31: eight Batmans later...

i asked my favorite animator if i could borrow one of his Batmans to use in my photo for today's post.

him: which one do you want?
me: you know that one i really like.

so he disappeared into the studio, and returned with the Mike Mignola maquette.

me: not that one. you know my favorite one... the one with the cape.

this one features Batman perched contemplatively atop a Gargoyle... high above Gotham.

him: that one is your favorite? why?
me: why not? just look at the ripples on that cape as it's draped over the gargoyle. they captured that texture perfectly.

him: that is what you like about it?
me: yep. why do you say that like it's wrong?
him: it just seems like an odd reason. maybe it's a knitting thing. 

we were both standing in the studio at this point, while he moved several other Batman figures out of the way to get to the one i wanted at the back of the display case.

me: on second thought... give me ALL of the Batmans. 

naturally, i was not trusted to actually carry any of them out to the table in the living room, so i went there and waited for them to be brought to me one at a time.

me: this is kinda like those archaeology documentaries where they go to a museum to examine some ancient artifact, and it has to be brought out of a special protective case, and they are only allowed to touch the item while wearing white gloves. 

then the Batmans started to arrive... one at a time. eight Batmans later, he asked me if that was enough?

me: there's more?

then he gave me a look that let me know i had asked a silly question. so he went back to the studio, and returned with five more Batmans.

him: there's some more of them in the boxes in the closet. i can go rummaging if you want more.
me: i think this will be plenty. no rummaging required. 

i need to offer a brief explanation to put this final post into perspective. this topic was intentionally left for the end for a couple reasons. firstly, it was the longest-delayed of all of the things i intended to talk about, as it all started more than a year ago. and, secondly, it was intended to be a story told in three parts, but i have not quite gotten around to the last bit just yet, so i am hoping that ending off the month on this topic would encourage me to get back to that part of things.

anyhoo... thank you to anyone who stuck around for the month of postings, and what follows is a rather bizarre account that begins with an obituary, and ends with something that genuinely brought me a great deal of joy.

i was scrolling through the headlines one morning last Summer, when something caught my eye.

me: aww... Batman is dead.
him: yeh. i saw that earlier.
me: that's kinda sad.

you know how some people experience a meltdown at the death of a favorite celebrity... so they run right out and re-purchase every book, movie, or album (s)he ever produced... then they call in sick for the next two weeks so they can read, watch, or listen to it all on a loop?

well... i am far too much of a stoic to ever behave like that. if life was a Star Trek series, Vulcans would be constantly telling me that i need to lighten up. it really is that bad.

to have lived a long and truly interesting life is about the best thing i could ever hope for anyone, and Adam West certainly did just that. however, the news of his death kept going around in my mind. it was not necessarily about the man, or the character with which he was so closely identified. it was all those memories of the childhood years i spent watching Batman reruns in the Summer. those were some really good times.

i spent most of those extended breaks from school with two of my closest friends. their mom (who was my mom's best friend) babysat a few little kids from their neighborhood during the week, so their house was always awash in activity.

by contrast, i was the only child in a single-parent home, and my mom's job on Wall Street meant that she frequently worked long hours. even when i was old enough to be home alone for the whole day, that meant being by myself for all of that time, so (naturally) i went where the action was.

no exaggeration, i would show up at their door on Monday morning, and mom would call on Friday to ask if i planned on coming home for the weekend. i sometimes said no, so she would stop by on her way home to pick up my laundry and drop off some clean clothes on her way to work on Monday.

it really was that much fun being at their place. we would throw blankets and pillows on the living room floor every evening, then watch late-night reruns until we fell asleep. i have seen every episode of The Odd Couple, MASH, All in the Family, The Honeymooners, and all those other old shows more times than i care to admit, because that was how we ended every single day.

then we would wake up the next morning, have breakfast, and do it all over again. there was Gilligan's Island, Star Trek, The Dukes of Hazard, Fantasy Island, Leave it to Beaver, The Love Boat, I Love Lucy, and (of course) Batman. nothing screams "summertime" like watching some guy in a mask and long johns walking up walls and fake-punching bad guys, with his equally-ridiculously-attired young ward in tow. seriously good times!

their mom usually kicked us out of the house when the afternoon soap operas started, and we would spend the rest of the day playing with the other kids on the block, returning briefly to have dinner, then running back out to carry on playing well into the evening. i learned to ride a bike on that block. i learned to roller skate on that block. i learned to jump double-dutch on that block. all sandwiched between our watching of too much old-time tv.

seriously... why would i have passed up a second of that to be back home at our place, where i spent most of my time alone in my room with my nose stuck in a book? i am certain all of that reading helped in nurturing the ├╝ber-nerd i eventually grew up to be, but it was nothing compared to time spent in the company of friends while we reveled in the joy of summertime.

 so, there i was that Saturday morning, drifting on a cloud of happy childhood memories, when the urge to do something creative finally got the best of me. i went rummaging through the closet at the end of the hall that houses most of my yarn-related supplies.

him: what are you doing?
me: Batman is dead. i'm gonna dye some yarn.
him: i see.

it was not yarn at this point. that part came later. i had purchased a pound of unspun fiber from The Fibre Garden with every intention of dyeing and spinning it into my very own yarn for socks (for him, naturally, because my constellation of allergies does not allow for the wearing of such things).

i weighed out half of the fiber—reserving the other half for some future must-dye-something-now emergency—then carried it and all of the other necessary bits out to the balcony.

[that roll of plastic wrap that shows up in many of these photos is not some un-clever attempt at product placement of any kind. it was an important part of the dye process. this blog is not underwritten by the folks at Glad® or any of their affiliates, nor do they supply me with free (or even discounted) products in exchange for shoving them into random photos.]

i also mixed up all of the dyes before going outside, and tested the colors in the usual highly-scientific way (i.e. i touched the end of the stir-sticks to a piece of paper towel). yep... you can definitely see how i got that PhD.

next came the fiber.

this stuff is so fluffy and beautiful, even before it is dyed.

i made a loose knot at one end, and used my hands to make a long crochet-like chain to keep it organized (i also drank a lot of sangria to stay hydrated). this took a few minutes, as i had to get through quite a bit of yarn... and sangria.

finally i had a long chain ready to dye.

first i soaked the wool in water with a healthy splash of vinegar. this is where i usually pull out a white lab coat and put on my biggest glasses to explain the importance of pH in dyeing fiber, but i will spare you that lecture. just trust me that it is an important part of the thing.

next i drained and squeezed most of the water from the fiber, as i did not want it to be a drippy mess for the next stage, as that would only result in the colors bleeding together when i apply the dye.

this fiber was from BFL sheep. they have curly wool, which gets straightened out when the fiber is processed, but it goes back to being curly when it gets wet. kinda like if i was to flat-iron my own hair... then walk bareheaded in the rain.

now we dye!!!

i unrolled as long a piece of plastic wrap as i could fit on the part of the balcony that was not crowded with large containers of plants, and folded the braid of fiber a couple-few times to fit on top of that.

then i grabbed my applicator bottles which i had filled with dye in a bright yellow, deep blue, and dark bluish-grey.

this is, basically, the recipe for making a whole lot of muddy green, so i had to try to keep the colors separated. the first step was to squeeze most of the water from the fiber, and the second step was to maintain a small border about half an inch wide (that is roughly one centimeter for the entire rest of the world) between the colors. capillary action would wick enough of the dye from either side to bridge that gap without excessive blending of the colors.

next i folded up the long sides of the plastic, making sure to overlap them as tightly as i could...

then i folded the plastic to seal the ends and rolled the whole thing up like a psychedelic cinnamon roll. you usually know right away if there was too much liquid in your fiber, as the dye will run, pool, and ultimately leak while you are doing this part. ask me how i know.

i was ready to add this to my dye pot so it could be steamed for a bit to set the dye, then i had a change of heart.

now, i always dye fiber in my dye pot, but there are all those lunatics who talk about setting dye in their microwave, because... you know... it is so much faster. i was already being uncharacteristically sentimental. why not give it a try? so i did.

those same lunatics usually say things like, "all it takes is five minutes in the microwave"... then you see all of the dye bleeding into their rinse water, because it did not have enough time/heat to properly bond to the fiber.

by contrast, when i dye wool in my dyepot, i usually keep it at the "threatening to boil" point for twenty to thirty minutes (or even longer when i am working with those pesky blue tones), then i turn off the heat and leave the whole thing to cool. trying to rush the process only ends with washing dye down the drain that should have been bonded to your fiber.

still, i went ahead and gave the microwave heat-set a try. i heated it for a total of ten minutes, giving the cinnamon roll a flip halfway through the time. i brought the bowl back outside and left it to cool while i finished my drink and examined the dye that always manages to sneak past the big rubber gloves and stain my hands. not too bad this time.

i spent some of that time watching a tiny spider construct a web between the container of tomatoes and the strawberry pot of herbs. the yellow/black is the spider, and the white spot is the center of the web. if you squint really hard, you can just barely make out the circular lines of the web. it was a very small spider and a very thin web.

once the fiber was cool enough to handle without risking injury to my person, i opened one end of the plastic wrap, and let the fiber slide out into a sink of warm water with a squirt of soap (to help neutralize the acid and remove any loose dye), then rinsed it in plain water. i was genuinely shocked by the absence of dye bleeding, as i was fully prepared to add microwave dyeing to the list of things you see on the internet that you should never try at home. trust me... you do not want to know what else is on that list.

the hardest part came next. finding even more patience to wait till all that wool dries. it looked like a colorful wet dog at this stage, but wait till you see how it turned out... next time!


30: envelope of delights...

we recently discovered a restaurant right here in Montreal that does a phenomenal job at making one of my absolute favorite foods on the planet, i present to you, the humble roti

this one requires a bit of background, with just a hint of history and a splash of geography for good measure. to begin with, i am using the term roti as it applies to Caribbean food culture. in that setting, it is a wrap-type sandwich (similar to a burrito) which consists of a thin outer bread layer that is wrapped around an assortment of curried vegetables and meats. the contents are limited only by the maker's imagination.  

however, the name of the dish is ultimately derived from the (east) Indian roti, which is the name for the super-thin flatbread itself. in fact, the whole dish is a reflection of the influx of East Indian workers into the region during colonial times, and continuing up through the mid twentieth century. 

full disclosure: part of my extended family—including one of my grandparents—is of Indian descent. however, you do not have to go digging through anyone's family tree to recognize the influence of Indian culture in just about every facet of Caribbean life, and this one dish may just be the single best culinary representation of that influence.

every part of the Caribbean has their own take on a roti, and every eater has their personal preference as to how it should be served. while some form of curried meat (chicken, lamb, goat, shrimp) is considered part of the standard filling, i have had some amazing rotis that were filled with such a tasty assortment of curried vegetables, potato, and chickpeas (which i absolutely love) that you would not miss the meat. 

full disclosure... this is NOT considered to be "posh food". you are far more likely to find the best rotis being sold from a food truck or a hole-in-the-wall type restaurant. it is a meal that is designed to be eaten on the go, which is probably why it is usually sold tightly wrapped in parchment-type paper.

this is the "neat" side...

flip it over to reveal of the ends, which are neatly folded and tucked to form an edible envelope of delights. i did not want to risk making a mess by unfolding it any further, as i can never seem to return it to to the starting position.

you will occasionally come across someone who tries to impress anyone who might be watching by discarding said wrapping paper, and eating it with a knife and fork. however, among us far-less-pretentious types, it is  most convenient to unwrap it just enough to take a few bites...

then just continue to 'unwrap and eat', until done. that wrapping paper may be the only thing keeping a generously-stuffed roti from unraveling, and curry stains are for life. ask me how i know.

it should be noted, if i am being completely honest, that this is one of the few dishes i am genuinely afraid of making at home. it is not because of the filling. i have been making curries since i was like eight years old. i could manage that part with both eyes closed. the intimidation factor is all about the dough.

let me give you a bit of perspective so you can better understand this fear. you would need to stack at least five or six of those roti flat-breads together to reach the thickness of a pita bread. crazier still, it is traditionally made from a multi-layered dough, and you can usually peel away one tissue-thin layer after another. 

do you see that crumbly yellow stuff lurking right under the surface of the bread? that is a mixture of ground, spiced split-peas... and it is in between the layers of the dough... and all of those layers together are only a fraction of the thickness of a pita. 

i love a culinary challenge, but i lack the patience to work with such thin dough. but now i do not have to even try, because the Curry House is just a short drive away from my door. my life in Canada finally makes sense. 

oh, in my excitement... i almost forgot the sign. yep... it definitely makes sense. 


29: used to (almost) be...

my mom is always complaining about being cold. the inside of their office is kept feeling like a walk-in fridge in mid-Summer. then there is the arctic chill along the Hudson River in mid-Winter, which makes going to and from her workplace feel like you are in a wind tunnel in Antarctica. as a result, she is always cold.

i welcome any excuse to make use of my ever-expanding stash of yarn, so i took up the challenge of making a cardi (or two) for my mom. specifically, i wanted to make a wool sweater that could be used as an extra layer of insulation under her Winter coat, but that she could wear unbuttoned around the office to keep her shoulders and arms warm during the air-conditioned Summer months.

after much contemplation of both yarn and pattern options, i finally set out on the seemingly simple task of making a cardi for my mom. then everything went terribly wrong.

this used to (almost) be a cardi for my mom.

[random aside: i am drinking a very non-Summery cup of hot chocolate and taking my patented mix of 'one of each type' of headache tablets, because it is one of those days. moving on...]

all that remains is this narrow strip from the bottom of the back section. well... that plus all the yarn that has been wound into a ball about the size of my very-non-small head. i went searching for said ball of yarn today, but it was nowhere to be found. hopefully i did not toss is away in a fit of absolute frustration.

there are those moments in life, when you have to accept that something is not meant to be... then you stop wasting your own time. unfortunately, i tend to suck at taking my own advice. i kept encountering one minor problem after the next, and each time i would rip back to some earlier point, then try to figure out what i was doing wrong. i probably threatened on multiple occasions to send the whole thing flying through an un-opened window, out into the middle of the street below. that is my go-to threat when faced with so much frustration, and he always says the same thing.

him: go ahead... but you're the one who's gonna fix the broken window. 

turns out, i really did not like the choice of that particular yarn for that project. it was producing  fabric that felt very uncomfortable in my hands, and i knew that the finished garment would lack the cozy factor that i was counting on for my mom.

so, one day, as i was in the midst of unraveling the previous inch or two with the intention of knitting that bit over again, frustration got the best of me... so i kept on unraveling. that strip remains only because i wanted to hang on to part of it so that i could try to figure out what went so terribly wrong.

i was so annoyed at this point, that i went on a mini-marathon of knitting other stuff, just to get that project out of my mind. there was the cardi for his mom (which i talked about earlier in the month)...

i also kitted a couple warm weather tops for me (which i will try to remember to take photos of one of these days), and i made a Flax sweater pour moi. i made one for him a few years ago, and it is his go-to sweater in the Winter, which warms this knitter's heart. now i have one of my very own. hopefully it will get just as much use.

my Flax includes a side-split on the hem, and the back is a couple inches longer than the front, which i tend to prefer these days.

i also made the column of grater stitches (the horizontal ridges) a bit wider than the pattern suggested... because i can do what i want with my own top.

with that done, i (finally) tracked down the leather elbow patches for his Watsyn Cardigan, so now he is allowed to wear it... you know... once it goes back to being cold again.

i love this design so much. it is sized from child to adult, so you can get plenty of use out of the one pattern. the collar is my favorite part.

i added pockets to his Watsyn (which was not part of the original design), and i finished it off with some coconut shell buttons with a design that reminds me of the Daymare Town games.

still, in the midst of all of this activity, all i kept thinking was, i really should be knitting that cardi for mom. however, it was so warm out by this point, that the thought of sitting around with a lap full of a heavy wool garment seemed like a punishment, so i opted instead to start working on a less-bulky sweater using the same pattern as in the cardi for his mom.

it was my sincerest intent to have this done by the end of this month, but it has been so hot and muggy, that working with wool was not a realistic option. i managed to get the odd few rows done, especially on the really unpleasant days when we had the AC blasting, but it is very hard to be motivated by a wool sweater in the middle of a heatwave.

this is about as far as it has gotten. it does not look it right now, but i assure you that the Sibella is a really beautiful cardigan.

the bottom edge is rolled up, so it is a bit longer than it appears at present. this rolling is typical for this kind of knitted fabric, and it will sort itself out once the ribbed hem is added along the bottom.

i used the same approach as with the gold cardi: begging in the middle, knitting up through the patterned yoke section, up to the neckline, then resuming knitting from the bottom of the yoke, and i will continue on in that direction down to the bottom edge.

i know that mom likes her sweaters on the longer side, so i plan to keep on knitting until i run out of yarn. for that reason, i put the body stitches on hold, while i work on the sleeves (i am almost done with the first one), then i will go back to working on the body, making sure i reserve enough yarn to add the button bands at the end.

i love this pattern so much, and i will very likely make the pullover sweater version for myself at some point.

so, while i have been (mostly) neglecting the cardi, i did cast on—and i have almost completed—a light, almost-meshy cotton layering piece that i will most likely also give to my mom... although i may wear it once or twice before doing so. it is the Alfama cardi by Amy Christoffers. i absolutely loved this pattern at first sight. it would be a fantastic cover-up for those cooler days at the end of the Summer. and i am making a longer version than the sample, because 'tush coverage' is a high-priority in my life.

the yarn i am using for this is a (mostly) cotton blend with some little blips of color that only makes me think of clown barf. i have not spent much time around barfing clowns, but it seems safe to think it might look something like this.

the clown barf cardi will definitely be done some time this week, and i will hopefully get back to working on the other one... unless some other thing catches my attention before then.