Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Lady Cuffs


Introducing The Lady Cuffs!  This pattern is a collection of 3 cuffs inspired by ladies from various Arthurian legends. 

 
They’re the perfect accessory for dressing up a sweater or jacket, and they can be made as simple or as fancy as you like.  The samples are shown in hand-dyed Cormo Fingering yarn by Elemental Affects.  I love Cormo – it’s soft and sproingy and stretchy and simply yummy.  Elemental Affects’ Cormo has a good amount of twist so it shows off the stitches well. 

Choose a neutral color that will complement most any garment, and you have a go-to accessory that will add a little something extra to an outfit.  Or choose a bold color and really perk things up!  The cuffs are lovely unadorned, but you can play with embellishments and make each pair unique.  Beads, crystals, tiny flowers, sequins, knitted flowers, buttons – your creativity is your only limit.

For an fancier version, consider Elemental Affects’ Civility yarn.  It’s a luscious merino-silk blend that also has a good deal of twist, making the yarn pill-resistant.  The silk provides a bit of sheen which will dress the cuffs up a bit.  And maybe run with a thin sparkly metallic filament…oh, the possibilities!

Cuffs have the added benefit of keeping your wrists warm and your hands free.  Look stylish and keep comfortable as you have lunch or cocktails on the outdoor patio!  When the weather turns chilly and damp, I will often wear them in the house, especially when I’m knitting or doing other handwork.  The cuffs cover just enough of the lower hand to keep my thumb joints warm and flexible (definitely a help with my tendinitis), but they don’t get in the way.

The Lady Cuffs are appropriate for a range of knitting experience.  The set of 3 patterns provides variety for the experienced knitter, and beginners can think of the motifs as little samplers and explore simple twisted and crossed stitches, cables, and lace.

Lady of the Fountain has a central diamond motif with rivulets of twisted stitches bordered by cabled stitches.  The cuff on the left is embellished with tiny 3mm Swarovski crystals.

 

Lady of the Lake features a textured triangular motif surrounded by crossed stitches.  The texture is provided by alternating directions of twisted stitches, proving that simple patterns can have great results.  The cuff on the left is embellished with little Venetian glass disc beads.  I chose a pale watery blue bead, but was really torn because the black beads looked fabulous and made the cuff look quite dramatic.  (Which just goes to show that a simple change can make a big impact.)


 
Lady of Shalott features a central lace motif.  The cuff on the left is embellished with knitted flowers and little pearls.  The pattern includes instructions for the knitted flowers, which require just a wee amount of laceweight yarn. 


 
The cuffs knit up quickly, and one skein of the featured yarn will make several pairs of cuffs (at least 3 to 5!!).  Make a pair (or two or three) for yourself, and still have yarn left to make a set for your favorite lady – they make a great gift item.  

The e-book collection has complete written and charted instructions for all three cuffs, and it includes a document with full-page charts for those knitters who want “just the charts and nothing but the charts!”  You can get the pattern here http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/sources/the-lady-cuffs/patterns.
 
Now, about those Arthurian ladies.  Many will be familiar with the ballad, The Lady of Shalott, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  Originally published in 1833 and loosely based on the legend of Elaine of Astolat, the poem describes a cursed lady living in isolation in a high tower.  Set in the world of Camelot, there’s knights and Sir Lancelot and weaving and that famous statement, “I am half sick of shadows.”  (And also the word daffodilly, which I’m going to have to work into something.)  If you’re not familiar with the poem, you may have heard the beautiful song of the same name by Loreena McKennitt.

“The Lady of the Lake” is the ruler of Avalon and appears in many Arthurian stories.  She’s responsible for giving the sword Excalibur to King Arthur, of enchanting Merlin, and raising Lancelot.  The Lady of the Lake is also a well-known narrative poem by Sir Walter Scott.  The action takes place in Scotland, with rivalries over a woman, the feuds of kings, and wars between highlanders and lowlanders – oh, those Scots!   The poem was highly popular in its day, and influenced many other artistic works.
 
The Lady of the Fountain is one of three tales known as the Three Welsh Romances that are contained within a Middle Welsh collection of prose known as the Mabinogion.  This compilation came from two manuscripts from the late-medieval period, the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rydderch, although the stories likely date back to much older Celtic sources passed down through oral tradition.  More than you ever wanted to know, right?  As for the story itself, it’s a tale of love found and lost and found again. 

All of these poems are fun reading, if you’re into that sort of thing.  And if you’re not, well fortunately they’re not required for making these pretty (dare I say romantic?) cuffs.  Just knit, and enjoy!

 

 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Freezing Eggs

Have you been tempted by those 24-packs of organic eggs at Costco or the like but have hesitated, fearing your ability to use them all before they go bad?  Don't hesitate!  If you can score a great deal on fresh eggs (or better yet, get them from a friend with an excess of eggs from their home flock), don't pass it up.  Use what you need, and then freeze what you can't use in the short term.

Yes, you can freeze eggs!  Here's how.

Break each egg into a bowl, and then gently with a fork or whisk mix the yoke and white together, taking care not to whip the egg -- you don't want to incorporate air. If you'd like, you can strain the eggs through a sieve for a more uniform consistency, but I don't bother.  Once you have all of your eggs blended, pour them into a freezer safe container.  If using a jar, allow 1/2 inch headspace between the top of the eggs and the bottom of the lid to allow for expansion. 

I use something a little easier than jars:  a jumbo sized ice cube tray.  Each well holds 2 eggs, a good portion size for baking or for measuring out for making frittatas, quiches, and such.  The tray is made from flexible silicone, so once the eggs are frozen they can be easily popped right out.  You can also use regular sized ice cube trays; each well will hold one egg.  Making individual portions is very convenient:  no having to defrost an entire jar and measure out eggs by the spoonful. 

Once the eggs are frozen, remove them from the tray and put the egg cubes into a vacuum seal bag or a ziplock bag (from which as much air as possible has been removed) and then put the bag into the freezer for storage.  You can then remove however many cubes you need for baking and cooking.  Easy peasy! 


To help prevent graininess of the yolks, you can add 1.5 tbsp. of sugar OR 1.5 tbsp. of corn syrup OR 1/2 tsp of salt per cup of whole eggs.  The yolks and whites can also be frozen separately; simply follow the same process (egg whites alone do not need added sugar or salt). 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Baking In Canning Jars: The Recurring "Thing" That Shouldn't Be a Thing

They seem to be all the rage lately.  You may have seen them at your local farmers’ market or in a bakery’s display case.  Little pies, heavenly smelling zucchini breads, scrumptious cakes baked in small mason jars that besides looking delicious look so cute! 

Or you may have seen that recently published book about baking in jars, or that article in a swanky baking magazine complete with a gorgeously styled photo depicting a cake baked in a jar, or one of the many recipes on the Internet that say that “Yes! Yes you can bake in canning jars!  And you can even seal the jars and then store them in the pantry!”

But can you?  Surely if there are people selling these items, publishing books and articles about this practice, posting YouTube ™ videos even – then you can do it too, right?

No, you can’t.  Or at least you shouldn’t.  Here’s why.

First, canning jars (aka mason jars) are not designed for oven use.  Canning jar glass (made from lime, soda, and other materials) is annealed, and annealed glass is not as strong as tempered glass.  Oven heat, which differs from the heat produced in a water bath or pressure canner, can create stress on the jar, causing it to break into sharp pieces.  (And no, putting a pan of water in the oven along with the jars does not replicate the environment of a water bath canner.)  Canning jar manufacturers, such as Ball/Kerr, specifically recommend against using their jars in the oven (and in the microwave as well) .  Knowing that jars have the potential to shatter, why risk your time, money, or even potential injury?  Keep your canning jars out of the oven, and use an appropriate oven-safe vessel for all of your baking needs. 

Second, and most important, is that canning breads and cakes in mason jars and storing them at room temperature is unsafe.  Cake and quick bread recipes are usually low in acid and high in moisture, and together with the process of creating a vacuum seal by putting a lid on a hot jar (thus removing most oxygen), a perfect environment is created for many microorganisms to grow – including C. botulinum, the organism responsible for forming the toxin that causes botulism, a potentially fatal disease. 

Putting a lid on a jar of baked goods after it comes out of the oven is not a true canning process, and while a vacuum seal may be formed as the contents cool, it may not be a good seal and not all of the oxygen may be removed.  Any remaining oxygen in the jar would be would allow oxygen-dependent microorganisms – such as mold – to grow.  This also goes for the process of putting a lid on the jar after the contents have cooled:   air gets trapped in the jar, allowing microorganisms to grow.

Much research has been done at various universities to determine if canning cakes and breads can be done safely at home.  To date, researchers have been unable to formulate a recipe for a palatable, safe product for home use.  If you’ve seen commercial cakes or breads in jars available for sale and wonder why you can’t replicate this at home, it’s because reputable companies who make these products conduct safety tests for each specific recipe, have processing controls not available to home consumers, and often use additives and preservatives to keep the product safe. 

So, please, no home canning of breads and cakes in jars!  Use oven-safe bakeware, and refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.  Do not eat any home-canned baked products that are given to you, nor purchase home-canned breads or cakes unless they contain anti-microbial additives and have been labelled in accordance commercial food requirements.
 
Be food safe, not sorry. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Wollaston, and Variations On a Theme (Or, How to Knit a Million of Them and Not Get Bored)

Introducing Wollaston, my new infinity scarf pattern. 

It's knit in tubular sections, making it doubly thick and warm.  It's nice and long, too, which means you can wear it doubled around your shoulders or pulled down for an off-the-shoulder torso hugger,


 or you can wear it unwrapped for a dramatic sweep that shows off all of the sections,

 
or you can do a simple loop-and-tuck and off you go.
 
 
The sample is knit in Elemental Affects Heirloom Romney, a worsted weight wooly-wool that's hand-dyed in lots of gorgeous colors.  The colorway names of Hubbard, and Nettles, and Tomato, and Carrot, and Calendula, and Fig -- well, they should give you a good idea of the color inspiration for this yarn.  Romney is a strong, lustrous long wool.  It's not the type of yarn you'd pick for next-to-skin use, but it does soften with wear and washing.  It's such a delicious yarn to knit with.
 
Wollaston is knit at a loose gauge in mostly Stockinette stitch, with bands of horizontal chain stitch and tubular sections joined with whip stitch to keep things interesting.  The worsted weight and loose gauge means this scarf knits up quickly, making it a great project when you need something to go with a new winter coat.  Or when you need a gift or two (or many) for the holidays.
 
So, about this post title.  Of course you're not going to knit a million Wollaston scarves.  But maybe you'd like to knit several.  Here's a few suggestions for simple variations that will keep things interesting, and maybe use up some of that stash you've got hidden away, or bits of leftover yarns just waiting to be put to good use.
  • I chose to make the sample in many vibrant colors.  But worked in a single color, with maybe just a contrasting color for joining the sections, the scarf would make a dramatic statement.  Choose a simple neutral color that will go with most any outfit, or choose a bright bold color.
  • Pick two colors: one for the background, and one for the horizontal chain stitches.
  • Instead of sections, make one long tube (joined at the ends) and vary the frequency of the horizontal chain stitches.  Make the chains randomly whenever you feel like it, or use a Fibonacci sequence, whatever strikes your fancy.
  • Instead of making tubular sections, knit the piece flat on half as many cast-on stitches, for a long basic scarf that can be wrapped around and around the neck.  You'll have a "wrong" side, but that's not really a problem, is it.
  • Choose a soft, luxurious yarn worked at a finer gauge for a smaller scarf with a more elegant look. 
  • Pick different yarns with different textures (but the same or similar gauge) for each section.  This is a great way to use up leftover yarn.
  • Decorate the plain Stockinette sections with embroidery.
  • Wollaston would be great knit in handspun.
Wollaston is available now in my Ravelry store.  I hope you like it. 


Monday, May 30, 2016

What I Did This Weekend (So Far)

When you work from home, there's really no such thing as a weekend.  Especially a long weekend.  Or even a holiday.  One day blends into the next, and you pick and choose which day is a workday (they usually all end up workdays) or an errand day or a housecleaning day, or -- sometimes -- you just declare a day off.  It could be a Tuesday or a Friday or a Sunday.  It really doesn't matter.

Sometimes, you even declare an entire weekend off.  This Memorial Day, I did just that.  I wanted a weekend that felt like a weekend.  And a holiday where I actually observed what was being celebrated.  And I wanted the time to just be in the moment and enjoy the little things.

So, this weekend, so far, I have enjoyed the cool morning air and drunk coffee on the deck.  And I enjoyed the warm evening breezes with a glass of wine on the deck.  I've watched the turkeys tussle and the bluebirds and titmice bring food to their babies in the nesting boxes around the deck, back and forth, back and forth, never seeming to tire.

I cooked a lovely dinner one evening.  Another evening I ate just bread and cheese.

I went to the farmers' market for the first time this season.  I made yogurt and canned zucchini relish.  I planted herbs. 

I reveled in the heat.  I cursed the heat.

I went for a long walk.  I took a nap.

I read a book.  Actually, I read almost two books.  I knit a bit. 

I even went into the studio and designed a few new things.  It was mostly play, though, and thoroughly enjoyable. 

And, I have remembered.  I have given quiet thanks for those who lost their lives in service to their country.  My family no longer has the Memorial Day custom of visiting the cemetery to lay flowers on our relatives' graves -- there's really no family left to do so -- but I still remember those who came before, those who are no longer with us.  Those who touched my life, or the lives of those important to me.  I think of them often, but try to make a special acknowledgement from my heart on this Day of Remembrance. 

There's still half a day remaining on my self-declared long weekend.  I'm sure I'll find some way to fill it. 

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Stocking the Larder

Autumnal Equinox.  The First Day of Fall.  Mabon.  However it's referred to, this day which marks the turn of the season away from summer always sets me full of anticipation.  The days now grow shorter, harvest time is nearing its end, and Mother Nature starts to gather her shawl around her tight as the temperatures cool and she prepares for her winter nap.

I start to prepare for winter as well.  (Okay.  Let's say it.  WINTER IS COMING.)  This is the time when I really get going on making sure the "larder" (my pantry, fridge, and freezer) is well provisioned.  I do of course put things away during the summer, when beautiful fruits are available in our local farmers' markets and neighbors generously share the bounty from their trees.  Summer squashes and tomatoes and other hot-season veggies are preserved in a variety of ways, ready to be called upon for fall and winter soups and sauces.

But now, as the farmers' markets prepare to close for the season and the only "fresh" produce to be had will be from the supermarket (we all know that mass-distributed produce is not fresh at all), and as the nights close in earlier and earlier and I get the urge to cook long-simmering pots of comfort, I want to make sure that whatever ingredients I will need to cook or bake are readily at hand.  I don't live so far out in the boonies that I can't run out to a store, but even a quick trip to the grocer's is 30 to 40 minutes round trip.  That's enough to put a crimp in my style, so to speak, if I'm in the middle of a recipe and discover that I don't have everything I need (which has happened far too often).  And there are those days when I simply don't want to leave the house.  So now I make sure that my larder is well provisioned with all of the staples I need to cook or bake, and enough basic preserved foods that I can toss together an improvised meal or grab a quick snack.

So what do I stock the larder with?  These are the essentials I try to make sure I'm never without.

IN THE PANTRY/CUPBOARDS

  • Oils and vinegars  (I keep portions in small cruets on the counter, but the rest go in the cupboard where they're tightly closed and not exposed to light.)
  • Salt (pure fine sea salt, canning salt, and specialty sea salts) 
  • Herbs and spices
  • Sugars and flours 
  • Baking supplies such as baking soda & powder, cocoa, etc.
  • Steel-cut and rolled oats
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned tuna
  • Dried pasta (lots and lots of dried pasta)
  • Dried rice and beans
  • Canned beans
  • Canned pumpkin 
  • Canned broth
  • Jams and jellies
  • Chutney (I try to make a batch or two of chutney each year; it's wonderful with cheese or crackers or as an accompaniment to meat, and it livens up plain brown rice.)
  • Pickle veggies (Pickles really brighten up winter meals.  I like pickled cauliflower in salads, and pickled zucchini or pattypan squash alongside frittatas.  BTW, pickled fruits are pretty amazing as well, and are wonderful on a cheese board.  My favorites are figs, cherries, and grapes.)
  • Dehydrated veggies such as zucchini and mushrooms, and diced onions, carrots and celery to make soffritto (aka mirepoix) 
IN THE REFRIGERATOR

  • Olives and sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • Better Than Bouillon organic vegetable base (for those times when I don't have broth on hand or don't want to make it from scratch because I'm in a hurry, or when I'm under the weather and don't want to eat but need a little something in my stomach.) 
  • Yeast
  • Maple syrup
  • Bottled lemon juice (for canning)
  • Raisins and dried cranberries

IN THE FREEZER

  • Butter
  • Cream (Yes, you can freeze cream!  I freeze it in ice cube trays for when I need small amounts, such as to add to scrambled eggs or a baked frittata, and in small freezer containers for when larger amounts are needed.)
  • Lemons (juiced and frozen in ice cube trays; sliced; and whole)  
  • Pesto
  • Buttermilk powder (Yes, this is cheating I suppose, but I got tired of buying a quart of buttermilk when I only needed a few tablespoons.  For basic baked goods, the powered buttermilk works just fine -- the trick is to add the powder to the dry ingredients and then add the appropriate amount of water (I often mix water and milk or cream) to the liquid ingredients.)
  • Tomato paste (I don't use a lot of tomato paste, and ditto above -- I hated using a tablespoon and throwing the rest of the can away.  So now I freeze the paste by placing tablespoonfuls on a baking sheet, and when frozen wrapping the individual portions in plastic wrap and sealing them all in a heavy freezer bag.)
  • Flours that I don't use often, such as garbanzo bean flour, almond meal, etc.
  • Nuts
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Coffee (The purists out there may cringe, but I buy good quality coffee in bulk.  A small canister on the counter holds a few days' worth, and the rest is stored in the freezer.  This house in NEVER without coffee.)


So what's in your larder?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Saltmarsh Shell: Alternations & Renovations

I've just released a new pattern called Saltmarsh Shell.  I'm happy with this one:  It's quick and easy to knit, but has lots of textural interest and fun stitch patterns to keep you amused.  This was my first time working with a linen yarn, and while I do admit to being a wool girl, I found that I quite enjoyed the experience. 


My design philosophy has always been to create fun, approachable patterns for both novice and experienced knitters alike.  I also like to design items that allow the knitter to easily adapt the pattern to make the finished piece their own.  Saltmarsh Shell is certainly one of those pieces, and so I thought I'd post about several of what I call "alterations & renovations" -- simple modifications that change the look of the garment without having to re-write the pattern.

ALTERATION #1:  THE BACK NECK.  Saltmarsh Shell is a modified boat-neck style pullover.  There is a little bit of shaping at the back neck, which provides for a better fit.  But maybe your body type is such that you're not worried about that, or maybe you just don't want to deal with shaping.  So don't.  Work the back until the total length is achieved and then put all of the stitches on a holder for binding off later.  Easy-peasy done!


ALTERNATION #2:  THE FRONT NECK.  The front of this shell has a straight split in the center of the body that is worked for about 3" or so, and then the neck is gently tapered to the shoulders.  As shown in the pictures, this shaping is blocked so that the neck split portion stands straight up -- more or less.  You can see in the picture below that one side of the split is falling over a bit.  This is just the nature of the design.  If that doesn't suit you, or you want to add a bit more finishing pizzazz, try adding a little button-and-loop closure at the top of the split.  It would look darling. 


Or maybe you like the look of fold-over lapels.  Simply fold the splits over when blocking the piece, and voila.  You can tack down the lapels if you'd like, or even sew on decorative buttons to add a little something extra to the sweater, like so (my button stash didn't turn up a really appropriate button, but you get the idea): 



Or maybe you don't care about neck splits or lapels or shaping and you just want a boat neck already.  Knit the front exactly like the back.  Bind off both pieces all the way across, sew the shoulder seams, and BOOM DONE.

ALTERATION #3:  THE COLORS.  I chose two closely related watery green and gray colors for my project.  I chose them because I liked them -- they really called to me when I was wandering through the Anzula booth at Stitches West -- and because they said "summer" to me.  Working with two similar colors in the border pattern, which is a simple slipped-stitch check, results in a subtle textural effect.  But just think how contrasting colors would look:  They'd make the check pattern stand out and really pop.  If you're all about color and patterns, go ahead and choose something wild!

ALTERATION #4:  THE STITCH PATTERNS.  As mentioned in Alteration #3 above, the bottom border pattern is a slipped-stitch check.  I like working with slipped stitches, but that may not be your thing.  Or maybe you just want a solid color for your sweater.  The stitch pattern for the bodice is a simple knit-purl pattern.  So simply knit the entire sweater in that pattern.  I worked my original prototype this way, and it looks just fine.  Not as striking maybe, but just fine.  And working with just the single color and simple knit-purl patterns means that your sweater will be finished even faster.  Just be sure to check your stitch counts before you cast on. 


ALTERATION #5:  THE YARN (AND FIT).  I knit Saltmarsh Shell in Anzula Vera, a linen/silk blend.  Lovely stuff.  But, as you probably know, linen does not have much elasticity.  Because of this, I suggest in the pattern that you choose a size with at least an inch or two of positive ease.  But what if you chose another yarn, say for example a nice sproingy merino?  The resilience of such a yarn would mean you could choose a size with zero ease, giving you a form-fitting garment to show off some curves.  Keep in mind that Saltmarsh Shell is a simple rectangular boat-neck with no side shaping, so don't go all crazy with trying to get curvaceous, but a little bit of stretch looks great.  (My first prototype was knit in a yarn with more stretch than linen but less than merino; I did like the way it fit.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Whether you chose to knit Saltmarsh Shell or not, I hope these alterations & renovations give you ideas for adapting any pattern to better suit your style and needs.  Happy Knitting!