Making Time

I think it would be something of an understatement for me to say that I’ve found regular blogging to be a challenge since before the new year. The truth is, this is all my own fault. I really, genuinely don’t enjoy being a “busy” person but, despite my better instincts, I have a habit of signing myself up for things I think I “should” be doing instead of doing the things I want to do.

Part of this is very much the old baggage of grad school. I haven’t yet given up on the possibility of finding a job in academia even though I know that it’s becoming nothing more than a pipe dream. This isn’t me being hard on myself–I know I’m a clever and capable academic who has done some compelling and orignal research, and I know that there is some genuine interest in seeing my work be published. In fact, if all goes to plan, I will have two articles published by the end this year, and one of these is an invited publication, a real boost to the ego. But, can I be frank? The more time I spend outside of academia, the less I feel I want to be there. The job I thought I might get after I finished my PhD no longer exists, if the Chronicle of Higher Education and others are to be believed. I have no interest in doing contingent work. My student debt will not allow me to work a low wage job with no benefits and protections, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair for me to expect my partner, lovely and understanding as he is, to shoulder the financial burden of supporting me while I jump from short term contract to short term contract in the increasingly vain hope of securing a tenure track position in any university. This is an approach to the academic world that will work for some, but I know it won’t work for me.

So, what does this mean, my small cabal of readers? Well, it means that I’m starting to cut back on the “shoulds” and beginning to focus more on the “wants,” which, increasingly, are starting to feel more like needs. Last week, I quit my job at the spin studio. I truly enjoyed working there for as long as I did, but I had begun to feel a mounting resentment towards the place related to how much of my time this job demanded of me for the small financial return it offered. Because the class was on Sunday mornings, I was never able to plan an evening out on Saturdays. At about 3 PM the day before, like clockwork, I would begin fretting about what kind of class I was going to teach, constantly mindful of the fact that the class needed to be challenging and different from the week before. Then, I would wake up early on Sunday to make sure my playlist was in order and that the technology was working (ipod failures became a regular occurrence, always keeping me on my toes). Then, there was travel to and from the gym, which would eat up another two hours of my day on top of the time it took to get set up and teach the class. By the time I got home, half my Sunday was gone, and it wasn’t long before I felt like my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. When Keith asked me last week if I would return the $35 I was paid to teach the class in exchange for all of those hours, I knew that it was time to leave. I don’t need the money anymore, but I do feel more and more like free time is something I need.

This is just the beginning. After I finish my other voluntary academic obligations this year, I have decided that I will start saying no. I will only do what I want to do with my free time from now on. I hope this will leave me with more time for my friends and for my hobbies. I want to knit more, bake more and, now, sew more. Yes, I’ve done a small amount of sewing recently. Toiles only until I figure out how to properly adjust a garment, and the only way I’m going to figure out how to do it is by making time for it. I also hope that, by freeing up more space in my brain for myself, I can start blogging more regularly. Because, despite it all, I continue to love writing. Without making any promises or putting too much pressure on myself, I hope to be in this space more frequently in the future.

And, because this is a blog about making stuff, I’ll leave you with a poorly lit picture (maybe I will spend some time developing some photography skills this year) of gift I finished yesterday for my friends Chris and Amy. The sweater is N E O N by Lili Comme Tout, and the hat is Purl Soho’s Garter Ear Flap Hat, both knit with the last of some Knit Picks Swish DK that has been taking up space in my stash for over a year now. I think they make a fetching set, and I hope they keep C+A’s little guy warm.

Neon:Garter ear flap hat

Making Do

Image

The last two weeks have been filled with challenges. An already busy time at work has been made more complicated by falling sick with whatever illness has been going around the office. Then, as I was starting to feel like I was on the mend, Keith came home with his own office flu, which, because of our living arrangement, he had no choice but to share with me. It’s been a short (thanks to ColdFX) but intense bout of flu: it began on Friday afternoon with that scratchy throat sensation, mild enough that you can almost convince yourself that you’re really just thirsty and not actually getting sick again, and hit its peak with an intense fever all throughout Saturday that finally broke in the early morning hours of Sunday. Sleeplessness has peppered the last five days. Though I’m more or less over the worst of the flu, my cough still lingers, loud, hacking and wet, and the primary cause of my sleeplessness for the last 48 hours.

Worse than the first flu and the other flu, though, is the fact that my oven had been out of commission throughout this period. This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal on balance, but without an oven, my favorite meal of the day–breakfast–is nigh on impossible. No toast! No bread of any kind! Well, that’s not entirely true, and yes, I know I’m being dramatic. Because I can already hear some of you shaking your heads and saying, “why didn’t you just go buy some bread?”, well, I confess that I did. A reputedly good loaf of bread from a popular artisan chain (the incongruence of those two words together…). And, without naming names, let me just state for the record that the bread was not good. It was a perfectly serviceable loaf and I’m sure many would consider it tasty, but I’ve been spoiled by my own delicious sourdough. This disappointing purchased loaf made terrible toast. It was dry and brittle, like sawdust. No flavour to speak of. I’ll get over it, of course. My oven was fixed just yesterday and it seems to be working much better than it every has before. But it’ll be a few days more before I’ll be able to make myself any toast-worthy bread, and so I’ll need to keep on with my contingency breakfast for a few days longer. Thankfully, this contingency plan isn’t really such bad thing.

You see, before I loved toast, I loved oatmeal. I grew up eating it most winter days and, even though I didn’t really appreciate it much as a youngster, oatmeal became a place for me to get creative with food before I really cared about food as much as I do now. My early experiments with oatmeal were mostly limited to toppings and flavourings: strawberries and walnuts. Bananas and pecans. Raisins, peanut butter and grated orange peel. The goal, of course, was a tasty and satisfying breakfast, and these combinations certainly fit the bill. What I neglected to focus on with these frills, however, was the oatmeal itself. As I’ve discovered more recently, oatmeal, when treated right, can be a thing of beauty.

The oatmeal I’m talking about is April Bloomfield‘s recipe, which I came to discover via Luisa Weiss‘s blog, and it is, in a word, delicious. This recipe stands apart from other primarily because of three key components: first, the recipe uses a ratio of three parts liquid to one part oatmeal. As a lifelong two-parts-liquid-one-part-oatmeal maker, this new ratio was nothing short of a revelation. Second, this recipe calls for a combination of rolled and steel cut oats, and the result of this mix of oats and a higher ratio of liquid is nothing short of spectacular: the rolled oats soften and melt, seeming to disappear in the milky cooking liquidly, while the steel cut oats retain their texture and lend a satisfying toothsome quality to the dish. Finally, the salt. Salt in oatmeal! Salted oatmeal? Anyway, whatever. The point is: don’t skip the salt.

I love this oatmeal, and I love it plain. That’s not to say that I’m above dressing it up–it’s really tasty with a drizzle of maple syrup or topped with a spoonful of good jam or apple butter. But with a small pat of butter and a few minutes to really savour it, let’s just say that I don’t think I’ll have much of a problem going without toast for a few days more.

Porridge

From A Girl and Her Pig via The Wednesday Chef

Serves 1 (recipe is easily multiplied)

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup water

1/4 cup rolled oats (not instant)

1/4 cup steel cut oats

1/2 – 3/4 tsp salt, to taste

Toppings, to taste

1. Heat the milk, water and salt over high heat to a simmer, making sure to keep an eye on the pot so that it doesn’t boil over (this can happen very quickly). When the liquid is simmering, add both types of oats and reduce the heat to medium, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain the simmer and stirring occasionally. Cooking time will be between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on your oatmeal and your cooktop.

2. When the steel cut oats have just cooked and the liquid has become thick from the melted rolled oats, remove from heat and taste for seasoning. Serve in a bowl and top it the way you like.

Peak Knitting Experience

Image

A little while back, Karen, of Fringe Association, wrote about her peak knitting experience. At the time, I didn’t really feel that I had reached any sort of peak with my own knitting. I’ve definitely had a prolific knitting year and I’ve learned how to do a lot of new things, but the honest truth is that very little of it felt like a peak to me. Now that I’ve finally finished my Burrard, though, I can safely say that I’ve achieved my own knitting apex, and just in time for the second coming of the polar vortex!

ImageNeedless to say, I am very, very pleased with how this turned out. Those cables are just gorgeous and the shaping is perfect. Part of the reason it fits so well is because I knit the back piece as a size 37.75 and the front pieces as size 40 to accommodate my large bust. Never have I owned a garment that fits my body as well as this cardigan does.

ImageI learned so much from the making of this sweater: how to read cable charts, how to make different kinds of buttonholes, how to shape a garment and how to construct a garment in pieces. In fact, the construction was one of my favorite parts. Lots of knitters complain about seaming, but I found the process very logical and really enjoyable. Yes, it’s more work than knitting in the round, but I liked learning how to put a garment together from its component parts. Call me crazy, but seaming was definitely not the chore I thought it would be.

ImageThough I’m really happy with how this turned out, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. I discovered too late that the yarn I used (Lion Brand Pure Wool) was probably one of the worst choices for a seamed sweater because of the way it shredded when I started the actual seaming. I had to make an emergency trip to the yarn store for some stronger plied yarn and ended up finishing the seams with some Cascade 220 Sport in a creamy off-white. It wasn’t a perfect colour match, but it certainly did the trick.

ImageNow, let’s talk buttons. I don’t know about you, but I think these buttons really make the sweater. Because I was going for the traditional grandpa style, I knew that I wanted some classic buttons to round out the look. At first I thought I would go with some brown leather buttons, but in the end I decided that a classic tortoiseshell was what I needed. I think I made the right choice. 

Overall, this sweater is a winner: stylish, comfortable and warm, my Burrard is definitely my peak knitting experience and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. 

Image

Past and Present

Image

Hello, and happy new year! I’ve been reading a lot of 2013 retrospective posts in the past week, which I had initially decided I wouldn’t participate in. I haven’t written that many blog posts, after all, and it’s been far too long since I last blogged. Surely, I thought, my readers deserve some content. A recipe, maybe, or an honest-to-goodness finished project. And then I realized that I have lots of finished projects to show you! You see, I knit a metric buttload of Christmas gifts this year (actual count: 17), and now that Christmas is over and most of the gifts have been delivered to their intended recipients, there’s no need for me to hide what I’ve been doing anymore. I also realized that I completed 56 projects in 2013. 56!!! Many of these were smaller projects, like hats and mittens, but I also managed to complete 9 adult sized sweaters with varying degrees of success. It’s been a productive first year as a knitter, to say the least, and I’m now of the opinion that this deserves some kind of second look. Not every project I worked on this year is worthy of note, but there are a few that I’m especially proud of. So, without further ado, here are some of the highlights of my year in knitting, 2013 edition.

Image

First up are the Cadence Socks I knit for my friend Margaret. I began these socks shortly after I started my job in July and I worked on them nearly every lunch hour until they were finished, about two months in total. I love the complex cable-like lace pattern, and the yarn (Sweet Georgia Tough Love Sock) was a pleasure to work with. I’m not sure I will make this pattern again–it’s maybe a bit too complex for a repeat–but if I did, I would probably use a solid coloured yarn instead of a variegated one. The pattern gets kind of swallowed up by the colours until you get really close to it.

Image

When I first decided to knit Christmas gifts for my family, I initially decided to make mittens. I quickly changed my mind, though, when I realized that I’d have to knit two for each person (17 gifts, people!) and, eventually, I settled on hats. Above is Stephen West’s Botanic Hat, made for my brother Clifford. I don’t know why, but I was so intimidated by this pattern until I actually sat down to make it, at which point I discovered how easy it is. Unfortunately, Clifford finds it a bit too itchy, but still! That’s one nice lookin’ hat, if I may say so.

Image
Image
Photo Credit: Ewe Knit, Toronto, ON
The Meier Cardigan was definitely one of my proudest moments of 2013. I knit this as a sample for Ewe Knit, my favorite yarn shop in Toronto, and it was a project that really helped me to grow as a knitter. This cardigan is knit flat from the bottom up and features my very first set-in sleeves. I liked making this cardigan so much that I made one for myself in a charcoal grey colour, though I have yet to take any pictures of it to show you. I also pushed myself to knit my own in 7 days, which includes all the weaving and sewing on the buttons. I’m glad to have been able to push myself to complete a whole garment in 7 days, but I definitely won’t be doing that again if I can help it.

Image2013 saw the birth of my niece, Khloe, and my nephew, Peter, for whom I knit these ruffle rib baby socks. As if being painfully cute and fun to knit wasn’t enough, I also received complimentary feedback from the designer, the incomparable Ann Budd. Praise from Caesar!

Image

The Hallgrim Hat was yet another challenge that helped me grow as a knitter, mainly because I found the original pattern to be completely the wrong size. When I first cast on, the ribbing was so large that it fit around my waist and it was immediately apparent that this would never fit anyone’s head. Undaunted, I modified the shit out of this by knitting fewer pattern repeats, using smaller needles and a heavier yarn. The result: a bit snug initially, but an okay size with blocking. I just love the cabling in this hat… it feels so Scandinavian to me. More importantly, though, I learned how to be patient and to figure out knitting math to modify a pattern in such a way as to preserve the integrity of the original design. I also learned how to do a tubular cast on for this hat, which I am totally sold on despite the extra work it takes. It’s one of those small details you might not notice if you weren’t looking for it, but the edging is far cleaner and neater than it would have been with a long tail cast on. I gave this hat to my Mom for Christmas, and she loved it.

And, finally….

Image

I FINISHED THE HUMBOLDT RAGLAN!!!!

So, that’s my Best of 2013. As for 2014, the headline picture shows a bit of what I’ve got in store for myself. Basically, I’m in the middle of a selfish knitting bender and I don’t plan to stop until I start to feel *really* selfish (which might be never? haha!). I have yet to finish my Burrard Cardigan (set aside so that I could finish my gift knitting before Christmas day), though I will complete it before too long. I’ve also begun knitting the Seven Sisters pullover in a green yarn that can only be described as vibrant. I love how the yarn really highlights the asymmetry of the pattern. Unfortunately, I’ll be ripping back much of what I’ve completed because I’ve found some mistakes that I don’t think I can live with. This, to me, is another sure sign that I’ve grown as a knitter: the willingness to take time and undo mistakes rather than plowing ahead without regard for the final product. It’s the whole journey-and-destination thing. Yep, I’m a grown up or something. I’ve also been obsessing over socks lately and, thus, have started two new pairs for myself: the woodpile socks in a fiery red and some variegated jaywalkers for those nights when I’m exhausted but antsy and in need of something simple to knit. That Knitting Sarah is currently leading a Socks with Sarah Knit-a-Long that I’ve decided to participate in is a very happy coincidence indeed. Finally, I’m also in need of a new hat–my Milanese Lace Topper, though lovely, isn’t exactly warm enough for the cold snap we’re currently experiencing here in Toronto–and I think I’m going to make another Gentian with that beautiful deep blue Madeline Tosh DK in the picture.

So, happy new year and all that jazz! What new year projects will you be treating yourself to in 2014?

National Knit a Sweater Month

Image

Over the last little while, I’ve come to realize that I’m the sort of person who has a hard time saying “no” to certain things. Don’t get me wrong, I know how to stand up for myself and I’ve never been what you might call a pushover. But when the opportunity to do something I’m keenly interested in presents itself, look no further: I am your woman. You want a loaf of bread? No problem! Having a baby? Let me make you some booties! You’ve written an interesting paper on a topic I care about and want an outside eye to proofread it for you? Yes, please! This tendency of mine to (almost) always take on extra tasks that are of interest to me has never really caused me problems. I welcomed the opportunity for distractions like these when I was in school and had more schedule flexibility, not out of laziness or a disinterest in my own work but more so because they energized me by making room in my brain for things other than my research. Now that I’m in the not-so-unique position of having a day job, taking on all these other tasks, no matter how enjoyable, has left me with little time for myself. This week has been especially bad: between working on a soon-to-be-revealed academic writing project, gift making, receiving conference submissions, substitute teaching spin classes and my very first after hours work event, I’ve not had a single evening to myself this week. It would be reasonable of you to assume after reading this list that I might be done taking on extra obligations until, say, after I’ve wrapped up everything on this list, but you would be wrong. Because I’m clearly a sucker for punishment, I have signed up for the National Knit a Sweater Month challenge.

At this point, I’d expect you to be thinking either 1) yes, you are a sucker, or 2) why!?, or perhaps 3) what the heck is National Knit a Sweater Month? Well, I’m glad you asked! NaKniSweMo, as it is abbreviated, is a relative of the National Novel Writing Month (or, NaNoWriMo) challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. For knitters, our challenge is to knit a 50,000 stitch sweater of any kind in the 30 days of November. I’ve never been one to obsessively count stitches, but I’m told that most adult sized sweaters easily meet the 50,000 stitch criterion, so it’s simply a matter of picking an awesome pattern and getting started. For my very first NaKniSweMo, I’ve chosen Glenna C‘s Burrard.

Image

Burrard is exactly the sort of garment I’ve been craving since the air started to turn cold. A cozy and stylish Aran cardigan meant to be worn with a few inches of positive ease, it’s the perfect sweater to wear over layers on those chilly days when the cold feels like it’s penetrating your bones. The yarn I’m using Lion Brand’s 100% Pure Wool from the LB collection, which I picked up on my trip to New York last month. An undyed, fluffy single ply worsted weight yarn, the 100% Pure Wool is a pleasure to work with.  As for the making of the garment, this cardigan is a perfect challenge for me at this point in my knitting life. The cables are intricate and stimulating to knit, and Glenna’s pattern is beautifully written and easy to follow with the help of a couple of row counters. Though I do have limited experience with seaming, this is also my very first sweater knit entirely in pieces and sewn together at the end. Knitters more experienced than I say that seamed sweaters like this one tend to fit and hold their shape better after years of wear than do seamlessly knit sweaters, which is very good news. I would hate to only have a short period of time with something that requires so much skill and attention.

As for why I chose to knit such a challenging sweater at a time when I’m stretched pretty thinly time wise, this coming Monday marks the start of my second year as a knitter. With this anniversary in mind, I decided it was time to step up and challenge myself with something I’ve never done before. It remains to be seen whether I’ll be able to get it all done before the end of November while juggling all of my other obligations, but I’ll do my best. One way or another, this sweater will be mine.

Fellow knitters: Are you participating in NaKniSweMo this year? What are you making and how is it going?

Hot Soup for Cold Days

Image

Hello.

I’m back.

How are you?

Oh, I’m well. I’ve been very busy. A lot of people seem to enjoy being busy, wearing their in-demand-ness on their sleeves like some kind of badge of honour. Me, I don’t really enjoy being busy all that much. I tend to feel overwhelmed when the competing demands of living a normal life, with a job and friends and family and hobbies and a blog they’d like to maintain, for instance, all come to a head. Since I last wrote here, I’ve had a vacation to New York with my sister (more on that later, I hope), started helping to organize a conference that I’m very excited about, knit about a million (actual count: 5) of the billion (actual count: 14) Christmas gifts I plan to make for friends and family, none of which I can show anyone until after Christmas, and have spent too many, but also not enough, hours transforming my home from a crowded curiosity shop to a living space I’m proud to call my home. None of this has been bad, per se, but now that things are starting to quiet down a bit, I feel the itch to get caught up on my blogging. You may not have missed me, dear readers, but I’ve definitely missed you.

Unfortunately, what’s been lost in all this busy-ness is time in the kitchen. I really, really miss cooking and I’m anxious to get back to it in a more serious way. So, to get back in the swing of things, I’m going to share a recipe for an amazing black bean soup that I first made in the summer. It was too hot back then to even think about sharing a soup recipe with you (I’m crazy, but not that crazy), but this soup is blog worthy alright.  I’ve thought about it often since that first time I made it and I’ve been waiting for the right time to share it with you. That time, I suppose, is now.

Thanks to those of you who have been checking in. I’ll be back here again soon… I promise!

Sopa de Frijol (Black Bean Soup)

Adapted from Saveur

Serves 8

½ cup canola oil

8 oz. dried black beans, soaked overnight

½ tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. ground cumin

4 cloves garlic, peeled

2 medium white onions, each cut in half

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 plum tomatoes, cored

4 cups chicken stock

¼ cup crema or sour cream, plus extra for garnish

1 lime, cut into wedges

Fried tortilla strips to garnish (I omitted these)

1. Heat ¼ cup oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add beans, oregano, cumin, 3 cloves garlic, 2 onion halves and 5 cups water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about 2 hours. Remove from heat and purée with a hand blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and aside.

2. Arrange an oven rack close to broiler and heat broiler to high. Place remaining garlic, 1 onion half and the tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook under the broiler until blackened all over, about 8 minutes for garlic and tomatoes and about 16 minutes for onion. Transfer to a food processor and purée until smooth.

3. Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Finely chop the remaining onion half, add to the pot and cook until soft but not brown.  Add the tomato purée and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add the beans and stock and bring to a boil. Then, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes. Purée the soup until very smooth, then stir in crema and season with salt and pepper. To serve, divide soup among serving bowls and top with a dollop of crema and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Two at a Time

Image

So, remember when I complained about how much I hate knitting two items on the same needles at once? Remember my frustration over yarn tangles and boredom?  My steadfast refusal to never ever knit two things at a time again? Okay, maybe I kept that last part to myself, which is probably a good thing because I’m about to flip flop. That’s right, people: I’m officially endorsing the two-items-at-a-time knitting strategy. Not for every item, of course… I still maintain that trying to do those two sleeves at the same time was a bad idea, not least because it killed my desire to ever finish that sweater (I will finish it, though, dammit! I will!). The problem, I see now, is that sleeves are far too large an item to knit comfortably at once without a long enough circular needle to do magic loop. Socks, on the other hand, are just right.

I was inspired to give this technique another go when a knitting friend (yes, I have those now) showed me a pair of fingerless mitts she’d just finished. These mitts, knit in a Noro yarn, were absolutely gorgeous, and I imagined that she’d probably been anticipating wearing them all summer. There was one very obvious problem with them, though: one mitt fit her hand perfectly while the other was comically large. It wasn’t because she’d changed her needles, and the yarn certainly didn’t get fatter or anything like that. Unfortunately, it’s just a sad fact of knitting that your gauge can change if you’re not paying attention (and sometimes even when you are paying attention), especially when you’re trying to create two identical items separately.

Fast forward to last weekend, when Keith and I found ourselves in Hamilton for the annual Supercrawl. My favorite Hamilton yarn store was having a sale on Koigu KPPPM, so I grabbed two skeins with the intention of making a pair of very special socks for Keith’s birthday (I was actually going to make Keith a sweater for his birthday, sweater curse be damned!, but, one day, Keith turned to me and said, “I know you really want to make me a sweater, but what I really want is socks. No, really. Just socks. Lots of socks.” And I am nothing if not obliging…). This Koigu yarn can be mightily expensive ($14 for 175 yards), and the smaller yardage means you need two skeins to make a proper pair of socks. And because it would bother me to no end to waste even a little bit of this precious yarn, I decided to take a crack at something that had been intimidating me for a while now: knitting socks two at a time from the toe up.

So, I’m here to eat crow because, now, I love knitting two socks at once (I’m using this tutorial, by the way). Sure, yarn tangles are still a minor annoyance, and it’s definitely a bit slower  to knit two at a time than it is to knit one top-down sock on DPNs. But there are several advantages to knitting socks this way that have me thinking I might abandon my DPNs forever. In no particular order, here are some of the reasons why I’ve grown to love this style of sock knitting:

1. The socks are both of uniform size and shape.

2. When the pattern I’m using to make socks is fairly plain and easy to manage, I don’t need a row counter to keep track of my work. If I want to know whether or not the socks are the right size, I can simply slip them on my feet and know instantly whether or not I’m ready to turn the heel. Once the heel is done, I can keep going up the leg until they’re as tall as I want them to be.

3. It is obvious which side is the front and which is the back.  The picture at the top of this post is obviously the front, whatever Keith will see when he looks down and admires his custom socks. Here’s what the back side looks like:

First toe-up socks back

Plain, easy, obvious, and no fuss.

4. No laddering! This is possibly my absolute favorite thing about toe up socks because, try as I might, I can never seem to avoid the big gaps in the fabric where my needles join whenever I use my DPNs. Sometimes the ladders go away after a wash or two but, very often, they distort the fabric and make my socks look raggedy. When I make my socks toe up, on the other hand, my stitches are uniform and beautiful:

First toe-up socks side

So, them’s my reasons. I am definitely a convert to toe-up sock knitting and I plan to make many pairs of socks this way in the future.

Fellow knitters: What are  your favorite ways to knit socks?

Winning Hearts and Minds

ImageBy now, most of my coworkers are aware that I’m an avid knitter. I’m fairly certain that my being a knitter has also led them to imagine me at home alone in a junk shop-style apartment (which isn’t too far from the truth, given how little space Keith and I have to share) knitting brightly coloured tea cozies while surrounded by cats and imaginary friends. One of the interns in my office even described me as the nerdiest person he’s ever met (in a fond way, I think/hope), largely because of the fact I that I tend to always carry a small knitting project with me. This is all to say that convincing my coworkers that knitting is awesome and not just the domain of little old ladies and loners has been something of a hard sell. People have such limited experience with hand knits these days that it’s no wonder they have trouble imagining that knitting can be anything other than tea cozies and eccentricity. I think I may have changed a few minds with my latest finished project, though.

What you see me wearing above is my Still Light Tunic, finished for the Summer Sweater Knit Along with 11 days to spare! I am so pleased with this sweater/dress for so many reasons. Despite the fact that this is largely knit in stockinette, there are many little details that make this garment really special.  My favorite detail is the keyhole at the back, closed off with a cute little button that I found on etsy.

ImageOf the more obvious design elements of this sweater, I’d like to draw your attention to the functional and stylish front pockets. These pockets are both sturdy enough to hold small items without being in danger of losing anything and deep enough to warm your hands when it’s cold outside. And, seriously, this puppy is warm. I used KnitPicks Stroll Sock Yarn in the Jackrabbit Heather colourway and, so far, it’s holding up nicely. I’ve worn this tunic three times already and have yet to see any sagging or pilling. Plus, the price can’t be beat. I used six and a half balls of yarn to get a bust circumference of 35.5 inches, which comes to a grand total of $32.83. When was the last time you saw a merino wool sweater dress for that price in any store?

Finally, check out the fit! Isn’t it great? I’ve had some fitting problems in the past (remember Miette? Too big now… sob!), so it feels like an incredible coup to have made a garment that fits me so well. With one inch of negative ease around the bust, this sweater is figure hugging around the upper body and comfortably loose without being flow-y around the bottom. I only made slight modifications to the fit by lengthening the body by two inches (can you imagine this being any shorter than it is right now? My coworkers would be scandalized!) and shortening the sleeves by one inch. Otherwise, I followed the pattern to the letter.

So, there you have it: my first sweater of the fall. It was totally worth the discomfort of knitting it in the summer and I will definitely make another one of these in the future. Plus, I think I may have won over some of my coworkers with this sweater. With any luck, this will mean that they’ll start to think of me as a style-savvy yarn maven and not as a crazy cat lady.

Fellow knitters: How are your SSKAL projects coming along? Are you going to make it before the deadline?

End-of-Summer Antidepressant

Image

Between you and me, I’m not all that upset about the end of summer. Sure, I enjoy a string of very hot days every now and then but, generally, I find Toronto’s heat and humidity really strength-sapping. The simplest everyday activities–cooking, walking, shopping–leave me obviously, embarrassingly sweaty and, until this week, my office has been completely without air conditioning. I’m telling you this not to beg for sympathy, but so that you can see (I hope) that I’m not being a hater for no reason. I just haven’t had much relief from the heat and, as such, I’m more than happy to see the other side of summer.

I understand that not everyone feels the same way I do about the summer, though. Some of you, I hear, love the summer. You look forward to it every year with great anticipation and, apparently, feel sad knowing that cooler weather is just around the corner. Well…. it’s my turn now, summer lovers! Maybe this will go without saying, but I’m a big fan of the fall.  For me, few things are better than the crisp air, the vibrant, changing leaves, the food, the sunsets, and the warm layers it feels okay to start wearing again (this is my first fall as a knitter, by the way, and I plan to make the most of this by cloaking myself in beautiful woolen goodies). Despite my excitement about the changing seasons, though, I am sympathetic to the plight of all of you summer lovers out there.  (I’m not a jerk, after all.)  So, in the spirit of goodwill between lovers of any and all seasons, I come with a peace offering:  a mild antidepressant in the form of a beautiful, date-studded banana bread.

Image

Okay, okay, I know that the internet doesn’t really need another version of banana bread. Everyone has their favorite and they’re no less deserving of your attention than mine is. But, here’s what: this is a really, really good cake. For one thing, there are far more bananas in this cake than there is flour, sugar and butter. Not only does this serve to put the banana front-and-centre, it also creates an incredibly moist cake, one that remains fresh for days and whose flavour most definitely improves with age. The dates scattered throughout the batter are like little brown sugar bombs, just sweet and substantial enough to lend a sort of caramelized note to the cake without being cloying. In fact, there is so much fruit in this cake that, with the right sort of imagination, you might be able to convince yourself that this cake is *actually* a piece of fruit and not a cake after all. Plus, the internet tells me that bananas are mood elevators, an honest-to-goodness and extremely tasty antidepressant! If that’s not reason enough to make this cake, I don’t know what is.

So, dear readers, join me in embracing the start of fall. Whatever it lacks in heat is more than made up in being able to turn the oven back on to bake this amazing cake!

Banana-Date Tea Cake

Adapted from Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

Yield: 1 large loaf

Note: if you plan to use frozen bananas, make sure to bring them to room temperature. If the bananas are even a little bit cold, they will stiffen the butter and the texture of the cake will not be right.

Cake Batter

155 g All-purpose flour

2 tbsp Corn starch

1 tsp Ground cinnamon

2 tsp Baking powder

1 tsp Baking soda

3 Very ripe bananas, about 285 g

2 Large eggs

1.5 tsp Vanilla extract

1.5 tsp Salt

85g Unsalted butter at room temperature

90 g White sugar

60 g Brown sugar

115 g Lightly toasted walnuts (I omitted these)

225 g Pitted dates, coarsely chopped

Topping

1 Banana, sliced lengthwise in 4 pieces

2 Tbsp Brown sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 325˙F. Lightly grease a loaf pan and line with greaseproof paper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (except the sugar and salt) and mix well. Set aside. In a second bowl, peel and mash 3 bananas to a chunky puree. Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and stir until well combined. Set aside.

3. In a third mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy, about two minutes. Slowly add the sugars and continue to beat until the mixture becomes fluffy. Slowly add the banana mixture and continue to beat until incorporated. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Then, fold in the dates and nuts, if using.

4. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface. Top the cake with the sliced banana and brown sugar. Bake in your preheated oven for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan for 20 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack at room temperature.  Serve with butter and enjoy the start of fall.

Simplicity

ImageI thought long and hard about whether or not to write this post. Because, really, braised mushrooms? They seem far too simple, don’t they? And they’re not exactly photogenic, either. In truth, it can sometimes be hard to judge a food’s blog-worthiness, especially when the dish in question is as plain and unpretentious as the humble braised mushroom. But when I found myself making these twice in one week and then making plans to cook them again in a few more days, I knew I couldn’t keep these to myself. These mushrooms are so intensely meaty and savoury and mushroom-y. Which is really to say that they’re transcendently, mind-blowing-ly delicious.

Image

The key to these mushrooms, like many other good things, is low, slow heat. Caps down in a dry pan over a low flame, you could almost completely forget that you’re making braised mushrooms were it not for the intense mushroom smell that slowly and surely wafts out of the kitchen and straight up into your nostrils.

After 20 minutes or so–and, really, the longer, the better–you add a small amount of butter to the pan. As the butter foams and sizzles, thinly sliced garlic, a pinch of dried thyme and some salt are scattered over top. The whole thing is ready to eat when the garlic browns lightly and the dish becomes almost impossibly fragrant. And if the aroma of savoury, garlicky mushrooms doesn’t do it for you, just wait until you taste them. These mushrooms are, in a phrase, serious business.

Braised Mushrooms

Inspired by As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. Serve with pork, chicken, or just about any other thing that tastes great with mushrooms.

Serves 3-4 as a side; recipe is easily multiplied

2 lbs crimini mushrooms

1 Tbsp butter

1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced

1 small pinch dried thyme

salt, to taste

1. Place a large skillet over low heat.

2. Clean the mushrooms by wiping away any dirt with a dry paper towel (avoid using water, which sucks away the mushroom flavour). Trim the stems.

3. Place the mushrooms, caps down, the the dry skillet and leave them to cook slowly for at least 10 minutes and up to 25 minutes. As the mushrooms cook, they’ll begin releasing water and shrinking slightly. When the mushrooms have reached the desired brown-ness, flip them over so the caps face up and cook an addition 5 minutes over low heat.

4. Add the butter to the pan and let it melt. Then, add the garlic and cook until lightly golden. Season with thyme and salt, toss together and serve.