Friday, December 28, 2012

handknit holidays, part I

I didn't really intend to do much holiday knitting, but I got carried away and knit quite a few small projects this year!

This is the third wee bear I've knit, each of which has been well received.
pattern: Mother Bear Project Teddy Bear, by Amy Berman 
needles: Clover US 6 bamboo 24" circs and DPNs 
yarn: leftover Patons Classic Wool Merino & Cascade 220

An easy knit, but the finishing is time-consuming and fiddly! I always anguish over how to embroider the face -- that's the trickiest part. This time I used seed stitch for the sweater. This guy went to my best friend's youngest son (his older brother already has a bear).
The kitties spent Christmas in the lap of luxury at a friend's house while we trekked to snowy, beautiful Minneapolis to visit my family.
Lucky Sugar! Jauntily perching atop an Hermès scarf just doesn't happen chez Caffeinated Yarn.
More holiday knits soon -- I turned into a virtual hat-knitting factory while listening to the first Game of Thrones book on tape! It has been years since I read the book, so the audiobook has been enthralling. Ned Stark is such a great guy -- noble and idealistic, sometimes to a fault. I will say that some of Daenerys' story among the Dothraki makes for uncomfortable listening -- Paul has suggested penning Fifty Shades of Dothraki, sure to fly off the shelves.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

making spirits bright

Holiday preparations are in full swing around here, though there never seems to be quite enough time. I tried a new-to-me cookie recipe this year -- chewy chocolate-gingerbread cookies (from Martha Stewart):
Yum! I love the combination of spice and dark chocolate (I've switched to using Whole Foods vegan chocolate chips almost exclusively -- a good price for high-quality chocolate with very little filler).
The kitters have been doing pretty well with the tree (no one has tried to scale Mt. Doom), so I added red glass balls and a few wee sheep:
So far, so good -- only two balls have been knocked to the floor as of yet.
I'm deep into holiday gift knitting right now, and can't share too much on ye olde blog yet, but I did crochet a few squares for a new afghan:
While I'm not necessarily in love with the randomness of the color changes of the self-striping yarn, I am enamored of not weaving in many ends. I'll do some more and re-evaluate. Each square receives a cream-colored border before everything's sewn together.
Still looking for an easy pattern or two to knit before Christmas? I am, and I'm about ifandany's recent quick knits posts -- hats (my favorite), cowls, toys, and mitts.
Oh, I'm late to the game on this one, but I'm really enjoying Call the Midwife, the BBC series about young midwives (and some nuns) working in London's East End in the 1950s. Oh, Chummy... what a great character. A middle-class patronizing attitude toward the poor underlies some of the sentiments, but overall it's a good watch.

Friday, December 07, 2012

holiday spirit

The holiday spirit is in full swing around here...
The tree is up, though we haven't finished decorating it yet. With our new, energetic kitties, we weren't sure what sort of mayhem might ensue, so we did a trial run with just (unbreakable) Swedish straw ornaments. So far, so good -- time to try adding a few more.
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My knitting friends came over for a crafty afternoon last Sunday, so the holiday baking has begun. These deep dark chocolate cookies are amazingly delicious and just happen to be gluten-free.

I also made cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Also yummy, esp. since the cranberries taste fresh, not jammy; however, they are a bit tart, so if you crave a sugar rush, this may not be up your alley. Also, they are best served fairly soon after they're baked, as the crumb crust tends to sog out with time.
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My current knitting projects are a bit dull right now, so I've been cheating and reading lots of novels (aided in part by an unfortunate incident with my Jeep that has left me riding the CTA for the past week -- public transit = reading time).
I'm stranded on sleeve island with my Drops cardigan...

and I'm knitting the most boring scarf pattern in the world. The yarn is lovely, the finished project will be classy and very wearable, but I'm never touching this pattern again.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

a cardigan for Alexa Brooke

We're meeting our dear friends' new baby girl, Alexa Brooke, this weekend, and I knit a cozy little cardigan for her in a lovely shade of duck egg blue. This is my third time with this pattern, and I love how quickly it knits up, and doing the crochet edging is a lot of fun. Debbie Bliss Cashmerino is definitely one of my desert island yarns.
needles: US 6 (4.0 mm)
 size: 6 months
my ravelry project page

A great little pattern that's easy to knit. Can't beat top-down when it comes to baby knits! I did YO raglan increases this time, but otherwise followed the pattern as written. I think the sizing tends to run small on this pattern, so keep that in mind if you decide to knit one.

I contemplated using more exciting buttons in a contrast color, but just couldn't make a decision. The (very affordable and basic) buttons are made by Slimline and run just 99 cents for a card of five at my fabric store.
I have a new favorite trick for sewing on buttons! I used to sew buttons on with yarn, but it was often too bulky and lumpy and not fun to work with. Embroidery floss to the rescue! It comes in every imaginable shade, so it's easy to match colors, and it's very affordable. I keep my floss organized by DMC number in a nerdy tackle box. This took a little time to set up at first (as my prior organization consisted of throwing all the floss in a plastic bag), but has been well worth the effort in the long run.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

voting day

I voted! My polling place just happens to be my local library, which meant that I could pick up some audiobooks and holds at the same time. Very nice.
Sadly Chicago does not give out cute stickers, just "ballot receipts." I did, however, get to vote using two seriously oversized paper ballots, which I fed into a ballot reading machine. A surprisingly satisfying experience, especially since the scanner makes a dramatic noise as it accepts your ballots and sucks them in.

Even if you're not a fan of the big two, many states have important congressional races and referenda (oh, how I wish I could "vote no twice" in my home state of Minnesota).
 I've been knitting up a storm the past couple of months, but seem to be lacking in follow-through.

 A shawlette and scarf to block....

wee little cardigans in want of buttons...

and another cardigan on the needles for me. This time it's Drops pattern no. 113-17 in a lovely heather shade of Cascade 220. I'm done up to the underarms -- time to get to work on the sleeves before my momentum dissipates.


Moxie is fluffing up quite nicely for the winter. Paul has nicknamed her "Captain Crochet" for her fascination with handmade afghans.

in the kitchen

I made a rather amazing looking chicken en croute the other night. I'd like to tweak the leek and bacon stuffing, as it was a little bland, but I'll share the recipe once it's perfected. This is really fun to serve to guests.

Martha Stewart's amazing recipe for giant ginger cookies is always a hit. I recommend slightly underbaking them to keep them nice and chewy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

pumpkin season

We've had a spectacular autumn here in Chicago. Walking around campus has been beautiful.
Chicago autumns don't usual have as much flash and color as places like Door County or the North Shore of Lake Superior, but this has been a good year.
The fruits of our labor at a pumpkin carving party last weekend -- mine is the smirking Jack O' Lantern second from the right. Some people got really fancy, but I like to wing it!
in the kitchen

Comfort food and autumnal spices are just the ticket with our cool temperatures here in Chicago. Chicken Fennel Lemon Rice Soup is simmering away in my crockpot as I type, and we've been munching on some yummy pumpkin cookies for the last few days.

(Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free) Pumpkin Cookies

1/4 C. pumpkin puree (canned is fine)
1/2 C. almond butter (or any natural nut butter) (I like the "grind your own" from Whole Foods since it isn't separated)

1/2 C. honey

1 tsp. vanilla 

1 C. almond meal/flour
(available at Trader Joe's)
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/3 C. dark chocolate chips  (I use Whole Foods vegan)

1/3 C. dried cranberries 
1/2 C. chopped walnuts or pecans

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. 

- Combine all wet ingredients together, then add the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly. 

- Scoop batter to whatever size you'd like. Flatten them out to the desired thickness becuase these do not spread on their own. 

- Bake ~ 10-15 minutes, according to thickness.

- Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

postcards from Door County

Paul and I just spent a week up north in Wisconsin's beautiful Door County, where we did things like go for drives amidst the fall colors,

 visit lighthouses, including the Sherwood Point Lighthouse in Idlewild,

hike many state parks (might as well get the good out of our annual WI state parks pass!), like Whitefish Dunes, where we climbed "Old Baldy," the tallest sand dune in the state,
and taste my first fish boil (delicious!).

I just may have finished up (and worn!) my Shalder cardigan. The trip was amazing -- as nice as Chicago is, I really miss the great outdoors. Wisconsin still feels like home in many ways.

More knitting photos soon, I promise.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

afternoon tea

Mmm... French apple cake for tea today. I couldn't resist adding a dash of cardamom and a dash of nutmeg to the cinnamon-sugar topping when I was baking.
Toggle buttons have been procured for my Shalder cardigan. The pickings were awfully slim at my fabric store, and shopping for buttons online is a soul-crushing endeavor. These are La Mode style no. 29442 (hook 608).

Here's a vague idea how they'll look sewn on:
My cardigans are almost always worn open, so the buttons probably won't see much actual use.


My owl baby vest pattern is now available en español, by the way! Muchas gracias to Cecilia, aka wenlita, for the translation.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

home stretch

Shalder is almost done! I picked it up last week after letting it languish for over a year, so this feels like kind of a miracle.

Last year I bailed in the midst of the lace pattern on the yoke, which is admittedly kind of complex and requires undivided attention, at a point when the whole weight of this bottom-up sweater awkwardly fills up your entire lap. This is my first adult bottom-up sweater, and while I like not being stuck on sleeve island at the end, wrestling with attaching the sleeves and doing the yoke can be a challenge.

Now to graft the underarms, block, and add some buttons!
in the kitchen

- chicken and brie sandwich with roasted cherry tomatoes, a perennial favorite chez moi

- French apple cake, a new autumnal favorite
 Moxie, enjoying some fresh air on our sun porch

Thursday, September 20, 2012

wee little cardi + garden goodness

Another FO! This sweet little cardi languished in my knitting basket, patiently waiting for its (lone) button for months.
pattern: Mignon, by Loop London
yarn: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK, 2.2 skeins
needles: US 4 (3.5 mm) Clover circs
size: 3-6 months

The cables were fun to work (as most cables are), and the knitting part of this project went very quickly! I recommend the pattern, but be aware that this is definitely a cropped length. It would look lovely over a full little floral dress, but rather odd with jeggings.
I managed to capture Sugar mid-sneeze. Sugar, like most cats apparently, is drawn to crochet; she has staked a claim on this afghan on the sofa. Moxie, on the other hand, has claimed the ivory diagonal box-stitch afghan for herself.
I tried something new for dinner -- 15-minute creamy avocado pasta. Yum! Very rich and creamy, indeed. I used basil, but also a little parsley, and I topped it with halved cherry tomatoes. It's kind of like a guacamole-pesto hybrid. Next time I'd reserve some cooking water from the pasta to thin it out a bit.
I'm dying to tackle another crochet project, maybe this retro circle afghan (inspired by a post by one sheepish girl, a new-to-me blog that I'm really enjoying), but I don't have enough yarn that would work, and I'm trying to work from the stash these days.

On the knitting side of things, I'd like to cast on for this cute chunky star blanket from Pickles. And a Whisper or Wispy cardigan (inspired by barefoot rooster breaking hers out for the season), though I haven't yet figured out which pattern to use. Apparently Wispy is a revised version, with some modifications and additional sizes. That probably bodes well, but do I really want to shell out more $ for the new version when I still have the old issue of Interweave?

Before I cast on for another cardi, though, I MUST knit the last sleeve for Aidez and seam that bad boy together, as well as finish up my Shalder. I have visions of snuggling up in my beautiful Aidez while sipping coffee out on the dock amidst the fall colors while we're in Door County next month. We're staying in this cute cottage:
on this lovely island:
I cannot wait!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

delicious autumn

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

-- George Eliot

With September has come a hankering for autumnal flavors. Mmm... I whipped up a batch of my favorite pumpkin chocolate chip squares last night, and they are just as delicious as I remembered. I've tried a few different brands of canned pumpkin, and Libby canned pumpkin seems to yield the best results. The pricey organic pumpkin from Whole Foods is a dud, both in terms of texture and flavor. I've tried making my own pumpkin puree in the past, but it's labor-intensive, and the texture is unpredictable for baking (but great for soups).
The temperature has been dropping at night, and I've been waking up to a snuggly marmalade tabby perched atop my chest. Delightful! Taking in Sugar and Moxie is one of the best decisions we've ever made.

Moxie is modeling my latest granny star afghan (pre-washing and blocking, of course). I'm still not tired of the pattern! This time I used Knit Picks Simply Cotton, which washes much better than CottonTots and doesn't produce quite as much fluffy residue. 

hook: Clover Soft Touch G (4.0 mm) 
3 skeins green tea heather, 2 skeins marshmallow
my Ravelry project page

So much fun to make! I did a single crochet border this time, and it made for a nice finishing touch.

As with the other ones I've made, the pattern required a little tweaking to make the star shape work. I skipped working a 2 DC “cluster” at the inner angles of the star.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

bigger on the inside

I *finally* picked up 311 stitches for the TARDIS section of Bigger on the Inside. Definitely not my favorite task, but now that I'm knitting the charted pattern I'm happy as a clam. Despite fingering weight yarn and size 3 needles, it seems like it's going to be big! Also, here's my new-to-me antique chair. Still deciding where to put it!
Wow, is it different having young, spry kitties again! When you walk into the kitchen, you see things like this:
 Which means that someone most definitely jumped on my counters to get up there. Naughty kitty!
Even with the frisky young ones, there's still plenty of naptime. Everyone is settling in quite nicely, although Moxie (the marmalade tabby) hasn't really warmed to Paul yet.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

good things for September

Back from a wonderfully long, relaxing weekend, with good things to share:

thing 1
 Sugar, age 3

thing 2
Moxie, age 6

Two lovely kitties have come to live with us, and they're adorable and hilarious. Moxie is still a little nervous around Paul (she seems to be a lady's cat); Sugar's already a lap cat and diligent houseplant excavator. Wow, do they have a lot of energy! The house just didn't feel right without kitties underfoot.
The Avett Brothers' new album, The Carpenter, is streaming in its entirety for free now at NPR.