Monday, 28 February 2011

FO: The Shaker Chic Shaelyn Shawl

It seems like "Prairie Chic" fashions were all the rage on the runway lately. I've decided to take this one step further and introduce "Shaker Chic".

The Shakers were a fascinating bunch. A peaceful, hard-working devout sect. They have been progressively preaching equality of the sexes and races since the late 18th century. Unfortunately, they also thought the best way to express their devotion is celibacy. This is probably why there is only one operational Shaker Village with three rather geriatric members. Three! They do have a museum and they sell furniture and crafts in the gift store. It's worth checking out- if your are every in the Portland, Maine area Sabbathday Lake is a quick trip. They give tours of the perfect and beautiful village every couple hours.

Anyway. The Shakers are known for their woodwork, not their fashion sense. Example:

Which is exactly the look I feel like I ended up with when I made the Shaelyn shawl.

feb 2011 169

Sexy, right?

I know that my good friend over at KnithoundBrooklyn made one last year and it came out fabulous. She added the right amount of color to make it pop. I think I doomed myself by using all white.

I used two skeins of Bijou Basin ranch "Himalaya Trails", which is a 75% Yak 25% Merino blend.

New Year 2011 484

It was quite interesting to work with. It had some springiness and this very light, almost cottony texture. It felt very soft on the skein, but once I have the shawl wrapped around my neck I do detect a bit of a prickle.

Bry went to Nepal and took lots of pictures of Yaks. Yaks everywhere!





They are the main draft and pack animal in that area, along with being a good source of protein from meat and milk, and also fiber. It's freakin' freezing in those high mountains so they grow a downy warm undercoat that is suitable for clothing.

feb 2011 163

I'm happy with the shawl aside from the Frump Factor. It was an easy, well-written pattern. It took me just a hair over a week to complete.

feb 2011 178

I'm not beyond throwing this in a dye bath next time I get the dye pot out. A vampy red, perhaps?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Swiss Bliss

Last winter when I was in Switzerland, I discovered the most incredible little gems.

feb 2011 001

Behold, the Luxemburgerli.

I spent a better part of a day wandering around Zurich, looking for specialty pastries and other indispensable quality of life objects to judge a place on. I hit the jackpot when I stumbled into Spruengli. It's a gorgeous grand old European cafe with a heavy emphasis on chocolate. The chocolates were amazing- especially the fresh truffles d'jour that they make every morning- but what I found to epitomize awesomeness were the Luxemburgerlis.

feb 2011 004

They are tiny macaroons. So airy and light, but intensely flavored with a good amount of sweet-tart in the filling. Heaven.

feb 2011 005

Bry still has a lot of co-workers in the Zurich office. He tries to hold on to some bargaining power with these to ensure that we get a steady supply. Anyone who is flying to New York MUST BRING LUXEMBURGERLIS and you will be worshiped as the Bringer of All Things Good. There's a franchise in the airport specifically to cater to our needs.

I've scoured New York for something comparable- every time I see macaroons at a cafe, I give them an honest try. They are always too dense, too large, too artificial tasting, too sweet. Always a letdown. I think there probably isn't a huge market for them here (when is the last time you craved one before today?) and they tend to load them up with preservatives so they keep a bit longer. Something is lost in translation here.

They do get stale really quickly though- you wait a day and they become dense and chewy and lacking the ethereal lightness that makes them so amazing.

feb 2011 012

So, you know, you have to eat them all right away. Polishing off a box of these is not a problem at all.

feb 2011 015

Speaking of Switzerland, did anyone else catch this APOD photo from earlier this month?

Here's the Linky, I would recommend clicking on it to see it's full size. It's surreal how beautiful and other-worldly it is.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

FO- Placed Cable Aran

About a month ago, I had the brilliant foresight to cast on for a warm, comfy sweater. I'm now wallowing in self-congratulatory glee.

I'm still working through my stash alphabetically, so I grabbed some Cascade 220 from the bin. It's the workhorse yarn of the craft world. It's not super-soft, but it's durable and has good stitch definition, and comes in oodles of colors. You can use it on just about anything that requires a worsted-weight yarn. Plus, it's affordable- You can find it for around $7, and if you hunt for a sale you might pay $4. I used 5 skeins for my sweater total, so you can feasibly create a sweater for the price of a single Andrew Jackson.

april 2010 126

This is the Lapis Blue Heather color. It's not quite navy, with quite a bit of purple and greens worked in. It give the garment an interesting tonal effect without being too loud or clown barfy.

I was looking for a big, comfy sweater pattern and, with some modifications, settled on the Placed Cable Aran from the Fall 2007 Interweave Knits. I didn't care for the funnel neck (nothing with the word "funnel" in it is remotely sexy) and I thought it distracted from the lovely cables on the front and back.

feb 2011 064

I found the yarn a tad splitty, and it did bleed quite a bit when I soaked it. Otherwise, I'm happy with it. I feel a bit of a prickle when it's right up to my skin, but its not so bad that I find it unbearable. I always wear a cami or a thin tee under sweaters anyway, so it's only really noticeable around my neck and wrist. I know that bothers a lot of people, but I'm fairly tolerant of slightly scratchy wool.

feb 2011 067

I didn't like the rolled hem at the bottom edge, so I added an inch of 4x4 rib to keep it from rolling up.

feb 2011 069

This sweater has basically no shaping and no sleeve caps- they are drop shoulders. It's just a big, roomy comfy warm. Really, it's just what a bitterly cold and blustery February ordered.

feb 2011 070

Instead of making a giant funnel neck, i picked up stitches and made about an inch of a roll-neck. It lets the cable design pop a bit more.

I'm hoping to squeeze in one more big winter sweater project before the weather turns warm, and then silks and cottons and linen will be on the brain. Last week was fashion week in New York and you see a whole lot of people dressed skimpily and suffering in the cold for the sake of pleasing the fashion gods. I'm not quite that bold and I'm still buried under layers and layers of woolies for the time being.

The specs:

This is part of my A-Z Stashdown Challenge- C is for Cascade (I still have some B is for Berocco Ultra Silk in my stash, but that is my first springtime sweater knit project). I used 5 skeins of Cascade 220 Heathers in Lapis Blue- about 1100 yards- and US size 7 needles. It's completely mindless, movie-theater knitting until you get to the yoke, and then it's almost completely mindless knitting-group knitting from there.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

FO: Houdini Socks

I finished!

These were actually really easy. The steeking worked out's just a fun, unusual sock construction.

aug2 035

This is the very last skein of Socks that Rock in my stash. I loved the colorway- Atomic 6. Great deep jewel tones of purples and blues, and it didn't pool funky at all. It's taken me almost a year, but I've been able to knit through all 13 skeins of this yarn that's been in a bin under my couch (admit it- it's fare game for yarn storage under there). It's been fun- I really like this yarn. I find it fades quite a bit after a wash (especially the darker colors) but it wears well- no holes to be mended so far. It's nice and thick so it works up quick and cushy.

feb 2011 024

Once the tube was made and steeked, you made another tube for the leg, and this one had a fun feather and fan variation. I used some leftover yarn in the "River Rocked" colorway for the contrasting stripe. I modified the pattern a bit- I did more lace pattern and less stripe.

feb 2011 028

The only thing I don't like about the construction is the bump the heel has. Because it's basically a second toe-shape, it doesn't conform perfectly to your foot like a short-row heel would.

feb 2011 035

See? It makes a little belly-button like pucker at the heel where it's kitchnered closed.

I got a chance to learn Judy's Magic Cast on for the toe as well- I love it. I would highly recommend this technique for toe-up socks and I've declared it my new favorite.

Since sportweight yarn is a wee bit too thick to make socks that fit in shoes, I'm not going to let that bump bother me. These are a great pair of house socks. I might end up gifting them anyway- my sock drawer is pretty much full and

The specs: 1 skein of BMFA Socks that Rock Mediumweight in "Atomic 6", plus a couple yards of scraps of the contrasting stripe. Which meant there were ends to weave in, but I love the effect. I used size 1.5 needles and made these two at a time on two circs.

Totally unrelated but amusing:

Bullit is one of my favorite movies, if only because of the pimp '68 Dodge Charger that Steve McQueen drives and the fact that he can rock a shawl-collared sweater AND he made a turtleneck look sexy. Who else can do that? Not too many. A British graphic designer is re-creating the iconic car chase scene in stop-motion and slot cars. How fun is that?

Monday, 14 February 2011


An afternoon of gorgeous fibers, good food and friends is a great way to break up the winter blah. It's been not quite so breathtakingly cold the past few days. Spring is on its way.

Spin-in 002

Plus the house we were at had a lovely wine grotto. Jealous!

Spin-in 020

It also gave me a chance to get out with my travel wheel. Golly, I'm sick of spinning brown fleece.

Feb 2011 063

I've got 5 bobbins spun up and the basket of batts still has quite a bit of fluff left. I'm really enjoying spinning it, but I usually put a movie on and sit in the dark while I'm spinning. It's just so brown.

To improve my spinning mood, I dug through my stash and grabbed a braid of Creatively Dyed bamboo/wool blend.


I got it at MDSW ages ago, and I spun up an aran-weight 2-ply.

Spin-in 028

I'm not quite sure how much yardage I have since I'm letting it rest on the bobbin, but it was a fun, colorful spin. While I was plying, I realized the bamboo fibers are so long and strong that this could have just been left as a single. I have no idea what this wants to be yet, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

I also started spinning some Cormo from Foxhill Farm in Massachusets.


She doesn't have a website, but the internet is filled with raves about her fleece and roving. It's gorgeous stuff- it's not heavily processed so you can really feel the lively crimp in the fiber. It also has a slight sheepy smell to it that I love. I'm spinning woolen, from the fold, lace singles to be plied. This will make a lovely cabled hat.

I also finished the pair of steeky socks, but I need some daytime pictures to do them justice.

Spin-in 032

I cast on for a shawl-

Spin-in 034

It's the Shaelyn Shawl. I'm using a Bijou Basin Yak/Merino blend called Himalaya Trails. It's nice stuff- It's rustically spun and makes a for soft, lofty yarn.

Also, there is more beer.

Spin-in 025

It will be another week or two before we bottle, but this is in an "almost beer" stage. The original batch is pretty much gone- we have found that beer makes highly appreciated gifts and we've been keen to share.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Thanks, Grandma

My Grandma, who is awesome, sent me this apron recently.

Feb 2011 134

It's all ruffly and adorable. I'm hesitant to splatter grease on.

I guess the feminist revolution never really hit my grandma, so I'll keep on wearing it with heels and hose to support her belief system. A woman must look her best, even when she is slaving away in her kitchen. Also, makeup makes you look cheap, so not too much. And for goodness sake, let's make sure you have dinner on the table ON TIME or else there will be hell to pay.

Grandma actually envies me a bit for not settling down and devoting life to family. Mind you, my Grandfather is a wonderful man and the whole course of history would have been altered for a lot of people if she didn't marry him and be a good wife. She seems like she was a real wild child back in the day and would have fit in nicely in the city- she loves the few times she has visited and always talks about the sights and the shows she saw, and just how much there was to do. She lives in a stagnant town with less than 5,000 people and she has to drive an hour to the nearest big town to do anything that doesn't involve snowmobiling, hunting, hiking or fishing.

Also, before arthritis took over, she was an awesome knitter and taught me how when I was wee.

Here's to reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes.

Actually, Bry was cooking at that moment (dumplings, yum) and I just took the helm for a second for the photo op.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Houdini Socks

I've been plugging away at the Houdini Socks all last week. You start a toe-up sock, but instead of turning the heel and going on the the leg, you just make a another toe at the opposite end of the tube. Then you use your circular needle to pick up and secure a line of stitches at the top of the sock.

Feb 2011 055

You skip a row and thread another circ next to it. And then you take your tiny sharp scissors and you give a snip to that center tow. The two needles protect you entire sock from unraveling, but you just pick out that middle row. Predictably, it makes a big hole but that's where your foot goes so you need a bit of clearance. The second "toe" becomes the heel. Your stitches are already threaded on the needles, so you just start knitting away on the cuff. Genius, no?

Feb 2011 081

I'm not sure how it will fit my foot yet (some heels tend to fit me better than others, and I don't know until I try them on and give them some wear) but I'm really enjoying knitting these. Cutting my knitting apart wasn't nearly as nerve wracking as I thought it would be and it's good practice for when I choose to do something with serious steeks.

Autocorrect just tried to turn the word "steeks" into "steaks", so now I'm hungry.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A Tale of Two Pies

Lately, I've been following this silly debate going on in Maine regarding the choice of the official state desert. There seem to be two camps: the fans of the Whoopie Pie and the fans of the Blueberry pie. NPR has a nice summary of the debate along with a list of other official state deserts.

Maine is known for its wild blueberries. The soil is acidic due to the numerous pine forest and the terrain is very rocky thanks to the last ice age moving great boulders about. While it makes for very poor farming, the native wild blueberries grow like weeds in this environment. These aren't the big, bloated watery cousins of the blueberry you find in the grocery store- those are known as "high bush". These are tiny, fragile gems that burst with an intense sweet-tart flavor. I try to coincide my summer trips up to Maine in late July and early August where the ground is carpeted with them. You can buy them at roadside stands pretty much everywhere, but any good Mainer would never waste dollars on these. They would grab a bucket, head out to the woods and hours later emerge with the fruits of their labor. You don't see these in the grocery store since they haven't been tinkered with to hold up to shipping and sitting on the shelf. They are best eaten out of hand immediately.

Picture 207

I can not get enough of them and I can barely get to point A to point B when they are in season.

Picture 206

Despite the blueberry supporting the local economy and being a product you can't get in too many other places, the whoopie pie seems to be winning the war. True, they are delicious. They are ubiquitous in the state- every gas station has a basket of them at the counter. But they are just that- a quick and easy hit of sugar from an ofttimes dubious source. A blueberry pie is something to share, something social, something special.

Really though, you can make a Whoopie Pie anywhere (rumor is they were invented in Pennsylvania anyway). I just did.

There are many variations of whoopie pie recipes out there. This is the one I've always used, and the one my mother used, and the one her mother I deem it authentic. The only big change is that while my Grandmother used Lard, my mom used Crisco, and I use butter. It's evolving with the food trends of the times I suppose.

Feb 2011 071

I would recommend using the best quality baking chocolate you can find.

Feb 2011 073

My recipe also seems to make what would be considered a double batch.

Feb 2011 078

It makes quite a lot- maybe 2 dozen total, depending on your cookie size. It could easily be halved. I've never halved it, even when I was whipping up batches in my bachelorette years. They make for appreciative friends and co-workers, and they freeze well. They are also excellent to gnaw on right out of the freezer. I sometimes prefer them that way.

There is some debate about the frosting. A lot of people use marshmallow fluff, but I find that too cloying.

Feb 2011 088

Feb 2011 089

Ahhh, sweet success.

Feb 2011 095

There is also an autumnal pumpkin version with cream cheese filling that I'm quite fond of, but here is my purist version.

Whoopie Pies

2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups of sugar
4 egg yolks (save the whites for the filling)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 to 3/4 cup powdered baking chocolate- depending on how choclately you like them
2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350. Get the parchment paper out and line your biggest cookie sheets with it.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a standing mixer until it's completely smooth. Add the egg yolks.

Mix all your dry ingredients in a bowl. Alternating between the flour mix and the milk, slowly add to the sugar mix. Beat everything together until it's smooth and glossy. It will be a little thicker than cake batter.

Drop the batter onto the cookie sheet in rounded tablespoons with plenty of space for its neighbors to grow. Pop them in the oven for 9-12 minutes. They are more like cakes, and not cookies, so they will be soft and a bit spongy when you touch the tops. Use a toothpick to check for doneness. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

For the Filling:
4 egg whites
4 cups confectioners sugar
1.5 sticks of butter at room temperature
4 Tablespoons Criso
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using the mixer, whip the egg whites until they barely form soft peaks. Then throw everything else in and beat until smooth. One tip: try to find butter that hasn't been colored with annato. For some reason, consumers thought that a dark yellow butter was ideal, so a lot of brands add a natural orange colorant to their butter. It's not a big deal, but your filling will have a yellowish tinge. Aesthetics are pretty important when it comes to food, even if it doesn't effect the taste.

Once the cookies are cooled completely, dollop a healthy portion of filling in the center of one, make a sandwich with a second cookie and press slightly to distribute. I wrap them up individually in saran wrap. Because the filling has raw egg in it, I make sure to buy the best quality organic free range eggs I can find.

Eat within a couple days or freeze to eat at your leisure.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


In an effort to promote team-building like good corporate minions, one of the managers at work decided that we were going bowling. I reveled in the opportunity to play with some new camera settings aside from "Snow".

Feb 2011 041

Feb 2011 018

Feb 2011 019

Feb 2011 024

I think that without the ball in the picture, it looks like some bizarre dance ritual going on.

Feb 2011 031

It worked for a little while, but after a cocktail I stopped caring about adjusting all the settings and getting good photos and bracketing and framing and fill flash and holding the camera steady and all that jazz. Uh. I guess now I know that alcohol don't inspire me when it comes to photography. These are important life lessons that I need to learn on my own that they don't cover in the thousand page manual that came with the camera.

Feb 2011 009

Feb 2011 006

Basically, the only team building that got done was some illicit gambling and mutually suffering through hangovers the next day.

It was noticed how wildly inconsistent my game was. I'm either striking or in the gutter. There is no in-between with me.

Feb 2011 033

Also, I bowl wearing skirts with petticoats and beaded embroidery and lace tights. I'm pretty sure I can't handicap myself anymore than I already naturally do.