Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mea culpa...

Emily and I went to Boston over Presidents' Day weekend for the AAAS conference. You can read her account of our trip here. Unlike me, she remembered to take pictures...

The conference was interesting and stimulating. We found some time to walk around near the Convention Center, down tree-lined Newbury St (nice shops!) all the way to Boston Commons. We walked the Freedom Trail and refreshed our knowledge of early American history. We ate good Italian and Indian food, and even had some "chowda". But the most exciting part of our trip has to be our trek to WEBS, the largest yarn store in the U.S.

On Monday morning, we rented a car and Emily courageously drove through the pouring rain and gusty winds all the way to Northampton. When we got there, the rain stopped but a low-hanging mist clustered in fields and ditches. We half-expected a headless man on a galloping horse to emerge in front of us...

Anyway, we got to WEBS around 10:30am. We walked around the front part of the shop for awhile, and then Emily went to inquire about a restroom. She came back five minutes later, grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the back room without saying a word... and there it was: the WEBS warehouse! Aisles filled with bags of yarn, at greatly reduced prices! We were overwhelmed... Emily stopped to take a few pictures, but we completely forgot after that. We don't even have a picture of the front of the store! We walked around the warehouse twice: the first time to get a sense of what they had, and the second time to fill up our baskets...

After three (yes, three) hours in the store, this is what I got:

- Queensland Kathmandu DK Tweed, in dark green (for the Gathered Pullover)

- Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy, in dark pink (for the Mirabella Cardigan, I plan to use the yarn doubled (two strands) to compensate for a different yarn weight)

- Elsebeth Lavold Classic AL, in red and slate grey (for the Minimalist Cardigan)

In my defense, I must say that I am allowed to buy yarn when I travel (although the rules say that it should be limited to one project). I went a little overboard with the number of projects... I had prepared a list of projects and appropriate yarns, and I'm happy to say that I stuck to the list (although I substituted equivalent yarns). Everything I got was 50% off, so great deals all around! As Emily said, our savings on yarn paid for the rental car...

If you're a knitter and you're in the area, you should absolutely go to WEBS! The long drive is definitely worth it: the selection is amazing, and between the sales, closeouts, and discounts, the prices are practically unbeatable!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Red Carpet Update!

Although not much knitting was done during the ceremony (I was in charge of filling out the official results on the ballot for our Oscar party pool), our hostess went above and beyond to provide us with delicious food, including these...

Homemade red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese and mascarpone frosting, sprinkled with coconut, and topped with Oscar-shaped sugar cookies with golden sugar sprinkles. Delicious... and pretty enough for the red carpet!

It almost made me forget that George didn't win... but when I got home today this was waiting for me in my mailbox, so all is well with the world...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Red Hat and Red Carpet

I have been working on my many works-in-progress. The Moss Grid Hand Towels are done, but still need to be washed (more on that in an upcoming post). The Endpaper mitts are progressing nicely, and should be done shortly. I also picked up the Montego Bay scarf again!

Because I was making such good progress, I decided to cast on for the Foliage Hat. I had some Frog Tree Alpaca Worsted burning a hole in my stash... I cast on right before leaving for Boston for a conference and got a whole lot of knitting done on the plane and during the conference. If I'm not taking notes, I find that knitting (or crocheting) keeps me focused on what the speaker is saying because my eyes and hands are busy, so my thoughts don't wander.

Pattern: Foliage Hat, by Emilee Mooney. Published in Knitty, Fall 2007
I made no modifications. The cast-off method wasn't specified, so I used a yarn-over cast-off, which is quite stretchy. (My first cast-off attempts, with a simple knitted cast off in ribbing was a disaster: so tight that I couldn't squeeze my head through it...). The hat itself is very stretchy, so it's very comfortable to wear. Of course, it's now sunny and warm in Seattle...
Yarn: Frog Tree Alpaca Worsted*, in red (color 23). Purchased at the Fiber Gallery.
Needles: US 7 (4.5mm) DPNs and 16" circular for hat, US 5 (3.75mm) for ribbing. The hat is knit from the top down, so DPNs are used for the crown.
Started: February 13, 2008
Completed: February 20, 2008

*Frog Tree yarns import their alpaca yarns from a non-profit cooperative in Bolivia. :
"Purchases made by Frog Tree Yarns are intended to provide support to the individual artisans and non-profit groups. We operate as a not-for-profit company, and do not take any salaries for our efforts. Excess funds generated by T & C Imports are used to provide educational assistance to individuals and support to educational projects."
They also commit to fair trade practices.

No doubt Brangelina would approve... Look for them on the red carpet tonight at the Academy Awards! I'll be watching. And even though Daniel Day-Lewis is practically a shoo-in for Best Actor, I'm secretly hoping that George wins...

Friday, February 8, 2008

The significance of cupcakes...

My friend Nora, over at Whopping Cornbread, has introduced me to many wonderful aspects of the American culture. Cupcakes are one of them...
She asked me to do a guest post for her about cupcakes. You can read it here.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My last birthday in Seattle

Last weekend was my birthday. For the last few years, I have invited people over for a dinner party on my birthday. I decide on a menu and spend the day cooking a nice meal for my friends. Some people think it's not right to cook your own birthday dinner, but what I really want is to be surrounded by friends, talking and laughing over a nice and leisurely meal. The goal is to have everything ready when the guests arrive, so I don't have to spend the evening in the kitchen while everyone else has fun...

My birthday dinner menu:

Hors d'oeuvres
Cassoulet de canard
Root-vegetable cassoulet
Mixed green salad
Cheese plate with fruit
Pineapple upside-down cake

To find duck legs for the cassoulet and buy a nice selection of cheeses, I went down to Pike Place Market. I love going down there, it makes me feel all grown up to walk around the market with my environmentally friendly fabric shopping bag to buy meat, vegetables, cheeses, and flowers from people behind stalls. I think it's the interaction with these people that makes it different. At the grocery store, you hardly ever have to interact with anyone. Here, you have to ask and answer questions, and you can get a taste of the cheese... And I couldn't resist the tulips.

This being Seattle, I made a cassoulet with only poultry: duck legs (of course), chicken sausage (instead of saucisse de Toulouse), and turkey bacon (instead of lardons or bacon). And to accommodate the vegetarian among us, I also made a root-vegetable cassoulet from a recipe I found online, by Daniel Boulud. I doubt that any of these could pass off as cassoulet in the southwest of France where this dish originates (they are serious about their cassoulet), but my versions turned out well and my guests seemed to appreciate them!

(yes, the crust on the root-vegetable cassoulet is a little past "golden", but that's what happens when you're talking away and not paying attention... It tasted perfectly fine)

When I first had a dinner party for my birthday a couple of years ago, I made smoked salmon tartare, chicken puttanesca, and pineapple upside down cake, all from scratch. The next week, the only thing people kept telling me about was the cheese plate... It seems the idea of a cheese plate after the main course and before dessert was both unusual and fascinating... so now I make sure I always have a cheese plate...
Pineapple upside down cake has been my birthday cake for as long as I can remember. It's the only cake I remember my mother making on a regular basis. It wouldn't feel like my birthday without it...

I think the evening was a great success. I had fun, and I think everyone else did too. Sadly, it is my last birthday in Seattle. I'm moving back to Canada next Fall, and will have to start a new birthday tradition...

In the meantime, I leave you with a picture of the card and gift Emily gave me. Yarn humor, you have to love it...

Unfortunately, I already have the Dai Sijie novel (very good, great choice!). I just started "How I Learned to Cook", a collection of essays by famous chefs. Quite interesting!

p.s. I just noticed on the picture that there's a pretty big typo in the title on the spine of the book...

Friday, February 1, 2008

The endless cardigan

To be fair, the title is slightly misleading. It makes it sound like knitting this cardigan was a painful process. It wasn't. It's a great pattern, simple but with enough going on that you need to pay attention. The stripes are a great motivator because you can actually see how fast you're progressing. But, dude! It's fingering weight yarn! Even if the stripes add up, it's such thin yarn that the length (actually the width, since it's knit from side to side) changes sooooo slowly... Hours and hours of knitting stripe after stripe, and I was still only halfway through the back! I think it wouldn't have seemed as long if I wasn't knitting against a deadline...

I got an e-mail in early January inviting me to a baby shower for a friend from knitting club. I see her regularly at knitting club, but I don't know her that well so I hadn't expected the invitation (but was flattered to be included). Emily was better prepared than I was... As soon as I got back in town after the holidays, I surfed Ravelry for a suitable pattern: a quick knit using yarn from the stash, but still worthy of a baby shower gift. This baby cardigan seemed like the perfect pattern: knit in one piece, so minimal seaming and weaving in of ends would be required. It called for fingering weight yarn, and I have tons in the stash. It had to be gender neutral, so I chose some white Baby Ull and green Fleece Artist Sock Yarn.

I had 10 days to knit the whole thing and I thought that was plenty of time. Of course, I then proceeded to waste the first evening because I cast on with the white yarn first and decided the next day that it would be prettier with a green border and white stripes (I still think starting over was the right decision). So, 9 days to go. I knit and knit and knit every chance I got. On the bus, over lunch, while reading e-mail, and every night. The day before the baby shower was a Saturday, and I knit most of the day. Still, it wasn't meant to be. The morning of the baby shower, I still had to knit a whole sleeve and one of the fronts. Fortunately, I figured that might happen and I had a backup gift (baby pyjamas and bibs). It took me another week to actually finish it. Now it's all nice and blocked, with white buttons sewn on. And the expectant mother will get it this week at knitting club... I hope she likes it!

Pattern: b14-27 Jacket by DROPS design
Yarn: Dale Baby Ull (white) and Fleece Artist Basic Merino Sock Yarn (green)
Needles: addi turbo US 21/2 (3.0mm)
Started: January 9, 2008
Finished: January 29, 2008

I'm really happy with the cardigan! It's cute, and the color combination comes out great! I can see myself knitting another one, but next time I'll make sure I have a three-week time frame...