Archive for September, 2009

Having a ball

September 29, 2009

I’ve discovered an alternative to yarn shopping. It’s called, Getting Your Stash Out To Say Hello. You pull out all your stash, grin and giggle and snuggle it all over again, find things you forgot you bought, remember how much you love other things, dream about what you’ll make with it, and generally have a smashing good time. With the added bonus that this time, it doesn’t cost anything.

It turns out that a good excuse to Get Your Stash Out To Say Hello is to wind it all into balls. This way, if the fancy takes you, you can grab something and start swatching or experimenting straight away, without having the disappointing realisation (again) that you can’t knit from a skein, and that winding it into a ball isn’t what you really want to do, right now (again). And of course, you get to Get Your Stash Out To Say Hello, with all the fun that that entails (why does that sound vaguely seedy?).

This week I wound some of my stash skeins into balls, using the ball winder and swift generously lent to me by machenmachen.

winding

And it was so quick, compared to winding it by hand! And fun! (Mind you, vacuuming is fun compared to winding wool by hand. Especially when the perfectly spherical ball you can’t help but make escapes and rolls across the floor, undoing in one brief joyful burst of energy what’s taken you hours to achieve.) And I got to Say Hello to so many lovely things I’d half-forgotten. Take this yarn, for example. How could I forget how beautiful it was? I bought this in Santa Fe and pretty much haven’t looked at it since. Why? With colours like childhood sweets and sunsets, and the soft smooth texture that only angora and lambswool can provide, why haven’t I been admiring this every single day?

purrty

It was pretty much the same with all the other skeins—become awestruck by breathtaking beauty of yarn, stand open-mouthed in wonderment of softness of yarn, prod self out of snuggling said yarn long enough to fit skein onto swift, watch mesmerised like a kitten as yarn spins magically and gracefully from swift to ball winder. I think that as I took each freshly wound ball off the winder and tucked it back into the stash bag, I actually said aloud ‘so pretty!’. Um, eleven times.

'so pretty!'

But my husband must be used to my strangeness by now.

So: Knitters far and wide, I exhort you: Get Your Stash Out To Say Hello! You definitely won’t regret it, but you may cause mild distress amongst innocent bystanders.

Best package ever

September 27, 2009

The last package from my wonderful Secret Pal arrived on Friday, but I didn’t get time to open it until today. Don’t ask me how I managed not to leap on it and tear off the paper as soon as I found it on my doorstep. But somehow I restrained myself until I was not so busy and had time to properly enjoy the experience of unwrapping it.

Once again, it came in a gorgeous box (see the pretty boxes of the first two packages here and here)

pretty box

and was beautifully wrapped and packed inside. Look, star paper and pink sparkly bits!

sparklystarrygood!

All of these stellar little parcels opened to reveal the loveliest contents. There were three types of lovely squishy yarn, all different and all amazing! My camera can’t really convey the rich saturation of the purples and reds of the centre yarn. Delicious. The Astronomy theme was continued in the ‘Galaxy’ colourway of the sock yarn—very appropriate, especially since I absolutely love that blue :)

prettysquishyyarnygoodness

There were some gorgeous rainbow goodies—striped knee-high socks and glossy coloured knitting needles, that almost looked good enough to eat! And some pretty sparkly little stitch markers, and a lovely crocheted button brooch (all brooch addicts, raise your hand!).

sweetrainbowyshinyhappiness

And…the last and the best. SOCKS! Handknit socks for me!

sockssockssocks!!!!!!

Amazing purple colourful lacy clever foot-loving handknit socks knitted just for me! Oh my goodness it was like all my Christmasses had come at once. What an amazing colourway, and how beautifully the self-striping fits into the lace pattern! How happy and loved they make my feet feel. How wonderful to have someone make me handknit socks, after I spent all winter knitting socks for everyone else, with no time to make any for myself. How special I feel right now :)

amazingcleverbeautifulhappysocks

Just look at them. Aren’t they wonderful? I’m wearing them to work tomorrow, and I’m going to be sock-boasting all day. Everyone will have sock envy. There will be much sock love. YESSSSS!!!!!!!

I have to say a huge thanks to my wonderful Secret Pal, who’s made this round so enjoyable and made me feel so special. She’s sent me such wonderful things, and magically managed to make them arrive just when I was in need of a little pampering. Thankyou so much!

My favourite flower

September 25, 2009

Welcome again to Favourite Friday, the weekly feature where we focus on the things that make us happy. If you’ve stopped by for the first time, here’s the drill: I share something that I count as a ‘favourite’, that makes me smile or giggle or catch my breath. You’re encouraged to think about your favourite things too, and if you fancy, leave me a comment to tell me what your favourite is. I’ll be looking at a different category each week, but you’re welcome to talk about whatever favourite thing you fancy—it might be in the same category, or it might not. To get you in the mood, check out some of my previous posts on my favourite album, my favourite shoes, and my favourite magazine. Or, simply click on the ‘Favourite Friday’ tag at the bottom of this post, and you’ll be able to see all the posts in this series. We can all do with a little more positivity in our lives, and taking some time to think about the good things, rather than the bad things, can turn a bad day into a good one.

As you’ve already guessed from the title of this post, this week I want to tell you about my favourite flower.

This is obviously a rather appropriate topic, as we’re in the middle of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. But even more so, because Floriade, the annual flower festival, is happening in Canberra at the moment. And, as luck would have it, the display at Floriade heavily features my favourite flower—the tulip.

white tulip

There’s so many things I love about tulips, but it’s hard to say what sets them apart from other flowers. I love their delicate, feminine shape and the silky lustre of their petals. I love their long slender stems. I love the variety of colours and shapes, and it’s always hard to decide which colour I like the best.

colours of tulips

I love the way, like other bulbs, they sneak up out of the bare earth before winter has really lost its hold, surprising me again with their beauty. I love the way that each colour somehow conjures up a scene, a memory, or a mood. The two pinks in the photo below, coupled with the white, somehow seem to be the colour of romance.

romance

These yellows make me think of sunshine, cool drinks, floral dresses and bare feet.

sunshine

The blush pinks are ballet classes, taken on spring afternoons with your best friend when you’re eight years old.

ballet

I love the way tulips make the perfect partners for so many other sorts of flowers. Different shapes and colours in a bouquet, or similar colours and different heights in a garden bed.

friendly tulips

I love how tulips are so breathtaking yet modest up close, and how from far away the shapes blur and blend into splashes of colour across the ground.

colour smudges

As I said, I love many other flowers for similar reasons, but somehow tulips just speak to me. They always lift my mood and make me smile. Maybe it’s my Dutch heritage? In any case, if ever I’m given a bouquet of tulips, I have to take photos of it. And I never mind taking multiple trips to Floriade.

so pretty

Spinning adventures

September 24, 2009

I haven’t been spinning much lately, but this isn’t for lack of enthusiasm—merely lack of fibre and lack of time in which to spin. But I did manage to finish off that glorious purple merino I got at the craft fair, and the last of the bond corriedale we used in class.

skeins

I definitely think there’s some improvement there. Sure, it’s still uneven, and sure, it’s a little too twisty, but it’s a lot less uneven, and not quite as twisty. And the colour of that purple is so darling I’m pretty much willing to forgive myself anything. I was a bit worried that the varied colours didn’t match up when I plied it, but now I think I like it.

I’ve recently finished a deadline-project, which means I now have a bit more time to spin and knit other things (FO news soon, I’m really proud of this one if a little glad to see the back of it, but you have to wait until the recipient has it!). So last night I celebrated by going to my first spinning group, with some of the other Spinners & Weavers Guild members. It was nice to spin in company again, and even nicer to meet in someone’s home instead of the chilly Guild rooms. I practised my evenness on some more bond corriedale, and got the chance to teach a visitor from the US how to drink tea through a Tim Tam. That’s me, all class. I’m really looking forward to the weekend spinning retreat in October, or ‘spinning camp’ as I like to think of it. I love the fact that what’s seen as such a tame pastime can be done by very funny and colourful people!

Dust

September 23, 2009

dust storm

This is what Canberra looked like on Tuesday. We spent the whole day in the midst of a dust storm that seriously reduced visibility (there are normally lots of mountains in the view above). It was strange and eerie and surprisingly a lot less windy than Canberra is capable of. We were all a bit weirded out (you’d think we’d get more of these in such a dry country) but it seems like nothing compared to what Sydney’s been experiencing today. From the pictures I’ve seen, it seems the storm really built up some power by the time it got there. It looks waaaaay dustier than this does.

Ironically, we had a proper storm last night which settled the dust for us, so today was clear. Australia is a country of extremes and Canberra is good at them. We hardly ever get dust storms, and we hardly ever get thunderstorms and lots of rain, but we got both in the space of twenty-four hours yesterday. Seriously, I think it rained for about twelve hours straight. It must be a record or something.

Flowers

September 22, 2009

There’s flowers blooming everywhere at our house.

daffodils1

Aren’t these double daffodils lovely? I’d forgotten how pretty they were.

arum lily

My arum lily is definitely going to have more than one flower this year.

daffodils2

These daffodils were one of those little garden surprises, coming up at the edge of a garden bed.

tulips

And the tulips are coming out!

New yarn

September 20, 2009

I keep saying I won’t buy any more until I knit up some of my stash, but I do. And how could I resist this lovely stuff? At least, I console myself, only one of these was an impulse purchase.

purplechunkysoftness

I have ten balls (ten!) of this lovely purple, chunky, soft, single ply wool. I am planning to knit Ysolda Teague’s Liesl cardigan very soon and this, I think, will make a lovely version. I probably won’t need ten balls to do it (actually, I’m pretty damn sure I won’t need ten) but I wasn’t planning to buy the yarn quite so soon and didn’t look at the pattern yardage before we went to the yarn shop. And, you know, it’s better to err on the side of caution than run out of yarn. It just breaks my heart that I’m going to have a few balls of this beautiful, soft, purple snuggly wool left over to use on something else…just breaks it. As you can tell.

And that wasn’t even the impulse purchase.

dovegreysilkysoftness

It just mystifies me how these things manage to jump from the sale bin into my bag. But now I have four balls of this beautifully smooth merino, silk, and cashmere blend, in the most delicate silvery dove grey. I think it should be enough to make a lacy shrug to wear over summer dresses. And I need a neutral shrug, to work with all those brightly coloured dresses. Honest!

The entire purpose of the yarn-shopping expedition (I always want to spell it expotition, with Christopher Robin) was for Amanda to buy wool to make her first scarf, and first project, with. She’s doing so well, and I’m so proud! But somehow yarn shops won’t let me leave without buying something for myself too. I suppose I should just accept that fact.

Spring risotto with lemon and goat’s cheese

September 19, 2009

Spring has definitely and finally taken hold here—more flowers are appearing in our garden every day, and the sunny afternoons are just wonderful. I’m still apprehensive of a late cold snap (Canberra seems to be so prone to these) but am doing my best to enjoy the season while I can.

Last night, to celebrate, I made a spring risotto. The timid but sweet flavours of the new season vegetables perfectly adorn the canvas of the risotto, and are lifted by the fragrant lemon zest. Lemon zest is one of my favourite ingredients, and I must confess I seem to use much more lemon zest than lemon juice, which has led to an abundance of white, denuded lemons looking so forlorn every time I open the refrigerator. I shall have to start drinking more gin and tonic, as this is a drink which almost requires a slice of lemon—even de-zested. (As an aside, I cannot praise enough the wonderful Microplane grater and its uses as a zester. Fine and sharp is the ticket, and ensure you only ever use the yellow part of the skin, well scrubbed. The white pith will only add bitterness.)

The risotto is finished with goat’s cheese. Something salty and creamy to contrast with the freshness, to complement its sweetness, to form a completed whole. I used the last of a beautiful organic ash-covered soft goat’s cheese from Capra that I bought a few months ago at the farmer’s markets. I know that sounds dodgy, but actually it’s been sitting safely in the freezer—did you know that you can safely freeze soft goat’s cheese without damaging the flavour or texture? Neither did I, until the Capra people told me. But I have tried it and it works.

Anyway, here’s how my risotto turned out. And now, on to the recipe.

spring risotto

Spring Risotto with Lemon and Goat’s Cheese

1.5 L vegetable stock

olive oil

1/2 a head of celery, diced

one medium brown onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely diced

400g arborio rice

250 mL white wine

one bunch asparagus

2 handfuls frozen shelled broad beans

half a bunch of chopped continental parsley

zest and juice of one lemon

a good knob of butter

a handful of grated parmesan

freshly ground black pepper

about 150g soft goat’s cheese

Put your stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan on a medium to low heat. Add the celery, onion and garlic and sweat gently with the lid on, without colouring, until soft and slightly translucent.

Bump up the heat on the vegetables to medium and add the rice. Keep stirring until it starts to crackle, don’t let it stick. Pour in the wine and allow it the rice to completely absorb it, then turn the heat back down to medium-low and add a few ladlefuls of the hot stock. Put the lid on the pan but keep it ajar, while you prepare the spring vegetables. Check the risotto frequently to ensure it’s not sticking, and add more stock as the rice absorbs it—you want it to stay fairly moist.

Blanch the broad beans in boiling water for a couple of minutes or until they float. Drain and rinse in cold water, then squeeze the soft green beans out of their tough skins, discarding the skins. Snap the woody ends off your asparagus and cut off the tips, reserving. Slice the asparagus at an angle into pieces about 0.7 cm thick.

When the rice is about 5 minutes away from cooked, add the sliced asparagus, half the lemon juice, and more stock if necessary. When the rice is almost done, add the asparagus tips and broad beans to warm through, and the lemon zest. At this stage you may need to top up the stock—a risotto should dollop, not be stodgy. Turn off the heat and add the parsley, butter, parmesan and a good helping of black pepper. Put the lid back on and let it all melt and ooze together for a minute or so, then taste and add more lemon juice, pepper, or some salt, whatever you think it needs. Serve topped with crumbled goat’s cheese. A mouthful of Spring!

Cate Blanchett’s awesome crocheted dress

September 18, 2009

The biggest celebrity-related fibre story of the week is probably Cate Blanchett stepping out in a granny-square-style crochet dress at the opening of the Screen Worlds exhibition in Melbourne yesterday.

cate's awesome dress

Although she’s been blasted by news and fashion commentators for wearing something ‘better suited to a granny’s sofa’, I think it’s fantastic! Good on Cate for being confident and daring enough to wear something a little different, and for supporting local designers. This dress was created by Romance was Born, and I love how it manages to combine elements of both quirky vintage and feminine charm. And Cate, as ever, looks just gorgeous in it.

My favourite bag

September 18, 2009

I’d like to introduce you to Oscar the Owl. He is absolutely the coolest handbag I have ever seen in my life. And he’s mine!

oscar

Oscar is named partly for a game I had as a child, involving different coloured owls, but also partly for his uncanny resemblance to Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. I bought him from the Southbank markets in Brisbane a few years ago, from a stall filled with coloured leather bags and purses in the shapes of different animals. It was all so cute and so clever (purple hippopotamus coin purse, anyone?) but Oscar stood out from the crowd. And it wasn’t very long before he decided to come home with me.

zipper

He’s made completely from leather, and each of his little feathers is a separate piece, dyed, embossed and riveted onto the main body. His beak has been cut around on two sides so that it stands proud of the rest of his face, poised to nip any presumptuous fingers. His frowny face lifts up to reveal the main pocket of the bag, and his two wings are extra pockets with zippers of their own. My phone lives in one of them.

wing pocket

I am totally in love with Oscar, and it’s pretty clear he’s popular with everyone else too. Whenever I take him out into public, it’s pretty much guaranteed I will get stopped by several people who exclaim in delight and surprise over his thunderous brow, his cleverly made feathers, and his general grumpy but useful nature. Oscar takes this attention pretty well, and although he frowns throughout I think he rather likes it.

angry but cute

I love owning something that’s almost unique, and can bring a smile to the faces of so many more people than just me. How strange that a frown, and not a smile, can spread more smiles.