Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wristlets with an Edge and Rye Bread

These edgy wristlets are designed by Inna Voltchkova who was born in the Ukraine and is a graduate of the Kiev Institute of Fashion Design and Technology.

I'm ridiculously happy with these wristlets.  They are very simple, but elegant and fun too.  I particularly love the modern look to the design despite wristlets being an accessory reminiscent of the 1800s and the Victorian era.

But leave it to a sister to ask what some might consider an awkward question.  Whilst showing them to  my practically minded sister during a recent visit she said "they are very pretty.... but when will you wear them?" 

Why, I'll wear them.... hum.... yes, I see.....hum...... I know!  I'll wear them to a musical recital!  Kidding aside, I don't see why I can't wear these just about anywhere.  I've shown them here in a dressy way, but I think they could be worn casually too.  On a cold morning I can see them with jeans and a sweater... no?  It's all about attitude.  I live in SoCal after all.

Particulars: Inna Voltchkova's Knitted Wrist Warmers; Piecework Magazine (July/August 2009); US1 double pointed needles; 1 skein Schulana Mosco Yarn color No. 11 (67% viscose, 20% mohair, 13% nylon). This is a very easy and fun pattern to knit.  I made no modifications to the pattern except to substitute the yarn.

Rustic Rye Bread

In honor of the great knitters and knitting traditions that hail from Eastern Europe, including Orenburg lace, I'm going to share a recipe for a rye bread that is typical fare for Eastern Europe and a favorite recipe of mine.

Light Rye Loaf  ~ recipe adapted from The Baking Book by Linda Collister.  I love this baking booking and have made many of the recipes over and over again. 

3 3/4 cups unbleached white BREAD flour (not all purpose flour) (450g)
2 cups rye flour (230g)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (plus extra for sprinkling on top of loaf)
1 tablespoon salt (kosher or sea salt) plus extra for sprinkling on top of loaf (5g)
1 package active dry yeast (7g / 1/4 oz) or .06 oz cake fresh yeast
2 cups warm water (used to proof yeast)
1/2 teaspoon molasses to feed yeast
1 egg white mixed with 1 teaspoon water to make an egg wash
Small amount of olive oil used to grease bread rising bowl
Small amount of corn meal to prevent loaf from sticking to baking sheet


1.  Add water to mixing bowl along with package of active dry yeast and molasses.  Allow to proof for 10 minutes.   Yeast should be bubbling.
2.  Add flour to water as follows:  using a dough hook and your mixer set on low speed add the flour 1 cup at a time waiting until the flour is incorporated before adding the next cup.  Begin with the rye flour and after the second cup of rye add the salt and caraway seeds when adding the 1st cup of bread flour.  When the mixture comes together as a dough turn out onto a bread board and finish adding the remaining flour and kneading process by hand (this is roughly the last cup of flour for me).  When the dough is ready it should be soft but not sticky.  The recipe book says the hand kneading process takes 10 minutes but I only hand knead for a couple of minutes as I use the dough hook for most of the kneading process.
3.  Place dough into rising bowl with small amount of olive oil and turn dough to cover surface with olive oil.  Place a warm damp cloth over bowl and place bowl in warm spot to rise for about 2 hours (until double in bulk).
4.  Turn dough out onto bread board and punch down to remove air pockets.  Turn to form an oval loaf.  Place loaf on baking sheet covered with cornmeal (to prevent sticking) and sprinkle top of loaf with small amount of bread flour to prevent cloth from sticking.  Cover with damp cloth and set in a warm spot for final rise (roughly 1 hour).
5.  Approximately 1/2 hour before final rise is complete preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  When loaf is risen, uncover the loaf and slash top several times with sharp knife (I use a bread lame) and then brush loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with salt and caraway seeds.  Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake a further 20 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base.  Cool on a wire rack.  When completely cool slice.  This bread freezes very well.

Rye bread is a strange bread as it's best toasted, even when fresh from the oven.   I absolutely love this bread  in the morning with a good Seville orange marmalade and pot of plain yorkshire gold black tea.  It is also wonderful with savory meats and cheeses and makes a fantastic hamburger bun.  Just don't forget to toast it first!

Until next time be well, love well, and remember that it's time to start thinking about your Fall knits.  We will be away over the 4th of July holiday and hope you will  have a wonderful celebration!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Miss Elly, a Knit Toy Elephant

Life has many hurts and challenges along the way. One of the most difficult things each of us will face is the loss of a parent, regardless of whether the relationship was good or bad. I am fortunate and both my parents are still living but Steve has lost both his mother and father. When his mother died several years ago it was devastating for him and left many unanswered questions. No matter what age you are when you lose a parent, the sense of loss is profound.

But perhaps a little more so when you are young. After a long battle with cancer Steve's dear cousin, Ellen, passed away at the too young age of 45. She left a bereaved husband and two small children, a girl age 7 and a boy age 5. What can be said of such a sad thing. Nothing material can replace a mother's love but a little pink elephant is at least something to cuddle on the difficult days. So I knit Miss Elly for the little girl to have and hug.

Stuffed animals are great companions, no matter what your age. They can join you outside on a garden bench.  Or keep you company for a cup of tea in the afternoon. As an aside, since this is a Summer in which I am exploring new teas, I'm going to suggest that you try Lady Londonderry to perk up your afternoon tea.  Lady Londonderry is a black tea with hints of strawberry and lemon and I've found that adding a dash to a pot of plain black tea makes it a little extra special.  I think you'll like it.

I now need to come up with what I'll knit for the little boy.  Some type of monster, maybe?  Any suggestions as to what  I might make for the little boy would be greatly appreciated! 

Particulars:  Elijah by Ysolda S. Teague; Stray Cat yarn in colorway Tea Rose by Wandering Cat Yarns; hand-painted yarn; super wash merino; 8 ply sport weight yarn; US 3 DPNs;  This is a well designed pattern that was a pleasure to knit. My only modification was to embroider the eyes in satin stitch rather than make french knots. If you aren't familiar with Ysolda's knitting you will enjoy her blog.  I'm certain this will not be the last pattern of hers that I knit.

You may have noticed that I knit Miss Elly a shawl, exactly like the one I made for Matilda the Mouse.  To knit a small shawl for a toy simply knit a basic triangle as follows:

CO 3 stitches
R1: K1, yo, knit to last stitch, yo, K1
R2: knit
Repeat rows 1 and 2 until desired length.  BO stitches.
Finishing: add a small button or bead as a closure.

BEWARE OF DOG  It has a yarn fetish.....

I hate to tattle.  Really I do. But this is in the way of a public service announcement. Simcha has a yarn fetish.  On several occasions Miss Elly had to be literally pried from his jaws.  He even stole Miss Elly right out from my hands while I was sitting and knitting away on her. I'm surprised that you didn't hear my yeowls of distress.  It's a miracle that Miss Elly has survived.  So be warned and approach dog with caution.  Incidentally, I understand Monika's puppy, Denny, also has a yarn fetish.  I hope it's just a passing phase. 

Until next time, be well and love well, and why not knit a toy this Summer?  Either for yourself or someone who needs a hug.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ribbon Tank and Chinese ChrysanthemumTea

Thank you so much for the lively discussion on the Blog Cafe! I enjoyed hearing everyone's views on organic food/farming and came to the conclusion that freshness probably is the biggest factor influencing taste and we are darn lucky to live in a country that has conventional farming capable of feeding the masses at an affordable cost.

Summer Ribbon Tank

I'm still recovering from the time difference (15 hours) and the jet lag so haven't been knitting much. Instead, I'm going to share a project I knit a few years ago (but never blogged) that is a great Summer project. It's a simple tank knit with a ribbon yarn.

Ribbon yarn is comfortable to wear and creates a nice drape to the fabric. A simple shell tank is easy to knit in this yarn and your local knit shop can help you calculate your gauge and dimensions. I added the flowers to jazz up this tank and Betty at Binding Off used tuck stitches to embellish her stylish Tuck Stitching Summer Top.

Particulars: Personal pattern; ribbon yarn (can't recall brand but a nylon blend) Note: Larissa (Stitches in Play) left a comment and I thought I should clarify that the ribbon yarn I used was slightly serrated. I believe this helped the fabric have a nice bounce and hold together well, giving it something like a slight felting effect similar to what happens with Shetland wool. I added a picture of the ribbon on my Ravelry notebook [here] so you can see what I'm talking about; US 7 needles. Simple tank design: single ribbing at the bottom and double crochet to finish armholes and neckline.

Chinese Tea Series: Chinese Chrysanthemum Flower Tea

I discovered in China, to my chagrin, that I didn't know as much about tea as I thought I did. China is a "tea culture" and Chengdu has 20 millions residents and only slightly fewer Tea Houses. Some are elegant and others don't offer much beyond rickety chairs and a wobbly table. The picture below is the roof of one of the prettier ones we visited (although not in the traditional style).

The Tea Houses primarily serve herbal tea which is brought to your table as a scoop of loose herbs dumped into your glass with hot water sloshed in. There are no scones or cakes, which was a disappointment. I have to admit, though, that the Chinese teas are not well suited to sweet pastries. Rather, the fruits and nuts served in small condiment dishes suit them better, unless you are hungry. I'm not going to apologize for having a healthy appetite, I'll just say that a small dish of sunflower seeds for a table to share either requires that one use restraint or adopt a brazen attitude.

The women in China (at least in the tea houses) primarily drink Chrysanthemum Flower Tea (pictured above) whereas the men generally drink Jasmine Flower Tea. I was told that the women believe the Chrysanthemum Tea enhances beauty, and Chengdu is a city where that seems to matter. I was struck by the number of Chinese people who told me that Chengdu is known for having the most beautiful women in China. I drank lots of the Chrysanthemum Flower tea while there (and am currently drinking copious amounts) and I'm still waiting for the miraculous beauty benefits.

The Chinese put great store by their herbs and your selection of tea can be revealing. Steve, of course, is never one for conforming and instead of drinking Jasmine Tea like other men he chose a passion flower tea, to the amusement of the tea house attendant, and my slight embarrassment.

Chrysanthemum Flower Tea: A full bodied cooling tea. This tea is best brewed in glass or ceramic/porcelain to avoid taint to the flavor. The water should be very hot but not boiling and your glass can be refilled with hot water many times before the flowers lose their flavor. Because the flowers float this tea is served with a straw for sipping. This tea usually has wolf berries added (the red pods seen above) and rock sugar is sometimes added as a sweetener. Both the Chrysanthemum flower and Wolf berry are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Recommendations for Stories set in China

The White Pagoda, by Fay Angus. I am sorry to say that I've not read this story..... yet it is written by a dear family friend who has written many inspirational books. The Angus family were a huge part of my childhood and while I knew my Auntie Fay had written a book about her time in a concentration camp in China, I was too young when it came out to have read it. I'll read it now with great interest. I borrowed this review off Amazon: The White Pagoda by Fay Angus is a quick, interesting read. Set in the Shanghai of the 1930's, Angus gives a brief look into the foreign culture of pre-war china that continues through her time in a Japanese concentration camp during WWII. She explores her childhood and adolescence in an environment very different from that of most American teenagers. I would recommend this book, particularly to teenage girls, as a brief glimpse into the life of a girl growing up in another time and another culture. A good introduction to studying Asia during the second world war.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I loved this story which gives a fascinating glimpse into the culture and time surrounding the binding of girl's feet in rural China.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. A classic. If you've not read this book yet, it's time. The characters in this story are so richly drawn you are unlikely to ever forgot them.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon This is a movie (make sure to get the English dubbed version) which will take you into the mysterious life of the Chinese warriors. The story is poignant and the scenery is stunning.

Until next time, be well, love well, and this Summer try experimenting with different types of teas!

P.S. I will also be writing about green tea and traditionally brewed black Chinese tea for those interested.