Monday, August 25, 2008

Food for Thought

After enjoying a very temperate summer for SoCal, we are in the throes of a heatwave. I'm completely unmotivated to even take pictures of knitting in this weather so I'm switching gears to another topic near and dear to my heart. Food.

We all have a favorite restaurant where we live. Someplace that locals know about but is not widely known otherwise. It doesn't have to be fancy but good food is key and its nice when it also has an appealing atmosphere whether quirky, quaint, or elegant. Literally nestled into the canyon side, the Inn of the Seventh Ray is just such a place in Topanga, California.

In the entryway is a bookstore that looks like it leapt from the pages of the The Hobbit. But, since this is Topanga, it sells "new age" music, crystals and incense. If it were up to me it would be filled with yarns, teas, mystery books, and chocolates. How much nicer that would be!

Steve doesn't often make an appearance on the blog, but I've caught him here looking very relaxed having finished his meal. He is traveling so much these days it's a treat when I have him to myself and we can enjoy an afternoon together.

Here I am looking woefully under dressed. Sometimes we pop down at the last minute and brazen out the casual attire. Speaking of attire, since this is Topanga you see everything from A to Z which makes people watching part of the fun. But, it's the food that brings us back. I'm not that impressed with the regular menu but the Sunday champagne brunch is out of this world. Everything is very fresh and the salads are exotic and colorful; the hot dishes are savory and unique; and the desserts are beautiful and delicious. Yes, the brunch is the only way to go.

But, since most often we eat meals at home, I'm going to share with you a delicious savory meal that doesn't require going anywhere (truth be told, the type of meal Steve and Mr Puffy prefer).

This is a wonderful recipe that I found online. It is Tyler Florence's Herb Roasted Chicken with Wild Mushroom & Marsala and here's a link to a video which shows him making this dish:

Tyler Florence's Herb Roasted Chicken With Wild Mushrooms & Marasala (as slightly modified by me to better suit our tastes. Original recipe can be found here:


Organic or free-range chicken (regular chickens have too much juice to work well with this recipe)
1 rounded Tbs. Fresh Rosemary
2 Tsp. dried Thyme
1 Clove Garlic crushed
Cremini mushrooms or assorted wild mushrooms
1 large sweet onion cut into rings
1/2 Cup chicken stock
1/2 Cup sweet marsala wine
Olive Oil
Sea Salt


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees

2. Wash and dry chicken. Combine herbs and garlic into a paste and push mixture under skin of chicken around the breast and cavity area.

3. Arrange mushrooms and onion around chicken and pour chicken stock and Marsala Wine into baking dish. Drizzle chicken with olive oil and sprinkle chicken and mushrooms with sea salt.

4. Bake for approximately 50 to 60 minutes or until done. Remove chicken and mushrooms/onions from the pan and place on serving dish. Place pan with juices on oven burner and cook over high heat stirring with a wooden spoon until mixture thickens. Pour thickened pan juices over chicken and mushroom.

5. I like to serve this dish with mashed potatoes.

Oh yes. Since I'm having the summer doldrums I've joined a swap to perk me up! Yep, I've taken the plunge. I've signed up for A Vintage Halloween Swap which is hosted by the delightful Heidi at Foxgloves, Fabric and Folly.

Finally, on a sad note, Chan has lost her little dog Mugsy. Through Chan's blogging at Chan Knits I had gotten to really know this little guy and will miss him.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Domestic Arts

My mother is an excellent knitter, as you have seen from the few examples I have shared. But growing up I never saw her knit. She was at that time in her life very much into embroidery and needlepoint. This picture was hand embroidered by my mother and hangs in my guest bedroom. My parent's home is full of beautiful examples of similar tapestries that she has either had framed, as this one is, or made into pillows that grace various chairs and couches.

My mother no longer does any needlework, but when she did she never worked from a kit as she enjoyed the process of selecting the colors herself. I remember the care she took with choosing which colors to place where. She has a particular talent for understanding and choosing color combinations. It is from watching her that I invest a lot of time into selecting the right yarn and color for a knitting project. We're talking years here. If you notice, my projects are hardly ever cutting edge. That's because I take a long view of a knitting project. Even Mr Puffy becomes exasperated at times. You should see him roll his eyes when I tell him I'm still looking for the yarn for his sweater. That project has seriously been long overdue. But I digress.

I love this style of embroidery. So often now when you see embroidery it is of the style that merely outlines an image with a simple back stitch. Close examination of my mother's embroidery shows that she not only fills in the image but she also uses a variety of embroidery stitches to give texture and character to a piece.

I have done a little embroidery myself, but not for many years now. I am going to add embroidery back into the mix, though, as I like to vary my hobbies. To vary one's hobbies is not only good for the hands but is also helpful to keep a balance in one's life.

Working from iron-on transfers allows you the most flexibility. You can add the iron-on transfers to tea towels, guest towels, or as a small embellishment to an otherwise plain white t-shirt. When I was in my late teens, a favorite top of mine was a plain white t-shirt on which my mother had embroidered small yellow flowers to match a pair of my yellow tennis shorts. I loved that outfit. I'm not sure I ever won any tennis matches wearing it. But, oh, how I did love wearing it.

I recently found some of the iron-on embroidery transfer books and now I am in search of linen embroidery blanks. The linen blanks are hard to find and I may just have to settle for something less than perfect if I wish to get underway. Ideally I would like to use a plain white Irish linen. Not easy to find, let me tell you. If anyone has any suggestions as to where to find embroidery blanks, I would love to hear from them.

My mother used to buy her supplies, as did I, at Thumbelina's in Solvang, California. Amazingly this shop is still in business but now it primarily carries cross-stitch and needlepoint supplies. By the way, if you ever have the occasion to be driving along the southern coastline of California, be sure to take the minor detour inland to visit Solvang. It's a small Danish town that is full of shops and more importantly, has wonderful Swedish smorgasbords and Danish pastries.

These are the transfer books I ordered, and some examples of the designs. As you can see, I'm a fan of Beatrix Potter and all things fairy; these transfer books (along with others) can be found on-line here and here. If you are interested in learning embroidery, here's a link to some basic embroidery stitches, Needle 'n Thread.

It's hot here, there and just about everywhere; so I hope you enjoyed this cool refreshing break from woolly topics! Have a terrific week everyone and remember Fall is just around the corner.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Bolero for Fall

You may recall that this yarn was a gift from Mr Puffy last year. He's so generous with his meager allowance. I really ought to increase it.

I don't typically wear trendy clothes. But I do believe this little bolero is quite "in." Of course, it was Mr Puffy who gifted it to me, and we all know how style conscious he is.

Steve also really likes this bolero. He thinks it's the nicest thing I've ever knit. Let me stay with that for a moment. The nicest thing I've ever knit. Hum. This is not a man you send out to select china, if you get what I'm alluding too.

While that makes me smile, and I do not agree, I do feel fortunate to have such supportive men in my life. Really, in their eyes, everything I knit is the nicest thing I've ever knit. What's not to like about that.

And, it is a cute little bolero. I love the varying shades of blue with the black accents. As Jane in my knitting group observed, it looks like there are little bats flying about in the fabric which gives it a mysterious complexity. Maybe I'll take on an air of mystery when I'm wearing it!

It's also very soft and fluffy and for that reason alone I know I will wear it a lot this Fall. I can see it paired with a black turtle neck sweater on a cooler day.

I would describe this as an easy knit but for the weird shaping instructions for the front. I'm not at all sure that I did it correctly. The front shaping is accomplished with short rows and due to the difference in American versus European pattern writing conventions, it had me rather confused. At least, I hope that is the reason why I was confused.

It's hard to tell, but the clasp was supposed to be at the bottom of the bolero. However, that looked very strange with the weird shaping I had going on. So, I simply pinned it up more toward the top and I think it looks much better this way.

Specs: Phildar; Autumn 06/07; TenDANCes 32; # 456-T6-233; Horizons (colorway: Nocturne; 5 skeins); US 6 needles; downsized to XS. Be warned, it is an acrylic (91% acrylic) and has an unnatural feel to it.

I thought this was an unusual picture. No, it's not taken in some exotic place. It's actually taken across the canyon looking back just below our house. If you strain really hard you can see a pack of coyotes lounging about. While coyotes are prevalent in Topanga it's unusual to see them lying about like this.

Until you've heard a pack of coyotes celebrating a kill in the night, you don't know the meaning of blood curdling. I'm quite sure the druids never engaged in sacrifices that parallel the rituals engaged in by coyotes. I can't tell you what they are doing exactly; but it's done in a large group, seems to take a long time, and there is a tinge of the macabre involved.

Mr Puffy in particular is very troubled by these noises. He's so sensitive. What can we do. We lock the doors and pull the covers over our heads. Living up here is not for everyone.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lazy Days of Summer and Brownies

Unlike those more ambitious ones out there participating in Ravelympics 2008 (of which there are over 6,000 participating) Puff and I are enjoying a respite from our busy lives. Everyone experiences ups and downs in life. I try to enjoy the good times and ride out the tough times knowing that they too shall pass. One thing I like to do when I'm not too busy is participate in my Topanga Knitters Group. There are 4 of us "Topaganites" in this group formed through the connectivity power of Ravelry and one rather more social and computer savvy member who organized us.

It is a bit of a risk getting together with people that you don't know anything about. For that reason, our first meeting took place in a local coffee shop. Now that we know each other we rotate meeting at each of our homes (we meet every other Wednesday) and everyone brings something to nibble on. As you can see from the spread above, we enjoy our nibbling and imbibiling. Typically it's some savories and sweets along with wine and iced tea but after I missed the last couple of meetings they toasted my return with champagne! Any ole excuse, me thinks.

This week we met at Jane's house and sat outside on her deck and enjoyed the quiet shade and late afternoon sun. Jane has a beautiful rose garden and the roses pictured on the table above were cut from her rose bushes. When we leave she always cuts a rose for us to take home too. So sweet. I can only offer a weed from my "garden" of which I have plenty to give away.

Although we are a small group we are diverse both in life and knitting experience (everywhere from a new knitter to a knitwear designer) which makes for lively discussions. The topics flow from knitting to life and back to knitting again. As I noted once, collectively, around the table we have the combined experience of 200 years of living. That's a lot of knitting and life experience represented.

We always bring along our current and recently finished projects. This week one of the ladies brought a baby sweater as well as a tam, which we wisely convinced her that she needs to keep for herself, it looked so cute on (I'm talking about the tam - not the baby sweater).

For those out there who don't immediately recognize this baby sweater, it is the Baby Surprise Jacket ("BSJ") designed by Elizabeth Zimmerman. This sweater pattern is such a classic there is even a Knit Wiki article which includes background information; links to various pattern sources; and helpful techniques. By the way, Knit Wiki is a great technical resource which I have only learned about through this group (see what I mean about these ladies).

Scouting for Brownies

Brownies are particularly nice around Halloween but are enjoyable any time of year. The ones I made for our knitting group (pictured above) are from a recipe I discovered years ago in Dying For Chocolate by Diane Motts Davidson . Parenthetically, the first book in this series is Catering to Nobody . I always find it hard to figure out which is the first book in a series, so I mention it here for your convenience.

This is a series of culinary mysteries that are better than average summer reads and have quite good recipes to boot. I've read probably half a dozen or so of the books and have enjoyed them all. The protagonist is a single mother raising a son and earning her living as a caterer. Since I love cooking these books were a natural for me. I really enjoy the way she weaves stories of catering events and food preparation through her mysteries. The way she described the food - oh my - can she describe food in an appetizing way.

Here's a link to the brownie recipe "Goldy Bear's Scout's Brownies."  It's a very versatile and reliable recipe and I've made it many many times over the years. In the shot above I added fresh smashed blackberries to the top with milk chocolate chips sprinkled on top and it tastes a lot like a truffle this way.   Sometimes I'll add a cup of walnuts to the batter with semi-sweet chips sprinkled on top and at Christmas it's nice with broken candy canes sprinkled on top. I've also added an espresso flavored icing instead of chips on top and that's wonderful too.  It's really hard to go wrong and there's a million ways to enjoy it.

Have a great week everyone and I hope that you get the chance to meet some of the local knitters in your community!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Knitting at The Beach

Steve is away this week on business, so Mr Puffy and I headed down to sleepy surf city San Clemente, California to enjoy the late summer beach weather. Besides surfing, San Clemente has some great shops and this week I found the cutest shoes for Fall! More specifically, they will be prefect with the skirt that I'm knitting. See how well they go other already!

I'm knitting the Bell Curve skirt which is a free pattern I found on Knitty (Ravelry link). I've been thinking about knitting a skirt for some time, but was leery of knitting one with wool as I recall having a wool dress that was a little too clingy for comfort. Now that I think about it, I think there must have been some acrylic in that dress because it had just awful static electricity. In any event, I think this skirt should be okay as the "yarn" I'm using has a firm almost metallic feel and it is knitting into an interesting fabric with a nice drape. The yarn is Zoe (25% viscose and 75% nylon) manufactured by Artfibers in San Francisco and is worsted weight. My only complaint with the pattern so far is that the "star" design is a little uncomfortable to knit as you have to K5Tog. But I'm knitting very loosely when this stitch looms on the horizon and that helps considerably.

As I mentioned at the start, San Clemente is known as a surf city and so I've seen my share of surfing. But, I had never seen this before. What is happening is the surfer is hanging on to ropes while being pulled behind a jet ski and and when the surfer is set up on the wave he lets go and really zips along the wave. I can not tell you how much coordination this maneuver requires. I've seen a lot of surfing ~ whisper ~ most of my neighbors aren't very good ~ but this fellow was quite good and fun to watch. The best surfing is actually at Trestles Surf (technically just south of San Clemente) and if you would like to see some decent surfing, here's a link to a surfing video shot at Trestles.

Not being terribly well coordinated (balance wise) I enjoy body surfing where you just let the water carry you along. The waves continuously roll in one after another and makes for marvelous body surfing. I don't even mind all the sand that accumulates in my swimsuit from this activity.

But, as everyone knows, you shouldn't go swimming by yourself and Mr Puffy was having none of it. I kept saying, doesn't it look like fun in the water? He didn't move a muscle. I would hate to think he was faking being sleep when he knew how much I wanted to go in.

Speaking of shoes, did anyone hear about the earthquake in SoCal last week? It was minor, but I felt the earth move. When this happens it always re energizes me on disaster preparedness. And, since I'm in my car a lot, I carry in the trunk an old pair of tennis shoes and a light tote in which I have a few incidentals should I suddenly need to walk to shelter. For myself, even in a nuclear attack, I would need to moisturize having very dry skin. My tote therefore has moisturizer, water, a few nutrition bars, and some toiletries. I'm also thinking about tossing in a skein of sock yarn for good measure.

Cuz, these shoes aren't taking me too far in a disaster.