Sunday, June 28, 2009

Whine Pairing

It's been a most frustrating morning and it's barely ten o'clock.

Quite apart from the fact that my stupid body, instead of going "Hey, we went to bed late last night and haven't had enough sleep yet - dream on!" screeches "OMG! We've wildly overslept! IT'S ALMOST SEVEN O'CLOCK! We have to wake up now! NOW!"

It's a bit annoying when it's the weekend and there's nothing urgent at the crack of dawn. The lesson is to get to bed early which is problematic because there's always One More Thing I want to do before going to bed, which is why I'm bitching about this in the first place.

So yesterday I made this pendant.

I kinda like it.

It's completely unusable though, since it has no bail or pin and is not attached to a necklace, so I set about making a chain of sorts.

This has not worked out well.

I can't fix on anything I like.

After a few hours, I have piles and piles and PILES of short wiggly pieces of thread, the waste from cut-up beadwork.

Then there's the knitting which is going nowhere due to my apparent inability to count stitches.

I felt compelled to make this sweater (and why not) using a recently acquired variegated cotton-rayon blend. Since I'm a big fan of working in the round whenever possible, instead of casting on 188 stitches for the back, I cast on approximately (and this of course is where the problem lies) double that.

Since this is an actual pattern that the always innovative Norah Gaughan (I think I'm coming to terms with the fact that I cannot grow up to be her since she is about a year younger than I am) spent time figuring out rather than a vague idea of mine, there are constraints on the stitch counts.

The first inch or so is one-by-one ribbing, so of course when knitting in the round you absolutely need an even number of stitches in order to avoid Ribbing Unevenness. There are four double decrease points (two each, front and back) which of course should be equidistant as well as all centred about a knit column.

I smacked myself upside the head or shot myself in the foot - or both - when I started over-thinking but more especially, over-adjusting. 

When knitting in the round I always cast on an extra stitch so that I can work the first and last stitch together for a neat join. OK, one extra, an odd number of stitches, so far so good.

Then I sort of skimmed the pattern and realised that the first and last stitch of every row for both back and front was a knit stitch, which interferes with the whole knit one purl one paradigm coupled with the equidistant and knit-centred things, so no problem, remove two stitches.

Couple this with the fact that I don't have any overly long circular needles, and we're talking around three hundred and fifty stitches in a medium-to-heavy-weight yarn that is not smooshy and compressible like say merino, and that I kept on deciding, in that first row, to make adjustments (that I now cannot remember) to the stitch counts between the increase points AND that I only ever pick this up while I'm doing something else (like watching a movie) and the result is that for the past week I haven't managed to get past the point of being certain that my increase points are in fact equidistant.

I think I may have lost my mind since counting to three hundred and seventy-four, not to mention dividing it by four is hardly rocket science (which by the way, I'm pretty sure I could have successfully chosen as a career, which may have been more useful than what I actually do where my peers all seem to be twenty-nine year-old dudes who play halo), but somehow I'm stumped and have thrown in the towel (read: "I ripped the whole thing out in a fit of pique").

Besides (and this is totally sour grapes) I think a solid yarn would be better suited than a variegated yarn and besides (again) I have Another Plan for this yarn which suits me much better since it'll be lots of "continue in this manner until it's long enough/wide enough" and I'll use something else for the mitred top, something drapier perhaps, like the cone of brown silk tape yarn I picked up at School Products a couple of weeks ago.

A Couple of Hours Later

Apparently all I needed was a good whine in order to happen upon something that satisfied me.

I like the part that's next to the pendant, as it somehow has the correct balance between grey and purple iris, and between transparent and matte grey, and just enough metallic grey-green. For my taste, that is.

You can see how it evolved from the denser weave with no bottom edge picots all the way at the right. The current incarnation may not be perfection, but I can live with it, which is just as well, because the alternative is untenable.

[Edited to add that I'm especially pleased since I managed to use a variant - in terms of bead sizes - of something I was certain I'd use in a design which has completely not taken hold.]

The day might turn out OK after all.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Not A Muse

Back when I was in my twenties and about to gallivant off to grad school in pursuit of a masters in computer science (yes, I caught it), my grandmother (surely a product of her time) fussed at me: "Why bother with this graduate school nonsense - you should just knit sweaters to sell" which has to have been one of the silliest things she ever suggested, hand knits being as much maligned by the population at large as they are.

So I knit mostly just to please myself, as my mood dictates.

I'm fairly well disciplined in that I generally finish (or rip out completely) what I start, and actually wear what I make for myself (or rip it out if it proves Not Useful).

Beading is sorta-kinda like that, but not altogether.

Beading for pleasure is exactly like that. I bead what pleases me.

I also bead samples for classes, often more than one, so as to have complete items in each colourway when I'm doing kits. And I finish them.

If ever I should have nothing pressing, nothing demanding to be made, I can find stacks and stacks of papers with sketches and notes chockful of ideas. 

Usually I can make sense of what I wrote (but not always), often I find the same idea in more than one place, and usually I still want to make one of those that way. 

Usually I don't get to since there are only twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and I'm at work for forty-five of those hours, driving to or from work for eight to ten of those hours (depending on traffic and highway construction god I'm so sick of highway forty being closed), working out for two to four of those hours (doesn't sound like much when you count it out, but it feels like Way Too Much), sleeping for forty-two or more (depending on the noisiness of teenagers and their insane summer bedtimes) and that just doesn't leave much time for beading.

Some of the things I bead I love and covet and would never make again or give away or sell, some things I'm compelled to make but not keep, and some things just seem perfect for kits.

I had this idea for a necklace shaped like a shirt collar, sort of, with a rivoli centre front, invisible fastening thing (see, I bought hooks) and this floral theme and I had the glass leaves and it was a huge big deal with the sketches and the bead counts and the online colour wheel with complement calculator and I really really REALLY fully intended to make one of them.

Yeah but no.

There's something about it that causes me to pick up something else every time I look at my sample. 

The muse keeps leading me astray.

I like this one much better.

As usual my photography is lying about the colours, which are my favourites: food colours. Aubergine, roasted pumpkin and raspberry. Seriously, the blue is deep plummy purple in real life.

And now for something completely different, sort of: actual food.

On my quick trip to the Big Apple a couple of weeks ago, I arrived bearing gifts of food I had made: some multi-grain batter bread, and crunchies.

If you are Sow Theffrican, your mother probably had crunchies in the cupboard at all times, and although her crunchies weren't quite the same as Auntie Bea's crunchies, which were also not quite the same as Auntie Pat's crunchies, they were all delectable and crunchies nonetheless.

Jonathan practically melted. Seems like Auntie Marge didn't bring her crunchies recipe to the US, so I'm happy to share.


1 cup rolled oats (you can use quick oats, but rolled oats are better)
1 cup desiccated coconut (absolutely not that nasty sweetened stuff)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
a bit more than a stick of butter or margarine, 150g is optimal, but you can fudge
2 tablespoons of golden syrup or honey or corn syrup if you must
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda/bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 325/170.

Melt the butter with the syrup. Mix everything together and press into a jellyroll pan (urk! I've lost my language: I don't know what these were called back in the old country) - it'll fill perhaps two thirds only. Make sure the edge is neat.

Bake for about half an hour until golden. My oven runs hot - you may need as much as forty minutes. This is OK.

Don't let it cool too long before cutting into squares, as it can be a bit of a production if you were too enthusiastic when you pressed it into the jellyroll pan. Ask me how I know. Let's just say that it's lucky my kitchen has a nice heavy poundy thing so that I could force the cuttage.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Now that the class is over, I listed this on Etsy.

Usually when I take my walks through the wilds that are a bike path behind the houses, I plan my day and get ideas about my projects. Sometimes I even remember them later, and sometimes they turn out to be decent ideas. On Sunday I made lists.

  1. Calling them "pet" peeves. A pet is something you want to snuggle with. I'm not interested in having my peeves sleep at the foot of my bed, and I don't want to have to feed them or take them for walks or worry about who will look after them when I go on vacation.
  2. People in some sort of special interest online group who repeatedly find ways to tell everyone their bust size, weight, height, waist size, and other not so vital statistics when it's irrelevant.
  3. Wilful ignorance.
  4. The notion that praying to your deity is something you're doing for someone else who doesn't believe in any of them.
  5. Baby talk by adults to adults in public. 
  6. Semi-compulsory work-related social events outside working hours.
  7. Someone I barely know asking me to knit them something.
  8. Finding out anything about any co-worker's sex life.

  1. Finishing something.
  2. Having a grand idea.
  3. Finding out that it really was an excellent solution.
  4. Finding out that my teenage daughter is secure enough about herself to say cool stuff about her mother on her flickr page. (Check it out - she's very talented)
  5. Passing through a cloud of honeysuckle.
  6. Bunnies who think I can't see them if they don't move.
  7. Bunnies who know they can run faster than I can.
  8. Bunnies who know I wouldn't even bother.
  9. Getting lost in a project.
  10. Seeing something beautiful, whether natural or created.
  11. Ikura.
  12. The first words from my young nephew, upon seeing him after perhaps two years, regarding a sweater I had made him the last time.
  13. Someone I care about, asking me to knit them something.
  14. Someone I care about, asking me to knit them something handspun.
  15. Deep tissue massages.
  16. New places, new sights, new foods.
At the time, the peeves list was longer than the pleasures list, but apparently whatever was bothering me then is no longer bothering me now, and so irksome things do not spring to mind quite as readily.

My local bead store now has slightly smaller rivolis.

They still work quite well.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Earthly Delights

There's this woman named Marlo who's passionate about both food and theatre, and has formed a company called Eating Their Words which combines the two. 

Then there's a group of people calling themselves the Story Pirates, an independently funded group of actors/teachers who do creative writing workshops with children, taking their stories, keeping their words ("I like to go a lot to school") and turning them into musical comedies that adults who are not the parents of said children are not only willing but eager to watch, and not even slightly sorry they did.

Here's a snippet from one of them (paraphrased and abbreviated):

"I'm a frog, and my name is Mr Rhubarb."

"I'm a sweet pea dressed as a bunny and my name is Mrs Rabbit"

and they're getting married. The vows are abbreviated ("YES!") and the official proclaims:

"And now, by the power invested in me by the state of Massachusetts, I now pronounce you ... whatever it is you'll be when you are married."

They absolutely do not kiss, and no one seems to expect them to.
And then there's David Bouley.
The entrance hall to his restaurant has shelves upon shelves of apples lining the walls, floor to ceiling. Better than any damn yankee room fragrance. 


About thirty people, including perhaps half a dozen children, walked through his gorgeous restaurant, down a stone staircase into a room with vaulted ceilings where we sat at three round tables (I sat next to a delightful actress who has been in a couple of Marlo's previous events) and ate a breathtaking meal as we watched a series of short plays, each inspired by ingredients in the menu.

Talk about an utterly unique food experience. It was so New York that most New Yorkers would be beside themselves.

We whetted our taste buds with foam with ikura. The waiter described the asparagus, peas and crab floating in a dashi base as "flan", but either way, that was my favourite item. The halibut was crowned with lovage (which I've never seen in any grocery store), and accompanied by ramp puree. As a nod to the children, we had two dessert courses (one with three frozen confections, the other mostly chocolate, except for the prune-armagnac ice cream, which was to die for - and I'm not a fan of ice cream), as well as trays of mille-feuilles, pistachio-almond tartlets (sized for a dolls' house), fruit jellies, truffles and other cookies which I was to chocolated-out to do justice.

And then there were the breads; I thought I'd like the saffron-walnut the best but actually, the fig was much better.

After spending a couple of hours with a friend, taking a walk down Riverside Drive, I walked back down to 35th Street (I had started up at 104th), loving the sculptures in the centre of Park Avenue just north of 46th:

Our evening meal was wonderful, but the dessert was life-changing.

Chikalicious is a very, very small place that serves only desserts. 

Chika is a genius at outlandish flavour combinations that not only work ("work" isn't even slightly emphatic enough) but make your taste buds perform opera.

Our amuse-bouche was a tiny scoop of coconut sorbet atop a bed of lemon grass jelly (no really, it was divine).

I had (I wish I had a menu so I could remember exactly) something with diced plums in something creamy and tangy atop a bed of kataifi accompanied by basil sorbet (Oh. My. God) and tiny dollops of - something I could not identify, seeds a bit like grenadilla, but much smaller, and in a clear suspension rather than yellow-orange.

Jonathan had a thing (cheesecake? flan? something) swimming in a sea of jasmine-something-something tea syrup with watermelon topped with the most perfectly crisp almond cookie.
Barbara's bed of strawberry confit was topped with a mille-feuille doing double-duty as a cannoli, accompanied by sorbet, the flavour of which I cannot recall.
Finally we ended with a tiny marshmallow covered in toasted coconut (I really should try out that marshmallow recipe), a chewy (their word) chocolate truffle covered in toasted almond bits, and a fresh cape gooseberry dipped in a syrup and coated with superfine sugar.

The portions are all perfectly miniscule, just exactly the right size.

You float out in a cloud of bliss.

I'm ruined for any other dessert, as I have no doubt that nothing could ever come close.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Time Out

Some years back, I used to visit my friends in New York, NY at least every year or so, but my life had its little perturbations and disruptions and alternatives, and the habit became a memory.

A few weeks ago, in the flurry of birthday phone-calls and invitations to visit, something clicked and my internal wistful "Oh if only" response somehow morphed into "Yeah, I should" and the airlines having little choice but to lure passengers with low prices pleased both themselves and me.

I've known my New York friends since pre-school. We all lived close by; our moms car-pooled us to pre-school, we played, our parents did cheese fondues together. As we grew up, our social orbits meandered and circled, we'd hang out, we not see hide or hair, we'd find ourselves at the same parties, we'd hear each other's names in passing, we'd bump into each other while out and about.

Or not, equally likely.

We all left the Old Country (parents and offspring), made new lives, but didn't lose the connection and amazingly, turned into people who like each other's company.

My visit was long overdue.
Pictures taken through a screen with an iPhone aren't necessarily worth looking at, but can serve as conformation that yes, indeed, I am here.

Jonathan is too much fun to hang out with, in large part because almost everything we do revolves around food. He both cooks and eats and values off-the-wall low-key eating experiences as much as shops that specialise in salt or a prix fixée meal prepared by a reknowned chef.

It's all good, baby.

Some weeks ago I read an article about Bahn Mi and I have to say I was intrigued, but promptly forgot about it as (a) geography prevented the immediate satisfaction of my curiosity or (b) I sketched a brilliant beading design or (c) I scribbled notes on an innovative knitting technique or (d) realised I needed to stop at the grocery store before going home or (e) my current book got interesting or (f) something.

After coralling coffee yesterday morning, we started wandering his neighbourhood.

We went into a swoonworthy store (K-something, no, not -Mart, something multi-syllabic and not anglo-sounding) containing such treasures as seventeen types of basmati and ten grades of burgul and Mrs Ball's Chutney (ah, nostalgia) and dried fruits and half a dozen varieties of black peppercorns and other intoxicants.

Today I plan to actually shop there. For real.

Then we walked on and Jonathan stopped to exclaim over a tiny shop-front he hadn't seen before.
Bahn Mi.

Of course, we had to split one for the experience (I don't usually eat breakfast, but I also don't pass up rare opportunities).
Oh yeah.

That pretty much set the tone for the day.

We split a somosa (pastry almost like in the old country, tasty filling - but the wrong spices - and a bit too dry), sampled a selection of Middle Eastern grain and legume dishes, explored a kitchen store (Le Creuset was no cheaper than anywhere else and besides, is too heavy and bulky for hand-luggage), met up with Dan, were thwarted by the saki bar being closed (how rude), and found the go-to-place for getting drunk on the cheap.
As if.

We found a gorgeous spice store with a mushroom cold room at which I bought some saffron sea-salt, haphazardly explored a basement Japanese supermarket at which I saw ikura in quantities larger than this and had brief thoughts regarding travel, refrigeration and hand-luggage. Dan ate salmon-infused rice wrapped in seaweed; Jonathan and I tasted.

We were lured into an Argentinian restaurant by the nostalgic promise of South African lobster tails (all I can say is that if I'd been caught catching such a small lobster and not throwing it back, there'd have been hell to pay. Back when I was growing up, the deal was that in season, anyone could catch up to five of them, provided they were at least a certain size - which these were not - and were not, I dunno, pregnant or with roe or something. I don't think this tail had yet hit puberty), and stayed for empanadas and sweetbreads and sangria and chocolate-covered dulce de leche mousse (though I think I can do better on the latter. Make a note).

Jonathan left and we went up to Dan's apartment, where he played me some of his compositions and took me to the roof.
Nice view, innit?

Today promises an exquisite lunch, shopping at K-something, and more adventures.

Tomorrow I'd like to get to School Products, just because it's What I Do when I come here. Perhaps the Met, unless Jonathan has more surprises in store.

Either way it feeds my soul, or whatever passes for same.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I Made Things

It's not that I've done nothing, it's just that there hasn't been a whole lot to say about it.
Circumstances forced me to work on the instructions for the class I'm teaching two Tuesdays away; the weekend and night before are otherwise accounted for.
When I make instructions, every step is photographed and described, which means that if I was too lackadaisical to take the pictures while making the original class sample, I end up making a whole nother piece (necklace, in this case) in order to make the instructions.

I wanted something different in feel from the blue one, so there's a fair amount more contrast in the way of colours, and a whole lot less sparkle since I used absolutely matte seed beads. I was thinking fall tones, but it's really more spring-in-the-desert to me.

As a reward, I made earrings.
Took a few tries to get them framed to my satisfaction, and now I'm quite pleased with them. Check out the listing so you can see pictures of the BACK.

I actually finished this necklace early last week, or perhaps even last weekend - who remembers that far back?
The bead artist is Beau Barrett, you should check out his stuff - he does lovely work.

An upcoming trip dictates a convenient knitting project, so I spent much of the weekend getting started, which over here involves a fair amount of changing my mind after a few hours, hence the smallness.
It's one shoulder strap of a tank top, showing some front neck shaping and a tiny amount of armhole shaping.

I couldn't quite capture the colour, but it's a wonderful deep crimson-maroon-something, and is the softest cotton I have ever come across. It's getting used at an alarming rate though; I don't think I'll be able to knit fast enough to complete the project before it runs out, so I might have to make a preemptive extra-ball purchase.

And the socks. Sock.

I love it, but for the second of the pair, I have a better idea for the foot, as I'm not nuts about the transition from entrelac to plain at the instep. It's fine at the heel, but the instep is just not smooth enough, and I think I'll be able to flow into a chevron pattern on the next one.

No, it doesn't bother me that they won't be identical. Why do you ask?