Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Easter Sunday Wrap

I am finding it difficult to write this post in the wake of the crisis in Japan and so many around the world facing difficult times.  A sobering reminder that all things can be swept away by the tides of time or tragedy.  I recognize how easily it could be me in that situation and with that knowledge I try and live my life with thanksgiving and a generous spirit in the good times and pray that I will have the strength to face adversity in the difficult times.  But no one is ever really prepared to face the type of crisis facing the Japanese people and those striving for freedom in the Middle East.

And so sometimes we carry on even when our heart is breaking and filled with concern for others.  Those of you who celebrate know that both Passover and Easter are approaching.  These holidays are an important part of our lives as Steve is Jewish and I am Christian.  

In this post I am wearing a wrap that I knit to wear for these holidays called the Netsuke Wrap.  It is knit using an angora yarn embellished with seed beads as I wanted something special to wear. 

I love the beads and the vintage feel they add to this piece.  Although I must confess that I almost lost heart and quit adding the beads after a friend observed that using beads with angora yarn was crazy because the beads wouldn't even be seen.  Good point, I thought.  But having already begun adding the beads I continued on and, surprisingly, the beads do show up very nicely.  I think that may have something to do with this particular angora which does not shed and I just lucked out there.

Particulars:  Netsuke Wrap by Bad Cat Designs,  3 US 4 circular needles (you need 3 of the circular needles due to the oblong center); 2.5 skeins Windsor Farms Rabbitry, Angora Blizzard (85% angora 15% merino - lace 2 ply - 200 yrds/skein); and a mix of size 8/0 and 6/0 Japanese seed beads (Ivory Ceylon). I added the beads using the dental floss method. No modification except yarn substitution.  While this is described as a challenging lace project I thought it was a pretty straight forward knit.  I think the challenge in this project comes from adding the beads which I found more tedious than difficult.  This shawl is knit like a hap shawl, i.e. the center is knit first and then stitches are picked up around the center design and knit outward.  Relaxed post blocking dimensions: 17" x 52."

Breaking Bread

You might recall several posts back I mentioned ordering the Tartine Bread book after Raina talked about it on her blog, Raining Sheep. I was captivated by the romantic notion of baking bread using only the wild yeast found here in Topanga. But after several days of watching a lack luster starter my more practical side won out.  I spiked my starter mix with a few grains of French sourdough yeast (Lalvain du Jour) just to make sure I had a few live yeast in there. Other than that, I followed the Tartine bread methodology exactly.

My first loaf was just beautiful as you can see in the photo above. It looked wonderful.  It had a thick crunchy crust and a light airy texture and, as I savored that first bite, I was delighted.  Until I finished chewing and realized that the flavor was too sour.  What now?  Did I want to invest possibly years tinkering about with a starter that was never exactly right? Or, for a mere $6.95 should I go go back to using King Arthur's starter which has a combined history dating back 250 years to New England and the Alaska gold mining days. I'll let you guess what I decided.

Caveat and baking tip. I have baked bread for many years.  An absolute beginner might find the Tartine Bread book method daunting.  In particular I think it might be easy to confuse seeing air bubbles in the batter for live yeast activity.  If your "starter" looks like a pancake batter (i.e. diffuse large bubbles on the top) I suspect you are seeing just that (air bubbles) and not yeast activity.  Live yeast activity is typically evidenced by small clusters of bubbles.  Without live yeast your bread will not rise.  It is therefore important to wait to bake your first loaf until your starter has live yeast activity or do as I did which is spike it with a very small amount of commercial yeast just to be sure.

Until next time, be well and love well and may the upcoming holidays be a special time for you and your families.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Woodland Flower ~ Powder Puff

I made this Woodland Flower Powder Puff simply because it makes me smile.  That and I actually use dusting powder.  But why did I really make it as I can obviously get along just fine without it?  For the simple reason that exploring my creative side adds beauty and fun into my life.  I may have left kindergarten but I have never forgotten how much more fun it is to finger paint than it is to sit at a desk working sums, which I do plenty of.

The real truth revealed in that early class room experience is that you don't have to have special skills or be "an artist" to enjoy creating.  You simply have to enjoy the process and with a little luck you will be happy with what you make too.  And since I am happy with this powder puff I'm going to explain how to make it.

Wet felting is very much like finger painting.  You can be an absolute beginner but with some fiber, hot water, and soap you can begin to use your hands to create felt.  There is a bit more to it than that, but not much more, and nothing that isn't readily found on the internet.  For the purposes of this blog I'm assuming you know the basics of making felt but should you need a reference book I found Uniquely Felt helpful.

This powder puff is incredibly easy to make.  To make the base I soft felted a clump of wool roving (batt) in my hands using just my body warmth and a bit of needle felting to achieve the size and form I wanted.  I then embellished it with a small amount of white silk that I needle felted in place, as pictured above.  I then attached a wet felted flower and wool locks as a decoration.  As an alternative to attaching a flower you could simply attach a pretty ribbon bow for a more traditional powder puff look.

To make the wet felted flower I used a small amount of wool top to form a round disk shape that I slightly prefelted.  I then shaped the disk around a blunt knitting needle (any blunt pointed object will do) and rolled and twisted the felt around the knitting needle until it felted into a fluted shape. You can also add a stem (as I did) by rolling a small amount of wool top into a stem leaving a dry brush at one end.  The dry brush is then wet felted onto the flower base. When the flower is dry you attach it to the base using a stitch or two of embroidery floss. If desired silky locks can be needle felted around the base of the flower.

Particulars: Woodland Flower Powder Puff; wool roving (batt) is by Peace Fleece; silk top is from Jazzturtle; wool top for flower and stem is hand dyed by Ingermaaike; silky locks are from Artclub.  If you are new to wet felting I find Etsy an incredible resource for finding materials for wet felting and needle felting.You can also find several blogs about wet felting on my sidebar under "Crafting Blogs I enjoy Reading" just below the Knitting Blog list.

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut

I consider nuts part of my whole grain diet and, as a treat, I'll occasionally roast them.  This is a recipe from Ina Garten's Paris Cookbook slightly adapted based on personal preference.  You will find many versions of this recipe online.

Rosemary Cashews

1 pound raw unsalted cashews
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Spread nuts onto a baking pan and roast approximately 10-15 minutes, depending on how hot your oven runs.  You should begin to smell the roasting nuts but they should not be over browned.

Mix your seasonings together but don't add to the butter.  Instead, pour the melted butter over the nuts and then sprinkle the nuts with the seasoning mix.  I find that otherwise the seasoning does not cling to the nuts as it should.  You might even pop the nuts back into the oven after adding the seasoning (for just a minute) to set the seasoning being careful not to overcook.

These are wonderful served warm.

Until next time, be well and love well and explore your creative side ~ whether your interest is cooking, knitting, photography, or whatever, you will find it adds fun and beauty to your life.