Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Black Welsh Sheep, Apple Pie & Salad Dressing

Two weeks ago our family made our annual apple picking trip. I always forget how quickly this goes - within 20 minutes of being among the trees we had picked over 100 lbs. of apples. Yikes. I've been busy making apple sauce, apple pie filling, apple crisps and apple bread. Next year I will remember that 60 lbs. (or two and a half bags) will be just fine for our family.

Luckily the orchard we go to has some other fun things to do, aside from the actual picking. There's a pond to visit, various paths to explore, and grape, raspberry and blackberry vines. They also have sheep! A beautiful herd of Black Welsh Mountain Sheep to be exact.

I purchased this skein directly from the owner of the orchard, who also raises the sheep. It was locally spun at the Blackberry Ridge Woolen Mill. The girls and I had been petting the sheep that this yarn came from just 10 minutes before - they thought this was pretty cool. It was also affirming to meet the woman that produced this yarn. She only sells her yarn at the orchard - if you are interested you can get in touch with her at Door Creek Orchard. She has a variety of undyed colors and yarn weights.

Yes, that's right - this yarn is undyed. This perfectly black color is straight from nature. As a knitter that is typically drawn to color and dyed yarns, using this black will be a first for me. I'm excited however. "Natural is the new black," I was saying all weekend. In this case, that is completely accurate.

I have slowly been working through our apples. This year I tried apple pie filling. I can't remember which blog I got this link from, but it was a great starter recipe. It gives complete directions, with photos. I also like the recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I found my Clear Jel here.

Lastly, I've been obsessed of late with making salad dressing. Not only does it taste WAY better and fresher than store-bought, it gives my girls something to do; something to head off the 5-minutes-until-dinner-and-I-don't-know-what-to-do-while-I-wait whining session. I fill up a jar with the ingredients and give it to them to shake-shake-shake. I found a ton of great recipes in Sara Foster's Casual Cooking and Lorna Sass's Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. Do you all make your own dressing? What are your favorites?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fall is our busy time

When I flipped the calendar from September to October I took a big sigh of relief. We had made it through our busy month with full weekends and evening events. There was nothing on our calendar for October, save Halloween. It was a clean slate. I imagined all the knitting I could get done, and all the progress I could make on my dissertation.

I mentioned this to DH after a few glasses of wine, not realizing that his head was FULL of things we s/could be doing as a family to enjoy the fall. Pumpkin picking, apple picking, library story time (there is a special one for Dads, complete with donuts and coffee), hayrides, a train ride, the Fall Art Tour, sauce making, pie baking, raking, gardening/yard work, stacking firewood, fires in the fireplace, costume making, and the list goes on I tell you! I had a few of those same things knocking around in my head too, but all of them? Yes, he insisted.

So, now that it is mid-October I've realized - and processed - the fact that fall is our busy time; a time of togetherness. I've been managing some work on the dissertation, but the knitting is neglected at the moment.

I did start and finish Calorimetry. It's a fantastically quick knit and a very cute fall wardrobe item; great for apple picking. And it's perfect for folks with long hair: no worries about static building up, or a hat smashing all the body out of your long locks. I picked out a cute pearl button, but have realized that it's too small. I'm now on the lookout for a bigger button to keep it snug around my head.

Socktoberfest '09 was all the motivation I needed to use another ball of delicious Noro yarn to knit up some socks. These striped beauties won't be finished for quite some time, but they are fun to knit. I'm also learning how to make travelling jogless stripes - very cool. Usually when you make stripes, while working in the round, it's very obvious where you changed colors. One stitch is color A and the next is color B. It looks sort of like a stair-step at the point you change colors. But this new-to-me technique eliminates that and with a few twists of yarn and the help of a stitch marker the steps disappear. You can read more about the technique here.

The '09 Mystery Sock KAL is coming along nicely too. Admittedly, I'm only knitting one sock, but I'm managing to stay caught up with the pattern. It's gorgeous so far. I wish I had selected a softer sock yarn, but instead these will be hearty winter socks. Think very thick, bright red wool. No pics yet, and there won't be until after the sock is finished. I don't want to spoil it for anyone else that's knitting along too.

And least my daughter thinks that I've forgotten about her purple sweater I haven't. It's still on the needles and I'm making some progress with it. I've promised her it will be done no later than Thanksgiving. Today we are headed out for a fall train ride. It's an hour in the car, one way. Maybe I'll get some knitting done...I can always hope, right?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sewing, Crafting and Beading

My twin nieces turn four next week so I quickly whipped up these colored pencil rolls during this past week. It took about 1.5 nap times: one day I cut the pieces and the next day I did the assembly and sewing. They aren't as detailed at the ones I made for my girls a year ago, but they sure are cute. Again, I loosely followed the pattern directions in Last Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts. I decided on a white linen exterior (two different fabrics) with a dark solid for the interior and I think it works. To my eyes that dark background really makes the colored pencils stand out.

At first I thought that making a solid interior would save time on the project. And it did. But it created an additional challenge too - I had no way of making sure that the pockets I sewed for the pencils were straight, or that there would be 12 of them. Using the patchwork interior, which is nicely sized to the pockets, is very helpful indeed. I know I could have used chalk, making pens, or any other assorted notions that sewing folks use to mark lines on their work, but I was working under nap time deadline and just went for it. Ultimately I wound up with 11 pockets for each roll. So what I lack in spacial estimation I make up for in consistency.

At the end of the week I couldn't shake the crafting bug. I grabbed the crayon box from the kids art shelf and began sorting the bits into paper liners for the mini-muffin tin. I popped them into a 200 degree oven for 18 minutes (although I can't be sure, I did it by sight). They melted down into a new set of crayons. Since this was a nap time project, I was pleasantly surprised when the crayons had hardened and cooled by the time the girls woke up. They were amazed that "Mama made crayons!!" while they were sleeping. I think that I will keep this little secret to myself and let my all powerful, mystical, omnipotent aura float around in their little heads for awhile (ha, ha). On another funny note, when DH came home he asked me how many peanut butter cups I had to eat to get the project off the ground.

During this same uber-productive nap time I also whipped up five stitch markers for my knitting. The two rings on the far left are what I have been using since I started knitting. They are flexible and accommodating, but not very aesthetically pleasing or inspiring. The only plus side is that I can easily find the bright green ones when they slip below the couch cushions at night. I picked up the first beaded one on the left at my LYS about two years ago. I used it the other week on the second wallaby that I'm knitting and I thought that the brightly colored rings just didn't do it justice.

Earlier in the week I went to the craft store, with the three kids in tow, to find supplies for a future knitting/beading project and quickly realized how naive I am about beading. There is a lot to take in when browsing the beading department (and when your kids are literally going in three different directions, and all screaming from true fear at the Halloween decorations looming around every corner). But I persevered and found everything I needed, including the long wires for this project. Luckily I had a stash of beads from an old necklace that broke a few years ago, and they work nicely as a set here. I raided DH's workshop for a needle nose pliers and off I went. I learned a few things, like next time I need to get longer wires, and I should probably make the eyelet openings larger (these only fit up to a size 7 needle) but overall I'm really happy with how they turned out. They are much prettier than those rings, indeed.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Socktoberfest '09

I'm pretty late to the game with regards to Socktoberfest. This month-long celebration of sock knitting has been going on since 2005 and this is my first year participating. Since I knit so many socks in general I thought I would join in this year.

First up is the pair of socks that I completed on October 2nd. I'm not sure that it's fair to include these as I actually starting knitting them in the middle of the summer, but they were completed this month nonetheless.

I used a self-striping cotton/nylon blend yarn and am really happy with the result. Actually, I can't quite believe that the socks match! I must have cast on for each sock at just the right place in the skein as each sock starts with the same striping pattern, and it continues right through the toes. The only difference seems to be the distribution of black 'spots' on each of the color bands. DH was quite impressed to say the least. So far the socks are wearing well, but a bit on the big side. And since they are cotton, they are slouching a bit towards my ankle.

Secondly, I've joined the Mystery Sock KAL '09. I'm excited to see these grow on my needles, especially since I have no idea what is coming next. We only get one clue at a time. In many ways it's refreshing not having the whole pattern in front of me, and only given to me in pieces. Regardless, I'm only going to knit one sock at a time so it may actually be next year before this pair is finished (smile).

Lastly, I noticed on the Socktoberfest '09 discussion board that there's a group of folks knitting up baby socks/stockings for an advent calendar. I'm re-posting the links to my project from last year for anyone that's interested in checking out this project. I'm warning you that even though I would consider this a relatively quick project it did take me over a year to complete.

I never claimed to be a fast knitter. Just a compulsive one.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Second Birthday

My youngest turned two years old this past weekend. Hard to believe that my little baby isn't so little anymore, and she most certainly isn't a baby anymore. She's a toddler thru and thru; playing an endless game of keep-up with her older sisters. On her birthday we kept asking her, "how old are you today?" and she'd reply with a firm, "FOUR years old." I wish I could explain to her that there's no rush, no race to grow up. Stay young forever was my wish when she blew out her candles.

This was another low-key birthday in our household with only my parents and one uncle in attendance at our small party. The afternoon was full of homemade, however. Homemade cupcakes, birthday crowns and presents. My mom and my other daughters made the cupcakes and my mom also sewed her a cute little corduroy jumper with a star-and-moon print. My SIL made her a wonderful handmade doll, and sent it up from Tennessee.

I did manage to squeeze a quick crown-making session on the morning of her birthday. I had the forethought to cut extra pieces when I was making these, but never assembled it. It didn't take anytime at all and all three girls looked great wearing their crowns all day.

As for presents, we gave her this book, and this book. And earlier in the week I shoved all else off my plate in honor of making her a faux butterfly specimen case. I saw one just like it here (there are lots more links for other inspiration there too) and knew my daughter (we?) needed one too. It's perfect in her room and she literally jumped out of her seat when she saw it. "Budfry, budfry, budfry" she chanted as we all gazed on in wonder at this little ones uncontrollable enthusiasm.

The project took no time at all really. The most labor-intensive part was marking the foam mat so I could place the butterflies in neat rows and columns. I did this with a template made from a paper grocery bag, cut to the size of the mat. Then I drew grid lines on the bag and poked holes through it, leaving a mark on the mat at each intersection of the grid lines. That let me center the foam dots that are below each butterfly.

The butterflies are made with a butterfly punch (ala Martha) and the display case I found on clearance a couple months ago. The covers of my back issues of Cooking Light and Knit Simple provided the colorful paper for the butterflies themselves. If you look closely you'll see knit fabric, polka dots and even a red onion on the wings of the butterflies.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

FO: Simple Yet Effective Shawl (SYES)

This shawl really lets that Noro yarn sing. I burned, very quickly I might add, through one skein to make this shawl - and apparently just in time as the temps here in Wisconsin are starting to dip into the 40's during the wee morning hours. The pattern called for regular color changes, to induce a predictable striping pattern I presume, but I went with my own interpretation and made the color changes a bit more random. I love the dramatic look of the shawl and the way the colors flow with each other; yet the colors are so different from one to the next. The last photo is the most true to color.

I was initially worried that the shawl, which I've mostly been wearing as a scarf, would be scratchy as it is 100% wool. While knitting it I did come across the random bit of straw too. But after a good soak and blocking it's really softened up. I love that about wool.

You might wonder about my blocking mat here in the's actually one of those kids foam floor mats that you can piece together in any number of sizes and shapes. We initially picked it up at Target, to cover part of the chilly tile floor in our sun room, but quickly realized that the kids preferred to chew on it, rather than play on top of it. So I put it away in a closet. About a month ago I noticed this new product in one of my favorite knitting catalogs and remembered that I had something similar stashed away. I'm so glad that I'm getting some use out of it, and there's no need to worry about ingesting it this time around.

The shawl was a breeze to knit - perfect for what I like to call "dk" or distracted knitting - which I'm often doing with the kids around and under my feet. This shawl is a lovely way to kick off the fall season here.