Saturday, December 27, 2008

Getting a few things done...

Here's the wreath I made by twisting a few leftover Xmas tree branches around a coat hanger and anchoring them with tin ties.

Given the weather, it was a miracle that our visitors arrived more or less on time, their luggage intact. It has been wonderful to have another knitter around. My sister brought 3 pairs of loosely knitted slippers with her and we felted them in the washer. I've never had so much fun sitting around the basement. The slippers fit well, and will take the shape of our feet, but in the beginning they looked like they were made for the Cat in the Hat. I like them all, but especially the ones on the left. Which pair is your favorite?

I heard that a few of you tried making shortbread. How did it turn out? Is anyone willing to fess up in the comments?

I've finished the Lace Ribbon Scarf and sent it off to Ottawa with Christina. Poor thing. Her plane back across the lake keeps getting delayed in increments of 1 hour. Maybe we'll have her back for the night and felt the knitting needle case that she's been working on.

... and continued on with socks and the Hemlock Ring Blanket. I'm in the last 5 rounds before the long cast off. There are almost 800 stitches in each round. It's absolutely mind numbing. I think the colour change is working out though...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Getting in the mood

I've come to realize that wherever you live in a cold climate, snow is a much bigger deal if you are dependent on a car. If you live in the city and rely on public transportation, snow can be a pain, but it's not all that bad. I bussed it to work for 20 years and I still laugh when I see the reporters on TV standing in front of the local freeway, commenting seriously about 6 inches of snow. I am coming to realize why they do it though, now that I am more dependent on a car. Snow really does throw drivers for a loop. You have to worry about the condition of the car, the tires, gas, etc. It's taken me 10 years to get this through my noggin, but I think I'm finally catching up with the rest of the world. 

We had some intense snow yesterday but we were OK as we only live 8 minutes drive from work and have 4 wheel drive. If we had to we could have slogged home on foot. Personally, I love the snow. I do. Today, the sun came out and we enjoyed a bit of shoveling.

Then we drove out to get an Xmas tree.  

The prices have really gone up so we just go a smallish one that sits on a table top, just big enough to create the right atmosphere. At Powell's out on Marsh Road, they had a lovely fire going inside where you go to pay for your tree. I took some discarded branches to make a wreath for the front door.

Finally I could avoid it no longer and have started to clean the house. In the process of cleaning downstairs, I went through about 6 bags of knitting that were stuffed into nooks and crannies around the couch and put away a rather precarious pile of books and magazines. I found a tape measure (always a good thing), a tube of toothpaste and a shameful amount of yarn leftovers. I straightened out all the wips and put them in their own cloth bags which I then stuffed back behind the couch. Hah!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In Which Helen Tells How She Makes Shortbread Cookies (in great detail and without apology)

Someone will be interested in how I do this. If you are  not, then just blog on. 

Warning: butter is involved. In large quantities!

This is the one thing I still make around Xmas time. This recipe yields about 100 stars, diamonds, moons, etc.

I start with 1 pound of butter which I cut up into chunks and place into a large mixing bowl. I don't pay particular attention to whether it is cold or warm, but I think it's on the colder side when I do this...

These are fairly fine chunks. They don't have to be this small. Anyway.
Then measure 4 and a half cups of your favorite white flour, about a half a cup of ground rice and a cup of sugar.  The faint of heart should move on now. If the butter is unsalted, then I add a bit of salt at this point.

An aside about Ground Rice: This ingredient is no longer available in North America ( if it is, then I want to know where) but it is not strictly necessary to the recipe. You can replace it with another half cup or so of regular flour. Don't bother with rice flour. It's bogus. Ground rice really improves the sandy texture of the shortbread. This year, I bought Ground Rice in the Good Life shop in Wooler, but in the UK you can buy it everywhere. In Montreal, they used to sell it in the Steinberg's in Westmount but they stopped carrying it there in the 1990's. I have bugged the Wegman's folks here in Rochester with no success. It did occur to me when  put this into my suitcase that it looks a bit suspicious but nevermind. So far it has come through unscathed...

Sift the dry ingredients into a big heap over the butter, in no particular order.

Take a medium sized knife and cut said dry ingredients into the butter until the pieces of butter are quite small, rotating the bowl as you cut. Aim for pea sized, but just do it for as long as you can bear it. Stay calm.

Now, give your hands a thorough wash, remove any rings and bracelets that you may be wearing and dig in. Knead the dough slowly but surely, just like you're making pastry, until the butter absorbs all the dryness and the dough can be shaped into 3 or 4 large balls. This could take 10 or 15 minutes.

An aside about methods: Don't even talk to me about machines to do this. I come from people who couldn't bring themselves to buy a refrigerator as recently as the 1980's. Lalalalala...

Pastry making is the Pilates of the kitchen. Some people hate doing it. They try it once and quit with aching muscles, declaring it a failure. Be patient, move intentionally and rhythmically and think about something nice, maybe about your knitting. If your hands or arms hurt, just stop and look out the window for a bit. Then have another go. Don't despair, the butter WILL eventually absorb everything without the need to add liquid. You can do it.

Once it becomes sticky like this...

...then push it together into 3 or 4 large balls, cover the bowl with a tea towel and set it aside in a cool place to stand for about an hour. A cool corner of a back room will do. Only use the fridge for this if your apartment is really hot. Houses aren't hot these days, are they?

Prepare an area on the counter or table to roll it out. If you don't have a rolling pin, use a cold  bottle of wine. Spread a little flour on the surface and get out one of your balls of dough. It will require a bit of handling before it warms up again and you are able to roll it out to a thickness of your liking. Don't panic. Just keep picking up the pieces and rolling them out again.

I like to roll it out to about a quarter inch thick or less, before I start using the cookie cutters on it, but some people like it as thick as a half inch or more. 

These people are traditionalists. They roll the dough out, put it into a pan and then cut it up into fingers after it's baked. Some people, like my sister Christina do this. It's delicious.

I give a lot of shortbread away each year, and I don't want to kill anyone, so I shape the dough into many small cookies.... 

This year, my lovely neighbour Emily gave me a new cookie sheet. Message received. 

I bake my cookies at 325 F for 5 or 6 minutes, just until I begin to see a faint, slightly darker outline around the edges. You have to watch these things like a hawk or they burn.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's all worn off...

... the effects of my wonderful October vacation, that is. My vacation glow lasted until Thanksgiving week, when I caught a bad cold, now more or less gone. I'm left with sore ribs on one side. Coupled with dark cold weather, lots of spreadsheet duty at work, and waking up in the middle of the night with a pain in the side, I became convinced that I'd be lucky to get off with walking pneumonia at best. Lung cancer, more likely. 

I've had this feeling before. I usually ignore it and it goes away, but this time it was quite severe, so I went to the doctor. After much poking and prodding and running up and down the hallway with something attached to my finger, the doc informed me that I have inflammation of the ribcage cartilage. 

Go home and take ibuprophen, you've been coughing too much. 
I have Not been coughing. 
Well, sometimes people get it without coughing. 
What else makes them get it?
Well, maybe nothing at all, it just happens.
Could you get it from Rolling Like a Ball?
Say, what?
It's an exercise where you curl up and roll back to strengthen your core...
Well, I suppose it's possible.
Oh, well then I won't do it...

Nifty the way I worked that out, eh? I hate Rolling Like a Ball and I am glad not to do it for a while. I do like most of the other Pilates exercises. I go away feel nicely stretched out and relaxed. 

On the knitting front, I've also hit bottom. I abandoned all my projects and knit 4 good hats and then 2 not so good ones. A kindly knitter at the RKG talked sense into me on Monday night.  I had started another 1840 Nightcap using Sockotta on size 2.75mm (2 US) needles. "It's a bit too open, isn't it? Even for a chemo cap.." She was very gentle. I put it away.

The next day, I took the little boy's sock that I had been working on for a colleague's son with me to work. The son was there and he tried it on. Skin tight it was. It would have fit him until New Year's and that would be it. Into the frog pond it went.

I started another nightcap, a plain one for someone who has been bugging me about it for months. Another hat on the needles. It must be finished by Monday. 

I also continued work on the Ribbon Lace Scarf but am not enjoying it. The Malabrigo Lace yarn is very fine. This project feels endless but I know it will look stunning. I am sticking to it as it's my one bit of Xmas knitting and it must be finished . 

Somewhere, I have a sweater body and arms, knit in the round up to the part where all you have to do to finish it is the fair isle yoke...

At one point, I picked up the near finished Hemlock Ring Blanket. I only have about 40 rounds left before casting off. Figured I'd get a lift from that - a quick finish. Not. I ran out of yarn. 

I did do a few Xmas cards and made a list of everywhere that has to be cleaned and everything that must be done before Christina (my sister) and Nadia (my daughter) arrive.  

In my mind, I'm very  organized. See how I keep a positive outlook? Nifty, eh?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Dark Side?

I forgot the current nightcap (a plain blue one for a man to wear at night) in the car and now it's locked up in the freezing garage. I'll have to start another and retrieve that one tomorrow. Or Monday.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mittens in the Mail

Primetime Knitter is a modest and shy soul, but I'm going to thank her here on the blog anyway. 

Sarah Southgate  of the RKG wrote me last night to let me know that Primetime's Target Wave mittens have arrived here in Rochester, NY. A good home will be found for them. I understand that we now have met our goal of 300 mittens for the schools. We can now stand proudly with the knitters of the 1930's

If any of you Rochesterians out there who are reading this, know any details of the mitten distribution to the schools, please do write something in the comments.  I'll see what I can find out at the Guild meeting on December 8th.

Many thanks, Marjorie for your contribution and  inspiration! Here's a summer's day for you. Wish I could give you a real one!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Noro Nightcap

Yes I did.

Can you recognize the 1840 Nightcap pattern in this winter hat? As Franklin suggests in the pattern instructions, there are many possibilities. I made a few modifications.

The yarn is some kind of Noro, knit with a strand of Be Sweet Extra Fine Mohair. I'll have to look at the tag to see exactly which kind. It's around here somewhere. Oh. Oh. Oh.

The hat is knit over 91 stitches. I tucked up the edging and hemmed it under so that it looks like it's peeking out from underneath the brim. I used the double knitting stitch on page 26 of Barbara Walker's First Treasury to knit a hatband out of some leftover Regia Silk sock yarn. When the band got to be about two inches wide, I knit the live stitches of the band onto the inside of the hat, along the edge of the folded brim, taking care to spread the finer gauge stitches of the band evenly around the bigger gauge knitting of the hat itself.

Knitting this hatband was very fiddly. The double knit stitch has two rows over an odd number of stitches. The first row is k1, sl1, end k1. The second row is k1, p1, end k1. It seems to grow very slowly because of the row with the slipped stitches. Try this with leftover sock yarn on size 2 mm needles. Gads. It's like knitting your own waistband elastic. The resulting fabric is luscious and thick, however. Just the thing to keep the ears warm.

For the peak, I did a four point decrease. Here it is stretched over the fruit bowl...

And that Russian knitting news I posted about last time? Nasty business that. Reminds us not to take our knitting too seriously.

I only have one project on the go for a Christmas present so I'm not under too much pressure. It's Veronik Avery's Ribbon Lace scarf from the Spring 2008 Knitty. I'm using Malabrigo Lace yarn. Veronik says says it's a small project and equates it to sock knitting - something you could take out and knit when you have just a few minutes. I'm not finding that. It's taken me quite a while to memorize the pattern completely. I need a cheat sheet for it.

Makes me want to get shod of some of these cardigans that are weighing on my conscience and get back to lace shawl knitting.