crewel lye: a caustic yarn...

i purchased a bottle of lye during a trip to the local hardware store. my favorite animator was (understandably) concerned.

him: isn't that the stuff serial killers use to dissolve bodies in bathtubs?
me: why, yes... yes it is.

let me state for the record that no one was hurt during the making of this post, and that the body count is still holding at zero. i did, however, put some of that lye to use, along with a few supplies borrowed from the kitchen pantry. behold... i have made soap!!! 

okay, so it may not have been the most life-altering experience (although my favorite animator seems to think this means that we will never ever ever ever have to buy soap again), but it was a great deal of fun. i made melt-and-pour soap in the past, but that is a far cry from playing around with caustic, dangerous chemicals in the comfort of my own kitchen. 

i added some dried lavender and oatmeal to the mix, which imparted a rather rustic look to the end product. rustic is, of course, the polite way of saying "it looks like you made them with both eyes closed and all your limbs tied behind your back". 

i had some difficulty removing the uncut block from the mold (aka, the bottom section i had sliced away from a large plastic jug in which we purchased cat litter). i had to employ brute force... and a box cutter.  it was not pretty, but it got the job done. i gathered up all the bits that had broken off around the edges during the struggle and pressed them together into a disc-shaped bar.  [is it still a "bar" if it is not bar-shaped???]  

this batch yielded sixteen bars, plus the scrap disc. not bad for an amateur effort. this was a cold-process soap (i.e., no heat was applied to the mixture), which means that it will take about a month for the bars to cure before use. i did not want to sacrifice my metal cooling rack for this part of the process, so i rigged up a couple drying racks from bamboo skewers and hot glue. i am like 'MacGyver meets Martha Stewart'... minus the explosions... and the prison record. 

in fibery news, i am making slow-but-steady progress on the orange sherbet lace cardi, though it is mighty hard to be enthusiastic about playing with yarn when it has jumped from warmish to purgatory-hot in a matter of days. i have also decided to forego my (three-year-long) custom of purchasing a raw fleece (or two). as much as i love playing with dirty wool (and i do realize how bonkers that sounds, but it is completely true), i am already up to my eyeballs in yarn, most of which feels like torture against my oh-so-delicate skin. so, no fleece... but i am scheming on obtaining a sweater's worth of Sublime Evie, because it would be nice to make a squishy sweater for self for a change. however, i am waiting for them to release a more respectable selection of colors, because the last thing i need is more shades of sherbet in my life. 


prescription for sanity...

truth be told, while i was inclined to take a break from this whole post-a-week thing, i would like to think myself capable of seeing one thing through to the end. here goes...

it has been one of those weeks, when life seems full of sleeplessness and the growing realization of one's sanity receding at a steady pace. i have taken appropriate steps using the only type of prescription my brand of doctorhood allows: chocolate, ice cream, and yarn... to be administered as needed.

i have just about run out of stuff to dye, so i took a mad hunt through the stash for anything that could benefit from a bit of over-dyeing. many moons ago, i purchased a large lot of alpaca yarn, enough to make a sweater (or two), or many smaller accessories. there was only one problem... well, two problems. the fiber is put up at roughly 430 yards per 50 gram ball, which puts it smack-dab in the middle of the generally-accepted parameters for a laceweight yarn. [why the fiber industry insists on mixing metric and imperial measuring terms is a rant for another day].

"just how thin is a laceweight yarn", you ask? "stupid thin", i reply.

my fantasy at the time of purchase involved up-spinning (or plying) it into something significantly thicker, so that i could produce a garment without resorting to gnawing off my own fingers. that is still a possibility, but i stole a few balls for emergency sanity dyeing. yes, it is grey (which is the other problem), so i had to go bold and bright with my color choice. i grabbed one of my très-posh niddy-noddies, made from PVC...

 and turned the balls of yarn into skeins (which makes for even dye penetration).

everything looks pretty in a skein, which is why hand-dyed yarn is usually presented in this format.

i opted to go with a combination of Caribbean Blue and Peacock Blue. i vow, time and again, to stop using blues (as they are notorious for bleeding like mad), but i am hopelessly addicted. i saved the paper towel that was used to wipe up some splashes for context in the before-and-after image.

the end product looks navy, but it is more like sapphire with a healthy splash of teal. it is a rich tone, befitting a precious gem.

all the other domestic details are as usual, apart from waking up today to discover that my zucchini and potato plants have been vandalized. there are no solid leads thus far, but i am questioning the usual suspects.


awkward talk about the birds and the bees...

shortly before the sun rises each morning, plump zucchini buds unfurl to greet the day. it is a magical sight, if you happen to be awake at such ridiculous times.

if you happen to have planted your squashes outdoors, you can just sit back and let nature do the pollinating. however, if you are crazy enough to be growing them indoors, then you have the choice of either capturing bees and setting them free in your home, or grabbing a small paintbrush and doing the job yourself. 

it should be noted that the bee population is pretty healthy here in Montreal, so much so that my favorite animator purchased a jar of honey back at the start of the winter that was collected and bottled according to different areas of the city. this batch is from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (our neighborhood) and Westmount (the adjoining neighborhood). the intent was to provide some controlled inoculation against the constellation of pollen in our area—the old 'hair of the dog' approach—in hopes of reducing my pollen-nightmare come summer. while i like that idea and generally support the consumption of local honey, keeping a hive of bees in my apartment might be taking things a bit too far.

now, as you may recall from biology class, some flowers reproduce sexually, which mans you have to have to get the male stuff in contact with female stuff. with some plants—tomatoes, for example—each flower contains all the necessary parts to get the job done. you can fertilize tomatoes indoors by either turning a gentle fan on the plants or giving the plants a light shake daily to encourage pollen mobility. however, with plants like squash, there are separate male and female flowers, so you have to get a bit more... uhm... invasive. 

the idea is to mimic the action of bees traveling from plant to plant. find a male flower and remove some pollen using a small brush, cotton swab, or your finger (make sure the plant consents before trying that last one), then pass that pollen along from one female flower to another. some people prefer to remove a male flower from the plant, tear off the petals to reveal the stamen (the pointy bit in the middle of a squash blossom), and use that to directly transfer pollen to the female flowers. i will refrain from finding any metaphors in that process, but that is the long and the short of the thing. 

seems simple enough, right? except, the whole sexual reproduction thing only works if you have both male and female zucchini flowers on your plants. between my four plants, there have been more than thirty large blossoms in the last week alone... every single one of them was male! the female flower is distinct in that the stalks tend to be much shorter and there is usually a teeny-tiny zucchini at the base of the bloom, which grows larger after it is properly fertilized. all i have gotten so far are long stems and stamens... so many stamens. for a few days, i grabbed my paintbrush every morning and went through the whole routine, until i finally gave up and accepted that there were no female flowers in sight. it was quite amusing.

me: i don't think i have seen a single female flower yet on these plants.
him: but i thought you were pollinating them every morning.
me: i thought so too, but there is nothing to pollinate.
him: so you've just been rubbing their little pimpeks together? 
me: some plants like that sort of thing.

at which point, we both erupted into indescribable laughter, which tends to happen quite a lot around here. 

it is not unusual for squash plants to produce male flowers before the female flowers begin to emerge, and there are still tons of tiny buds waiting to develop, so i have not given up hope. however, there i was with many blossoms that open for just a few hours (at the crack of dawn mind you, so that if you sleep in late, you will miss the whole thing) before wilting and eventually falling off the plant. what a waste, no? well, actually... no. they are totally edible, raw or cooked, and delicious to boot!

i tend to prefer them sauteed very briefly with a bit of garlic and olive oil, but as my favorite animator is new to this delicacy, he got to pick the cooking method. i attempted to expose him to the culinary potentials, but he saw a photo of tempura-style fried flowers, and that was it. 

i collected all the opened blossoms (plus a couple from the previous day that had wilted, but not yet dried out).

they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one day (though they will look pretty sad by that point). i dunked them individually into a bowl of cold water and stored them atop a barely-damp paper towel in a covered plastic container. that is just enough moisture to prolong wilting, but you do not want them sitting in a puddle of water).

then i made a crazy-simple mixture of flour, soda water, sea salt, black pepper, and a pinch of yeast (which i added because i like the fermenty taste, but i had no beer on hand to use instead of soda water), then battered and fried the flowers. you can probably hold your breath for longer than it takes to cook zucchini blossoms. it really is that easy. we had them as is, and it was declared a success... which probably means that we will be eating this many more times in the near future.


so very very...

it was a deadline week in our tiny studio, and tension tends to run a bit high at such times. apparently, i add to the stress by asking difficult questions (like, "how is it going?"), so i have mostly been keeping the teacups overflowing and generally excelling in my (wholly unpaid) role of assistant, junior, support-staff trainee... second-grade... because i am fairly certain that at least one of the cats outranks me.

i used some of that trying to stay out of the way time to work on the orange sherbet cardi from last week's post, which is pictured here with a zucchini leaf that was broken by someone climbing over my plants to get outside. my favorite animator claims it was a cat, but i am not convinced.

the lace goes by very quickly. i am already a few inches shy of completing the back, so (hopefully) i will cast on the front panels in the next day (or more, no rush). my striped-pajama covered knee/thigh is included for scale, as i was holding the camera with one hand and using the other hand to keep Baby Bear out of the way.

earlier this week, i took some detailed notes regarding the many dimensions of my favorite animator's feet, so i may be possibly trying to talk myself into considering looking into perhaps weighing the likelihood of potentially knitting him some socks... maybe.

one pretty awesome thing did happen this week. i got to spread a little bit of absurdity halfway around the world. some years back, i was relating my tales of squirrel-fear to some gaming associates, when someone made an unreasonable request. "can you knit me a sweater..." (that is not the unreasonable part) "with squirrels" (yep... that is the craziness). clearly, i need to keep better company, but i welcome any excuse to play with wool. it took me precisely three(ish) years to get this done, and there may have been two previously abandoned models, so this is technically the Squirrel Cardi... Mach III.

it is equally exciting from the back.

there was no real pattern. it is a very basic top-down raglan cardigan with a bit of stranded knitting around the chest and a few accent stripes. i adapted the squirrel design from some charts i found on the interwebs, and i tossed in some sheep... because baaaaaaaa!!! seriously...  i knitted a sweater covered in squirrels. did i really need an excuse to add sheep?

and speaking of squirrels... the grey pair have returned to their favorite knot-hole in the large maple.

the lives of our local pests are filled with drama that rivals anything on television. there was an attempt by a newcomer from a neighboring tree to usurp that prime bit of real estate, but the greys proved triumphant. the victors have been dragging bits of twigs into the hole for days now, and they seem to have added some sort of fluffy insulation (which looks like tufts of their own fur), so i assume it is just a matter of time before the next generation of pests emerges.

i kinda feel bad for the usurper. all he can do at this point is look on from a distance with envy. however, based on some of the antics that have been going on outside my window in recent weeks, i fully expect that next generation to be sporting chocolaty-brown tails. drama!

in other (equally pointless) news, my love affair rages on with all things Asian cinema (which i recognize is a poor descriptive term for movies that span such a wide range of genres). i have an indescribable fondness for detective books and films (Poirot, Marple, Holmes, Inspector Wexford, and all the rest), so that has influenced most of this week's watch list. tonight's highlight will be revisiting The Bullet Vanishes, which i have seen more times than i care to admit, as it is quite enjoyable (plus, Nicholas Tse is so very very... pretty much). i will be watching it this time followed by the sequel, The Vanished Murderer, which i have never seen, but i was forewarned that it might disappoint. i took the precaution of lowering my expectations by watching a whole lot of rubbish this week, the low-point of which had to be Adventure of the King, which is what i get for taking recommendations from IMDB. the only noteworthy thing about that film was the (too brief, uncredited) appearance of Hark-On Fung, who will be eternally referred to in our home as the rapist (in reference to his role in The Iron-Fisted Monk and Magnificent Butcher). i also rather enjoyed the character of the royal historian, because he is so very colorful in the wielding of his pen, and that really is the mightiest weapon of them all.