Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review: Metropolitan Knits

Would you believe that I don't own a single knitting book? I get most of my patterns and skills from various blogs, podcasts and Ravelry. I frequently check books out from my local library, and occasionally end up purchasing single patterns via Ravelry or Etsy. While many books are beautiful, I don't find more than one or two patterns that I feel like I MUST own. 

That is, until I picked up Metropolitan Knits by Melissa Wehrle. I love this book. I love well over half the patterns in this book. I've renewed it two times from the library and either plan to buy it myself, or to hint liberally that someone should. 

I love, in no particular order, the cover sweater, the Meier cardigan, which looks great for work 

The Brooklyn Bridge cardigan is a fingering weight that would be great for summer days

The Carriage house cardigan is even lighter in lace weight, though I think I'd omit the ruching from the back and just let it hang loose

The cobblestone hoodie will be a weekend staple. I would make it long enough to cover the tush so I could wear it with leggings

I had a sweater like this several years ago, and still love it. It's the magnolia cafe, and I think the chunky cables look so cozy

Speaking of a cozy chunky knit, the Washington square cardigan calls for bulky yarn, and would be perfect for winter 

Another sweater perfect for pairing with leggings if I make it another inch or two longer is the Skyline tunic

Perhaps one of the first things that I will knit is this super cozy looking cowl

And finally, perhaps my first adult cardigan that I already have the yarn for is the Bleeker street cardigan. I'm not sure how I feel about the pockets, but they are attached as one of he final steps so I can make that decision later

So there you have it! The knitting book that captured my heart enough to become the start of my library!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Knit. Breathe. Repeat.

Despite being nearly mid-June by now, it's been a cold and rainy week. Which suits me just find to be honest.

I'm working on the Nova dress. I've been picking away at it for about 2 months now.

Despite it just being miles of stockinette, I've made at least two mistakes and one mistake that wasn't really, it was how the pattern was written but I didn't like it. Therefore the first three decreases are leaning the wrong way as I modified how I was knitting them but didn't bother to rip it back.

I did, however, rip back the first sleeve. Twice. First I tried to knit them two at a time, which I do for socks and is fine, but with striping, was a huge mess. Rip. Then I was about 4 stripes in, dropped a few stitches, couldn't handle it. Rip.

Finally I got it together on the sleeves. I knit one up to the end of the increases, set that aside and knit the other up to the decreases. It turns out that what people say is true, different needles give you a different gauge. I don't have it in me to rip again, so I'll just finish the sleeve on the metal circs and go back and continue knitting the one I started on the DPNs with the circs. That's what I did the rest of the dress in, so that makes sense. Anyway. Knit. Breathe. Repeat.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Homemade yogurt without fancy equipment

According to a search of my email (don't ask why I was emailing about yogurt, because I don't know), I've been making yogurt at home since 2010. I make a gallon of milk at a time, which comes out to 4 quart sized jars, which we go through in about 2-3 weeks. In that time, I think I've only had fewer than 5 batches not turn out for one reason or another, so I feel like I have the system pretty down pat. Considering that one of those little cups of yogurt costs what, a dollar? Maybe $.50 if you get them on sale? And if they are 8 oz or so, that's 8 servings per quart, 4 quarts per gallon, which would come out to about $16-32 for the gallon of yogurt I make....for about $5. And that right there is pretty much why I do it!

I read a few tutorials, and a lot of them involved a yogurt maker or a crock pot. I didn't want to buy another kitchen appliance, so I did try the crockpot method once, and wasn't really pleased with the results as it was too runny for my tastes. So basically I stick with the same method time after time. It's pretty similar to the steps on the yogurt starter packets, however I tend to use a single serve of commercial yogurt rather than the starter because it works just as well and costs less. Technically you can use yogurt from your previous batch as your starter, but I don't do this. I don't have a scientific reason, but I feel like if I keep reusing the same starter, I might end up with not enough of the bacteria to make the recipe work, so I just use a fresh one.

This tutorial is probably about as easy as it gets, and has about 10 minutes of hands on time, including clean up! The cooking process takes about an hour and a half, but basically you just need to be around the house, not in the kitchen or anything. Then the incubation period is anywhere from 5-8 hours.

Step one: pour a gallon of milk into pot. I use my pasta pot, and I use whole milk because it makes a nice, thick yogurt, and I'm on board with a few healthy fats in my diet. Hang on to the empty gallon AND lid, as you'll use them later.

Step 2: turn heat to medium, and let simmer on medium for about 30 minutes. You don't want the milk to come to a boil, and it shouldn't over this length of time and heat level.

Step 3: Check temp. You're looking for the milk to be about 180 degrees F. I don't have a fancy candy thermometer or anything, so I just use a (clean, of course!) meat thermometer.

Step 4: remove pot from heat, and let sit for about an hour. Yep, just walk away. Go take a shower or something.

Step 5: check temp. You're looking for about 115 degrees.

Step 6: Prepare to strain. Some tutorials I've read recommend stirring constantly so you don't get any milk scalded to the bottom of the pot. I don't have time for all that, so I've found the best way to get around that and to have nice, creamy yogurt is just to strain it. I set the empty gallon of milk in my sink to catch any dribble, and I hold a sieve above a funnel. I used to need another set of hands to hold this steady, but now I can grab the pot with one hand and a potholder, and hold the sieve with the other.

Step 7: combine yogurt - either the single serve cup or powdered starter - and some (it doesn't matter how much) of the heated milk in a glass jar. I've tried using plastic gladware type containers before, and found that the yogurt didn't thicken up as nicely as when I use glass. I'm not a chemist or anything, but I'll hypothesize that the glass is a better insulator and holds the heat longer during incubation. Probably.

Step 8: Mix

Step 9: pour the yogurt + milk mixture back into the big gallon of milk and mix that together. This is where it was a good idea to have saved the lid because you can just re-cap it and give it a good shake.

Step 10: pour soon-to-be yogurt into your glass jars. I find that it fits just right into 4 quart jars because I probably spilled a little in the sink at some point.

Step 11: snuggle your jars together someplace for the next 5-8 hours. I like to use my oven because it gets it out of the way. I wrap them in a towel to help hold the heat. If I'm doing this during a time when I need my oven, I've used another towel or 2 and bundled it all into a cooler. I often try to do this during the day and just set a timer for 5 or 6 hours and then transfer them into the fridge, however I've also done the cooking just before bed and put them in the fridge in the morning. I've found that it's best to give a jar a tip to see if it has set up yet if you're on the shorter side of incubation time - mine doesn't usually get thicker in the refrigerator.

And there you have it! Lots of yogurt with just a little effort, and a couple dollars saved!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Oliver + S Bucket Hat

A few days ago, I read this post on Probably Actually about summer hats for kids. I just so happened to be in need of a larger summer hat, and it seems like every sewing blogger I read is enamored with Oliver + S, so I decided to give this free pattern a try. I have to say, it feels a bit like I'm getting involved with some sort of drug dealer, where the first hit is free.....

Anyway, all in, this project took an evening, from about 7-10 pm. I had the fabric and interfacing on hand, though I wish I'd had some brown thread given my fabric choice. It would have made the bit of unevenness where I attached the last part a bit less noticeable, but I wanted to knock this out quickly so I used the lighter tan that I had. The pattern directions themselves were well written and clear, though attaching the sides to the circular top was definitely a bit fiddly.

Progress shot - eek, not looking cute yet!

Oh so many pins while I was attaching the brim. Since I was attaching the floppy hat to the slightly stiffened brim, I wanted to make sure they were attached evenly.

It came out pretty cute in the end! (disregard the mulch pile in the background - we have work to do!)

I contemplated adding some ties or a velcro strap to keep it on, but opted against it as it would sort of undo the reversibility of the pattern. Despite somehow mostly showing the pink and brown side, I do really like the green polka dotted other side! I think it fits really well in circumference, but I feel like it could be about an inch taller. If (and probably when, because more sun hats are better than less!) I make this again, I think I'll add some height to the side panels so that it comes down a bit lower on the forehead. I'm not itching for my next Oliver + S hit JUST yet, but I feel like once my sewing studio is up and running, I might feel the urge!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How does my garden grow?

I'm an excellent gardener. From May all the way through, oh, the first week of June or so. After long, cold winters, I itch to get outside and get things cleaned up. And then I get some bug bites, and I sweat off my sunscreen, and I hit the couch. And then the next year I have to clean up all the things I planted and promptly ignored once I had to try to tell the difference between plant and weed. Sigh. Such good (mediocre) intentions, wasted year after year.

My yard is quite small, and thanks to a previous owner working for the parks department back in the day, we have about....6 fully grown, park sized trees on a lot measured in square feet. This is good for finding a place for a hammock, not great for full sun exposure for any measurable length of time. Several years ago, we did a summer of landscaping where we ripped out most everything we could and are still in the process of replacing it in an intentional way. We mapped out the only patch of ground that got a somewhat decent amount of sunlight, and used landscaping blocks scavenged from other really dumb places in the yard to build a raised garden bed.


So many leaves.....

And after! (this is from 2009 - you can see the level of shade we deal with! That's pretty much what determined the size, shape and location of the bed. That and the amount of stone we had laying around.)

Hey look, I was still enthusiastic about gardening in 2010!

And, well, I've fallen off since then. I've halfheartedly planted something every year, but I think last year I got about 4 carrots and some herbs, and that's about it. I guess that's the nice thing about a vegetable garden - there's always next year. THIS year, I'd planned to make things easy on myself and buy mostly plants rather than trying to do seeds, but....well I did my plant shopping on Memorial Day weekend and got totally overwhelmed. I'm not a type of person who does well in crowds. I ended up grabbing 2 tomatoes, a basil, and a handful of seed packets and walking out in a daze. (The seeds I planted were carrots, peas, beans, spinach, lettuce and green onions. I probably meant to get more or different things...but who can remember?)

Despite my lackluster commitment to the garden, I've been pretty faithful to composting. I started out cheap (like I tend to do) with a rubbermaid bin with holes drilled into it for drainage and air flow. It actually worked out halfway decent. I mean, it made dirt...it's not exactly rocket science. But after several years outside in the winter....because you can NOT move that thing when it's full, the plastic gave out. Last year we got something similar to this compost bin: (I didn't want one of the "tumbling" types, because I've read things about them either falling apart or not turning. Since it has to withstand the elements, I went for the least amount of moving parts)

Even though it's obviously super attractive, we keep it in a planting bed right outside our back door. If it wasn't steps from the kitchen, we would never use it. Or the bin in the house would get disgustingly full and we'd ditch the whole system. We planted some daylilies around it, and due to the compost juices soaking into the ground there, they grow awesome and huge and do provide a bit of camouflage. As for keeping the compost in the house, we've gone through a few systems. I know they have those bins you can leave out on your counter...but they always seemed a little sketchy and gnat attracting to me. First I had a bright idea of putting the scraps that needed to go out in the freezer, because then it definitely wouldn't attract bugs. That part of my theory was totally spot on, by the way. What did NOT work out though was the collection method. I started with a gladware type bin, which worked, but also shattered after several in-and-outs and bangs on the side of the bin to dislodge the frozen bits. Then I moved to a metal bread pan, which did not break, but did not have a lid. In typical man fashion, my husband is of the mind to keep stomping the garbage down in the bin rather than take it out a day earlier. This is not ideal when you have overflowing food scraps and coffee grounds in your freezer. Now we keep scraps in another gladware bin in the fridge, because it's much harder to overflow things that have lids which seal on tightly.

Anyway, because we just have this one bin, we don't have a place to fully age the compost. This, by the way, is the dream for behind the garage:

You know you're old when dreams include ways to organize garbage and dirt.

We use a screen that we build to sit on top of our wheelbarrow so that we can sift out the "done" stuff from the "still resembles food" stuff.

I spent several hot, sweaty hours sifting the compost, and got this:

Impressive, isn't it? It DOES help a little that the part in shadow at the bottom of the picture is also compost. But man, it would be nice to have that 3-bin aging system! Maybe I'll keep that on the list for this summer.....and then in like...3 years, we'll have excellent dirt.

Anyway, so I did plant my meager haul from the garden store.

Despite living in a fairly urban area, we also live near a wooded area, so we get quite an abundance of wildlife. As you can see in the earlier photos, I used metal fencing, which kept out deer, but the squirrels mocked me and used it as a ladder. I cut it on one side on either long edge of the garden so that I could swing it open to get in there and weed (ha) and harvest (double ha), and it had really started to fall apart after several years. This year I'm trying some deer blocking fabric mesh over the whole darn thing. We'll see how this works out. I tacked it into the ground and draped it over the fence post things I already had. It should be fairly easy for me to undo and get in there, and hopefully the squirrels don't just thank me for putting up a hammock for them if they decide to lounge on top, right before breaking through to have a nice lunch.