My Daughter the Hat Model

Right around the corner is the birthday of a dear friend, for whom I have not knitted a single loving-hands item in years. And this is a friendship with such history that she deserves to have something handknit by me every year, so I have really fallen down on the job. With just enough time to remedy that situation at least for this year, I pulled a ball of fabulously soft and lushly colored Schaeffer yarn (a wool and alpaca blend, if memory serves) from my stash and whipped up this pattern for the adorable Cassidy Cap by Bonne Marie Burns of ChicKnits:

My dear old friend has snappy blue eyes, and this beret will make them even snappier.

Doesn’t my daughter make the most wonderful hat model?

I’m biased, of course, but I think if her ultimate career choice allows for a bit of free time, she could definitely moonlight.

Not-Quite FO: Wedding Wrap

Hot off the blocking board, I present herewith my almost-complete wedding wrap. Two different lace stitches, one – the more open and airy of the two – creating a graceful border:

and the other filling in the body with a dense yet rhythmic design, offering just the right degree of warmth around the shoulders on a cool evening.

Two matched halves joined by kitchener stitch at the center. See how perfectly it complements the little silk evening bag I will carry along to the mid-October wedding?

At the end of the day, I realized the wrap blocked out wide enough not to “need” an edging down the long sides. However, need and want are almost always two different things. Although I suspected that in this case more would simply have been more – and not necessarily better – I’ve decided (in consultation with a couple of discerning friends and family members) that an edging will actually dress up the wrap and give it even more grace than it already has. Plus, it will give me the opportunity to practice the knitted-on border technique of which I have become so enamored. I still have to ask my husband to take photos of the wrap being modelled by a real person (probably yours truly), but that will have to wait until the weekend. Here, take another look. You know you want to.

Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah, Hey, He-e-ey, Good-bye…

Good-bye to summer veggies, that is. We picked the motherlode, including the baby yellow squash seen above, this past weekend in anticipation of planting cool weather crops. A couple of the round green squash that somehow escaped my notice long enough to grow to bowling ball proportions (and with bright orange stripes that make them look quite festive!) are now displayed like renegade pumpkins by the front door. Photos forthcoming a bit closer to Halloween…

There are peppers still on the plants, but I picked and pulled the last of the tomatillos (enough to make a final fresh batch of salsa verde), a gorgeous sweet orange pepper, and a few underripe tomatoes (to keep them from the aforementioned neighborhood rats). Some of the ripe ones wound up sprinkled liberally with fresh basil in this ginormous salad, which we ate with dinner last night. It was soooooo delicious, I took a moment between bites to think about how lucky we are to be able to grow so much of our own produce, and for so much of the year. More than lucky, actually. Privileged.

And of course there was enough rhubarb to make a crisp or two, or maybe a batch of the rhubarb-citrus chutney I like to serve with cheese and crackers for a savory snack or appetizer.

My next big push will be to pull all the basil plants and make a huge batch of pesto to freeze in baggies for the winter. I did that last year, and although I don’t remember making THAT much of it, I am just using up the last of that crop. Jeez, is it any wonder I seldom sit down with my knitting until after dinner?

Now That’s a Fuzzy Heinie!

And just how does one correctly spell heinie anyway? Heiney? Hinee? Hiney? More to the point, have you ever noticed how most grown men have peach fuzz on their heinies? Not that I’ve ever seen most grown men’s heinies, or even – now that I think about it – more than a few. But still.

If you’re guessing that this post is intended to serve as a distraction from the pathetic lack of knitting content on this blog lately, you’re correct. Not that I haven’t been knitting. The Wedding Wrap halves are complete and kitchener stitched together. All that remains is the blocking.

And I’ve begun a hat project – a birthday gift for a dear friend who has received no knitted things from me in far too long. There’s not enough of it to show at the moment; I just cast on last night to celebrate completing the two halves of the Wedding Wrap. Never say I’ve no talent for distraction. Or is that procrastination?

Anyway, I herewith present the fuzzy heinie:

There’s a drink called a Fuzzy Navel, and that’s apparently a perennial favorite despite the unsavory mental images, so why has no one invented the Fuzzy Heinie? I’m just sayin’.

Still Life with Lemons and Dahlias

This late harvest is just a fraction of what I’ve picked this weekend as I begin pulling the summer vegetable plants out of the garden to make room for the cool weather crops (butter lettuce, cauliflowers, and swiss chard figuring prominently). Out of all of it, this is probably the most photogenic:

Oh Rats, Foiled Again!

Just look at this mess. Every time I look at this image, I want to take up target practice. Despite weeks of near-obsessive vigilance – mitigated by my willingness to share – the neighborhood “roof rats,” as they are known in these parts, have been helping themselves to my figs and heirloom tomatoes.

This year I’d say we’ve lost nearly half the figs to these marauding critters, and the only reason we’ve gotten to eat even half of them is my reluctant decision to pick the figs before they’ve had a chance to ripen fully on the tree (which means they don’t reach quite the degree of lusciousness that happens then they stay on the tree a few more days) and bring them inside to soften and ripen further. The flavor never quite reaches that divine intensity you get when they are dripping and splitting with juiciness, but they’re still pretty darn good.

The tomatoes, now they’re another story – but no less annoying. The local rats know exactly when to sink their sharp little fangs into them – again ju-u-ust a couple of days before they’re ripe enough to pick. Interestingly enough, they are particular about their tomatoes; they have definite preferences; the green-and-red-mottled and the yellow tomatoes go unmolested, but they have decimated the Black Crims and Abraham Lincolns. Go figure.

And of course, once the rats are through with them, the flies move in for their share. Yuck!

Say Hello to My Little Green Friend

The other day I sat inside knitting and minding my own business when I noticed a movement outside the window. Getting up to take a closer look, I found an extra-terrestrial-looking visitor peering back in at me as if wondering what strange zoo he had stumbled upon, and who was this strange giant creature staring back at him.

Even after I grabbed my camera, this fellow was pretty unflappable. He cocked his head and gave me an inscrutable stare, as if his clinging to the window screen was far more normal than my clamoring about snapping his picture.

On another note, small signs of fall are everywhere in the garden.

Continuing Indian Summer days give way to chilly nights, and the last week or so I’ve noticed that when I get up early in the morning it is still quite dark outside. Now that we revert to Standard Time in early November, those dim mornings will last longer and make it that much harder to get out of bed to start the day. I’ve had to adjust the light timers twice in the last couple of weeks because the evenings creep upon us earlier and earlier.

Finally, Tomatoes

I’m talking heirlooms here, not the little red and yellow cherry tomatoes that have flooded the kitchen for over a month already (although we still have plenty of those). Now, finally, in mid-September, the heirlooms are ripe… round and red Abraham Lincolns, Pineapple and Black Pineapple with their tasty streaks of gold, green, and red, Cherokee Purple and Black Crim. They’re all delicious, and I can’t get enough of them. And for a few short weeks, I’ll be able to eat my fill just by taking the short walk to the vegetable garden to pick another bowlful.

Instead of our usual tossed green salad accompaniment to dinner, lately I’ve been slicing a variety of these tomatoes into eighths and tossing them with a handful of salty, cubed cheese such as cotija or feta, a drizzle of peppery extra virgin olive oil, and a scattering of shredded basil leaves. There’s nothing better.

To Be Continued…

The wedding wrap is growing, even with the paltry hours I’ve had available lately for knitting. In fact, the first skein is almost gone and today I’ll get started with the second. Am still trying to decide whether an edging down the sides will enhance the final project, or merely complicate it. Sometimes less really is more, you know? More details to come.

At least my foray into jam-mania is finished for this season. The strawberry pinot concoction is addictive – not too sweet, and with mysterious depth of flavor from the wine and spices. The pinot is surely responsible for the jam’s deep garnet color. If I were a very sophisticated kid taking lunch to school every day, I’d be happy to eat peanut butter with this jam at least once a week until I left home for college. No lie.

Saints Preserve Us

More jam? How is this possible? What kind of a glutton for punishment am I? After standing up almost all day yesterday while engaged in the Plum Crazy jam-making activity, you’d think I’d prefer a day sitting on the sofa with my knitting in hand. Well, you’d think so, but only if you discounted the six pounds of strawberries on my kitchen counter waiting to be addressed.

Rather than make run-of-the-mill, regular old strawberry jam (god forbid), I hauled out Christine Ferber’s excellent master-class book, Mes Confitures, and thumbed through its jam-sticky pages in search of uncommon inspiration. At last, I found it. As a jam-maker who shies away from the ordinary, nonetheless it hadn’t occurred to me to combine strawberries with an assortment of spices and – several cups of pinot noir. Not until now. The siren call of novelty sounded loud and clear, and here is the beginning of that unusual concoction:

It doesn’t look disgusting. After macerating the fruit in the fridge overnight with the wine and sugar, I brought it all to a boil in my copper confiture pot. At that point, it didn’t smell disgusting anymore, either – although at first it smelled like fermented strawberries, and not in a good way. But the heat mellowed out the rough odor, and now its fragrance is deliciously winey, berryish, and rich. Now, I have to let it chill once again overnight in the fridge. Tomorrow, I get to actually make the jam. Stay tuned.

Twisted Sister-Shibui WIP Alert

My enthusiasm for the Twisted Sister/Shibui yarn combination shown above has not diminished in the least. If anything, my passion for these yarns has grown stronger with every row I knit. It’s hard to imagine a softer fiber blend than this, and my knitting has been slow only because I can’t resist frequent breaks to stroke the sublime knitted fabric that is rolling off the needles.
I’ve been working away on the wrap that I want to wear to a mid-October wedding, and the design has been modified as I go. As the lace evolves, I’m doing a bit of second-guessing even though I swatched several options before beginning the final project. Now I wonder, should I have done a more open lace pattern for the main part of the wrap, rather than this horseshoe lace that is fairly solid? Should I perhaps have gone up another needle size to allow the yarn more openness and bloom? Then I remind myself: anything that feels so right simply can’t be wrong!

Most of my knitting is done in the evening after dinner when I’m already a bit tired, and while watching the day’s political “news” with half my attention. The flashless photo below shows the stitch definition reasonably well in the unblocked lace, but the color is way off.

The photo below shows the vibrant yarn color with much more accuracy, but the stitch definition is muted. When blocked I still think it will be lovely, and I guess my doubts are as much the product of evening fatigue as of any real indecision. More to come.

Late Bloomers

Hydrangeas in mid-September? What’s wrong with this picture? The other hydrangeas in my garden are strictly spring bloomers, and by mid-summer they have shriveled into crispy brown paper flowers from the heat. Not this one, though. After seeing nothing but leaves throughout the summer months, suddenly I came outside this morning and noticed this:

And this:

Impressed but suspicious, I took a stroll around the garden with camera in hand to see what else was blooming out of season. And sure enough, some late roses (ohmigod so fragrant with the afternoon sun upon them!) were basking in the glory of the fall day.

Plum Crazy

In proof that appearances really can be deceiving, I bought the most beautifully deep purple organic plums at the market this morning in anticipation of more jam-making. And I assumed that given the deep hue of the skin, the fruit itself would be that deep garnet red that promises a sweet-tart burst of flavor with every bite. But noooo… the flesh was yellow, and the flavor was puckeringly tart. Not my favorite plums to eat, I admit.

So what else could I do but turn them into jam? Just because I’ve been making jam obsessively every week for the last month is no reason to stop, right? To the diced fruit and sugar, I added a spice bag filled with whole star anise, a broken cinnamon stick, and several whole cloves.

The dark skin turned the jam a lovely deep red, and the spices add a mysterious depth to the flavor. Small chunks of the golden fruit are suspended in the jam, sweetened and soft. Bliss. And now, maybe I’m done for the season. Maybe this is it for jamming.

Or, maybe not. I also found strawberries at the market, priced to sell at “Buy one, get one free.” Can we eat six pounds of strawberries before they go bad? I don’t think so. But I have a bumper crop of rhubarb out in the garden, and strawberry-rhubarb jam is one of my favorites. So….


Last weekend, my friend Diane came over to help me preserve both pears and tomatoes. When she left at 3 pm, I spent an additional two hours finishing up a mega-batch of Caramel-Pear Butter (recipe from the new issue of Bon Appetit). While she was here, we made Spicy Pear Jam:
with golden raisins and cardamom. That fabulous Pomona Pectin guarantees a wonderful, not-too-firm, and not-too-soft set. The flavor is divine, and makes even the most delicious scone or muffin taste even better.

The Caramel-Pear Butter takes its name from the addition of dark brown sugar rather than white sugar, and is thick, luscious, and totally decadent. I highly recommend Bon Appetit’s recipe if you happen to have twenty or more pounds of extra pears lying around the house but can’t bear to eat another one out-of-hand because, well, they have been a dietary staple for the better part of a month. I tripled the recipe which explains why it needed to cook down for close to three hours. But it was worth it. Trust me. This stuff is edible gold.

My favorite, however, is the Spicy Tomato Jam, from Mark Bittman’s recent Minimalist column in the NY Times. So utterly delectable is this product, I called it “gourmet ketsup” and persuaded my family to slather it on the grilled burgers we had last night for dinner (It was even great on my Dr. Praeger’s Tex-Mex veggie burger). The minced ginger, finely chopped hot pepper (I used one from the garden, along with the tomatoes), and cumin play off the sugar, cinnamon and cloves so effectively that your tongue will do a happy dance in your mouth. It’s that good. You should make some. Right now, even if you have to buy the tomatoes. With its bright, zesty flavor, half a dozen pint jars will keep you smiling through the winter.

All in all, a well-spent Saturday.

Good Fences Make Barely Tolerated Neighbors

I have a hard time with the family who lives in the house behind ours. First they razed the vintage California ranch house that sat on their double lot, and in its place (over the course of two full years) built a 5,500 square foot, two-story McMansion that looms over our back yard. That little project was immediately followed by a one-year-long (no exaggeration!) landscaping project, including the installation of a swimming pool with waterfall that backs noisily up to my vegetable garden. During this extended construction phase, the wife of this couple produced three more children to add to the two she and her husband already had. The children are all screamers who evidently spend their time pulling each other’s hair and knocking each other to the ground, and even the sound of that waterfall cannot camouflage the mayhem of these little darlings at play.

Visitors to our home are typically stunned when they step outside into our back garden and are confronted with the sight, over the back fence, of the top floor of the neighbor’s house. “Is that a hotel?” they ask, with no trace of disingenuousness in their tone. Because the house looks like a posh bed & breakfast or boutique hotel plunked down in the midst of a 1940’s-era residential community.

Yes, it’s true that since the encampment of these arrivistes, others in the neighborhood have also renovated their homes to conform to the McMansion ideal that has become the norm for so many American suburbs. We have Mediterranean-style McMansions, we have Tudoresque and Colonial McMansions, and we have a generous sprinkling of Tuscan and Provence-style McMansions.

It is also true that my own home has undergone its share of renovations over the 60 years since it was built. While today it would likely be considered a tear-down (in this neighborhood), earlier owners had other ideas. Someone added a family room off the back, and someone else converted what we think must have been an attached garage into a master bedroom and bathroom. And yet, our home is still under 2,400 square feet and for the three people who live here (and one cat who takes up her full share of elbow room) it is plenty of space. I am not complaining, not by a long shot.

The one thing that makes me only slightly less hostile to the neighbors is the fact that their garden is truly lovely. Not surprisingly, they didn’t bother to ask us before they planted several thriving varieties of invasive, trailing, kudzu-like vines that grow over from their side of our back fence (which we installed – and paid for in full – while their new house was being built because the on-site construction manager had a large and predatory guard dog that terrorized my daughter on a regular basis). However, there are now, finally, some gorgeous things growing there, such as this:

Passion flowers are a favorite of mine, even though I spend way too much time killing the volunteers that pop up in my raised bed vegetable garden and that have to be prized loose from my tomato cages. When I see them in bloom like this I soften, just barely, in spite of myself.