Feeling Brittle

Every year I am asked to make the same contribution to the Passover seder we attend at the home of friends.

Matzoh brittle, with its buttery-caramelized crunch and chocolate-almond (and sometimes shredded coconut) toppings is as delicious as it is easy. In years past I was reliably guilty of consuming way, way more than my fair share.

But not anymore. Oh, sure, I still make the matzoh brittle – several batches, in fact. But being on a gluten-free diet means I no longer eat it. This could be considered a new form of culinary torture, if you ask me.

So knowing about my legendary sweet tooth, you are no doubt wondering if I was able to find a substitute gluten-free and yeast-free confection that would be an acceptable Passover treat.

Oh, yes. Yes, I did.

After making a triple batch of these light yet chewy almond macarons (though not as fine and fluffy as the Ladurée version from Paris that is showing up on every trendy dessert menu these days), the proverbial lightbulb went on. I borrowed the Ladurée macaron filling concept…

… and dug out the jar of Nutella that had been languishing at the back of a kitchen cupboard just waiting for its close-up.

Nutella is the ultimate mouth-gasm, in my opinion, and it spread with perfectly unctuous smoothness across one flat side of my macarons.

At our seder, I snagged a couple of these decadent treats for my dessert and left the matzoh brittle to the others.

And you know what? I did not feel at ALL deprived.

Baby Caps – On An (Endless?) Roll

I’ve been on a lot of car trips lately, and I’ve been watching Lark Rise To Candleford among other long-running BBC television series. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. There’s something satisfying about completing one of these:

… while a passenger on various trips hither and yon, or while watching some very fine actors on tv as they maneuver through Victorian daily life. And since the girls’ baby caps were so well received, I decided I’d better get busy making some for boys, too, because a couple of my friends have recently become parents of sons.

And now that Upstairs Downstairs is on – for one more week, at least – I foresee a couple more of these little stash-busters in my near future.

How many people realize that Claire Foy, the actress playing impetuous and headstrong Lady Persie:

is the same person who played Little Dorrit with such heartbreaking sensitivity and intensity?

Baby Caps: Gilding the Lily

Those baby caps were looking just a bit too plain to me. Back to the stash for inspiration I went… and came up with the following solution:

These pink crochet flowers are worked in some 100% wool that has been in my stash literally since I first learned to knit 30 years ago. Obviously, the passage of time has done nothing to compromise its thoroughly girly pinkness.

Whipping up the flowers was the work of less than 2 hours total. The exploration of my button stash for the right center buttons took almost as long!

These are vintage plastic buttons from around 1930, in pristine condition, that I scored from Jodi at greenrayprod on Etsy.com. She always has a wonderful selection so I seldom leave the site with an empty shopping cart.

I stitched the buttons VERY securely to the center of the blossoms, in hope that the new mommas won’t consider them a threat to their little ones’ safety.

Pre-blooms and buttons, these caps felt a little blah to me. Now I’m really happy with them. Sometimes a little extra effort pays off in a big way.

Mad-cap Knitting

Stash-busting is a goal of mine this year. Never let it be said that I don’t put ALL of my yarn to good use.

The left-over yarn from my baby cardigan was burning a hole in my knitting bag, so to speak, and I had enough of it to make these three little baby caps. Each one required somewhat less than a single 114-yd. skein of Koigu Kersti, knit on size US 5 needles, and took me a couple of hours one evening to knit.

Even when I’m not designing an original project from scratch, sometimes it’s fun to take a basic pattern and put my own spin on it; these caps are perfect examples. The only element I changed is the cuff of each.

As you can see, each one is different, and each one will go to a different newborn baby girl.

When I mentioned in an earlier post that all of my friends seem to be having babies or new grandchildren, I was not kidding! These caps put me a little ahead as far as the girl babies are concerned. I have to make a few for boys as well – more pleasurable rifling through my stash will undoubtedly turn up just the right yarn.

And in the garden, the poppies are up. Although most of them are neon orange, every year we get a few lovely mutants that are either a pale creamy yellow, or a delicate pink (see below). We make an extra effort to spread those particular seeds around to encourage them, but they seem a bit more temperamental than the orange ones and only take root where the conditions are exactly to their liking.

Lots of new daffodils this year; I love buying a bag of mixed bulbs to plant in the fall, and then seeing what comes up in the spring!

And the first irises are up as well; these stunning white ones smell like grape candy, and are as fluttery and fragile as a Victorian lady’s handkerchief.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad

Today is my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary… quite a milestone for any couple, but perhaps especially so given that the last year has been a difficult one for Lily and Herb. Their health has suffered, and they have endured a seemingly endless winter. But they are still alive despite the odds, and still together.

This photo was taken in 1968 or 1969, by which time they had already been married for about 12 years, already had their three daughters, and had already built their dream house. Inside the cover of this photo, my mom had written “Best looking couple at the office party,” and I do not doubt her word.

Their first decade together was during the “Mad Men” years, and my mother was every bit as lovely and put-together as Betty Draper (but so much nicer and more loving that there is no other basis for comparison). How she managed to do this with three little girls demanding her attention, I’ll never know.

My dad worked on Wall St. rather than Madison Ave., but he was home by six o’clock every evening secure in the knowledge that dinner would be on the table fifteen minutes after he walked in the door. And my mother never failed to run a brush through her hair and freshen her lipstick a few minutes before his arrival. It was another era to be sure, but it worked for them.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Some Choices Are Harder Than Others

But we have a winner nonetheless.

Down to two options (nobody seemed to care for the clear cut glass buttons), the brass bunches of cherries or these green resin ones, I finally settled on the green.

The brass ones seemed like overkill once I decided to applique the little crocheted bunches of cherries to the fronts of this cardigan. And the green ones, in their simplicity, do not detract from the crocheted appliques in any way. In addition, I really like the way they pull the green out of the variegated yarn; they keep the pinks and lilac colors from overwhelming the knitted fabric.

So thanks to all who weighed in with their choices. It helped, it really did!

In and around the garden over the weekend, the ranunculus continued to glow in that amazing saturated golden color, catching my eye every time I pass them.

To my amazement, the first of the artichokes are already up in the vegetable garden. They seem really early this year! Because we have so few of the plants (they take up a LOT of space in the raised beds, and I had room to plant only 5 of them), and they seldom ripen all at once, there are never enough of the large globe ones for everyone, and often just a handful of the secondary babies. Rather than fight over them, I buy a package from Trader Joe’s to supplement those from the garden, and that way everybody is happy at dinner time.

Of all the old-fashioned flowers planted in the garden, I confess that these bleeding hearts are among my favorites. Not only are they gorgeous in a delicate way, bu they return year after year.

And now to plot out my evening, the highlight of which will be the first episode of the new Upstairs Downstairs (yes, I miss that comma from the original series, too.) Having watched all of The Cazalets (based on a wonderful series of 4 novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard), and now working my way through the DVDs of Lark Rise to Candleford – both charming period drama series that serve to enhance an evening’s knitting – I am ready for a fresh, new series to begin.

Choosing Buttons: Help Wanted

I find myself on the horns of a dilemma (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase, “horns of a dilemma,” but never had an appropriate occasion until now. Just what does horns of a dilemma mean, anyway? I envision a gigantic rhinoceros and some poor hapless individual – me, in this instance – sitting astride it holding on for dear life.). This particular dilemma is vis-a-vis the buttons for my little baby cardigan.

I raided my out-of-control, barely contained, too-much-of-a-good-thing-is-wonderful stash of vintage buttons and came up with three different options.

The “problem” is that I like all three options equally, for different reasons. These cut glass buttons are sturdy – nothing fragile about them. Because they are clear, they take nothing away from the rich colors of the cardigan yarn.

Now these muted green resin buttons, on the other hand, pick up the exact shade of green that appears in the yarn variegation.

That could be a good thing, right? I like their shape, their smoothness, and their utter lack of cutesiness (is cutesiness even a word? I’m talking about all those brightly colored plastic buttons designed specifically for baby clothes and shaped like little duckies, or crayons, or trucks. You know what I mean…).

Finally, I also rediscovered these molded brass buttons that feature a swirling bunch of cherries. They have a lovely dimensional quality and a warm patina.

They stand out from the knitting, but not unattractively.

And they play off of the crocheted cherry motifs I’ve sewn to each front panel of the cardigan. These little bunches of cherries are special to me (but not necessarily baby-ish, nonetheless) because I found them in Paris six years ago when I went with my family for the first time.

I had read about a place called La Droguerie, and spent a happy hour there browsing its unbelievable abundance of knitting and craft items. The little bunches of cherries came back to the U.S. with me, and I’ve been saving them for the right project ever since.

And just to keep you up to date on what is happening in the garden, it looks like we might have a few pears this summer! Last year’s blossoms drowned in all the rain we had in April; this year’s deluge was in March, thankfully before the pear tree blooms.

So last year we had (literally) three pears on the entire tree; this year, I suspect it will be hard to count them all. Pear butter, anybody?

And the one of the two new baby peach trees is showing signs of life. I doubt we’ll have any fruit this year – that twig is basically the central trunk of the tree, all of half of an inch in diameter. The trees need a couple of years to settle in, and then they’ll begin producing fruit.

Peaches fresh off the tree are my absolute favorite summer fruit, however, so I’m willing to wait even though July seems awfully far away.

Baby Cardigan, WIP It Good!

Although at first I thought I’d make a simple stand-up collar for this little cardigan, I was having so much fun working strategic increases (along the center back of the collar so it would spread a bit more and lie a bit flatter) that ultimately I worked collar points to frame the top button that will close this little gament at the neck.

Here it is, close up (and regrettably blurry):

And of course, working outside as I’ve been for the last few days, I keep getting distracted by the garden. This bright yellow ranunculus began its life in a 4″ pot from the drug store about 3 years ago. I stuck the entire plant into one of the garden beds, not really expecting it to survive, but here it is, year after year.

And here is more of the mysterious spreading plant the name of which I can never remember.

They bloom in white, pink, deep red, and orange, and the centers often differ from flower to flower.

Baby Cardigan WIP, continued

This little baby sweater is coming along swimmingly; taking full advantage of our glorious spring weather, I’ve been knitting outdoors and working on my tan absorbing vitamin D as I whip through the rows.

Loved working the little texture stitch. Although the yarn’s pooling tendencies show up in these photos, in person it’s much harder to see because the texture stitch is so forgiving. Plus, I did a little “cut and paste” with the yarn to break up the color runs more effectively. I hate having to do that, but I hate pooling even more!

Knit in one piece to the armholes, I’ve just stitched up the shoulder seams. My next task will be the collar, after which I’ll ease the sleeve caps into their armholes and stitch down the arms to the cuffs.

Meanwhile, the garden is really coming back to life after our long and very, very wet winter. The camellias have never been so full of blooms, and the flowers below (the name of which always escapes me) are popping up in new places in addition to where we had them last year. Being an economical gardener, I take this wanton spreading around as a good thing – one of my favorite things about gardening, in fact.

Plant a dozen daffodil bulbs, for instance, and in following years they will multiply. If only knitting multiplied as easily and quickly!

April WIP

I really hoped to post on April 1st, but the day got away from me. The only “fool-ish” thing about it was when I went to a lunch get-together for a friend’s birthday, only to discover that the guest of honor didn’t show. Her daughter had gone into labor the night before, and my friend wound up spending most of her birthday on a plane to meet her new grandaughter on the opposite coast. 

Bleeding hearts – later than usual this spring

This friend’s own mother passed away several months ago, and so I was very touched to read her email announcing that the new baby has been named after the great-grandmother. From all I’ve heard (and seen, since I was fortunate enough to meet her a couple of times), Harriet was quite a pistol – her new great-grandaughter will have a lot to live up to!

 Blueberry blossoms – foretelling a bumper crop this summer!

Only two days earlier, I went to the funeral of a different friend’s mother.  Another vibrant, feisty older woman, much loved by her family and friends, who was taken suddenly from them by a freak fall and head injury. No one was ready to say good-bye to this woman.

During the funeral service, my friend and her older brother and sister-in-law spoke movingly of their mother’s life. The services, both at the synagogue and at the graveside, were brief but very touching and powerful.

Sometimes the cycle of life, its fragility and its renewal, hits home with greater force than usual.

Knitting baby clothes takes on a particular hopefulness at times like these. While I knit, I imagine the tiny recipient wearing my gift, and hope the child will feel all the love and joy that went into every stitch.

As you can see, I’m making speedy progress. Since this photo was taken, I’ve completed one side of the front up to the shoulder. I love working baby garments in one piece up to the underarm – feels like I can see the end in sight so much sooner.

Next post, I’ll share the button options I’ve come up with. I might need some help deciding – they all work, but each gives a different effect!

Signs of Spring

There are some things even the latest downpours have not been able to wash away.

Between storms this past week, I’ve been outside trying to capture the brave little spots of color around the garden.

Although I have not been successful at capturing on film any of the rainbows I’ve seen (why do I always seem to be driving when they appear?), the flowers are bright enough and hold still long enough for me to snap them.

I adore these crocuses that pop up along the front walk. They have a sprightly delicacy that never fails to captivate me. Whenever I see them, I envision a scoop-necked cardigan knit in narrow stripes with these three colors, or perhaps stripes of violet and cream piped with the golden yellow.

And these; that divine egg yolk yellow paired with rich violet is beyond gorgeous.

Purls of Joy

Saturday’s Brave New Knits signing was such fun. It was a great opportunity to see Purls of Joy in its new space, right in the heart of downtown Healdsburg, one of the many charming towns in the northern CA wine country. It’s a wonderful combination of colorful, open and cheery, with a great variety of yarn.

Charming owners Pat Boland and Rosanne Park were my hostesses for the afternoon. We had first met at TNNA back in January, where we chatted briefly about the possibility of my doing a signing/trunk show at their shop. It’s so nice when those casual conversations actually result in an event as fun as this was!

They turned all of the shop’s display space over to the Brave New Knits trunk show samples, so everywhere one looked there were inspiring projects. I wish I had a dime for every customer who said that seeing the projects “in person” made them buy the book – and then some yarn to make one or two of the projects.

Some of the Saturday afternoon regulars were more than happy to talk about the book and get their copies autographed.

All in all, it was a very fun afternoon in one of my favorite areas. Lots of BNK copies flew out the door!

Knitting for Babies

Lately, it seems as if everybody I know is having a baby. Some of my older friends have grown children who are starting families of their own. Some of my younger friends are adopting or bearing children at an alarming rate. Alarming only because I want to knit for all of them, but am simply not that productive.

Yes, I know baby clothes are small, use less yarn, and ostensibly work up much faster than handknits for adults. This is often true, but when you’re a slow knitter like me sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay a visit to Baby Gap.

This particular item will be a cardigan for a new baby girl. I started with the sleeves to make sure I’d be happy with the way this yarn knits up in the textured pattern. Sure enough, the effect is quite pleasing. The texture masks any pooling of the Koigu Kersti yarn I’m using (US Size 6 needles, for anybody who is interested).

I love these colors; they remind me of an especially vibrant tropical sunset. I even have plenty of skeins, having purchased enough to make an adult-sized sweater. In fact, I should have enough to make a couple of baby sweaters, with hats and booties to match.

This Kersti has been in my stash for a long time, and although I quickly decided it wouldn’t work for me as an adult garment, it seems quite perfect for a child.

When swatching with it long ago, I discovered that unless I am constantly vigilant, it splits quite horribly as the point of the needle goes into each stitch. Who needs that kind of headache? For a full-sized sweater, I don’t have the patience. But for a baby project, I can put up with it.

Now to search through my stash for the perfect buttons!

Knitting In the Sun

Why, yes, there is a book of that title by Kristi Porter. And yet, it seemed an appropriate title for this post because it explains why – for at least one week out of the last few, I did not post here. My daughter was on spring break, and we took her to Jamaica.

I dared to travel without my computer. What a mistake that turned out to be (more on that later).

After record snowfall back east this winter (and rain here in CA), we almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves in all that sunshine. Almost. But we soon figured it out.

Gazing out at the clear turquoise sea was always popular.

Sampling the seemingly endless variety of sugary, high-octane tropical drinks was also high on the list.


We each had our own method of relaxing. Some of us read books – Fiction! For Fun!

Some of us stayed up very, very, very late into the night playing pool at the resort’s nightclub.

And some of us – well, me anyway – did lots of knitting. Isn’t that what everybody does on a tropical island?

While my daughter worked on her tan, I assiduously maintained my nearly phosphorescent pallor through frequent applications of sunblock in SPF Gazillion. It seems to have worked; all I can claim is a few more freckles on this otherwise pasty alabaster skin.

And when we returned home, Shadow made her displeasure known in no uncertain terms. What were we thinking, to have left her behind?!!

(While we were away, my Facebook account got hacked and countless,egregiously obnoxious amounts of spam got dumped on all of my FB friends. Every time I ventured down to the resort’s Business Center to get onto one of their three computers and at least change my FB password, I practically had to take a number and get in line because so many other pathetic souls had the temerity to think they could go on vacation sans laptops. It was a nightmare. Sorry. Sorry! Oh, so sorry!)

It was probably a blessing that I couldn’t keep up with the comment stream, because some of my “friends” got pretty testy as the spam continued to rain down on them. Fixing that was the first thing I did when we got home. Before I unpacked, even. Really.

Brave New Knits Signing Today

Just a reminder that this afternoon from 2 – 4 o’clock I will be visiting Purls of Joy (429 Healdsburg Ave.  Phone #: 707-433-4569 ) in Healdsburg, CA, where I will be signing copies of Brave New Knits.

Come on over if you’re in the area – I’ll  have the trunk show of knitted samples for oohing and ahhing, and the lovely staff at Purls of Joy will be on hand to help you choose the perfect yarn for your own BNK project!