Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Mile of Fair Isle (Help! I'm Stranded!)

I love frost.

I love how it gives a silvery outline to plant leaves.

I love how it accentuates and complements their natural colors.

I love how it lightly speckles the insides of leaves.

We've gotten an occasional snowy day with no real accumulation and a few frosty ones. While the cold reigns outside, I'm working inside on a project that's eluded me for the past year: learning fair isle, or stranded, knitting. My two biggest problems are obtaining even tension and having the dominant color show through the work when I carry floats.

Working laboriously through YouTube videos, I taught myself to carry a different yarn color in each hand. I decided on a thicker, more forgiving yarn, and light colors. My first project this way was a simple pair of mittens. Unblocked, they don't look like a success. They're bulky and the tension seems off. But apply water and some light stretching...

...and everything smooths out. See the difference between the blocked (left) mitten and the unblocked (right) mitten?

They fit perfectly and I'm absolutely thrilled with them!

The pattern is very forgiving, with no "floats". When you knit a stretch of at least 5 stitches in one color, you need to strand (or "float") the other color along with you so the strands inside your project remain small and tight, rather than loopy. You'd create quite a loop here if you knit 15 stitches in blue and then pulled your white across the back of your work to knit the next few stitches. You'd catch your fingers on it, and it can wreak havoc with your tension. Thankfully, no color went for more than 5 or 6 stitches here, I didn't have to worry about catching any floats.

Here is another example. My next project was a pair of stranded toddler socks in thick yarn. Inside out, you can see that none of the white stitches stretch for more than a few stitches. You can imagine the big loops if I tried to carry them much farther. This way, everything is tacked down nicely.

I learned something else with this project: afterthought heels. Basically, I knitted a tube that began with 1 x 1 ribbing and ended with a series of decreases that became the toe. Halfway through, where I wanted the heel to go, I dropped my green and white yarns strands and knit several stitches with some throwaway tan yarn. After knitting them, therefore placing them on my right needle, I slipped the stitches back onto my left needle and knit on as the pattern dictated with my green and white yarn. It's really easy and doesn't require any special skills.

Here you can see the tan line that designates the placement of the heel.

When I was ready to start the heel, I took a needle and ran it through the left "leg" of each stitch that held the top part of the tan stitches. Stockinette stitches have left and right "legs" and either is fine to use. I did this on the top and on the bottom of the row of tan stitches.

Then, I snipped away the tan stitches. I'd already captured the stitch legs with my needles, so no stitches are dropped.

Next, I slipped half of the top stitches and half of the bottom stitches on new needles and started to knit in the round with my green yarn.

I did a simple series of decreases, just like with the toe. In no time at all...a heel.

I'm really pleased with how they turned out, too!

I tried to tackle my next weakness, the floats that show through knitting. I started on a pair of white gloves...

...but even though I'm sure that I'm doing the technique correctly, the stranded blue yarn still showed through the white yarn.

Being the perfectionist that I am, I may have to frog these and try another project!

Cranberries were on sale at the grocery store last week. I don't like cranberries, but Todd does. I'd found a tasty-sounding recipe on the Smitten Kitchen website and decided to try it. The resulting muffins were so good that I was eating as many as Todd and loving the cranberries!

Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake (or Muffins)
Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12 muffins

One teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 cups + 1 tablespoon flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick + 1 tablespoon butter, softened and divided
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease your muffin tins. In a bowl, mix vanilla extract and sugar together until well-blended. Take 1/2 cup of this mixture and your cranberries and pulse in your blender or food processor until finely chopped.

In a separate bowl, mix together 2 cups of flour, salt, and baking powder. In another bowl, beat together 1 stick of butter and 1 cup of vanilla sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With your mixer on low, add half of the flour mixture, then half of the milk, and repeat. Mix until just combined.

Spoon batter in muffin tins, only filling halfway. Place a dollop of the cranberry mixture in each tin, and then cover with the remaining batter.

To make a crumble topping, mix the remaining 1/4 cup of vanilla sugar with the remaining tablespoons of butter and flour and crumble over the muffin tops. I skipped this step and didn't miss it a bit!

Bake for 1bout 18 minutes, until golden brown.

Oh my goodness...these were amazing. Sweet, tart, and flavorful.

I hope you make some this week. Enjoy!

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Merry Weather Endeavor

January has been unseasonably warm, but we finally had some snow recently, and Todd scooped out some rock salt for our walkways and steps. I love the colors in rock salt. They remind me of sea glass...

...and the special yarn I bought last year.

Unfortunately, we only got about an inch of snow. Just enough for it to pile up prettily on the fences...

...on the bushes...

...and in the trees.

We love to see the little backyard creatures frolicking in it, though. This fox squirrel dug busily for buried nuts.


The squirrels are so tame that they don't mind posing for an occasional close-up.

"No, this is my better side!"

We filled all the bird feeders, and hundreds of little martins, sparrows, and chickadees came. We haven't seen any European starlings yet but they should be migrating through soon.

Cold weather outside means sleepy, cozy days inside for our little cats.

They take many more naps in the winter time. So do we!

With this recent dusting of snow came a wicked wind chill. Last week Todd and I dutifully got up early, went to the gym, and ran some errands. By the time we got home, though, we were chilled to the bone. I decided to make one of our favorite soups to warm us up, along with some fresh baguettes. These are not only a great taste combination, but easy to make at the same time. Forty-four cloves of garlic sounds like a lot, and it is. Your hands will be fragrant, and your kitchen will smell divine. The soup, however, will be light and creamy, and not overwhelmingly garlic. It's amazing, and you have to try it. Garlic is cheap, too, and it's unbelievably good for you!

44-Clove Garlic Soup
From Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4

26 cloves garlic, unpeeled
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups sliced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, or about 1/3 heaping teaspoon ground thyme
18 garlic cloves, peeled
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 whipping cream or milk
salt and pepper, to taste

Basic Baguettes
From allrecipes.com
Makes 2 baguettes

1 cup water, 110 - 120 degrees
2 cups white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
a splash of olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place your 26 cloves of peeled garlic in a small baking dish. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 45 minutes.

I can't help but notice the beautiful shades of lavender here...

Once your garlic is in the oven, start on the bread. Add yeast, honey, and hot water to your mixer. Add the remaining ingredients* and mix for about 8 minutes. Add more flour if needed...dough should be tacky but not too sticky. After mixing, cover mixer with a hand towel and let sit in a warm location for 40 - 45 minutes.

*note: I never wait for the yeast to proof - I just warm my flour in the microwave for 40 seconds to give it a boost and I've never had trouble getting a rise!

After your garlic is done roasting, take it out of the oven and let it cool. Crank the oven temperature up 25 degrees, to 375. Quickly take your bread dough and split it in half. Form two long baguette shapes and cover with a towel for another 20 minute rise. I have a special baguette pan, but you could use a greased cookie sheet, too.

Isn't your garlic lovely? The smell is just wonderful!

While the bread is rising, saute your onions and thyme in olive oil for about 6 minutes.

Add the roasted garlic and your 18 unpeeled cloves and saute for another 3 minutes, and then add chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes. When it's simmered for about 5 minutes, I usually pop my bread in. It's done in about 18 minutes. I take it out to cool just as the soup is finishing up. While it's baking, I usually clean up the kitchen, because it's a real disaster after preparing this meal!

After the soup is done boiling, puree it in the blender and return it to the original pan. Add the whipping cream or milk and salt and pepper it to taste.

Voila! Your homemade soup and baguettes are done and ready at the same time. It's perfect for warming you up after a cold morning out and about. You can't beat the taste, or the smell. I usually make a double batch, and it's hard to believe that the soup made with almost 100 cloves of garlic is so subtle and mild...but it is.

And did I mention the fresh bread?

I hope you try it this week!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Portland: Part II

After leaving the coast, we headed inland to visit one of my favorite Oregon landmarks - the Tillamook Cheese Factory.

The cheesemaking is done in large rooms below observation windows. We could easily see the workers grasping the cheese...

...stacking the cheese...

...and sending it down the conveyer belt to the sorter.

Of course, they sell wonderful cheese here, and fabulous ice cream. Even the animals love it - this stray cow was very cheerful indeed!

After eating our fill, we headed back to the coast. Tillamook Bay is an amazing place. Although it was cold and rainy, we clomped through the boggy grasses...

...and looked for wildlife. We found deer scat, but no creatures were stirring just then...

...other than sea birds, gathered at the water's edge.

One thing I remembered well from the parts of my childhood spent in the Pacific Northwest is the green. Green lichen on the rocks...

...and moss, too.

Moss even grows on the trees here...

...and so does lichen.

It's a beautiful combination.

We hiked the 1.5 miles from Tillamook Bay to Cape Meares through the rain. The trees began to give way to sea grass. It was so quiet and so isolated that we were surprised to come upon a goat pen just before the gentle swells of the dunes.

The goats seemed happy and well-fed. We enjoyed a little visit with them before pushing on to the coast.

It was so foggy that we could barely see the water beyond the dunes!

The water was slate grey and calm, and the coastline was completely empty. We walked for a while and picked up a few souvenirs before heading back to the car.

The frequent rain and damp is another thing I remember well from my childhood, but I don't mind it a bit. If you've got your wellies and a rain slicker, you're ready for anything!

Another day, we headed to Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River Gorge. Those trees on the other side of the river are in Washington! The dam is almost 200 feet high and 2,690 feet long, which was a world record size in 1938. Now, it's considered rather small.

One of the giant turbines used in the production of electricity sat near the parking log, almost comically big. It's remarkable to think about how these things all fit together!

The construction of Bonneville Dam did disrupt the spawning of sturgeon in the area, so several fish ladders were built to assist them. Also, a nearby fish hatchery helps to stabilize the population. We stopped by to see if we could see one of the giant sturgeon. Many buildings, of course, had mossy tops, which looks charming and storybook-like to me, although I know it does damage the roofs eventually.

We saw several giant sturgeon, which can grow as long as long as 18 feet. Some salmon hovered nearby, too.

The area is so beautiful, with lots of hidden streams...

...and little bogs.

If it weren't for the persistent rain and lack of rain gear, I think we may have lingered a bit longer!

Before heading back into Portland, we stopped at the second-largest waterfall in the Unites States, Multnomah Falls. At 620 feet, it's a real stunner. The mist from the falls obscures most of the nearby landscape.

The waterfall is split into two parts. The top part is close t0 550 feet...

...and the bottom section is a little under 70 feet.

The crash of the water is deafening!

A bridge stands between the two sections so you can get a nice view.

The moss around the falls was truly amazing!

Not long after that trip, we left the cold and wet of Portland for the cold and snow of Indiana...

...and some pretty sleepy cats. We were glad to have a few sleepy days ourselves!

I hope you had a great holiday season!