Change of Seasons

Goodness, but it’s been a while!

Such a busy summer with lots of weekend travels and working at the still-new-to-me job. But after a beautiful, long late summer Autumn is finally in the air and I have to say I am ready.

The past few weeks have been filled with canning (apples and salsa verde) and dehydrating (peppers, onions, and herbs). I’ve finally baked a few morning-coffee things, and cinnamon and spice smell incredible right now. It’s just so right for this time of year.

Nesting is setting in, too. I’ve made new pillow covers for some throw pillows, washed all the fabric curtains in the house, and am in the middle of a deep dusting everywhere. You know, the kind where you get up on a ladder with the vacuum’s hose attachment.

Knitting was almost non-existent around here this summer. After the Knot Hysteria retreat, it was as if I was topped-off on fiber for a while. But lately I’ve been churning out Puffs.

I’ve reached a grand total of 69. (I found 5 more on my desk after I took this photo!)

And… Angelberry is finished! As soon as it goes to its new owner I will post pictures of the final steps and the stole in all of its sparkling glory.

In a walk around the yard today (in between the rain showers), it’s evident that the transition of seasons is well underway. The hydrangea are getting rusty.

Brilliant colors are all around, but not quite yet everywhere.

The hosta are making one last statement of autumn beauty.

Benny and I saw our first spawning salmon of the year, and we were lucky enough to watch it wiggle its way up the creek.

Happy Autumn!

More Butter

I am still floating on the afterglow of last weekend’s Knot Hysteria Gourmet Retreat.

You may know by now that I am a firm believer that a little preparation and quality ingredients go a long, long way toward producing great results. I find this to be true in many areas of life, and particularly in food and fiber – and my beliefs were strengthened exponentially during the retreat.

Preparation

I deeply appreciated Chef Dan’s emphasis on and coaching of “mise en place” – the pre-work of cooking. He spent a good part of our first session teaching about what mise en place means and the importance of it when you are cooking – particularly for large quantities, but even for when we returned home and were cooking for a dinner party or just ourselves.

Mise en place is the process of preparing all of your ingredients properly and appropriately ahead of time. This enables a streamlined approach for the chef during the actual cooking process.

And Chef Dan was very right – I was watching different stations during the day, and I could easily see the difference between those who had properly executed mise en place and those who hadn’t. It wasn’t Zen vs. Bedlam, but it wasn’t too different from that either.

Quality Ingredients

I’m guessing you can celebrate with me when I share that our team’s meal included Theo’s chocolate, Parmigiano Reggiano, Copper River salmon, true cave-aged Roquefort from France, Holmquist farms hazelnuts, and freshly-picked salad greens and English peas from a local farm.


(This salmon waits for Chef Dan to show us his filleting technique.)


(The evening’s salmon portions, waiting to be seared and then taken into the kitchen for further prep and cooking.)

It also included butter.

Lots and lots of butter.

There were over two pounds of butter in the decadence we made. But what really freaked me out was the Beurre Blanc.

It started like this: I’d worked with two other fabulous ladies, Lisa and Heather, to turn those Holmquist hazelnuts into cayenne candied garnishes for the salad.


(Our mise en place for candied hazelnuts.)


(Another shot of our hazelnut prep.)

That work took almost no time, so quickly we were looking for another task. Chef Dan wandered by and split us between stations, and I was sent to begin the Beurre Blanc.

Mindful of my mise en place, I started to gather sauce pans, whisks, spatulas, and shallots. I carried all of these items to the station and set them up. Then my new team-mates, Karen and Rebecca, reviewed our list and scattered to find the final items. My job? Get the butter.

I went to the supply shelves and spied the two and a half blocks of butter sitting there.


(The butter’s hiding in the back, between the asparagus and container of vegetable stock.)

At that point, I was forced to turn to one of our leads, Chef Dave, and utter words I could hardly believe: “We’re going to need more butter. Lots more butter.” Chef Dave: “How much more?” Me: “Two pounds.”

That’s right. Beurre Blanc for 23 portions: Four pounds of butter. Whoa.

Karen and I minced shallots and started the reduction. Rebecca pulled yeoman’s duty and cut up those huge bricks of butter into tablepoon-ish sized pieces.


(Perspective is everything – In the top picture, that’s a one cup measure and a 2-gallon plastic container filled with shallots. The cutting board was at least 24″ long. Trust me… that was a HUGE pile of butter.)

Chef Dan returned to oversee our efforts, and the next words out of his mouth were “It’s my job today to show you how to add as much butter to this Beurre Blanc as is humanly possible.”

Right there, I knew I’d found my happy place.


(The Beurre Blanc reduction bubbling away.)

And with Chef Dan’s guidance, we were a blazing success. Into just a tablespoon or two of reduction we melted and whisked piece after piece of butter, pound after pound. By the time we’d finished (gauged by Chef Dan’s speedy taste and crisp proclamation “You’re DONE”), we’d managed to cram about three and a half pounds of butter into those two pans of sauce.

We poured the whole thing into a chinoise and pressed every last bit of butter through the mesh. We had an incredible, delicate, piquant butter sauce.

Ah, beautiful success.

Gourmet Indeed

Well I’ve just returned from a weekend away at Knot Hysteria’s first Gourmet Retreat and all I can say is “Wow!”

Previous Knot Hysteria retreats were typically a three-day extravaganza of knitting, dyeing, and spinning. But Tina and Stephanie had received some feedback that ‘not everyone spins’ and so they thought of a combination that non-spinners might like: One day of knitting with and learning about luxury fiber; one day of dyeing luxury fiber;  and one day – wait for it – in the kitchen with renowned head chef of the Inn at Port Ludlow, Dan Ratigan. With him, we spent a day learning tips and tricks of the trade while actually helping to make a gourmet supper for 50 new friends.

Like I said: Wow!

Here’s a brief photo tour through my weekend…

Day 1: Learning about and knitting with luxury fiber, with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee


(The first rounds of a cowl knit with luxury fibers: Cashmere, silk, bison, qiviut and more)

Day 2: The vagaries and mercurial nature of luxury fibers, and how to dye them, with Tina Newton (DepraveDyer of Blue Moon Fiber Arts)


(The classroom before we messed it up)


(Dying a truly beautiful skein of bison in navy and royal blue)


(Dyeing a complementary pair of skeins of MCN (merino, cashmere, nylon) sock yarn)

Day 3: Gourmet, a holistic approach, with Chef Dan


(You have this many saute pans in your kitchen, right? There is a shot of Chef Dan in action)

 
(Yes, that is an entire quarter round of Parmigiano Reggiano, shipped directly to the Inn a Port Ludlow from Italy. I am still freaking over it.)


(A Decadence is born: Theo’s bittersweet chocolate and a whole lot of butter.)


Now, being an actual spinner, I found it a little funny that this was the first KH retreat that I was irresistibly drawn to. I’d seen the others, but had never felt that I *must* go. This one was different – I knew from the first read that I had to go, and I’m so glad I did.

As many of you know, these things start off being all about the classes, but end being all about the people you meet. The difference in community from Day 1 to the end of Day 3 is profound. Throughout the weekend, over and again, I heard the same phrase voiced aloud: “OMG! I’ve found my PEOPLE!” And it was true; the attendees were a rare and narrow stripe of the knitterly spectrum, all sharing a deep love of fiber and craft and craftsmanship and truly fine art, art that takes many final forms across fiber and food.

So I have a new tribe. I have found my people. They are giants of talent and grace; gloriously gifted Amazonian fiberists (oh hi Paul – you can be a Manly Fiberist of the Amazon!). I am thankful to be among them– to learn and to grow, and to share in the joy of wonderful new friendships.

Colorplay

The Beekeeper’s Quilt continues to enchant me. (I’m at 40 puffs as of today, about 2 months in.)

One of the excellent elements of this project is that I can pick a different yarn for each puff. I can knit several in a row that are exactly the same, I can make widely different puffs, or – as I have been doing lately – I can explore the subtle color variations that result from combining different yarns.

It started with this puff, a double strand of some brand of kid seta; while very soft and fluffy, the colors were only OK. Not at all as subtle as they appeared in the skein.

Next I knit a puff with two strands of kid silk from Habu. Mmmmm. I couldn’t stop thinking about hot cocoa the entire time I was knitting.

I wondered what those two colors might look like together. So I knit one.

I liked this so much better than the original!

The next colorplay was with this yarn, Shibui staccato colorway ‘Summer Camp’, part of the same line as my Kitchen Monkeys.

I liked it quite a bit, but that kid seta was sitting on the back of the couch while I was knitting it and I couldn’t stop wondering what they would look like together.

Turns out, they look AWESOME together:

This reminds me of snorkeling in the turquoise waters of Grand Cayman, over the white sands and waving fields of sea grass.

And most recently, I knit a puff using another color of Shibui’s staccato, called ‘Spring Garden’. Just lovely.

But I had a ball of solid pear-green kid seta hanging around and I was dying to find out what that combination would look like.

This has turned out to be my favorite so far.

I have so much more lace and kid/silk in my stash, I believe you will see many more of these experiments as the BKQ progresses!

What new and creative things have been surprising you lately? I’d love to hear about them.

The View from the 24th Floor

I’ve been away from corporate life for two years now, twenty-four months.

In thinking about this lately, I feel that the time and distance has afforded me a different perspective from what I had at the end of my time in corporate life. The difference in the two perspectives reminds me of difference in the two pictures below, taken in Hawaii when the Captain and I were in Waikiki last year.

A picture from the street level, of the beautiful foliage all around:

A picture taken later that evening, from 24 floors straight up in the air and facing in the same direction:

Both sights are lovely, each has really wonderful elements. But there is something incredible about that huge, open view that takes so much more into account.

Perspective. It’s fascinating.

That change in perspective about work has left me rested and ready for something new…. So after a two-years’ break, I am returning to work.

I am returning, but in an entirely different way. Instead of returning to a corporate environment, I am now part of a specialized business in Technical Communications staffing and project management. Instead of running all-out at breakneck speed, I am intentionally keeping my hours low. The plan is to fulfill my brain and contribute the type of work I truly love, while retaining a good amount of space – mental and schedule – so I can still prioritize my family, home, and creative passions.

 As of today, I am about a month into this new endeavor; I am still trying out many options to find the right balance point for everything, but with the perspective I have gained over the past years, as well as the intentional decisions I have already made, I know that the balance point will be found soon.

Contemporary Insanity continues, though perhaps everything here will be seen through a new lens. What will it be like to explore my creative passions in meaningful ways while back at work? Even with (perhaps particularly with) my new non-traditional work approach, where will my creative fulfillment come from? What will it be like to work from a location remote from most of my team? Will I ever find enough time to spin yarn for an entire sweater?

Let’s go forward together and search out the answers to these questions — and many more.

Treasured Tools of the Trade

As I mentioned in Possibilities, a recent joy of mine has been collecting tools and oddments associated with needlework.

It is so much fun to come across these tools, used mostly if not exclusively by women, which were integral to their Making. I love the real materials they are made of – the heft of the metal, the solidness of their construction. And in so many there is a real beauty of design. I treasure them and have been using them with my own work; there is something special about using these tools that have been part of hand crafting for a nearly a hundred years or more.

A Susan Bates stitch and needle gauges for knitting and crochet, the ubiquitous standard. Same for the plastic stitch/row counter. I have had these for several years and they have served me very well:

But the gauge is made of very bendable, thin aluminum. And the plastic row counter always feels cheap to me when I have it next to my hand knits – so much work and such beautiful yarn seems to deserve better accompaniment.

Now look at some examples from years past:

A modern pine darner, unfinished:

It looks washed out and without character to me! Contrast with these two beautiful oak darners from my great-grandmother’s workbox:

A little rust and signs of wear that she actually used them to darn socks. I love that they are part of my collection and use.

One more:  a Jahncke’s Mitrailleuse knitting needle case:

This is likely from the 1880s; I am charmed by the brass end caps, beautiful enamelling, and the stylized printing on the case.

And there are even a few of the original “knitting pins” still within!

Beautiful!

Do you have treasured tools for your crafts and making – be they old or new? I’d love to hear about them.

Koi

Well, I think I’ve found my favorite spinning fiber so far: merino/seacell blend! I’d knit with tencel before and loved it, but not seacell. And I hadn’t spun it until a few weeks ago when I started on a roving from Dragonfibers (no longer around), which I bought from Village Yarn and Tea (sadly, also no longer around).

Dragonfiber’s pencil roving in a colorway called Koi.

This fiber is luxurious: slick and slightly heavy, it is shiny and drapey.

I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to use it. As I opened up the skein I saw that what had looked like an already thin roving was actually two strands dyed together.

I split them, and spun each onto its own bobbin.

Then plied.

I had 188 yards of aran/bulky weight yarn.  This yarn is wonderfully soft and so I wanted something right next to my skin. I decided to knit a cowl. I modified this pattern to include some of the texture, but then simplified it to show off the yarn more than the original pattern allowed.

At first I wasn’t sure whether plying was the right thing to do because it mixed the beautiful colors so much. But as I knit I decided that the plied yarn was better than singles because the singles would probably have turned out too stripey and made the cowl look more Haloween-y than Koi-y.

Planning worked out just right – that little bundle of yarn in the top picture is all I had left over after casting off. Wouldn’t have made it another round. Perfect!

Now, since spring has just arrived, I won’t be silly enough to say that I want fall to come soon so I can wear this snuggly soft cowl. But if I *did* say such a thing, you’d understand why, right?