Saturday, May 31, 2008

An International Spinning Lesson

The Weavers Guild - despite it's name - has a whole room devoted to spinning. Since Betty and I bought new spinning wheels last weekend we decided that a clinic devoted to answering our spinning questions would be a good idea and the Weaver's Guild had one today! And as a bonus two of the students were weavers and spinners from Bolivia. Their son, Ali, came along as an interpreter but we did communicate some in the universal language of fiber! Severina told us through her son that she learned to spin on a drop spindle when she was 13 years old and to weave when she was 15. She would spin as she walked behind the Llamas and sheep on the road. She and Luis now live in the city but are interested in bringing back a spinning wheel and a drum carder because it would make their work so much faster. They are expert spinners but had never spun on a wheel before. They picked it up very fast! Going to the class today was kind of like traveling to Bolivia without having to travel. What fun!

I relearned from our excellent teacher, Nancy, how to Navajo ply and she also explained about worsted spinning. I tried combing with a flick carder - the object is to get perfectly aligned fibers and then when you spin them you get very lofty yarn. I might try that with the Coopworth fleece that I have. But I sure have a long way to go before I can say my spinning is anything like that of the experts that I saw today.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Finished Hemlock

I started it on April 21 and finished it on May 28. I'm not usually that dedicated to a project but this one I just couldn't put down. In fact I needed to work on a summer sweater for a class that I taught but I was a bad teacher and didn't keep up with my students. They forgave me because they were interested in the Hemlock progress too. It turned out just as wonderful as I hoped but I admit that I had grave doubts when I took it off the needle and tried to spread it out and it just wanted to be a blob. I've heard others say that knitted lace doesn't look like anything (some rude comparisons have been made) before it's blocked but when it's your own blob of knitting it is kind of worrying. I wondered if I had put in all those hours for naught.

I soaked it in the tub in tepid water for about a half hour and then pinned it out severely on rubber mats (obtained from Sam's Club) and magic happened! I wish I had gotten a picture of the blob but I was so anxious to see if it would work that I just soaked it and pinned it and forgot. Here's the pinned out picture and the after it's all dry pictures. I used 7 grams less than 2 skeins of Cascade Eco Wool and knit it as big as the chart - 70 rows of the feather and fan pattern. Those rows got very long at the end. I used my scale and weighed the yarn before and after rows to estimate how far I would be able to knit. My object was to get the biggest afghan I could with the yarn I had. I used the crochet cast off because it was easier and used less yarn. The afghan measures 62 inches in diameter across the peaks and 52 across the valleys. I love it! It's such an addicting knit that I'm already planning my next one and have the yarn all ready.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ann and Betty's Excellent Spinning Wheel Adventure

Or, a Rose by any other name.

Monday was a holiday in the United States and my friend Betty had the day off. So did the Compadre but he wasn't interested in pursuing the elusive perfect spinning wheel. I had done some preliminary hunting at the Shepherd's Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival and also at - believe it or not - the sock knitting machine gathering a few weeks ago. Many of us fiber fanatics have multiple vices, I mean interests, and I discovered that a friend from the sock machine group had a spinning wheel for sale. I wasn't interested in a small traveling wheel but I mentioned it to Betty and she said it sounded promising. So after making arrangements to visit Detta on a holiday (she had had to cancel our previous appointment) we took off for the long trek to the best place to try out spinning wheels that I've ever been to. Detta knows about every wheel and has most of them to try. I had narrowed down my choices to the Majacraft Rose or the Lendrum. And Betty tried out the Lendrum, the Rose, and the Louet Victoria (one just like my friend had for sale). Betty liked the Victoria and I liked the Rose. I tried very hard to like the Lendrum because it would have been cheaper but the Rose was the one for me. After all I gave my oldest daughter the middle name of Rose, and both my grandmother and the Compadre's grandmother were named Rose. It was meant to be. So there is a very beautiful Rose spinning wheel in residence in my living room and I'm a happy spinner.

We left Detta's and called Sharon - the one with the Victoria for sale - and drove there so that Betty could be properly inducted into the spinning world too. It just happens that Sharon owns an alpaca farm and so we had to visit the lovely animals. The newest alpaca, Copper, was a very friendly boy. We had a chat - he said hmmm? hmmm? and I tried to talk back. I'm not sure that he understood me. Sharon's miniature Dachshund had puppies about a week and a half ago. So cute. Betty and I are not really dog people but it sure was tempting for each of us!

Betty tried out the spinning wheel and bought it and now she's been assimilated!

Tomorrow, finished Hemlock Ring pictures!!!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bluegrass Saturday

Saturday was a fine day to spend sitting on a hillside listening to bluegrass music. We went down to Red Wing Minnesota to Hobgoblin Stoney End Music for their bluegrass festival. We were surprised that there weren't more people there but maybe there isn't as much interest in bluegrass as we think. We've been listening to Bluegrass Saturday Morning on the radio for years and one of the MC's was Phil Nusbaum the host of that show. As one would expect he didn't look like I thought that he would. But of course he sounded the same!

I have eclectic music tastes, I like a lot of different kinds of music but I have to admit that when I married the Compadre his enjoyment of twangy country music was puzzling to me. I was more of a pop/rock kind of girl back then. Somehow bluegrass is different. Maybe it's the banjo - I don't know, but it is really fun. Some of the groups did do some classic country (read Hank Williams) music and I really enjoyed it! We'll have to go again. Oh, and it was my idea to go - the Compadre wasn't sure about going. Our oldest son John went with and all in all it was a great day.

I got a lot of knitting done on the Hemlock Ring. Those last rounds are so big! I thought that I would be done by now but I'm not quite yet. Maybe today - but I've been saying that for days now. Really, I only have 1 1/2 rounds plus the edge/bind off.

Here is a picture of our favorite band of the day - the Ditch Lilies. They were so good I bought their CD.

Tomorrow I'll tell you all about my spinning wheel adventure - stay tuned!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Some Family Recipes

Every family has recipes that are handed down through the generations. This soup recipe came from my maternal grandmother and she brought it from the "old country" with her. I honestly don't know why the vegetables are strained from the broth - but they were eaten separately and enjoyed (usually by the cook). Maybe when the kids were little they objected to the veggies in the soup and this was a way to get them to eat it, but I don't know. The Compadre would like me to leave them in but it just wouldn't be right. It has to be this way to bring back all the wonderful memories of childhood! The runny noodles and Cream of Wheat dumplings are part of the whole experience. Runny noodles are easy to make and taste so good. The dumplings take a little practice and I'll admit that I have a failure every so often - but they are good enough to keep me trying. I'm sorry I don't have pictures this time - the last time I made it the dumplings fell apart and I couldn't take a picture of my failure!

Vegetable Beef Broth Soup (family recipe)

As dictated to me by Aunt Ann over the phone

Boil a beef soup bone (one with meat on it) in large pot – about 5-6 quarts. Cut up four stalks of celery, and 4-5 carrots into large chunks and add it to the pot. Add 1 -1 ½ tsp. whole peppercorns and 5 bay leaves.

After the soup has cooked for a little while add 2 big onions cut into 4-5 pieces and salt to taste – about 1 to 1 ½ tsp.

Towards the end of the time add 2 cans of diced tomatoes. Total cooking time is 2 to 2 ½ hours.

Then strain the solids from the broth with a colander. The cooked veggies and meat from the bone are fair game for anyone that wants them!

Serve with runny noodles or Cream of Wheat dumplings.

Runny Noodles

Beat 1 egg in a cup and add enough flour so it still slowly runs off of spoon but is thickened. When the soup is boiling hard let it slowly run off the spoon into the soup. Cook a few minutes more.

Cream of Wheat Dumplings

Beat 1 egg and add 1 T. water and 1 tsp. soft butter. Add cream of wheat slowly and stir until it forms the consistency of dumplings on a spoon. Drop the dumplings by teaspoonfuls into boiling soup and cook until done. It is tricky to get the consistency correct – too thick and they will not be cooked in the inside and too thin and they fall apart.

We’ve also enjoyed this soup with just loose Cream of Wheat in it. Just sprinkle it in the soup and cook for a few minutes. When I was a kid I added ketchup to the soup! Aunt Ann says that when she was little she was given the meat from the bone cut up with vinegar and oil on it. I've never tried that, it might be good - maybe some day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Spring Walk

I had fun with my camera this morning on my walk. Some pictures are from my yard, some from the neighborhood, and some from the nearby open space. I saw a deer but didn't react fast enough to take his picture.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back for Lunch

Yesterday I went back to my former school for lunch with the “girls”. I guess I’ve been away long enough that it was really familiar but definitely my former school, my old office, my previous job. I still knew all the old buzz words and could empathize with what they’re going through but I’m done – I’m not the one responsible any more. It felt good! Apparently it’s been a tough few months with lots of staff turnover and more than the usual problems involved with running a large school kitchen. And I’m not the one responsible. I’ve gone on to teaching knitting classes, taking classes myself in things I’m interested in, and catching up on stuff I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time. It really is true that I can’t imagine how I found the time for work before. I’m truly blessed.

So what have I been doing? I’ve been spending most of my knitting time on the Hemlock Ring Afghan. I decided that I should keep going beyond the standard size since I have so much yarn left. As far as I can tell from reading other peoples info about their Hemlock the standard size blocks out to about 48” around. I’d rather have a more substantial afghan and so I’m going to go as far as my yarn will let me. I weighed the yarn ball before and after row 57 and it took me 8 gms to knit that row. All 504 stitches of it. I roughly estimated that I should be able to knit up through row 70 and that I should get an afghan about 54 inches in diameter. We’ll see how my estimating skills are! Here is what it looks like now.

I’ve ordered a whole cone!! of Jaggerspun Zephyr wool/silk laceweight yarn. I’ve got two shawls in my queue that I’m planning on making with it. The Orkney Pi shawl, and the Slow Bee shawl. (ravelry link) I’m not sure I’m in my right mind (am I ever?) considering that the cone has almost a mile of yarn on it! That’s a lot of knitting. Of course I have several sweaters in progress, the Great American Aran Afghan, the Charlotte’s Web Shawl, and I imagine several other unfinished objects. But why let that stop me. I have all the time in the world right. And more ideas and projects than can be completed in my lifetime. But I’m having fun and getting a lot done.

By the way my daughter Amy went to see the Yarn Harlot in Philadelphia and Abigail got her picture on her blog! She looks cute as always, and she's wearing a onsie that Amy made for her. And as long as I'm talking about Abigail I might as well show you what she looks like at her first ball game. Taken by Amy in Baltimore and the Yankees lost.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Too Much Good Cooking

If you look closely at the Compadre and me you would notice that I really do like to cook. And that I’ve been doing more of it at home since retiring from my full time cooking job. I’ve got a bookcase of cookbooks, a box of magazine clippings and a large folder on my computer of recipes to try. And it’s been so much fun to try them. The Compadre read an article in one of his news magazines about what not to get your wife for a gift – written by a woman. Her top thing that a husband shouldn’t get his wife was – get this – a Kitchen Aid mixer! Ha, ha, ha, ha! He knows me well to know that the absolute best gift he could get me – and I don’t really need it – would be the new 6 qt. kitchen aid mixer. Better than diamonds – well almost. When we remodeled our kitchen we made sure that the distance between the countertop and the upper cupboards was enough to fit one. But my old 5 qt. mixer is still gamely mixing along and I can’t justify replacing it. It’s made countless loaves of bread, batches of stiff cookie dough, and everything else I can throw at it. I sound like an advertisement don’t I. I really do like my mixer! I saved up money to buy it, by taking care of a friend’s daughter for her while she worked, back in the days when I was a stay at home mom with a very limited budget. I’ve never regretted that purchase.

So anyway, last week I made The Pioneer Woman’s Apricot Oatmeal Bars twice – they were that good. I had two pot luck type of activities to bring them to so I just had to make them - I had to, I tell you. One of the ways I “improved” on her recipe is that I mixed it in the kitchen aid. Why mix by hand when the mixer will do it for you so much more easily and better too! It does work to do it by hand but you have to wait for the butter to really soften or you’ll be working very hard! I also used peach preserves instead of apricot but that is minor. You could use any kind of jam, jelly or preserves you wanted. I happened to have peach on hand. I’m sorry but this is the only picture I took. They went fast, they were so good. Easy to make too.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Shepherd's Harvest

My, time flies when you're having fun! It's been a while since I posted. With Shepherd's Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival, Mother's Day, my birthday, and teaching I've been very busy.

Saturday, I went with my friend Betty to Shepherd's Harvest and we had a wonderful time. I think that I've finally gotten to the point where I know that my stash is adequate and I really didn't buy all that much. (Compadre, I reserve the right to change my mind!) I did look at a lot of spinning wheels because I've decided that my Ashford Traditional is going to be replaced. I bought it used and it has a slightly warped wheel and it is frustrating to spin on. I will keep my Babe for a traveling wheel and so I'm looking for a nice, versatile, beautiful, easy to spin on wheel to use at home. I might have found it in the Majacraft Rose that I tried. A trip to Detta's Spindle is in my future. Detta has the best selection of wheels I've ever seen and she is a fount of knowledge about them. I'm sure that I'll find something that I like there. Oh, and I'm going to give my Ashford to my daughter Amy. I'm sure she'll be able to figure out how to fix it and make it work - after all she's an engineer!

Here is what I bought. The shuttle and book were from the Mielke's Farm booth and the pattern from the Earth Heart Designs booth. Betty and I did the rational thing and looked at everything first and then went back for the things that we remembered and still wanted. Remembering them was important - if you don't remember that you wanted something then you didn't really want it that badly did you!

And here's the animal photos. Cute lambs, lhama's, alpaca's. I didn't get the young man's name that posed with his animal but when we asked how much it would cost he asked his Dad and the answer was 300 - 600.

And get a load of this Merino sheep. He has so much wool it looks like he(or she) can't even move!

My birthday was on Mother's Day this year and so it made for a celebration packed day! I had fun and was treated with lot's of special love. My daughter Anita found a list of restaurants that give you something free on your birthday. We went to Romano's Macaroni Grill and had a wonderful meal and I shared my free piece of chocolate cake with everyone. Mmmmm.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Yeast Matters

Some weeks ago I told you that I had tried the Almost No Knead Bread (by Cook's Illustrated) recipe and that the jury was still out. I haven't forgotten that and have been working on figuring out why all the testimonials about the bread recipe were so glowing and my results were so - not. I tried it twice and altered the temperature of the oven - the recipe says to preheat to 500 and then to lower to 425 - I reduced the temps by 25 degrees. I think that my oven is a little hot - if you try this recipe use your judgment about the temp and your oven. Anyway, both times the bread was dense and just not as good as I wanted it to be. It took watching the video and paying attention closely for me to realize that - of course - yeast matters. When you're using only 1/4 tsp. of yeast and your yeast is of unknown age, well, maybe it's the problem. Duh. So the third time was the charm and as I write, I'm making it a fourth time. It's good bread. More expensive than I would like because we don't normally drink beer very often here and gosh, once you open the bottle someone has to drink the rest. But I guess sacrifices can be made for a good loaf of bread. I'm going to figure out how to make two loaves at once so that I can more efficiently use the oven heat and of course the beer. I'm trying lately to be more environmentally aware.

So the recipe is available on the cooks illustrated website and I got it somehow without signing up for the "14 day free trial" but now I can't link to it directly. But Breadtopia has two excellent videos that tell you how to do it. It takes 3 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp of yeast, 1 1/2 tsp of salt, 7 oz. of water, 3 oz. of beer and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. I used a measuring cup and didn't weigh it and it worked just fine. Watch the videos for his step by step portrayal of the unusual method. I used my cast iron dutch oven and it worked very well. You have to have a dutch oven that can go in the oven - some have handles that can't take the high heat. Make sure you check yours out before trying this.

My bread looked like this last night. Today it's all gone! It's easy and fun to make. If you've got the equipment I recommend trying it. Good eating!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Maryland Sheep and Wool Guest Post

My mom asked me to do a guest blog post and I’ll admit I was a little intimidated. Hardly anything knitting related intimidates me (except maybe intarsia) but writing about it makes me a little nervous. Actually this was kind of fun and I could perhaps be talked into it again.

On Saturday I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival with my friend Jen and my daughter Abigail. I’ve never been to something like this before so it was pretty neat to see so many knitters in one place. I saw many knitted sweaters, shawls and socks etc. and people knitting while sitting in the shade or standing in line. It took an hour and a half to get there and half an hour to get into the parking lot.

First we looked at a lot of sheep. Abigail wasn’t too fond of the sheep barns and she started fussing. She did stare down a sheep and won the staring contest. Later we found some alpaca. They were for sale, but I’d have to sell both our cars to pay for them. Jen asked if Eric could ride an alpaca to work.

There were lots and lots of fun booths. I was tempted by the buffalo yarn with cashmere and quivet. It was very soft and I could make a lace scarf. I was also tempted by some beautiful glass knitting needles. Both of these items would probably end up sitting looking pretty on a shelf, so instead I bought some sock yarn. Jen laughed at me as I waited in a very long line to buy Socks That Rock. I figured it must be good stuff if so many people wanted it. They were picked pretty bare when I checked back in the afternoon. I got some sock yarn from another booth too, but the yarn isn’t labeled, I paid cash and I didn’t get a business card so I can’t tell you who sold it to me. It turns out I must like orange because all four sock yarns have orange in them.

I also bought a small print of a sheep painting “High Strung” by Conni Togel and a children’s book for Abigail called Sheep Take a Hike by Nancy E. Shaw. I waited in another very long line to buy a gyro until Jen came back with a gyro from another booth. People behind me were wondering where she got it so fast.

There was a group of people sitting with antique sock knitting machines knitting socks. They had one there with a long tube that you could knit on. It would be great to own a sock knitting machine like my Mom does, but sometimes the fun part of knitting socks is the time spent with the lovely yarn.

In all, Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival was a lot of fun and I hope Mom can come with me next year.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Amulet Bag Fun

I'm teaching how to make this amulet bag at Double Ewe in early June so I made up a shop sample this weekend. I've made them before but I had forgotten how much fun they are to knit. The weight of the beads makes the bag feel so nice. The pattern is on the Rainey sister's blog and is very well written. One thing though. If you're going to knit with black DMC perle cotton 8 you sure need good eyes, a magnifying glass or daylight! My next one will be white!!

In other news, my daughter Amy went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival last Saturday and she's going to guest blog about it! Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Hemlock Happiness

I'm loving this project! It's lace knitting but with big yarn and big needles and I can see what I'm doing. And now that I'm on the feather and fan part there are 4 rows of mindless knitting in between the pattern rows. I can't wait until it's done and I can block it. Right now it looks kind of blob like but blocking is the magic. Hemlock Ring Afghan in Cascade Ecological Wool. I'm doing it just like the pattern - no modifications! I'm planning on making it as big as the two skeins of yarn allow me to. Happy knitting!