Thursday, October 30, 2008

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

The nesting urge has taken over, and the funny thing about it is that it's entirely unpredictable. With each child there's been a different flavor to the madness, and this time, it's sweaters for myself. I'm entirely certain that the world could cave in if I don't complete as many sweaters as possible before the new person makes The Appearance, and there's no fighting it.

Yes, you'll notice a finished Liesl there under it all, but the official FO pic will have to wait until I can take a decent picture of it on me. Basically, during any moment I have to myself, I feel compelled to knit, not style a shot, so that's the story.

I haven't shared a recipe in a while, and since the Knitting Cook site is now officially down (oh yeah, I'm pretty sure that I forgot to mention that I just can't podcast anymore, so.... sorry 'bout that.), I decided to post my Honey Whole Wheat Bread here. Also, I made a tiny change in the flour balance, which I like even better, so here is the updated version.

Presenting: the recipe for the Honey Whole Wheat bread that I make several times a week. It's great plain fresh out of the oven, in a savory sandwich, as toast with butter, french toast, or whatever else you want to do with it. The bread is flavorful with honey and butter, but not so overtly that you can't use it in a good, hearty, BLT.

This is my version of my mom's original recipe. I am completely happy with this recipe, but feel free to vary it according to your own taste, adjusting the balance of whole wheat to white flour, etc.

Note: These directions assume that you are making this recipe by hand. If, instead, you are using a substantial stand mixer (like a Kitchen Aid) or a bread machine, add the liquid first, then the dry, and break the egg on top of it all. If you're using the bread machine, you will want to add both cups of whole wheat flour right away -- just check on it after it's been kneading for a little while to see if it needs more flour or a few more tablespoons of water.

Combine in large bowl:
1 cup whole wheat flour (you will need one more cup after liquid ingredients have been added)
1-1/2 cups white bread flour (very important that it's bread flour and not all purpose)
1/3 cup rolled oats (I use Old Fashioned Rolled Oats)
1 tsp salt
1 scant Tablespoon yeast
1 heaping Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

1/4 cup honey
1 cup water

Warm in microwave or stovetop to 110-120 degrees (it's almost too hot for my finger to stay in it for more than 2 or 3 seconds when it's this temp.)

Time and clean-up saving tip: melt the butter in a 2-cup glass measuring cup, add honey until it reaches the 1/2 cup mark, then add water to the 1-1/2 cup mark. Put all in microwave together -- in mine it takes 50 seconds to get to the right tempurature, and in my parent's microwave it takes just over a minute.

Add wet ingredients to dry, along with:
1 egg

Stir with wooden spoon until combined.

1 cup whole wheat flour

Tip out onto lightly floured surface, and knead for 5-8 minutes to build up gluten in flour, adding more flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Knead until smooth and elastic. (There are videos on YouTube that show you how to properly knead bread if you've never done it.)

Grease bowl and place ball of dough inside (I spray PAM on the the inside of the bowl, put the dough in, then spray the top of the dough to keep it from sticking). Put a piece of waxed paper over the bowl, then a kitchen towel to insulate.

Allow dough to rise until doubled (this may take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on your house, your yeast, the weather outside, and many other factors I have yet to determine). You will know that it's ready when it looks like twice the original amount, and when you stick your fingers in the top about two inches down, the indentation stays and doesn't spring straight back up.

If you are having extra trouble getting your dough to rise, or are in a rush, turn on your oven to the very lowest setting. Place some boiling water in an oven proof bowl or pan in the bottom of the oven, and put your bowl of dough on one of the oven racks. Turn off oven when it gets fairly warm, and your dough should rise nicely. (Thanks to MA for that great tip!)

Pull dough out of bowl, and roll up into loaf shape, pulling a "skin" of dough around the whole thing to smooth it over. Place in greased loaf pan. Cover once again with waxed paper and kitchen towel, and leave to rise until doubled (this, once again, will vary in time, but expect at least an hour unless you have an especially "yeasty" house.)

Once the loaf is risen to your liking, put into a cold oven, and turn the heat on to 350 (you could pre-heat the oven, but putting it in cold gives it the extra punch to rise just a bit more). Bake until suitably golden on top -- in my oven this takes 35, and at my parent's house this took just under 30 minutes. An instant-read thermometer stuck into the loaf will read 200 when the bread is completely baked through.
Note: if you badly jar the loaf when putting it into the oven, it could deflate. If this happens, you will need to re-form the loaf and let it rise again in a re-greased pan.

Turn out immediately on to a cooling rack. This bread slices best when it's completely cooled, but seriously. Who wants to wait?

(Pictured here with mini-loaves of date-nut bread)

OK kids, I've got to get back to my knitting. I am helpless to resist.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spinning, starting, winding and frogging

On Thursday, I was having a bad day.  I had completed the Targhee in a record breaking (for me) 2 days (!!), and was happy with the results, but in general...I was just feeling like everything in life sucked.  Not sure why.

Mountain Colors Targhee in "Northern Lights" spun as a bouncy 2-ply, heavy worsted weight: 174 yds

I folded some neglected laundry, which made me feel a little better about things, and broke into some merino/Baby Camel blend that's been sitting here on my desk from the Fondle This club:

This was pure comfort spinning with no need for rush; it's headed towards being a nice, round 3-ply with no determined end project.

Yesterday I decided that, since the children are now properly accessorized for winter (the boys' mittens from last year still fit them, and they thought it was offensive that I was thinking of knitting new ones!), I need to start knitting for myself.  (Yes, I realize that I never knit the Celebration set for Daisy, but I've run out of steam for hats at the moment.)  Once the baby is born, I won't have any time for myself for a while, and I almost never knit for myself -- especially not wearables!

I recently hung out with one of my knitting and spinning friends, Rachel (Ravelry link because she is blogless), and was inspired to think about sweaters.  She knits such beautiful sweaters for herself, and it makes me jealous, because they're usually ones that I've thought of making too -- but she's already completed them!

Upon consideration, I've decided that for a big pregnant belly and miraculously changing bust size (which will continue to be a factor for the next year or so), shrugs and cardis are the best option.  I looked through some patterns on Ravelry and in my queue (how do I always forget the things that I've already earmarked to make?), and settled on Liesl, the picot edged shrug version.

I had the perfect yarn for it: a Merino/Bamboo blend (the combed top was actually from Rachel's etsy shop, interestingly enough):

So I cast on, and look!  I'm past the armholes already!  I've bound off in the optional picot edging for little cap sleeves.

I plan to knit until I'm nearly out of yarn, and then I'll knit some sort of a curly, i-cord frog closure from one of my Nicky Epstein books on the topic.  Or at least that's the current plan.

Also, I must have some sort of a wicked case of start-itus -- or at least wind-itus, because I also did this (custom dyed Briar Rose Fibers pure Corridale "Charity"):

(To become a February Lady Sweater

And this ( "Bulky Merino", no color name, from the Odds 'n Ends section):

(Earmarked for the Shalome cardi, but with sleeves, just like Rachel's -- I know, I'm a terrible copy-cat, but the girl's got some great ideas, and it can't be helped.)  =)

Then there was the sad realization that the Central Park Hoodie that I started...well, a while ago, is just not working out.  I think that I was knitting the wrong size, and I had some other silly troubles too.  I might try again.

But just not right now.

Tonight, I am swatching and watching "Thank You For Smoking".  (By the same director as "Juno")

Hurrah for the high of new projects!
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two little hats (and how they grew)

(At the end of this post I've included two answers to some commonly asked reader's questions.)
Now let's move on to those FO's!
Last night, I finished the hats for my boys and started on Max's mittens. Unfortunately, I had forgotten how sensitive my left hand is, so I've been giving it a break from the knitting today. I need to have my massage therapist friend give it a little rub down. It sucks when I have to stop!

Sparky's Ears Hat


Pattern: Live Dangerously Don't Swatch Hat a top down pattern by Susan Lawrence (Ravelry link)
Yarn: 2-ply sportweight handspun SakinaNeedles BFL in "Smokestack"
Spinning color choice: Fractal stripe method (rip the combed top in half, split half of the wool into skinnier strips to shorten the color sequence for that bobbin, then ply them together with the longer color sequences)
Needles: size 6
Gauge: 5-1/2 sts per inch
Bind-off method: Decrease bind-off
My mods: 2x2 twisted rib at bottom edge. Ears knit afterwards and sewn on, pulling sides in a little to cup forwards to make them more "realistic" ear shapes.

Max's Ears Hat


Pattern: Live Dangerously Don't Swatch Hat a top down pattern by Susan Lawrence (Ravelry link)
Yarn: 2-ply fingering weight handspun Hanks In The Hood Merino Batt in "Puppy Love"
Spinning color choice: This was a layered batt, so I just ripped off strips and spun, letting the twist catch a color until I was tired of it, then moving on, creating a randomized varigated yarn.
size 4
Gauge: 7 sts per inch
Bind-off method: Decrease bind-off
My mods: Garter rib for entirety of the body of hat. Ears knit afterwards and sewn on, once again pulling sides in a little to cup forwards to make them more "realistic" ear shapes.

Besides letting the boys choose the wool, I also let them choose the style, and they both insisted on "hats with ears". While it was a little bit fussy to sew them on exactly in the right spot and shape them in a fashion that would please me, I'm glad that I did. There's nothing like giving someone exactly what they want, from time to time. I think it's safe to say the recipients are very happy with the results:

So, if I can't knit, what fiber related activity have I been up to today?

Oh, just a little Targhee:

I think I can safely say that this is the bounciest wool I've ever encountered.

Mountain Colors in "Northern Lights" from The Loopy Ewe

The colors are actually a little darker and more saturated in person, but it was very hard to capture in the photo (even with a little Photo Shop editing). This has been some very happy spinning on a gray and rainy day. (A little secret...they still have some of this colorway left in the the shop! Shhhh....)

Answers to some reader's questions:
Jessica asked me what I mean by "rough wet-finish". I tried to email her back, but the emails got bounced back to me (twice). Then it occurred to me that some others of you might be wondering too, so I'll answer here.

Wet-finishing is just the action of finishing the yarn with a soak in water. What you do with it in that water affects your final outcome, which is why I never photograph my yarn before this step (even though the drying time sometimes feels like it's killing me!) In this case, I gave it a rough wet-finish, where I switched it back and forth between hot and cold sink-fulls of water, swishing it around a little bit (I've got a double sink in one of my bathrooms which makes this easy), ending when I see that the yarn has been fulled to my satisfaction (this varies for the particular yarn I'm going for and the eventual project it's aimed for). Sometimes I go back and forth 3 times, sometimes 6 -- it all depends.

In the last sink-full I drizzle in some Eucalan to make it smell good to me and bad to moths; this also conditions the wool, of course, making it feel softer. Then I squeeze out as much water as I can, and roll it up in a towel and stand on it (this is when my children think it's great fun to help). I usually repeat with a second towel, because the more water is pressed out at this point, the sooner it will be completely dry.

I snap open the skein by pulling hard on each end, then take it by one end and whack on the edge of the bathtub. I then slide my hand around the skein just a little, and whack again, repeating until I figure that the whole skein has been properly whacked (this causes the twist to even out, and helps the yarn to unstick from itself if it's felted to itself a little too much. I do this to yarn even when I haven't fulled it, as well.) Then I just hang to dry.

Susan B asked where I learned to spin, and how is it that I know how to treat each fiber that I spin with?

I learned first by online videos (such as those found on The Joy Of Spinning, and probably some YouTube), but then fortuitously met a friend when I lived in Georgia who was an excellent, knowledgable spinner. She would invite me over her house to spin for hours together, and spinning side-by-side, I learned more than I ever could have hoped to figure out on my own.

Since then I've paid very close attention to instructional posts by people like Amy and Abby. I cannot say enough how much I appreciate the wisdom they regularly share on spinning, how to handle different kinds of fiber, and the like.

I also take careful mental notes when reading spinning forums, and I'm not afraid to ask questions when I need to, which helps me to further clarify and solidify my own opinions on how to do something, and then I experiment on my own to see what works for me (often there's no "right" way, so it's always good to get your hands right into the process).

Finally, I regularly knit with my own handspun. This has taught me more about MY yarn than anything else can. I have certain expectations for a certain yarn and project, and actually working with it helps me to realize if I'm accomplishing that goal or not, and enables me to give myself something of an After Action Review (to borrow an Army term). Also, having small children has allowed me to see my knits in regular use, and find out from "real world" experience what holds up well, and what doesn't. Knitting with it also allows me make more informed color choices later.

There's something very satisfactory about watching your own handspun unfold and being pleased with the result!
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Friday, October 17, 2008

Baby Shower Project: complete

I finished the set yesterday afternoon:

Propeller Hat, Tubey, and thumbless mittens

And yes, I will give you the pattern for the newborn thumbless mitts in a subsequent post, but I'm too tired at the moment (pregnant insomnia last night...was up till 4am, woke up at 7:15 with the children...bleah)

After casting off of the 4th baby mitt, I just didn't have it in me to do a stuffed animal too, so instead I wound some handspun into cakes...

This was very happy.  Much more fun than working with Wool-Ease (although I can't knock the easy-care warmth of it!  Great value as stash yarn.)

The children were excited about winding the yarn; they love to help crank the ball winder and watch the swift go round.  Of course this can cause for some exciting moments with not-so-inexpensive equipment but we made it through.

I had a baby shower to go to this morning though (not mine -- for a friend who is due in about 2 weeks), so I managed to take a shower and actually blew my hair dry and put makeup on.  This is quite a feat, so today was a good day for belly pics.

31 weeks, my friends.  Nine weeks left and counting.  (Supposed due date: December 18th)  
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Smokestacks and Puppy Love (and more of the Baby Shower Project)

Even though I love being a night owl, I've put myself on a strict 10:30PM and-no-later bedtime, to attempt to keep up with my children.  There's also the thing about making myself wake up at 6:30 to do Yoga or Pilates in the morning, which, painful as it sounds, actually sets my day to rights, and besides, it's the only way I'm going to exercise.  I speak the truth.  All of this to say, I'm off to bed on my self-imposed time-line, but I wanted to quickly show you my Baby Shower Project progress.  (Oh, and for those who are wondering -- I got a reprieve!  I read the invitation wrong, and it's actually on FRIDAY, instead of this morning!) 

Here are the latest additions:

Propeller hat - Ravelry link (another from the Wee Wooly Toppers booklet), and tiny, newborn-sized thumb-less mittens (I'll be posting the pattern soon for posterity here).  I'm in the middle of the first of the light blue mitten set.  They're a great, lightening-fast knit that's perfect for taking along wherever the children are creating adventures.

While I'm sure that the recipient will be much more fetching in this hat, I had no one small enough, so here we have a yarn cake (Time Of The Month Spunky Eclectic sock yarn, no less), modeling it for us.

It appears a bit breast-like to me...(or is that just the sex-deprivation talking?)

I completed the boy's yarn, and they are eagerly awaiting the knitting of their winter warmers.

(Sparky on left, and Max)

Here are their skeins, in portrait:

Sakina Needles Smokestack BFL (from The Loopy Ewe), 2ply, 4 oz, 230 yds

Hanks In The Hood Merino Batt Puppy Love (from Paradise Fibers), 2-ply, 3 oz, 260 yds.

Both yarns were roughly wet-finished to full them slightly, and have ended up bouncy and round, and hopefully able to withstand the rigors of Little Boy World.  I can't wait to get both of these skeins on my needles!
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Monday, October 13, 2008

The beginning of the Baby Shower project, and Rosebud!

So.  I decided that (regarding the Baby Shower project), for a child born in a cold season, hats and mittens would probably be most appreciated and worn.  (Especially the child of a non-knitter.)  While booties were a tempting option, being one of the cutest things ever, I know from experience that they're not always worn, and even less often displayed, since the baby's feet are usually tucked inside of a blanket (and when they are, is there really a need for booties?).  With all of this determined, I cast on for this hat, and finished it within just a few hours last night:

"Tubey" from Wee Wooly Toppers (Ravelry link, in case you want to purchase and have it saved in your Rav. PDF library)

Later on this afternoon I'll cast on for a pair of (thumb-less) mittens to match, and then I plan to crochet this chubby little sea creature.

After setting out to spin about 1lb total of wool for my children, it occurred to me that I should probably just dive into the stash to whip something up for Daisy, since it's already cold enough outside, and I didn't want her to have to wait however long the project might take me.  I had 8 oz of bulky 2-ply Rosebud (Spunky Club) from all of my summer spinning, which I had earmarked for her anyway. 

This is just about to be a very wordy/picture heavy post.  For those of you who are here for the pictures and don't want to have to read through everything (and for my own sake when I go back to see what I did in a few years!):


Patterns: Abalone (Ravelry link), Mittens 101, My Legwarmer Recipe
Sizes: Hat - size small, mittens - knit to fit, legwarmers - 2T
Yarn: Rosebud handspun bulky 2-ply, fiber from Spunky Club August 2008 (I had 397 yds total, but didn't come close to using it all).
Needles: Size 6 for mittens to wind and moisture proof them, 4.5 sts per inch.  Size 9 for everything else, 3.5 sts per inch.
Modifications: I left off the squiggles on the top of Abalone and scrunched up the back.  Also, I cast on for an x-small (re-figured the numbers), because my gauge was 3.5 instead of 4 sts per inch as in the pattern for size small 19" head.

On to the knits, already!

Abalone from Going Straight (Ravelry link)  Can I just say it?  I love Kitchner.  First, there's two edges, and then, like magic...

One seamless piece of fabric.  Very cool.  I want to knit everything sideways now.

As you can also see, I left off the squiggly things because I knew they'd end up getting all natty after one season of wear, and they would never all properly curl with the same curly-ness, and....well, I let my perfectionistic mind run wild.  So no curlies.

The hat was adorable, but wouldn't stay properly slouched on her, esp. whenever we were riding in the car or she was in the stroller.  It'd come down over her eyes, and she'd pull it straight off. 

(Here's what it looked like when it was actually on -- but you can see how it was already creeping down over her tiny face...)

I decided to rouche up the back with a drawstring tie, which solved the fitting problem nicely, and for next year I can either un-scrunch it a little, or take out the drawstring alltogether, depending on how much bigger it needs to be.

This, however, made her very, very angry.  She wept bitterly at the ruination of her hat (seriously -- that's the reason for the tears here.  She's only 18 months.  I find fashion decisions at this age completely unacceptable).

I also knit a pair of mittens, using the Mittens 101 pattern found in Knitty (love that customizable pattern!  It's so easy to use, and fits the recipient perfectly every time).

I still had a bunch of yarn left over (I had 8 oz total), and decided on a pair of legwarmers.  She's often in the stroller when we go out for walks, and her little legs get chilly.  Blankets are a terrible idea because she ends up kicking them half off and they drag, etc.  These legwarmers are perfect, because not only are they cute and practical, but she loves them!  (She was actually running around with just one on when I hadn't even woven in the ends yet, mid-project.)

Here they are finished (I want to put her in a little denim skirt sometime with the legwarmers -- that would be way too precious -- but my little dress-up doll was anxious to get outside yesterday, so purple jeans it was.):

I just so happened to notice that the inside and outside of one of my skeins had matching colors, and was able to knit an almost perfectly matched pair, which pleased me greatly.

For the "pattern", I just measured her leg, got gauge (from knitting the hat), cast on a reasonably close number of stitches that was divisible by 4, an knit 2x2 rib for just under 8 inches.

Here's the set in action (well, except for the mittens -- she was eating pretzels.)

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Celebration Shetland

Thank you to everyone for the wealth of lovely suggestions for a baby knit!  I'm casting on tonight, so you'll have to wait till next post to find out what I've decided on, but for now, here's the Celebration Shetland (Spunky Club August 2007) that I spun up last week for Daisy:

400 yards worsted weight, 8oz.

I've got the boy's yarn drying outside...

More details when everything is dry.
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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Help! (P.S., contains spoiler for Spunky Club September)

OK friends, I have a tiny little knitting emergency. I was just invited to a baby shower (for a little boy to be born at the end of this month)...which takes place next Wednesday. Everyone in the group knows that I knit and spin, and, from what I understand, no one else does any of these things in this particular set of people: I will be The Token Knitter.

I do not wish to use handspun, since the recipient mother will probably not want to bother with handwashing, so it must be tough. I've considered the EZ Baby Surprise Sweater, but I don't want to knit anything in fingering weight yarn that might not be cherished forever, since what I REALLY want to do (and need to do) is finish up the winter accessory sets for my children. So it's got to be cute and fast. If I can find it in my stash, that's an added bonus, but I live down the street from a yarn shop, so that's not too much of a concern.

So....can you rescue me with that One Great Idea?

Here's some eye candy of the Spunky Club fiber I got yesterday:

8 oz handpainted Finn combed top, colorway "Acadia"

I love the way it goes to blue at one end, and I intend to use this as a design feature in whatever this ends up being.

Daisy adopted it, and did not wish to give it up, but when she started drafting out little bits of it, I had no choice. There were tears.
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