Sunday, May 21, 2017

Elton John Socks and a Day at the Zoo



I actually intended to show a different project in this post but it didn't happen and, as it turns out, these socks are the perfect project for this post because I gave them to my mom for Mother's Day this past weekend.  And they also tie in with the zoo theme because they are striped like a Zebra!  How perfect is that?

I loved knitting with this yarn because of the beautiful colors and the nice feel to the base, but it wasn't without its challenges.  I wanted to knit something special both to showcase the unique dying style and also because they were going to be a gift for my mom.  So I poured over a ton of patterns to find something unique and cool and ended up purchasing two beautiful patterns, neither of which did I end up using.  I won't bore you with the details but suffice it to say the experience left me with lighter pockets and a broken cherished rosewood needle (sob) before I threw in the towel and decided to let this gorgeous and unique yarn shine with a basic sock pattern.  It's best not to fight against what a yarn wants to be.


I called these my Elton John Socks because the colorway is Tiny Dancer and that of course is the title of a famous Elton John song.  I am an L.A. Lady after all and this is the music I grew up listening to in the seventies.  It's an association, and appreciation, that I fear will be lost on my mother.  When I listen to Tiny Dancer it takes me back to my teenage years and the parties at the beach, dancing in the sand and in general getting into mischief.  Something I did far too much of true be told.  But I did have fun!

I'm feeling sentimental so I've linked to few few music videos from that era with the caveat that the technology back in the 70s wasn't the best so the songs aren't well preserved:

Tiny Dancer    Elton John
Driver's Seat  Sniff 'n' Tears
Touch me in the Morning Diana Ross
Sweet Home Alabama  Lynyrd Skynyrd
Everything I Own  Bread
Make it With You  Bread
You're So Vain   Carly Simon
Maggie May  Rod Stewart
Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
Dreams  Fleetwood Mac
Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin
Comfortably Numb  Pink Floyd
L.A. Woman - The Doors

I could go on but hopefully these songs will bring back fun memories for you too or if you are younger than me perhaps it will introduce you to the music of my generation.  Although you had to be there because as I said the videos do not do the music justice.


Particulars: Colorblock Sock Pattern, a free Mr. Puffy pattern (I use this pattern for its basic sock construction); US 1 Needles; size: 60 stitch count; 1 skein Republic of Wool, twist fingering, (colorway Tiny Dancer).  I love, love, love these socks and found them hard to part with!

A Day at the Zoo ~


My mother loves visiting the Zoo so this year to celebrate Mother's Day we took my mom and dad to the San Diego Zoo which is a world famous Zoo located in Southern California.


To make the experience more special we bought tickets to the Zoo's Animals in Action program which allows visitors up close encounters with some of the exotic and endangered species and is a program designed to highlight the plight of these amazing creatures.  This world is increasingly a hostile place for animals that are at the mercy of human activities and desires. If you want to learn more and/or become more involved in ending practices that lead to extinction, I recommend visiting San Diego Zoos wildlife conservancy website EndExtinction.org and One Green Planet which are organizations that are dedicated to saving and protecting wildlife from poachers and environmental devastation.


On a lighter note, a fun part of the Animals in Action program is that you learn interesting trivia about the animals such as that a zebra can (while running full speed no less) bend its spine backward so that it's teeth can reach its tail to bite a predator that might be trying to pull it down from behind. That's amazing flexibility!  Note to self: enroll in a yoga class.  And in case you ever wondered if a zebra is white with black stripes or black with white stripes they are in fact black with white stripes.

But the very best part of the experience for me was seeing my 90+ year old mom feeding a Rhino!


Incidentally the top picture is a Clouded Leopard and the other cat is a Cheetah.  Both are beautiful creatures to watch in action and need help protecting their habitat.


Until next time, be well and love well and this summer why not plan a trip to the Zoo!  Or at the very least knit yourself a pair of striped socks.  We are traveling to Israel in June so if I don't have a chance to post again before we leave I'll see you later this summer!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Botan Shawlette and Spring Sugar Cookies!

This was such a fun and fast shawl to knit!  It's Botan designed by Helen Stewart and it's my new Spring-y Shawlette for the season.  I'm always super pleased when I find a quintessential seasonal piece and this couldn't be more perfect for Spring.


While this is an asymmetrical design I've blocked it to more a traditional scarf shaping (long and slender) because I find asymmetrical designs can be slightly awkward to style and wear.  Maybe if I had more panashe that wouldn't be the case.  In any event I wanted it long so I could throw it over my shoulder or let the ends curl down in front.  In other words I prefer a more traditional shaped scarf. But because I really liked the bits and bobbles of this design I simply modified it slightly and wallah I had a more traditional scarf shape but with all the cool design funk.  And I still have the option to wear it bib style, should I wish.  For your visualization if I had knit this as designed the length would have been 40" (instead of 58") and the wedge would have been 16" deep (instead of 11"). Ponder those dimensions and you'll see why they gave me pause and perhaps they will give you pause too.  If you are interested my modification is explained below.  But do so at your own risk. Wearing long scarfs does have its hazards and you don't want to end up like Isadora Duncan!


I love how well these colors worked together even though they are different bases and from different dyers. The main color is a much loved light soft tonal colorway with soft speckles throughout handdyed in Germany by Baerenwolle; and for my contrasting color I used an unloved Ysolda 2016 club yarn dyed in the Isle of Sky by Shilasdair.  It's a funny thing about Ysolda's club.  The first year (2015) I absolutely loved each and every yarn and pattern.  But still.  The club yarns and patterns from 2016 just didn't resonated with me.  I think the difference might be that in 2015 her club yarns were unique and exclusive to the club members and the designs were not released to the public for a whole year which made the club projects something special.  But that changed in 2016.   In 2016 neither the yarn nor the pattern were exclusive to club members and both were available for purchase after 6 months.  Being part of the club no longer felt so "special" and out the window flew my incentive to be a club member.  After all it makes more sense to wait and see if you like the yarn and pattern before you purchase.  So while I did join again in 2016 it fell flat with me. Maybe because I viewed each project with a critical eye "i.e. would I have purchased this project if not a club member?" Obviously with that mind set I did not renew in 2017.  But I must be alone in this view because her 2017 club sold out faster than ever.  Go figure! In any event it wasn't a total loss because slowly I am incorporating my 2016 yarns into various projects and indeed I have another of the 2016 yarns on my the needles now.  Caveat Emptor.  It's always good to remember that while clubs are fun they do sometimes disappoint.

In the end it doesn't matter how or why these yarns were paired together.  All that matters is that they were a perfect pairing!  Note to self: a true "maker" sees the creative possibilities in every skein of yarn.  Tisk tisk on me.



Particulars:  Botan (Ravelry Pattern Link) designed by Helen Stewart (blogs as Curious Handmade); 1 skein Baerenwolle BAREfoot Sock (437 yrd) Club Colorway: Morning Mist; 1 skein Shilasdair 3ply sock yarn Ysolda 2016 Club Colorway Briar Rose.  To see a summary of Ysolda's 2015 club yarns and patterns see Lunna Voe post which includes a collage of all 2015 club projects.

Vis-a-vis this pattern I modified it to eliminate the I-cord both on the working edge and the BO edge. The working edge creates a mock I-cord but after knitting several rows I realized there wasn't enough flexibility and give to that edging to stretch and block well.  So I ripped back and started over using a simple slip stitch edging, i.e. I slipped the first stitch and knit 2 stitches and placed a Stitch Marker.  On the wrong side row I simply knit all 3 edging stitches.  For the BO I used a classic lift-off method, ie. knit 2 stitches and lift the first stitch over the 1st and continue to lift each subsequent stitch off the needle.  My blocked dimensions are 58" long (vs 40" long as designed) x 11" (vs 15 3/4 " deep).  I did not block for depth and could easily have blocked it much wider and may do so next time I wash it just for comparison.

Vis-a-vis Shilasdair yarn it is dyed using natural dyeing with Cochineal and Logwood and I had to run it through several cold water rinses to remove excess dye.  This is a practice I always follow when I knit projects mixing dark colors yarns with light.  For more tips on knitting projects incorporating multicolored skeins see my post Multi Colored Shawls and Testing Yarn for Color Fastness.

Spring-y Sugar Cookies 



Easter and Passover crossed paths this year so I began Spring baking early so that I could gobble down a few treats before Passover (which lasts 8 days) and celebrated on Easter with yummy chocolate instead of my usual baked treats.  But these cookies were so delicious they shouldn't (and for me won't) be confined just to Easter.

This Spring I've had a strong taste for sugar cookies but not the small thin hard variety that are the traditional Christmas fare. Instead I wanted the large thick soft type you see in bakeries.  So I searched out a new recipe and was very very happy with the result!  In fact this will be my future "go to" recipe even for Christmas cookies!

For the frosting I used the same frosting that I use with my Easter Sweet Buns which makes the perfect quantity.  I've shared it again below.

While these cookies aren't as thick and as large as bakery cookies they are a nice size, soft and delicious.  Try one. Or two. Or three.....  and I think you will agree.



Soft Sugar Cookies
yield ~ approximately 16 large cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 cup sugar (I use super fine baker's sugar by CH)
2 eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Steps:

1.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs 1 at a time and mix slowly until well incorporated.  Stir in vanilla.

2.  Combine pastry flour, baking powder and salt.  Using a wooden spoon add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir just until combined.

3.  Flatten dough into a disk and wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 1/2 hours.

4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees at least 20 minutes before rolling out dough.  Cover baking tray with with either parchment paper or silpat.

5.  On a lightly floured board roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into large shapes. Work quickly as this dough softens quickly.  You may need to periodically sprinkle dough with flour to prevent sticking.  Place cookies well apart as they will spread during baking.

6.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes until cookie is slightly firm to touch but not browned.  Leave on tray for half a minute before transferring to wire rack for cooling.

7.  When completely cool frost with Lemon Butter Cream Frosting!

Recipe slightly adapted from Charmie's Soft Sugar Cookies.


Lemon Butter Cream Frosting ~

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups sifted confectionery sugar
1/2 cup sweet butter (room temperature)
1 tsp lemon extract or lemon oil
1 Tbs whole milk (scant)
Pinch table salt
Green Food Coloring

Steps:

1.  Beat sweet butter until light and fluffy.
2.  Add sifted confectionery sugar, lemon extract, milk (scant - you can always add a few drops more if you need it) and a pinch of salt and beat until well combined.
3.  Add a couple drops of green food coloring to desired intensity.
3.  Using a table knife frost cookies generously after they have cooled to room temperature.

After the icing sets you can store either in a tin between layers of wax paper or freeze.

This lovely splash of yellow is a bloom from my garden that I'm particularly proud of as, in general, a green thumb I do not have.


Until next time be well, love well, and enjoy spring with all its glorious color, rebirth and spiritual enrichment!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Crazy and Colorful Colorblock Socks

Of late I've been obsessed with knitting socks.  And I can't knit them fast enough.  I've also been knitting almost exclusively my own version of a plain vanilla sock that I'm sharing as a free pattern called Colorblock Socks (pattern link below).  It has all my favorite techniques.  Naturally.  But the the main unique feature is a helpful (hopefully) way to join new yarn seamlessly.  Because it is soooo much more fun to change colors and go crazy adding different yarns when you don't have a million pesky yarn ends to weave in.


With all the beautiful handpainted yarns there really is no need to do anything fancy when knitting socks.  Still.  It's nice to be able to personalize your socks so that they truly are one of a kind. You can achieve that unique twist by simply adding contrasting colored heels and toes.  Or you can go crazy and add all sorts of colors and stripes.  Socks are kinda like lingerie that way.  You can go crazy and nobody needs to be any the wiser.  Unless you want to show your wild side.


Speaking of going crazy with color I really loved knitting these Colorblock Socks. The yarn I used was purchased from Kate Selene a very talented dyer who creates beautiful and unique colorways.  I purchased one of her kits that included 20 small skeins of 10 yards each and every last one of the colors made my heart sing.  How can you not love that! And the socks are, in my ever so humble opinion, the perfect summertime sock both because of the sunny bright colors and also the light fingering yarn.  Last night was a cold and foggy spring evening here in Southern California and these socks kept my feet nice and cozy propped up watching TV.  And yet not too hot. Like Goldilocks I found these to be just right.


While my socks may look completely haphazard in color I actually did employ a color strategy. I spent a significant amount of time lining up the colors in two columns to see how the colors stacked up and how they looked lined up next to each other, making minor adjustments over the span of several days.  I ended up using 18 of the 20 colors in the kit and for the toes I went for a matchy matchy look in cherry red that I think helped tie them together as a pair. The cherry red yarn incidentally was a mini-skein from the same dyer but is not part of the kit.

I know a lot of knitters have been hesitant to dive into the colorful world of speckles and bright colored yarns. So don't dive in.  Dip your toes in with socks instead! You don't have to go crazy with mixing up colors all you need to do is pick a single amazing speckled color.  And if you really just don't like speckles and brights then don't worry my pattern will work just as well with any ho hum solid colored yarn as well.  Not that there is anything wrong with solid colored yarn.  And I'm sorry if I implied otherwise. No matter what yarn you choose I hope you will like and have fun with my Colorblock Socks Pattern!


Particulars:  Colorblock Socks, free pattern download, US 1 DPNs and 64 stitches; Scrappy Yarn Kit (Etsy seller Kate Selene) or small amounts of left over sock yarn.  This pattern is knit top (cuff) down and has instructions for two sizes, ie. 60 and 64 stitches.  If you prefer knitting socks "toe up" vs. "top down" then I suggest you consider Anna Johanna's Surprise Stripes Socks (free pattern on Ravelry). Anna is a very talented designer and writes the blog Where We Once Knitted.

Just to give you an idea of how this pattern looks knit up with different yarns, pictured below are socks that I knit using a self-striping yarn (Nomadic Yarns - colorway Banana Boat).  I also used this pattern to knit my Jolly Christmas Socks.  Both of these socks were knit on US 1 needles on 60 stitches using the shaping and construction of my Colorblock Sock Pattern and its yarn joining method (used to customize the heels and toes).  Incidentally I gifted the Nomadic socks to a dear friend who has had terrible health problems this past year.  She likes to wear them for her dialysis treatments because the hospital is so cold.  I had previously given her a pair of socks so I already knew that they meant a lot to her and that she liked to wear them to her treatments.  Socks are such a small thing but can mean a great deal to someone needing comfort in this world.


Joining New Yarn ~

This method is extracted from my Colorblock Sock Pattern and if you print the pattern it will include this method for joining new yarn.  But should you not need or wish to to see the pattern I have provided it here for your convenience.

Caveat.  This joining method is not intended for superwash yarns or yarns blended with nylon which inhibit felting. That being said with sufficient agitation it can be used with superwash and nylon blends ergo both my Nomadic socks and Jolly Christmas Socks are superwash blended yarns and yet I used this joining method.  It may not work perfectly with these types of yarns but it's still far better than the alternative, i.e. weaving in millions of pesky yarn ends.

This is a multi step process that takes a little practice but once you get the hang of it it will become second nature:

1.  Tie a knot joining the two ends of yarn that you want to join leaving approximately a 2 inch yarn tail on both sides. The knot I tie is a square knot, which is very easy to do and if you aren’t familiar with it here’s a video demonstration. Do not tighten your knot too much as you want the fibers loose enough to enable felting which requires friction and movement of the fibers against each other.  A properly felted "knot" should feel thicker than your regular yarn but not like a hard knot.





2.  Working each end separately, carefully untwist the 2 inch yarn tail into individual plies to open up and loosens the fibers.  Cut off roughly half of the loosened yarn plies roughly 1/2 to 1/4 inch from the knot, as shown in the picture above.

3.  You must now make one of two choices.  Choice No. 1: This choice creates a crisp color change, as shown in the picture above.  You lay the purple yarn ends back against itself and vice versa with the green ends.  With this method you will knit up to the point you want your color to transition, then tink (see footnote below) back 6 or 7 stitches and join your new color. Now when you knit with the joined yarn the yarn change should fall at the point you began tinking back. Choice No. 2: With this choice you create a marled yarn effect for a blurry yarn color transition.  I used this choice for my Colorblock Socks. You will lay the green plies/ends over the purple yarn and the purple plies/ends over the green yarn without any need for tinking or exact color positioning before adding your new yarn, although I prefer to do so on the bottom half of my socks.

4.  After both sides of the yarn plies have been prepared and positioned for either Choice No. 1 or 2, carefully lay the yarn in your left palm with the knot positioned in the center.  Now spit into your palm covering all areas of yarn that you want to felt.  Proceed to vigorously roll (i.e. twist) the yarn back and forth in your palm until the fibers felt together forming a seamless join.  Periodically open your palm and check to see if you need to add more moisture or if you need to adjust your yarn plies. I find it helps to twirl the yarn plies around the strand of yarn it needs to felt with.  You don't want it all bunched up near the knot.  The goal is to have the felted yarn to be only minimally more bulky at the join than otherwise.

As I said at the start this method can take a bit of practice but once you get the hang of it you will find it very easy and secure join.  I've used this method for many years and it's the only way I would consider joining new yarn with socks.

Footnote:  "Tink" is slang for undoing your knitting one stitch at a time. It is the word "knit" spelled backward - hence you "tink" instead of knit!

Until next time be well, love well and this summer why not knit some crazy and colorful Colorblock Socks for yourself!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Transitioning to Spring



I love knitting with all the gorgeous speckles, brights, and multi-color yarns so much that I find it hard to stop. But sometimes you just have to add something basic and useful to your wardrobe and that's where the tonals yarn colors shine. One of the best tonal dyers without question is Sundara Yarn and I chose her beautiful and lofty merino sport yarn for this mid-sized shawl that will be my transitional piece from winter to spring.


The last few years has seen an explosion of indy yarn dyers creating beautiful hand dyed yarns. Some of the dyers are so popular that they enjoy almost a cult like following with their online shop updates selling out within minutes. This means that if you want to purchase a skein of their yarn you will need to make a quick decision.  But whether you need to make a quick decision or are simply interested in exploring hand dyed yarn I think it is helpful to have an understanding of the many permutations of dyeing styles that make up the lexicon of hand dyed yarns these days. Here's a quick summary guide of some of the more popular dying styles and my thoughts on the types of project they are best suited to:

Solids:  Always a great choice for projects with colorwork.  As a rule lighter colors tend to show off cables and pattern best.
Tonals:  Yarn has various shades of a single color.  I personally love tonals for basic wardrobe pieces and gift projects.
Neons: These yarns add fun pops of color and are best when paired with a neutral color such as grey.
Variegated: Multiple colors of yarn in a single skein.  These yarns often look best in simple garter stitch.
Variegated Speckles: Multiple colors of yarn with multiple colors of contrasting speckles.   These are beautiful in the skein.   They make fun socks and also look great in a shawl when paired with a solid contrasting color.
Soft Speckles:  A soft background color is used (either tonal or variegated) with muted speckles that can be in a range of colors.  This is a versatile yarn that can be used for lots of different styles of projects from baby blankets to summer cardigans.  
Self Striping:  There are an infinite number of different styles of dying self striping yarns from the number of colors used to the length and frequency of color stripes.  These yarns make wonderful socks.


The more popular dyers often have a certain style of dyeing that they have mastered.  For example Sundara Yarns is particularly talented at dying tonals.  In comparison I would say that the Plucky Knitter is particularly good with solid colors and Hedgehog Fibers is fabulous with variegated speckles.  You are probably thinking hand dyed yarns and these dyers have been around forever.   That is true.  However the landscape is different with dyeing styles and color combinations and perhaps most importantly the monopoly enjoyed by just a few dyers has ended.  Open your eyes and look around.  You will find talented indie dyers abound. 


Over the next few months I'll be sharing some fun examples of projects knit in gorgeous speckled yarns and introducing you to some of the lesser known dyers that I've recently discovered. To better illustrate the styles of dyes I'll also be including a picture of the skein of yarn along with the finished project.  For example with this tonal yarn you can see how the lighter color in the skein created a beautiful marbling effect to the fabric.        


Particulars:  Deep Water Shawl designed by Dani Sunshine (website: Lioness Arts); US 8 needles; 2 skeins Sport Merino Two (dyed by Sundara Yarn) 388 yrds/skein (colorway Water Lily).  This shawl comes in size S and L and I made a "medium" by splitting the difference.  This is a very well written pattern and a pleasure to knit.  The following are past projects using Sundara Yarns: Ishneich shawl; Embossed Leaf Socks;  Diamond Fantasy Shawlette; and Milkweed Shawlette.

If you are looking for a transitional shawl but in a slightly heavier weight yarn, i.e. dk weight, you might consider the Mara shawl which I absolutely love for a basic wardrobe piece.  It's a free Ravelry download pattern courtesy of Madelinetosh Yarn.

Springtime in Topanga  ~


It's hard to believe that it's nearly Spring as I sit and write while raining is pelting down. But as you can see from the pictures in this post flowers are beginning to bloom and we are having some mild days.  Soon Southern California will be back to it's sunny self.  And frankly after this colder than usual winter I'm more than ready for the arrival of spring. But I'm fickle and I'll soon change my tune once we hit our first 90 degree day.  At which point I'll start wishing for winter again.  

Until next time be well and love well and enjoy transitioning to spring, perhaps wearing a new transitional shawl of your own! 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Invaders of the Heart Shawl and Chocolate Cupcakes!


I had recent occasion to remember that it is important to be flexible in this life and knitting is no exception.  As much as you want something to be a certain way and to work out well, it may not. When that happens it's best not to fight against your circumstances and instead adjust your actions to the hand that you are dealt.  And yet.  Maybe we should strive for more.  Recently I read a story and one of it's characters observed "we are all slaves to our circumstances." That stopped me short.  I wondered, am I a slave to my circumstances?  I realized that whether our circumstances stem from our birthplace, parenting or the choices that we inevitably make we all find ourselves in circumstances that we are in some way slave to.  The challenge is to make changes despite circumstances that may seem insurmountable.  Everyone has at one time or another thought "I would... I wish.... I want....." and whether those thoughts become a reality largely depends on our motivation and actions because the future is not yet written.  And tomorrow is a new day.


Bringing this topic back to knitting, the circumstances I recently found myself in was having bought 4 skeins of yarn to participate in Stephen West's 2016 Mystery Knit Along.  Regrettably, the skeins that I had bought for the project did not play well together in the pattern.  And I could tell that almost immediately.  So I riiiiiiped out clue No. 1 and set my yarn aside to ponder my circumstances.


I considered and rejected finding a new pattern utilizing all 4 skeins.  I had been sufficiently turned off by the combination to preclude that.  But I had invested a sum of money and needed somehow to make all this yarn work for me. There were two skeins that I viewed as more challenging to repurpose because of their solid high contrast colors (black and lavender) and also paradoxically because they were rather hum drum on their own.  They just didn't excite me to knit them.  So I went in search of a pattern that worked well with high contrast color yarn and found this stunning pattern by Sarah Raasch.  Which converted my problem yarns into a favorite accessory!  And now I find my circumstances are much happier.  If only all problem circumstances were so easily solved.


Particulars:  Invaders of the Heart designed by Sarah Raasch, knitwear designer and indie yarn dyer known as Orange Jelly Fish Dreams; US 7 needles; 1 skein each of the following: Madelinetosh (tosh sock, Onyx colorway); The Lemonade Shop (simple sock, Grape Stain colorway with speckles. Incidentally while I ordered a strongly speckled "toxic") skein I think what I received was a pretty mild speckled skein and I'm not sure if that was a mistake or a matter of perspective; Colinette (Parisienne, Marble colorway).  I made no modifications whatsoever.  This was an extremely well written pattern that was a pleasure to knit.  I also picked up a new skill with this pattern which is the German Short Row method (which is recommended although not required to do the pattern).  I will never go back to the regular wrap and turn method.  If you are interested here's a link to a video (on youtube) demonstrating German Short Rows.  I can't recommend strongly enough that you add this skill to your knitting repertoire as it will make knitting short rows much faster and easier without requiring stitch markers to slow you down.

Lastly you might recognize the Colinette yarn (it's the shear light purple) that I also used in this recently finished shawl which was my own creation using a mash up of two patterns.  I knit at least one shawl a winter using this yarn (the silk/mohair blend) because it's light as a feather and yet warm and comes in gorgeous sheer colors. Shawls made in this yarn are my absolute favorite pieces to wear.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Cupcakes


I can't stop eating cake these days.  I don't know why but that's all I want to eat.  Maybe it's all the contentiousness that seems to be everywhere but for whatever reason I need cake.  And lots of it. And I had a taste for an old fashion chocolate cake like the ones I had as a kid on my birthday. Something that I've found surprisingly elusive to recreate as an adult.  Until I found this wonderful chocolate sponge cake recipe from a French website - Let Them Eat Cake.  Just kidding.  It took me a while to retrace this recipe on the web and what it actually was was a British recipe on Allrecipes which means I had to tweak it a bit to adapt to American ingredients.  I loved these cupcakes and I hope you will too!

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes, Always Perfect Chocolate Sponge Cake ~

Chocolate Cupcakes Recipe ~
Yield: 12 cup cakes

Cupcake Ingredients:

3 eggs at room temperature (197g - including shells)
197g white granular sugar - extra fine for baking
197g salted butter
142g (197g-55g = 142g) all purpose flour or pastry flour (I used pastry flour)
55g cocoa powder (I used dutch process cocoa from Penzey's Spices)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt, plus a pinch
1/4 cup heaping semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting  ~

50g sweetened dark chocolate (I used a Belgium chocolate)
100g salted butter - room temperature
200g confectionery sugar
1 tps. vanilla
2 tps. whole milk
Chopped walnuts (optional garnish)


Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 340 degrees Fahrenheit and add liners to cupcake pan.

Caveat: this cake is made following the methodology that is well set out in the original recipe. For convenience I've set out the directions using my ingredients.  But, if your eggs weigh a different amount than 197g then you can easily adjust the recipe to whatever weight they come to as explained in the original recipe link.

2.  Combine butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

3.  Add eggs 1 at a time to the butter mixture as follows:  Slow your mixer down to the lowest speed. It is important at this stage not to whip the eggs (you don't want the eggs to become like a souffle that will rise and fall).  Just let the mixer slowly incorporate the egg and be patient.  Scrap the bowl sides often.  Do this with each of the 3 eggs (the last egg will take the longest to incorporate).

4.  Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder and add to your bowl with the butter, sugar and eggs.  Start your mixer slowly to avoid flour flying out and slowly increase the speed to beat well and add air to the batter which will help make it light.

5.  Quickly stir in the chocolate chips and scoop batter into cupcake liners.

6.  Bake cupcakes 24 minutes or until a tester comes away clean.  Cool to room temperature before frosting.


To Make Buttercream Frosting ~

Steps:

1.  Melt dark chocolate and allow to cool to room temperature.  I melted my chocolate in the micro wave - a method that is detailed in Banana Chocolate Espresso Swirl Muffins (these are fantastic, by the by).

2.  Beat butter with the confectionery sugar until light and fluffy.  Fold in (cooled) melted chocolate and vanilla.  Add 2 tsp. milk or enough milk to create a spreadable consistency.

3.  Garnish with chopped walnuts, if you wish.


Until next time, be well and love well and may you make your circumstances the very best they can be!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cinnamon Coffee Cake Recipe and My Favorite Coffee Beans

I'm a homebody at heart.  I love being at home and can go days on end without leaving my home other than to go for hikes with Simcha.  One of the things that makes being at home enjoyable for me is having freshly baked breads, cookies, and cakes to eat and that's one reason that I bake as much as I do.  It has literally been years since I bought a loaf of bread from a store or bakery and the same for cookies and sweets.  About the only time I'll eat something store bought is when I'm on vacation or happen to be in a coffee shop. And when I do I'm often disappointed.  It's either heavy (usually because its "gluten free") too sweet, or lacking in flavor.  I think I might be spoiled because when I bake I use the very best tasting ingredients like European butter, Belgium chocolate, and that makes a difference to taste.  But obviously there are exceptions and one bakery in Los Angeles that I highly recommend is Republique (in West Los Angeles on La Brea). You simply can't go wrong with anything you order there!  And I'm sure there are others but as I mentioned at the start I'm a homebody and don't get out much.


Since winter is a time when many people are at home whether they are homebodies or not I am sharing a recipe for a lovely rich and moist Cinnamon Coffee Cake that's easy to make and calls for ingredients that you are likely to have on hand.  I would describe it as having a texture similar to a carrot cake and it's wonderful with a cup of coffee or warm with a scoop of ice cream.  I love that it stays fresh for days (and is actually better the second day) and can be left sitting out on the counter. There's something very inviting about walking into your kitchen and seeing a coffee cake sitting there waiting for you.  I've made this many times over the years and hope you find the recipe as reliable and enjoyable as I do.


Cinnamon Coffee Cake Recipe ~ 8" round cake

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon (divided into 1 1/2 tsp. and 1/2 tsp.)
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 vegetable oil (light tasting such as safflower or canola)
1 cup walnuts - finely chopped
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg - beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (to convert 1 cup regular milk to buttermilk simply substitute 1 Tbs of the milk for either lemon juice or white vinegar, stir and let sit for 5 minutes before using)

Steps:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Prepare 8" round deep cake pan.  You can either use a spring form cake pan or lightly grease a cake pan with butter and coat with flour.  Alternatively you can use an 9" x 13" pan and adjust the baking time.
3. In a large mixing bowl combine: flour, salt, 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, both sugars, and oil.  Remove 3/4 cup of this mixture and in a small bowl add this to the walnuts and the remaining 1/2 tps. cinnamon. Set this walnut mixture aside.
4.  To the original large bowl of flour mixture add the baking soda, baking powder, egg, vanilla, and buttermilk.  Mix until well combined.
5.  If using a round cake pan (deep) pour 1/2 of batter into cake pan and cover with a 1/2 of walnut mixture. Pour the remaining batter on top of the walnut mixture and top with the remaining walnut mixture.  If you are using a 9x13 sheet pan pour a layer of mixture and top with walnut mixture.
6.  Bake cake for 60 to 65 minutes or until cake tester comes away clean.  Allow round cake to cool for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to finish cooling.  If using sheet pan allow to cool completely before cutting into squares and removing.


My Favorite Coffee Beans ~


Because coffee cake goes so well with a cup of coffee I thought I would share my favorite method of making coffee and the beans that I use for a great home brew.

As a preface I used to be a huge fan of barista coffees and went out of my way to visit coffee shops for my favorite fix which typically was a cappuccino in a large frothy mug.  But somehow over time I became plain coffee drinker.  I simply realized one day that there's something about the rich flavor and pure taste of coffee that gets lost in all the cream and froth and cinnamon sprinkles.  And a plain cup of coffee has a lot less cholesterol and calories too so there is that as well.  But with a plain cup of coffee the quality of the bean and preparation process becomes much more important as the flavor and body is everything.

For years I used a French Press to make my coffee at home.  But inevitably they would crack, or the wire filter would come apart or in some fashion die and while it made a nice cup of coffee it wasn't a great cup of coffee.  So after tossing yet another french press I looked for a better mouse trap and found one!  It's the AeroPress coffee method and for years I've been a fan.  In fact as soon as I had my first cup I knew this was the end of the road for me.  If you've not heard of or tried this method it's pretty inexpensive to try and I think you'll be hooked.  Now all that's left is your choice of beans....


My Top 5 Favorite Coffee Beans

1.  Intelligentsia - El Diable Dark Roast Blend.  A blend of coffees, changes seasonally.  Celebrates the savory side of coffees highlighted by carmalized sugars, molasses and chocolate flavors.  This is my go to daily brew.

2.  Christopher Bean - Irish Cream.  It's one of their most popular flavors and uses 100% Arabica beans.  I don't drink a lot of flavored coffees but once a week or so I'll go for a cup of this.

3.  Blue Horse - 100 % Kona - dark roast.  Shade grown, hand picked, and sun-dried.  This coffee has a rich, full aroma with low acidity and low caffeine.  It's very expensive but it's nice to have this on hand and I like to offer it to company after dinner with their dessert.  I drink this Kona on Saturday mornings.  With my feet up.  Surfing social media and reading the news.

4.  Stumptown - Trapper Cream Decaf (using Swiss water method).  This has a wonderful buttery flavor combining the sweetness of raisins and caramel.    Stumptown is a local Los Angeles coffee roaster and their most popular blend is Hair Blender (notes of cherry, toffee and fudge) named for the original location that was housed in a "hair" parlor. This is typical "insider" LA humor.  And despite the quirky name it does make a great cup of coffee.

5.  Raven's Brew.  Wicked Wolf - dark roast.  I discovered this coffee on our trip to Alaska and remember loving it.  I've also given it as a gift and it was well received.  I added it to my list because it's a regional coffee that is probably unfamiliar to you.

You might notice that I generally select dark roasted coffees and that is because the dark roasts tend to have less of a caffeine kick.  Most of the coffees listed can be found on Amazon.com.  I gave the links to the individual websites because that's where you will get the best description of the coffee and choices.

Incidentally the beautiful mugs in these pictures are made by Wild Child Clayworks on Etsy. I have several of their pieces including a pie plate that I love.  They do beautiful work.


Until next time be well, love well and this winter enjoy your time indoors, perhaps with a slice of coffee cake, a great cup of coffee and your feet up!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Baa-Ble Hat and Slip Slidding Along the Trail with Simcha

I'm late to the party but better late than never!  This is the Baa-ble hat that has become an iconic pattern for the online knitting community.  It's been many many years since I last saw a pattern that captured the hearts of so many knitters.  The last time that I recall this happening was in 2009 with the still and ever popular bakkus scarf, a pattern that I attribute to single handedly spawning a whole industry shift to the humble bumble garter stitch after knitters saw how amazing hand painted yarns looked in this stitch.  If you recall prior to the bakkus most shawls were knit in a lace pattern on a stockinette background.


But back to the Baa-ble hat! This is a very fun design with easy color work that works up quickly in a worsted yarn. Whether you are an experienced knitter or a novice with color work this is a pattern that you will enjoy knitting.  And with the cute sheep ringing the hat it will appeal to all age groups.


Many knitters have found this hat knits up very large and as I have a smallish noggin I decided to follow the downsize modifications recommended by Susan B. Anderson.  Except and only that I knit my hat brim differently.  Because not only it is important to me how a hat fits but also how it looks on.  I'm shallow that way.


If you live in an ultra cold environs you probably won't want to make my modification.  Unless you too care how your hat looks on. What I am referring to is the extra bulk that a hat brim adds that can be less than flattering when worn. Or maybe it's just not flattering on me.  In any event my modification for a less bulky hat brim is as follows:
Knit hat brim in a twisted double rib (i.e. k tbl, k tbl, p,p) for 1.5 inches or desired length and then knit the same length in plain stockinette instead of more ribbing.  You are now set up to begin following the regular pattern instructions.
This modification allows you to have a hat brim to keep your ears cozy without the additional bulk from a double layer of ribbing.  And I love love love how mine came out!


Particulars:  Baa-ble Hat (Ravelry download only), designed by Donna Smith and the official pattern for Shetland Wool Week (2015); US 7 and 8 needles; my yarn came in a kit purchased from Dyed in the Wool Yarn Co (worsted weight); 1 skein Thunder (50g); Cranky Crock (50g) bonehead (50g) and black (25g).  I followed the downsized instructions here as graciously provided by the amazing and very popular blogger Donna B. Anderson, with the addition of my hat brim modification as discussed above.  I also completed all the charted decreases as I wanted a bit of a slouch to my hat. This is a wonderful pattern and super fun hat to wear!  FYI the official pattern for Shetland Wool Week (2016) is the Crofthoose Hat (as of yet still a free pattern) by Ella Gordon (blogs as Textile Maker).

Other color work projects I have blogged include: Osbury Rock (scarf) and Hebe (hat) both of which are very wearable pieces and favorites of mine.

Incidentally I knit the Gaucho Vest that I am wearing in these pictures.  I am quite possibly the only person who ever knit this pattern which is a shame because it has been an amazing wardrobe piece (so easy to dress up or down) and I wear it all the time!

Slip Sliding Along the Trail with Simcha

I often talk about my hikes with Simcha but I rarely take you along with us.  So for a change here's a few pictures from a cold, wet and muddy day. In other words a perfect day for wearing a warm woolly Baa-ble Hat!


The sunrises in Topanga, California are gorgeous in the winter months when the air is clear from all the wind and rain. The sun rises over the city of Los Angeles and looks different every morning as sometimes the city buildings are standing tall in the distance and other times obscured by a layer of fog and clouds.

Even though we live relatively close to the city we are in a very rural environment and the hiking is beautiful.  But you have to know where you are going because the trails are extremely muddy during the winter and Simcha and I have discovered that only too often!

But sometimes it's good for the soul to hike in the mud and just get down and dirty and frankly just can't be avoided. Simcha and I have been on trails where my shoes have been so heavily caked in mud that my feet practical come out of my shoes with each step.  When that happens I just clump clump along until I come to a rock where I can scrape some off some of the mud.  Other times the trail can be so slick with mud I just hope that I don't skid off the trail and land splat on my butt.


Simcha on the other hand is never troubled by the mud. That is until he hears the word bath.


Until next time be well and love well and get out and experience this wonderful wet winter season!  Perhaps in your own Baa-ble Hat.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Good Vibes at the Beach


It's a new day, a new year, and after a distressing year of world news it's time for some good vibrations at the beach! This is my new Good Vibes Shawl and consequently my favorite shawl because for whatever reason whatever I just finish I love the best. Which might explain why I have drawers full of shawls that don't get the love they deserve.


Although this year we are having a real "winter" complete with cold days and rainy weather and I've dipped into the woolly woolens stash more than I can ever remember.   I may look like a walking ball of yarn but at my age I don't care.  I can go outside and feel no pain, no chill, and no discomfort because I am accessorized with woolen socks, hat, cowl, mittens, and shawl and for good measure I even have a felted purse to hug for warmth.  These are good days to be a knitter.

That being said these pictures are taken at our place in San Clemente, California which is farther south than Topanga and right on the water so it has a much more temperate climate.  And in San Clemente even on a cold day all you need is a cozy shawl.  But still.  I'm amazed when I see some young people wearing shorts and a T-shirt cuz it is still, you know, cold.


The Good Vibes shawl is designed by Nadia Cretin-Lechenne and knit in Chelsea Luxe singles.  "Singles" are skeins of yarn that are unplied and surprisingly durable.  Or as durable as any somewhat delicate yarn can be.  I bought the yarn online and my first reaction on seeing it was disappointment because I had been expecting "skinny singles" as opposed to merely "singles."  They are quite different.  The "singles" are much puffier and fluffier than the "skinny singles."  But I've decided there's a lot to be said for puffy and fluffy yarn because this knit into a super soft and cozy shawl. So while I misread the yarn description in point of fact this was the perfect yarn for this project.

Caveat Emptor.  As is true for all merino yarns this yarn will not hold a block.  When wet it may stretch into humongous proportions but give it time and like the special effects in Honey I Shrunk the Kids it will shrink into shockingly small dimensions.  What I recommend is that if you are knitting with merino wool (which I love to do) and particularly the singles you should plan on using at least 600 to 800 yrds if you want a decent sized shawl that doesn't need a tedious reblocking every time you want to wear it.


I found this pattern very fun to knit and I absolutely love the finished shawl.  I did run out of the grey yarn and had to order a second skein and I did skip one of the blue wedges due to yardage concerns although ironically I would have had enough of the blue to knit all 6 wedges.  I actually only needed the additional grey skein for the bind off and I considered substituting another yarn from stash.  But for this particular shawl I felt it would look best with the bind off in the matching yarn.  The good news is that now I have almost a whole skein of the grey to make something else!


Particulars:  Good Vibes designed by Nadia Cretin-Lechenne (aka: Ittybittyknits and writes the blog NCL Knits); US 6 needles; 1.1 skeins of Chelsea Luxe singles (400 yrds 100% merino) colorway London Rain and 1 skein Chelsea Luxe Singles (400 yrds 100% merino) colorway London Sky. A similar yarn found in many LYS is Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light.  Even though I technically had sufficient yarn for this project, as discussed above, I had yardage concerns so I skipped blue wedge No. 5 and jumped right to wedge No. 6.  As it turned out I had sufficient yarn in the blue to have completed all the wedges.  But, even having skipped wedge 5, I still needed to dip into a second skein of the grey.   Post blocking (shrunken/relaxed measurement) 64" x 16."

To see projects using similar yarn see my Doodler Shawl (using skinny singles) and Crashing Waves shawlette (using singles).

Simcha and the Beach


Every year between Christmas and New Year we spend at the beach in San Clemente, California.  And we never take Simcha.  It just works out better for both parties that we take separate vacations.  And before you feel too sorry for him know that he's staying at the Topanga Pet Resort where he always has a fabulous time.  But in case you are feeling sorry for him I thought I would share this picture so that you see he's still getting out and enjoying a quintessential "Southern California" lifestyle. Including morning jogs on the beach in Malibu (that occasionally devolve into chasing after the rich and famous seagulls).

On the topic of living a Southern California lifestyle here's a list of my favorite music videos shot on (or around) local beaches with a SoCal vibe:

Lana Del Rey ~ West Coast
The Neighborhool ~ Sweater Weather
Katie Perry ~ Teenage Dream
Dirty Heads ~ My Sweet Summer
Keith Urban ~ Long Hot Summer

Until next time be well and love well and may 2017 be a wonderful year and a time of repair, unity, and much needed good vibes in this world.