black cherry soda...

i am incredibly proud of this yarn.  while it is not, in my humble opinion, the prettiest yarn i have produced to date, it is the most consistent batch both in terms of the size and color of the finished yarn.  there is a total of 6 skeins, each weighing approximately 90 grams, and a total of 560 yards.  details of my super-lazy dye process will follow at some later date.  it will (hopefully) become a large triangle shawl by the end of the weekend.  i have a lot of coffee and holiday sweets.  it will be done!!!

colorway: black cherry twist.  3-ply worsted-wight merino.  


biography with pictures...

or... how an unremarkable ball of yarn finds a new life.

it all began, about a year ago, as a 100g cone of cashmere/wool yarn on Ebay.  if the label says otherwise, please don't ruin the fantasy.  this yarn could be best described as stupid thin (it's a light lace-weight at 1200yd/100g) and i am not a sadist, so steps had to be taken to make it just a touch more user-friendly.

i first wound it off of the cone into a center-pull ball (actually, more of a cylinder), grabbed both ends of the strand (one each from the center and outer-edge of the cylinder), then held both strands together and wound it into a tight ball.  careful examination of the first image will reveal the double-stranded final product.  

this is my first time using the acid dyes from Dharma Trading Company, which has proven to be a more cost-effective option (roughly 50-75% savings, ounce-for-ounce) than the Jacquard Acid Dyes .  as the objective was to create a gradient of color on the outer portion of the ball, i skipped the recommended pre-soaking of the fiber and dropped it directly into the dye pot.  the ball was very tightly wound, which slowed down the migration of the pigment.  this resulted in an intense midnight blue color on the outside, which quickly gave way to a more speckled appearance as the ball was unwound.

the center of the ball remained white, and, as tempted as i was to hang on to the watercolor-like gradient... there was more to come.  

using a mixture of brilliant yellow with the slightest hint of blazing orange, i overdyed the loosely-tied bundle, which had the effect of turning the blue to a dark bluish-green (the photos were taken without use of the flash, but the yellow is slightly more orange-ish than it appears in the following images).

the boy noted that the final result sorta looks like an acorn squash... thus, the colorway was given a name.

Smitten with Kittens / Foter / CC BY-NC

i haven't yet decided if i will turn this into a finished object or display it in a location where it can inspire me to create more beautiful things.


food for sanity...

back in high school, i developed an odd fascination with baking.  specifically, i used to make bread in the middle of the night when i was in a particularly pensive mood.  mom would occasionally awaken to a loaf or two on the kitchen counter, a testament to my restlessness.  to this day, i find baking to be a most calming activity.  

my kitty is not feeling well.  he's spending a couple days at the vet's, and i'm hoping it goes well as my sanity is wrapped up in that chubby ball of fur.  if ever a moment called for therapeutic baking, it is now.  there was a small carton of whipping cream in the back of the fridge, so i used that as the filling for a simple Victoria Sponge cake (i know, i know... i should have taken the cakes out a couple minutes earlier).  the whipped cream is flavored with a hint of vanilla and almond extracts and the jam of choice is raspberry (seeds and all).     here's to my honeybear's swift recovery.  


autumnal things...

i bought a small pumpkin with great plans to carve a  jack-o-lantern, but all of that fancy knife play would probably leave me (literally) in stitches... so i stuffed and baked it instead...

and roasted the seeds with a pinch of salt and black pepper...

oh... and i'm making a thick, warm sweater in preparation for another Canadian winter....

outside (left) and inside (right) the sleeve...


the Wednesday Appreciation Society...

somewhere in the history of Time, the Days assembled to decide how they would organize the Week.  being the natural leaders of the bunch, Sunday and Saturday established themselves at the beginning and ending of the Week.  Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday jumped at the chance to be as close to these two as possible, and soon all that was left was Wednesday.  with nowhere else to go, Wednesday was assigned the position equidistant (with the emphasis on distant) from the superstars... dooming it to an eternity as the most under-appreciated of all the Days.

pitiable attempt at storytelling aside, Wednesday always feel like the most despised of days, and that carries over to the way we eat.  halfway between the feast of a Sunday family dinner and Saturday night's dining out, a Wednesday dinner often consists of anything that's promised to be delivered in 30 minutes or less.  fortunately, Wednesday is held in high esteem around here.  when i founded the Wednesday Watercolor Society in the summer of 2010, we had just two rules: never give in to the intimidation of the medium, and never meet on Wednesday.  it is the most sacred of days.  in honor of this high-holy day, i've prepared a meal that makes me wish every day was Wednesday.

apple-herb infused smoked ham and mac-and-cheese with veggies in disguise

sauteed mushrooms in béchamel and white cheddar sauce.
this was actually inspired by my great-Aunt Yvonne who taught me to make béchamel many years ago.  what followed was a pivotal moment in my burgeoning food life.  up until then, sauce was either the brown stuff served with curries or stews, or the red stuff poured over mounds of pasta.  this freakish new creation was served atop slices of fresh-baked ham.  i was fully prepared to hate it, but by halfway through the first bite, i was hooked.  the rest is creamy, delicious history.

steamy scoobi-doo pasta with blanched veggies await saucing
today's meal... nay... today's feast... is an homage to that awakening.  béchamel has become the basis for the sauce that holds my mac-and-cheese together.  this version is in itself a stand-alone meal, featuring sauteed onions and mushrooms along with cauliflower and green sweet peas all in a creamy, white cheddar sauce. not being a fan of hams drowned in sweet glazes, i went the savory route, adding fresh rosemary (from my window herb box) and thyme, whole cloves, and a few smashed, whole cloves of fresh garlic to the roasting pan, along with a healthy splash of apple juice.  the pan was sealed tightly with foil in order to preserve maximum moistness.  the ham was roasted skin-down for the first half of the cooking time, then carefully turned over, resealed, and returned to the oven for the remaining time.

handful of fresh herbs tucked in around the edges of the roasting pan

i dispensed with the customary diamond pattern carved into the skin.  it is a giant piece of salty, smoky meat. trust me... it knows it looks good without the adornment.  there will be many sandwiches, omelettes, and maybe even a lucky quiche stuffed with leftover ham in the coming days, and the bone will add immense flavor to a split pea soup.  i will save that one for some far less important Day... maybe even Sunday.

three hours later.

oh, and i'm eating pomegranates for a good cause.  they will feature heavily in a project i plan to undertake later this week.  not the seeds, just the stuff that normally ends up in the trash... but that's a tale for some other Day.


worth a thousand words...

my new favorite scarf is finally up off the blocking board.  i started composing a narrative on the virtues of blocking... but i'll just let the scarf speak for itself.

the pattern is Dream Stripes (here on Ravelry).  the lighter-colored yarn is my own hand-dyed, hand-spun 'guinness'.  it's a Bluefaced Leicester single.  the solid brown is a wool/cashmere blend purchased from somewhere in China (by way of Ebay) several years ago.  i held two strands together to roughly match the thickness of the hand-spun.

there were a couple other items completed over the past week, but i'll get to that some other day.  now... all that's left is to decide which of these two becomes my next 'new favorite scarf'.


not-so-rotten day...

so... i wake up this morning, thoroughly prepared to have a most rotten day... when this box of joy arrives in the mail.  i ♥ Knit Picks for offering nice yarns that don't require a home mortgage to afford.  most of it's already earmarked for gift-making... but i may opt to end some friendships and keep it all for moi. [insert sinister hand rubbing and evil-villain laughter here]

then, as if that was not enough of a no-buzz-kill, i decided to take a stroll to my new local yarn shop (and future favorite place to hang out in my already super-cool neighborhood).  they used to be located near le Marché Atwater, so it's really nice (and potentially dangerous) having them just a short walk away.  the plan to avoid buying anything by hanging out in the deserted downstairs area was completely thwarted, as that happens to be where they also keep the bargain bins of sock yarn... so now, it looks like i have to make socks (or, at least, procrastinate making socks) in the near future.

lastly, for the absolute trifecta of mood-destroying decisions... instead of returning straight home and locking all the doors and windows, i chose to loll for a couple-few hours under a big tree in the park, while continuing the mind-numbing exercise that is my brown striped scarf (my future affection for said scarf is being put to the test by all the boredomness it's induced thus far). so... many bug bites later... my much-anticipated rotten day was totally destroyed.  but... there's always tomorrow.


Norman Rockwell might have dreamt this..

have to admit, i miss Labor Day weekend back home in Brooklyn just a little bit.  the music, food, and even the un-wanted/invited house guests always made for an interesting end to the summer.  however, spending Sunday afternoon knitting and watching movies is not a bad way to pass some time.  i've paired my hand-spun "guinness" (right) with a dark chocolate wool/cashmere blend (left) in what is already shaping up to be my new favorite scarf.  that cute little stitch-marker... that's also my handiwork.  happiness!


stash diving...

according to the calendar, it's late August in Canada... so the first snowstorm must be lurking around the corner. it's about this time of year that my fancy turns to thoughts of all things warm and woolly.  i'm cleaning up and organizing the yarn stash in anticipation of restocking (which is a nice way of saying that i am camped out by the window, waiting for the first of many packages to arrive bearing even more yarn).  i found some of my own hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn along the way, and it's inspired me to revisit the world of dyeing.  just need to find a wool supplier... or an unsupervised herd of sheep.

it's difficult to find an image that captures the rich tonality of this yarn.  i call the colorway "guinness".  it reminds me of a pint of stout being pulled, before it separates into distinct layers... a delicious blend of dark, chestnut brown and barely-dyed taupe.  this was the first attempt at breaking down a solid-color dye into a range of saturation values in one simple, lazy step.  Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) is my go-to breed for dyeing and spinning. the wool is soft enough for next-to-skin wear, and has a bit of sheen that shows off fancy stitches nicely. Corriedale wool is also very easy to dye and spin, though not quite as soft, so i reserve it for hearty projects or items to be worn over other clothing.

this was another attempt at the "one-step" method... except, i used two steps... and two colors.  the wool was first sparsely dyed in a relatively weak blue solution, and once it had absorbed all of the pigment, a reddish-pink color was added to the dye pot.  i adjusted the pH in the second step in order to allow some of the blue to bleed back into the pink... resulting in something that plays between lilac and violet.  this was a very loosely spun single, and it feels very spongy and almost weightless once it's knitted up.  the combo was never given a proper name, but it does make me think of "berry ripple" ice cream on one of the few remaining days of summer.  how time flies.  

somewhere near the bottom of the stash, i came across a small bundle of the yarn that made me a true believer. it's always nice to walk into a yarn shop and find something inspiring, but nothing beats the sheer magic of seeing your own creation come to life in your hands. the palette included chestnut, pumpkin, peacock blue, cornflower, and one or two other colors that have since fallen out of memory.  this combo remains unnamed.  there is no word in the English language that suitably describes this kind of happiness.


summer time, and the living is...

...so sweet!  seriously... it's the season of delicious, fresh, and fragrant produce.  i have never been able to walk away from a farmers' market or roadside stand without sampling and buying something tasty for my next meal.  one of the best part of summer is the non-stop parade of delicious fruit in season... from the first strawberries of late spring to the apples still ripening in the orchard.  as much as i enjoy the challenge of gorging on fresh cherries, plums, and concord grapes by the bowlful... there comes a point where even the most discerning consumer of freshness finds salvation in, of all places... the freezer.  it seems strange then to be turning to frozen fruit for a celebration of all things summery, but trust me.... it works!

if, like me, you prefer to purchase fruit and vegetables in season (a major aspect of the buy-local philosophy), the freezer is your best friend for extending the life of produce at peak freshness.  i also admit to being a bit frugal when it comes to... well... most things, and buying some items when the market is flooded is a great way to defer future cost. the first strawberries of spring were a bit too pricey to grab more than a pint or quart at a time, but summer strawberries are an absolute steal.  like most summer fruits, they freeze incredibly well.  trim the tops, freeze in a single-layer on a cookie sheet or any flat thing that won't crack or break, then pop into a "freezer" bag, and you have incredible berries well beyond the growing season.  i keep frozen pineapple on hand for potential emergencies... cause you never know when you need to make a pineapple-coconut-passionfruit smoothie at 3 in the morning.  what... am i the only one?

smoothie-ready melange of berries (left) and pineapple chunks (right).

one really practical use for frozen berries is in baking.  if you've ever tried to make a muffin or waffle batter with fresh berries, you will know why frozen is the way to go... unless you really were aiming for puree of raspberry muffins.   i recently found myself in possession of some frozen wild blueberries, which i took as a sign from the cosmos to work on my blueberry muffin recipe... so here goes.

Batman® cup of frozen, wild blueberries. and, yes... it is an internationally-recognized unit of measurement.

[this is actually half of the recipe, which makes 1 dozen normal-sized  (yay for new technical terms!!!) muffins or about 2 1/2 dozen mini muffins... or 1 9-inch "coffee-cake".  the quantities are very math friendly, so it can be halved again for a smaller batch or doubled if you want extras to freeze, share, or just to eat behind closed doors... at 3 in the morning... wearing your favorite Santa pajamas.  don't judge me!]

blueberry lemon-soured cream muffins
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated black pepper (totally optional, but i like it)
1/2 cup margarine (i prefer the finished texture, but you can substitute butter)
2/3 cup sugar (i use 1/2 c. for barely-sweet muffins, but you can go up to 1 c. for more sweetness)
2 large eggs
1 lemon
1/3-1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 cup frozen wild blueberries (raspberries or chopped-up strawberries work equally well)

preheat the oven to 375° F.  in a separate container, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and black pepper.  the freshly-ground black pepper adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the muffin... noticeable only as a slight tingle on the tongue... but it is totally optional.  grate the zest of the whole lemon and add to the flour mixture.  in a large mixing bowl, beat together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy, then incorporate the eggs and beat well to combine.  squeeze the juice of the previously-zested lemon into a measuring cup (watch out for seeds) then add cream or half-and-half up to the 1/2 cup mark.  you are intentionally curdling or "souring" the milk with the lemon juice.  add the soured-cream to the egg mixture and mix thoroughly.  add the vanilla and almond (optional) extract.  combine the dry ingredients with the egg-cream mixture and fold gently until the are barely incorporated, then add the frozen blueberries and fold a few more times (making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl) to distribute them in the mixture.  over-mixing can result in a tough, dense texture, so avoid that at all cost.  divide the mixture between greased or paper-lined muffin/cupcake pans filling each one about 2/3 full, and bake in the top half of the oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean (about 15-25 mins., depending on size).  for mini muffins, start keeping a careful eye on them after about 10 mins.  once done, allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 10 mins, then remove to a cooling rack.  they can be eaten warm or at room temperature, or cooled completely and frozen.  a fresh-frozen muffin warmed up in the microwave is almost as good as right out of the oven... if you can keep them around long enough to get to the freezer.


no... i am not working on the Guinness record for baked goods largeness.  i baked my mega-muffin  in a parchment-lined layer pan, and serve it cut into generous wedges.  great with tea, coffee, or a glass of season-appropriate fresh lemonade.  absurd amounts of joy!

slice of moist, crumbly happiness.  


it's not easy being green...

i'm not going to pretend that i enjoy the twice weekly grownup game of musical chairs (better known to us urban dwellers as alternate side of the street parking), but there are some pretty sweet perks to being a city kid.  i've been behind a lawn mower exactly once in my entire life – i did such a good job, my uncle made me cut his neighbor's grass while i was at it – and the walkway and front steps of my building are always cleared of snow and ice before i even get out of bed on cold winter mornings.

what i do find myself missing out on is the chance to get my hands truly dirty.  my last apartment came with a patio and outdoor garden space on the property.  i can't claim to have planted the best vegetable garden ever known to humankind, but i did have immense amounts of fun putting it together.  and, when i abandoned said garden to spend the summer elsewhere, a coworker and her partner gladly volunteered to keep up the regular watering in exchange for exclusive harvesting rights.  you'd think i handed them a winning lottery ticket.

my favorite part of a summer garden has always been the assortment of herbs that inspire months of culinary adventures.  limited as i am by my current surroundings, i've had to settle in the last few years for a long planter box perched on the ledge of a sunny window.  with such a tiny plot to claim as my own, i've had to become highly selective in what makes the final cut.  last year's assortment included two types each of basil and thyme, rosemary, and oregano.  in spite of having been neglected all winter and watered only when the surrounding houseplants looked like they were minutes away from certain death, the oregano and rosemary have decided to defy me by hanging in there like real troopers.


 (rosemary, with new addition in the background)

i've added lemon thyme, a perennial favorite that lends absurd amounts of flavor to seafood, and i'm saving the remaining space for a bit of thai basil.  so... it's not exactly rolling acres of crops, but it is my little slice of happiness.

(variegated lemon thyme)


the things we find along the way...

life has this funny way of presenting us with opportunities where we least expect them. i was hunting for an old notebook... any old notebook... and came up, instead, with a trio of empties begging to be filled.  the top notepad was purchased a few years back from a knick-knack seller in some quaint New England town.  it was the only item i ever purchased in my many visits to that particular shop, and i fully admit to giving in to girlish weakness over that super cute cover.  the middle one is a blank Bare Book from my days as a summer camp counselor.  if memory serves... i found the stark, white exterior incredibly intimidating, so i spent an evening covering it with many layers of torn, crumpled up grocery bags held in place with watered-down white glue.  the end result is reminiscent of a light, wrinkled leather.

and the bottom "book"... that's just a thing of sheer genius.  i made that one about 15 years ago, while trying to keep the young students in my gardening class occupied one dreary Saturday morning.  a fallen twig from a cherry tree, a couple pieces of corrugated cardboard, and a single sheet of handmade paper to embellish the front "cover"... and a notebook is born.

oh.. and a few pieces of goldenrod paper i "borrowed" from the copy machine.  what???  it was work-related.  

my favorite part is the back cover, specifically... the knot in the strand of raffia that holds it all together.  

now... i just need to find a pen.


salvage job...

so... i made this bracelet...

but i've been haunted by this feeling
of overwhelming incompleteness.  it just did't feel done.  don't get me wrong... i am renowned for the dullness of my mostly-black wardrobe, but i do love bold accessories.  this thing just... well... it has all the excitement of hand-washing gym socks.

so, i sorted through my stash, and added a few random bits and bobs in an effort to create a more controlled-disorder effect. 

not bad, eh?

i love the twisty metal bits and the crystal dangling from the chain.  this project ranks somewhere in the range of advanced-beginner.  it is, after all, a simple charm bracelet... but there is so much beauty in simplicity.   

oh... and i had a handful of wired beads left over...

so i wrapped them onto a a few links, added ear hooks, et voilà... earrings!!!  with a bracelet that busy, it's best to keep the earrings simple, or just opt for a pair of hoops instead.

after all the hard work taking pictures of my own wrist,  i unwound with a treat from the little pâtisserie up the street that claims to make the world's best donuts.  the pillowy, old-fashioned dough is filled with a vanilla pastry cream that is absolutely superb.  the chocolate donut disappeared mysteriously while i was searching for the camera.  hey... no one's ever accused me of having either patience or self-control.  not sure if i'm ready to uphold the advertised claim of world's best... but that is one absurdly good donut.