Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On the Needles

Thank you to everyone for your kind comments on Hemlock Ring! I am so delighted with it, and even better, Lilah has made it her treasured blanket, wrapping her favorite stuffed animals in it so they are "so cozy." I'm not sure when exactly it happened, but she's a child instead of a baby, which is very odd! How did that happen???

I could actually do a WIP post since I have, count 'em, two knitting projects in the works. Since Lilah was born, I've really gotten to be a one-project-at-a-time person, but Matt's Hjalte is a little too fiddly to be car knitting (not really fiddly, I just have to pay attention to the chart) or television knitting (unless it's something I've watched before that doesn't need all my attention), so I looked around for a project to use my birthday present Noro Matsuri. Ravelry was, as usual, very helpful, and aside from small projects (I have 8 skeins) and sweaters I didn't think would suit me, there were several lovely Clapotis. Yes, I am so late for the bandwagon on Clapotis that it's ridiculous, but it's a lovely, fairly easy pattern, and I can add more increase rows to make it more of a shawlette than a scarf. I was struck by how gorgeous it looks in the Matsuri, too. Since Ravelry has been so helpful to me, I've making an effort to at least put my new projects in my own account and adding new stash yarn. I'm not sure I'll be motivated to take the time to enter my whole stash and past projects, but I might start trying to do a bit here and there. I'm allisonmariecat there, too.

So, here is the beginning of Clapotis:

I like it so far. It's pleasantly easy and I love the color changes on the Matsuri. The Matsuri is nice and soft, but I'm less than halfway through the first skein and I've already hit the first of what Ravelry users suggest will be a LOT of knots. Honestly, for yarn that expensive, that's ridiculous (one user reported 9 knots in a single skein, so I hope mine won't be that bad). I just did my usual knit with both yarns for a few stitches join, but I may need to revisit the Russian join if there are really going to be knots in every skein.

And here is my Hjalte progress:

The first picture shows the color better, but the second shows the pattern better. I really hope the cable pattern shows up okay in the darker yarn. I didn't even think of that. I like the cables that are carried through the waistband up into the body. This is the bottom of the back piece. I like the cabling and the pattern is interesting. Matt chose this pattern, and I hope he likes it. I really enjoy cabling.

Reading: Lots and lots, as usual. I'm reading my book club selections for this month. One member suggested The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, and it's very good so far. It's from the point-of-view of an autistic boy, and is also quite short, so I suggested a YA novel, Rules by Cynthia Lord, to accompany it. Rules is from the point-of-view of the sister of an autistic boy, and it's an interesting contrast. It was a really well-done book, and in the author interview at the end, the author says that she has an autistic son and she wrote the book in response to her daughter asking why she never read about families like theirs in books. I read a creepy, modern Gothic novel, Darling Jim by Christian Moerck, that was excellent. I also read the second in a mystery series (I loved the debut), Death and the Lit Chick by G. M. Malliet, a really fun mystery. Malliet pokes gentle fun at the conventions of the classic mystery, but the mystery itself is engaging and complex. I also started the Sam Acquillo mystery series by Chris Knopf. The first is The Last Refuge, and it's edgier than the mysteries I usually read, but the characterization is fantastic, the setting (The Hamptons) very well fleshed out, and the mystery is tricky. I read the second in the series, Two Time, as well, and it was equally good.

Writing: Not a thing.

Cooking: The pear-caramel sauce was very nice, though thinner than I had planned. The lavender and vanilla are very nice additions. I also made brownies, inspired by this recipe of one of my favorite food bloggers. I made several changes. Though the original recipe calls for mixed nuts, I decided to play off the almond butter by using only almonds. To that end, I also added Disaronno, since chocolate is always good with booze. I doubled the recipe but didn't double the sugar (I like bittersweet chocolate the best). I would reduce it even further next time. I baked them in mini-muffin tins (4 dozen) and didn't feel like cleaning the mini-muffin tins to use them again, so I also made one dozen large brownies in my regular muffin tins. The small muffins took about 10 minutes, while the larger took about 25. As promised in the original recipes, these are very chocolatey (not chocolatey enough is my usual brownie complaint), and I liked the triple almond component.

Chocolate Almond Brownies (adapted from Luxury Brownies

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chunked
2 1/4 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup almond butter
1/4 cup Disaronno
2 cups sugar
8 eggs
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds, toasted

1. Melt chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over simmering water, stirring often. Set aside. (I used the bowl of my stand mixer to save time/washing dishes.)

2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt in another bowl.

3. To the chocolate mixture (slightly cooled so as not to cook the eggs), add almond butter, Disaronno, and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Slowly incorporate flour mixture, then stir in nuts.

4. Pour batter into buttered 9 x13 pan OR two 8-inch square pans OR four dozen mini-muffin cups and one dozen regular muffin cups OR 6 dozen mini-muffin cups OR 3 dozen regular muffin cups.

5. Bake at 350 until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only crumbs clinging to it (30-45 minutes for 8x8 or 9x13 pans, 10 minutes for mini-muffin pans, and 20-25 minutes for regular muffin pans). Let cool 10 minutes in pans on wire racks, then remove to cool completely on wire racks.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Here it is...Hemlock Ring!

This was such a pleasant knit, easy yet interesting, and on large needles that made it go incredibly fast (well, until it was time for the loooooong bindoff). And, looking at the blanket, I have trouble believing I actually made this. I love it. Gorgeous, if I do say so myself. This pattern is a keeper. The feather-and-fan is elegant.

The center detail is unique, but flows well into the feather-and-fan.

It falls off the needles all scrunchy and hopeless, but blocks easily.

It's a great size for snuggling up.

And Lilah loves it!


The pattern: Hemlock Ring Blanket from Jared Flood (Brooklyn Tweed) using the helpful charts from the Rainey Sisters.
Modifications: I went to the end of Jared's Feather-and-Fan chart, but that's it!
Yarn; Cascade 220 in Tutu Pink, 4 skeins
Needles: Size 10 bamboo dpns, and a variety of circulars. I ended up with a 55" needle.
Notes: I just love this pattern. I would totally do this again. On size 10 needles, it goes fast, it's detailed enough to be interesting, yet repetitive enough to be television knitting. The result is amazing. The scalloped bind-off takes a long, long time. I wish I could remember how many stitches I had on the needles at that point, but it was a lot. Good think I had book club to entertain me while I did the bind-off! I have a limited number of straight pins, and I wish I'd had enough to pin out each scallop, but just doing a relative few turned out well enough. I had doubts about my blocking ability, and wrestling the blanket into a flat shape was hard at first, but it quickly submitted after the first four or so pins were down.

Other knitting: I've got Hjalte on the needles for Matt in Silky Wool. It's a little tricky and I think I need to rip back a few rows on the back and start over. I was confused by the chart a bit, and I'm still not really positive how two purl m1 increases in a row (no stitch between) won't leave a hole, so I need to look that up before I continue. I need a small or mindless project to start, too, though, as this one is not very conducive to television knitting, at least not when I'm trying to actually pay attention to what's on.

Reading: So much. A bunch of reviews at On My Bookshelf. Of special note is The History of Now by Daniel Klein, a novel that balances philosophical inquiry with small-town life in an ingenious way. A really enjoyable book. I have a bunch of review copies right now for books that will be released soon, so once I finish those, I will probably do some breezy fun reading. I recently did a Spring Cleaning post, reviewing Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life and Mrs. Meyer's Clean Home and I have been inspired to clean and organize. My mom would crack up to hear me describe myself as a perfectionist, since she's the good kind of perfectionist--the kind who strives for perfection. I'm the other kind--the kind who says, "Eh, I can never get it perfect, may as well not do anything at all." So Mrs. Meyer's "Just do something instead of nothing" approach is strangely helpful to me. I've been enjoying the small improvements more than I thought I would. The sparkling, cleared-off counters in the kitchen are particularly nice since, as you know, I spend quite a lot of time cooking in there.

Writing: Not a thing. Cleaning, exercising, and watching what I eat have been my main activities lately.

Cooking: I have a delightful book called Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber, and I decided to make Belle-Helene, a pear-chocolate confection. Mine didn't gel, but makes a divine chocolate sauce. Between my marketing friend Kris and my web guru Tim, I will soon have this sort of thing available at Lilah Bug Bakes. Stay tuned! I also had some caramel fiascos that turned into a delightful caramel-pear sauce scented with vanilla and lavender. I'm waiting to see if it'll firm up enough to even be a sauce. It may be very expensive, very tasty syrup for waffles. Oh, well. That's what I get for tinkering excessively with recipes...

2009 Finished Knitting Projects

Two Bamboozelles
French Press Cozy

Gathered Pullover

Wraps, Shawls, and Scarves:

Love Bites Scarf
Mini Clapotis


Bracelet Bags
Everlasting Bagstopper
Ilene Bag
Bottoms Up! Bag

Baby Stuff:
Hemlock Ring Blanket

Socks and Hats:

January: TWO Bamboozelles
February: Gathered Pullover
March: Hemlock Ring Blanket
April: Bottoms Up! Bag, Clapotis
May: Mini Clapotis, French Press Cozy, Ilene Bag, Everlasting Bagstopper
October: Love Bites Scarf
November: Lace Ribbon Scarf
December: Bracelet Bags, Toddler Mittens