Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Strawberry Coffee Cake Recipe and Celtic Inspired Shawl ~

Do you ever feel the need to slow the pace of your life down?  I'm feeling that way now and one way that I find helpful to regroup and refocus to a slower pace is to cultivate and enjoy the niceties of life. Such as enjoying a proper slice of cake with a cup of tea and my feet up and a good TV show on. Sadly I think that afternoon tea has largely disappeared.  But I grew up with an English mum and every afternoon of my childhood my Mother brewed a pot of tea, set out teacups and a plate of cookies and put the television on and so the tradition is firmly ingrained in me.  I enjoyed it then and I enjoy it now. There were many bits of advice my mother and father would have preferred that stuck but really what took was the importance of taking a break in your day.  It's much easier to cope with whatever life throws your way.

After taking a hiatus from watching my favorite TV shows during my teatime I'm back enjoying some of my favorite series again.  Some of the characters have become so familiar it's like visiting old friends.  Below I've shared a list of what I think are the best in British dramas and while these are largely older productions and "dated" to modern eyes the wonderful acting and stories more than compensates.  And to complete your viewing enjoyment I'm sharing a truly delicious coffee cake recipe.  The tea choice is up to you but I recommend either Yorkshire Gold (strong black) or Roobios Queen's Red Roses (caffeine free herbal).

I hope that you will find this combination as wonderful a respite from a hectic and upside down world as I do.  No allusions to current politics whatsoever.

Favorite British Drama TV Series* ~

The Darling Buds of May
The Pallisers
To Serve Them All my Days
All Creatures Great and Small
Poldark (original version)
Upstairs Downstairs
Horatio Hornblower
To the Manor Born
Summer's Lease

Favorite Mystery/Crime TV Series ~

The Bridge (subtitles)
Foyle's War
Midsomer Murder

*All links are to Amazon for convenience which is not necessarily the best price.

Without further ado ~ the accompanying cake recipe.

Strawberry Coffee Cake Recipe ~

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
1 1/2 cups quartered organic strawberries
4 TBS organic brown sugar
1/2 Tsp cinnamon

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


1.  Preheat oven to 350 ~ and butter and flour an 8" springform pan.     

2.  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;
3.  In a separate bowl combine egg, milk, and almond flavoring.  Add to dry ingredients and quickly mix until just combined;  Pour into prepared cake pan.
4.  Prepare strawberries by washing, drying and dicing.  Spread evenly over surface of cake mix (they will sink to the bottom during the baking process);
5.  Combine remaining 2 TBS butter, brown sugar, remaining 1/3 C flour, and cinnamon with pastry cutter - and sprinkle mixture over plums.
6.  Bake 45 to 60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.  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). 
7.  Serve warm or at room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Recipe adapted from a Plum Coffee Cake recipe by South Cliff Inn.

 Celtic Design Inspired Shawl ~

I love this beautiful Celtic inspired shawl.  I finished it last Spring but for various reasons it never fit into a blog post.  I actually knit more projects than I have time to blog (I do have work commitments lol) and this shawl is a gem that missed it chance to shine.  It may not be apparent from the picture but It's a good sized shawl (66" x 24") but as it's knit in a light fingerling yarn it's not too heavy and makes a perfect transitional season piece.  I love the Celtic cabling along the edging which is the main reason that I chose to knit it.  Be warned however because I found that cabling a pain to knit.  But as I look at it now it was worth all the effort.

Particulars:  Ishneich designed by Lucy Hague; US 6 needles; 2 skeins Sundara Yarn Petite Sock Yarn 490 yds per skein (colorways Travels to Japan #18 / Travels to Japan #8). N.B. I only had 14g of the light color leftover and 48g of the dark, which means I used substantially more yarn than the pattern indicates despite using the recommended needle size, i.e. based on my rough math calculation I used 431 yards of the light colored yarn instead of 370 yards as indicated in the pattern so you might want to have a little extra yarn on hand to be on the safe side.

Until next time be well and love well.  For those who observe Passover (as I do) please accept my apologies for the timing of this recipe!  You'll just have to wait a week to give this recipe a try and in the meantime simply enjoy strawberries naturally ~ 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Lunna Voe Shawl, Lace Blocking Tips, and Recap of Ysolda's 2015 Shawl Club

Lunna Voe the Final Installment of Ysolda's 2015 Shawl Club ~

Leave it to Ysolda to design something traditional and timeless and yet somehow modern too.  This is Lunna Voe the final shawl from her 2015 shawl club and I'm very sorry that this club has ended. 2015 was Ysolda's very first yarn club and her future clubs will not be the same.  Gone are the exclusive club colorways, exclusively spun yarns, and the sense of being part of a small group of adventuresome knitters willing to take a risk on the unknown.  Despite these changes I have signed up for her 2016 club as I was very happy with the beautiful yarns and patterns from 2015 and expect more of the same in the 2016.

Design Inspiration for Lunna Voe Shawl

Included with this yarn was a picture with a note from Ysolda written on the back explaining how the picture inspired the color and design of the shawl, to wit:
No one can capture the light and colors of Scotland on yarn quite like Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt.  For this colorway, on a Shetland fibre base, she was inspired by this photo taken by Jeni Reid at dusk in Shetland.  Lilith says the coastline reminds her of a hap shawl edging.  My design combines traditional elements of hap and fancier lace patterns.
Parenthetically, the photographer, Jeni Reid describes taking this picture at dusk near Voe, Shetland (hence the shawl's name "Lunna Voe") and, like Lilth, she was struck by the shoreline as resembling the edges of a Hap Shawl.  There is something magical and mysterious about the Shetland Islands and the women who knit so many beautiful shawls and sweaters to keep their families warm and provide the family with extra money.  This shawl is one that I'll particularly treasure as it gives me a connection to that history as it could easily have been knit and worn by a woman living in Shetland centuries past.  Today many of the hap Shetland shawls are knit from wool blends and not a pure Shetland wool.  That Ysolda chose to use a pure Shetland wool dyed to capture regional colors makes this a very special piece. 

Creative Lace Blocking Tips ~

Lunna Voe is a hap shawl and, as mentioned above, is a design indigenous to the Shetland Islands.  It is knit in a laceweight yarn and, as is the case with all lace, requires blocking to showcase the beautiful pattern. Blocking lace has both a technical aspect and a creative aspect and I am going to share my tips on the creative aspects of blocking lace.  If you need help with how to technically block lace I refer you to Yarn Harlot's tutorial which is how I learned to block lace along with countless others.

Once you are comfortable with the technical aspect of blocking lace it is time to explore the creative aspects of blocking lace.  It is through the creative blocking process that you finish a shawl so that it expresses your individual taste and personality.

What do I mean by the creative blocking process?  This is the process where you decide what you want your shawl to be.  Do you want a shawl that is formal and dressy or soft and feminine?  Do you want your shawl to be long and narrow, or short and wide, or more like a crescent?  Do you want the edges to be crisp or to have a natural roll for a more rustic look?  If you know in advance what type of shawl you want then the blocking process goes from technical to creative as you bring forth that character from your shawl.

For example with the Lunna Voe shawl I wanted a soft and casual wrap that I could throw on as a layering piece so I used a very soft block on the lace.  A soft block is to gently lay the fabric flat and smooth the fabric with the palm of your hands without much pulling.  This is in contrast to a firm block where you firmly pin out (stretching open) the lace to create a whisper thin fabric that shows off a distinct lace pattern.  To compare the two styles of blocking using this shawl as an example I refer you to the picture that came with the pattern (see firm block for the Lunna Voe). You can see that these two different styles of blocking created two very personalities in the shawl.  Mine is a very rustic and casual shawl and Ysolda's is a formal and dressy shawl.  The only difference is that I used a soft block on the lace whereas Ysolda used a firm block to create a crisp and sharp design and a beautifully elegant finished piece. It's just a matter of personal taste and how you want to wear your shawl.

The creative blocking process is one of my favorite parts of knitting.  I like to sit down with a large pile of pins and slowly let the shawl's personality emerge.  It's not at all unusual for me to block a shawl or be half way through blocking and decide to remove all the pins and start over because some design element of the shawl was not emerging as I wished.  I don't rush this process because like most finishing work it is what makes the difference between having something artistically handmade versus having something that looks homemade.  

I hope you will use the creative blocking process to bring forth the inner personality of your shawls and increase your satisfaction with your handknits.

Pattern Details ~

Lunna Voe designed by Ysolda Teague (Shawl No. 6 from 2015 Shawl Club); 1 skein Old Maiden Aunt Shetland wool 2 ply laceweight (800 yrds); Shoormal colorway (exclusive to club); US 5 needles; no modifications whatsoever.  This is the 6th and final shawl from Ysolda's 2015 Shawl Club.  If you wish to see a full sized hap shawl I knit the Cora Shawl designed by Sharon Miller which takes a whopping 2,849 yds of lace weight yarn.

Just for fun a picture of Simcha wearing Lunna Voe.  There's something about this picture that reminds me of the dapper fellows at Cambridge University in the 1800s who would spend their free time in rowing clubs and writing poetry.  Simcha would happily adapt to that lifestyle now.  When he was young I think he would have preferred to have been a policeman but somewhere along the way he's developed an appreciation for leisurely living.

Recap of Ysolda's 2015 Shawl Club

As Lunna Voe is the final installment of the 2015 shawl club I thought it would be fun to create a collage of projects I've made from the club yarns.  This was a unique and special club with exclusive yarns and future clubs will not be the same which is all the more reason to have a memento!

From top left to right the projects and link to related blog post are as follows: Caer Idris; Lunna Voe (this post); Cokern Tor; Malton Oolite; Stac Shoaigh; and Osebury Rock.

Patterns for each of these projects will be released one year from the club release and already I am seeing many beautiful and colorful versions of Stac Shoaigh on Ravelry which was the first club shipment in 2015.

If you can't wait or missed out on her club then take heart because Ysolda has begun the launch of own line of yarns and patterns (no club membership required) with Yarn Blend No. 1.  I have no doubt this venture will be very successful with her winning talent of combining yarns and patterns.

Until next time be well and love well and whatever you do or wherever you go follow your own path as being true to yourself is what makes the journey uniquely yours.