Projects

January Things

cherries Chinese New Year is almost here! As red is the most auspicious of colors, and as you are what you eat during the festival, red fruit is in high demand. Thus, it is time for bourbon cocktail cherries!

While utterly contrary to nature and the seasons in the Northern hemisphere, this is randomly the best time of year to buy cherries and strawberries in China. I used the same recipe as last year, although this time I added a vanilla bean, and used bourbon instead of brandy. I'm looking forward to enjoying these in Old Fashioneds, Aviations, Waldorfs, and more.

seedlings

I'm taking the seed packet instructions at their word when they say "as soon as soil can be worked." I planted lettuce and mild mustard greens this week, along with some beets and additional kale seedings.

first leaves

My little apple tree seems to have survived its first winter, and put out three sets of these cheery little leaves. Here's hoping for an early spring!

The bitter(s) and the sweet

bitters In this chilly winter season, I've been making bitters with infusions of herbs and other flavor agents.

Shown here are homemade vanilla and mugwort, plus old favorites Angostura and Peychaud's in soda water for a tasting flight.

My current favorite are vanilla bitters, which are really lovely in a mug of warm milk before bed.

Vanilla Bitters

In a mason jar or other 500 ml bottle, combine: 2 vanilla beans 1 whole nutmeg 1 black cardamom (green cardamom works too, but use a small one - black are smokier and milder) 3 black peppercorns 500 mls vodka (I use Stoli)

Infuse for 30 days, shaking every day or two. Store in a dark place while infusing. If your vanilla beans are especially awesome, you may find a layer or brown oil floating in your bottle. This is a good thing - just be sure to shake it like a Polaroid picture before every use.

Vanilla Bitters Nightcap

Combine: 1 T of bitters 8 oz warm milk 1 T of honey ...and drift off to sweet dreams.

Monday Morning

yarn basketSo much excitement, and so much to do! It was a very full weekend around these parts, starting with vending at Amelia's Marketplace Yanping on Saturday, and finishing Sunday night with a round of infusions to make bitters. All of it was rich and full and great.. but I want to do is knit!

I want a quiet corner and winter sunlight and my new blue and white mitten project for company. More on that very, very soon, I hope...

Wishing you a peaceful and productive Monday!

On Failure

cookie dough failIn the last couple of days, I've been thinking a lot about failure. Much of what I post here are projects that went well, or at least well enough to share. Today, some musings on the parts that go really poorly. So, failure... Please consider Exhibit A, shown above, the cream wafers. Cream wafers are a Christmas recipe my mom used to make. I loved them when I was little - I loved them like I loved ponies and mermaids and stickers and things that were pink and purple. I was determined to make these cookies for the holidays, and I failed.

I made the cookie dough, popped in into the frige to chill like the recipe said, and then realized I didn't have a rolling pin. Then some time went by, and it was still in the fridge. There it sat, a sad, incomplete, doughy reminder of great plans unrealized.

Then, dear reader, I accepted my failure and threw it away.

My failure was complete, I no longer felt bad about it, and there was the epiphany - completed failure means 1. acceptance and 2. purging the evidence.

Being surrounded by daily reminders of failure is awful. Completing the failure, purging, and moving on feels awesome. Here's to failing, better.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett

Finnish coffee bread brining kimchi

Redeeming Fruitcake

FruitcakeFruitcake is my favorite Christmas food.. Maligned, slandered, synonymous with a punch line - yep, that fruitcake. When it's done right, fruitcake is amazing. By done right, I mean adhering to the following fruitcake rules:

1. None of that weird preserved green stuff. The mysterious green stuff is supposed to resemble candied angelica root, a common fruitcake ingredient of yesteryear.

2. Fruitcake should contain real fruit. I use figs, prunes, dates, dried apricots, dried cranberries, and dried cherries if I can find them

3.Fruitcake should be boozy. I soak my dried fruit in brandy or bourbon for 24 - 26 hours. It adds flavor, richness, and moisture.

citronsThis year, I wanted to get all authentic. Ye old family fruitcake recipe (i.e. my mom's) calls for 4 oz candied orange peel, 4 oz candied lemon peel, and 4 oz of preserved citron.

I make candied orange peel a couple of times each year, but never tried to make candied citron.

I've been lucky enough to see lots of citron in Asia, but almost never in Shanghai. I asked around at several fruit places, but nobody stocked it - it seems to be more of a Southern thing.

Conveniently enough, the plant market had several smallish ornamental trees with three or four citrons on each. I bought one and got it home to discover the citrons didn't actually grow on the tree - they had been cut off another (probably much larger) tree, and grafted on to keep them fresh and make a pretty display. So weird.

I scrubbed them with fruit wash, and followed the same recipe I use to make candied orange peel. They have a candied citronslight bitterness and more of a green flavor than the orange peel, and were really fun to work with.

fruits and peelsThe final pile of brandy-soaked fruit, blanched almonds, and the various peels smelled amazing, and I just love how the fruitcake itself turned out.

It's gotten me thinking about what other recipes need a bit of love to bring them back to their former glory.

Tuna casserole is next on my list.

 

 

 

Sick Days

mittens It's been a quiet week around here.

Right on schedule, I came down with a cold the day after my last holiday sale of the season. Today is day six, and I'm definitely starting to feel better.

It's been a week of taking it easy, cold medicine, hot water (and hot toddys), lots and lots of kitty snuggles, knitting, and gratitude. I feel so very lucky to do the work I do, and to be able to take some time to recuperate.

It's also been a week full of knitting. I'm pleased to report that these mittens are done, and will soon (I hope) be available as a pattern.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful Solstice and a  merry little Christmas (or a successful zombie apocalypse if that happens first).

Feline Re-design

Like many creative people, I love collaborating with other artists on projects. Recently, I've been collaborating with feline designer Vesper on a re-imagining of woven and knitted textiles.

Her first piece is entitled "Tasty Swatch."

I'm unable to share the interpretive dance element of "Tasty Swatch" in which I chased the artist around the house trying to wrest the swatch from her grasp.

The second piece I'd like to share is "Where the ^&*% are you?".

"Where the ^&*% are you?" is a larger work utilizing a hand-woven blanket I made five years ago. The blanket was the first hand-made gift I gave to my (now) husband.

Executed while I was away for 10 days, Vesper's redesign explores themes of absence and negative space. It was also during the creating of this work that she first started re-using fragments of the woven and knitted pieces in the naturally felted cylinders (colloquially known as "hairballs") for which she is best known.

Vesper is less than a year old, and I have no doubt that our collaborations will continue into the foreseeable future.

 

It's cold and grey outside, and warm and cozy and steamy inside.

The steam is both from dye and food - I've been making mulled wine and cooking stock and soups, as well as experimenting with hand-painting yarn.

I've been knitting (and decorating) tiny trees, stripey cowls, and working on a mitten pattern I hope to be able to share soon.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of these various projects in various stages. Hope you like them!

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Sunny Road

The chaos, glamour, stress, and fun of the holidays started for me three weeks ago with the confirmation that I’d been accepted to exhibit at two major Holiday fairs – “woot!” and “uh-oh” apply in equal measure.

Since then, I’ve added three more events to the schedule, made lots and lots of kits, tagged, labeled, bagged, packed, displayed, seriously considered the art of merchandising, meet lots of people, re-packed, and made more stuff.

Meeting tons of people and talking about what I do with strangers is not something that comes to me easily. Couple that with being outside and cold for two whole days, and I was more than a little run down after the first show.

Sunny Road CowlWhat was worse was that knitting (admittedly, pattern test knitting - not my favorite to start with) was starting to feel like a major chore.   I was getting jealous of my own customers after picking colors and winding yarn for about a zillion kits.

These are two strong indicators that perhaps someone around here has been burning the candle at both ends and needs a nap, a meal that doesn't come out of the microwave, some happy music on the stereo, and a yarn treat in short order.

 Out came the handspun scraps in yellow, gold, and my own kettle-dyed colors in sunflower and meringue.  They all came together in a big ball of scraptastic goodness. It’s paired with a soft natural grey wool my dad picked up for me at the Common Ground Fair a couple of years back. Finished off with glitter-filled buttons and a hot toddy.

What projects are you working on to stay happy and sane this holiday season?

 

 

A Blessing of Unicorns

Some days luck, coincidence, serendipity, fate, the intercession of knitting angels, or whatever attributable power involved just smiles down on a project.

This happened to my sweater on Friday.

I found seven (seven! really seven!) vintage shell buttons that are all the same size (!) in my button box. They are sisters, not twins, but all have four holes, and most of them have a little lip around the edge.

These mystical seven buttons were all floating loose in a particularly sentimental button box. The stash came from a Goodwill excursion on the Oregon Coast, in the middle of a girl's getaway weekend. It was packaged in a huge canning jar with "Fido" stamped on the lid. Faithful indeed.

These buttons have been poured out onto baking sheets and sorted through with friends, some destined to become eyes for sock monkeys and monsters, others filling in for lost buttons on work shirts - but these special seven were waiting for this little sweater.

And who knows what buttons are hiding in the button box for the next project? We shall see indeed.

Textiles of Delhi

If you're into fabric and you're going to India, bring an extra suitcase - the textiles are just that good.

Today, I wanted to share some pictures from this textile wonderland and pass along info on a few favorite shops and sources.

The best place I found for cottons, brocades, sari borders, ribbon, plus scarves and stoles was the Central Market at Lajpat Nagar. The food carts here are also really good, so come hungry (but bring your own napkins - greasy fingers + fabric = sad).

For brocades, be sure to check out the upper floors of KC Creations (shop #4). Their shelves are stacked floor to ceiling with every possible color and pattern of brocade, and the prices are amazing. They also have great deals on cotton/silk.

Another great shop at Lajpat Nagar is Sethi's Collection (Shop 41A). They specialize in trims, ribbons, and sari borders. Their collection of beaded trims is not to be missed.

The Central Cottage Industries Emporia are a great place to pick up textile gifts, especially for friends back home. Each region of India has its own shop. Prices for equivalent textile items were higher than at Lajpat Nagar, but the Emporia have lots of unique items I didn't see anywhere else, including hand-knitted socks from Assam, and gorgeous reverse applique and embroidery from Rajasthan.

When you travel, where are you favorite places to find textiles and handicrafts?

Moon Cakes

I'm ten days away from the launch of my new yarn company, Infinite Twist. It goes without saying that there is a long list of beautiful things I want to have ready for the launch, many of which will not be done by the first of October.

October 1st also marks the start of Golden Week, a much beloved holiday in China celebrating wholeness and togetherness. The completeness of the family is represented by a circle, and circular moon cakes are popping up everywhere.

It got me thinking about wholeness and completeness. In my struggle with the to-do list, my sense of completeness (and completion) was getting a wee bit threadbare.

I put away the list and looked around. What actually needed doing? Actually, in real life, as opposed to the plan?

Yerba mate, with milk and honey, in a favorite glass.

A dark grey Romney fleece from Rivercroft Farm needed to be gently washed and dried by a brisk fall breeze.

Taking a step back from saturated color, and pairing a favorite colorway with white.

The list isn't any shorter, and that's ok. The launch will be what it's going to be, and that's ok too. I have a nice, round sense of completion - and a black sesame moon cake to go with it.

Lemon Curd

I made lemon curd for the first time last week, and I'm really excited about it. The flavor is bright and vibrant, and it's amazing on homemade yogurt.

I used this recipe. In order to get the 1/2 cup of zest called for in the recipe, I needed 9 lemons.

Since the recipe calls for canned lemon juice (due to variations in acidity in fresh lemon juice), I had lots of left-over zested lemons. I juiced them, and made lemonade.

Batik Quilt

Here's a look at the finished batik quilt, plus some photos of the process.

It's driving me crazy, but I don't dare put this quilt on the bed yet. The kittens are still too small to properly manage the leap onto the mattress. They manage to jump about 3/4 of the way up, and then dig their little claws into the bedding to pull themselves up the rest of the way.

Cat claws + new quilt = bad news.

 

 

The first big hurdle was finding the right background color to pair with all the batiks. I started out with a light grey, which didn't work at all. I eventually settled on a dark charcoal grey.

 

 

 

After piecing the top, the next challenge was quilting. I've been wanting to try free-motion machine quilting for a while, and thought this quilt would be a good place to start.

I rented time on this Gamill sewing machine while on vacation in Maine, and completed the quilting in about six hours.

 

The quilting process was a lot of fun and a little bit nerve-wracking. The machine felt like it was driving me rather than the other way around for the first couple of hours. By the end of the day, I felt like I had the hang of it.  

 

 

Up next was making yards and yards and yards of binding, followed by two days of hand-stitching it on.  

 

 

Lastly, after a thorough trip through the washer and the dryer, it was done!

 

 

 

Batik Quilt

After a couple of years of collecting, I've made a quilt from my collection of batiks.

Lucky was extremely helpful in designing the final layout.

More on the making-of on Sunday.

Color study in Orange, White, and Black

I came across this fun stencil on the sidewalk yesterday. This was the largest grouping of fish, but there were smaller groups and single fish painted under drainpipes and hidden in shady corners.

A few blocks later, I came across this lovely guy in a stone fish bowl outside an office building.

Continuing with this color theme, I finally managed to get a good photo of Vesper. I can't believe how big she's getting!

Tiny cats and lots of batts

There has been an overload of cuteness at my house recently. Please meet Rufus (the orange gentleman) and his sister, Vesper. Mark says Vesper "is not so much a cat as an absence of light." She's definitely trickier to photograph than her brother.

A friend of a friend found them dumped in a box near his apartment when they were about two weeks old. They've been bottle-fed since, and are turning out to have wonderful personalities.

When not feeding or playing with kittens, I've been working on a sea-side palette of hank-dyed yarns and complementary blended batts. I'm really excited to get these spun up and on the loom and see what they turn into.

I think this one if my favorite color - the perfect color of a summer sky.

What projects are you working on this Spring?

Modern Baby Quilt

This is a baby quilt I made for my friend Bec. The design goal was something modern and not too "baby" looking. All the fabrics are from my stash, including a bunch of prints from Singapore and Germany.

It's all quilted now (stitch in the ditch), bound with a dark grey binding, and has traveled through the washer and dryer. It's light, clean, fluffy, and all ready for its little person!

Wine Box Garden

Here's a quick and easy project idea for anybody with a small amount of deck or balcony garden space who's interested in container gardening - grow herbs and other plants in wine boxes!

The main challenge I find with container gardening is water management. Small containers dry out quickly, and stressed plants provide a delicious snack for all sorts of destructive bugs and diseases. Large containers are great, but difficult to move, and most them are round - making difficult to group together in a way that maximizes space. Wine boxes are a great solution because they are easy to move, modular, and rectangular.

For this project, I bought a bunch of 12-bottle size wooden wine boxes from a local wine distributor. I simply drilled drainage holes in the bottom of each box, added potting soil, and put in my plants.

I've started seedling of beets, lacinato kale, salad greens, basil, zucchini, and marigolds in additional boxes. I can't wait to see what comes up!

Do you have any container gardening tips?

Homemade Kimchi!

Today I tried something new. I'm delving into the wonderful (and new to me) world of fermented spicy things. This is my first jar of kimchi, and I'm really excited about it.

I used this recipe from David Lebovitz. I substituted Guarillo and Hatch chili powders for the Korean chili powder used in the recipe (couldn't find it), and slightly reduced the amount of fish sauce.

If you're wondering how a family of two will use up a jar of kimchi this size in two weeks, I have three words for you: Mark's Kimchi Eggs. It's the breakfast of champions. It's basically scrambled eggs with kimchi and sometimes a fresh tomato mixed in, and it's a wonderful start to the day.

It will be a minor miracle if we have any kimchi left after two weeks.