special.  But that changed in 2016.   In 2016 neither the yarn nor the pattern were exclusive to club members and both were available for purchase after 6 months.  Being part of the club no longer felt so "special" and out the window flew my incentive to be a club member.  After all it makes more sense to wait and see if you like the yarn and pattern before you purchase.  So while I did join again in 2016 it fell flat with me. Maybe because I viewed each project with a critical eye "i.e. would I have purchased this project if not a club member?" Obviously with that mind set I did not renew in 2017.  But I must be alone in this view because her 2017 club sold out faster than ever.  Go figure! In any event it wasn't a total loss because slowly I am incorporating my 2016 yarns into various projects and indeed I have another of the 2016 yarns on my the needles now.  Caveat Emptor.  It's always good to remember that while clubs are fun they do sometimes disappoint.

In the end it doesn't matter how or why these yarns were paired together.  All that matters is that they were a perfect pairing!  Note to self: a true "maker" sees the creative possibilities in every skein of yarn.  Tisk tisk on me.



Particulars:  Botan (Ravelry Pattern Link) designed by Helen Stewart (blogs as Curious Handmade); 1 skein Baerenwolle BAREfoot Sock (437 yrd) Club Colorway: Morning Mist; 1 skein Shilasdair 3ply sock yarn Ysolda 2016 Club Colorway Briar Rose.  To see a summary of Ysolda's 2015 club yarns and patterns see Lunna Voe post which includes a collage of all 2015 club projects.

Vis-a-vis this pattern I modified it to eliminate the I-cord both on the working edge and the BO edge. The working edge creates a mock I-cord but after knitting several rows I realized there wasn't enough flexibility and give to that edging to stretch and block well.  So I ripped back and started over using a simple slip stitch edging, i.e. I slipped the first stitch and knit 2 stitches and placed a Stitch Marker.  On the wrong side row I simply knit all 3 edging stitches.  For the BO I used a classic lift-off method, ie. knit 2 stitches and lift the first stitch over the 1st and continue to lift each subsequent stitch off the needle.  My blocked dimensions are 58" long (vs 40" long as designed) x 11" (vs 15 3/4 " deep).  I did not block for depth and could easily have blocked it much wider and may do so next time I wash it just for comparison.

Vis-a-vis Shilasdair yarn it is dyed using natural dyeing with Cochineal and Logwood and I had to run it through several cold water rinses to remove excess dye.  This is a practice I always follow when I knit projects mixing dark colors yarns with light.  For more tips on knitting projects incorporating multicolored skeins see my post Multi Colored Shawls and Testing Yarn for Color Fastness.

Spring-y Sugar Cookies 



Easter and Passover crossed paths this year so I began Spring baking early so that I could gobble down a few treats before Passover (which lasts 8 days) and celebrated on Easter with yummy chocolate instead of my usual baked treats.  But these cookies were so delicious they shouldn't (and for me won't) be confined just to Easter.

This Spring I've had a strong taste for sugar cookies but not the small thin hard variety that are the traditional Christmas fare. Instead I wanted the large thick soft type you see in bakeries.  So I searched out a new recipe and was very very happy with the result!  In fact this will be my future "go to" recipe even for Christmas cookies!

For the frosting I used the same frosting that I use with my Easter Sweet Buns which makes the perfect quantity.  I've shared it again below.

While these cookies aren't as thick and as large as bakery cookies they are a nice size, soft and delicious.  Try one. Or two. Or three.....  and I think you will agree.



Soft Sugar Cookies
yield ~ approximately 16 large cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 cup sugar (I use super fine baker's sugar by CH)
2 eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Steps:

1.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs 1 at a time and mix slowly until well incorporated.  Stir in vanilla.

2.  Combine pastry flour, baking powder and salt.  Using a wooden spoon add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir just until combined.

3.  Flatten dough into a disk and wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 1/2 hours.

4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees at least 20 minutes before rolling out dough.  Cover baking tray with with either parchment paper or silpat.

5.  On a lightly floured board roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into large shapes. Work quickly as this dough softens quickly.  You may need to periodically sprinkle dough with flour to prevent sticking.  Place cookies well apart as they will spread during baking.

6.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes until cookie is slightly firm to touch but not browned.  Leave on tray for half a minute before transferring to wire rack for cooling.

7.  When completely cool frost with Lemon Butter Cream Frosting!

Recipe slightly adapted from Charmie's Soft Sugar Cookies.


Lemon Butter Cream Frosting ~

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups sifted confectionery sugar
1/2 cup sweet butter (room temperature)
1 tsp lemon extract or lemon oil
1 Tbs whole milk (scant)
Pinch table salt
Green Food Coloring

Steps:

1.  Beat sweet butter until light and fluffy.
2.  Add sifted confectionery sugar, lemon extract, milk (scant - you can always add a few drops more if you need it) and a pinch of salt and beat until well combined.
3.  Add a couple drops of green food coloring to desired intensity.
3.  Using a table knife frost cookies generously after they have cooled to room temperature.

After the icing sets you can store either in a tin between layers of wax paper or freeze.

This lovely splash of yellow is a bloom from my garden that I'm particularly proud of as, in general, a green thumb I do not have.


Until next time be well, love well, and enjoy spring with all its glorious color, rebirth and spiritual enrichment!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Crazy and Colorful Colorblock Socks

Of late I've been obsessed with knitting socks.  And I can't knit them fast enough.  I've also been knitting almost exclusively my own version of a plain vanilla sock that I'm sharing as a free pattern called Colorblock Socks (pattern link below).  It has all my favorite techniques.  Naturally.  But the the main unique feature is a helpful (hopefully) way to join new yarn seamlessly.  Because it is soooo much more fun to change colors and go crazy adding different yarns when you don't have a million pesky yarn ends to weave in.


With all the beautiful handpainted yarns there really is no need to do anything fancy when knitting socks.  Still.  It's nice to be able to personalize your socks so that they truly are one of a kind. You can achieve that unique twist by simply adding contrasting colored heels and toes.  Or you can go crazy and add all sorts of colors and stripes.  Socks are kinda like lingerie that way.  You can go crazy and nobody needs to be any the wiser.  Unless you want to show your wild side.


Speaking of going crazy with color I really loved knitting these Colorblock Socks. The yarn I used was purchased from Kate Selene a very talented dyer who creates beautiful and unique colorways.  I purchased one of her kits that included 20 small skeins of 10 yards each and every last one of the colors made my heart sing.  How can you not love that! And the socks are, in my ever so humble opinion, the perfect summertime sock both because of the sunny bright colors and also the light fingering yarn.  Last night was a cold and foggy spring evening here in Southern California and these socks kept my feet nice and cozy propped up watching TV.  And yet not too hot. Like Goldilocks I found these to be just right.


While my socks may look completely haphazard in color I actually did employ a color strategy. I spent a significant amount of time lining up the colors in two columns to see how the colors stacked up and how they looked lined up next to each other, making minor adjustments over the span of several days.  I ended up using 18 of the 20 colors in the kit and for the toes I went for a matchy matchy look in cherry red that I think helped tie them together as a pair. The cherry red yarn incidentally was a mini-skein from the same dyer but is not part of the kit.

I know a lot of knitters have been hesitant to dive into the colorful world of speckles and bright colored yarns. So don't dive in.  Dip your toes in with socks instead! You don't have to go crazy with mixing up colors all you need to do is pick a single amazing speckled color.  And if you really just don't like speckles and brights then don't worry my pattern will work just as well with any ho hum solid colored yarn as well.  Not that there is anything wrong with solid colored yarn.  And I'm sorry if I implied otherwise. No matter what yarn you choose I hope you will like and have fun with my Colorblock Socks Pattern!


Particulars:  Colorblock Socks, free pattern download, US 1 DPNs and 64 stitches; Scrappy Yarn Kit (Etsy seller Kate Selene) or small amounts of left over sock yarn.  This pattern is knit top (cuff) down and has instructions for two sizes, ie. 60 and 64 stitches.  If you prefer knitting socks "toe up" vs. "top down" then I suggest you consider Anna Johanna's Surprise Stripes Socks (free pattern on Ravelry). Anna is a very talented designer and writes the blog Where We Once Knitted.

Just to give you an idea of how this pattern looks knit up with different yarns, pictured below are socks that I knit using a self-striping yarn (Nomadic Yarns - colorway Banana Boat).  I also used this pattern to knit my Jolly Christmas Socks.  Both of these socks were knit on US 1 needles on 60 stitches using the shaping and construction of my Colorblock Sock Pattern and its yarn joining method (used to customize the heels and toes).  Incidentally I gifted the Nomadic socks to a dear friend who has had terrible health problems this past year.  She likes to wear them for her dialysis treatments because the hospital is so cold.  I had previously given her a pair of socks so I already knew that they meant a lot to her and that she liked to wear them to her treatments.  Socks are such a small thing but can mean a great deal to someone needing comfort in this world.


Joining New Yarn ~

This method is extracted from my Colorblock Sock Pattern and if you print the pattern it will include this method for joining new yarn.  But should you not need or wish to to see the pattern I have provided it here for your convenience.

Caveat.  This joining method is not intended for superwash yarns or yarns blended with nylon which inhibit felting. That being said with sufficient agitation it can be used with superwash and nylon blends ergo both my Nomadic socks and Jolly Christmas Socks are superwash blended yarns and yet I used this joining method.  It may not work perfectly with these types of yarns but it's still far better than the alternative, i.e. weaving in millions of pesky yarn ends.

This is a multi step process that takes a little practice but once you get the hang of it it will become second nature:

1.  Tie a knot joining the two ends of yarn that you want to join leaving approximately a 2 inch yarn tail on both sides. The knot I tie is a square knot, which is very easy to do and if you aren’t familiar with it here’s a video demonstration. Do not tighten your knot too much as you want the fibers loose enough to enable felting which requires friction and movement of the fibers against each other.  A properly felted "knot" should feel thicker than your regular yarn but not like a hard knot.





2.  Working each end separately, carefully untwist the 2 inch yarn tail into individual plies to open up and loosens the fibers.  Cut off roughly half of the loosened yarn plies roughly 1/2 to 1/4 inch from the knot, as shown in the picture above.

3.  You must now make one of two choices.  Choice No. 1: This choice creates a crisp color change, as shown in the picture above.  You lay the purple yarn ends back against itself and vice versa with the green ends.  With this method you will knit up to the point you want your color to transition, then tink (see footnote below) back 6 or 7 stitches and join your new color. Now when you knit with the joined yarn the yarn change should fall at the point you began tinking back. Choice No. 2: With this choice you create a marled yarn effect for a blurry yarn color transition.  I used this choice for my Colorblock Socks. You will lay the green plies/ends over the purple yarn and the purple plies/ends over the green yarn without any need for tinking or exact color positioning before adding your new yarn, although I prefer to do so on the bottom half of my socks.

4.  After both sides of the yarn plies have been prepared and positioned for either Choice No. 1 or 2, carefully lay the yarn in your left palm with the knot positioned in the center.  Now spit into your palm covering all areas of yarn that you want to felt.  Proceed to vigorously roll (i.e. twist) the yarn back and forth in your palm until the fibers felt together forming a seamless join.  Periodically open your palm and check to see if you need to add more moisture or if you need to adjust your yarn plies. I find it helps to twirl the yarn plies around the strand of yarn it needs to felt with.  You don't want it all bunched up near the knot.  The goal is to have the felted yarn to be only minimally more bulky at the join than otherwise.

As I said at the start this method can take a bit of practice but once you get the hang of it you will find it very easy and secure join.  I've used this method for many years and it's the only way I would consider joining new yarn with socks.

Footnote:  "Tink" is slang for undoing your knitting one stitch at a time. It is the word "knit" spelled backward - hence you "tink" instead of knit!

Until next time be well, love well and this summer why not knit some crazy and colorful Colorblock Socks for yourself!