Thursday, January 31, 2008

And I call myself the freaking Knitting Cook

Although I enjoy kneading bread and doing it all by hand, I often use my bread machine for it's convenience and fail-safe promise of the perfect loaf of bread.

Two days ago, I found a way to get around the whole "perfect loaf" promise.
Very badly failed bread
I bake with the children all the time, and things generally turn out quite well. This would not be one of those moments. (My guess is that I didn't add enough liquid, but who can tell for sure?)

To redeem myself, I then baked up a batch of banana cake muffins, which turned out perfectly.
Perfectly golden Banana Muffins
Craggy, golden brown tops with a crisp layer of sugar (I sprinkle them with a generous spoonful just before they hit the oven). Inside, the muffin has a tender, buttery crumb, laced with chunks of pecan. I think next time I'm going to try toasting the pecans first to see what kind of a difference it makes.

Speaking of cooking...I've gotten a lot of emails and comments here on the blog about my podcast, and if a new episode should be in the near future. There are two problems, both equally important: first, is the time factor. I simply haven't had the time in the past few months to actually sit down and record. Secondly, my microphone died. Or actually, the mic recording interface died, and I have no idea what the trouble is. I'm pretty sure that I just need a new one, but I won't be able to get around to doing that until sometime next month. So the short answer is, I hope to have the next episode up by March. I feel bad for going so long without recording, but at the same time, it gives me more time to do other very important things, like learning German, exercising, and (of course) spinning and knitting.

On to fiber. Remember the Spunky Club Party Dress Superwash Corridale I was organizing a while back? Well after about 3 weeks or so of on-again off-again spinning, I finally finished up all 8 ounces.
Party Dress, all 8 oz of it
As you might remember, I tried plying the colors together, but was unhappy with the results. With such bright hues, it just seemed (in my eyes) to clash too much. Since Amy dyed it in thirds (one third in each color), it was simple to divide it up without much overlap. A tiny bit of all the colors ended up in each, but that just helped the three skeins coordinate.

I spun it all up as a DK weight 2-ply.
Party Dress as three skeins

I've got about 460 yards here.

Party Dress, balled and stacked

On Wednesday, I cast on for a 12 month size Five Fruits sweater for Daisy, and by last night had completed the yoke.
Yolk of the Party Dress sweater for Daisy

Daisy was helping me with the photoshoot.
Daisy checking out the knit in progress

"Mommy, why the heck are you still taking pictures? I'm trying to eat my bread here."
Daisy: sweater quality control

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Noro Kureyon Sock: yarn review (and an FO)

**Edited to add my Sock Recipe for this pair**

The Noro socks are complete.
Noro Kureyon Sock
There's just something about Noro. The intense color saturation, the transition between colors, the handspun quality. It's almost enough to negate the stiff feeling hand, bits of splinter and twig throughout, and (of course) the requisite knot, screwing up the color sequence. (On that last bit, I snipped out the knot, then wound off almost an entire color repeat to get back to where I should have been. Pain in the arse, I tell you.) It also should be noted that I probably would have been wise to knit from the outside of the ball rather than pulling from the center, as this yarn sticks to itself even as it's coming out, and tangles just for the sheer joy of it.
"Is this what you do with these cable needles?"
"I am Mommy's little shadow. She seems to be totally absorbed in these things. I think I'll take a taste"

The knitted fabric was a little thicker than the usual fingering sock weight because of the slubs throughout, and felt a bit stiff. Much of the stiffness disappeared in the first wash, and although these will never be considered "soft" or "cushy", I didn't find them scratchy on my feet (for comparison, I do find Brown Sheep Wildfoot to make me itch wildly).

"I will knit these for you"
"This is how she's doing it, right?"

On the yarn's label, it doesn't specify if the wool is superwash or not, and it does say hand wash and dry flat, but when I squished them around in my wash (not so carefully -- but not too rough), I didn't notice any felting in the least. The yarn is tightly spun and includes 30% nylon content, which, along with my tight gauge, should make this a moderately hard-wearing sock, single-ply notwithstanding. I did go down one needle size to turn the heel though, just to be safe.

"I love Noro, Mommy!"
"Perhaps I'll just take the finished one out for a little play."

Bottom line: would I knit with this yarn again? If my local yarn shop begins to carry it....and it has, say, shade 185, 188, 164 or 092 in stock...right. It'll be in my little market bag. There are other yarns out there that might be more pleasant to knit, but...well, let me ask you this -- has the troubles with Noro ever stopped the masses in the past? No. There will be some negative reactions, yes, I'm sure, but overall, there's just nothing like Noro.
Taking the sock to play
(She's actually been crawling around with one or the other sock since I completed them -- I guess it's never too early to start a Noro addiction.)

Yarn: Noro Kureyon Sock color #185
Needles: KnitPicks Classic Circular, size 1 (knit one at a time, cuff-down, magic-loop).
Gauge: 9 stitches per inch
Notes: These were knitted plain with a twisted 1x1 ribbed cuff. I started the second sock (color wise) right where I'd left off with the first one. Usually I am obsessively matchy-matchy, so this was pretty fun for me. I love the way they turned out.
Pattern: This is more of a recipe than anything -- get actual numbers for heel turn and such here (I did a round heel though like the one found here, not a Dutch one).
Cast on 64 stitches. Knit twisted 1x1 ribbed cuff for 1 inch (knit 1 through the back loop, purl one, repeat around). Switch to plain stockinette (knitting all stitches) for as many inches as you'd like (or, to be just like me, until it's 7 inches from cast on edge).
Begin slipped stitch heel-flap on 32 stitches and knit until it's a square (mine was 19 slipped stitches tall, or 38 rows).
Turn heel.
Pick up sts on edges of heel flap and knit in the round again until you reach base of big toe (for my US size 8-1/2 foot, I knit 7-3/4"). Begin toe decreases. Continue decreasing every other row until there are 24 stitches left. Graft closed with Kitchner stitch.

I finally discovered (a few pairs of socks ago), how to avoid a hole in the corner of the heel:
Noro Kureyon Sock: heel
When I get to the spot where the hole always presents itself, I pick up a stitch from three rows down, twisting each stitch as I ladder it up. Not sure if that makes sense. Anyway, this makes it really really nice and tight, and I don't have a hole problem anymore. Not sure how I didn't think of this before.
Noro Kureyon Sock: toes
I now have 8 pairs of handknit socks for myself. Eventually I'd love to have an entire month's worth. I wonder how many more I'll manage to knit for myself this year?

P.S. Thank you again to Jillian for gifting me with this gorgeous yarn!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fun in the snow: Switzerland

The Mr. had 4 days off this past weekend, so we headed off to Switzerland to play in the snow. (To skip this post and go straight to the entire album, click here. The photos in this post are just a few selected from the many.)

Cast of characters:
Cast of Characters
Riding up in the cable car or "gondola" made my stomach lurch. I'm really not a huge fan of heights. Or speed. Or snow. Ah well, Swiss Alps, here we come.

At the top of this particular mountain is a daycare/childcare where you can leave your smallest members for 11 Franks an hour (about $8 USD). Daisy was cool with this arrangement.
Daisy eating, being amused by the boys across the table

Then we rented two sleds. The Mr. took Sparky on one, and Max and I got on the other.
Max and me
Some of the slopes were pretty steep, and the only breaks for the sled are the boots of the person sitting on it.

Mr and Sparky
At night, whenever I closed my eyes to sleep, all that I could see was the edge of the trail, and imagined Max and myself hurtling off of it.

The view was fantastic though.
Self-portrait on the mountainside

There were some snowmen built,
The boys who built the snowman

we watched parachuters land,
More people strapped to a parachute
and had a pretty great time. There was one unfortunate incident in which Max and I took a wrong turn and ended up having to sled down the entire mountain, but even from the distance of a few days don't really want to talk about it. It took three hours out of my day, about 3 years off my life, and I'd rather delete it from my memory.

In other news, I managed to finish the first Noro sock and am almost past the heel on the second one. Score for road-trip knitting! (Pictures of the socks next post.)

Will we go back? Now that I've got some sleep, I can say with certainty, "probably".

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Travel with Grace (knitting content at the end)

When the blog gets quiet, it's usually an indication that I'm swamped, which would mean that I have TONS of stuff to blog about...sigh. When I have all the time in the world, I have to come up with things, but then when I've got really interesting stuff going on, I can't even manage to upload a photo, much less discuss it. Anyway, this past month has been busy and wonderful. Grace (one of my sisters) flew in on Christmas Eve and just flew back to the States yesterday morning. We are 9 years apart, but somehow she always challenges me in all the right ways, and motivates me to actually do the things that I say I want to do. (To skip this post and go straight to all of the pictrures, the entire collection of 4 albums is here.)

Now that Daisy's a little bit older and doesn't need to nurse as often, it's a little easier to actually go out and do stuff, so we did! First, we did a little bit of shopping in Kaiserslautern, where I got this:
Chocolate bark, purchased at Hussel in Kaiserslautern
(Click for photo page, then hover mouse over picture for flavor information.)

Next, we went to Saarbruken, where I finally found this beautiful little yarn botique I'd heard about (and hadn't been able to find last time), and...a shop called Chocolate.
Purchases from Chocolate in Saarbruken
From left: truffles, cocoa beans covered in chocolate and dusted in cocoa powder and cinnamon.

Another day was spent in Trier, home of the Porta Nigra and The Cathedral Of Trier (Dom St Peter).

The high point of our trips was in Brussels, Belgium, where we spent last weekend (a trip that The Mr. could finally come with us on). We took so many pictures there that I'm just going to give you one here -- click for the entire album (most of the pictures have descriptive titles if you're interested).

While there, we got a bunch of chocolate:
Chocolate from Belgium

Finally, we finished out her visit with a day trip to Luxembourg City.
Luxembourg City
I'm not a history buff, but whenever I visit a new city and/or country, I'm suddenly interested to know more about it.

Luxembourg is only 998 square miles, and has a population under half a million, yet it was a founding member of both the United Nations and NATO. In school they are taught three different languages: for the first few years are Luxumbourgish, which then changes to German. By high school, they've switched to French. From 8th grade, they're also taught English. In Luxumbourg City, however, we found that most everyone speaks French, and a tiny bit of English, with (sadly) no German speakers to be found. The more proficient I become at German, the more I miss it when I'm in a foreign country that does not speak it.

On the knitting front, I've been working on some socks in Kureyon Sock, brand new from Noro (thanks Jillian for the yarn!)
The colors are so gorgeous that I'm just knitting them plain, and letting the yarn do it's thing.

While Grace was here, I got her to knit. First she worked up a hat, then she borrowed this pair of huge orange needles from a friend, and knit up a massively chunky garter-stitch scarf in an afternoon.

I've been working on spinning up the neon glowey Party Dress from the latest Spunky Club.
I divided it up into the separate colors.
This was the sample that helped me decide not to ply any of the colors together -- this marled combination is not my thing.
I've decided to spin up a two ply of each color, than knit it into a wide-stripe sweater for Daisy. We'll see how far I actually get on it. So far I've spun up all of the read, but traveling has kept me from doing anything else with it.


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