Monday, November 20, 2017

Testing Knitting and Holiday Gift Ideas


I am officially a Test Knitter!  I feel special.  As if I've achieved a new level of knitting proficiency.  When in truth anyone can be a test knitter.  All that it requires is that you be willing to boldly go where no man has gone before.  Beam me up Captain Kirk I've acquired a taste for exploration.

Kidding aside there are a few aspects of test knitting that I hadn't considered prior to being one myself.  For example when you agree to test knit you must follow the instructions exactly.  This might not be a problem for most knitters but I generally like to adjust patterns to better fit my figure.  This issue is obviously more of a concern with a sweater as opposed to a cowl or hat.  Note that I chose to test knit a cowl.

You must also commit to a time table, which isn't a problem for me as I'm a pretty fast knitter.  But it also occurred to me (while I was in the middle of this test knit) that I might be blithely knitting along only to find the pattern had a major error in it.  Which would require that I frog back.  And I must do so with a cheerful countenance as that is part and parcel of being a test knitter.  I was happy to discover there were no errors in this pattern.  Which makes me wonder if I really am cut out for test knitting.

Prepare yourself the compensation is meager. You will receive a final published version of the pattern and a thank you.  But I'm going to posit that the real reward is that by test knitting we all support the indie pattern designers who have made knitting today the vibrant, fun and exciting time that it is with a wealth of excellent patterns for the hand knitter.  I remember as a young woman visiting yarn shops that simply had a few baskets filled with yarn books and a few pattern leaflets to choose from.  The internet and the indie pattern designer has revolutionized knitting  in a way that is hard to comprehend for those who did not experience it as it was.


For my first test knit I lucked out with the Eureka Cowl.  I knew as soon as I saw it I wanted one.  As much as I love the modern designs a large part of my heart is firmly rooted in the rustic styles of the frontier and the 1800s.   It was also a pleasure to work with Jessica Gore and knit her wonderful design that is warm and cozy and easy to wear.  And, as a plus, it knits up fast in a worsted weight yarn!  I love it and will wear it often on my morning hikes with Simcha.  If you are interested in test knitting for Jessica then I suggest joining her Ravelry Group, The Sweater Collective, where she posts upcoming test knits.


Particulars:  Eureka Cowl; designed by Jessica Gore (website The Sweater Collective); 3 skeins Mostly Merino Vermont Wool - discontinued - (worsted weight wool/mohair blend ) 300 yrds total; US 8 needles.  My gauge swatch was dead on but the wool I used is slightly heavier than the yarn it is designed for and as a result I used more yardage and the length of my cowl is slightly longer.  My finished blocked (relaxed) measurements are: 17.5" (length) x 19" (widest point); 9" (top opening).  My advice for knitting this cowl is that you use a yarn that is warm and will have a good drape when blocked.  The yarn I used for this project was left over from my Cabled Riding Jacket.

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS ~


Thanksgiving and the holidays are a fun time of the year with lots of decorating, baking, and gift giving opportunities.  Personally my oven barely has a chance to cool down the entire season!  To get you in the spirit here's my list of gifting ideas which are all items that I've bought or received myself over the years.  Nothing is over $75 and a few are stocking stuffer priced.  If you are looking for big ticket splurge then I recommend you consider a yarn club or a sweater quantity of yarn but that's a risky gift in my opinion because it's highly dependent on personal taste so I've not included them on my list.

Gift Ideas for Bakers
  1. Designer Apron.     If you enjoy entertaining or baking in style then these are a must!  I have a number of aprons but my favorites come from a small shop in San Clemente, California, called Just B'Cuz.  In the picture above I'm wearing an apron from their shop. A big plus is that these are reversible.  
  2. Sourdough Start Kit.  If you have never tried baking with a sourdough starter or know someone who would like to try then this is good place to begin your adventure. This is the very same kit that I purchased from King Arthur Flour 30 years ago and I've been enjoying wonderful breads ever since.  Incidentally, in the picture above I'm holding a loaf of Sourdough filled with Apricots and Oats.  For a more experienced sourdough enthusiast I recommend the Tartine Bread cookbook.
  3. Lame Bread Slashing Tool.  A handy tool for all bread bakers.  The black walnut one is on my wish list.
  4. Bake From Scratch or Sift Magazine Subscription.  I really love both these magazines and have made many wonderful treats from both including lots of cookies from the recent Bake from Scratch Holiday Cookie issue
Gift Ideas for Knitters
  1. Magic Yarn Ball. These are really fun to make and receive.  Basically you buy a skein of yarn and then rewind it wrapping within the ball small gifts such as buttons, ribbon, lip gloss and anything else you can think of.  It's like a stocking for knitters.    
  2. Project Bag.  Knitters can never have too many project bags.  Because I knit a lot of socks I have a number of the smaller single skein bags that I purchase on Etsy that are hand sewn and beautifully made.   
  3. Progress Keeper.  I never thought I would use or want a progress keeper until I had one.  Now I love using them and add them to all my projects.  I linked to the Etsy vendor that I purchased from but there are many options on Etsy.
  4. Signature Knitting Needles.  These are lovely needles.  I have a set of their 5 DPN stiletto point sock needles and I love using them. Monogramming is an option.
  5. Kidsilk Yarn.  This is a fun yarn with excellent yardage that there are a million uses for and everyone loves (although it is tricky to learn to knit with).  I always have a kidsilk haze project lined up and these shawls and scarfs are my favorite knits to wear.  I've linked to ColorPurl who I most recently purchased this yarn from and she has several kits that include this yarn.  But there are many indie dyers who carry kidsilk in their inventory and of course Rowan yarns made it popular.  
  6. Needle Case/Cozy.  If you knit socks then you probably have sock needles rolling about everywhere like I do.  These cute needle cases are on my wish list.
Don't forget to shop for deals online on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Jodie the editor at Knit Like Granny has published a helpful guide to online shopping (including some excellent knitting discounts) in her article Ultimate Guide to Black Friday and Cyber Monday Knitting Deals!  


HAPPY THANKSGIVING ~

Until next time be well and love well and from all of us at The Knitting Blog by Mr Puffy the Dog we wish you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season!  Notice how Simcha's ears perk up at the mention of Thanksgiving. 


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Two Color Shawls and Fall Crafting ~

These days I'm addicted to knitting two color shawls.  And if you are going to be addicted to anything that is a good thing.  Right?  I love that two color shawls have a modern look, are a nice size, and the shaping is often long and flowy.  Which makes them perfect for wrapping around your neck as a voluptuous scarf or draped over your shoulder for a dramatic look.  And those happen to be a very wearable looks for me.  Perhaps if I lived in Iceland I would be more interested in knitting Lopi Sweaters but I don't.  Not that I have anything against lopi sweaters. Parenthetically my first large project was a lopi sweater.  It was gorgeous but impossibly warm and ended up tossed in the rubbish bin.  I'm a much more pragmatic knitter these days.


Because not everyone can afford or wants to buy yarn as a kit for a two color shawl project I thought I would share a few tips that I use for buying yarn that will work well together.  As a preface I purchase almost all my yarn online (there isn't a yarn shop convenient to where I live) and I also love the work of indie dyers so these tips are primarily geared toward the online shopper.


First, while it is not that exciting a purchase, you need to invest in a few skeins in solid or lightly speckled colors that are not designated for any particular project.  These skeins don't have to be in a traditional neutral color such as grey or black it can be any shade of solid color, although neons are in my experience hard to work with.  Once you have a few solid colors you can then shop for speckles and variegated yarns from indie dyers and you will be surprised how many gorgeous and unexpected combinations you can create this way.


The other tip is to be aware of what you are buying.  Not all fingering weight yarn is created equal.  You want to match a plied yarn with another plied yarn (versus yarn singles).  You also want to match the yardage as closely as possible (fingering weight skeins can vary anywhere from 400 yrds up to 500 yrds per skein).  More closely matched yardage will help achieve a more evenly weighted shawl, although some variation in yardage won't be too noticeable.  And lastly you want to pay attention to the composition of the yarn as a highly twisted sturdy wool yarn (more suited to socks) paired with a cashmere blend yarn (more suited to shawls) won't create as pleasing a fabric.


Once you have a couple of solid colored skeins of yarn you simply have to take the plunge and buy that gorgeous skein of yarn you have been eying and wait for serendipity to take hold!  In the worse case scenario and you really don't think a skein of yarn will work with any of your solids then designate it for a pair of socks or consider its potential for a brioche pattern!  In any event this is how I go about buying my yarn online and incorporating yarns from various vendors.  And this is exactly the method that I used to come up with the yarn combination used in this shawl.


Particulars:  Pure Joy designed by Joji locatelli (website Joji Knits); US 6 needles; 1 skein Plucky Knitter, Snug Fingering (for The Love of Scum colorway: Strange Brew - 100g/389 yrds) and 1 skein Qing Fiber, BFL high twist (Shusui colorway - 100g/400 yrds).  This is a wonderful pattern and I made no modifications whatsoever.  As an aside Plucky Knitter is my favorite vendor for solid colored skeins.  Previous patterns that I've knit using Plucky Knitter yarn include my Stripe Study Shawl, Kelmscott Socks, and Breaking Bad shawl.


FALL CRAFTING ~

I want to quickly share this cute softie that I made using a kit sold by Posie Gets Cozy.  It's all hand sewn using wool felt and fabric scraps and it's a nice finished size at 13.5 inches tall.  I really love it and the only change I made was to use a different fabric for the inside of my rabbit's ears.  There's something that speaks to me about hand made toys and mostly I've knit them over the years but this wool felt rabbit came out so beautifully I might have to make another!


Like most knitters I enjoy and am drawn to a variety of crafts but today there is such a huge amount of DIY project ideas and inspiration on Pinterest and other social outlets it can be daunting trying to find project ideas without becoming overwhelmed by choices and to know which ones really are worth spending the time and effort on.  It's for this reason that Jodie founder of Crafty Like Granny has launched a new website that sorts through the fodder and highlights various knitting and crafting projects for you.  They have also complied a list of their top 100 knitting blogs which they have graciously included me on.  This blog list does not appear to be as focused on commercially oriented bloggers as some of the other lists of knitting bloggers that I've seen.  Which I like because those are the blogs that I enjoy reading.  Go have fun checking out their blog list for new bloggers or old favorites and be sure to also visit their list of Thanksgiving knitting and crafting inspiration!


LAST BUT NOT LEAST ~ FALL SOCKS


Because it's Socktober I couldn't let the month end without slipping in a pair of socks.  These were a super easy and fun knit and best of all the pattern is free!  I used the Easy Peasy Socks pattern designed by Nadine Tobish (blogs as Schibot Garne); 1 skein Makers Haven, Simple Sock (colorway The World is My Canvas) and US 1 needles.  My only modification, if you will, was to substitute my Colorbock Sock pattern for overall sock construction, i.e., for cuffs, heel and toe shaping and and I simply used the Easy Peasy Sock design for the pattern effect.

Until next time be well and love well and as the days shorten and the holidays approach enjoy quiet moments of relaxation as you craft and bake for your family and loved ones!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Solstice Cardigan and Honey Roasted Pecans!

This is my "Rhinebeck" sweater.  Snicker.  Yeah, I know that I'm not going to Rhinebeck but I'm still calling it my Rhinebeck sweater.  To explain, if you are a knitter then you've probably heard of the fabulous  extravaganza of sheep and wool called Nys Sheep and Wool Festival that takes place late October in Rhinebeck, New York (commonly known as "Rhinebeck").  In any event it's the mecca for knitters and over the years it's become quite "the thing" to wear a new handknit sweater to the event called your Rhinebeck sweater. I wish I was going to this or any yarnie event.  But I'm not nor am I ever likely too.  Because apparently I'm waiting for one to come to Topanga, California.  I suspect I'll be waiting a long time.  But I can still have a "Rhinebeck" (sic. fall) sweater and you can too.


Over the years I've knit a number of sweaters, some pullovers, some short sleeve, and a few cardigans and hands down my cardigans get the most wear and enjoyment.   I've found that my sweet spot for sweaters are the chunky cozy sweaters that are squishy and make you feel warm and toasty and impervious to the cold.  Just like this one.  It's an aran weight a a little heavier than any others I've knit but that's what makes it a great outer layer sweater.


To be honest while this sweater was on the needles I had begun to worry that I had made a mistake in selecting this pattern.  It felt and looked like a boring blob of yarn that I was lugging about.  But I persevered.  In for a penny in for a pound I always say.  And I had bought the yarn to go with this pattern so there must have been something about the project that had spoken to me.  And of course once the sweater came together I knew why I had chosen it.  It has wonderful texturing going on and has a quaint vintage style that is easy to wear and will be perfect for running errands or simply to hang out sipping a steaming cup of coffee.  Did I mention it feels fabulous on?


If you read this blog then you know I'm partial to knitting shawls and accessories.  After all I live in a very warm climate (southern california) so I don't have a lot of  cold weather to justify knitting too many sweaters but we do get some cool and down right cold days November through January so it's nice to have a new sweater in the fall.  I'm glad that I picked this one for 2017.


Particulars:  Solstice Cardigan by Cecily MacDonald; 6 skeins Quince & Co., Osprey (lupine colorway); US 10 1/2 circular needles. This is a wonderfully written and easy to follow pattern, although I did find the “faux” cable (running down the shoulder and sleeves) confusing at first. I think the instructions would have been cleared if stated as follows:
Row 3: Sl 4 wyb droppping all yo’s. Using the point of LH needle pass the first 2 stitches over the second 2 stitches LEAVING THESE STITCHES ON THE LEFT HAND NEEDLE. Transfer the 2 remaining stitches on the right needle to the left needle. Now that your stitches are crossed knit them in this order.
Hopefully this will help someone else also confused by the faux cable instructions.  Other than that the pattern is very easy to follow.  There are optional pockets that I skipped and I did tack down the collar to prevent it riding up.

If you are interested in cardigans (versus pullover sweaters) previous posts with a cardigan include Little Waves, Flo, Cabled Riding Jacket, Bud, Exquisite Cardigan, and Rowena.

Honey Roasted Pecans!


Some say that I'm a nutty person so it shouldn't be a surprise that I enjoy eating nuts.  I use them a lot in my baking and I also eat a fair amount raw but my favorite nuts are those that have been roasted.  As fall is a time to celebrate the harvest gathering for winter I thought this would be the perfect time to share a favorite recipe for roasted nuts.

This is a recipe for roasted pecans and before getting into the nitty gritty of the recipe it's important to clarify the type of pecans to use.  For baking no question I always use elliot pecans because of the wonderful flavor they add to baked goods. Over the years I've purchased elliot pecans from Sunnyland Farms (wonderful quality, but their prices have gotten pretty high) so this year I purchased my pecans from Pearson Farms and I am very happy with their quality too.  Incidentally pecans freeze extremely well so don't worry about the quantity of nuts you purchase. But for this recipe I like to use the variety of pecans that you generally find in a grocery store and Costco carries them at a very good price which is handy because this recipe is very addictive and you can go through a lot of pecans!  Honey roasted pecans are wonderful tossed in a salad (try them in my holiday salad!), added to a bowl of popcorn, chopped up and sprinkled on top of oatmeal, or simply by the handful.  There are endless ways to enjoy them!  Oh, and before I forget, packaged prettily they make great hostess gifts too.

Honey Roasted Pecans
~ yield ~ 4 cups

Ingredients:
4 cups pecan halves
3 Tbs. honey (I like a warm flavored honey and use Trader Joe's Turkish Honey)
2 tsp. sugar, divided
3/4 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt

Pan preparation:
Aluminum Foil
Non-Stick cooking spray (I use pure olive oil)

Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a roasting pan with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

2.  Add pecans to a large mixing bowl and drizzle with honey.  Mix well to coat all pecans.

3.  Evenly distribute pecans on prepared roasting pan.  If you see any nuts that somehow aren't covered well with honey drizzle them with a dollop of additional honey before sprinkling tops of pecans with 1 tsp. sugar (do not stir).  Roast for 10 minutes.

4.  Remove pecans from oven and stir well.  Sprinkle top of pecans with remaining 1 tsp. sugar, 3/4 tsp. curry powder and 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon. Roast for 2 minutes more.  Total roasting time is 12 minutes.

5.  Remove pecans from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes in the pan before transferring to non-stick parchment paper or silpat to finish cooling.  I transfer the nuts while still warm because I find that when I leave them to cool completely on the foil they have a tendency to stick to the foil.

6.  Once the pecans have cooled sprinkle them with 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt.

7.  Store in an airtight container.

Adapted from Southern Celebration's Spicy Honey Glazed Pecans.

Although it has nothing to do with pecans I had to share this picture of Steve and Simcha because it captured my heart.  It's taken on a Friday night as they prepare for Shabbat which for the Jewish religion is on Saturday.  Simcha loves to keep Steve company as he studies and he's also a big fan of his guitar playing too.  As am I naturally!


Until next time be well, love well and have fun picking out your Halloween pumpkin! And for those of you lucky enough to be going to Rhinebeck, or any fiber festival have a wonderful time and take lots and lots of pictures!!!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Striped Esjan Shawl and Early Fall Baking

With all the looming holidays from Jewish, Christian, Pagan, and Secular you are definitely going to need a great party shawl.  And it doesn't matter what age you are it is always fun to get dressed up and wear something flirty with a bit flounce to a party.   The Striped Esjan shawl delivers just that with a sophisticated vibe to boot.  Roll on with the holidays!


I fell in love with this design a long time ago and made several attempts to knit it using contrasting stripes (as the design called for) but that just didn't work for me. I think the stripes made it too busy or something.  In any event I forgot about this pattern until I was trying to decide what to make with this gorgeous variegated yarn.  When walla I serendipitous remembered that I had some smoky grey mohair yarn for contrast and after that it was an easy decision to turn it into a Striped Esjan sans stripes, if that's possible.

Knitting with this yarn reminded me how much I love a variegated colorway.  For one thing I love how a highly variegated yarn becomes your own unique colorway based on how you use it.  For example if I had used this yarn to knit a pair of socks the yarn would have looked very different because the short rows would have pooled the colors very differently.  Or if I had used a different needle size, shawl design, or contrasting color it would have look different as well. With all the recent hype over speckled and brightly colored yarns I'd forgotten the unique beauty of variegated yarns. Where as a speckled yarn pretty much creates an identifiable homogeneous design.


It's thanks to Andi who writes the popular blog MySistersknitter that I found this yarn.  She often features lesser known Indie yarn dyers. When this dyer was on Andi's blog she called her shop Mountain Girl Yarns but subsequently she closed that shop and has since reemerged as Woolou Yarns. So many LYS and Esty sellers have closed over the last few years.  I don't know if that is due to fewer people knitting or the state of the economy in general.  I do know that there are some very popular dyers who can't dye yarn fast enough for demand but there are many more independent yarn sellers who struggle to make a living.  I try and be adventuresome and support the lesser known dyers.  After all you never know when you'll find a gem like this yarn! And diversity of choice is good for everyone.  We don't all want to be walking around wearing the same popular colorways, do we?  As awesome as some of them are! Note to self: snag a skein of speckled birthday cake ASAP. Incidentally I checked on Ravelry and there are only 7 projects made using Woolou Yarns.  Andi's beautiful Linus is one of them.  My yarn has been discontinued.


Particularls:  Striped Esjan; US 4 and 6 needles; 1 skein SW BFL/Nylon (464 yrd) dyed by Mountain Girl Yarns (colorway Big Creek) now known as Woolou Yarn; 1 skein kidsilk haze dyed by Hedgehog Fibers (colorway Crystal - left over from my Northern Skies Shawl).  I knit the body of the shawl (and all parts using Mountain Girl Yarns) using US 4 needles and I knit the kidsilk haze section using US 6 needles.  Because I had less of the Mountain Girl Yarn than the pattern required I knit the body until I had used 60% of my skein (leaving 40% for the edging).  That was a pretty good guesstimate and I almost made it... I ran out of yarn halfway through the BO and switched to a complimentary green color to finish.

Previous designs by Stephen West that I've knit include Pogona; The Doodler; and Marled Magic (pictured below).  I don't see myself doing a full post on Marled Magic but I am very happy with how it came out.  I knit the large (shanklet) size and I know that Steve is looking forward to using it this winter as a throw.



Early Fall Baking ~



It's not technically Fall yet.  I know that.  But September 1st saw me begin my day happily munching on a fragrant slice of pumpkin spice bread.  Already I feel the mornings are cooler and the evenings are getting dark earlier and small signs of fall are appearing about the house.  Soon colorful gourds will be predominately displayed and apple butter will be bubbling away on my stove top.  It's a very happy time for me as it celebrates many of the things that make life special including a welcoming home with a loving family, wonderful food, and an appreciation for the harvest.  And of course I get to wear the sweaters and socks that I spend so much time knitting!

If you are interesting in trying this Sourdough Pumpkin Spice Bread it's a free recipe from King Arthur Flour.  As it's made with a sour dough starter it's not your typical sweet bread.  It's more a breakfast bread that is nice toasted with your morning coffee, and I really enjoy it.  But if you prefer a sweet pumpkin bread you might try my Pumpkin Bread with Walnut Topping.


Until next time be well, love well and slow down and notice the early signs of Fall.  They can be subtle here in Southern California but they can be seen in the surrounding foliage, shifting daylight, and falling temperatures.  May you also have fun on your search for the perfect gourds and pumpkins to decorate your home!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Israel and a Taste of the Middle East


It's been weeks since my last post so I'll quickly update you on what's been happening this summer. We have had both amazing highs and frightening lows.  The high point was obviously our trip to Israel which was amazing!  The low was my father being seriously injured in a fire that required him to be airlifted to a burn center here in Los Angeles which was a blessing as Steve (a retired doctor) was invaluable in making critical medical decisions that effected his recovery.  It's now six weeks since his injury and I am extremely happy to share that he is at home recovering and his wounds have almost completely healed. It's nothing short of miraculous and largely thanks to Steve's decisions and my dad's wonderful healing capacity. But a very stressful time as you can imagine.

As I promised in my last post I do have a wonderful vegetarian dish that I am dying to share!  It's a knockoff of a dish that I had while in Jerusalem that was served as a main course.  I enjoyed it so much that while in the restaurant I carefully and surreptitiously wrote down all the ingredients on a napkin sothat I could recreate it when I returned home. You might find that some of the ingredients are not your typical grocery staple but they all have a long shelf life and I think once you try this dish you will find that you make it over and over again. I know that I do.  It's also a great dish to have in your repertoire in this day and age when everyone is either a vegan, vegetarian, or some other enlightened or otherwise picky eater.



Red Quinoa and Mushroom Salad

~ serves 4 ~

Salad Ingredients:

3/4 cup red quinoa (measured raw)
1/4 cup fine Bulgar (measured raw)
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup raw slivered almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries or tart cherries - chopped
1/2 a small red onion or medium red sweet pepper - diced
7 medium to large sized brown mushrooms - quartered
2 Tbs. olive oil for sauteing mushrooms
Coarse Kosher Salt (used to season the mushrooms)

Dressing Ingredients:

1 tablespoon tahini
1 tsp. Chia seeds
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice* 
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup olive oil (I use Greek Kalamata extra virgin olive oil - available at Trader Joes)

*For a Southern California twist try substituting 2 Tbs. sweet wine vinegar for the lemon juice and eliminate the added sugar.  It's a little pricey but I love using Blackberry Roasted Pepper Vinegar and use it on all my salads.  

Optional Garnish:
Parsley 

Steps:

N.B.  There is a long soak period to soften the bulgar grain so I generally begin my salad preparation roughly 2 hours before I wish to serve.

1.  Cover raw bulgar in cold water and allow to sit at room temperature 1 hour covered.  Drain and set aside.  N.B. If you are using a whole grain bulgar it will take 1.5 hours up to 2 hours to soften. Parenthetically I prefer a cold soak to using hot water because it retains a better texture for salads, but you could always use the hot water method for a faster process if you prefer.

2.  Boil red quinoa in salted water for 15 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  

3.  While bulgar and quinoa are being prepared chop celery, cranberries, red onion (or red sweet pepper) and quarter mushrooms.  Set aside.

4.  Toast almonds in a dry pan until slightly browned and fragrant.  Set Aside.

5.  Saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons olive oil until soft and cooked through, then season with coarse kosher salt.  Set Aside.

6.  Prepare dressing by combining all ingredients in a small jar and shaking well.  Set Aside. Incidentally this is a lightly dressed salad.  If you prefer a lot of dressing on salads you might want to consider doubling the dressing and adding to taste.

7.  Prepare Salad by combining all ingredients except mushrooms and dressing.  Add dressing to mixture retaining 1 tablespoon and mix well.  Sprinkle mushrooms over top of salad and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of dressing.  

8.  Serve at room temperature either as a main course or as a side dish as I typically do.



Sojourn to Israel ~

Of all the amazing places that we have traveled and sights that we have seen Israel is my favorite for its religious and historical significance are truly awe inspiring.  And the food is pretty delicious too. Which I always count as a positive for any vacation destination.  As a preface we went as tourists and not as pilgrims. This means that we saw and explored everything from the formation of the modern Israeli state to cultural and archaeological sites and both Jewish and Christian holy sites and never had enough time at any one location.  Our trip left us exhausted and profoundly impacted by our experience.  Someday I would like to return as a pilgrim and stay just in the old city of Jerusalem.



We began our trip in Tel Aviv which is a vibrant modern city (as seen above) with a young population and a liberal culture self described as Jew-ish, i.e. the residents identify themselves as Jewish but they pick and choose the commandments they follow.  For example almost everyone has a tattoo which are forbidden in the bible.  


The food is also outstanding in Tel Aviv (and throughout Israel).  Both at hidden away bakeries and the famous spice markets.  I'll never forget the incredible savory bourekas I had in Tel Aviv made with hand pulled fillo dough.  They were melt in your mouth delicious and just the memory makes my knees go weak. It even crossed my mind that I should learning how to make hand stretched fillo dough. But then I realized I wasn't insane. So I'll be sticking with frozen fillo dough.  Warning. There are potato bourekas pictures below.





I did come home with a variety of spices from the markets and in particular I love Zaatar (a blend of hyssop, toasted sesame seeds, salt and lemon) that is use as a dipping spice for bread.  I like it on my morning toast drizzled with olive oil for a savory start to my day.  I find it strangely addictive. Traditionally it's a topping for pita bread although I first tasted it as a dry rub on a Jerusalem bagel in the old city of Jerusalem.  Which reminds me, definitely add eating a Jerusalem bagel to your to do list.




But our trip wasn't just about the food.  We visited incredible archaeological sites including the ongoing excavation site commonly called Abraham's Gate at the city of  Dan.  It's called Abraham's Gate because Dan is the city where Abraham rescued his nephew Lot and both Abraham and Lot would have walked through this arched gateway to enter the city.  

And of course we visited many Roman sites including Harod's Palace and the Roman theater in Caesarea where Steve and I sat on on the public toilets located near the entrance to the amphitheater. But don't let Steve holding his nose fool you.  These toilets are no longer used by the public.  I can not even imagine anyone thinking it was a good idea to have open air public toilets where people entered and exited the forum.  Although you do need a bathroom at public events. To think I am squeamish about pit toilets which are at least private.

The Golan heights was another interesting place to visit.  We took a guided jeep tour up to the Syrian bunkers where troops used to snipe at the Jewish settlers in the Huleh Valley below until Israel seized this area in the Six-Day war in 1967.  You can see from the bunker pictured below that the Syrian bunkers were well camouflaged and it was only through the intelligence of an Israel spy who infiltrated the Syrian army that Israel was able to pinpoint the exact location of these bunkers and was quickly able to neutralize them.  The story of this spy (Eli Cohn) is told in the book Our Man in Damascus written by Eli Ben-Hanan. Eli Cohn was eventually captured and hanged for espionage by the Syrians.


But for me, a Christian, the most significant and profound experience was to visit the places where Jesus lived and performed his miracles including the miracle of loaves and fishes, walking on water at the sea of Galilee, and where he gave the sermon on the mount.  In the old city of Jerusalem we visited where the Last supper is believed to have been held, King David's tomb, the Western Wall and the Jewish quarter. But without a doubt the most significant experience of the entire trip for me was visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where Jesus is believed to have been crucified.  To actually place my hand into the rock where Jesus was crucified and to think what he suffered for humanity was very emotional. The picture below was taken while waiting in line and shows the wall hangings above the rock where Christ was crucified.  The Holy Sepulchre is also believed to be the site where Christ was buried after being crucified and rose again.  


As you can tell we had a once in a life time experience.  If you are thinking about visiting Israel we have only the highest praise for Arza World tours and our guide Yishay Shavit who was incredibly knowledgeable, humorous, balanced in his opinions, and someone you would want to entrust your trip and safety to.  Yishay is an independent tour guide and leads tours all over the world.  Our trip was organized and led by our Chazzan Danny Maseng and his lovely wife Terry Maseng through Makon LA and next year they plan on leading a tour through Spain.  Non members are welcome and all faiths are included!   Lastly here's a picture of me looking very much the tourist in Tel Aviv and I hope to be a tourist in Spain next year too.  


Until next time be well and love well.  Already my thoughts are turning toward Fall and I'm getting excited to share the knits, flavors and holidays of this my favorite of all seasons!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Summer Garden Shawl and Carrot Cake Recipe

We are back from Israel and had an amazing time!  I am definitely going to share some pictures and talk about our experiences and I'll even share a regionally inspired vegetarian dinner recipe (that I know you will love!). However the task of reviewing the pictures is daunting and I am still recovering from jet lag so in the meantime I want to share a project that I finished before we went on our great adventure that is perfect for summer.


This is decidedly a summer shawl and, as a result, not what I would call super versatile.  Principally because of the pastelly speckled yarn color that I chose.  It is, however, the perfect accessory for a summer garden tea party! If you like that kind of thing. And I do.  I should explain that I have a very loose definition of a garden tea party. For me a garden tea party simply requires a spot in your garden where one can sit and enjoy a large pot of tea and a scrumptious treat.  It's an appreciation that I acquired growing up in a household where every afternoon my mother served an English tea.  For those of you not as familiar with this quintessential English tradition and might need some help I have shared below a simple carrot cake recipe that would make an ideal treat and for tips on brewing a proper cup of tea I refer you to my post Put the Kettle On ~ It's Time for Tea.  Now all you require is a garden.


On a different note, it's hard to believe that it's already creeping toward mid-July.  Am I the only one who sees July 4th as the end of summer instead of the beginning?  I think it's the knitters' mindset to always be thinking a season ahead.  And there are a lot of hot long days ahead before fall arrives here in Southern California.  Yet from now until Thanksgiving all I'll want to knit are fall projects. Despite the fact that the window for wearing fall projects is like a month long because it won't cool down here until November.  Does anyone see anything wrong with this scenario?


But enough grousing about the long hot summer.  Instead I shall discuss this shawl in a little more detail.  It's hard to see in the photos but the dark blue edging decidedly rolls up.  This is a factor of its being knit in a very light weight and lofty yarn better suited to a smaller needle and also because I deliberately encouraged the rolling effect in the blocking process.  Why would I do that you wonder. Because I think a softer flouncy edge makes the shawl more appealing. Snicker.  Using the word "flounce" always makes me laugh because it reminds me of the time (many years ago) that an opposing lawyer told me that they had seen me earlier "flouncing" about the courthouse.  Apparently I still like to flounce about.  In any event I rarely block a shawl exactly as the designer suggests and for more tips on creative blocking I refer you to my Lunna Voe post.


Particulars:  Whippoorwill Shawl, designed by Carina Spencer; US 6 needles; Main color: 2 skeins GarnStories Merino Sox 465 yrds 75% merino 25% polymide (colorway KarmaKoma (at least that is what I think is written on the label)); contrasting color is Sundara Merino Fingering (dark blue).  I knit the large size and used only a small amount of my second skein in the main colorway and I definitely have enough left over for a pair of socks.  Although this is a pretty thin yarn at 465 yrds/ 100 grams.  But then again it does have 25% polymide so perhaps....

And a bit about my garden.  We live on top of an arid mountain so I don't have a lush garden.  But I have found a few plants that do well including the pink (and red) flowers seen in the top pictures. They are Dipadenia which are very hardy, climbing, and prolific bloomers and my favorite container plant.  The small birdhouse in the above photo is a fun and easy crafting project that I painted a few years ago (I purchased the unfinished birdhouse from Michael's) and is featured in this post.



Carrot Cake Recipe ~



I absolutely love carrot cake and you will love it too if you use this recipe!  It makes a light, not oily or overly sweet cake and I think it's the perfect treat to enjoy this summer with a cup of tea in your garden or to serve at a garden tea party. The recipe makes a single layer 8 inch cake and is an adaption of Jenny Keller's 3 layer carrot cake recipe.  I often bake just for myself and a 3 layer cake is simply more cake than I need.  I've also changed the frosting to a lemon butter cream instead of cream cheese and made a few other small changes to the cake ingredients to better suit my tastes. It is a winner no matter how you slice it and I'm sure the original recipe for a larger gathering would be a huge hit too.

Carrot Cake Recipe
~ yield ~ single layer 8 inch cake

Cake Ingredients:

4 oz. crushed pineapple
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup grape seed oil
2 eggs
1 cup grated raw carrot (peeled)
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Lemon Butter Cream Frosting Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sifted confectionery sugar
1/2 cup sweet butter (room temperature)
1 tsp lemon extract or oil
1 Tbs or less whole milk
Pinch table salt

optional garnish with chopped pecans

Cake Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare 8 inch x 3 inch cake pan (you can probably use an 8 x 2 inch pan in a pinch) by greasing well with butter. Line cake pan bottom with a cake liner or make a cake liner by placing cake pan on a sheet of parchment paper and tracing around base to make a template.  Cut out round template and use as your cake pan liner.

2.  Drain pineapple through sieve using back of a spoon and measure by weight (I used a generous 4 ozs of the pineapple meaning that I tossed in an extra tablespoon after measuring by weight 4 oz); grate carrots and chop pecans and set these ingredients to the side.

3.    In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and sugars (white and brown).  Then add grape seed oil, and eggs.  Mix well using an electric mixer.

4.  Remove bowl from mixer and using a spoon stir in carrots, pineapple, and pecans and stir until well incorporated.

5.  Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for 40 minutes or until cake tester comes away clean.
Cool for 10 minutes in pan and then using a knife loosen the cake from the pan edges.  Turn cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Frost when completely cool.

Adapted from Jenny Keller's ~ Best Carrot Cake Ever

Frosting Steps ~

Steps:

1.  Beat sweet butter until light and fluffy.

2.  Add sifted confectionery sugar, lemon extract, and a pinch of salt and beat until well combined.


3.  Add a small amount of milk (a teaspoon or two but no more than a tablespoon) and beat until desired consistency.

4.  Using a table knife frost cake after it has cooled to room temperature.  You will have enough frosting to frost the side as well as the top or just the top as I have with some left over.


6.  Garnish with chopped pecans, if desired.

Frosted cake keeps well at room temperature for 24 hours and then refrigerate.


Until next time be well, love well and take time to enjoy your garden this summer and maybe throw yourself a garden tea party!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Macadamia Nut Cookie Recipe and Dotted Rays

There are certain events and foods that you encounter in this world that are so unique that you remember forever where you were when you experienced it.  And that is how it was for me when I first tasted macadamia and white chocolate cookies in my early 30s while living in the Midwest. Before then I had not been a fan of white chocolate and if I had not receive those cookies as a gift that probably would have continued to be the case.  But ever since my first bite of this delightful combination I've been a huge fan.


Finding the right recipe to repeat that taste sensation however proved elusive. What I wanted was a cookie that emphasized the macadamia nut, wasn't too sweet, and also wasn't in proportions to feed an army. Having been disappointed in recipes I've tried in the past I decided to come up with a recipe myself.  The result I'm happy to report is a crispy cookie with a slightly chewing texture that isn't too sweet that I absolutely love.

The reason cookies are on my mind (and the impetus for this recipe) is the long flight we are facing for our upcoming trip to Israel.  After researching how to survive a long flight (as knitting is not allowed) I decided to pack a picnic basket to help us pass the time more enjoyably.  Because while our airline is know for it's excellent security it is not known for its delectable cuisine.  To say I found that piece of information disappointing is an understatement. However, I have chosen to rise above it. Now despite the probable discomfort, boredom, and length of the journey I know that I will have wonderful cookies and other tasty treats squirreled away.   I feel happier already.  And I hope after you try these cookies you will feel happier too.


Macadamia Nut Cookies ~

~yield~ 2 dozen good sized cookies

Ingredients:

5 oz. (10 Tbs.) unsweetened butter, softened
1/2 cup white granular sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup macadamia nuts (I used dry roasted with sea salt), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup flake coconut (sweetened)

Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

2.  In a large bowl using a wooden spoon or mixer set on low speed combine butter, white sugar, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla.

3.  Combine flour, soda and salt in a small bowl.  Add to the butter mixture using a wooden spoon or mixer set on low speed.  Combine until mix comes together as a dough.

4.  Stir in nuts, white chocolate, and coconut.

5.  Drop by rounded tablespoons onto cookie sheet and flatten slightly to promote even baking.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are golden in color.  Remove from oven and let sit 30 to 60 seconds on baking sheet before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

6.  Store in air-tight container or freeze left over cookies.




Dotted Rays Forever ~

This is Stephen West's Dotted Rays design which is a super easy and fun knit.  I think it also looks fantastic with my jean jacket so I'm seriously considering taking it on our trip!  It's one of those pieces that is easy to throw on and makes you look stylish without any effort.  As Simcha can attest.

I asked Simcha to model this project to show how it can also be worn like a cowl.   I was, to be honest, surprised at his level of cooperation and enthusiasm for the task.  He was a model german shepherd throughout the session.  Just like the brochure claims all German Shepherd Dogs are. Hahaha.  Frankly a few years ago I could not have envisioned ever saying that about Simcha!  But those early years are all forgotten now.  We do love him to pieces and he's been an amazing gift to us.  Did you know that his name translates to "joy" in Hebrew?  Steve named him Simcha because after the sadness and loss of Mr. Puffy he brought joy back into our lives. And he truly has.   


You might notice that on one side my scarf is not shaped like a smooth crescent.  That's because I creatively blocked that end to create a flared scallop edge which I think makes the scarf more dynamic and interesting visually.  This is an example of how doing something very simple such as creative blocking can change your piece into something original and an expression of your own personality.  For more creative blocking tips I refer you to my Lunna Voe post.

Particulars:  Dotted Rays designed by Stephen West; US 6 needles; Fiberstory Sock Gradient set (colorway "summer punch") 560 yrd 100% merino.  I had less yarn than the pattern calls for so I simply knit until I ran out of yarn.  It's still a nice size, although I wouldn't recommend going any smaller than this.  Blocked relaxed dimensions:  52" by 14."  I say "relaxed" dimensions because merino wool will not hold a block well.  Already it has shrunk from it's 58" immediate post blocked length and it might continue to shrink and require reblocking periodically if it gets too small. That merino wool will not hold a block well is something to consider when choosing a shawl yarn.  Previous Stephen West designs I've knit are his Doodler Shawl and Pogona Shawlette.

Until next time be well, love well and whether you are traveling or staying at home this summer I hope you will take time to enjoy a picnic and if you do be sure to toss in a cookie or two!  And perhaps some crusty sourdough bread too.