Friday, December 24, 2010

peace and joy

Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating today!  We had planned to trek to Minneapolis to celebrate Christmas with my family, but my sweet Kylie cat has had some health problems, so at the last minute we've decided to stay here in Chicago.  The vet has prescribed three pills a day, and she needs to be kept quiet and monitored. Kylie's so happy to be home from the vet, and she's all curled up in a heated cat bed that was a thoughtful gift from a friend.
I'm still chugging away on the handknit gifts. Spending Christmas in Chicago is actually giving me a bit of grace time here! Snow is gently falling, the tree is lit up, and cookies have been baked. 
The cabled earflap hat is off the needles!  I'm modeling it along with the Awbrey cowl in their unblocked states, as I'd like to wash them before giving them as gifts.  I'll add braids to the earflaps, as per the pattern, post blocking. Details for the cabled cowl are here.

Yarn: Malabrigo Chunky, "Mariposa,"  ~ 1.5 skeins
Needles: Clover US 10.5 bamboo circs (16") + DPNs

The yarn is just delightful to knit, and the pattern is clear and easy to follow. The cables are a bit complicated, so you can't just zone out, but they're not too tricky. I worked 3 pattern repeats rather than 4, and it's plenty big. I'll definitely be knitting this pattern again, as I want one for myself!

Monday, December 20, 2010


Lots of holiday cheer in the last few days! Now I must pay the piper and finish grading papers this afternoon and evening. Some highlights:

- knitting holiday gifts

Pattern: Acorns, by Melissa LaBarre
Yarn: Orange Flower Superwash Merino Worsted, in "Cadet" (3/4 skein)
Needles: US 5 and 7 bamboo circs + US 7 dpns

 Wonderful squishy yarn in beautiful blues!  The pattern is very well-written, and seeing the acorns emerge is delightful. I still need to block this, but the next few days are going to be hectic, so I'd better document it now.
Pattern: Awbrey (free!), by Stacey Simpson Duke
Yarn: Malabrigo Chunky in "Mariposa," 1 skein
Needles: Clover US 10.5 bamboo 16" circs

This truly was a quick knit, and the thick cables are super cozy. The Russian lace bind-off that Stacey suggests is easy and very effective.  The slightly flared shape is perfect -- it keeps the top (cast-on edge) from being saggy, and allows the bottom to flare out a bit where your neck meets your body.

My first time using Malabrigo Chunky!  Wonderful stuff -- very soft and cozy, and less fragile and prone to pilliness than the worsted since it has more plies. I love this colorway in the skein, but I was afraid that it would look horrible knit up.  As it turns out, it's still lovely! 
I'm knitting a cozy cabled hat with earflaps to match! These cables are more complicated, but they're fun to work. The pattern's another freebie -- Snowboarder Hat that Rocks by Irishgirlieknits.  So cute! I was halfway through the fourth repeat of the cable pattern when I noticed that it was looking awfully tall; I ripped back a bit to do just three repeats before starting the decreases.  I'll definitely knit this pattern again!
- listening
Low's Christmas EP, a (post)modern classic. Low hails from Duluth, by the way. 

- watching

Paul watched Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas many times when he was a kid, but it was all-new to me this year! In a word, awesome. It's a Jim Henson piece, with plenty of Appalachian folksiness, mixed with a battle-of-the-bands with some super-psychedelic rockers. Very sweet, plus you can see forerunners of many Muppet Show characters. 

We also watched The Holiday, which is a mixture of treacle and charm, with bad acting by Cameron Diaz in particular. That said, the set designers are geniuses  I want to move into Kate Winslet's darling cottage in Surrey posthaste. Plus all the meta bits about movie-making were fun. I rather think that if casting had been done differently (Diaz and Jack Black), this could have been a great guilty-pleasure romantic comedy.
- decking the halls
We decorated the tree while sipping fresh grapefruit juice & gin cocktails concocted by Paul and listening to the Magnetic Fields.  A very hipster Christmas, I suppose.

P.S. Have you read Neil Gaiman's piece on persuading his parents to get a Christmas tree yet?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the christmas elf is hard at work

knitting hats, night and day...
 Pattern: Cranberry Sauce, by Brittany Tyler
Yarn: Misti Alpaca Chunky, 1 skein (~ 100 yds.)
Needles: Clover US 7 and 9 bamboo 16" circs + US 9 DPNs

I switched to smaller needles than this time, and it worked perfectly!  The cables are squooshier and cozier, and I managed to knit the whole pattern this time using just one skein of yarn.  
Melissa LaBarre, AKA knittingschooldropout, is having a pattern sale (25% off) through 12/20. It's just her self-published patterns (not ones in books or through yarn companies), and some very lovely ones are included. For example, I have a Crooked Paths hat underway:
The yarn is madelinetosh tosh merino (in "saffron") -- it is bleeding like crazy, not just on my needles while I knit, but all over my white shirt. Boo. :-( We’ll see how much good a wash with vinegar does… Great pattern, though -- very fun to knit.

Next I'm casting on for Acorns (which comes with instructions for both worsted-weight and chunky versions!). The Christmas budget is a bit leaner than usual this year (due to acquiring Jeep #2), so it's handknit hats for everyone!
on the hi-fi
- Florence + the Machine ~ Lungs

- Arcade Fire ~ The Suburbs (definitely wins my vote for best album of the year)

- Vince Guaraldi Trio ~ A Charlie Brown Christmas

What are you listening to now?

Friday, December 10, 2010


A road trip to Minneapolis last weekend made for excellent crochet time.  Three of the four granny squares are off the hook:

I'm still loving them, but the autumnal colors no longer seem quite so apropos after we saw 9" of snow fall while I was in MN.  The snow was just beautiful, and I got to trim the tree, decorate the china hutch, and bake pfeffernüse with my mum.
The new Johanna quilt is just perfect for winter. 
Capricha has taken to spending every morning snuggled up in the down comforter at the end of the bed. Smart girl!
Pattern designers seem to be reading my mind right now:

- Ysolda has put her Last-Minute Stockings pattern on sale. I'd *just* been thinking about knitting some stockings to hang over the fireplace.

- Jane Richmond is having a 50% off pattern sale.  Hurray, as I've been eyeing the Oatmeal Pullover pattern for quite some time, and winter break seems like the perfect time to knit one.
For all of the Jane Austen aficionados out there:

Delightful! Richard Armitage, be still my heart.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

best peanut butter bonbons ever

I'm not sure if the stars aligned correctly last year, or if I really concocted the best variation on buckeyes / peanut butter bonbons ever. These received RAVE reviews from everyone. People at parties asked who made them and then grilled me on my recipe. I received emails asking for the recipe.

The secret? They're vegan. Also, mix everything very thoroughly.

1 lb Earth Balance vegan margarine (sticks, not spread)
2 lbs creamy peanut butter (Skippy)
3 lbs powdered sugar
36 oz semisweet vegan chocolate chips (Whole Foods brand)
1/2 bar paraffin

Melt Earth Balance. Using a hand or stand mixer mix melted Earth Balance with peanut butter. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Roll into balls, chill 1 hour.

Melt chocolate and paraffin, dip balls into chocolate. Chill.

Makes about 150 or so.
My new Johanna quilt from Garnet Hill arrived today!  I love it.  The prints are designed by Snow & Graham, a local Chicago company, and the mix of modern prints and black paired with a traditional design make for such a cute and different look.

elf duties

- These super cute knitting-themed note cards at Papersheep would be a perfect gift for a knitter! I found these via Design*Sponge and immediately ordered some.

- Penzey's extracts gift box is a delight for the baker!  I love Penzey's spices (based in Wisconsin, of course, as many good things are). I'm especially enamored of their vanilla sugar and natural cocoa powder. Also, the new baking mini gift box would make a lovely hostess gift.

Back soon with photos of a handknit scarf and beret for my mum.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

harvest time

I baked carrot cupcakes for a birthday gathering for Paul that we hosted last weekend.
The carrot cake recipe was unremarkable, but I do want to share one tip. I added 2 tsp. orange zest to the cream cheese frosting, and it was quite nice!
I'm crocheting some autumnal-looking granny square covers for throw pillows for our downstairs den.  The yarn is some long-stashed Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool, and I'm using a D hook, which feels TINY! Usually I crochet with worsted or chunky weight yarn.

My Greenfield cardigan is in time-out right now, as the first sleeve turned out enormous.  Crazy big. My gauge is spot-on, so I'm very annoyed.  I'd love to wear this cardigan over winter break, though, so I'll have to rip way back and add a whole bunch of decreases.
 Cooking Light's recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta was delicious the other week!

I loved the contrast between the sweet roasted squash and the crispy bacon.  Be forewarned, though, that this is a complicated recipe -- lots of dirty pots and pans, plus a rather odd recipe for white sauce. Lots of flour, no butter -- the sauce itself tasted a little weird and floury, but once incorporated into the recipe it was just fine.


Friday, November 19, 2010

the mad hatter strikes again

I took a quick break from my Greenfield Cardigan to knit a chunky cabled hat for my mum.
Pattern: Cranberry Sauce, by Brittany Tyler
Yarn: Misti Alpaca Chunky, #3317, 1 skein (~ 100 yds.)
Needles: Clover US 9 and 10.5 bamboo 16" circs

This went very quickly, and I used a super cozy and squooshy yarn. Alpaca gives me both the sneezies and the itchies, but doesn't bother Mom. I didn’t check my gauge, and I ran out of yarn during the decreases as a result. I tweaked the pattern a bit to make it work, and it still looks great! Next time I’d use smaller needles, especially for the ribbing, and maybe have an extra skein of yarn on hand.
I've never really mastered the art of taking photos in the mirror, but here's a rough idea of what it looks like.
Just in case you missed it, The Decemberists were on Conan last night!

Here's a link if they embedded video doesn't come through via a feedburner.

Colin's rocking the plaid flannel, of course.  Takes me back to the 90s and my misspent youth. ;-)

- Has anyone seen Guy and Madeline Sitting on a Park Bench? If so, what did you think? It's a recent indie film that's part documentary, part musical, but it had a very limited release and isn't on netflix yet.  It sounds fascinating.

- Amazon has made it possible to give e-books as gifts. Huzzah, huzzah! More info here. Paul recently built 3 big bookcases for our downstairs den, and dealing with that has reaffirmed my desire to keep using my Kindle. Some books benefit immensely from physicality -- cookbooks, knitting books, art books, things you want to treasure forever or lend out to friends -- but half the books I read don't fall into those categories. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo simply doesn't deserve shelf space in my library for all time.
new knitting patterns calling out my name

- Shalder, from The Shetland Trader Vol. 1.  I'm jonesing after the Quince & Co. Lark yarn (perhaps glacier or peacock?) for this pattern, but I must resist until another sweater (or two) is off the needles.

- Leaving, from the new Twist Collective. What a great overall issue!  I'm always a bit surprised by how expensive each pattern is, though. A $5/pattern limit is firmly entrenched in my brain; I wince at anything above that, especially since whole books full of fabulous knitting patterns are so affordable.

Little Owls, by Susan B. Anderson.  Just too cute! Plus you all know I'm an owl-addict.

- Holden Shawlette, by Mindy Wilkes (free).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

what's ruffling my feathers

Still way too much going on chez Caffeinated Yarn for my tastes... to borrow from brokeknits: blah, blah, dissertation, blah, blah, scholarship application, blah, blah, the sound of deadlines whizzing past me, blah, blah... Plus some serious family health issues and lots on the calendar, including good things like a rather posh wedding yesterday (huzzah for top-shelf open bars, btw). One thing at a time, I suppose.

I did, however, manage to photograph a shawlette. This was knit a while back but mysteriously hasn't appeared on the blog previously:
 Pattern: Ruffle My Feathers, by Caryl Pierre
Yarn: Orange Flower MCN Fingering Weight, "Raindrop," 1 skein
Needles: Clover US 6 bamboo circs

The yarn is soft and lovely, but perhaps a little more variegated than is ideal for this pattern. It was a pretty quick knit, although the feather-and-fan lace pattern is not handled in the most user-friendly way (cough, there may have been a wee bit of tinking, cough).  The shape is great -- it really wraps around you nicely.
BTW, please don't think I'm too enamored of 1990s country-style oak furniture. We live in a world of hand-me-downs, as my in-laws have done a lot of redecorating in the past few years. The stuff's solid and dependable, though, so we're sticking with it until we can afford to replace it with furniture we really love. It's the "reuse" part of the "reduce, reuse, recycle" slogan ;-)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

walking on sunshine

Pattern: Whippoorwill, by Carina Spencer
Yarn: Yarntini Semi-Solid Sock (Honeytini, ~ 90 yds) &
Plucky Knitter Superwash Merino Wool Handpainted Fingering Weight 
(Madeleine Elster, ~280 yds.)
Needles: Clover US 6 bamboo circs
Size: Small

I love the finished project -- it's a great shape, a useful size, and the graceful curve of the border is delightful. That said, it wasn't that fun to knit. The pattern is definitely aimed at the perfectionist who wants all the details to be just so -- mirrored increases, special types of yarnovers, etc. I am just not that kind of knitter.  My life provides me with enough small details to stress out about already!  If I'm going to be super picky about details, there had better be some fancy lace in play, not basic-looking stockinette with a few yarnovers and garter rows.

The yarns were nice to knit but not remarkable -- both are springy merino wool with a fairly tight twist. The Yarntini might be a little thicker than the Plucky Knitter yarn.  I wish that the grey were just a bit more even and less splotchy.  The combination of the two colors makes me very happy, though -- sunshine on a cloudy day.
Today has been unseasonably glorious for November in Chicago -- upper 60s, sunshine, a light breeze.  Lo and behold, what did I see while driving home?

A city worker wearing a jaunty Santa hat while repaving our street.

Other terrifying signs that people are starting in on the holidays way too early:

- Christmas carols blasting from the outdoor speakers at the gas station

- Trader Joe's is pushing its specialty holiday goodies. The upshot, though, is that Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's are amazingly delicious.

Monday, November 08, 2010

a monday miscellany

This past weekend had its ups and downs, so I'm doing my best to accentuate the positive. We sold the Malibu (hooray!), spent a great night in Lincoln Square with friends (love the Poor Man's Black Velvet at the Bad Apple -- Crispin cider + Left Hand Milk Stout), and Paul managed to find the elusive last bin of my winter sweaters in the storage closet.  I felt like Rory Gilmore as she's reunited with her sock drawer after the big European backpacking trip ("Hello, boys!").
As soon as I popped up from my comfy reading chair to grab a mug of hot apple cider last night, Kylie Cat cozied up in my giant granny square afghan and promptly feel asleep.  So sweet... it's the best time of year for cat snuggling. This afghan is my favorite project ever, hands down -- knitting, crochet, or otherwise.
- Apartment Therapy's tips on "How to Clean Your House in 20 Minutes a Day for 30 Days"

Does anyone follow a schedule like this?  If so, what do you think about it and how do you make it work? We tend to sacrifice huge blocks of valuable weekend time to cleaning, which is productive but not exactly fun.
- Garnet Hill has some cute sheepie things that would make perfect holiday gifts for knitters:

autumn's bounty
- Cooking Light's Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta is slated for tonight's menu (provided that I get enough done this afternoon). I'll let you know how it turns out!
 - These Owl Bootees are absolutely adorable, plus gingergooseberry graciously shares the pattern.

Friday, November 05, 2010


Hurray, it's Friday, a morning when I get to work at home in my PJs, sipping all the coffee I want from a real mug rather than spilling coffee from my travel mug all over my Jeep as I groggily trek to campus. :-) 
Perseverance used to be one of my strong suits.  Now I'm not so sure... this quarter has been a little too busy for my tastes.  Just as I'm slowly but surely chugging along on my research, I'm also making steady progress on my Greenfield cardigan.  I'm to the leaf details just before the hem:
The bright color has become more and more appealing as the trees in my neighborhood are stripped of their foliage. I dazzled/repulsed one of the girls at knitting night on Wednesday as I spit-spliced the yarn. She'd never heard of spit-splicing before, which surprised me, as it's incredibly useful (in addition to being a little disgusting). So if you haven't tried it before either, now's the time to go for it! I don't think anyone likes weaving in ends. Just make sure you're using something that will felt -- no cotton, acrylic, superwash, etc.
P.S. Design*Sponge has an interview with Carson Ellis today! 

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

just a little something to brighten up a cold, grey November day

Over the weekend Paul and I were reminiscing about the amazing Decemberists' show we saw two Halloweens ago. The band came onstage dressed as characters from The Shining, which was awesome, esp. since the show was (quite oddly, I might add) at the very-conservative Wheaton College in a chapel. They have a new album -- The King is Dead (perhaps homage to my beloved Smiths?) -- coming out in January, and you can download a free track here. Yes, that is Peter Buck playing the guitar. :-)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

 Capricha's enamored of my festive pumpkin cushions.
in the kitchen ~ autumn edition
Here I am, standing on the bumper of my big brother's Jeep back in 1985 or so.  It should have been a sign... 

Yep, Paul and I just bought yet another black Jeep.  Now we're very matchy-matchy. Wish me luck selling the old Malibu!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

mmmm... peanut butter

I'm back from another whirlwind trip to Minneapolis.  My dad turned 70 (!!!), and we had a lovely family party.  Sadly I forgot my camera, so no photos of the 2-layer devil's food cake that I frosted and decorated with candy corn and the like. There's something so festive about a fancy layer cake!
Most of the weekend was spent with family, but I did manage to meet some dear friends for Sunday brunch at Hell's Kitchen. Their peanut butter is just as amazing as everyone says. I bought a jar for my parents, and I'm planning to make it myself sometime soon (recipe here)! 

All that garter stitch for my Greenfield Cardigan is beginning to seem interminable:

I've divided for the arms, and am now chugging along on the increases after the waist.  It's going to be cozy, but that's one heck of a lot of K stitches.
Kylie tried out her new harness and leash recently!  When I first put it on her, she melted into a kitty-cat puddle on the floor and refused to move.  Once we got her out on the deck she was emboldened and did some exploring. Too cute. We haven't tried Capricha yet, as she's a bit faster and more curious.
I'm a notorious over-packer when traveling, and while my new-ish Kindle has helped me carry fewer weighty tomes, I still need to change my ways.  One thing that I thought might help was a smaller (cute!) carry-on bag that I'd feel motivated to use.  While this Orla Kiely number was calling out my name, its high price tag didn't work with the budget. I found this Le Sportsac Weekender at Marshall's last week, and it worked like a charm for my Minneapolis trip.
My first time traveling with just a carry-on since 9/11!
I try not to be too political here (hey, it's a knitting blog), but I can't resist pointing to this piece from James Fallows at the Atlantic in support of NPR.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

busy, busy

There are lots of baby showers on the horizon, so I'm back to knitting wee little sweaters and the like. This is my favorite kind of knitting --  baby knits go quickly, use small amounts of yarn, and let you try out new techniques, as well as styles that are just too twee for grown-ups. Here's a Pebbles baby vest in progress.  Just a couple more ends to weave in, plus buttons and blocking.
This doesn't take much yarn at all!  I'm using a skein of Brooklyn Handspun Instant Gratification DK-weight merino sock yarn that has been marinating in the stash for quite some time. The colorway is "slate." I actually think I could squeeze a second vest out of the skein, too!  Really a neat little (free) pattern -- I like the garter stitch details. We'll see how well I like sewing on all the buttons, though.
This is a busy week.  The start of the quarter has seen me running around like crazy, including a few frantic, crabby days. Poor Paul... our suburban Ikea odyssey (to look at bookcases) was not our best Sunday. That said, almost every Ikea trip makes me nuts.  I always feel a bit like a salmon swimming upstream, surrounded by all the carts, frantic people in decision-making mode, and cheaply-made goods.  
The one upshot of our shopping trip? I'm very much looking forward to cracking open this bottle of Crispin hard cider, an artisanal reserve edition fermented with Trappist yeasts (called "The Saint"), on Friday night. Crispin is a Minneapolis-based business (short Star Trib blub here).
The Elsie cardigan was hastily blocked and finished (with little white flower buttons), just in time for a certain someone's first birthday:
Yep, it's too big... and it was too darn hot to get good modeled shots of a baby in an overly large wool sweater on an 85-degree fall day.  Hopefully her mom will send me a better photo this winter! 

The details are on my Ravelry project page.  I loved the pattern, and the crochet edging was very easy and quick.  I'll definitely try more of Jane Richmond's designs. In fact, I'm already dreaming of an Oatmeal Pullover, just like Amanda Soule's. When I'm done with my Greenfield cardigan, of course...

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Sweater-wearing season has begun here in Chicago (hurray!). What better time to cast on for a new cozy cardigan? 

I'm making a Greenfield Cardigan from the book New England Knits:
photo from Interweave
The design reminds me a bit of the February Lady Sweater, without the lace, but with a bit of waist shaping, plus that cute leaf detail. The yarn is Kimmet Croft Softie, which is 25% angora and really neat (plus it's from Wisconsin).  I think it's woollen spun? It has little bits of VM, which don't bother me, and the yarn really blooms and changes texture when you wash and block it.  Yes, I actually did wash and block my swatch for once. Mia sent me the yarn a couple of years ago, and I'm so happy to be using it!
knitting in unexpected places

- Design*Sponge with a pattern for a handknit lampshade.  It's actually pretty cute, though it does strike me as a possible fire hazard.

- Apartment Therapy on knitting-inspired home decor

recipe round-up

Apparently October's the time for comfort food! The greatest hits from the past two weeks are not exactly health food, but they're delicious:

- Squash, Bacon, & Goat Cheese Pasta with Basil from the kitchn
Sadly my fresh basil had gone south, so I had to settle for sprinkling in some dried basil.  Fresh basil would elevate this from very good to awesome, in my book. 

- Buffalo-Chicken Macaroni & Cheese
I made a half batch, since the original recipe seemed like it would feed an army.  And indeed, the half batch made 6-8 servings rather than 3-4. I cut back on the butter a bit, and I cooked the chicken breasts myself, as rotisserie chicken is really high in salt (and as a former vegetarian I'm super grossed out by bones).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

the wearing of the red

Any idea where we went last weekend?

Yep, a quick weekend trip to Madison, where we watched the Badgers slaughter Austin Peay. Yikes, that was quite the game, not really fair (70-3).
Still, it was a beautiful fall day, full of Wisconsin spirit, Michael's frozen custard, and time spent with friends. My only regret is that we couldn't stay for Obama's speech on Library Mall in Madison.
Despite the craziness of the last couple of weeks (fall quarter has now started), I knit this little Elsie cardigan in Badger red (oops, I mean Knit Picks hollyberry).  The crocheted loops at the hems are a cute detail, and they are very easy to do. Great, clear pattern by Jane Richmond. I just need to find buttons! Then I'll take better pictures. Our new apartment, while delightful in many other respects, doesn't have nearly as great of light as our old place, so photography is much more of a challenge now. On a related note, I have quite the knitting backlog to blog.
Besides being perfect for knitting, Badgers football, and long walks amidst the leaves, fall is perfect for tea.  I found the Pumpkin Ginger Tea at World Market -- very nice, but best when made with 2 tea bags, especially if you're using a mug rather than a dainty tea cup (we're not really dainty people chez Caffeinated Yarn).  The loose-leaf Bourbon Vanilla Kusmi tea, which I picked up in Paris, is absolutely amazing! Highly recommended -- I think there's a Kusmi tea shop in NYC here in the states, too.