Saturday, December 20, 2014

Victorian Christmas Shawl and Christmas Wishes


I am delighted with my Victorian Christmas Shawl that I began on Halloween and have been knitting madly away on ever since.  This project was a mystery knit along hosted by the Yarn Fairy who has a number of mystery knit alongs running all year round.  I am very pleased to say that my finished shawl not only met it exceeded my expectations and considering this was a 1,800 yard blind leap of knitting that makes me very merry indeed.

Clearly this is not a shawl that I am going to wear out to the grocery store to buy a carton of milk. Nor is it intended to be. The design was inspired by the Victorian era when family gatherings and the holidays meant getting dressed in your finest clothes and accessories often trimmed in crushed velvet and other luxury fibers.  I think that the casual dress style of the 21st century takes away from the festive nature of these occasions and is the poorer for it.  What is gained by the convenience of a casual attitude toward clothing is lost by the ensuing mediocrity of monotony and sameness.  And I am not in favor of mediocrity!

Not everyone will agree with me that casual dress makes the holiday season less special and that begs the question what makes the holidays special for you?  And it is obviously more than getting dressed up for me.  It is the time spent with family and I am looking forward to going to my parent's home which is always decorated beautifully and my mom has wonderful treats that are once a year luxuries like boxes of special chocolates and nuts.  I am in charge of baking an English Christmas Cake full of brandy and fruit and and covered in marzipan (recipe link) and my mother always make a trifle (recipe link) and we finish the evening with a flaming Christmas pudding.  But the best part for me is attending a candlelight evening service on Christmas eve with a beautiful message and singing traditional Christmas hymns and then driving around our neighborhood looking at all the holidays lights.  At the holidays I also love the seasonably colder weather and early dark evenings that are perfect for wrapping up in a shawl and losing one's self in a novel in front of a fire.  And those are just a few of the things that make the holidays special for me.

Particulars:  Dickens Victorian Christmas Shawl; designed by Wendy McDonnell (Yarn Fairy KALs); US 4 needles; 8 skeins yarn fairy pixie sock medium (hand dyed for this project) 1,800 yards.   This is a crescent shaped shawl and very voluminous.  I chose not to block it aggressively my final blocked measurements are 31" deep (as opposed to 38" deep) and the wingspan is from the neck down 46" on both sides.  I recommend that you look at some of the other finished shawls on Ravelry and you will see that this shawl looks absolutely stunning blocked to longer dimensions, however, for myself I find a shorter shawl more wearable.       

Simcha's Neverending Story

Simcha hasn't been featured too much lately on the blog but have no fear he's doing great and I thought I would share a quick anecdote.  As you know he loves carrying sticks and the bigger the better and looking at this picture reminds me of something that happened about a week ago. Simcha had fallen behind on our hike and looking back he was nowhere in sight so I quickly darted off the trail and hid from him in the trees (something I haven't done in about a year).  It wasn't long before he came trotting along with a big stick in his jaws as he proudly strutted down the pathway never pausing for a second as he passed by where I was hidden watching him. It took about a minute before I heard a loud kathunk sound in the distance as his stick hit the ground.  I had to suppress a giggle because when he dropped his stick I knew that he had just realized that he had lost track of me.  It wasn't long then before he came running back down the trail with his nose to the ground and then I watched as he stopped and hovered over where I had left the trail and after circling for a moment he followed his nose into the woods where I had hidden and "discovered" me in a joyous reunion. I got a kick out of watching him track me this way because as a pup he would search with his eyes and his nose in the air which is not nearly as reliable as following a scent on the ground and, on occasion, I would  have to come out of hiding and help him find me.  It's sad but true I'm a sneaky mommy who likes to hide.  But it has taught him to be a pretty good tracker!

Until next time be well and love well and Steve, Simcha and I want to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Starshower Cowl and Dark Chocolate Cherry Chews

It's amazing what you can make with a single skein of sock yarn! And the Starshower Cowl has to be one of my top picks for a single skein project.  Who among us doesn't have a stash full of single skeins that were spontaneous purchases?  I, like most knitters, find sock yarn irresistible because it's not that expensive for a single skein of yarn and the variety of colors and textures are amazing and beautiful so it's hard to resist.  Especially when the yarn whispers *love me* *knit me* *give me a home* and so forth. No one can resist that kind of sales pressure.  But even if you have to go out and buy a skein of sock yarn I would for this project because it's easy to knit and very wearable.

The pattern is called Starshower Cowl but I call mine Stardust Cowl because it reminds me of the cool fantasy story written by Neil Gaiman.  I won't tell you the plot of Stardust but it involves (obviously) stars and falling stars and that's enough for you to see why I connect that story with this cowl.  I read this book a few years ago when I found it on the self of a tiny bookstore while on vacation in Northern California and every book on their shelves was a treasure.  There's just nothing like an independent bookstore for a discerning selection and I always love the staff picks too.  It's sad to see these independent bookstores disappear as more people read ebooks or for that matter don't read at all. So go out and support your local bookstore and buy a copy of Stardust you'll be happy you did (and it would make a great stocking stuffer too especially if you knit this cowl to go with it!).

Particulars:  Starshower cowl designed by Hilary Smith Callis (TheYarniad); US 6 needles; 1 skein Hedgehog Fibers Sock Yarn (colorway Bonbon).  This is a wonderful pattern and I didn't make a single modification.  Well except that I used a variegated yarn instead of a solid color as used by the designer. I think it looks wonderful in both a solid or variegated yarn and the size can easily be adjusted to changing your needle size, how firmly your block it and/or the number of repeats you knit (but keep in mind changing the needle size or the repeats will effect your yarn usage).

Thanksgiving and Native American Culture

In the picture above I painted the plaque with the phrase "moon of falling leaves" as a whimsical way to welcome fall and also acknowledge our native american culture.  The moon was an important part of native american culture as it provided light to see at night around their villages and in addition it was used to track the seasons, i.e, "moon of the falling leaves; green grasses," etc.  At that time in history the night skies (both the moon and stars) were the sole means to track seasons and direction (for example you can find due north by finding the big dipper). In any event when I think of the harvest and thanksgiving and the bounty of this land I also think of the native americans and how they lived here for centuries in harmony with nature without destroying it and how in such a short time we have done so much damage to the wildlife and waterways and how that broke their hearts. I find the following Cree Prophecy relevant and poignant:
When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.

A sobering view of  our convenience, cost, and consumerism "values" and hopefully not a true prophecy but merely a warning of what could happen if changes are not made.

Lastly Dark Chocolate Cherry Chews

Because I wanted to end on a sweet note......

These chocolate cherry chews are amazing but very very rich so don't eat then all at once.  Steve (always full of great food ideas) suggested eating these with a scoop of vanilla ice cream kinda like an ice-cream sandwich.  I'm definitely going to give that a try.   Here's a link to the  recipe found online at

Until next time be well, love well, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

An Accessory Shawl and Halloween Prims

Ready or not it is time to wrap up in something fabulous for Fall!  By October even here in Southern California the mornings are starting to turn brisk and what better way to keep the chill away than with a new accessory shawl.

Over the years I have knit many of these accessory shawls and I suppose some might wonder why anyone needs to have that many.  Aside from the obvious that I enjoy knitting them, it is also a truism that one shawl simply does not work with every outfit.  As much and as hard as I have tried to knit that one perfect accessory that goes with everything it simply hasn't happened. It's a mystery to me why.  I'll confess that on more than one occasion I've knit a shawl thinking that it will go with absolutely everything only to finish it and find that it goes with hardly anything at all.

Of course the logical solution is to knit a shawl in black.  But where's the fun in that? Truthfully I use shawls as a way to give a pop of color to my outfits and, in addition, I have found that as I've gotten older having color next to my face helps give me a youthful vibrance. And I need all of that I can get. So don't expect to see me knitting a black shawl anytime soon.  If anyone has knit a shawl that they have found is particularly wearable I would love for you to share what it is. Whether or not I find my perfect accessory I plan on knitting more shawls.

Particulars:  Vintage Bouquet Rav Link by Dani Sunshine (blogs as LionessArt); US 5 needles; 2 skeins Madelinetosh Tosh Sock (colorways: Moss and Paper).  I like the Madelinetosh sock yarn for a shawl because it's has a great loft and makes a nice squishy shawl.  Finished "lightly blocked" dimensions (small size): 56" x 18"

American folk Art ~ Halloween Primitives ~

My favorite post of the year is my October post because it marks the end (hopefully) of the hot long days of summer and the official start of fall and the holiday season.  To kick off the start of  holidays and what I consider "the great crafting season" I choose to make some Halloween Prims.  Primitives or "Prims" are a quintessentially American form of folk art that brings to mind the simple pleasures of home, hearth and family values as experienced by the frontier families that settled the great american west.  They are very easy to make and you can find many e-patterns sold on Etsy.  These little Scaredy Cats (pictured below) were fun and easy to make and as a bonus I find they make me smile whenever I walk past them.  I used the e-pattern "5 Primitive Whimsical Kats of Halloween" sold on Etsy by CountryGirlPrims.

Until next time be well and love well and may you thoroughly enjoy fall whether or not you throw yourself with abandon into "the great crafting season" as I do.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mara Madelintosh Shawl and Orange Muffins Recipe

Some things need to be seen in person to be appreciated and so it was with me and the Mara Shawl. When this shawl first came out several years ago I saw the pictures and thought it was a nice shawl but not anything I was too excited about knitting.  But this summer when I saw it in person at the Ball and Skein, a yarn shop in Sebastopol, California, I fell in love and had to make one myself.

I'm old school in the sense that I like to add one or two key wardrobe pieces each season to update my look and yet classic enough to be enjoyed in years to come.  This fall I chose the Mara Shawl and Frye riding boots (I'm wearing the boots in the picture above).  I actually just realized that had Simcha posed in the picture above as well we would have looked likeLittle Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. No matter, I'm still thrilled with the outfit.

I knit this shawl to be larger than the original design consistent with the sample I saw in the yarn shop.  I think the additional length makes it a more practical and wearable garment and transforms the look of the shawl into a cape changing the design in a way that I really like.  While I have knit a lot of the smaller lightweight shawls that are fun to make and wear I think you also need a few of these larger shawls for warmth on cold blustery days too.

Particulars: Mara by Amy Hendrix (free pattern); US 7 needles; 4 skeins Madelinetosh Tosh DK (multi-strand), colorway Steam Age; I finished with 40 gm left, i.e. I used 60% of my 4th skein); finished blocked dimensions: 58" x 27" (4" ruffle total).  I used 31" circular needles and was hard pressed to get all the stitches on after starting the ruffle (which doubles the stitch count).  N.B.  The pattern only calls for 3 skeins so if you want a larger shawl you need to purchase one extra skein.

N.B. If you need more convincing that this shawl is for you, just head over to Renee Knit's Too and look at her gorgeous Mara shawl!

N.B.  The Frye boots are true to size.  I wear a size 7 in tennis shoes and that's the right size for these boots.  The style I'm wearing are the Phillip Riding Boot in dark brown.  I recommend before wearing to treat them with Fiebring's Water Protector (Amazon link) and use a brown shoe polish and always wipe them down after wearing.  These boots are expensive but with good care will look good and last.

Orange Muffins Recipe

Keeping with a Little Red Riding Hood theme what better way to welcome visitors this fall than with a basket of delicious homemade muffins!  These muffins are wonderful, reliable, and delicious.  I found the recipe many years ago in an old Harrod's cooking book that my mother had laying about.

They really are exceptionally nice homemade muffins and they remind me of the time I visited my sister when she was in college living in San Diego, California.  San Diego is a great restaurant town and in the area where she lived there were a lot of fun restaurants that catered to the students.  I remember we went out to breakfast at a place where along with your breakfast they served a basket of delicious warm muffins and it seemed such an over the top treat.  I thought it was the height of indulgence to begin the day with a wonderful breakfast complete with coffee and muffins with the rest of the day and our lives lazily awaiting us.  We left there to spend the day at Sea World.  It's a particularly happy memory.

Orange Muffin Ingredients:

1 cup butter - room temperature
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup golden (light colored raisins)
grated rind of 2 oranges
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups sifted all purpose flour

Orange Topping Ingredients:
Juice of 2 oranges
1 cup light brown sugar
* I typically use only half this amount (i.e. 1 orange and 1/2 cup brown sugar) it's a matter of personal preference.

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees;
2.  Prepare muffin tins - this batter makes enough for 12 cupcake sized muffins
3.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs 1 at a time beating well after each addition.
4.  Dissolve the soda in the buttermilk.
5.  Alternately add the flour and buttermilk mixture in at least 3 portions mixing well after each addition.  Begin and end with the flour. Mix well but don't beat the batter while incorporating the flour and buttermilk.
6.  Stir in the orange rind and the raisins.
7.  Fill muffin tins 2/3 full and bake 25 minutes or until cooked through.
8.  While muffins are baking combine the orange topping ingredients.  Stir until sugar dissolves.
9.  Remove muffins from the oven and immediately poke holes in the muffin tops and pour orange topping over slowing to allow maximum absorption.   Turn muffins out onto a wire rack. Serve warm.

Enjoy with a friend!

Until next time be well and love well.  And whomsoever should arrive thorough the woods at your doorstep this holiday season be sure to offer them warm homemade muffins.  They'll be happy you did.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Honeycomb Hat and Simcha Hijinxs!

I'm so excited that it is almost fall!  For me fall begins the first day of September and lasts until Thanksgiving no matter what the Farmer's Almanac says and it's my favorite time of year.  With a Harvest Moon coming early this year (September 8, 2014) I'm sure that must be a sign of an early fall too.  To celebrate fall's early arrival and to kick off my fall knitting I chose the Tweedy Honeycomb hat.  Or rather the Tweedy Honeycomb"Toque" whatever that means.

Usually I select my knitting projects because there is something about the design that resonates with me.  With this hat the obvious appealing element is the honeycomb stitch and I do love my honeycomb.  Every morning I have a large slice of homemade bread toasted and slathered with honey and for a treat I'll splurge and add the actual honeycomb.  Not everyone likes to eat the honeycomb but I love it.  When I was a teenager my dad kept a hive and we all ate a ton of the honey and most of that was right  from the comb. He kept the hive on the side of our house and on a sunny afternoon when you stepped outside you could smell the warm honey wafting in the air.  I used to like watching the bees land and and trundle into the hive laden with pollen.  It was a sorry day for me when my Dad gave up keeping bees and although it was but a short time in my life the appeal of eating honey right from the comb has stuck.

Another reason that I look forward to fall is that the season awakens within me a desire to craft.  I think an apt analogy is "spring is to lovers as fall is to crafters." Snort.  Anyway, I always like to try different types of craft projects and this year I've been playing with watercolor paints.  I have no background whatsoever in painting or drawing which will be apparent.  But I've discovered that watercolors are a very forgiving medium and work well with stamping, drawing, and collages.  The small journal pictured below with my hat is made with watercolors used in combination with stamping.  I've actually found that my favorite medium is to sketch a picture and then paint it with watercolors and I'll be doing a lot of that in the coming months.  There's just an endless number of things that you can make and decorate with watercolor paints.

Particulars:  Tweedy Honeycomb Toque (free Ravelry pattern) by Kent Turman; US 6 and 9 needles; 2 skeins The Fiber Company - Terra; My only modifications were to a) increase the CO stitches to 88 (instead of just 80) b) twisted rib for 12 rounds; and c) I eliminated rows 24-27 of the chart because I prefer a more fitted toque.  Finished dimensions: 8.5" x 7."

For those interested in honeycomb, I've tried a variety of honeys and some are too sweet for my taste. If you don't like a super sweet honey you are best off with an organic honey or any local honey otherwise I suggest trying the sage honeycomb by Honey Pacifica that I find at Wholefoods. If you would like to decorate your own note journal I purchase small moleskine journals (sold in packs of 3) on Amazon.  Lastly, if you are interested in making your own bread, my post Easter SundayWrap has more about the recipe I follow.

  Simcha Hijinxs ~

Simcha looks so happy here because he is playing a game.  He has control over his ball which he thinks I want.  Therefore whenever I try and pick it up (to throw for him naturally) he will snatch it away at the last second.  He finds this game much more enjoyable than I do and he can play it endlessly.... 

Until next time be well and love well and enjoy an early start to your fall and all the crafts, colors and treats that go along with the season!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Catching Butterflies ~ and Blueberry Pie

How many pairs of fingerless mittens does a person need?  If you love them like I do, then apparently a lot of them!  They are cute, wearable, and are perfect for a climate like Southern California from early fall to late spring. What's not to love?

These are my Catching Butterflies mittens and were a natural choice for me because I'm a self described "nature lover."  That is someone who appreciates the beauty of the outdoors and likes to feel close to nature. 

And these Catching Butterfly mittens are a great way to bring along nature wherever I happen to be. 

It is too easy these days to spend our lives indoors in front of a computer or absorbed in other electronic gadgetry and forget the importance of being outdoors, sans cell phone.  It is only then that time can slow down and you can truly be "in the moment" and enjoy the simple pleasure from standing in the shade of a tree, or sitting with the warmth of the sun on your back, or feel a breeze caress over your skin. And if you stay still long enough you will see nature come alive around you as the birds and other garden inhabitants slowly resume activity as they become used to your presence.   These are simple things that restore the soul.

And naturally all of this can be much more enjoyable if you are properly attired with some cute Catching Butterfly mittens.  I truly enjoyed making these and I know I will love wearing them this fall.  I did have to modify the pattern because the gloves run on the small side (probably intended more for children but don't let that stop you - as it didn't stop me) and I have written out my modifications below.

Particulars:  Catching Butterflies design by Tiny Owl Knits; US 2 and US 3 double pointed Needles; Sun Valley Fibers 80/20 merino/nylon fingerling.  Because this pattern seems to run a little small I made the following modifications:

1.  I only used the smaller (US 2 needles) for the cuff.  After than I switched to US 3 (even for the ribbing on the hand I stayed with the US 3 needles);
2.  I used a twisted rib for both the cuff and hand ribbing;
3.  For the thumb gusset increases I increased to 16 stitches (versus only 12).  Then when it was time to knit the thumb I picked up the stitches with US 3 needles + 3 additional stitches in the gap (total of 16+3 = 19 stitches).  I then knit 3 rounds and then switches to US 2 needles for the twisted rib (a total of 4 rounds). On the first round of twisted rib I decreased 1 stitch to have an even number of stitches (19-1 = 18 stitches) for the ribbing; and 
4. I knit an addition 6 rows in pattern on the hand before BO;

Incidentally, the nail polish I'm wearing is "Some Lilac It Hot" by Sumbody which is a skincare line that I'm in love with.  If you want to splurge on some soap I recommend their Milkyrich and you too can feel like Cleopatra. I have no affiliation with the product, obviously.  I'll also give a plug to my current favorite bath soak which is Nectar (whole milk bath soak) by FHF Farmhouse fresh , going along with the milk and Cleopatra theme.

Classic Blueberry Pie Recipe ~

In the month of August blueberries are always bountiful and relatively inexpensive and so I like to make a pie around this time of year.  This is my father's favorite pie and might be mine as well although cherry pie is a strong contender too so maybe not.  But I do love a blueberry pie, no question about that.  I hope you will enjoy it too.

Blueberry Pie filling (recipe very slightly adapted from the Minute Tapioca box):

4 heaping cups of blueberries or more depending on the depth of your pie pan.  You want a generous filling.
1/4 cup Minute Tapioca
1 cup Sugar
1 Tbs. Lemon Juice
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbs. Butter

Pie Crust Recipe (my own recipe compiled from various sources):

2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tsp. salt
1 TBS. sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter - cold and diced
1/2 cup shortening - cold and diced
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
Splash of white vinegar

Egg Wash:

1 egg white
1 tsp. water
(whisked together)


1 Tbs. sugar (approximately)


A. Make pie crust as follows:

1.  Prepare ice water by adding ice cubes to a small bowl of water.  Add a splash of white vinegar to water mixture.
2.  Add flour, salt and sugar to a mixing bowl.  Whisk together.  Add butter and shortening and using a pastry cutter or your fingers work into flour until you achieve a consistency of small flecks.
3.  Begin adding water 1 tablespoon at a time.  Using a fork toss the water with the flour and shortening mixture adding water until it comes together as a dough.  Divide in half and shape into 2 flat disks.  Wrap each disk separately in saran warp and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling out to make crust.

B.  Make Blueberry Filling as follows:

1. Toss blueberries with Minute Tapioca, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon.  Let stand for 15 minutes.  The butter will be added later.

C.  Assemble Pie:

1.  Roll out the bottom crust between 2 sheets of wax paper covered lightly in flour.  Remove the wax paper and transfer to your pie dish.  Add the blueberry filling and dot the top of the mixture with 1 Tbs. butter.
2.  Roll out the top crust similar to the bottom and use any extra for decoration.  Cut slats in the crust to allow steam to escape.
3.  Brush the top of the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar garnish.

D.  Baking:

In a preheated 425 degree oven bake the pie for 10 minutes.  Then drop the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes.  Make sure to bake pie until you can see the juices bubbling in the slashes made in the crust. After about 20 minute baking time begin checking to make sure your crust is not browning too quickly.  If it is, the loosely place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the pie to prevent burning/over browning until finished baking.

Cool in pan on a wire rack.  Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Until next time, be well and love well and may your late summer days be filled with the beauty and bounty of nature which is as close as stepping outside your door.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Summer Scarf and Simcha News

This is a small accessory with a big impact and I love it!  It's the Pogona shawl by Stephen West and when knit in a light weight and vibrant yarn it is a perfect summer accent piece that will keep the chill off your shoulders in all those over air-conditioned places like restaurants and movie theaters. To wit I wore it to the swanky El Encanto Hotel in Santa Barbara to take my mother out for afternoon tea!

This is a my first Stephen West design but it won't be my last because I like the geometric element to his pieces.  I'm not sure how well you can see from the pictures but this shawl has a series of triangular shapes and has a combination of stockinette and garter stitch which gives the piece a lot of visual interest.  While typically my taste in knitting runs to the rustic I occasionally like to mix it up with a more modern piece such as this is.

Speaking of rustic versus modern shawls, it may seem that knitting shawls is timeless but there are definitely styles of shawls and colors preferences that change with time.  The more modern shawls mix several colors, have some type of stripes, and are not a typical triangle shape.  And while I have some of these modern designs on the needles, and I do love the pretty colors and different shapes, my true love will always be a very rustic style shawl because the reason that I knit is the process connects me to a bygone era and a slower way of life and allows me to experience what it might have been like to walk back in history.  But I do step forward in time too, as I have in this shawl.

Particulars:  Pogona by Stephen West; US 6 needles; 1 skein Hedgehog Fibers Sock Yarn (383 yards).  My only modification was to only knit 4 rows of garter stitch edging due to limited yarn but I think that was just the right amount of garter stitch edging in any event.  N.B. This is a pretty small shawl and I would almost call it a scarf except for the shaping.  My blocked (i.e. a relaxed block - because this is a merino wool it does not hold a block well) measurement is 50" x 14."

The Misadventures of Simcha ~

Can you believe that Simcha is now four and half years old!  And really, other than the first two years of his house destruction, challenging, constant need for attention, and endless outings and excursions to provide him with proper socialization the time has truly flown by.  It was an agonizingly slow process that took roughly four years to be completely out of the woods.  But I'm happy to report that while he is still full of personality now he is also obedient and affectionate with us.  And at long last we have the dog we always wanted and hoped he would become.  

Until next time, be well and love well and may your Summer be filled with color, sunshine and creativity.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Knit Socks and Plum Coffee Cake Recipe

I'm tip toeing through the tulips.  Well not exactly but I'm feeling fanciful in my new socks.  If you have yet to knit a pair of sock I have only one question.  What are you waiting for?  You'll never know what you are missing until you've given them a try and once you do you will be hooked.

I have been knitting socks for many years and so I rarely have occasion to purchase socks but I have been tempted a time or two and I'm always disappointed in both the fit and how quickly they wear out. There is nothing to compare with a pair of custom knit socks as far as cushy comfort, pretty colors, and cool designs. As far as the durability that is highly variable depending on the yarn you choose.  Many yarns labeled as "sock yarn" are really better suited to shawls, hats, and other small accessories because the twist is insufficient or the yarn is too fine.  Simply put the caveat when choosing sock yarn is, as with many things, "buyer beware."  So choose wisely grasshopper.

The yarn that I used for these socks is Twist Sock Yarn from Hedgehog fibers and it is specifically designed for, and uniquely well suited to, knitting socks.  It has a firm twist, is made from blue faced leicester wool (a wool that is less stretchy and a lot less soft than merino wool) and it has a 20% nylon component all of which are important ingredients for socks that will last. Ironically I've lost more socks to moths than I have from actual wear.  Never forget that moths are the enemy of knitters.

Particulars:  Cable Rib Socks by Erica Alexander (blog-less); US 1 needles; 1 skein Hedgehog Fibers, Twist Sock Club; and my only modification was to do 6 fewer repeats on the leg as I prefer having my socks at the midcalve length.  I love these sock and I have a feeling they will wear forever.

N.B. Someone asked me about my shoes pictured above.  They are made by Naot and the style is Matai in black sued (Amazon link).  While they are expensive they are also the most comfortable walking shoe I've ever worn.

Plum Coffee Cake Recipe

With all the summer fruits once again in the markets I thought it was a good time to share one of my favorite coffee cake recipes.  When we lived in the Midwest near the great lakes we would regularly take off to one of the many small towns surrounding lake Michigan and spend the weekend at a bed and breakfast. And one of the best parts of staying at a bed and breakfast is the many wonderful treats they serve both for snacks and for breakfast.  This recipe for a plum coffee cake comes from The South Cliff Inn a charming bed and breakfast in St. Joseph Michigan and it's a perfect coffee cake for breakfast or brunch.  I just have to say that I've stayed in many bed and breakfasts all over the world and I can say without question that the towns surrounding lake Michigan have the absolute best bed and breakfasts and never fail to provide warm hospitality, delicious food, and romantic settings.

Plum Coffee Cake Recipe, slightly adapted from recipe from South Cliff Inn:

1 1/4 C plus 1/3 C flour, divided (the 1/3 C flour is used later for the topping)
3/4 C. granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 TBS plus 2 TBS unsalted butter, softened and divided (the 2 TBS butter is used later for the topping)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/4 C. milk
1/2 Tsp almond extract
5-10 ripe plums (I use Santa Rosa and only need 5 large plums)
4 TBS organic brown sugar
1/2 Tsp cinnamon

1 TBS butter, melted
1/2 C powdered sugar (sifted) 
3 Tsp milk (approx.)
1/2 Tsp almond extract

Preheat Oven to 350 ~ bake approx 40-60 minutes; use an 8 Inch springform pan.  If you don't have a springform pan you can do what I did.... simply line a pan with parchment paper leaving an edge to lift from the pan.  Just make sure you don't leave too much paper (above the pan edge) or it may catch on fire.

1.  Combine 1 1/4 C flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, and 6 TBS butter and combine with a pastry cutter until consistency becomes similar to corn meal;
2.  In a separate bowl combine egg, milk, and almond flavoring.  Add to dry ingredients and quickly mix until just combined;
3.  Prepared plums by pitting and slicing evenly and spread evenly over surface;
4.  Combine remaining 2 TBS butter, brown sugar, remaining 1/3 C flour, and cinnamon with pastry cutter - and sprinkle mixture over plums.
5.  Bake until cake tester comes out clean (I bake mine 45 minutes).  Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before removing from pan.  Pour glaze over cake (glaze is made by combining butter, powdered sugar, milk and almond flavoring). 

Until next time be well and love well and why not plan a trip to your local farmer's market!  Now is the perfect time to plan a trip because the markets are brimming with lushes plums, peaches and other stone fruits as well as succulent tomatoes,sweet corn on the cob and other tasty vegetables. With all the bounty during the summer season it is easy to eat healthy and delicious food with hardly any effort at all, plus or minus a coffee cake or two.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Northern Skies Mystery Shawl KAL

A mystery no more! The shawl that I am wearing was knit as part of a mystery KAL hosted by Christelle Nihoul, one of my new favorite designers.  It was an extremely well organized KAL that ran over the course of 4 weeks and the teaser clue at the start was that the design was inspired by her trip to Iceland and the dramatic cloud formations in the northern skies.

I was immediately intrigued with a cloudscape design as I spend so much time outdoors with Simcha under the canopy of clouds and skies.  I thought what a great idea it would be to take the clouds and sky with me indoors or wherever Simcha or I should happen to be.

I'm really taken with these mystery KALs.  There is of course the risk that you won't like the final design but if you are familiar with the designer it's more likely than not that you will both have fun and love the shawl you make. One of the best parts of a mystery KAL is discovering the design unfold as a group and sharing pictures and getting immediate feedback on any questions from the designer.  There is also the motivation to keep up with the clues being released and I like that because I tend to have a number of projects on the needles at the same time and that can result in UFOs simply because you loose interest over time.

Generally a mystery KAL project will be a straight forward knit but it may have some challenging elements. If you are a newer knitter this is a good opportunity to learn a new technique as the designer will provide links to helpful tutorials and the group as a whole is a wonderful resource for learning.  This particular shawl had a lot of stockinette but it did incorporate short rows to create the "clouds" and a lace border which kept the project interesting to knit and created a very artistic piece of knitting.

Particulars:  Northern Skies Mystery KAL by Christelle Nihoul (blogs as Christal Little Kitchen); 2 skeins Cephalopod Yarns (Skinny Bugga) and 1 skein Hedgehog Fibers Kidsilk Lace; US 6 and 8 needles.  This is a very easy and well written pattern that creates a stunning piece of art.  Finished (blocked) dimensions: 80" x 17."

A Favorite Cloudscape ~

This view is from my neighborhood in Topanga looking east toward Los Angeles as the sun rises.  It was taken late last summer and for some reason reminds me of Lana Del Rey's song Summertime Sadness.

Until next time be well, love well, and have fun with your summertime activities, mysterious or otherwise.