Autumn Nesting

Last night the temperature finally dropped to freezing. No frost this morning, but it is COLD out – damp and chill in that patently Pacific Northwest manner.

But I’m ready! This weekend was a flurry of nesting: a new, snuggly knitting project and lots of time in the kitchen.

The cooling weather and dark purple-grey skies have chased out the Puffs. Instead, I wanted something warm, bulky, and soft to knit. Enter Encompass, the perfect solution for a fast, fun autumn project. I’m using Plymouth Yarn’s Baby Alpaca Grande.

It’s shedding just a little, which I’m hoping will stop once it’s knitted and the fibers are trapped in the stitches.

I’ve been dehydrating several things, stocking them away in the pantry. I love to open my cupboards and see a row of colorful jars smiling back at me.

Autumn and spice always go together for me. Black tea blends are getting thrown over for Chai.

Murchie’s Traditional Chai (they used to call this blend “Autumn Chai”). Mmm. I love it. Cinnamon, cardamom, and just a tiny bit of sweetness – it is a perfect Chai, in my opinion. I’ve also been adding a little cinnamon to my coffee (in with the grounds as it brews).

Spices are all over my baking and cooking, too: Molasses spice cake, whole-wheat spoon bread, and perfect chocolate chip cookies (oh my goodness, are they EVER) have been rolling out of the oven one after another. Just a few weeks ago, dinner was grilled chicken and green salad. Now that seems too “cold” for these chilly days. Instead we’ve been warming ourselves with hearty, full-flavored dishes that have been on hiatus all summer: toasted-spice chili, tangy orange chicken stir fry, skillet lasagna (all of these recipes are from Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen). Even our meals out have been rich and spicy: italian flat breads and warm spinach salad, Indian curries, toasty sandwiches.

I’d love to hear about YOU – As the weather continues its journey towards winter, where are you seeing evidence of “nesting” in your own home and habits?

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.

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.

Determined Denial

I am totally aware that for many Knitters, Gauge is a pretty major issue. But since I mainly deal in scarves, mittens, socks, and puffs… well, gauge just hasn’t been that important.

Until this happened last week:

uhhhh, WHA?

It all started so benignly. One lovely Turkish Bed Sock,

began who knows when but certainly over a year ago. Knit with lovely sock yarn from HelloYarn in a colorway called Swell, on size 2mm dpns. As I knit this first sock I get all kinds of sassypants, thinking that since it’s quite ridiculous to have to mattress stitch the sock closed at the end (and I hate finishing) I just join the sides as I go. Lovely! Excellent! Sock #1: Done!

Well, nearly. As usual, I balked at the Kitchener. So instead finishing it like a normal person, I left the toe open (because it will be less pain to do them both at one time, right?) and cast on for the second Bed Sock and knit the ankle wrap and heel. Since my contrived joining thing on the first sock was a bit fussy and time consuming, I decided to knit the second sock to pattern and don’t join as I go.  Brilliant!  It’ll knit like hotcakes. Decision made and bedtime approaching, I decided I was done knitting for the night at this point:

Sparklie things distract me the next day and the day after that. Eventually the sock parts get shoved into the UFO Knitting Projects cabinet. Before I know it, 12 months or more go by.

(Please note – all pictures from this point forward are dramatic recreations to help illustrate the finer points of this mysterious and astounding story.)

A couple of weeks ago I was overcome by a debilitating bout of finishitupitis. The Bamboo scarf came off the needles. Angelberry got several new repeats. I started rooting around in the UFO cabinet for other knitting misfits that I could quickly bust through. The Ishbel? No, too much lace left to knit. The Red Cap? Maybe… but that’s still a lot of knitting. The white mitts? Meh, too wintery.

Then I unearthed the socks.

Perfect! I convinced myself that I could pound them out in an hour or so of truly dedicated knitting.

  1. I’ve pulled out the original nearly-finished Sock and the second partially-finished one. I take a look at the pattern. Since the needles are still in the second one I’m all ready to go. I toss the original sock on the desk at my elbow, then start knitting on the second one.
    I power out the flat piece that goes across the arch of the foot. In minutes I’m cranking out rows like nobody’s business. Finishitupitis is AWESOME!
  2. I join in the round and start knitting the ball of the foot. It’s a set number of rows, and after I’m about halfway done I think offhandedly Hm, this section looks long to me.
    I glance at my first sock and it looks fine – and I followed the pattern with it, so no issues there. I keep knitting.
  3. I finish the foot and begin the toe decreases. At this point, I am definitely thinking that the second sock looks ‘a bit’ looser than the original… and possibly longer as well. I should check, but by now I’m knitting on the couch and the first sock is in my sewing room, an insurmountable 17 feet away. I keep knitting.
  4. I’m totally knocking this thing out. I’m knitting the toe. It’s nearly done. But… it does seem to be rather pointy. And big.
    Uh yeah. Really big. I wonder whether I omitted the knit rows on the first sock – a trick I’ve taken up to have socks match my squared-off feet. I can’t remember for certain when I started doing that trick, but I’m sure it wasn’t until recently and so I’m sure I didn’t do it on the first sock since I knit it so long ago. I keep knitting.
  5. Finally I’m done! Just the Kitcheners left to do! I walk the sock into my sewing room and pull out the original too. As I set them down side-by-side, I am actually stunned by what I see.

    That’s 2.5 inches of difference there, folks. And not just that – the left sock is too small for a 10 year old and the right sock is too big for a troll.  And here’s the thing: In my consciousness I knew that second sock wasn’t right, but my subconscious just kept overriding it and refusing to see the problem. Or wait – is that ‘subconscious’ and ‘conscience’? Conscious? Whatever, I’m confused enough as it is without worrying about homonyms and whatnot. And please, PLEASE, don’t get me started on Freud.

What else could this be besides a raging case of Determined Denial? I wasn’t drinking… though I probably would have done better had I been.

Turns out that at least three things were going on here – first, and possibly most importantly, the needles I left in the second sock weren’t the original needles, but a pair of placeholders that were a size larger. Second, since a year or so ago, I’ve been making myself learn to knit more loosely. I’d been knitting so tightly that I was putting a lot of strain on my hands and causing some pain. I can’t risk that with the sheer volume of knitting I have planned for myself! Third, I *did* skip the knit rows on the first sock’s toes. (OBVIOUSLY)

Seriously – I am at a complete loss to explain how I could have been surprised by this. I have no excuse, but it’s TRUE.

Do I frog and reknit? Frog and puffknit (PUFFS! WOO!)? Throw in the trash? What do you think?