Monday, September 9, 2013

A Month Of Challenges

September is challenge month. 

First the spinning.  I have joined two challenge groups using my little Jenkins Turkish Spindles.  The first was a fleece swap, the second is a yardage challenge.  Since I'm not very proficient on my little drop spindles, this definitely taxed my capabilities as a spinner.

The Fleece Swap challenge.  We received 2 oz of fleece from a 'Mystery Person' (there are 26 of us in the group) and sent 2 oz of our own fleece to a different person.  Anxiety....would the colors go well together? Would the fibers be compatible? Would the fleece be in good condition? Our restrictions were that it must be 2 oz, be a fleece of color, that we must spin our own fleece into a single separately from our received fleece, then ply them together and finally knit, crochet or weave something from our resulting yarn.

Well, the Spinning Goddesses were with us.  Everyone of us received a fleece that was compatible to our own.
My Fleece - a Merino Combed Top.  Lovely, soft, smooth, subtle variations in colors.
The fleece I received, from Germany, no less.  A Long wool (Blueface Leiscester) hand dyed. 

Now the colors of my fleeces seemed to be pretty similar, except for the bright green in the gifted fleece.  But the gifted fleece however was quite different in texture.  For a BFL, which is usually soft and smooth and easy to spin, this was lumpy, sticky and very short fibered.  First challenge:  figure out how to make this wool behave like my Merino top.  I decided to tease out the fibers, carding them, keeping the colorways as together as possible, then roll them into rolags and finally spin them worsted, or long draw, as this would keep the fiber soft and lofty.  I kept the blues, reds and teal clors and stashed the bright Kelly greens.  I really didn't want a Christmas tree.  They plied up nicely, but still not as soft as the Merino top would have.  Yet the colors are wonderful.

I ended up with finely spun yarn, fingering at 14 WPI and 300 yds of yarn.  I found a lovely cowl neckwarmer pattern to knit for a Christmas present.

The Second Spinning Challenge is simply to spin 1 oz of singles per month until December, when we will ply it all up, then knit something from our yarn.  Not as much of a challenge, but this one required dedication and stick-to-it-ive-ness.  In otherwords - focus!

Now my third challenge for the month, was just handed to me.  Make decent soft, Bavarian Pretzels and make them Gluten Free.  You got it.  Easy as pie, well actually much easier than pie.

Rolled, risen, boiled and baked.  These little darlings came out scrumptious!  And quite good with Moroccan Mustard - just a tad spicy and a tad sweet.

After the boil and ready to bake.
Out of the oven and ready to EAT!

Challenges? Bring 'em on!  I'm ready.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Art of Perfection

Perfection.  What does that word conjure up for you? Intensity? Frustration? Mindfulness? Exhilaration? Or, all of the above?

Now, notice that my title is the ART of perfection.  There is perfection, and then there is PERFECTION.  One implies a frustration of a sort, and the other implies the careful, mindful planning of a process to achieve a certain goal.  I give you Gluten Free Bread and a knitted sweater.
How on earth, you say, can these be alike in any way shape or form?  Well, it's about the process and the perfection of that process to produce the most delicious GF bread and the best fitting sweater ever.

I have always avoided knitting any clothing other than gloves, mittens, socks or hats.  Scarves and shawls don't really count either.  Anything with an armhole constitutes clothing.  Until I discovered the necessity of GAUGE or the process of perfecting the stitch count to match the pattern. Yes, yes, I know - you should always make a gauge.  Well, I have - been there, done that, but for some reason I could never do it correctly and I always ended up with a sweater big enough for 2 or a teen Tee that would only fit a preemie.  So I'd give up and wing it.  Enter - perfection.  I decided that it was time to put my Big Girl Panties on, as a dear friend of mine would say, and master that gauge.  There is no trick.  Step 1 was to change my way of thinking - gauge is important.  Period.

Step 2 was to figure out the relation between needle size and yarn weight and size and the pattern.

 It's about finding the right needle, or the right yarn, or if you have neither and can not find a balance, then learning how to knuckle down and do the math.  Sometimes just using bigger needles only make the stitch look sloppy and loose, and too small a needles make the stitch too tight and the fabric won't flow.  So, over and over again I've made my gauge samples.  Kept them, labeled them, analyzed them, re-did them, re-measured the pattern, re-calculated the stitches until I came up with a proper size.  Sometimes it meant changing yarn.  Yes, that beautiful sport weight Merino would have to go and in it's place a DK weight.  Or bring out the calculator and start figuring out what size I would have if I could only come up with 5 stitches per inch instead of the necessary 4 with that beautiful Merino.  It can work.  It just takes patience, mindfulness and intention and voila - you have perfection.

We are all creatures of habit.  Mine is to skip the gauge process and wing it.  My other habit is to use measuring cups when I bake.  I've always used measuring cups.  I was brought up with measuring cups.  In fact I was probably given a set of silver measuring cups instead of that little silver baby spoon that was so often given by the adoring Grandparents, Aunts, etc. We all think we MUST HAVE measuring cups in order to bake.  NOT.  Enter the kitchen scale.  It is now my friend. Yes, I will still use my cups, but when I bake my gluten free breads it is the scale that will be my most valuable tool.  Now how does this enter into perfection you say?  Gluten free baking is not easy.  That is not if you are a perfectionist like me.  I am a bread baker from wa-a-ay back. I even have credentials.  I developed the Sour Dough section for the Joy of Cooking back in the late 60's.  Yes, those recipes are mine.  So you see dear reader - bread and how it looks, tastes, smells, feels and even breaks apart is important to me as a baker.  Ok.  Throw all that out the proverbial gluten window as I now have to be careful of eating anything with gluten. GF breads/doughs will never look, feel or taste or even bake or work up like regular gluten breads.  Step 1 was to change my way of thinking.

Step 2 was to figure out just what these GF flours and starches do.

For several years now I have been trying to make a decent GF bread.  All the recipes I came across used cups for measuring.  None of them explained why there were say millet and bean flours and potato and tapioca flours.  Why those, and what's the difference.  Many online searches and books later I came across this web site.  It was an eye opener and has given me hope that yes, there is the perfect GF bread loaf out there.  Gluten Free Girl explains the reason for weighing your GF flours.  They don't act like regular gluten flours.

Enter perfection.  When you weigh a flour it is exact and that is truly important in baking gluten free breads.  Just like making a sweater and perfecting the gauge, so it is important to weigh your flours to get that yummy loaf.  So off to the store to obtain a really good kitchen scale.  It is now my friend and best buddy.  It allows me to be precise in my measuring.  The first two loaves have come out just about perfect.  Now comes the good part.  I have my tools - I can now make my own 'gauge' as it were for my breads.  I can add a little more of one flour or a little more of another starch to get just the right look, feel, taste and rise out of my dough.  I can work on that perfection of my GF doughs.

And so to give credit where credit is due, my first successful bread has come from Gluten Free Girl's recipe.

She also has put up a video explaining how to measuring your flours, percentages of flours to starch (which I never knew was important until I read her blog).

Step 3 in the saga of GF is to create the perfect Sour Dough.  Gluten Free of course.   And in my knitting, Step 3 is to tackle that little lacy pattern Tee for my Sister.

Oh the joys of perfection.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Topsy Turvey Life

In my last post, I said Out of Chaos comes Order.  Indeed this is true.  For five months we have had a lot of chaos.  Building a new house, selling the old house, finding a rental house as temporary digs whilst the new house is being finished, packing, storing, packing, unpacking, storing. We are now settled down into our little rental house, which is quite cute and comfy.  Enough space for Hubby, 3 dogs and Moi and not step on each others paws....or toes, as the case may be.

The first packing was to get the old House ready for Open House.  Strip the walls of everything family pics, no treasured art work, pick up dog beds and dog toys, chewies and hide.  Empty more than half the kitchen.  I packed most of my cookbooks....oops!  They're in the back of the storage unit and I need at least one of them.  Drat!

Clean the house from tip to tail, shine, polish, refinish wood floors, roof inspection (check), house inspection (check).  Shiny House - all ready for Open House day.  First client - wants the House bad! Yay!  We sold House in record time.  Now comes the scramble.  Where the heck do we live now.  Finding a rental was not as easy as we thought.  I was sure we were going to live in the motor home for 6 months, piled on top of each other.  My blood pressure skyrockets!  Finally, a rental we can move into with all the boxes checked.

It has a wide open living area and French doors to the patio.  Fenced in yard.  KC, the Old One, can lay in the open doorway and watch the world go by or snooze - which is her MO these days.  The other two haven't figured out that they don't need me to go downstairs, open a door for them to go out anymore.  They can just take themselves out on their own and I can still keep an eye on them.  Tiny yard, but serviceable.

OK, where did I put that crockpot??!!  Oh, well....some things are packed that I won't be able to get to until we move into the New House.  Scary, cooking on an electrical stove top after using gas for umpty years.  Had to get a couple of Teflon pans as my cast iron didn't work too well.
The Kitchen is just right. Lots of storage space in the kitchen and in the little laundry room.

The New House is getting it's roofing put on this week.
We have windows (not yet installed, but they are on site), a bathtub/shower insert for the second bathroom, all the light tubes are there.  We just met with the electrician yesterday to get all the fixtures and switches in the right place.  Then we get to see how much over budget we are and do it again.  Kind of like ripping out the stitches on the sweater your knitting.  You have to be very precise or else it won't fit.

Looked at light fixtures today.  How much fun is this.  I'm loving it. Kind of like going to a yarn store and and going "Ooh!   I'll take one of those, two of those and oh yes, maybe another one of these".

In the meantime, I HAVE actually finished some UFOs.  The green Wonderful Wallaby hoodie for niece Raven is finished and delivered.  She loved it and it actually fit.  I'm not gifted with clothing, but I'm learning that gauge is extremely important; and making samples is necessary for a quality garment.  Of course I forgot to take a picture.  And my spinning wheel made it to the I'm getting some quality time on that, finishing up some projects.  It doesn't help that I went to Black Sheep Gathering and got more of that wonderful fluffy stuff and some yummy gorgeous colors.  I think I'm hooked.  I'll save this discussion for another blog. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Topsy Turvey

Everything is in Chaos.  We are building a new house and packing up the old one.  In order to get the current house on the market we are having to put most everything in storage, so that we have the 'model' home to show when it goes on the market.  I am generally a very tidy person and love to organize.  Everything has a file folder or a little box.  So it wasn't too hard to pack my Studio up into boxes and haul them off to the storage unit.  I've saved out my eSpinner, all my needles.  But I've packed away most of my fleece and stash yarn; and all of my books and patterns.  Wouldn't you know I needed that pattern!  I left myself 2 fleeces to spin, but packed away the one I really wanted to spin.  Aaagghhh!  Good thing I have friends who have some of the same patterns I do.  As for the fleece, Etsy got a few more of my $$ and some new fleeces appeared on my doorstep.  And then there is the Black Sheep Gathering coming up in June.

As for the new house.  Well, it's been a work in progress.  S - L - O - W progress.  The bank has fiddled and you know what-ed around until we finally gave up and went with the builder's bank.  So after 4 months of waiting  - yes, folks - we finally have Stakes in the ground.

We are building at the Independence Air Park. Next week we will finally break ground.  It will be good to get started.

As for my knitting, well, I still have 2 socks to finish, 1 shawl, a sweater and a little camisole.  Not too bad.  On the spinning front, I currently have some fleece from Woodland Woolworks.  It's really boring - not any color changes, but it is a beautiful color.  It's slow progress, but I need to get it off the spinner so I can go on to my prettier fleeces.  And I got 6 oz of it! Four would have been plenty and I would be done by now.  Moral:  DON'T BY PLAIN FLEECE.  Unless you're going to mix something else in.
The cami is for one of my teen nieces.  It's an easy pattern using just some acrylic yarn with sequins.  I wanted something washable for her. Note to self - don't by acrylic yarn again.  It makes my hands itch.  I found some Tilli Tomas silk beaded yarn that I will make into a little Tee for her.  I think that will be easier on my hands.  And it will be elegant - just in time for the Christmas Holidays. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's NOT Too Hot to Bake!

We are sweltering here in the Northwest.  Where we usually have gray skys and rain, we've got 97+ degrees and bright sun.  Personally I love it.  But, we need some fresh bread.  So out comes the recipe for bread in a Crock Pot.  Simple, easy-peasy.

I'm using my Artisan Bread dough.  Just take out a hunk - about the size of a large grapefruit.  Line a crock pot with parchment paper.  Sprinkle some cornmeal on the bottom and place the round dough on top.  Cover the pot and let sit for 2 hours.  Then cook it on high for 2 hours.  No muss, no fuss, NO HEAT. 

Now when the bread is finished, it will look like a dumpling.  It should spring back when you poke it and not be mushy feeling.  Some crock pots will require a little bit longer time. 

Brush the top with olive oil or a little butter. Then, for just 5 minutes, pop it under the broiler in the middle of the oven.  Watch carefully that it doesn't burn, but gets nice and browned.

Voila! Ambrosia!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Creating Yumm

I've just gotten a recipe that a lot of my FaceBook friends wanted me to share, and since FB doesn't allow file sharing yet I'll post it here.

Classic Pizza Dough from “Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in 5 Minutes a Day”

In a large 5 qt bowl, mix together well but don’t knead:
6 ½ c flour
3 c warm water
1 ½ Tablespoons Kosher or Sea Salt (large grains)
1 ½ Tablespoons Yeast

Set aside, covered loosly – not tight, to rise for about 2 hours.  Then store the bowl in the fridge.  Don’t punch down, just leave the lid on and stick in the fridge for a couple of days – or just 1 day if you’re anxious to start.  Dough will last for about 2 weeks and is enough to make 4 small pizzas, 2 loaves of peasant bread, or about 8 small Naan.

Stuffed Naan
Preheat Oven to 450 deg.

1 Naan – pull off about an orange size wad of Classic Dough.  Lightly flour a board and your hands and roll out the dough into ¼” size circle about 5” in diameter.

Stuffing for each Naan:
3 Tbsp finely chopped onions
3 Tbsp finely chopped Basil (or cilantro, or Oregano)
I added about 2 Tbsp crumbled Feta

Press stuffing into the dough. Then gather up the edges and pinch together into a ball, sealing the edges.  Place the edge side down on a floured board and roll into a flat bread to about 1/8” thick.  It’s ok if any stuffing bits come through the top.

Bake on a pizza stone if you have one, or a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes or until the Naan is lightly golden in color.

Remove from oven and brush tops with mixture of Olive oil, garlic and very finely chopped basil or whatever herb you stuffed it with.  Or just use olive oil.

Eat warm.
By the way – make lots, they re-heat nicely and if you make just one, you’ll wish you’d made more.  ;-)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tour de Fleece

The Tour de France is one of my favorite sports events to watch in the summer.  Having been an avid cyclist and racer until my knees and neck went bonky it always gives me a thrill to watch.  This year, I am spinning again with the Tour, this time with my new little drop spindle and Team Jenkins for the Tour de Fleece, put on by Ravelry.
Quite a different kind of spinning, but it appeals to my love of process.  I once used, or tried to use a top whorl spindle but never got the feel.  This year I bought a little Jenkins Delight - a cute little Turkish spindle and I've fallen in love.  We are a matched pair.  So there is something to be said about the horse matching the rider, or the dog matching the handler.  You can force something and make it work and be always fighting with it, or you can find the one that seems to fit, understand it, know it for it's strengths and weaknesses and flow with it. The little Jenkins is like that.  She has her weaknesses (she's small) and her strenghts (she's balanced perfectly); I too have my strengths (I am a detail person) and my weaknesses (I am impatient).  By recognizing this on both the part of the tool and myself, I am able to learn to use this little Delight and create something of beauty. Here is my visual record of my learning process. 

In the Beginning

Notice how the wind is uneven

Now starting to be mindful of my winding

Getting better, but still not quite right

And patience pays out

Getting toward the end

Finally, finished and off the spindle. Everything went sproing.
I noticed that my teammates cops were beautifully wound on and mine was a mess, so I started paying attention to this one minute detail.  I had to be mindful of where I placed the single yarn and how tightly I wound it on.  It was a slow process - testing my patience, coaxing me to slow my pace, take a deep breath and enjoy the process and watch as the beauty of the yarn started to twine itself together. Sometimes, I went astray - so be it.  Correct it for the next wind.  I am still getting the rhythm of it and my little Melisa Delight is there to help me through it. She stays balanced no mater what.  It's my job to keep her on track.

Hmm....kind of like my shepherding.  Jill and I are a good match.  I need to know my dogs strengths and weaknesses as well as my own in order to create the beauty of sheep herding.  Don't force it to happen, work with it.  Be patient, be mindful.  Enjoy the process.