Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Booze InfuseDay

My junior high school teachers would be proud.

feb 2012 121

Growing up, all students in the 7th and 8th grades had to take both shop ("Industrial Arts") and home economics classes. The year would be divided in semesters. Half the year, you were in the shop with the power saws and drafting desks, the other half you would be in with the sewing machines and sharp knives.

Try as I might, I could barely muster up a passing grade in shop. I was determined to succeed, but a combination of being really terrible at math and being deathly afraid of all the sharp whirring blades rendered me kind of helpless. I wanted to show them though, and I kept on trying. I built a balsa wood bridge, which crumbled under the slightest pressure. I built a CO2 engine race car that was nicknamed "The Brick" by classmates- I was too afraid to do more than a few rudimentary cuts with the jigsaw and tried to compensate by sanding it down for 6 hours to get a really streamlined block. Woodworking was not my thing. In the end, as a grown-ass woman, I didn't fight it. I can put together Ikea furniture and that's all the skills I am in need of.

As soon as the semesters changed and I got to wear an apron, I transformed into something else. I breezed around the kitchen, making rice crispy treats and blueberry muffins and whatever other little nibbles that was assigned with ease and grace. I sewed my ass off, and when I ran out of the fabric they provided, I brought my knitting from home and made scarves (which were the only thing I could make at the time). I didn't even have to try- my mom had a sewing machine at home that fascinated me to no end, and I had been making cookies and throwing together simple dinners since I could reach the controls on the stove. This was cake. I breezed through without putting any real effort in at all.

Imagine my horror when, on the very last day of 8th grade, my name was called in a school-wide assembly to come on down to the stage and accept an award for Home Economics Excellence. My life was ruined. I wanted an award in Science or History or, yes, Industrial Arts or Gym- some subject that I worked really hard at and put in effort but maybe didn't always understand completely.

Red faced, I dragged my feet down to the front of the room to reluctantly accept my award. I'm pretty sure I threw it away the moment I got home. My angry junior feminist self knew that the system was trying to doom me to a stereotypical life of homemaking. How dare they. I'll show them.

Well, I did show them. The whole homemaking thing never really worked out for me. Take that! I work a job all day and I usually only get around to vacuuming in the moments before company is due to arrive. I guess I showed them.

I do really enjoy cooking. Except for my dread of homemade marshmallows and the sticky clean up that it creates, I love almost all my time I spend in the kitchen.

Plus, I love to grocery shop. Having a lot of fancy markets and food boutiques in the city means I have to exercise a lot self-control on a daily basis. I apparently failed at this element last week as I came home from the market with bags of exotic fruit. I couldn't resist, even though I had no idea how to prepare or eat half of what I bought.

feb 2012 101

This is a Buddha's Hand Citron. Buddha seems to have gotten a limb donated from a deep sea creature. What in holy hell do I make with such an odd fruit, which has no juice to extract and is mostly made up of peel?

feb 2012 111

Oh, look- a quick trip to the liquor store for a cheap bottle of Vodka saves the day! It doesn't really matter what brand you use- I stay away from the very bottom shelf of plastic jugs with fake Russian writing on them and that's about my only standard.

feb 2012 116

Most of the white pith needs to be removed- it's a little bitter but it would probably just absorb more than it's share of booze instead of infusing it with flavor. The smell is heavenly- very citrusy and sunshiny. Chop the fingers into thin strips, jam them into some clean jars and fill to the brim with vodka. One bottle I grated some fresh ginger and threw that in as well.

feb 2012 118

Up next is the aptly named Prickly Pear.

feb 2012 123

These are the fruits of a cactus.

Arizona 2011 311

Even though the spines are removed before they hit the market, I still managed to get a few whisper-thin ones embedded in my hands. You might want to put on a pair of kitchen gloves with these.

feb 2012 127

The flesh is a brilliant ruby-red. It's almost like a firmer watermelon in texture, and the flavor, while bland, is quite refreshing. I scored the skin and peeled it off, chopped the fruit into cubes and threw them in some clean jars. Soon, the comforting glug-glug-glug sounds filled the kitchen.

feb 2012 133

It turns the vodka a brilliant red. This probably won't add a whole lot of flavor, but it will make a pretty mixed drink.

Finally- the Mae West of fruits, the pomelo.

feb 2012 138

These enormous citrus fruits are actually tasty eating, but a pain in the ass to deal with. The fruit within is buried under about 3 inches of soft, rubbery pith.

feb 2012 139

It ends up looking like a large-segmented grapefruit, but much sweeter. It's a disaster to eat- aside from peeling the whole thing, the membranes that segment it are tough and chewy. It's a lot of work.

No worries, booze doesn't care. It happily does all the work for you.

feb 2012 140

I threw a couple of segments and some zest in with a handful of mint. Glug-glug-glug.

All the jars go in the pantry for a few weeks to get the most out of the fruit flavors. You can filter them or just pour carefully to avoid getting too much chunk in your drinks. If you can find some pretty bottles or jars, they make lovely gifts- try inventing a cocktail recipe and including it on the gift tag.

I think that if my school teachers would have told me that booze infusions were a viable option for culinary skills, I would have been much happier about being awarded for my kitchen genius. Cheers to them.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Hello, Dolly!

Being a fan of the jazz music of the old-school, I could not just let my time in this city lapse without taking a trip to the Louis Armstrong House in Corona.

feb 2012 213

My awkwardly stubborn and purist nature growing up meant I didn't allow myself to listen to any other music at all. Peer pressure be damned, I will take my place willingly in the oddball nerd table in the cafeteria willingly.

feb 2012 247

Quite happily for my social life, I did eventually open up to other music styles and went on to embrace them. Still, I love the jazz music best of all.

The house where Louis Armstrong lived for 27 years was Landmarked in 1977 and is now a museum.  It is a a modest detached row house in a neighborhood of row houses in Northern Queens.

feb 2012 219

feb 2012 228

For $10, an nice volunteer will take you on a tour of the house (you can't take pictures inside the house) and tell you the history of their life in each room.

Is it worth the trip? If you are impartial to the music, then it's a great example of interior decorating from a terrible, tacky time, which some how makes the place much more endearing. It kind of reminded me of Graceland with all of its themed rooms with ultra-modern amenities and personal touches. They seem to have a fascination with the east- the interior was a mixture of geisha-girls and ming vases combined with smoked mirrors and elaborate Venetian touches.

feb 2012 235

Louis grew up extremely poor in New Orleans before finding fame as a trumpet player and iconic singer. Lucille was his fourth and final wife, a Queens native and former elegent Cotton Club dancer.

feb 2012 253feb 2012 205

feb 2012 211

Like I mentioned yesterday, they had a really big lot of land that was landscaped Japanese-garden style. In the summertime they have concerts out there.

It is apparent that they both loved the house dearly. After spending a great deal of his life poor and homeless or on the road, it was a welcome stability in his life.

feb 2012 245

That's Louis in his silk robe in his mirrored bathroom, with lots of gold fixtures. My eyes! One has never seen such a sight.

Still, it was a little nostalgic and sad to see his belongings as he left them. Louis was widely accepted by white audiences around the world throughout his life, but by the 1950's he was considered by other blacks to be an Uncle Tom and an uncomfortable link to Minstrel shows. He didn't do a whole lot to fight this image publicly.

feb 2012 143

Regardless, Louis undeniably had talent and knew how to exploit his talent.

Check out his remastered recordings of Hot 5's and Hot 7's...his early quintet and septet work really showcases his New Orleans roots before he got commercialized.

Monday, 27 February 2012

FO: Pas de Valse

Things have been a little crazed around here as I prepare for a whole lot of stuff. Right now, I am focusing on trying to wrap up and summarize work projects from the past 6 1/2 years. Cleaning out my hard drive was a pretty sobering experience. It's almost over now and I'm begging my co-workers to throw me a party already.

This weekend was busy, but we made time to go to the Louis Armstrong house in Queens. I'll have more on that later as it was a blog-worthy experience in itself.

Louis and his wife Lucille settled in what could be called a modest house, in a real neighborhood...except they had a triple lot in which they had landscaped a beautiful Japanese garden to entertain in. I just happened to be wearing my latest sweater, and the day was sunny and warm enough for a little photoshoot.

feb 2012 163

I half excepted Louis to come out of his house and yell at me to get off his lawn.

feb 2012 200

feb 2012 179

The sweater is the Pas de Valse by Marnie MacLean from Twist Collective.

feb 2012 171

I used 4 skeins of The Sanguine Gryphon Bugga in Adonis Butterfly. I love this color blue. Since handpainted yarn tends to be a bit inconsistent color-wise I alternated skeins to make the color more even. I still ended up with an odd color splotch of green on one front though, but I'm not going to let that bother me right now. Aside from that, the yarn was a champion of loveliness- soft with cashmere and merino and it didn't stretch out when blocked (as superwash yarns tend to do sometimes). It's meant to be worn large and drapey, with a pin to fasten it whichever way you want. I personally like it low to give a more hourglass waist shape.

feb 2012 166

I do have a few gripes about the pattern. The collar extension was a bit sloppy to finish up in the back neck. The sample pictures seem to gloss over that fact that it's not quite perfect, and the instructions are a little vague when it comes to piecing that section together. I think the sleeves could be a little neater as well- they connect to the sweater by picking up stitches from the body and knitting down from the sleeve cap, and I don't like that look as much as sewn-in sleeves. I also think the sleeves as written taper too narrow, so I cast off when I had 50 stitches left on the needles (she has you decrease down to 34). I don't think that the sleeves would fit over my wrist otherwise- they are very narrow, fitted sleeves to begin with. I like the look of that as it is a nice contrast to the rest of the garment, but I think if you did it as written, you'll end up cutting the circulation off to your hands. I loved the lettuce crochet edging- it really finished the sweater off nicely.

feb 2012 162

I also love the drape and the shaping of the rest of the sweater- and there is a whole lot of shaping instructions to pay attention to. This is definitely making the cut and ending up in my suitcase. It's very flattering and wearable as far as a larger sweater goes. I kind of want to be the graceful and elegant person who would wear this on a regular basis. It wants me to go out and get my ears pierces so I can wear dangly earrings with it.

feb 2012 197

This did take a quite a while to make, and because I always had two skeins of yarn attached, it didn't leave the house. This is the 39" size. I used about 1550 yards of sport weight yarn- a lot of yarn goes into a long-ish oversized sweater knit at a fine gauge with a huge drapey collar. Aside from my pattern gripes, I enjoyed knitting this and I watched some good classic movies in the process.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

FO: Well, This Wasn't Exactly How I Pictured Things.

The race to knit down my stash has new urgency. I can't move across an ocean and bring it all with me.


This beast, for example. It was supposed to be a hat. I don't know if the skein of yarn I had was a defect, but there was only 45 yards in the skein. It was supposed to have 110 yards.


It was supposed to be the Unoriginal Hat and now it's a cowl with a cable pattern.


Or a really warm headband. Your choice!


The yarn is Creative Focus Chunky by Nashua Handknits- 75% wool and 25% Alpaca. Methinks this might have been a sample skein or a dud, because it ended up being about half the weight that the label says. Sad face. Lemons make really nice lemonade though, especially when you dump a load of sugar syrup in. I'll stick with that story. Unforgivably, this isn't the softest yarn either- maybe not something you want right up close to your skin like that. I'm pretty immune to prickly wool, and full-grown alpaca can have a lot of guard hairs that might irritate your skin. I mean, you can see the pokey wire hairs in the picture. NOT SOFT. It's a pretty raspberry color though, and the bulky yarn at the tight gauge gives it enough structure so that it's not floppy.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Laceweight Merino Update


I dyed some laceweight singles and listed them on My Etsy Store.


They are all different shades of blues and purples, very saturated. It's 100% Superwash merino, very soft, and a lengthy 500 yards per skein. Check it out-

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

FO: Shawl-Collared Lattice Sweater, Pour mon Mari

I am always on the prowl for the perfect guy sweater. Men are very particular- they usually have a well-defined comfort zone when it comes to fashion, and anything teetering on the edge of normal will not get worn. It has to have unique details, but not too complicated or fussy or delicate. Color is important as well- the more drab and boring the color, the more loved it will be. Think of dirt, of UPS Brown, or the color you get when you mix all your watercolors together. That's what we're aiming for.


Cables are okay, but he says, "nothing too Irish". So no crazy cabled fisherman sweater, which aside from the basic plain sweater, seems to be the most popular men's pattern.

I found a pattern in Knitscene the fit the bill. It's called "The Lattice Sweater". I dug around in my stash and found some appropriately drab Cascade 220 Heathers in the color "Sparrow". I got to work on it- I knocked out the sleeves first and then did the body up to the 'pits when I was in Orlando on a business trip.


Everything gets joined at the yolk with raglan decreases, and the neck is split and the lattice cable gave me something interesting to do, finally. Except that I mis-read the instructions and ended up doing half the amount of decreases necessary and realized pretty late in the game that this would fit off-the-shoulder. Sigh.

I tinked back to the armpits, joined everything again, and did the correct amount of decreases. Much better now. Funny fact- when I realized my error in decreases, I denied it at first and continued to knit another few rows before I ripped it back. What the hell is wrong with me? In the end, knitting the yoke a second time didn't kill me as much as I thought it would.

I am going to re-knit the shawl collar though. As it is now, it's not big enough, and it's always teetering on wanting to stand up on its own. I want it to be bigger and drapier. He agrees. A little drama is okay once in a while.


Despite the fact that half the sweaters I've made haven't gotten any use at all this year due to the fact that it rarely hits a temperature cold enough, I keep slogging on with woolie knitwear with the plan of moving to someplace very cold one day. Maybe I should start taking classes in Scandinavian languages and brush up on my reindeer-herding skills.



At the suggestion of a friend, I think there should be some short-rows in the back to give it more shape. The front wouldn't ride up if there was more space for the shoulders. When I fix the collar, I might as well just keep going and rip back a few inches into the sweater as well.


Aside from the minor fit issue, he loves it. It was finished in time for his birthday, but since I fitted it to him multiple times it wasn't a surprise. Surprises when it comes to fit = not a good surprise at all.

I used a full six skeins of Cascade 220 and size 6 needles (size 5 for the ribbing and the collar) to get 19 stitches per 4 inches. I made the 44 3/4" size- his chest with a t-shirt on is 42". It's fitted, but it still gives him a good amount of ease. He loves it (and if he didn't, he wouldn't have the heart to tell me, but since he's already worn it a bunch I'm just going to stick with "he loves it") and I'm happy with it as well. Viva winter!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Countdown to March 8

What is March 8, you ask?

That will be the last day that I'll be running my Etsy store. Due to the logistics and the shipping limits being imposed on me, I can't take my stock with me. Also, there is the small worry that I can't feasibly ship while I'm moving. So I'm giving myself a nice cut-off date before the stress gets too much.

Here's the deal: I'm still having 30% everything with the code "Trente". Wait a week- that might turn into "quarante" as my need for a clutter-free move gets the best of me. I still have lots of good stuff, so buy it while you can! Especially some of those batts I have listed as there is no way I can store those. Smooshing them down would be tragic!

Speaking of batts, look what one of my shop patrons made:


Isn't it pretty? She's a fantastic spinner, and she lives in France to boot.

I was quite taken with this one as well:


It was a braid of merino/silk roving in the "Hydrangea" colorway. She plied it with a string spaced with delicate pearly-pink beads. Swoon!

I'll be keeping you posted, but I might have some more lace merino yarn to list this weekend, and that will be all as far as updates go.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

My Friend Jewel...

She's a yodeler. Check out this video of her, showing off her crazy yodeling chops for the TV lady. I can't get the video to embed, which I'm not going to let ruin my day. Jump to the 2 minute mark to hear her sing, it's totally worth your time:

Segment Four: Main Streets and Back Roads/Bethel, Maine - Video - WCVB Boston

Last summer, after 10+ years of living in New York, I finally got her on a plane and took a couple days from work to show her around. We had a fantastic time being tourist and seeing the sights. She's one of the sweetest people I know, and she has a child-like sense of wonder about pretty much everything. It's quite refreshing for a jaded city dweller to spend time with someone like that.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Something that I Know that I will Miss About New York...

The Semolina Cheesecake from The Family Store.

Feb 2012 029

It was love at first bite. The dense, eggy ricotta filling with a pleasurably grainy, sticky citrus-soaked crust. I will buy a slab of it on Monday thinking that it will stick around for most of the week, but miraculously, bite by bite it usually disappears before Tuesday comes around.

This is my go-to comfort food, along with a dozen other things that are sold at this little Mideastern caterer. It's very rare that I don't feel like cooking but often I don't have the time to make a proper dinner. The food here is so homemade and good and I'm always looking for an excuse to check out what they've got on special. It's one of those very Brooklyn family-run business where you can tell that everyone who works behind the counter is related. The catch phrase they all use is "..and what else". You order, but with those subtle words of encouragement, you can't help but ordering more and I've never regretted a thing. There's an aloof cat keeping watch of the whole operation from his sunny perch near the window.

They also have homemade yogurt that is to die for. Really: Yogurt that is TO DIE FOR. It deserves its own post.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Guess What?


Je déménage à Paris! I am moving!



That little trip we took in the fall was a little more than just a vacation. It was a reconnaissance mission of sorts.


France 2011 627

I've been living in New York for a little over 11 years now. That blows my mind a little bit. It wasn't easy- I had a few very lean years here when I was starting out. I was pretty much prepared to crawl back home to live in my mom's basement at any given moment. I caught a few breaks and did okay for myself in the end and I've been comfortable here as a result.


Still, I feel like I stayed in New York 10 years and six months longer than I expected I would. It's really come to feel like home which is saying a lot from someone who grew up in Maine with farm animals as companions. I have so much here- a cushy place to live in Brooklyn, a dependable job. Yawn. What will change in my life if I don't make a huge effort to change it? Not a lot.


I'm ready to make a drastic change in my life. The opportunity is right, and I'm ready to start a new adventure. I've been diligent about learning the language and I look forward to butchering it as best I can. Check out the Coffee Break French podcast and the Verbcast. They have not-too-overwhelming 20 minute lessons that I have found to be the easiest way to go. For me, anyway.


There are so many things that I will miss about New York- fantastic Chinese food being up there high on the list. All the wonderful friends I have here is another big reason for dragging my feet and feeling down about the situation. I'm hoping that most of those reasons will come and visit me occasionally. It will help if they bring me Chinese food, and bourbon. I will miss all the delicious small-batch bourbons that I won't be able to get. I'm told peanut butter just isn't the same over there either. The good mideastern food I get in my neighborhood. Oh, man. I hope I can get a good baba ganoush in Paris.

Obviously, I'm going through a rather busy time right now. The best part is that we're getting a lot of help from Bryan's employer. They are taking care of all our immigration paperwork, lawyers, logistics, help with housing, etc. It's probably the easiest an international move could possibly be, and still, I'm getting a little overwhelmed with all that has to be done.

I'll be unloading most of the contents of my Etsy shop at a discount in the next month. Most of my belongings will be tucked away in storage for the next couple of years as I can't bring everything with me. It's causing a wee bit of anxiety on my part, but I know that stuff is just stuff, and not the path to enlightenment. Or something.

I'm feeling completely nostalgic about my time here already! I am planning on hitting a list of things that I HAVE TO DO in while I'm in New York- places I never got a chance to check out, restaurants that I can't live without, leisurely strolls in neighborhoods that I haven't been to in a while. Maximizing what little time I have left in the city. I can't tell if it will end up making me more or less homesick to do an epic goodbye tour. The moment I got the word that the move was on I felt as though I never loved this place more.