Archive for May, 2009

Planning

May 27, 2009

Please excuse the recent quietness—life has been a bit hectic the last couple of weeks. I’m making a trip to the USA soon (three sleeps!) and have been busy planning this, as well as organising another trip to Melbourne, trying to keep up with work, and getting over my cold.

It’s hard to believe I’m leaving so soon. I’ve been planning this trip for months and it’s always seemed so far away, and now it is suddenly upon me. It’s my first professional trip overseas—I’m going to a conference on Stellar Pulsation, something that’s very closely linked to my thesis. It will also be the first time I’ve given a talk about my research outside my home institution, which makes me kind of nervous but kind of excited! As little as a year ago the prospect of giving a talk about my research to professional Astronomers gave me the willies. But sometime in the last year that seems to have disappeared. Maybe it has something to do with the workshop on presenting I did in November? Maybe it’s that I finally feel like I’m beginning to know what I’m talking about? In any case this is a good thing, because giving talks will be a major part of my career.

In between writing my talk, organising my flights, applying for travel grants and goodness knows what else, I’ve managed to find out a little about Santa Fe (where the conference is) and am looking forward to exploring it in the limited free time I’ll have there. Finding out where the yarn shops are has of course been a priority. I’m also lucky enough to be visiting a friend in Boston as well, and I’m excited about both catching up and seeing this beautiful city. The whole trip is less than two weeks, so it’ll be a bit of a whirlwind, but I’m determined to pack as much as possible into that time—scientifically, socially, and culturally. I’ve always loved discovering new places.

With any luck, I’ll be able to post some updates of my adventures while I’m away, so stay tuned!

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Comfort knitting

May 22, 2009

It’s been a quiet day for me today—I’m at home with a cold so I’ve been taking things slowly. The brain isn’t working too well so I’m not managing to get much work done, but luckily knitting is perfectly suited to lying on the couch and feeling sorry for yourself.

I think knitting is one of the best things you can do in this situation, as it actually makes you feel better. Of course, listening to Harry Potter audio books helps too! I’m a great believer in ‘comfort experiences’—and I don’t just limit this to comfort food. I have comfort books, comfort DVDs, comfort yarn, comfort tea, comfort clothes…the list goes on.

Anyway back to the knitting. I’ve actually got three things on the go at the moment, but I can only share one of them in any detail, as the other two are gifts. The first is a pair of socks I’m knitting for my Dad—he knows they’re coming so that’s no surprise, but I’d like the construction to remain a mystery, so I’ll just give you a taste of the yarn:

caramelly

Isn’t that a gorgeous colour? It makes me think of russian caramel. I must admit I didn’t really take to it when I saw it next to all the other colours of yarn—I just thought ‘That’s a good colour for masculine socks’ and grabbed it. But now that it’s by itself, not upstaged by the flashy hues of its brothers, its quiet beauty shines through. I hope Dad likes it.

Remember that lovely dark brown alpaca yarn I bought at the alpaca expo? It was so soft and brown and wonderful I couldn’t wait to use it, so I started an ishbel almost straight away. It’s lovely to knit with and I’m really looking forward to the finished product, but there’s also an element of danger—I don’t know the yardage of the ball and suspect it might not be long enough. At this stage, the plan is to keep knitting until I run out (if I do) and then decide on a contingency plan (if I have to) that still gives me an ishbel. Could I do fewer repeats somewhere? Could I bind off early? These are questions I will (hopefully not) have to answer later. I’m still knitting the stocking stitch centre so have no idea as yet whether I’ll have enough, too much, or (cringe) too little yarn. Though that does make it kind of exciting. That’s me, always flirting with danger.

Anyway, here’s a picture of the progress so far:

ishbel

as you can see I was knitting on a short (40cm) circular and had to stop while I waited for a longer one to arrive. But now it’s here, I’m itching to get back to my dangerous ishbel.

The last project I want to share with you today has made wonderful sooky knitting. There’s nothing like beautifully soft, fantastically colourful handspun to make you feel happier! So today I got to play with this yarn:

green

and loved it so much, I finished the project after only a few hours. Unfortunately as this one is again a gift, I can’t tell you any more (at this stage). It is currently blocking and looking delicious (as if anything knit with this yarn could look otherwise!), so will hopefully be dry in a couple of days. Fingers crossed.

A fun-filled weekend

May 17, 2009

Yesterday we got up early to go to the farmers’ markets which was packed as always, but well worth it. If you’re in the Canberra region, the best lady finger bananas are to be had here, and there are new and interesting stalls every week, as well as a solid core of lovely fruit and veg. I can’t evangelise enough about these markets, and if you do go, make sure you get one of the huge berry muffins from Rosa’s home bake stall.

The discovery of the day was a stall selling organic goats’ cheese from Victoria

goats cheese

which made a very tasty lunch spread on potato bread!

potato bread

I had to make something to take to a party that night, so I decided on baked cheesecake—which meant I got to play with my vintage Mixmaster. It always makes cooking seem so much more fun.

vintage

It was my first time making baked cheesecake, which is something I’ve wanted to make for ages. It turned out really well, and was very tasty—which makes sense given there was almost a kilo of cream cheese in it. I used a Jamie Oliver recipe which you can find here. The only advice I would give is to trust his instructions on how long to bake it for—I was worried mine was too wobbly so I left it in the oven for longer, but in the end I think it would have been nicer if it hadn’t baked for so long, as it set when it cooled anyway.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the finished product. Possibly by that stage we were all too busy scoffing it to bother! So, I can tick baked cheesecake off my list of Things I Want To Try Making Myself. Yum :)

All in all it was a bit of a Nanna morning, so it was probably good when we finally headed off to the party—nothing makes you feel less Nanna-ish than a Bollywood party! There was henna painting

henna

and saris for everyone

sari

and lots of Indian food, music, movies, and dancing. The wonderful hostess took the time to help us all dress in her beautiful saris, showing an almost uncanny knack for choosing the colour that best suited everyone. As a child who loved to play dress-ups, this was like heaven for me!

I took good care of my henna (did you know rubbing it with Vicks overnight will help bring out the colour?) and today it’s looking fabulous, though I’m looking forward to being able to wash my hand this evening.

henna2

To top off a grand weekend, today was ‘A Celebration of Wool’ at the Old Bus Depot Markets. It was so busy, I’m beginning to wonder if everyone in Canberra is a knitter. It was wonderful to see so many different stalls selling knitted goods, fibre for spinning, and yarn. There’s something satisfying about spending the morning elbow-deep in wool, and there were so many different weights, colours, and fibres to be had. I picked up a selection of different yarns, all beautiful, and all so soft.

softness

After that I felt I thoroughly deserved my cup of mulled wine from Jo the Orange Juice Man, and some quiet time at home on the couch. I wonder what’s on the cards for next weekend?

Brown sugar, lemon and saffron muffins

May 14, 2009

muffins

It’s so nice when improvisation in the kitchen works out. So often it goes terribly wrong, but last night I was inspired (by being hungry, or by my pantry, or by the purple baking fairy, I’m not sure which) to make a new flavour of muffins, and the results were quite pleasing really. They turned out so well, I thought I’d share the recipe! That way you can make them too, and I won’t forget what I did.

I decided that brown sugar and lemon would make a nice combination in a muffin, and as I was getting ingredients out of the pantry it occurred to me that some sort of spice would go well too. Vanilla seemed too predictable, and cumin too savoury…then I saw the saffron. Cha-ching!

What I ended up doing was adding the saffron and some lemon juice to my standard muffin mix, then making a paste out of brown sugar and more lemon juice, and kind of swirling it through the mix just before I poured it into the cases. And they turned out really well! I’d probably add more lemon juice next time (I quite like lemon, and it wasn’t strong enough for me), and also some lemon zest–my lemon had already been zested for another dish so I had none left. The saffron came through a lot stronger than I expected too, so if you’re not used to this flavour maybe try reducing the amount.

Brown Sugar, Lemon and Saffron Muffins

2 1/4 cups plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarb soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/3 cup brown sugar

150mL greek yoghurt

150mL milk

2 eggs

125g butter, melted

zest and juice of 1 lemon

pinch of saffron threads (~1/4 tsp)

Because this recipe has a lot of acidic (yoghurt, lemon juice) and a lot of basic (baking powder, baking soda) ingredients, it’s important to work quickly otherwise the chemical reaction will happen in the bowl instead of in the oven, and your muffins won’t rise.

Preheat oven to 190°C. Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb, and salt in a large bowl with 2/3 cup of the brown sugar. Warm 20mL of the milk in a small cup and allow the saffron threads to soak in the warmed milk for at least 5 minutes. Line a muffin tray with paper cases.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining milk and the yoghurt. Add the melted butter, eggs, half the lemon juice, the lemon zest, and the saffron milk (I didn’t bother to strain it as I think it’s nice to come across a few saffron threads). Whisk it all together.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining brown sugar and lemon juice to make a paste about the consistency of melted chocolate. You don’t want it too thick–it won’t swirl through easily–and not too thin, or it’ll just melt into the mixture.

Now the action: make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the eggy milky mixture. Working quickly, mix until just combined but not perfect–it’s better to err on the side of lumps, because if you mix too much your muffins will be tough. Pour over the brown sugar paste and mix briefly with a butterknife or the side of a spoon, until just marbled. Quickly pour into the prepared tray, and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or so. Makes about 14 regular-sized muffins.

Fragrant but comforting. Just the perfect thing for a winter night, with a cup of tea or a glass of wine. If you do try them, I’d love to hear how they turn out, and any changes you made. Here’s to successful improvisation!

Cute stuff

May 13, 2009

Just found the cutest online store! Very much coveting the kitty and yarn t-shirt, and we all need more squirrels and owls on our stationery :)

The prettiest beret in the world

May 11, 2009

Although you’ve already seen it in the photos from yesterday, I wanted to gush about my new red beret :)

red lace

The pattern is the Ishbel Beret by Ysolda Teague, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed knitting something more. The yarn I used—a cashmere, merino and microfibre blend—was so lovely to knit with too, it just made the whole experience perfect! At one point I had to frog because of a mistake I made in the lace, but I was having a such a good time I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I was even looking forward to knitting it all again, because, well, I’d get to knit it all again.

happy

Can’t say I’ve ever felt that before.

In any case, I now have the most beautiful red beret, the subject of many envious groans. Which means it fits in well with the rest of my wardrobe, the philosophy of which is ‘if it doesn’t make other people jealous, it’s not worth wearing’.

sooooo pretty

Ravellers can find more details here.

Now I’m off to Stitch n Bitch, where I’ll hopefully have a chance to boast a bit more!

Alpacas!

May 10, 2009

alpacas

Today we went to the alpaca expo at the showgrounds. So many alpacas!

such big eyes

It was really more of a breeder’s show-and-tell than a fibre extravaganza, but I was so caught up with meeting all of the alpacas that I didn’t really mind. The whole building was full of small pens which were full of hay and alpacas. So many different colours!

We chatted to several farmers and learnt lots of things about fleece quality and breeding. They talked a lot about which male you should ‘put over a female’ (erm…) and one was very excited that I knew enough statistics to understand her herd averages (who ever thought standard deviation would have such a useful application?).

We interrupted several lunchbreaks

a snack

suri alpacas

and I got to cuddle the sweetest, softest baby alpaca!

cuddles

I was just so amazed by these wonderful animals—they have such personality, and they’re all so different. And such big, liquid eyes! Everywhere I turned, alpacas were sizing me up, giving me that calculated gaze.

staring

There was yarn for sale, and fibre, and knitted hats, jumpers, and scarves. So soft and squishy! I managed to control my impulses, and only bought two small skeins—the first undyed yarn I have ever bought. But with so many natural fleece colours, why would you want to dye this?

alpaca yarn

The larger one still smells delightfully of alpacas, which makes me smile every time I pick it up.

baby alpaca