Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Socks

first complete pair of socks
Creating: Seems like a lot of my recent posts have been "creating" posts.  That's just the way the letters worked out.  In a typical blog post here, one that is not part of the A-Z Challenge, I write about a little of each: reading, eating and either weeding (aka gardening) or creating.  I tend to do more garden posts during the spring/summer and more posts related to knitting and other creative pursuits during the winter.  The nature of the seasons in my little corner of the world. So, what I am saying is if the "creating" posts are not your interest, check back in the upcoming days or read some of the older posts.  There are loads of recipes in here and piles of my opinions on books, if that is more your cup of tea.
Anyway, S is for Socks, specifically hand-knit socks.  I was inspired to try socks when my friend Steph, who had only recently learned to knit, asked me to help her with the socks she was knitting.  I think she was turning the heel, a tricky process when you know what you are doing, and even trickier when you do not.  I had never made socks but can usually read patterns well enough.  So in a not-so-quiet corner at book club, we muddled through it together.  Her socks turned out large and bulky, which was fine because they were to be worn with her ice skates.  I thought, "If Steph can make socks, why can't I?"  And I signed up for a class.

The first sock I made was huge.  I have narrow feet so it was very floppy on me and I never got around to completing the pair.  I bought new yarn, smaller needles and tried again.  This is my first pair, which I now realize has faded a bit because I wear them a lot.  The yarn is self-striping. I am not entirely sure how it works - it might be magic. 

Two at once, toe up, on one circular
As I completed this pair, marking down how many rows I did from top of the cuff to start of the heel, and how many rows until decreasing for the toe so that I could make the second sock the same way, I thought, "Wouldn't it be easier if you could do them both at the same time?"  And as I neared the end of the second sock and saw how much yarn I had left (enough to make another sock or not?  I can't tell!), I thought, "Why wouldn't you start them from the toe, make the bottom long enough to fit the foot, then turn the heel and knit either until you run out of yarn or had them as tall as you wanted?"  And the entire time I was knitting on 4 double-point needles, occasionally dropping a stitch off the end and starting a run in my socks, I thought, "Why wouldn't you do this on a circular needle instead of double points?"  So I searched the internet and found a pattern for two socks at once, toe up, on one circular needle.  Yahoo!  I thought.  And then I tried it.  And I found a new meaning for darning socks.  "Darn socks!" I exclaimed as I chucked them across the room, then retrieved them and ripped them out, time and again.  So I found a class, two socks at once, toe up, on one circular needle and a lovely lady who was a retired kindergarten teacher (and therefore had the patience of a saint!) taught me what I couldn't learn from the internet.  And I have been knitting socks this way ever since.  Last spring, I taught my mom this sock method.  She was a good student, but convinced herself that she didn't remember how once I was not there to help.   Someday we'll finish those socks, Mom.

E's socks
Socks are one of the few things I make for other people as I tend to be kind of stingy with my knitting.  I will only knit for people who I think will appreciate the time it takes to create these things.  E has socks, Mom has socks, my sister has socks.  There are more hats out there than socks and I have made a handful of baby gifts as well, but I like socks.  I want to run around with no shoes on when I have hand-knit socks on my feet so that everyone can see them.  I tend to wear them to book club or other places where I know we will be taking shoes off.  And of course I can wear them to work all the time, since I work from home and almost never wear shoes.

When was the last time you had socks that you wanted to show the world? 

Until we knit again,

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Raglan Sweaters

Raglan sleeve
Creating: Raglan sleeves are those that extend in a diagonal line in one piece from the underarm to the neckline of a garment.  It may be more clear once you look at the picture.  As I said in one of my previous posts, I am a fearless knitter.  Fearless or not smart enough to know my limits?  Either way, after my Fan and Feather afghan, and my first 2 Norwegian sweaters, I moved on to a cardigan with raglan sleeves.  I had asked my mother for a fisherman's sweater (aka Aran) for Christmas.  Her response was to give me the yarn, needles and a pattern book.  Ummm...thanks?  A do-it-yourself gift - to know Mom is to love her.  It took me years to complete the sweater, mostly because I took a several year break from knitting for no good reason that I have figured out.  I took it out again when I remembered the calming effects of knitting and was sorely in need of some clickety-clacking comfort (at the brink of my own sanity was where I was, but that is a story for another time).  I knit at work, in between cranky phone calls with cantankerous clients at a critically crappy corporation.  It helped some.  And my sweater progressed.  The back, then each of the 2 fronts (because of course I chose the cardigan pattern!), then the sleeves, neckband and button placket grew as I took deep breaths (and my anti-depressants).  I learned many new things - cables, popcorn and twists, shaping, buttonholes, pockets, and then finally seaming.  I discovered that although cables and other "fancy" stitches look difficult, it is all just knit and purl.  I love this sweater and the beautiful wooden buttons that E helped me select.  Someday, I may even knit another one. 
Stitch detail

A few years ago, I found a pattern in Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook that I really liked. It is called "Pinup Queen" but no, it does not make me look like a pinup. It is designed, though, to flatter one's curves. I knit it up with a yummy soft angora-blend yarn in light blue. This sweater taught be short-rows which came in handy when I started knitting socks. It has a deep V-neck which tends to get deeper as the day goes so I always wear a tank top under it. Now that I look at it, though, I realize it does not really have raglan sleeves... So it does not belong in this post but since I don't really have anywhere else to put it, and I already took the pictures, I will post here anyway.  Here is an example of "not-raglan"sleeves.
Until we knit again,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quilting

one of my quilts from Grandma Ruth
Detail of Minnesota square
Creating: One of the creative pursuits I have tried once and may or may not do again is quilting.  I took a beginner's machine quilting class shortly after we moved into our house over 11 years ago.  I had a dream of making a quilt to hang on the wall in the living room, the big wall over the stairway.  My Grandma Ruth (my dad's mother) was a quilter (thus her nickname "Quilt Grandma".  Our other grandma was "Underpants Grandma" but that is a story for another day.) and I always loved snuggling up her quilts and having my mom tell the stories of the squares. "This fabric was a dress I made you when you were a baby.  This was a shirt I made for your aunt Julie."  The quilts were warmth and family history.  Grandma died when I was a freshman in college but she had the forethought to pack and label the wedding quilts for the younger grandchildren well before she passed so on my wedding day, my mom passed along the quilt Grandma had made for me.  It happened to be one that my mom had helped with.  It is red, white and blue and the squares are embroidered representations of each state - the outline of the state, the state bird and flower, the year it became a state, and a tie where the capitol is located.  Cozy, comforting and educational! 

Wedding quilt

And so I set off to my first quilting class with quilting in my veins.  I liked the class pretty well, and enjoyed getting to sew and learn how to piece the quilt.  I decided to tie my quilt, instead of machine or hand quilting it - if ties were good enough for Grandma, they were good enough for me.  That went fine.  Then I had to stitch the binding on. And to make it look nice, it really needed to be hand-sewn.  Oy.  It took me months to finish.  And the quilt?  I have yet to add tabs to hang it on the wall, so mostly it hangs over the railing.  It turned out pretty well, but I think I would rather knit.  Thankfully I have my grandma's quilts to continue to warm and inspire me.

Quilt I made
Miss you, Grandma Ruth!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Pizza

Eating: This feels like a cheater post to me, because I have blogged about this before, but the first thing I thought of when creating my list of topics was, "P is for Pizza".  I love pizza, all kinds, but really like my own homemade 'za most of all.  We call it "ho-made" ever since seeing a sign in Door County, Wisconsin, for "ho-made" jam and laughing about the person who would call themselves a ho just for making jam.  We went through a phase last summer when we made pizza every Thursday for weeks, trying different toppings and flavors.  Our usual pizza is Canadian bacon (ham) and peppers (green, red or yellow bell, depending on what we have on hand) with a traditional red pizza sauce.  We also made sausage and pepper pizza (also with red sauce), Mexican pizza (with salsa instead of sauce and with taco meat, cheddar cheese and a little fresh cilantro), and barbecue chicken pizza (barbecue sauce instead of red sauce, and shredded or chopped cooked chicken, peppers, and if you like, onion).  But our favorite new discovery was Aloha Chicken Pizza which I have already given the recipe for.

Here's how I make my basic pizza.  I always use a pizza stone (Pampered Chef, though I supposed other kinds will work, too).  Some people make the dough in their bread machine, but I think that seems like it creates more work than it saves - I mix it by hand. 

Crust (from Betty Crocker, aka "Big Red") - this recipe is technically for 2 pizzas but we like our crust a little thicker so we use the recipe for one 14" pizza.
1 package yeast (or about 2 1/4 tsp)
1 C warm water
2 1/2 C flour
2 Tbls olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt (my 'secret' tip - when I am making for a red sauce pizza, I add a sprinkling of Italian seasoning into the crust mixture)
Combine yeast and warm water in a medium bowl and mix until yeast dissolves. Add remaining ingredients and beat 20 strokes. Let rest 5 minutes. Roll out onto warmed pizza stone (or of course you can use another type of pizza pan or other flat pan - I always use my stone and I always preheat it with the oven when making this crust). 

Basic Red Pizza Sauce (also from Betty) - also technically for 2 pizzas but does not seem too saucy when used on one pizza.
1 eight-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced fine
(and my 'secret' ingredient - a bit of grated Parmesan)

Top with your favorite ingredients, and about 2 C grated mozzarella.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted/browned to your taste (we like ours medium brown) and crust is golden.

Yum.  I wish we had pizza on the menu tonight.

Until we eat again,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

N is for Nordic Sweaters and O is for O'Brien

My apologies - N could be for "not posting yesterday" and O for "Oscar on opiates".  Quick update before the actual A-Z challenge post - My 12 1/2 year old orange tabby, Oscar, had some extensive dental work yesterday.  I was a bit stressed out because of this and then because I couldn't get him to take his pain meds last night (liquid and the vet had instructed to put the syringe in his mouth - has she met my cat?!) so I was worried the little guy was going to be in pain.  I have now been told that, though it is the less desired method of delivery, I can mix the drugs in a small amount of canned food, so Oscar is now hopped up on kitty morphine.  So... on with the actual post.  Thanks for listening to me be a bit neurotic about my cat.

Sweater #1
Creating: N is for Norwegian (or Nordic, if you prefer) sweaters.  As mention previously in post on Knitting, I am a fearless knitter.  As my third ever project, I took a class to learn how to make multicolored Norwegian sweaters.  Techniques I learned in this class included: knitting in the round (on circular needles and on double points), knitting without a pattern and designing as I go, and using multiple colors.  The sweaters are made from the neck down and are completely seamless.   They are lovely to knit and quite possibly my favorite way to make sweaters.  You can try them on as you go to make sure they fit over your shoulders, and the sleeves are long enough and the body is the length you want it.  The first one I made was rather untraditional colors - Chili Pepper, Turquoise and Cream.  It looks like it belongs in Phoenix or New Mexico.  The average age in my class (not including me) was about 70 and the instructor was encouraging those in the group with gray/white hair to find colors which complemented their silvery tones.  Mine did not match my hair.
close up of yoke - sweater #1
detail at bottom - sweater #1
yoke detail - sweater #2
The class lasted 6-8 weeks and I had all except one sleeve finished for the final class. 

Sweater #2
The second sweater was completed that same year.  I wanted one in more traditional colors and I wanted to wear it to Christmas Festival (choir concert) at my alma mater where Nordic sweaters are more common than any other kind of clothes.  This one, I made a little longer and the sleeves were actually long enough (, the first one is kind of a shortie with 3/4 length sleeves because I got a bit impatient).  It is red, black and snow white.  I really like the little leaf pattern on the bottom and sleeves.  Oh, and in case you are wondering, the little dots of color on the body are called "lice". Appealing name, eh? 

Sweater #3
I knit the third just a few years ago, maybe about 5 years ago?  This one I made with mock-turtle neck and a bit more complex zig-zag design on yoke and on the bottom and also a more difficult snowflake pattern.  Instead of color lice, I simply purled the lice instead, so they are textured instead of colored.  This one reminds me of the ocean, which I live nowhere near. 

Yoke detail - sweater #3

 Reading: O is for Tim O'Brien.  Another Minnesota author (see?  We have more than just Garrison Keillor and John Sandford!), O'Brien is well-known for writing about the Vietnam Conflict.  I have several of his books on my list of books to read someday, but one novel that I have read at least 3 times is In the Lake of the Woods.  I selected this for bookclub I think the first year (so back in 1997) because I had read and loved it and wanted to discuss with someone.  The story centers on a John Wade who has just spectacularly lost an election for senate and retreats with his wife Kathy to a cabin in the woods on Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota (the little "chimney" that sticks up into Canada, if you look at a map).  He wakes one morning to find his wife is missing.  The story is a combination of flashbacks to his childhood, college years,  and his time served in Vietnam, as well as testimony and evidence from related characters.  It presents several hypotheses on what happened to Kathy.  I won't spoil it for you but if you only read books with neatly-tied-up happy endings, you may find yourself discouraged with this one.  Very cleverly written and engaging to read, this book is also disturbing on many levels, as one might expect of a book about a misisng wife and a former soldier who has seen the atrocities of war up close.  It also has a great feeling of place, the isolation of the big lake and surrounding woods.  I would highly recommend In the Lake of the Woods, and plan to also read If I Die in the Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (memoir), Going after Cacciato (winner of the National Book Award for Fiction),  and novel The Things They Carried.

Until we knit and read again,

P.S. We are going to our favorite restaurant tonight for dinner, which could also have been the topic for "N" - Nectar Wine Bar and Bistro.  I have already blogged (and blabbed) about that, though.  Tonight I am going to try the beef bourginon which has never been on the menu before.
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