color, color everywhere

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Bare Naked Wools, book reviews/events, designing, food and garden

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did you have a good holiday weekend? ours was deliciously quiet and relaxing—just me and mister knitspot alone in our home for a couple of days while everyone else was off. perfect!

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my last post was kind of full, so i didn’t mention a craft project i did during the week before christmas—making a little something nice to add to gifts that we were sending out . . . lotion bars.

lotion bars are a solid form of hand and body cream that have a little more staying power, which i really need in winter; in fact, i use them nearly year-round now because in summer my hands work hard in the garden and kitchen. i rub the solid bar over my hands even after using other hand cream and i’m good for hours. they also work wonders for my nails.

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i made some last year too and was pleased, but have been thinking ever since about ways i wanted to improve the basic recipe i used then, so this was my chance. on monday last week i gathered up supplies and got started.

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first, i thought it would be prettier and smarter to add some inclusions in every bar to be able to identify the “flavor” of each, so i prepped my molds with rosemary leaves, lavender flowers, and orange zest. these will fall out as the bar is used, but they do look nice.

i also used a different mold so that i could package them easily and inexpensively (boxes to hold the other shapes i have are pretty pricey). these are tiny cupcake or candy molds that are about 1.5 inches in diameter. they come in a box of 36 that works well for a full batch of bars.

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while i was prepping the molds, the lotion ingredients were warming and melting in a water bath over a very low flame (double boiler also works well). you need to use containers that you won’t use for food purposes later, so a retired pan, some jars, or an old measuring cup are fine.

this year i changed the basic recipe i linked to above to make a softer,  more emollient bar. i reduced the wax to about one-fourth instead of one-third, then increased the oil and butter. i also added the vitamin E oil that is optional; i think that’s what makes it so good for nails.

you can use any butters or oils that are sold for this purpose. i used hemp and coconut oil along with mango, shea, and avocado butter for a rich bar. i did use some beeswax, but also candelilla wax, which gives them a nice slip and is vegan.

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once the ingredients were melted, i added essential oils for fragrance (i really love nice smelling hand stuff! but you don’t need to add anything; they will still smell good). here is another place where i changed what i did last year. i was more careful and built my scents up so that from one batch i made four different combinations.

i started with a simple combo of citrus and bergamot, poured a few of those, then added lavender, then rosemary, then the final addition was sandalwood, pine, vetiver, and clove for a woodsy mix that is my personal favorite (but doesn’t appeal to everyone, haha). by the way, any of these combinations are terrific for removing food odors from your hands if you work a lot in the kitchen.

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this size bar fits perfectly into a small solo “ketchup” cup—i love that! the container is sturdy enough to last the life of the bar; the lids snap on tightly so i think they will survive pretty well inside a purse, and afterward, it’s recyclable. plus—super cheap; love that even more, since i can put my resources into the best quality ingredients, instead of the containers.

i’m getting good feedback on these bars from the friends i’ve given them to; i want to make another batch for another round of gifts, but i’ll wait to get barb’s honest review tomorrow at knit night. she’ll tell me for sure if i need to change anything.

later this week, i’ll be making a batch of wool soap—also something i did last year with great results. i’m going to tweak that recipe a bit too and have already started working with some of the ingredients. more on that another day.

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red scarf fundraiser is moving along, thanks to all of you generous knitters who are responding with such kindness. we are sold out on festivus 3.0, but our supply of snow flies scarf/cowl patterns is infinite and we still have plenty of kit options in natural shades of kent DK. if you are curious about what they look like knitted up, please visit our red scarf KAL to see some finished samples in natural shades as well as red.

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i’m going to give you a peek at one beautiful example—this wrap that cherie knit in the white sand color of kent DK. it took about two and a half skeins; it makes a luxuriant scarf or a handy wrap that’s a good size to wear while working. i think it could be stunning with some long, knotted fringe on the ends, if you are so inclined (and a good way to use remainders).

i will get a total from doug on thursday and post that on friday. i think we’ve made some progress, but for sure we’re not to our goal yet—still a ways to go, but i have confidence we will do it!

if you still have a gift to give, consider making a donation in someone else’s name or gifting along the pattern to another knitter—we are also grateful for every mention of this effort on your other social media outlets, thank you SO, so much!

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?