it wouldn’t be christmas without . . .

Posted on 8 CommentsPosted in book reviews/events, designing, food and garden

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and now knitters, it’s time for our annual christmas post; have you been naughty this year or nice?

oh, and BTW, our across-the-street neighbor has NO IDEA that i crashed her blog to blast this post, so don’t rat me out . . . you got that??

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me and the gang are prepared to lead you through a veritable land of christmas wonders; are you ready?

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obviously we have the “nice” category covered.

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and not just for those who worship; we’ve got all sorts of nice folks here.

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and then there are the boring people who live across the street—we got that covered too; some designer or other, i heard . . . i mean, i’m not a gossip mind you and each to his own and all, but would it really hurt to add a few colored light bulbs??

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on the other hand, it just makes our side of the street look all the more festive. c’mon—tell me this isn’t what you came looking for tonight. we got it goin’ ON, baby.

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now if you HAVE been good all year long, you can step right this way and follow my friends up the ladder.

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take your seat right up there on santa’s lap and whisper in his ear what you’d like to find under your tree tomorrow. better hurry though, he’s taking off in about fifteen minutes to start his trip.

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hint: if your tree looks like the one across the street (eye roll), you might just want to add a little pizzazz so that it catches santa’s eye.

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merry christmas all from harvard avenue to your house!

a week of treats—it’s party season

Posted on 7 CommentsPosted in book reviews/events, designing, food and garden

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there are some things you can do ahead of the holidays to reduce last minute rushing, it’s true, but in the case of a few goodies, fresh is WAY better.

like homemade nut brittle. it keeps for a while, but it’s best when very fresh.

almost every year i make nut brittles for holiday giving—they’re not everyone’s favorite, but we don’t know those people who snub them, apparently. because each year i make a LOT of nut brittle and each year i seem to run short and leave someone wanting.

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last sunday was the day—i ramped up with a batch of peanut brittle to get started, in case i’d lost my mojo. but nope—that batch came out great.

well, i DO have the dead-easiest, no fail recipe. i mean that—i just googled easy peanut brittle recipes and there isn’t one with as few ingredients or as easy a method as this one, which i ripped from a magazine in 1983. i can’t remember if it was in an ad or in a recipe article, but here it is:

1 cup peanuts, raw or lightly roasted, with or without salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter NOTE: this is the original amount but i always cut the butter in half with absolutely no fallout; in fact, the full amount makes it rather greasy IMHO
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (not in the original recipe but it adds just a bit of complexity)

First, prepare everything ahead so you can work fast when you need to: measure out all the ingredients, set out potholders where you can reach them, and line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat (foil will also work, but it needs to be greased).

Put all the ingredients in a skillet (for me, a stainless skillet works better than a nonstick one) and heat over medium high, stirring gently until mixture begins to turn clear and brown—a light tan is not what you’re going for, wait it out until you start to see a richer brown—5 to 6 minutes. Once that happens, you have to work fast—the mixture burns easily. AND IT’S VERY HOT; USE CAUTION AND DON’T LICK ANYTHING. Pour the hot mixture over the parchment and quickly spread it out as thinly as possible. Allow to cool and then break it up.

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that’s it! seriously, you could make some right now if you have the stuff in the house. then stand back and accept praises with as much dignity as you can muster with brittle crumbs all over your face.

this recipe is easily doubled (i always do), but i don’t recommend tripling it because it’s hard to work fast enough to spread that much brittle while it’s liquid.

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and it works well with other types of nuts too—even  mixed nuts. higher fat nuts do brown more, so it’s better to use UNroasted ones. i didn’t; i had roasted ones in the house and guess what? these batches ARE darker and the peanut brittle police still haven’t shown up (but they are disappearing just as fast as the golden batches).

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okay, now i’m just warning you—the pecan one is just to DIE for, so you might need to make two batches and hide one where only you can find it. just today i was thinking that maybe next year i would try some improvising with the pecan brittle. or maybe next week . . . i’ll keep you updated.

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anyway, four double batches total took me maybe an hour or so; i’m telling you—easy and fast. that made enough to fill around ten chinese food cartons—a generous amount.

if you’re going to make a LOT, be sure to keep your kitchen ventilated; in my old kitchen, cooking more than this amount on one day would cause the humidity to rise to the point where the brittle started getting wonky. just sayin’—you probably have a much nicer kitchen than my old one anyway, haha.

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once the brittles were done and taste tested, i made a big batch of these glazed pecans. if you think that brittle is good, well, these are crack. but i like to make both.

we had decided to gather for our office christmas party on wednesday evening, so i started preparations for that on monday. our gang is pretty easy-going, but i like to offer homemade food when people come over.

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we have a variety of dietary needs to consider, but the main concern is that the food be yummy, right? so i thought hard about what kind of cake to make. i’m getting the gluten free baking under control for myself, but i’m still pretty novice at vegan baking and i don’t have cause to do a lot of it. i have an old apple cake recipe that our family enjoys quite a lot and remembered that it did not call for dairy, only eggs. so i tried my hand at a gluten free, egg-free version.

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the result was not too shabby; on the outside, it looked pretty close to the original—a festive top, perfect for the holidays (though we never limited ourselves by calling it a christmas cake).

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and inside? while not quite as flavorful as the original, it wasn’t a flop either, and was enjoyed by all, more or less. i’m just happy that everyone at the table could eat a slice and no one was left out.

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once i had a cake squared away, all that was left to do on party day was make some gluten free dough and prepare the toppings (david purchased regular pizza shells for most of our guests).

this time, i tried the GF dough recipe from america’s test kitchen. of all the recipes i’ve tried, this one had the best rise, texture, chewiness, and crispiness—most like my favorite traditional doughs. it was also very easy to work with. it performs extremely well as a base for toppings, where most GF crusts fail.

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it does lack the depth of flavor that good pizzeria doughs develop from longer rising times and using a starter, but i think i can work on that. the texture and structure is harder to come by in a recipe so this one is a keeper for now.

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with an array of vegetable and cheese toppings (as well as homemade sauce), everyone put together their own dream pizza.

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yummilicious!

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lots of happy people around the table—lillian and her husband, erica, doug, and barb (of course!). it was a really nice evening; i am so happy to be part of this team and to be able to relax and celebrate with them at this time of year.

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today i relaxed for an extended morning with my knitting and enjoyed the feel of stone soup fingering yarn with my coffee. tomorrow, i plan to relax even more and have a whole day of knitting—probably on my birches cardigan, so i should have progress to share next time.

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happy holidays to you and yours—merry knitting everyone!

snow beaters

Posted on 8 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, designing, food and garden

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oh yeah, it’s snowy here. AND it’s cold too—wind chill below zero and everything. look what a nice job mister knitspot does on that walk. you can tell we are city people at heart, haha.

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but look at my garden!!

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i totally thought that the really REALLY cold weather would kill it off, but no, it seemed fine. and then we got a dump of snow on tuesday (after this photo) and i thought, surely THAT was it. but no—turns out those beehives of snow that now cover the chard are little warming cocoons, sheltering them from the wind. they are like easter eggs; when you crack open the frosty dome, theres a bright green and recenter, haha. and i don’t think we can kill the kale at all; it’s just fine.

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ditto for the collards. now, give things another week and they could be in trouble. but for now it’s safe to plan on greens for dinner. which is a good thing because colds are starting to go around. i am a firm believer that lots of vegetables keeps us from getting those.

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not to mention how perfectly festive it is to see those greens upon greens, mixed with a little red, when i look into my dinner plate.

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it really has gotten very cold, which is quite unusual for december; most years it holds off until january. nevertheless, here we are. already sort of housebound, at least for now (the forecast is pretty much cold and then colder through christmas at least).

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so it’s  good time to cozy up indoors with some knitting at every opportunity, am i right? after finishing up the short and stripey snow flies cowl in time for the fundraiser kickoff and festivus yarn release, i cast on right away for a larger cowl all in delicious red. this project is so fun—i hope you’ll visit our rav group to knit along with us on yours.

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i got through my ribbing on saturday morning and started the patterned portion during my class, then completed the first repeat that night.

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i took a night off on sunday to work on something else, but on monday i completed one more repeat. it’s so funny about this colorway—in the skein, it looks like it has a lot of pink, but when you knit it up ina texture like this one, the richness and depth of the colorway really develops.

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i think the lustre fibers in the kent DK yarn base also play part. the color almost behaves like an enamel; when you look close, you can “see into it”. more than half done now and still i had some yarn left in the cake from my first skein. i’m saving my leftovers for a stranded color work project i have in mind—turns out i didn’t completely get that out of my system while knitting our recent club projects . . .

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i spread the rest of the knitting out over tuesday and wednesday and bound the whole thing off this morning. i soaked in in cold water with wool soap and a little vinegar and there was no color runoff at all.

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now it’s stretched out to dry on my workroom floor, where it can catch the drifts of warm air from the heat vent. it will dry very quickly this way, so i need to remember to turn and reshape it often.

i should be able to take photos tomorrow and finalize the pattern soon. barb also finished up her scarf (second size) last night at the shop; she’s blocking it today and will bring it back next wednesday. we should have pattern with final photos and yardages well before christmas!

doug is going to let me know tomorrow where our scholarship totals stand, so i will get back to you with those in a few days. the yarn is selling well, but we could use your help in getting more patterns sold—please spread the word about this great cause.

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on tuesday, as that storm was cooking and coming to a boil, i watched from the window while knitting on my latest obsession.

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a big cozy cardigan in stone soup DK. i have been living in my longer, oversized cardigans this fall and winter and i got to thinking that another caïssa-style sweater in stone soup DK would be lusciously warm—just what i need.

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and wouldn’t you know, i don’t have anything in my own wardrobe that’s knit in the marble shade! so i threw a pattern together just before we left for thanksgiving and worked on a sleeve swatch during my trip.

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i love the texture SO much; it looks like birch trees to me so that’s what i’m naming it—birches.

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even better, the fabric reverses to an equally cool pattern; i’m thinking i may be able to wear it both ways (with the seaming on one side being a visible feature; i’ve always liked that look).

so i finished my first sleeve last week and figured out what i want to do with the fronts.

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same body pattern but with a wide lapel that sports a cable feature. the cable will likely extend only partway up and then give way to plain ribbing through the neck drop and collar area; i’m keeping my options open on that. i started the first front (above) and after a few hours realized that there was a 2-stitch column near the center that i didn’t like the look of.

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so i ripped back, laid out the surface pattern just a bit differently and restarted. thank goodness for a larger diameter yarn—it didn’t take long to regain what i’d had to get rid of.

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now it’s exactly the way i want it and i’ve even knit another repeat onto what i have here. big cozy sweater will soon be mine, YES.

while i love my caïssa as designed, i sometimes miss having buttons. so for this one i will add some kind of closure—maybe just a toggle or two with a hidden button inside the wide lapel, i don’t know for sure yet. i do have to decide soon tho, haha, as this knit is speedy.

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i want to bring in bunches and bunches of our hardy rosemary and put it all around the house . . . can’t you just smell it?

i know—too early, right?

Posted on 10 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, book reviews/events, designing, food and garden

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ok, i’m not ready for santa claus with all the trimmings including a couple dozen trees; actually i don’t think i’m ever ready for that, haha. i like plain and simple christmas style—oranges stuck with cloves, bunches of rosemary here and there lots of yarn and projects lying about, some baking—more frontier style than victorian. but during the museum trip at the end of our albany visit, we ran into him so i snapped a photo. and in the lobby, i bought six raffle tickets for five dollars and stuck them all in the container to win “death by chocolate”. hey, you never know . . .

the next day we were on our way home, where a very busy week and some treats awaited us. i managed to finish my herringweave cardigan before we left—in fact just the afternoon before i left. i did have time to soak and wash it, along with a few other garments and left all of those spread out to dry while we were in albany. i was, therefore, excited to get home and add the finishing touches.

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i love the way the sweater turned out but it couldn’t be photographed without buttons, so that was one of the the first tasks on my to-do list.

i had a half dozen options, but right off the bat i knew that many of them wouldn’t work; either the color or the size wasn’t right. i liked two the left and middle above so i proceeded to photograph them laid out on the button band for assessment.

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first the darkest black horn buttons; while i often do like a higher contrast button, i wasn’t crazy about that look for this sweater and i finally realized why—they compete too much with the cables, i think.

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next i tried the smaller auburn bone buttons (middle photo above); while these were better in tone, they just felt a little blah to me, a little too plain. i didn’t have anything else in my button box that was better so i ran over to the shop to root through the button inventory—we have a few odd lots and sometimes there’s a treasure among them. i found a packet of caramel brown horn buttons (far right photo above) with a dulce de leche swirl—six in all—just the number i needed. fingers crossed, i ran back to the house to try them (because bringing the sweater with me would have made WAY too much sense).

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success—i love these. they pick up on the golden tones in the yarn but also speak to the streaks of gray and the dollop of creamy accent on each one gives them some dimension without distracting from the cables.

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and with that, my ensemble garments were complete as well as a couple of extra pieces to release early next year. five of the sweaters in this stack are ones that i knit, all of them completed since mid-august. the other two pieces, a skirt and a pullover, were knit by barb and cherie—who saved my skin by taking them on.

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one of the other nice things about coming home from nearly a week away is opening the mail we missed; this time it was samples from vanessa for our november club projects—a pair of small sized mittens and the cowl that i added in at the last minute.

these stranded color work designs and the custom blackish-green colorway were inspired by the fall greens we used in our soup recipe for this installment—kale and broccoli raabe. the background shade of stone soup DK in granite, is like a wonderful artisan bread to dunk into the broth.

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i got cooking as soon as i opened the package and put those knits into a bath to soak.

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since the color work makes for a denser fabric, i rigged up my sleeve board to act as a support for better air circulation as it dried. it worked very handily, allowing the cowl to hang quite close to the hot air vent, where it dried nicely without creases. we will be photographing these tomorrow.

and all that kale in the photo above?

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i finally got around to making kale chips with it. they were super easy to do (especially using the greens stripper we sent along as a club goodie) and we liked them ok, but thought they could be a lot more flavorful. next time i will try a stronger tasting oil (perhaps sesame oil?) and seasoning (with soy sauce or other asian condiments?).

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another reason i was happy to be home? the food options are just better, haha. we had a huge week ahead of us and i wanted to cook up a few things so we wouldn’t have to cook at night while hannah was in town.

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although it’s been pretty cold with many night below freezing, the garden is still putting out for us. the potatoes have been harvested for some time, but when i went out to pick greens, i also found a bunch of leeks i forgot that we’d planted and some onions that hadn’t been pulled. plenty of greens still available, too. i made a big pot of potato and corn chowder, YUM. i even roasted a head of garlic to add in.

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that afternoon hannah arrived and we all dove into a two-day planning meeting for 2017. we also had our ensemble photo shoot scheduled for the weekend. in addition, she trained us on some social media tools so that we can use them better (and so i can use them at all, hehe).

hannah left on sunday and since then, i’ve been working on the next few projects on my list.

while i’m not relishing all the crazy pre-holiday bustle at this very moment, i’m still itching to get started on some fun, no pressure seasonal knitting—it’s time for our red scarf run-up to new year’s. we are going to make another scholarship, you guys!

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our special lot of red festivus 3.0 yarn is on its way to us and while i wait, i’ve been swatching. i love this stitch pattern—it’s quick, fun to work and completely in the spirit of our annual knitalong. this swatch is unwashed but i knit one in several shades of kent DK (that’s our base this year)

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and after a nice long soak in hot soapy water (which i won’t do with the dyed yarn; that needs cooler water), they smoothed and straightened out a good deal.

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but not so much as to lose their depth or stitch definition—i love them.

the movement in this pattern is particularly festive and if our stars are crossed just right, will show off the yarn to its best advantage. because it has a special feature—that i won’t reveal just yet—which will accent those traveling stitches very nicely.

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there’s just one tiny catch; because the YOs and decreases point in only one direction, this stitch pattern has a wee tendency to bias a bit to the left—not terrible though and i think it can be corrected by using blocking wires or by steaming well. at first i worried that it was a deal breaker for knitting a flat scarf (it’s a complete non-issue for the cowl version, since that’s circular anyway), but after working a good sized swatch and washing it, i think it will be ok. i tried reworking the pattern to stabilize it more, but could not come up with anything that helped. then i tried to find something else i like just as well and nothing really appealed to me.

the pattern is in tech editing now and i should have a nearly final version by wednesday (save for final yardages and measurements). as in previous years, we plan to release the pattern in this not-quite-final form so that we can all knit along together. because i love that aspect of this project; it’s my favorite thing about it! besides you know, the scholarship total at the end.

as in previous years, we will have patterns and yarn kits for sale to raise money for a knitspot scholarship to benefit our sponsored student through foster care for success. i’m writing up a separate post with all the information, current details, and background of this project so that it’s ready to go as soon as we have everything in place.

erica has been creating listings for patterns and yarn kits, including the drop down menu options we used last year so that knitters can add a donation to their purchase.

i’ll be back with a post devoted entirely to this topic as soon as it’s all put together; i can’t WAIT to share it all with you! but until then, maybe you’d enjoy some roasted garlic?

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