Archive for July, 2009

Craft Fair

July 29, 2009

Yay, the Craft Fair is coming next weekend! I’m keeping my eye on the workshops in case something good pops up, but for me the main event will probably be (as always) the shopping on offer. And the lovely vibe as well. Squeee!

Banana and Strawberry Bread

July 23, 2009

‘Tis the season of kitchen creativity—apparently. Maybe there’s something about winter that brings out the nesting instincts in me? In any case I have another recipe to share with you.

I was making a loaf of banana bread the other day when my eye fell on a couple of punnets of strawberries we’d bought because they were on special. After I picked it up again, it occurred to me how well a scattering of strawberries might go in a loaf of banana bread. Instant classic! As you can see from the picture, I didn’t take a photo straight away and by the time I remembered a lot of the banana-strawberry bread was gone. This is a testament to how good it is (and also to how much we like cake, I guess).

banana and strawberry bread

Banana and Strawberry Bread

90g softened butter

115g brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

finely grated zest of an orange

4 or 5 very ripe lady finger bananas (you could use 2 ripe cavendish, but it won’t have the same flavour)

250g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

half a dozen large ripe strawberries, cut in half.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar (I find this works best if you use a fork). Add the eggs, vanilla and orange zest and beat well.

In a separate bowl, mash the bananas roughly—you want to keep some nice chunky bits. Beat into the butter mixture. Add the flour and baking powder alternately, mixing after each addition. Don’t beat it too well at this stage or it will become too fluffy and not dense and bread-like.

Lastly, stir in the strawberries and spoon into the prepared tin. Bake for 1 hour or until it tests clean. Serve it toasted, slathered with butter, with a cup of Darjeeling on a sunny afternoon.

Sue’s socks

July 20, 2009

The best thing about knitting small projects is that they’re finished so quickly. I love that feeling of elated righteousness that comes with finishing a project. And with socks and hats and things, I get that feeling nice and often.

So here is another FO for you to gawp at and for me to preen about: the socks I’ve been knitting for my mother in law, Sue.

socks1

If you’re on Ravelry, you can read the project details here. They’re made of 100% New Zealand wool (the same sort as Dad’s socks, actually) in a rather shocking shade of turquoise. My camera has enhanced the colour, but only slightly—they really are quite bright.

socks2

The pattern is a waffle rib, and they were knit top-down with a heel-flap heel. DK-weight wool makes for very quick sock knitting, and is more appropriate for house socks I think—the extra thickness keeps you warmer in bed, and cushions those little tootsies when you’re padding about the house.

socks3

I think Sue will like them, and they will definitely brighten up dull winter days.

Now I can get onto the next pair of socks on my list—whew!—with any luck they’ll all be done before winter’s over.

Domestic divinity

July 16, 2009

Yesterday afternoon and evening were rather creative and domestic as my evenings go—especially for a weekday. There’s something about creative days that makes me happy. I’ve always wished I was more creative. And pottering around in the kitchen is good for the soul, I am convinced.

Libby and I were rostered on to bring some home-baked treats to work for morning tea today, so that was the spur for all this domesticity. We decided on a theme of ‘favourites from an Australian childhood’. This had twofold benefits: all the Aussies (young and old) would get a trip down memory lane, and everyone who didn’t grow up in Australia (at least half the people at work didn’t) would get to try something new and share in the communal nostalgia.

We made chocolate crackles, honey joys, and fairy bread. Yum!

chocolate crackles and honey joys

It’s possible I ate far too much fairy bread this morning. Possible, but sources can’t confirm.

I also managed to get some knitting done, on something that is ultra-cute but unfortunately secret. More news on that later.

The most exciting and creative project of the day was the peculiar inside-out rolls I made after Libby went home. I really have to think of a better name for them, so I’d better describe them. I’ve been thinking about making this sort of bread for a while—basically it’s a roll which has filling baked inside it. This way you don’t have to make a sandwich in the morning, you just grab one of these and off you go. It came about because I was trying to think of things that are convenient for Phil to take to work. He travels around a lot during the day and often doesn’t have microwave or fridge access, and some things are liable to get squashed in his bag. My immediate thought was pasties, but the unhealthiness of pastry turned me off a bit. I thought, what if I replaced the pastry with bread? And here we are.

These have a ham, cheese and tomato based filling, but I imagine you could fill these with anything you like, depending on if you want to eat them at room temperature or warmed up. I imagine leftover stews, curries and the like would work well, but I think fresh ingredients would also shine here. I’m thinking of trying pumpkin and feta ones, maybe with a bit of spinach. Or roast capsicum with onion and lemon zest. Use your imagination!

Peculiar Inside-Out Roll Things

1 quantity of Jamie’s basic bread dough (I used half bread flour, a quarter wholemeal plain flour, and a quarter white plain flour, but use what you like)

about 200g ham, sliced

grated cheddar

2 tomatoes, chopped

black pepper

fresh continental parsley, chopped (or other herbs, I used chives when I ran out of parsley).

Follow the recipe for bread dough up to the end of Step 4. While it is rising, mix together your filling ingredients (I basically used the quantities that suited my taste for this filling, but if you like more cheese and less ham or whatever, adjust as you see fit).

At Step 5, after you knock back the dough, divide it into 8 pieces. Press and pull each of these pieces into a circle about 1cm thick; it should be about 18-20cm in diameter. Place a mound of filling in the middle (I used about 3-4 tablespoons’ worth), then fold the dough up and over the filling, squashing it all together so none can escape.

peculiar1peculiar2

Put the rolls sealed-side down on a baking tray, cover with a clean tea-towel and allow to rise as Jamie suggests.

Once they have risen, cook your rolls in a 220°C oven for around 20 minutes, or until they sound hollow when tapped and are nicely brown.

peculiar3

Leave them to cool for as long as you can stand it, then dig in!

peculiar4

Alpaca shawlette goodness

July 14, 2009

Here it is—after many hours of knitting and desperate improvisation, my chocolate-brown alpaca Ishbel!

ishbel1

I mentioned on Ravelry that I wasn’t sure I’d have enough yardage to finish this. Was that an understatement! But it just goes to show that if you’re happy to spend hours getting your head around the maths and agonising about how best so save the situation without frogging, you too can make an Ishbel out of not enough yarn. I think it turned out pretty well, all things considered.

ishbel2

This beautiful natural alpaca yarn is the most amazing shade of chocolate but unfortunately the few remaining guard hairs are a lot more noticeable now that it’s been knitted up—I didn’t think they were a problem in the ball but I think Ishbel is going to need a few washes to make it bearable neck-candy for longer than a few hours. Does anyone have any advice for alpaca behaving badly?

But in any case I love my new shawlette and am seriously thinking about knitting more.

ishbel3

PS—you noticed a significant improvement in photo quality for this post, didn’t you? My little camera wasn’t up to photographing dark-coloured knits in any sort of light, so these were taken by the lovely Eduard, with his bigger and better camera (matched by bigger and better photography skills).

Conferences are not sleep-friendly

July 9, 2009

Despite the title, this is not going to be a grumpy post. I’ve been having a great time in Melbourne, but unfortunately I’ve had such a great time I haven’t taken any photos (not a single one) so you’ll just have to imagine the wonderful things I describe.

The conference I’m here in Melbourne for—the annual meeting of the Astronomical Society of Australia, or ASA—is the biggest event of the Australian Astronomer’s calendar. Many Astronomers from Universities all around Australia, and just about all the students, converge for five days of scientific talks, scientific posters, and somewhat scientific drinking (Drinking has a science, right? right??). I managed to come down with a cold on the first day so my week has included a bit less alcohol and a bit more sleep than I planned (and in comparison to most other students!) but I’ve still managed to do my share of networking. That seems to be mainly what conferences are about—the social stuff that goes on after the talks have finished for the day. (Before I left, my supervisor asked me somewhat sardonically whether I’d get any work done this week. But everyone here agrees that the drinking—sorry, ‘networking’—is just as important as the science. I think next time I’ll say, ‘you can’t spell networking without work!’)

I was a little disappointed with the selection of talks this year—too much cosmology and galaxy Astronomy and too little stellar Astronomy for my taste—but overall the quality of the science has been really good. This is heartening as Australia isn’t really one of the heavyweights in the International Astronomical community. But two of my friends and fellow students gave really good talks, and one of them even got a prize—very well-deserved. I gave a poster again this year (wasn’t successful in my application for a talk) and was lucky enough to be awarded the prize for best student poster! Which made my week.

Socially this week has been great, and it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to discover a bit more of Melbourne. We’ve been to a fancy wine bar to learn the intricacies of wine-tasting and try some wonderful cheese. We walked to a quirky but fantastic Greek restaurant where we never saw a menu but ate the most amazing food. We’ve sneaked out of talks to go shopping in Fitzroy, the City, and Prahran, where I got some cute and unique jewellery. We’ve drunk cocktails with names like ‘Lawn bowls on a hot Melbourne day’ and ‘Things to do in Denver when you’re dead’. We’ve taken trams, buses, trains, and we’ve walked. Oh, we’ve walked. All our feet are sore, but the choice between catching the last tram or staying for one more drink is not really a choice at all. Not when you’re meeting new people, and having a proper chat with old friends in a new environment. It’s been lovely.

But, as I said, it hasn’t been sleep-friendly. To our credit, despite the late nights that were actually early mornings we’ve hardly missed any morning sessions. The ready availability of good coffee in Melbourne has helped with that. But I’m looking forward to the weekend, to staying with Libby’s parents, to cups of tea and early nights and time on the couch. And then discovering a different part of Melbourne, and hopefully shaking off this cold. And, of course, doing it all again next time.

Secret Pal 14 Questionnaire

July 6, 2009

Hello Secret Pal!

  1. What is/are your favorite yarn/s to knit with? What fibers do you absolutely not like? I love natural fibres and blends of natural fibres. Wool, alpaca, angora, cashmere, silk, bamboo… my skin is a bit sensitive so I can’t deal with anything too itchy. I tend to knit lots of small projects because I buy single skeins of nice soft snuggly yarns. I don’t like acrylic and I’m not that big on cotton either. But I’m a big fan of handspun and hand-dyed fibres too, and I’m excited about some of the new fibres available these days (from seaweed, milk, soy, etc—it’s hard to find these in Australia).
  2. What do you use to store your needles/hooks in? Nothing at the moment (it’s rather a mess…) but a sewing-savvy friend is making me a needle roll. I just bought an interchangeable circular set but that has its own case.
  3. How long have you been knitting & how did you learn? Would you consider your skill level to be beginner, intermediate or advanced? I’ve been knitting for just over three years. I decided I wanted to learn to knit and bought a book with lots of pictorial guides. My grandmother used to knit and she tried to teach me as a child but it never really caught on and I certainly had to learn everything from scratch three years ago. I guess my skill is beginner to intermediate—I’m good at some things but I haven’t tried other things at all. I’d like to try fair isle and stranded colourwork but haven’t got there yet, and I’m just starting with lace.
  4. Do you have an Amazon or other online wish list? No, sorry.
  5. What’s your favorite scent? ‘Scent’-wise (as in perfumes and artificially scented things) I prefer the musky, the spicy and the fresh over the sweet and floral. As for natural scents there are so many—I find my sense of smell to be my strongest trigger for memory. I love the smell of sun on Gum trees, the smell after rain, flowers, chocolate, tasty food cooking, the sea…
  6. Do you have a sweet tooth? Favorite candy? Absolutely. I’m not so much into sweets but I quite like chocolate—usually dark (at least 60%). And I’m a sucker for cakes, cookies and desserts.
  7. What other crafts or Do-It-Yourself things do you like to do? Do you spin? I don’t have many other creative outlets, apart from all the cooking and baking I do. I wish I was more creative but don’t really have the time as I’m working on my PhD at the moment. I’d like to learn to spin though, and one day I want to try dyeing my own wool too. I have a violin but haven’t played it in a while now.
  8. What kind of music do you like? Can your computer/stereo play MP3s? (if your buddy wants to make you a CD) Yes to MP3s. Most of the music I like is Australian and I have a pretty eclectic mix but the stuff I like best is slower, folksy, soothing, and makes me happy, or is upbeat, alternative, and makes me want to dance. At the moment my favourite bands are Josh Pyke, The Cat Empire, The Fleet Foxes, Simon and Garfunkel, Lilly Allen, The Mamas and the Papas, and Powderfinger. I don’t like country or punk or metal. I quite like classical music too.
  9. What’s your favorite color(s)? Any colors you just can’t stand? I find it hard to choose favourites so I call many colours my favourite! Purples—all shades but particularly strong violets, blues (particularly duck-egg and royal blue), greens, chocolate brown, yellows… I also like most reds and pinks, and I really like colours that are new and can’t be found elsewhere. I’m not such a big fan of tans and light browns or oranges, mainly because I can’t wear them.
  10. What is your family situation? Do you have any pets? Just me and my husband. Would love pets but can’t, we are renting.
  11. Do you wear scarves, hats, mittens or ponchos? I love scarves but they have to be ultra-soft and non-itchy. Also definitely yes to hats and mittens, as it’s winter here at the moment! Ponchos? That would be a no… (does anyone still wear ponchos?)
  12. What is/are your favorite item/s to knit? Oh that’s hard. My favourite things to knit at the moment are things for me that I really want—I’ve always been a bit of a fashionista/shopaholic and I’m still caught up in the novelty of being able to create things I want, instead of having to buy them! I quite like small projects (hats, scarves, socks, etc) because they go so quickly, and their small size means I can justify buying nicer yarn. But I’ve got a few sweaters on the drawing board at the moment and am looking forward to making those.
  13. What are you knitting right now? A pair of socks for my mother in law, an owls sweater, and swatches for another sweater.
  14. Do you like to receive handmade gifts? I love them! Anything unique, handmade, pretty or quirky just makes my day, and makes me wish I was more creative myself. And I always feel blessed that someone went to all that trouble for me.
  15. Do you prefer straight or circular needles? Bamboo, aluminum, plastic? Metal circulars for preference (but DPNs for knitting in the round). I find everything else too bendy. Even cheap aluminium is not so good. I recently discovered KnitPicks needles and am loving them, so much I bought the interchangeable kit! (Yes as you’ve noticed I can’t stop talking about it…)
  16. Do you own a yarn winder and/or swift? No, haven’t been able to justify the cost yet.
  17. How old is your oldest UFO? None at the moment! I’m not counting projects I’m currently knitting as UFOs though, but all my current projects get knitted on every few days so I think that’s okay. My longest ever UFO was my first sweater that I think took about two years total to complete. That was partly a bad pattern, partly an inferior yarn, and partly taking on something too ambitious too soon. I think I’ve learnt my lesson. Also, our house is pretty small so I’m not allowed to work on more than a few projects at once, which means there’s less likelihood of UFOs.
  18. What is your favorite holiday? What winter holiday do you observe? By winter holidays I’m guessing this means holidays around Christmas? Which is in summer here. Rather a Northern-hemisphere-specific question, this. Hmph. There’s no real winter holidays in this hemisphere. I celebrate Christmas.
  19. Is there anything that you collect? Um, yarn? Vintage/retro clothing and jewellery as well I guess…but I don’t know if it counts as a collection if you’re using it, not pinning it into a book…
  20. Any books, yarns, needles or patterns out there you are dying to get your hands on? What knitting magazine subscriptions do you have? I’m not subscribed to any knitting magazines (it’s way expensive to get overseas subscriptions in Australia) but I regularly buy knit.1 by Vogue Knitting, and I love reading Twist Collective online. I’m interested in other knitting magazines but it’s hard to find good ones in Australia. As far as books go I don’t have any specific titles but I’ve been thinking about getting a Stitch Dictionary/Reference of some sort, and maybe something about designing your own pieces—that’s something I’d like to get into. As I said above I just bought my dream needles. Yarn-wise I’m always up for new and interesting combinations (never tried Seasilk!) and stuff that’s ultra-squishy or really purrty.
  21. Are there any new techniques you’d like to learn? Fair isle/colourwork, designing knits to fit me properly, understanding how knitting is actually constructed (I’m used to just following a pattern and am often not sure what effect particular techniques might produce), spinning, dyeing.
  22. Are you a sock knitter? What are your foot measurements? Yes I am. My foot is 9″ in circumference and about 9.25″ from end to end.
  23. When is your birthday? The 9th of December.
  24. Are you on Ravelry? If so, what’s your ID? Yes! Just look for nimloth.

Melbourne

July 6, 2009

Goodness I seem to be gallivanting off everywhere at the moment. Currently I’m in Melbourne, ostensibly for an Astronomy conference but mainly for the shopping, the food, and the socialising—sorry, ‘networking’—with other Astronomers. But more news on that later, I’ve been so busy with hardly any time to update here.

There is some FO news I’m saving up, but I’m waiting on photos at the moment. That’s right, be prepared for better-than-usual photos! Which is good as this is a particularly hard to photograph piece.

My favourite skein

July 1, 2009

It was purple. It had flecks of many different colours. It was soft and slubby. It was vibrant and comforting and breathtakingly beautiful, and it made me smile every time I pulled it out of my stash and snuggled it. I loved it, I really wanted to wear it, but I had to find the perfect project. I was sure inspiration would present itself one day, and in the meantime the skein was safe in my stash, waiting for its moment to shine.

favourite

A couple of weekends ago, its moment finally arrived. It had been building up for a while. I had known for a few days I wanted to make a hat out of it, and I browsed several patterns on Ravelry, and thought about how to use the skein to its best advantage, and generally let things settle in my mind. The way autumn leaves settle onto water, gently. And one morning I woke up and the answer was there in my mind: Urchin.

I had already made one Urchin, as a birthday present for Libby a little while ago. I love the way the pattern is designed to show off the texture and colour of a unique skein of yarn. I wanted mine to be a bit more slouchy than the green one though. I didn’t want to have to modify the pattern (sometimes mindless knitting is something we all need) so I made a larger size and knit really tightly on the stitches that would form the brim—and it seemed to work. Which is lucky as otherwise it would have been far too big and might have slipped off comically at awkward moments. At least, it fits after one blocking, but I guess we’ll see how it goes with further washes. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to ensure a continued fit, though.

I love it so much :)

urchin

I’m such a sucker for multicoloured hand-dyed yarns. They look so good in the skein but I’m not a big fan of pooling and I’ve been disappointed before with how something knits up. But I think the radial slashes of colour add something, instead of detracting from the colour and structure of the whole. Kudos to Ysolda and her amazing design skills!

purrrty

(And please excuse my terrible photography skills—turns out it’s quite hard to take a photo of the back of your own head.)

It makes me so happy when projects turn out as beautifully, if not more so, as I imagined. I don’t even miss snuggling into that skein.