Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bread, Cookies, and Pi

The air here is absolutely perfumed with the smell of the first of three (!) loaves of bread to be baked this afternoon. Two are the regular whole wheat babies - one for the husband and one for some friends. The third is the whole-grain masterpiece of whole wheat, coarse corn meal, and rye. That one's for me to enjoy with avocado and smoked salmon.......yummmmmm...

There is also a batch of buckwheat chocolate chip cookies waiting its turn in the oven, but right now it's just chillin' in the fridge until the coast is clear. This recipe is making the rounds of many of the foodie sites that I love so well, and I love buckwheat, so this is its week. I don't have the cocoa nibs called for in the recipe, so my semi-sweet chips will have to do.

So, Pi. Whassup?

Yeah, it's been kicking my ass a bit. I move forward a few rows, then discover an error way down below where I can't fix it, so I unknit. The good news is that I've finally cracked the code on doing the lace portion of the Pi shawl! I'm very excited about this. But to be precise, this doesn't mean I'm not making mistakes. But now I understand what they are and how the stitches should have been done.

The biggest lesson? Don't knit late at night when too sleepy to count. Too many times in the past week (already acknowledged as a pig) I have fallen asleep on the couch, needles in hand, still stitching. Funny thing about that - I don't do a good job when I sleep-knit.

But all in all, I'm happy as a clam about my new-found knowledge and have already warned the spouse that I will have to order some nice yarn to make the real shawl with. The stuff I'm using is crapola, and for the effort expended in actually creating this thing, I should at least be using a yarn worth its salt.

Ah, almost forgot. Remember how I went nuts over the patterns in the last issue of Crochet Today? Well, I was really looking forward to the new issue, thinking that maybe they got their act together and decided to make a magazine for people who would like to be seen in what they create. My heart sank at the preview online, but I held out hope anyway, thinking it was just a bad choice of preview items.

Well, guess what? It's gone back to sucking. It has SIX afghan patterns this time. SIX! I mean, WTF? What's going on here? Oh, and there are "scrubbies" (woo-freakin-hoo), and a bunch of other boring crap that's not worth the cheapest yarn going.

Here's my point with this screed: if someone coughed up an afghan, would you really be able to tell whether it was from a pattern from this year or 10 years ago? No, you wouldn't! Because the winds of change don't touch afghans in anywhere near the frequency that it does clothing. So why put so many afghans in one freaking issue? I don't get it? Clothing styles change way more that blankets, for crap's sake, give us more of that! And while you're at it, make a half-hearted effort to harness some of the amazing talent on ravelry or Crochetville and get something worth making in that mag!


Till later...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Trip to 1906

It's been a pig of a week at work, so today seemed ideal to sit in our lovely sunroom and take a little trip through this bound edition of Ladies Home Journal in 1906 - before WWI and commercial radio, but well within the memory of the Civil War. The book holds the whole year together, making for a fascinating look at what was important to women over a hundred years ago through the seasons.

What I find interesting are some of the things that are consistent to today. On the "no surprise" side is the focus on fashion, crafting, homelife, cooking, child-rearing, beauty tips, and the latest ideas from Europe, for example. There are articles on inexpensive vacations (Houseboat trips for $1 a Day), and wonderful "Tastefull vs. Tasteless" colums for clothing, hats, drapery, and interior design. This was the period where America was starting to shake free the excesses of Victoriana, at least in architecture and interior design, so I found myself enthralled by both sides of the column.

I was more surprised by the regular feature called "Beautiful America?" where they called out wealthy towns with blighted areas and challenged their improvement. There is sheet music in each issue, a stark reminder of one of those things that is truly lost in modern life -- music played by family members.

Amusingly, there is a regular column that is essentially the musings of a "plain country woman" wherein she disparages the modernity espoused by the rest of the magazine. The lamenting of a passing way of life is endemic in every generation, from the Ancient Greeks and Romans and beyond, yet every one greets it anew. Funny.

But you're looking to see some of the treasures lurking in the busted binding, are you not? Below are some little bits I captured:

From gorgeous Irish Crochet...

And stuff to make with those pesky leftover corks....

To some particularly lovely closures...
I LOVE this jacket and would wear it without changing a thing about it...
And a clever vest design...

To some doilies to while away the summer...

And one of my favorites, these amazing handmade buttons...
And a spread of fashion of the day...

And fantastic beadwork purses...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pompons on the the Runways

Anybody watching the runway shows in NYC? Diane Von Furstenberg put all of her models in these adorable Pompon hats!

It was funny trying to find a photo where the model didn't look freaking miserable, but here are a couple:Check out the dress in the pic above. That would translate beautifully into crochet or knit, methinks!

And look at the closeup below of the bag in the photo above. It is a virtual celebration of yarn!
The hat and scarf in the shot below looks ripped from the pages of ravelry:I'll post more stuff as I find it. We all need a little couture inspiration now and again...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Life of Pi

So, when one is working on the EZ Pi Shawl, it is so easy to get carried away with oneself when attempting to title one's blog post. For instance, "Slice of Pi," "Would You Like Some Pi With That?" and "How Do You Like Your Pi?" come to mind. But forget I said anything at all and let's just get into it, shall we?

I'd mentioned in a previous post that my Elizabeth Zimmerman obsession persists in earnest with my desire to make a Pi Shawl from the Knitter's Almanac.

And so I started it.

And started it.

And started it.

And started it.

Each time, I failed miserably, hopelessly unable to get past the part where you are supposed to engage with the dreaded Double Pointed Needles (which are clearly the work of all that is unholy and vexing). Part of it, too, was my stupid insistence on using a yarn far too fine for the likes of me. Until a (fluorescent and energy-efficient) bulb went off in my head and I realized that I have some cheap-ass Smiley's yarn that they practically paid me to take away that is light enough to create the ethereal shawl of my dreams while still allowing me to maintain a semblance of control over the project. That, and my new-found skill of using the Magic Loop technique with my circular needles helped me along.

Problem solved.

And so I zipped along in a blissful haze, not realizing the extra stitch in some early row had caused a rather unsightly hole. And I couldn't fix it. And I didn't even notice it until until I realized my count was irretrievably off in the lace section because of that nasty extra stitch. And every time I tried to adjust the stitch number, like quicksand, I seemed to get deeper and deeper in the Pi hole (see what I mean?).

And so, I unknitted.

And unknitted.

And unknitted.

ad nauseum.

I had fully expected to proudly show you all just how smarty-boots I had become. I imagined your collective breath drawing in sharply in astonishment (and even, perhaps, with a little envy).

So here I sit, egg on my face, with naught but a miniature and embryonic Pi to show for days of trial, blood, sweat, and tears.

But it is still my Pi, and given the newness of it all, I am still a little proud, a little boastful about having gotten THIS far.

Of course, I will update you on my progress until I get bored and find something else to leave incomplete.

Before I sign off, I have to ask a serious favor of you. A very dear friend of mine just found out that he must have heart bypass surgery. He is, understandably, completely freaked out. Now, as some of you know, I am not exactly what anyone would call "religious." And if you know me well, you will know that my previous sentence was an understatement. However, my dear friend is quite spiritual indeed, and I have noticed that he is getting more religious as the years pass. So here is my favor: If you are religious, please pray for my friend. He believes in the power of it, and I think he will draw a lot of comfort knowing that the troops have been rallied on his behalf. I will support him in whatever way I can, but if you could just add this one thing to your list, it would be appreciated more than I could ever say.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Secret to a Happy Marriage

Ah, Valentine's Day. Besides the Christmas/New Year convergence, is there a holiday that can inspire more disappointment through its unreachable ideals?

I thought not.

But in the spirit of l'amour, I give you all my personal secret to a happy marriage. Use it wisely, my friends, for whomever you serve this to will be yours forever.

SubwayHooker's Cumin Garlic Wee Potatoes

Olive Oil - a few glugs
Wee Potatoes - about a pound, cut up into smallish chunks, depending on the size you get. We like a mix of Yukon Gold and New Red.
Fresh Garlic Cloves, peeled, not chopped unless ungodly large - I usually throw in at least 6, as many as 10
Salt, to taste
Cumin powder

Boil ye wee potatoes with the garlic cloves in salted water until tender.
Drain the potatoes and garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over a medium high flame.
When oil is hot, add potatoes and garlic.
Add salt, to taste.
Sprinkle cumin powder over the mess, as much as you like.
Keep sauteing until the potatoes are golden brown.

And that's it. The cumin and baby potatoes form some kind of unholy union, emphasizing the sweetness of the potatoes and the high-pitched singsong quality of the cumin. The garlic's pungency is tamed by boiling, and the swim in the hot olive oil softens and sweetens those luscious cloves.

As you can see, this is less a recipe than a guidepost for creating a simple and delicious side. It's all to taste, but then, most recipes are.
May this recipe bring to you the one you love.....

Dark Glamour at FIT

I've got more than a little yen to see this at FIT. Follow the link and start drooling.....

My bosoms are heaving in anticipation!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Learning Curve

I present to you...the (almost) finished Maltese Fisherman's Hat!

In my prior post of this morning, I showed you a photo of the hat in its halfway completed state. After that shot was taken, I trawled ravelry for the versions created by others with far more skill than I and realized that I'd badly screwed up the decreases. So I frogged to the beginning decrease and began anew. The one thing I did not correct was my treatment of the part across the brow. EZ calls for two purled rows, but I like the softer, more organic look of the rolling stockinette, so there it stayed.

The one issue I have with the Knitter's Almanac is the lack of detailed photos. Her pithy directions are a joy to behold, but this old hooker is a visual sort, and needs such confirmation along the way to ensure a successful project. That said, ravelry came to the rescue: I saw the errors of my ways and fixed them.

But there's more. When I ordered my interchangeable circular needles from KnitPicks after the great breast debacle of January, I'd also accidently ordered a wee booklet, "The Magic Loop." Now, I'd heard of the magic loop before, and watched videos of it in action on YouTube, but I really needed a solid reference to be happy. And the Maltese Fisherman Hat was just the project on which to learn the magic loop technique. And by gum, it worked! I got down to the prescribed 8 stitches on a 42" circular needle and comfortably worked till the bitter end!

And this new learning gives me some of the tools I need to feebly attempt a Pi Shawl. (Let me pause as you mumble admiringly amongst yourselves...) Yes, that's right. I really want to try a Pi Shawl. But my fear of multiple double pointed needles has kept me in my place, not daring to attempt such a work of art. However, the magic loop has rescued me from my fear by giving me a way to work the opening salvos without facing those nasty DPs.

It is just so damned luscious, isn't it?

Okay, back to the Fisherman's hat. While the basic hat is complete, I have plans to make this a bit more special. Because of its inherently goofy look, I intend to push the envelope a bit and turn it into a Seussian masterpiece. Oh, is that too much hyperbole for a Saturday afternoon? Okay. I want to make this silly-looking hat even sillier. Ta for now!

Snail Update

So here it is: EZ's Snail Hat, in all its badly finished glory! I made more errors on this than even I care to admit, but there ya go. It started well, but finished crappily. But I was thankful for its warmth on some of the colder days this past week, and I will continue to wear it as Winter dictates.

And because it went rather quickly, I started on the Maltese Fisherman Hat, another EZ pattern from the Knitter's Almanac. The below is a squashed side view. As you can see, it's basically a helmet that will end with a "tassel of your dreams" to quote Ms. Zimmerman. I actually have plans to embellish this sucker considerably. I find its resemblance to WWII knitting projects in its utilitarian design
quite charming. But it looks like it might be a fun backdrop to some rather quirky treatment, a la Cabinet of Curiosities. Lard News:
And if you are keeping score, we are now down about 7 pounds total since starting with weightwatchers. I'm still finding it easy, overall, so I'm sticking with it. I'm clinging to grandiose dreams of going sleeveless this summer and of not chafing my thighs as I walk. Lofty, I know, but these are the dreams that can move mountains. Of lard.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

ADD and the Evolution of the EZ Snail Hat

I think I am not unusual in my short attention span as it impacts crochet and knitting projects. Perhaps one or two of you share the pain of quickly getting bored. I am now at the point where I am actually afraid to look at the basket o' UFOs next to my couch. The baggies of half-baked shrugs, scarves, sweaters, and shawls all shout "loser!" in their loud, yarny, voices and I can't take it. So when I get bored with repetition, even easy repetition, I look for something fast, easy, and attainable. A "low-hanging fruit," as it were. Something I can lord about proudly, an actual completed project.

So it was with this as background that I embarked on Elizabeth Zimmerman's Snail Hat. I love this thing. It is so weirdly cute, so homely...and it's a freaking HAT! How much time could that possibly take me? Why, EZ herself says it can be completed in an evening. Meg Swansen says it's a few hours from start to finish.

So where does that leave your faithful hooker?

Well, it's been a few days.

First I tried the one in the current issue of Vogue Knitting. It is a streamlined version of EZ's original from Knitting Without Tears. All was going along just fine until I messed up my count somewhere and couldn't fix it. So I frogged.

Then I started it again. Then I messed up my count again. So I frogged.

Then I looked at the original version. It has more swirls. And I read EZ's description of the mysterious "M1" and used it for the first set of increases. And wouldn't you know, it left big, gaping holes. But I soldiered on, using EZ's M1. And I didn't like the holes at all, so I switched, midstream, to the alternative version of M1, where you pick up the strand between the stitches and knit into the back of the stitch. And I realized that the original, half-hitch version was really better. So I frogged.

Then I started with the original Snail, using the alternative M1 for the bottom band so I'd get no gaping holes, then switched to the original M1 once the pattern began so I would get holes. And guess what? It's going swimmingly. Though I've not gotten far, I've gotten to understand the pattern to the point where I can tell right away if I stray. Hopefully, you'll see the finished chapeau in my next post.

Now, I started writing this post this morning. Some of you may remember my forlorn attempt at a Twinkle sweater. It has been lying in a heap on an ottoman in the sun room for a long time now, yarn needle still attached. Well, writing the above shamed me into seaming the sleeves and weaving in (most of) the ends. Et voila!
Not only do I not think it sucks, now that I've been shedding some lard, it's beginning to look nice on me! WOO freakin' HOO!

And part of shedding that lard is not indulging in my lovely, whole wheat bread.....

During the week, I'll post updates on the Snail Hat.