Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Batt crazy

Rachel and I actually got the chance to card a little! We managed to card 4 batts in the past two days, and I look forward to the days when I'll have more time to card more at a time. It was a lot of fun though! I've been slowly amassing colors and fiber for blending for some time now, and it was great to be able to reach into my stash "palette", and create one-of-a-kind blends.

“My Little Pony” to be added to Rachel’s small wool stash. (4 colors of Merino and a sprinkle of silver glitz)

“Into The Woods” to be spun eventually for something for Sparky – his favorite color is green, so he thought this one was awesome. (4 colors of pure Merino)

“Bollywood”, an art batt for some reckless, fun spinning. (Merino, bamboo, sari silk, gold glitz)

“My Deep Dark Purple” – this one is just for me! It contains the last of the actual alpaca that I learned to spin on. This will be spun very finely and knit into something special. Maybe an airy cowl? (Merino, natural black alpaca, purple firestar)

Today I've been making a tiny bit of headway on a three-ply I've been working on for some time now.

It's a camel/merino blend from The Spinning Bunny, and it's incredibly soft. If my husband likes it, it'll turn into a hat for him. (He finds almost all wool terribly itchy, so I'm spinning up a series of special, exotic blends for him to try. I'll knit tiny samples and send them to him to test for me. If all else fails, I could always knit a hat and line it with a soft fabric or something.)

Hoping to finish tonight:

"Winter Woven" Scarf Kit from Spunky Eclectic.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Enhancing the stash

Saturday we had beautiful blue skies, and the weather was almost warm (read: not below freezing). I bundled Billy into the sling, zipped two sweatshirts over us both, and we all went out for a walk.

Some of my fav. shots:

Throwing bread to the ducks

Sparky and Rachel's feet

For more pictures of our walk, click on over to Rachel's most recent post.

So I keep mentioning this stash enhancement that happened after Greg went back to Iraq, but where are the pictures, you ask?

I had some Loopy credit built up at The Loopy Ewe (frequent buyer $ and gift certificates from Christmas), so I splurged on two sweaters worth of Lorna's Laces:

20 oz "Black Purl" Wool Top

20 oz "Safari" Wool Top

A very lovely member (who wishes to remain anonymous) of the Ravelry Spunky Group sent me a Spunky Eclectic gift certificate the day after Greg left, which assisted in this purchase:

(Click through to Flickr -- notes are on the picture)

I've been wanting to try out many of these different fibers, so this was the perfect time to indulge a little and try them out. I am especially excited about the Bison Bliss blend. I can't wait till I have time to spin it!

Today I went out with Rachel to Hela (similar to Home Depot or Lowes, only with a fairly large craft and knitting section), and we came home with 650 grams (just under 1-1/2 lbs) of merino:

We have batt carding plans for tonight!

It's always great to have excellent choices in the stash. I'm pretty sure there's no such thing as too much wool.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Billy's got a brand new sweater!

When Billy was first born, our winter suddenly turned bitterly cold, and our heaters throughout the house just couldn't keep up. I immediately cast on for a sweater for Billy...and just finally finished it a few days ago. The best intentions and all that. I suppose it's much more important to keep him well fed, etc., but....right. Anyway, I'm just going to have to adjust to this much slower pace of crafting for now.

I present to you, Billy's Sweater:

With hood up:

He was feeling like this photo shoot should be over, so we pacified him for another minute...


Pattern is from Knitting Pure And Simple by Diany Soucy (free PDF download).

I'm not a huge Wool Ease fan, but for baby and young children, I feel like it's a very practical choice. The wool content ensures that baby will stay warm (but not sweaty like with 100% acrylic yarns), it's tough and doesn't pill easily, and it washes well -- quite important if you have a Super Spit-Uper like all of my children have been. (I handspun pure Merino for a sweater for Daisy when she was newborn, and she felted the front of it all on her own before she'd even grown out of it!)

Details on my Ravelry project page here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chocolate Gâteau

This cake is almost like fudge -- rich and dense, with an impossibly chocolaty depth. The ingredient list is short and simple, and the only leavening used here is whipped egg whites. The glaze is supposedly optional, but the slight contrast between the cake and the glaze is what really "makes it" for me, so I would not recommend skipping it.

This cake is delicious on it's own, but to push it to truly decadent heights, try it with some raspberries and softly whipped cream, or just simply a small curl of good quality vanilla ice cream (I like Edy's "Dreamery" or Hagendas).

For cake:
5 large eggs
9 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsly chopped (I used dark chocolate with 50% cacao)
1 cup sugar
5 Tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
2 Tablespoons coffee or water (cold leftover coffee = OK)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
pinch salt

For (optional) glaze:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsly chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

To make cake:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl or other large bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar, butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and buter are melted; the sugar may still be grainy and that's OK. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let the mixgture sit for 3 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with a whisk attachment of the mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they hold firm but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the batter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake has risin evenly (it might rise around the edges and you'll think it's done, but give it a few minutes more, and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn't shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Carefully turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and the parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

To make optional glaze:
First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you'll be glazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper to catch any drips.

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven -- the chocolate should be just melted and only warm, not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the top with a long metal icing spatula. Don't worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake -- it will just add to it's charms. Allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you're impatient, slip the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gentle heat from a hairdryer.

This recipe is from "Baking: From my home to yours" by Dori Greenspan.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Raindrops on...gingerbread?

Silly me, throwing a handknitted item into a picture without a proper explanation! The "blanket" warming Billy in the last post was actually my Forest Canopy Shawl (Ravelry link). It was not until several of you brought it up that I realized I'd color-coordinated the knitted accessories. :) In all reality, I did not plan for the blanket to be a prop in the photo at all -- it's been so cold lately that I've had him wrapped up a good deal of the time, especially if he's in his swing or bouncy seat; the shawl happened to be in the room that day, so it became an impromptu blanket for him, and I didn't notice when I took the picture.

1 lb Shetland Raisin Wannabe, Spunky Club fiber, November '08

Today I woke to the sound of hard rain on my window. A chilly, rainy day that I get to spend at my own home is one of my favorite sort of days. I find myself inspired; it's the kind of day I want to wake up early for, all the better to savor the first quiet moments. In my mind, I imagine myself, cozy and warm, wrapped in toasty woolens, piping hot mint tea in hand, dreaming up project after project with endless time to work on all of them. Of course the reality of it is that I have four little ones who need me at every turn, and today in particular I got little to nothing done (at least fiber-wise), but it's fun to dream, my dears, is it not?

My boys are finally done with wearing their Pull-Ups at night. In celebration of this great event, I made a Chocolate Gâteau last night for dessert, which we properly outfitted in candles, and sang a modified version of "Happy Birthday" (but of course!)

Max somehow managed to turn the oven up from 350 to 400 during the baking without my knowledge (dangerous, naughty -- I know.) but it still turned out amazing anyway.

The blur in the above picture is thanks to Max, who put his fingers all over my lens. Do you sense a pattern here?

The recipe for this cake is from Dori Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours, which is a fantastic resource. This is my new favorite baking book.

I'll share the recipe in a later post.

Rachel and my children have been busy for the last few days decorating a gingerbread village. The pieces are actually cut from graham crackers, as per Martha Stewart's directions. We made these last year too, and they were so cute that we had to do it again.

Mixing up the Royal Icing:

The assembled houses:

Busily embellishing:

Billy, overseeing all of the hard work (I've been told he's a real taskmaster):

The work crew and their finished masterpiece:

Candy beauty:

Here's some precious smiles from the tiny guy:

I think he approves the effort.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hugs in stitches

The day my husband flew back to Iraq (a week and a half ago), I did a little therapeutic shopping. One of these purchases was placed to Spunky Eclectic (of course). When I got the package in the mail later on that week, included with my little stash addition was a small blue packet. I opened it up to find a precious little bell-topped hat and sock set for Billy.

In that first week of being alone and at times overwhelmed with all of the emotion loneliness brings, it was incredibly touching to receive these tiny garments hand stitched for my baby.

It brought tears to my eyes, and a smile to my face for the rest of the day. Thank you Amy for the "hug" from Maine.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Yarn and sweets

Since my mom's been here, it has been a great relief to have an extra set of arms to hold the baby, fill a sippy cup, or put together a meal. One of the benefits, besides relieving me of some of my duties, is that I've actually been able to accomplish a little bit of my favorite activities.

This is 4 oz Romney from Spunky Club in Eclipse. I had spun these 8 oz as bulky singles this summer, and then a friend gave me her 4 oz of the club fiber recently, so I decided to create a navajo-plied (or "chain-plied") yarn to use as a scarf warp, and use the bulky singles as weft.

When spinning Romney thinly, there is always the risk of a wiry, twine-like end result. I tried to counteract this by not overspinning the singles, and then not over-plying it, leaving air inside of the yarn. To my dismay, the loops in the chained yarn are visible at the joins between the "chains", but I think that will dissapear once it's part of the woven cloth.

The result is a yarn that will hopefully be strong enough for a warp -- I'll have to be careful not to apply too much tension when I tie it up -- but I don't think I'd enjoy knitting with it. Just my preference. (I do, however, really like using softly spun Romney bulky singles.)

Sparky, Max and I have been having some fun playing with my carder. This is one of the layered batts we recently created:

Grey Merino, natural black Alpaca (from farm near my parents house), multi-colored sari silk, pink firestar.

(Sorry, kind of a terrible picture -- the weather was bad, and I wanted to spin it rather than waiting for a better photo op!)

Sparky was turning the crank, and as we added layer after layer, he would yell things like: "hey! The black is tackling the grey!!" , etc. Children take such delight in the small things.

It was fun to card, but I don't really like black twisted with grey.

"Twisted Glitz", 2 oz, 86 yds, heavy Aran weight

(Wait -- who carded the fiber together again?)

Why I prepped fiber together into something I knew that I wouldn't fully appreciate, I have no idea. The resulting yarn, however, is soft, squishy, and has fun flashes of color throughout.

Thankfully, my little sister Rachel thinks the yarn is great. It's just over 80 yds, so I'm going to get her started knitting a top-down hat out of it. If she runs out of yarn, I'll just spin a little extra in whatever color she wants for the bottom edge. Should be cute, I think. (On a cute little girl, almost anything looks good -- it's the beauty of children.)

My brother Jonathan is here for the weekend, and so my mom, Rachel and Jonathan drove to Luxembourg for the day yesterday. Rachel took my camera to photograph the trip (she'll post picture on her blog later, but for now, you can see the Flickr set here if you're interested). My little crew and I already had plans to go to Stitch 'n Bitch (I've already been to Luxembourg, and probably will go again sometime, but traveling with small children and esp. a tiny nursing baby is a little rough), so my only reuqest was that they bring us back something interesting and tasty.

They found this regional specialty pastry:

It's some sort of sweetened chestnut paste piped over a pastry cream layer which sits atop a brown-butter cake round. Delicious, and incredibly filling. One of them literally topped me off for a few hours (well, ok, maybe just a half-hour -- I am feeding a hungry little baby!)

If anyone can tell me what these are called, that would be lovely. :)

They also brought back these cookies:

Sort of like a linzer cookie; from what I could tell, it had browned butter and almond meal in the cookie part, jam sandwiched in the middle (which created an almost melting texture between the two cookies), and then a crackling white icing on top. The texture of the slightly grainy, not over-sweet cookie contrasted nicely with the crisp little crunch of biting through the icing. Lovely, but once again, I would only eat these one at a time, as it is rich, sweet and filing.

Unrelated, but I just have to show you:

Max ran into the room a little while ago. With a sing-song, slightly put-upon voice, told me that Daisy had colored on him.

I don't know about you, but he looks a little sheepish here to me.

Then my mom located Daisy and brought her in.

I have no words.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Look who's here!

On Sunday the children and I cleaned the house, and after I put them in bed I packed bags with library books, snacks, re-stocked the diaper bag (with a small pull-out essentials bag), and set my alarm to 7AM.

There was also some Cereal Box Hat Dancing going on.

Monday morning, we left the house at 8:15AM and headed for Frankfurt airport to pick up my mom and Rachel from the airport. Thanks to my trusty GPS, we made it there without incident, and then on the way back home, stopped at my favorite Indian food restaurant for a fantastic lunch.

We're so glad to have them here!

Billy has started smiling! Here, he's grinning in his sleep, but he's actually been looking straight into my eyes (or my mom's, or whoever's holding him), and then breaking out in a huge, toothless grin. It's so precious.

Oh, and here are some pirates.

Although they're very cute, they look just a little bit mean.

You've got to be careful with pirates.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Week One

Thank you for all of your touching and supportive comments on my last post. Being able to interact with all of you in our wonderful fiber community has helped me to feel much less alone, and greatly comforted. (I also did a wee bit of shopping therapy, which I'll show you in a later post...)

It's been a week full of challenges, and I feel like I'm getting almost nothing done. However, when I actually look at my days, I AM doing a lot, as it turns out. Just not accomplishing the usual things. I've decided that as long as everyone is fed, safe and happy, and I manage to get the dishes done, I've had a successful day. Emotionally, everyone here seems to have defaulted pretty quickly back into the "Daddy's Gone" state of mind again, and we're back to business as usual.

Greg's been able to Skype us twice for video chat -- once while the children were awake, which was great. We read a Dr. Seuss book together, and had a nice little virtual "visit". It's painful to have our family separated again, but I thank God for technology that can help us feel connected, even just a little bit.

When changes are coming up in my life, I find it theraputic to "knit against the clock", so to speak. (Remember the sweaters I was knitting for myself before Billy was born?) To help me deal with Greg's return trip to Iraq, I whipped off these two small projects, finishing them just before he left:

Remember this handspun?

Northern Lights Targhee, Mountain Colors from The Loopy Ewe (Some of this color is in stock there right now...)

That turned into these.

Mitered Mittens by Elizabeth Zimmermann

I modified them with a gusset thumb.

Would you believe that I didn't have a proper set of mittens until now?

As you can see, the cuffs are extra long to ensure that no cold air sneaks up between the mitten and my coat sleeve. I hate cold wrists, so this is very important to me.

Greg said they make my hands look long and funny, but I love them muchly. (More project details -- like how I cast on less stitches to accommodate the bulkier yarn, etc., on Ravelry.)

I also realized that I didn't have a hat (both hats I've previously knit for myself have gone to sisters), so I knit this one:

Billie Hat by Patti Gonsalves

I modified it by knitting for 7 inches before the decreases, because I really, really like to have warm ears.

(Once again, project details available on Ravelry.)

After about a month's break from spinning, I've been working on getting the rest of this Eclipse (Spunky Eclectic Romney) fiber spun up as a warp for a scarf I have planned:

It feels really, really good to be back at the wheel again. Of course, I can only spin for moments at a time, generally, because one of my little guys always needs something at the moment (Billy thinks he needs to be held pretty much all the time, and of course he has to be nursed often...), but I'm slowly chipping away at the 4 oz.

Billy's sweater is also coming along...slowly:

Yup, looks almost like the last picture I showed you, except that now I've bound off the body and I'm on the first sleeve. Yay! :)

I'm not too frustrated about lack of project progress though, because Billy will only be a tiny little nursing guy for the blink of an eye. This is a stage that needs to be fully cherished; there's nothing like a cuddly brand new person.


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