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.