Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Willowy Scarf and Knitting Tip No. 3

This is my new Willowy scarf.

I love this design. It was very easy to knit and can be worn a variety of ways, as these photos attest. I thought it was a chevron stitch until my knitting friend Sherry at Pink Knitter informed me that she thought it was a feather and fan stitch and, as it turns out, she was right! No matter, I love the stitch no matter what it is called.

It is the Willow scarf (wider style) from the Colinette Arboretum booklet, from which I've also knit the Silver Birch hat (Ravelry link).

I love knitting with fine brushed mohair (once you get the hang of it it's quite easy) as it creates such a delicate and warm accessory. While I simply adore the large shawls that I've knit with this yarn, I think that this scarf will be more practical as it can be dressed up or down. And, because I occasionally hear cries of anguish that reverberate throughout the virtual knitting world from knitters who have been frustrated by this yarn, I'm going to share my tips.

Knitting Tip No. 3

Knitting with brushed mohair is different from knitting with a standard yarn so here are my tips which I hope will be helpful: always use circular needles; use needles that have a very sharp point and a smooth join; always sit in good lightening; leave a dish of corn starch or talcum powder at your side to keep your fingers smooth and dry; knit loosely; and never knit while trying to watch TV or carry on a conversation as frogging (i.e. ripping back knitting) brushed mohair is something to be avoided, if at all possible.

I knit this scarf in soft tones that remind me of Spring. The green yarn is Colinette parisienne Kid Mohair (moss colorway) and the cream color is Rowan Kidsilk Haze (ice cream colorway). I used US 6 needles, 2 skeins (1 in each colorway) and the finished, unblocked, dimensions are 11 inches by 55 inches.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cups for Tea and a Book meme

I learned about the Hospital-i-Tea-a-Thon from Rosanne at Firefly Nights and since tea is such a big part of my life, I've decided to join in. I'm a little late beginning so have two topics this time.

The Teacup Stories
Assignment: Share a picture of your favorite teacup and explain why it's meaningful.

My favorite teacup came from my Auntie Fay, who isn't really my Auntie at all but a dear family friend who remembered me on all the special occasions of my life and, in practice, was more than any actual extended family to me.

The teacup she gave me is special both for it's beauty and what it represents. The beauty of this teacup speaks for itself. It is fine English bone china manufactured by Shelley China and is light as a feather, very strong, and holds heat well, the hallmarks of good bone china. I do believe a nice teacup does make drinking tea a little more enjoyable and so if you don't have a special teacup I think you ought to consider treating yourself to one!

This teacup is also special to me because of what it represents. My Auntie Fay, you see, is the essence of hospitality and you are never in her home for more than five minutes before she is putting the kettle on. It does not matter the time of day or night a cup of tea in her home means you are in for good conversation and a relaxing interlude. Countless conversations with her family and friends have taken place in her snug kitchen around a teapot covered by a wonky tea cozy and a plate of cookies. The essence of true hospitality to me.

Assignment: Share tea from the perspective of literature.

This second topic is an easy one for me. No question, the literary influence goes to Alexander McCall Smith and his The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series featuring Precious Ramotswe. It is entirely due to the protagonist Precious Ramotswe drinking daily cups of red bush tea while she ponders human nature that I have become a devotee of this tea myself. It is also known as Roobius herbal tea and I like it best in the plain unadulterated version that I buy from The Lavender Tea Company in San Clemente. I understand you can also use it in cooking - something I must look into.

A BOOK meme!
I'm always looking for a good book. I ask friends and strangers alike what they are reading and the all important question - is it a good book? So when Bridget at The Ravell'd Sleave tagged me with a book meme I thought what a great idea! I must confess, it's no longer quite the same meme as I've modified it a little to focus more on sharing favorite books.

1. What book are you currently reading?

I've only just started reading The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. Unfortunately I'm not far enough along to say much about it other than I would not recommend it to someone unfamiliarity with all of Austen's books.

Next up for me is The Grenadillo Box by Janet Gleeson. It's a mystery set in 18th century England. I've read several Janet Gleeson books including The Serpent in the Garden and The Thief Taker and, having enjoyed both of them, imagine I'll enjoy this one too.

2. When you think of a good story what are the first 3 books that come to mind?

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Such a creative and well written story. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards it is a standout in science fiction.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. Novel set on the cold British moors with mysterious goings on. Classic.

The Peaceable Kingdom by Jan De Hartog. Historical novel surrounding the Quaker movement. I just find these characters and their story compelling.

Honorable mention: Mr Puffy's favorite is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. He tears up just at the mention of the book. Such a beautiful and sad story. If you have a young teenager on your hands this summer give them this book.

3. Which 3 books would you recommend for summer 2008 beach reading?

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach. Set in 17th century Amsterdam this story brings to life an extraordinary set of circumstances.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. An adult fairy tale about English magic.

Any Tea Shop Mystery by Laura Childs. Very light and fun reads.

4. Any knitting book(s) you care to share?

The Knitter's Gift, An Inspirational Bag of Words, Wisdom, and Craft, edited by Bernadette Murphy. I received this book free along with a large purchase of Fleece Artist Yarns that I made several years ago, to knit a blanket. Yes, I have knit a blanket. The book is filled with individual stories of how knitting has impacted various lives. Some of the stories are rather sad and poignant. While I would not run out and buy this book, if you are looking for a gift insert in a basket I think it would serve rather well for that purpose.

I now get to tag three bloggers and I'm tagging Rosanne at Firefly Nights who is a really talented writer, photographer, fiber enthusiast and all round clever blogger who I know will have some good books to share; Hilary at The Yarniad a fantastic knitter and I'm just nosy about what she likes to read; and Denise at The Knitting Den who I share a lot in common with including a British mother and a shared passion for Christmas fruitcake (I'm using her recipe this year) so I'm curious what books she likes. I actually would like to know what everyone reads so if you would like to share please don't wait for a tag.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

It's a Vintage Thing

I've just returned from a couple of fun days visiting my parents in Santa Barbara where we shared lots of laughs and cups of tea and even a roaring afternoon fire to chase away the chilly afternoon weather!

Fortunately, despite the coolness to the air the days were sunny and perfect for picture taking!

This is my Mom wearing her newly finished vintage cardigan. She used Rowan Classic Cashsoft and has nothing but good things to say about this yarn and, considering the number of froggings (i..e. unraveling and starting over) I must say, I too, was impressed with how well this yarn held up. Bearing in mind the multiple albeit minor frogging episodes it should come as no surprise that I can not tell you the name of this pattern as, apparently, my mother felt it was not well written and has thrown it away....

I also took this opportunity to snap a few pictures of the Coromandel Capelet that I gave to my Mom. It is a pattern written by Mel Clark who used to own a LYS in Santa Monica, CA (the same Mel Clark who wrote Knit2Together a pattern book from which I have knit several patterns including the Rowena Cardigan ravelry link and the felted House Slippers ravelry link both of which I am very happy with).

For the Capelet I used Jaeger Extra Fine Merino which is now discontinued, much to my disappointment. If you find any on the clearance shelves snap it up! This pattern was designed for Rowan Wool Cotton (US 5 needles/5 skeins) and I think might actually be nicer in that yarn using a bright shade with a tie closure - similar to the store sample that sold me on the pattern to begin with. As an aside, that's one reason I really enjoy visiting a knitting store as often I find that the store samples are so cute I have to knit them for myself!

Notice the copious quantities of oranges in the background. My Dad grows the most juicy and sweet oranges in the whole wide world and I came home with a whole sack full!

But so much for vintage - my mother is ready for a something easier to follow more modern. She has settled on this Sirdar pattern which I think is a good choice. So, sitting amidst her 12 balls of Debbie Bliss DK yarn she is happily starting on another sweater. I'm sure it will look beautiful on her.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jam Tarts for Tea!

On lazy days when I'm not going out and don't have much to do I love to make jam tarts for tea.  It's not something familiar to most Americans and even in England jam tarts are most often associated with a nursery tea. But I say jam tarts are not just for the English or age specific! Just ask Steve who loves a tart. Let me rephrase that. Steve loves a jam tart.  In any event, there is nothing I enjoy more than sitting in the garden with a good book, a thermos of tea, jam tarts and nothing to do but enjoy a leisurely hour reading, nibbling, and relaxing in a shady garden.

The Queen of Hearts she made some tarts all on a summer's day;The Knave of Hearts he stole the tarts and took them clean away. The King of Hearts called for the tarts and beat the Knave full sore; The Knave of Hearts brought back the tarts and vowed he'd steal no more.

Probably the most difficult part of this recipe is finding a suitable tart mold and removing the tarts from the mold without them crumbling.  You need shallow molds for small tarts (approximately 2 inches across and 1/4 inch deep) and the closest that I've seen in recent years are mince pie pans which really are too deep.  Unfortunately if your tart molds are too deep you'll never get the tarts out with this flaky crust without them crumbling.  I found my tart molds in a specialty cookware shop many years ago and you might try a British cookware shop.  If you don't have proper shallow molds, you could try simply cutting out circles of dough and folding up the edges and baking them on a cookie sheet and not worry if a little jam bubbles over the edge.  Alternative (and I've done this myself on occasion) you can simply substitute the dough with half a pie dough recipe which does hold up better and is easier to remove from the modern (deeper) tart molds.  If you want to use a pie dough my recipe can be found here.   But for a really authentic jam tart using a very flaky crust is best and that's why I've shared this particular recipe that came with my tart pan.

RECIPE(18 small tarts):

Pastry Dough (this is a very flaky crust):

2 cups all purpose flour (or pastry flour)
1/2 cup sweet butter
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening (crisco)
Pinch of salt
small bowl of ice cold water mixed with a splash of white vinegar (approximately 3 tablespoons)

Jam filling:
2 tsp. raspberry, cherry, fig or other jam of your choice
dash of ground ginger (optional)

Egg wash:
1 egg white

Course white Sugar


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees;

2. Butter and flour tart molds;

3. Make pastry dough as follows:

Combine pastry flour and pinch of salt in a small bowl.  Cut in butter and vegetable shortening.. Sprinkle in ice water mixture 1 tablespoon at a time until mixture tossed with a fork begins to form a dough (approximately 3 tablespoons). Kneed dough gently a couple of times right in the mixing bowl. Divide dough in half and refrigerate both halves in plastic wrap for 5 minutes;

4. Roll out dough and cut circles for tarts. Place dough circles on tart tray and fill with jam. Sprinkle tarts with course white sugar; and

5. Bake approximately 12-15 minutes or until jam is bubbling.  Check on tarts after 12 minutes and cover tarts with aluminum foil to avoid burning if tarts aren't bubbling yet and need to cook longer and have are already browned (jam must boil or it will not "set").

6.  Allow tarts to cool in pan 10 minutes before removing from molds and finishing cooling on wire rack.  The extra time in the pan allows the crust to firm up a bit which helps prevent crumbling.

These tarts are particularly nice while still warm from the oven. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Twice as Good

I'm sharing an older project today where you have seen the more current version already. It is rare that I will knit the same pattern twice. There are just so many different patterns and yarns that I want to try that I never seem to go back to one I've knit before. But the Sursa shawl is different. I've knit it twice now and I wouldn't be surprised if I knit it a third time.

I like the Sursa shawl particularly well because it combines a rustic style wrap with a more modern look that is achieved by the use of a constrasting ruffle trim. It is also unlike anything I have ever seen in the stores and I like to knit things that I could not otherwise buy. It also doesn't hurt that the yarn is Noro silk garden and a pleasure to knit with.

I also love the Sursa shawl because it is a quick knit and I think a superior use for the Noro silk garden yarn. You use US 15 needles with the yarn doubled so it moves along very quickly and before you can say lickety split you are done! Using the yarn doubled also gives the yarn a complexity of color and strength that shows off the fiber to it's best advantage in my opinion.

I can remember when I first saw the Sursa shawl. I was in a LYS and the knitting instructor was wearing it. I thought it was the most beautiful yarn and pattern I had ever seen. This was, of course, well before I had discovered knitting blogs and all the wonder of the infinite variety of yarns and patterns available on-line. Yet, to this day, for the reasons given above it remains a favorite combination of yarn and pattern.

Project specs: Sursa Shawl from Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton's Book Number Two; US 15 Needles; 5 skeins Noro Silk Garden; 3 skeins Debbie Bliss Cashmerino; finished dimensions: 23" wide and 75" long.

We would now like to take just a minute to thank Vicki from Knitting Dragonflies for specifically awarding Mr Puffy the You Make My Day Award. Mr Puffy would like to say a few words in thanks.

I am incredibly thrilled by the honor of receiving this Award. I can't believe that my contributions to this blog should be so recognized by one of the knitting community. I would like to thank those that supported me and encouraged me throughout this process. I would also like to thank my mommy and daddy; my grandparents who live in Santa Barbara and have always encouraged me in whatever I've wanted to do and feed me lots of treats; my friends who live on my street, Mia and Ralph, who always want to play with me; and mostly I would like to thank Uno who recently won the first major Award for beagles ever and made it possible for other beagles to succeed in this highly competitive world! Now all I want to do is go to Disneyland and celebrate! Ah-Roo! Ah-Roo!
Sorry about that. He's just a little beagle and doesn't have a well developed sense of proportionality. We won't be going to Disneyland but I think we can manage a trip to our local Three Dog Bakery for a special treat. Thank you Vicki - you make our day too - along with all those other bloggers who have enriched our lives with your shared experiences, humor, and creativity!

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Little of This and a Little of That

I was tagged over the weekend with my first "meme" by the very sweet Rosanne of Firefly Nights.

A meme. As if. Like it's not already all about me me me all the time already! The rules for this meme are that I share six non-important things/habits/quirks about myself and Mr Puffy so, in the spirit of being a good sport, here we go:

1. I like to listen to country music when I'm in my car;

2. Mr Puffy has a criminal past (he was a chicken poacher until he had a close brush with an angry farmer. Since we've had him I've done my best to convince him chicken tastes better roasted);

3. Between Steve, Mr Puffy and myself we represent combined professional experience of a medical doctor, two lawyers, a certified public accountant, a real estate broker, a securities broker; and an ex-poacher.

4. I'm a native Californian and have been known to use the expression "dude" on ocassion;

5. Going to the Farmer's Market on the weekend is my idea of a good time; and

6. I used to play USTA league tennis and played first court doubles.

I now get to tag 6 bloggers of my choice and they are (drum roll please) Monika of Smoking Hot Needles; Bridget of The Ravell'd Sleave; Amanda of Fancie Pants Knits; Silvia of Silverknits; Vicki of Knitting Dragonflies; and Geoff of A Bubbling Cauldron (a non-knitter but a really cool dude).

On a more knitterly note, I splurged over the weekend on the new Debbie Bliss book, Coastlines. I love several of the designs but am going to start with this top (except I'm going to knit it in the color teal). The yarn is Debbie Bliss' Stella and is a blend of 60% silk, 20% rayon, and 20% cotton.