Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas 2011... more sweets...

Candied orange peel. I love how it makes something of what would otherwise be tossed out--and a very tasty treat indeed!

So simple to boot. I have found that a smaller batch is easier to manage so I only do 4 oranges at a time, but you can probably do 6 or 8 with the same amount of sugar. Cut them in half and squeeze the juice out of them (save for breakfast), place in large pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain. Cover again with cold water and boil. Drain. Boil them 5 times like this. Drain for a last time and let them cool a bit. Scoop out the pulp, flatten them and scape as much pulp off as you like. Slice into strips. I happen to have some small cookie cutters so I use these to add a few shapes to the lot. The peel is now ready to be candied.

Spread 2 cups of sugar on a parchment lined cookie sheet. (I run my sugar through the processor to make it finer, but I imagine that if you obtain superfine sugar you won't need this step.)

Add 1 cup of boiling water to 2 cups of sugar and stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the peel and bring to a boil on medium heat. Boil for 30 minutes, stirring now and then to begin with but after 15 minutes attention is required. When the syrup thickens they must be stirred continually or they will scorch.

Using tongs, pick the strips out of the pan and toss into the sugar. I find it best to pick the strips out singly or just a few at a time otherwise you can end up with a big glob of stuck together peels. Keep adding the peels to the sugar, and toss all around till coated with sugar.

For a truly luxurious treat, melt some chocolate and dip the peels half way in the chocolate. Oh-la-la.

Soap... A Rescue Operation...

Before I molded the last batch of soap, I divided it in three and put grapefruit and bergamot EOs (essential oils) in one portion, sweet orange EO in another, and lavender buds in the third. The grapefruit and orange came out lovely, but the longer the lavender bud soap cured the more the buds bled and the bars ended up looking like they were infested with bugs. Not a pretty sight!

Poking around the web last week I stumbled upon a great solution: milled soap. So yesterday I took the 3 bars of "bug infested" soap and grated them up. My Kitchen Aid mixer with the attachments made easy work of that:

I melted this grated soap down with 7 oz. of water. To that I added 2 oz. of coco butter, 2 oz. lanolin and 1 oz. of glycerin and remolded it.

Ah... it looks much better now. Darker in color, as the buds got ground up, but still speckled. Speckles that are too small to look like bugs!

It did not mold as well this time around and methinks I will have to do more research on milling soap. I didn't do too much investigation into different methods but basically used the first I came upon.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011... the flavors of the season

Merry Christmas, everyone!

More than anything, the celebration of Christmas is defined for me by it's smells and flavors. The sights and lights are beautiful for certain but a whiff of tourtiere pie awakens memories of Christmases past in a flash. There are certain foods that we only ever had at Christmas. These include tourtiere pie, grapefruit, big fat purple grapes with seeds, salami with cream cheese, highballs and a no-cook fudge that my mother always made. Nothing fancy, but very very special. And of course the enjoyment thereof is made extra special by the romance of lights, decorations and the smell of evergreen in the house. Continuing these traditions is my pleasure in Christmases present.

As I have done for several years now, I spent Christmas with music (today it was Bach for a couple hours) and cookery: tourtiere, fudge and caramels (which I scorched so I'll have to redo that one tomorrow!).

Tourtiere is a traditional French Canadian meat pie. I made mine differently this year. Instead of a large pie, I mixed up a quick and easy, light and flaky pastry made very simply of butter, cream cheese, flour and pinch of salt. Cream the butter (2 sticks) with the cream cheese (8 oz.) with a mixer till blended, add 2 cups of flour and a pinch of salt and mix just till it forms a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for a while (I let mine rest for a couple hours). This makes a very flaky pastry for small turnovers, rolled 1/8" thick and cut into 3" circles. I placed a good tablespoon of tourtierre in the center, folded over and wet the edges of the circle with water before pinching into half moon shapes. Brushed with egg and milk whipped together then baked at 350 (I adjust down to 325 since I use a toaster oven for these) for 20 to 25 minutes.

It was a success beyond my dreams! Oh, they were so good. Their devouring was accompanied with moans of ecstasy. These are the ones I made this afternoon for Christmas supper:

I have a container of tourtierre filling and a good sized pat of pastry in the fridge so I can make several more tomorrow.

We always had tourtiere for Christmas breakfast. We'd open gifts to the smell of tourtiere wafting from the kitchen. At the kitchen table, each place was set with half a grapefruit sprinkled with sugar. This was really special. It was one of 2 days (New Years was the other) in the year that we tasted grapefruit. Lovely how special something becomes when it's enjoyed just once or twice a year.

It is said that everyone has their own tourtiere recipe. Mine is based on my mothers. Ground pork and beef (1 lb. of each--humanely raised, free range from the farmer's market), potato and onion (1 large of each, the former grated, the latter chopped), allspice (an absolute must in my book and I used about 2 tablespoons), pepper (lots of it, I probably used a tablespoon), salt to taste. I also put in a bit of ground sage. A touch of clove is a nice addition. I've seen some recipes that call for many more ingredients including cognac! But what I've just described is the tourtiere of my childhood. And I love it.

The fudge is also simple: 1 packet of graham crackers crushed with a rolling pin until slightly coarser than cornmeal, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1 package of chocolate morsels and 1 tsp. vanilla. Heat the chocolate with the milk in the top of a double boiler until chocolate is melted, stir to blend, add vanilla and pour over cracker crumbs. Mix well and pour (more like plop) into a buttered 9x9 pan. Cool. It's really quite good for non-cooked fudge. To me it means Christmas.

I won't write about the caramel. :) Tomorrow will be better for that!

I'll also make some candied orange peel and if I have time I'll make another batch of praline candy. I made some last weekend and took it to work to share around. They're also quite easy and very very good. Cook 1 cup sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar (light) with 1 cup half-and-half and 8 large marshmallows over medium heat until soft ball stage (~234-240). Without stirring or scraping the pan, pour into another pan and add 2 cups chopped pecans, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir vigorously until thickens then quickly drop into rounds on cookie sheet (lined with parchment or waxed paper). Flatten (if you can) with spoon. Need to work quickly when it starts to thicken as it sets up quickly. Delicious!

The salami and cream cheese: spread a thin layer of cream cheese on a thin slice of hard salami. Top with another slice of salami and spread that with a thin layer of cream cheese. Continue to build layers until 3/8" high or so. Wrap well and put in refrigerator over night. It needs the time for the cream cheese to absorb the salami flavors. Cut into small squares. Serve with highballs. Yum. Our traditional holiday drink was highballs made with Four Roses whiskey and ginger ale. Still tastes like Christmas to me!

Here's a candid admission: One of my favorite Christmas albums is the one The Partridge Family made. I just love it. It's cheery and happy and the arrangements are really quite nice. And yes, I do love Christmas carols. Seems to be going out of fashion, but not for me. I went carolling last night at the tree at the arch in Washington Square. I met up with a friend from our Knit & Schmooze group and sang our hearts out for an hour with at least 200 other revellers. Singing with hundreds of other voices... Special indeed.

Merry Christmas!!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Projects... A picture is worth a thousand words...

This picture is the sum of what I've been up to. Several "half-done"s. Each project is a joy, so the finishing of each is anticipated with eagerness. From the right, going clockwise. An old (quite old!) macrame instruction booklet from D.M.C. and 2 past issues of "Wild Fibers" magazine (one from 2006 and 2008 each). The story... I stopped by Brooklyn General this afternoon after my cello lesson and found these treasures in a box of giveaways. Yes! Free! Who ever heard of such a thing? Well, there they are. The owner is rearranging the store and clearing out unwanted items. Lucky me (us)! The stars must be lining up. In fact I saw some of the meteor shower last night (it was in the morning hours really) when I got up to visit the powder room.

If you do not yet subscribe to Wild Fibers magazine, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that it is one of the most beautiful, interesting and awesome magazines you can subscribe to. It is, as a friend of mine says, the National Geographic of the fiber world. Every issue is 100% fascinating and gorgeously illustrated. It's an absolute treasure.

Just to the left of the magazines is my first hank of Wellington Fibers "mystery roving". 62 yards, 3 ply. Oh. Oh! OH! This fiber is so fabul-o-u-s-! Wool, mohair and alpaca. I am so well pleased with the result and so look forward to working with the yarn. My current plan is to spin enough to weave some cloth with it.

Continuing along the bottom of the picture is the progress I've made on a pair of slippers. The pattern is a recent issue from Kriskrafter. I have one slipper completed. The other sole and top are finished knitting and remain to be joined. It's always exciting to stumble upon a perfect recipe -- this is one of them. An instant classic in my opinion. It will be in my book of essential and favorite recipes. It's simple, quick and easy. The results: fabulous! Just what I want in a pair of slippers. Aren't they exciting?!

To the left of the slippers are the fingerless gloves I was working on. As you can see they're musically themed. The left is done except for weaving in the ends. The right is getting there, albeit on hold until next week most probably. I am using these to practice holding a color in the left hand and another in the right. Left: Continental, Right: English. It is pretty nifty when it works, and it works really well when there is a row of alternating color on every stitch. It also makes carrying the dormant color on long stretches wonderfully facile. It's a bit of a challenge using such short needles, I have to admit that. How many times have I taken this knitting out of my bag to find fallen stiches?! Discovering fallen stitches on stranded knitting unnerves me somewhat, but I'm getting practice putting them back on the rails. I'm getting conditioned to it.

In the top left corner is Intergrated Practice by Pedro de Alcantara. I'm about half way through it. One of the best books on making music I've ever read. If you're a musician this book is not one you want to miss. My only grievance is that at the moment it is difficult to find the time to do all the exercises described and written about in the book. I would love to take 6 months off just to immerse myself in these methods. I will manage it... over time, since taking 6 months off is not a luxury I can afford.

And at the top of the picture are 2 skeins of new wool for another pair of slippers! :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Still here...

Just a quickie post so people won't think I've dropped off the edge of the world! Been very busy... a whirlwind trip to NH... a party for my students... holiday knitting...

I will post about all these soon.

The soap I made end of October is ready and f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s-! Really smooth and refreshing.

Facecloths are finished. To go with soaps as gifts.

Musical motif stranded knitting hand warmers are 2/3 done but on hold while I knit up a pair of slippers, then knit up 2 more pair as gifts.

Took Wellington Fiber's mystery roving on my trip to NH and got some relaxing spinning in. ... I MUST, just absolutely must give them a call very soon. My ideas for this yarn have expanded and now I'm thinking I'd like to weave with it.

Details (and pics) soon.... :)


Pedro de Alcantara's Integrated Practice is brilliant! Go get it. You won't regret it.

4th position on the cello is a blast! (Even though I haven't done much of it yet.)

I'm spending much time with Bach these days. So much to learn there. Sublime music.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On the music front... an update...

On the Cello I'm nearing the end my of introduction to second position. My teacher told me last week that we'd be starting 4th position in a few weeks. (He said he likes to go from 2nd to 4th and then back to 3rd... I guess I'll discover why when we get there!) Extensions are still a struggle but I am definitely getting closer to the maneuverability I'd like. As a matter of fact this weekend was pretty productive in that regard.

As with piano, the muscles in the torso, the ribs, shoulders and neck, in the pelvis, etc. etc. are all involved and need to be worked on. It's not just the hands and fingers, ever!

Cello and piano practice continue to enhance one another. I consider myself somewhat fortunate as a cello student to have exposure to that instrument of torture we know as a piano. ;) The good kind of torture of course. Much of the time when I'm working on my left hand (and all that supports it) at the piano I feel it is work that benefits me at the cello just as much. And vice versa. I know my piano playing has improved since starting cello lessons.

I'm reading a couple of very good books at the moment. One is new--just published but the other I've had for, well... more than a few years but I never finished it. I've taken it up again.

The newly published book is Pedro de Alcantara's Integrated Practice. I'm not going to write anything about it until I've finished the book. Except to say that it's good. Really good.

The book that I've had on my shelf for the last 5 or so years is W. A. Mathieu's text Harmonic Experience. It's a tome and a textbook and pricey but ever so worth it. The first few chapters anyway (about as far as I've gotten) are a masterpiece. His is a fresh and exciting look at harmony. Now that I have a cello (capable of producing a drone) I can do several of the exercises from the book. Many of these exercises are singing one of the overtones against the drone (low C in most cases) to hear the exquisite silvery liquid beauty of harmony. (Something we don't hear too much of on modern well-tempered pianos!)

I'll have more to write about both these books as I progress. But do look them up. They are treasures.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hooker me... The Union Square Greenmarket's Homesteading Fair

Even though it was a beautiful day--sunny and crisp, within the stone pavilion where we were it was cool bordering on cold. My toes got cold, an experience I haven't entertained in nigh on 30 years! It brought back many old memories. Funny how the unpleasant and uncomfortable is reflected in retrospect. I think those times in which we suffer the most (if I can use such a hard word) end up being vessels for strong, dare I say, fond memories. I have several memories of cold toesies and in fact I look back in fondness upon a great many of them. As they say, "Those were the days." I wonder if that isn't just another way of expressing the sentiment about "the grass being greener..."? I dunno!

I should mention that I'm feeling a bit nostalgic this evening. Probably because I received my pre-release copy of Matt Alber's new album "Constant Crows" today via the web and it is gorgeous--and full of emotion. It's put me in a right reverie. A most beautiful voice! Do look it up... and buy the album.

I am so glad I went ahead a signed up for the homesteading fair. I have not ever done this sort of thing before and I realized Saturday that it's what I love. It's close to my roots. Those are the people I like to be around and that is the atmosphere I really enjoy. Another argument for why I may very well end up living in the country again when I get closer to retirement age.

Set up on the table next to mine was Beth Linskey of Beth's Farm Kitchen. I've purchased her Jams and Jellies before and it was a thrill to be right there while she cooked up a batch of plum jam--it was perfection (IMO, she really gets the perfect level of sweetness)--and squash soup which was just what the doctor ordered, and a poem at that! I bought her cookbook (signed :) ), "Cooking with Jams and Chutneys" and you should too. It is great. Not only does she share some of the recipes for the jams she sells at the market, but the book includes many recipes using those jams, and also includes several fascinating tidbits about ingredients and canning. For instance I never really knew the difference between preserves and conserves and how they differ from jams and jellies. I do now! :)

The woman across the pavilion from me was weaving on an inkle loom. An inkle loom is now on my wish list (my mile long wish list!).

I enjoyed meeting people who were interested in what I was doing. Someone wanted to buy my "Bird Seasons" and it was oddly, just slightly difficult to say that it wasn't for sale. I'll have to think about that. The question caught me by surprise. Another lovely woman who hails from Florida asked if I gave workshops! Perhaps now is the time to consider the offer I received to do a class. Time. That's all it is of course... Time.

The children were adorable! I have two frames so I set one up on the front of my table where those so inclined could try it out for themselves. I had a bag of #5 strips in every color of the rainbow (left over from bird seasons) right next to the frame. The children loved it. Several little girls spent several minutes hooking lines of color. It was marvelous! I gave them every encouragement I could. What dears.

Well here's a look of me we haven't seen on here. Not sure what it is... What? You want my picture? ... (And, oh! No, I haven't made much progress on the recyled shirt rug... been busy with the knitting lately. However, Saturday did set my mood for some more rug hooking. :) )

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hooker me... demonstrating at the farmer's market

I'll be demonstrating traditional rug hooking Saturday, November 5th from 11am-3pm at the Union Square Farmer's Market (the big one!). It's part of the program called Urban Homesteading. Other's will be spinning (including friends of mine, one of whom will be using my wheel) and knitting. There will also be canning experts, mushroom growers, sandal making, quilting and a lot more.

From the market's FB page,

"Come join us for our Homesteading Fair! An exposition of heirloom skills -- from canning to spinning wool -- come learn from a wonderful array of experts whose knowledge and skills are a perfect compliment to the season as we prepare for cooler months ahead."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Knit wise... the baby blanket is finished

Just finished tying the front and back together. It has turned out a pretty little quilt and I'm well pleased by it. The dimenstions are slightly over 36"x36". It was worth taking the time to knit the backing; makes it all the more special. I took a few chances and I think they paid off. I wish I could explain how lovely it feels to hold... When I was a child we called quilts and duvets "puffs", "I need a puff for my bed" was commonly heard about the house in the late fall. That's what this baby blanket feels like: A puff. :) Gotta ship it off asap. I have a hunch they're going to need it pronto. (See last photo)

The front. I decided to have the ties in the back because I did not want to destroy the impressionistic feel of the Noro front.

The back with the ties in place.

The edge on the front side. It shows how I picked up and knit along the perpendicular knitting, and picked up and knit plus knit through the back of the picked up stitch along the parallel stitches. There is only 1 or 2 rows of knitting before the purl row which turns the knitting onto the backside.

Based on the weather we're having here in NYC I think they in Vermont will make good use of this puff soon. I snapped this picture out my front window early this afternoon! It's October 29!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Soap... second batch: a new recipe

I made soap over the weekend -- trying out a new recipe. The last soap I made was Oatmeal and I've really been enjoying it. Feels very nice to the skin. I don't ever want to go back to commercial "soaps" if I can help it. From what I've read they aren't really soap anyway, they're detergents made with petroleum products. Ugh.

[Climbing off my soap box now...]

Sorry for the bad pun, I couldn't help it.

The recipe I made on Saturday is called Nicolle's Basic Soap and I found it on a site called Soapnuts. It contains more varied oils than the oatmeal soap I made last time including castor oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil, olive oil and palm oil.

Different oils contribute different properties to a soap. Some oils contribute to the softness of the soap, some to rampant lather, some to hardness, etc. From what I read, the trick in devising recipes is to find a combination that results in a soap with the properties you like, along with determining the correct amount of lye to "saponify" the oils. Too much or too little lye is a recipe for disaster.

Saponification is the chemical process which oil & lye undergo to create soap. It's like magic! Who would think these substances would make soap when stirred together under the right conditions?

There are several on-line charts listing the soap making properties of several oils. There are also some "lye calculators" which will calculate the amount of lye needed to saponify a certain amount of a certain type of oil. I imagine these calculators depend on data reaped from centuries of soap making.

I have heard that olive oil takes longer to achieve the state called "trace" than other oils and indeed it took me a while of stirring before I felt ready to pour. Even at that I'd really only reached a faint trace. But it worked. The soap is now unmolded and sitting to cure for the next 4 weeks.

The unmolding was a problem. I put the molded soap in the freezer for 30 minutes thinking that was long enough. Apparently, it wasn't. I had a real hard time getting them to budge from their molds and a few came out with a nick or two. Next time I will know to grease the molds before hand. Live and learn. After struggling too long I decided to put them back in the freezer for a while. That did the trick. They popped right out after that.

I think my future soap making will involve the use of a large rectangular mold to make one large bar which will then be cut into slices. But I'll have to think of a way to spice it up a bit. Rectangular soap is so common! ;)

I divided my batch into three and put lavendar buds in one portion, sweet orange essential oil with some ground up cloves (not enough--I'll learn--eventually) in another, and grapefruit essential oil in the third. About 2 lbs. in all.

Saturday's soap:

Knit wise... a sneak peak...

The knitting on the baby blanket is done. The back was an undertaking but it was really good practice for my continental style knitting. Continental sure goes fast. I am by default an English style knitter but for large expanses I like the economy of movement in continental style. I'm thinking that one of these days I'll practice some continental purling so I can get more rounded in that respect.

I am very happy with the way it's turning out. I had to increase the rate of decreases for the last 20 or 30 rounds. It would have ended up puckered otherwise. I also, half by accident, decided to duplicate stitch embroider the little girl's name and birthdate on the back. It happened because I ran out of the burgandy color and didn't feel I could stop and wait till I could obtain some more (the store I purchased it at had only 2 skeins). So I decided to put in a strip of grey and as that was being manifest the idea of embroidery came to me. As it turns out, on my next visit to the yarn store the shelf had been restocked with burgandy. Charts for the letters were plucked out of Nicky Epstein's book, Cover Up.

I just took the blanket out of a Eucalan bath and it is pinned out to dry. Here's a look at the backing--all wet. I'll have complete pics in a few days. :) (Note: I blurred out the last name for privacy's sake.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fiber wise... The NY Sheep and Wool festival... a few more pictures

The previous post contains several pics of my trip to the festival and you can read about my trip in the post before that one.

Some alpacas:

A real beauty!:

Some begonias on the grounds:

Some fish:

Rug wool :) :

The fair closes at 5pm. My train back to the city leaves Rhinecliff at 6:51 so I had a bit of time to spend in downtown Rhinebeck which is just a few blocks from the fair grounds. I stopped for pizza before calling the taxi driver to take me back to the Amtrak station. Downtown Rhinebeck:

The famous Beekman Arms Inn in downtown Rhinebeck. The oldest Inn in the US, it has operated continuously since 1766:

As I was waiting on the platform for my train back to NYC, from the day's saturation of yarns and rovings, my world had become a blur of color:

Here is what I came home with:

A day to remember.

Fiber wise... The NY Sheep and Wool festival... pictures

These are my pics from the NY Sheep and Wool festival. My impressions are in the post previous to this one.

In the sheep barn... They are such lovely animals... Several breeds on display...

What a sweety:

A gorgeous sheep:

I love this color:

A beautiful autumn border next to one of the vendor buildings:

Rug hooking!:

Yours truly with someone I went to high school with. (I'm wearing my hand spun hat, the one that I spun all over the place! :) ):

Some roving to choose from. (Bet you can't pick just one! ;) ):

A pretty alpaca. They seem so self-assured :):

A part of the grounds where food may be had:

A pretty little sculpture amongst the plantings:

Some fiber:

The one looks utterly exhausted!:

Ever so lovely. So 'sheepish' aren't they? :)

This sheep is so beautiful. His (or her--I didn't check) face is a deep caramel color. Very much enjoyed my attention too:

This funny one hopped into the bin!:

The pumpkin carver is a bit of a fixture at the festival:

Some yarn:

An angora rabbit. They're not trained for photoshoots! Took me several tries to get this one:

Some items entered for judging:

More... gorgeous weaving!!:

More to come...