Friday, December 28, 2007

snow day

struck brightly by the winter
when the snow falls thick and silent
i can only hear you breathing

i will follow a set of deep tracks
other people all stay hidden
as the cars rest under snow drifts

so clearly the dark sky
appears framed by cables
so clearly your breath's white
as you struggle to tell

that the people we have become
still lay awake hoping to hear airwaves
say snow day

~ matt pond PA, "Snow Day"
Matt Pond PA's "Winter Songs" has been the soundtrack chez Caffeinated Yarn this winter (read a review here).

Paul has been wearing his new owl hat proudly:
Project Details
Pattern: Owl Hat, by Ruthie Nussbaum (free!)
Yarn: Patons Classic Wool Merino, Natural Mix, less than 1 skein
Needles: Clover US7 bamboo 16" circs and DPNs

Notes: I'm a loose knitter, so sticking with size 7 needles resulted in the perfect size for Paul's rather large head. Easy pattern, very fun to knit. The owls are a little high up on the head for my taste. I would adjust their placement next time. Now I want an owl hat, too!

Today truly was a snow day, albeit a wet, sloppy, and melty one. I slept in, did some knitting, breathed in the pine scent from the tree, and relaxed. I did trek out in the snow to pick up ingredients for baked mac & cheese from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. It's still not exactly health food, but it's much better for you than the Paula Deen mac & cheese recipe that topped the Food Network's Top 100 Recipes of 2007 list. Here's the recipe, tweaked a bit:

Mac & Cheese

Serves 4-6

Prep time: 20 min.

Baking time: 45 min.

1.5 C. 1% lowfat cottage cheese

1.5 C. buttermilk or milk (skim is fine)

1 tsp. dried mustard

Pinch of cayenne pepper

.25 tsp. nutmeg

.5 tsp. salt

.25 tsp. ground black pepper

.25 C. grated onion (or less) ~ I often just zip this through the food processor

1 C. grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (4 oz) ~ it's worth buying something decent*

.5 lb. uncooked elbow macaroni

2 T. finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese*

.25 C. bread crumbs

* NB: I sometimes cheat and add a little extra cheese.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a 9- or 10-inch square baking pan with a light coating of cooking spray.

In a blender, combine the cottage cheese, skim milk or buttermilk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and puree until smooth. In a large bowl, combine the pureed mixture with the onions, Cheddar cheese, and uncooked macaroni. Stir well. Pour the macaroni and cheese mixture into the baking pan. Combine the grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese and the bread crumbs and sprinkle over the top.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the topping is browned and the center is firm.

Easy-peasy, delicious comfort food!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's coming on Christmas

They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

~ Joni Mitchell, "River"
That's how I felt for much of December. Too many commitments, too many worries, not enough time, and not enough money to do things how I would like. But now I'm in the Christmas spirit, just in time. The shopping was finished yesterday, gifts are wrapped, the tree is decorated, and cookies are baked. Not many of my holiday knitting plans came to fruition, but my friends and family doubtless will appreciate receiving handknit items in January and February "just because."

I just returned from a lovely visit home to Minnesota to see my family. I even wished that I could have stayed longer, which probably means I stayed exactly the right length of time.
Pattern: Stockinette Watchcap from Charlene Schuch's Hats On
Needles: Knitpicks US5 16" metal circs, Clover US4 bamboo dpns
Yarn: Queensland Collection Kathmandu Aran Tweed, 2 balls

The hat for my dad is finished, although I'm afraid it may be too large. Paul will have to try it on for fit. There's also an owl hat in the works, too. I'm still chugging along on the EZ and Newfoundland mittens.
Mia sent me a marvelous Christmas package, complete with a whole battalion of these cute gingerbread boy ornaments. All sorts of other goodies, too -- books, fabric, quilt kits, a baby sweater kit, German gingerbread cookies (YUM!) and fancy French jam. Now that woman sends a great parcel! I'm afraid her parcel won't make it out in the mail until the New Year, though.
A couple weeks ago Paul and I went on our annual Fugly Christmas Sweater Pub Crawl. 150 people were involved this year -- a new record! That many people clad in hideous holiday garments moving from one Wrigleyville bar to another is quite the sight. No one managed to pull off a fugly sweater nearly as well as Colin Firth in Bridget Jones' Diary, though.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

ADD Crafting

All the holiday crafting is driving me a little nuts. Not everything will get done, and that's just how it goes. I'm having gauge troubles with any project that involves making two of something -- mostly mittens and sleeves. End-of-quarter stress combined with varying degrees of wrist issues leads to weird tension.

One project that I am very motivated to finish is a little something for a baby shower:
The Cashmere Teddy Bear from Erika Knight's Special Knits for Cherished Babies. The yarn is Elann Peruvian Baby Cashmere (one of my favorites), and the knitting went very quickly.

My order from Oceanwind Knits appeared on my doorstep a bit ago. The yarn is so beautiful and so darn soft. I love how subtle the colors are.If you like indie dyers and colorways that aren't too flashy, I highly recommend giving Lori's yarns a try. You can sign up for her new sock club, too. I didn't renew my membership for Sundara's new Seasons club because it was just too expensive, so hopefully this will fill the gap.

The Mmm.. Hot Cocoa Swap opens up sign ups tomorrow. This looks like a lot of fun, especially since it involves knitting a cute little critter.

Monday, December 10, 2007

(mini) holiday gift guide

A lot of people post their wishlists. I'm turning it around and posting a list of things that I would highly recommend GIVING for the holidays. These are all things Paul and I have enjoyed in the past year.

- L.L. Bean Washable Wool Blanket - warm, cozy, and machine washable!

- Garnet Hill Asian Wrap Long-Sleeve Pajamas - super-soft organic cotton
Asian Wrap Long-Sleeve Pajamas

- Fleece Artist Soft Socks/Mittens kit - so much fun to knit, and they hold up beautifully

- J Crew Cotton Cashmere V-Neck Sweater - soft, stylish (but not too stylish for the regular guy) and surprisingly durable.

- Campbell's Rutherglen Tokay (available at Whole Foods) - delicious and different

Rutherglen Tokay
- Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants Cover

- Cuisinart Quick Prep Hand Blender -- wonderful for pureeing soups. Much less mess!
IMAGE OF Quick PrepĀ® Hand Blender

- spices from Penzeys, especially the baker's box (avoid the curries)

- Smartwool socks. Let's face it, there just aren't enough hours in the day to knit wool socks for everyone.

Short but sweet! Is there anything that you would recommend giving as a holiday gift?

Friday, December 07, 2007

autumn leaves, just in time for winter snowflakes

My Autumn Leaves scarf is complete, just as Jack Frost arrives. Project Details

Pattern: Leaf Lace Scarf, a free pattern by Janet at Twisted Knitter
Yarn: The Plucky Knitter Merino Fingering, "Oak Creek Canyon" - 1 skein
Needles: US 5 Clover bamboo straights

Notes: The pattern is very easy to follow, and the yarn is a dream to knit. I highly recommend both! Janet calls for Malabrigo laceweight yarn, which is on the heavier side of lace yarns. I went with the fingering weight because I loved the colors. A solid or semi-solid yarn would be a better showcase for the pattern, but I'm happy with my choice.
Speaking of nice things that are orange, Mia sent me this cute little guy last month:

hiding in the dining room jungle
It's the Purl Frog! He has been keeping me company through all the end-of-term grading. By the way, Mia is organizing Small Comforts, a drive to collect handknit items for military hospitals right here in the US. It's a great cause.
I had sent Mia a couple care packages a while back, and, man, does she know how to reciprocate. Here's a huge array of quilting books, many with wintry themes perfect for the season:
Oodles of Jo Sharp DK merino yarn:
I'm planning to use these for a simple cabled vest for my dad. Many thanks, Mia! I've already plowed through a few of the novels, too.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Yesterday's snowfall:
A side street right near Wrigley Field:
There's more snow in the forecast for tonight, too. :-)

Marianne sent me a wonderful parcel of goodies from the UK for the Fingerless Mitts Swap -- neat magazines, yummy biscuits, chocolate, and tea, fancy soap (always a big hit with me), a twinkly tree pin that I will wear on our annual Christmas sweater pub crawl tomorrow night:
Best of all (aside from the great mitts), there's this super soft yarn in scrumptious colors:
It's Rooster Almerino Aran, a 50/50 merino/alpaca blend that's just not sold in the US, as far as I can tell. The darker teal is destined for a pair of Fetching mitts. Thanks, Marianne!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

December already?!?

A winter storm dropped 5 inches of the white stuff on Chicago last night. Paul and I went for a moonlit walk in the snow, and it was absolutely magical. Our neighborhood is mainly comprised of 20- and 30-somethings densely packed into condos and apartments, so it was a delightful surprise to see people out throwing snowballs, building snowmen, and walking their dogs.

The quarter is almost over; I've been too swamped with grading and schoolwork to post, although I have desperately wanted to and there are plenty of things to share. The grey dreariness of November is also to blame -- decent photography has been nearly impossible. The reflection off the snow really helps with the photography.

Inspired by brainylady, I knit up a pair of pocketbook slippers. What a fast and easy pattern!
They don't look too much like slippers, do they? Here's an action shot:
Project Details

Pattern: Pocketbook Slippers, a free pattern from Knitwits Heaven
Yarn: Lamb's Pride Superwash, less than 1 skein (maybe 150 yds?), Blue Diamond
Needles: US 7 Brittany Victorian walnut, the old pretty dark brown ones that are discontinued
(one of mine is held together by Scotch tape -- very classy)

These are incredibly easy, and the results are interesting. A little odd, but also strangely charming, possibly even elven. They're cozy, very stretchy, and they fit my size 9 feet quite well. I used a skein of Lamb's Pride Superwash that had been marinating in my stash for quite some time, courtesy of Micki.

Next time I would try the modifications by Miss Twiss, available here. Why? The button is very cute, and the button/strap combo looks much nicer than the lumpy seam in the original pattern.

What else? I'd go down to size 6 needles; I might even use a heavy worsted. These would be heavenly in Malabrigo, but superwash seems like a better idea for slippers. Especially since these would make great quick gifts (esp. combined with other cozy things, like fancy hot cocoa mix and a wintry mug).

Why, oh why isn't there a superwash yarn as soft and lovely as Malabrigo? Any suggestions, you guys? My stash contains hardly any worsted weight superwash.

I'm working on a very basic stockinette watchcap from Charlene Schuch's Hats On for my dad. He's a no-frills kind of guy. The yarn is Queensland Collection Kathmandu Aran Tweed, in a dark blue (surprisingly enough, not purchased in the big WEBS sale).
The unfortunate part? This is a horrible thing to knit. The dark blue is hard to see, the tweedy bits in the yarn are hard on my hands, and the Knitpicks metal circs are killing me. And it might be too big. At least it's just a hat and should be over soon. :-)

Marianne sent me a lovely pair of fingerless mitts for the Fall Fingerless Mitts swap:
It's the Miss Potter pattern from Yarn Forward, and they're absolutely perfect for me. I've been wearing them a ton already, even at the very cold library while typing. The yarn is Freedom Spirit by Twilleys of Stamford, and it's quite nice and woolly. I've never seen it in the US! Marianne sent loads of other thoughtful goodies, too, which I'll share in my next post.

Another nice surprise -- the new Knitty is up! I quite like the Matrix mittens.

Back to grading term papers...

Monday, November 26, 2007

on the mend

Many, many thanks to all of you who left such thoughtful comments on my last post. Knitters are the nicest people! I have good news to report: Kylie's labwork came back A-OK, and she seems much better. She's still sneezing, but no longer suffering from her earlier (best left undescribed) ailments. Our vet actually called us on Thanksgiving!

Here she is at one of her favorite tasks: squeezing herself into spaces that are perfectly Kylie-sized.Capricha was also quite pleased that we skipped our trip to MN and stayed home with the kitties instead. It was odd not to celebrate with our family, but thoughtful friends included us in their festivities at the last minute.
Much progress was made on my Leaf Lace Scarf. Knitting scarves with sock-weight yarns is a slow task. At least the chart is easy to read and memorize; I can watch a movie while working on it.
The color is hard to capture on film during these grey November days. Here's another shot:
Both of my Christmas cacti have buds this year, which pleases me to no end. Last year I ended up with St. Patrick's Day cacti.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving worries

Kylie cat has been under the weather lately, and I'm very anxious about leaving her at home while heading to Minneapolis for the Thanksgiving holiday. A friend will check in on her, but still...
Please send some positive thoughts my way tomorrow morning at 9:30 when I take her in to the vet.

The first Newfoundland Mitt is almost done. What's underneath the mitten has been occupying most of my time lately. That, and celebrating Paul's 30th birthday. :-)

Friday, November 16, 2007

knitting things that aren't blue

Every once in a while it happens...
Leaf Lace Scarf is a free pattern from Twisted Knitter. I'm using the "Oak Creek Canyon" colorway of The Plucky Knitter's merino fingering weight yarn. The lace pattern would show up better in a semisolid yarn, but I like the effect of a pile of autumn leaves.

Newfoundland Mitts in progress:
Both of these patterns are Ravelry discoveries, and they're easy and fun to knit.

In other news, I received a wonderful and generous parcel from Tricotine for the Knitter's Coffee Swap 3 yesterday. Details here. Thanks again, Tricotine! Mia sent me an amazing package of books and yarn this week, too. I'm still sorting through all the quilting books. Photos over the weekend, I promise.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Schoolwork, tea, and knitting.

That's the story of my life, my friends. Watching The Office on DVD, too.

Midwest Moonlight is off the needles and ready for a blocking! Great pattern, marvelous yarn...
Pattern: Midwest Moonlight, from Scarf Style
Yarn: Elann Peruvian Baby Cashmere, "cashmere blue," 5 skeins
Needles: Clover US 5 bamboo straights

Making this scarf narrower would work quite well, and it would make for faster knitting. I enjoyed every minute of this project, though.

Some top-secret gift knitting:
Like tea? See what the Onion has to say about one tea drinker. Good ol' Onion... I wonder how well tea would go over if it were marketed like energy drinks and sold with an electric teakettle advertised by George Foreman (or Brett Favre... yummy). :-)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

chugging along on the gift knits...

Midwest Moonlight is growing by leaps and bounds. It's an easy lace pattern, and the yarn (Elann Peruvian Baby Cashmere) is oh-so-soft. I did manage to screw up a bit while working on it at knit night, but the problem was easily remedied. I thought I had already learned the lesson not to knit lace at knit night, no matter how simple it is, but apparently not.
Holiday knitting is underway...
Milan Jacket from Louisa Harding's Natural Knits for Babies and Moms.

I'm using Debbie Bliss Cotton Angora bought in a closeout sale at WEBS. The yarn's a bit splitty, especially with Knit Picks metal needles; it's not so bad with bamboo needles. It's nice and soft to the touch, but it's hard on the hands and wrists, and I've read a couple not-so-great reviews of it (including this one).

Moment of Zen:
Capricha in one of her less dignified poses