Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tapping into Your Creative Process and Farewell to Fall

I am wearing a shawl that I knit for the holidays using a combination of silk and kidsilk haze yarn.  I didn't technically use a pattern.  Instead it's a mashup of two designs, one of which I used for its shaping and the other for its twisted drop stitch technique. Before I began blogging and bedazzled by all the amazing knitting online I used to be much more creative and less dependent on using patterns. I'm afraid I've become what I overheard a LYS owner refer to as a "pattern hog." I had no clue what she meant and asked her to explain.  She told me that it's someone who sees and likes a design and immediately buys the pattern and thereby accumulates a library of patterns that they intend to knit. Someday.  And so their library grows and morphs until it contains patterns beyond a reasonable hope of ever being knit.

She further explained that knitters as a whole used to be much less dependent on patterns. And I realized that she was describing me.  It's so tempting to relax and follow someone else's pattern.  I figure why reinvent the wheel?  I like the design and someone else has already figured out the hard part.  But this limits your own creativity.  There is something very satisfying about buying yarn and imagining what it can become and then creating it.

To begin your journey of creativity you might consider doing what I've done with this shawl which is to borrow design elements from patterns that you already own to create something that's uniquely yours. You might find that you have a knack for designing.  Or at least become less dependent on patterns.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I usually don't wear anything that I've knit until I've taken the pictures and blogged the project.  But I cheated with this shawl as it was perfect to wear for an occasion we went to several weeks ago.  I'm a fan of period pieces a la Jane Austen and it was not uncommon in that era to listen to chamber music in the evening after dinner in private residences. So imagine my delight to be invited to a friend's house for dinner to be followed by a chamber music concert!  For me it just doesn't get better than this and I just had to wear my new shawl.  It truly was a memorable evening.  You can't imagine how the soul soars to hear the sweet notes of the violin and cello being played so close that you can see the music flowing through the musician and the instrument as if they were one.  It's a connection that is beautiful to witness. Someone took a video of the music, but alas it can not capture being there.  I told our host as we were leaving that I'm hoping next time they'll clear the floor for waltzing. I think technically what I was asking for was a Ball.  Just call me Lydia.

Particulars:  Mashup of Two Patterns: I used the sideways triangle (elongated) shaping for this shawl from Enfilade by Lisa Hannes and I used the twisted drop stitch technique from the Mulberry shawl from Colinette's Arboretum pattern collection (the twisted drop stitch creates the wonderful squiggles in the silk and mohair best seen in the second picture from the top); I used 2 skeins Colinette Tao Silk; 1 skein Rowan Kidsilk Haze (dark purple); and 1 skein Colinette Parisienne Kid Mohair; US 6 needles.  The original Enfilade shawl is blogged as Multi Colored Shawls and Testing Yarn for Color fastness and I previously knit a hat from the Arboretum collection blogged as It's an Art, not Science.

Incidentally the pendant that I'm wearing in these pictures is an actual maple leaf that has been dipped in copper.  I purchased it from Shy Faerie on Etsy and have loved wearing it this season.  She has silver ones for Winter too and I'm thinking about getting one of those as well!  Talk about being creative using limited resources.  These are only $8.99 US amazingly and I think would be a great stocking stuffer and/or add on gift for holiday shopping.

Farewell to Fall ~

It might not technically be the end of Fall but after Thanksgiving it seems we all rush into the Christmas season.  This weekend I'm trying to savor the last remnants of Autumn with every bite of pumpkin pie.  It's been a particularly nice Thanksgiving and I'm feeling very blessed to have Steve and Simcha to share this special time and to have such a wonderful extended family.  I'm grateful for that every day.

Until next time be well, love well and have fun decorating and preparing for the Christmas holiday season!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Honey and Butter baked Pears and a Super Soft Kidsilk Scarf ~

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life.  It's a time to reconnect with family and friends, share the bounty of our table and remember all the many blessings and wonderful things that we have.  Sometimes the beauty of this holiday can be lost with all the stress of shopping and cooking and trying to create the perfect holiday experience.  That sadly misses the point.  What really matters is spending time together and recognizing that we have many things to be grateful for and that requires shutting out the noise and distractions that keep us from being fully present for others and contemplating who we are and what matters to us.  This is a perfect time to savor the simple pleasures in life and to that end I am sharing a very easy to make dessert that celebrates seasonal fruit; is sophisticated enough to serve to company; and is the perfect ending to any meal.  It's pears baked in honey and butter and I think you will find it is a wonderful warm dessert for cold winter evenings.

I am sharing with you a reduced fat and sugar adaption of the original recipe by chef Paul Cunningham.  You can definitely increase the butter and honey to taste (do so in equal proportions up to 1/4 cup each). But I found that even using a small amount of butter and honey created a sufficient sauce to brown and baste the pears giving them a wonderful sticky texture and flavor.  Steve and I eat a health conscious diet although baking is an indulgence I usually don't skip the ingredients on.  But when I see a dessert recipe that looks easy to adapt to reduce the fat and sugar content I do. As you can see from the finished pictures these pears browned up and caramelized beautifully and with this version you won't break the calorie or cholesterol bank.

Honey and Butter Baked Pears 

Ingredients ~ 4 servings

4 Bosc Pears, peeled, halved, cored (leaving stem intact)
1 1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter - shaved and/or diced
1 1/2 Tbs. honey (for baking I typically use Turkish honey sold by Trader Joe. I find it similar in flavor to Tupelo honey)
2 to 3 fresh thyme sprigs
fresh Bay leaf (optional - I did not use any bay leaf)
maldon sea salt flakes or kosher salt
optional garnish: heavy cream, chilled creme fraiche, or vanilla ice cream


1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Line roasting pan with parchment paper or silpat.  Arrange pears cut side up in a single layer on pan.  Evenly sprinkle top of pear halves with shaved butter and season lightly with crushed salt flakes. Scatter fresh thyme and bay leaf (optional) over pears and drizzle with honey.

3.  Bake pears, gently turning every 15 minutes to coat in butter and honey until tender and caramelized, for approximately 1 hour.  Transfer to warmed serving dish, drizzle with any pan juices, and serve warm with a jug of heavy cream, creme fraiche, scoop of vanilla ice cream or, for family style, serve plain.

Adapted from Chef Paul Cunningham's recipe in Saveur magazine using Anjou pears.

Super Soft Kidsilk Haze Scarf

I am a huge fan of kidsilk haze and every winter I knit at least one item in this luscious fiber.  It's one of those magical combination that someone somewhere discovered goes really well together.  Like peanut butter and jelly, Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire; sunsets and tropical beaches, kidsilk haze is one of those perfect pairings.  It has mohair for loft and warmth and silk for vibrancy and shine that is spun into an amazingly soft and warm lace weight yarn.  It's very addicting to knit with.  Some even call it kidsilk crack.  But knitting with kidsilk haze can be tricky too so I'm going to share with you my tips for knitting with this yarn.

Tips for knitting with kidsilk haze yarn:

1.  Be aware that it's almost impossible to fix a mistake in this yarn because the fibers cling together creating a snarl almost impossible to undo unless you are incredibly patient.  It is possible though, if you slowly undo one stitch at a time.  This is a technique called "tinking" (i.e. knitting spelled backwards).

2.  The yarn strand itself is very thin and it's a little like knitting with a fine thread surrounded by a halo of fibers.  It will be easier for you to pick up this inner yarn strand if you use sharp pointed needles.  Needles that have sharp points are called "lace" needles.

3.  Again, because the inner thread is so fine it is helpful to use a needle color that contrasts with the color of the yarn you are knitting.  This will make it easier to see the thread that you are knitting.

4.  Don't give up. Once you get the hang of knitting with this fiber you will be addicted too!  In a good way.

5.  This last tip is a late addition and comes courtesy of Selma who writes the blog Knitting New England (she's a great writer and knitter and I hope you watch for her posts updates on my sidebar)! Selma's tips is to place your knitting into a plastic bag and freeze it for a couple of hours.  Apparently mohair has a fairly high water content and freezing it helps the fibers unstick.

There you have it.  Now go forth and try Kidsilk haze yarn fearlessly.

Scarf Particulars:  Kidsilk Haze Stripe Scarf (in Kaffe Fassett selected colors); free pattern download on Rowan's website; designed by Marie Wallin; 1 skein Rowan Kidsilk Haze Stripe (460 yrds); US 8 needles.  I simply knit until I ran out of yarn (these skeins are very large - double a typical kidsilk haze skein) and my finished scarf measures: 68" x 10."  Some of my past kidsilk haze projects include: The Fleur Wrap; Trieste Shawl; Willowy ScarfAnisette Stole, Birch Shawl; and the Dove Shawl.

Until next time be well and love well and during this stressful holiday season slow down and enjoy simple pleasures such as easy baked pears or knitting a simple and soothing stockinette scarf.

I leave you with the beautiful music Hallelujah, composed and sung by Leonard Cohen a wonderful soul who will be greatly missed.  R.I.P. Leonard Cohen.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Circle Game and New Fall Favorites

I am wearing a circular shawl which is usually knit and used as a blanket, as indeed this one will be. But I wanted to show that it can also be worn as a shawl and that it makes an elegant cape.  This style of knitting is very old school and as much as I love the modern designs I have a strong love of period knitting because then you truly create something that can't be bought off the rack and you won't see everyone else wearing.  And as you get older, as I am, you will find that wearing garments that express your personality are the most complimentary. 

While this may look like a complicated knit, it really isn't.  The design is by Jared Flood and it was a pleasure to knit and practically flew off the needles.  The only (and very easily remedied) tricky part is the cast on which is a circular cast on.  I used the tutorial by Techknitting for the disappearing loop cast on and it may take an attempt or two but you will find that it does work and brilliantly so. 

The title of this post "The Circle Game" is a reference to the song by Joni Mitchell from her album Ladies of the Canyon.  Many people believe that the album title is a reference to Topanga Canyon (where I live) which was and still is a hippie enclave but it is actually Laurel Canyon that she is referring.  It's a song about time and its passing and how each of us pass through a variety of seasons in our life with everything being connected by a single point. Knitting helps me to feel connected to my family past (my father pictured below made 2 spinning wheels for his mother, my grandmother, that she used to make woolen socks and garments for her family living on a farm in Minnesota) and a tradition that has been practiced for centuries with timeless beauty and utility.  One reason I blog is to be part of the continuum of this tradition by sharing my projects and hopefully providing ideas and inspiration.

Particulars:  Girasole by Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed); Twisted Fiber Art yarn: Arial 1020 yrds (extra large evolution - colorway Vintage) + Petite Skein in Cork (120 yrds); US 5 needles.  Because I began with less yarn that the pattern recommends I used one size smaller needle than the pattern recommended and I also eliminated 1 pattern repeat of Chart E (i.e. I worked 2 repeats instead of 3 repeats of Chart E).  With these modifications I almost made it with the yarn I had but came up short by about 100 stitches left on the Bind Off.  Fortunately Twisted Fiber Arts has anticipated this problem and sells mini skeins that match each color on either end of the spectrum and so I was able to complete my bind off with a matching color.  Another Twisted Fiber Arts project can be found in my post Peach Cobbler and a Boo Knits Shawl which is supposedly the same yarn but feels a lighter weight.  If you would like to see another Brooklyn Tweed design I refer you to my recent sweater post featuring the Little Waves Sweater that I noticed Yarn Harlot also chose for her winter sweater.

A special thanks to my Dad for helping me show off this shawl!  He's a good sport in every way.  I'm looking forward to next weekend when we are taking my parents to see John Cleese, an English comedian, perform at the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara!  My mom loves to laugh and being English I think that she will have a good time although I really don't know what to expect.

New Fall Favorites, of a food variety 

Apple Pie with Brown Butter Oat Streusel

So far this Fall I've made a few of my classic recipes (i.e. Pumpkin Bread with Walnut ToppingPumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze and a Nantucket Tart) but I've also discovered some new treats and the first is a streusel topped apple pie!  One bite and I knew I was in heaven.  The combination of brown sugar, apples and crunchy strudel topping is a winner in my book. I used the recipe from Bake from Scratch Magazine (November 28, 2016).  I did substitute my own pie crust recipe (shared below) and I also reduced the amount of butter and sugar in the filling and streusel but otherwise followed the recipe.  I did find that I had to bake mine a lot longer than the suggested recipe time but then I like my apples very soft in a pie.  If you love apple pie but aren't in the mood for streusel then you might try my classic apple pie recipe which Steve actually prefers.  While on the topic of pies, with Thanksgiving so near I'm drooling over the thought of our Thanksgiving day pumpkin pie that Steve has requested be made with a graham cracker crust this year.  Maybe I'll even bake a pecan pie too. So many pies and so little time!

Basic 9" Pie Crust (single)

1 1/4 Cups all purpose Flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. white sugar
1/4 Cup sweet (unsalted) butter - chilled
1/4 Cup Crisco vegetable shortening
Approx. 2-3 Tbs. ice cold water/white vinegar mixture (fill a small bowl with ice water and splash in some white vinegar to the mixture - you will be adding the water/vinegar mixture 1 Tbs. at a time until the dough forms)


1. Combine flour, salt, and sugar.
2. Cut in butter and shortening.
3. Add water/vinegar mixture 1 Tbs. at a time. Use a fork to blend/mix just until the mixture forms a dough.
4. Divide dough in half and wrap each portion in wax paper – let rest in refrigerator while you prepare filling.

Bake according to pie filling instructions.

My other new treat this Fall was discovering how easy it is to make homemade soft pretzels!  I used a recipe that also came from the same November 2016 issue of Bake from Scratch (recipe provided free on their website) and they are amazing!!!  These are the real deal and you will love, love, love them! They remind me of the soft pretzels we had as children whenever we visited Solvang, California. They are usually sold with little pots of soft cheddar cheese topping for dipping, but as I didn't have any soft cheddar I tried them with goat cheese encrusted with black pepper, which was different but nice.  That being said next time I'm buying the soft cheddar cheese to go with them. The recipe calls for dark beer and I used a Belgium Blond ale (Leffe) which was a good choice. Other than that my only substitution was to use real pretzel salt instead of kosher salt and to make my pretzels smaller (16 instead of 8).  Try these you won't be sorry!

Until next time be well and love well and enjoy all the colors and flavors of this and every season of your life!