FO Friday: “Denim wash” Alec XL

This sweater is finished.

It’s all washed and ready for its wearer to enjoy it. The only thing is: it isn’t cold enough to wear it. Also, I’m glad I had an FO for Friday because the alternative would be to talk about the sweaters I’m wearing. I’m not wearing sweaters so I would not have a Friday post without this Alec XL.

This is the second year in a row I have finished a sweater in January. It’s pleasant to start the new year with a finished sweater.

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Wednesday WIP: Another Alec XL

I’m actually here to talk about a WIP for a change, as my morning lessons are canceled. I’m a pretty fast knitter so I thought I could get one of partner’s sweaters started and finished in time for January 6, the day in Spain when people often exchange Christmas gifts and the Three Magi come to leave presents for children.

My partner picked out the color for this one, which is called “Blue Wash” by Rowan Pure Wool Superwash. It’s a quick knit, but I just need to get the second sleeve, the collar, and the buttons done.

IMG_1656

I’m definitely getting my $7 or so worth of sweaters out of this pattern. It’s so much fun to knit. I’ve already made two and plan to make more in the future. It’s also fun to wear. It’s very comfortable when it’s a little bit over-sized. Of course, it’s also very warm in winter.

The issue with sweater wearing this year is that it’s an unusually warm winter. The temperatures aren’t as extremely cold as usual.

St. Enda has been placed on the back burner until I get this semi-Christmas gift done for my partner. I made a lot of progress on it before I cast on this Alec XL. In fact, I’m 3/4 of way done with the back so all that will be left to do – soon enough – will be the sleeves, seaming, and the collar.

OT Monday: It’s FINALLY OVER!!!!!

Today’s off topic Monday post is about how the holiday season is DONE. Put a fork in it, already. The toothpick was inserted and it came out CLEAN! Hallelujah!

You see, I’m an American who lives in Spain, which means in my homeland, Christmas is on December 25. After that, Christmas is so totally done and over with. In my family, on December 26, we have a sort of Christmas hangover. Tree comes down, ornaments get banished to the attic. Back to normal in time to nurse a real hangover on January 1. New Year’s is fun a few days later, with parties and drinking and staying out late, a roast ham for lunch, then that’s that. In Spain, it’s all about the “Navidades,” and yes, that is the Spanish word for “Christmases,” which does not exist as a plural in English, because in English we are moderate on the Christmas dosing and isolate it to one day. From December 24 to January 6 it is Christmas in Spain. During this time, you may work 1 to 0 days in a week, have a long weekend or two, and put up with all the Christmas you can possibly withstand to the point of your brain exploding.

Traditionally, December 25 in Spain was just a special day to rest and have a nice meal with family. Then, they started copying Santa Claus, so then too the Christmas tree thing, and a long etc. Meanwhile, also traditionally, January 6, the Epiphany, was the day children got their gifts from the three Magi. Every child in Spain has a favorite King of the Orient, in fact. Some day I want to read a newspaper headline that says, “Child annoyed upon receiving myrrh.”

Are you starting to catch my drift? In case you haven’t, I’ll spell it out to you in plain language: Santa Claus comes here on December 25. The three Magi come on January 6. The consumerism and excess festivities are enough to make your brain explode.

This year, as a coping mechanism, I just stayed away from the blog. It was all really starting to get on my nerves. A popular Christmas gift around here is perfume or cologne, and guess what kinds of commercials they spam on the TV at Christmastime every year? Oh yes, that’s right, sometimes I could just here Nicole Kidman repeating over and over again in my head, “J’adore. Dior.” I was really happy to read all your posts about Christmas and celebrating, too. You’re all doing it the way it should be done. IN ONE DAY ALREADY DAMMIT.

So, Happy New Year! Las Navidades se acabaron. And I can get on with my Scroogey self for the rest of the year.

Seriously, if I was in the USA, Christmas would be more fun. I promise.

Wearing Sweaters #3 (and I can’t count to eight)

It’s FO Friday and I don’t have any FOs to showcase, so we shall have a look at what sweaters I’ve been wearing.

I’d also like to take a moment to let you know that I have recently discovered that I can’t count to eight. Browsing through my blog today and reflecting on the sweaters I’ve knit and crocheted this year, I realized that my post “Sweater #10” was totally wrong. In that post I said I had finished 10 sweaters this year. Totally wrong! In reality, this year I have finished eight. I counted ten because, first of all, I thought I finished my gray cabled sweater this year when in fact I actually finished it in December 2016. Also, I thought I finished two snowflake sweaters this year, one for me and another for my partner. That is so wrong! The other snowflake sweater was completed in 2016 in August. Whoops!

Anyway, I think was inspired to reflect on this because this week I’ve been wearing my HUGE snowflake sweater, or, if you like, the star motif sweater. This is a 1970s Leisure Arts knitting pattern and I love it. I loved it so much, in fact, that I made two, as mentioned above. Last year, when I knit it, I was a bit larger, so of course I made my sweater larger. This year, I’m smaller, so this sweater now fits me with a whopping 7 inches of ease! I don’t mind, though, because it’s so comfortable to wear. It’s an easy and quick knit, too, especially if you don’t follow the directions and knit the whole thing in the round instead of fussing with knitting the lower body and the sleeves flat.

snowflakesweater

I’ve been wearing this so much that I’ve wrinkled it just a little! I don’t care, it’s comfy and it keeps me very warm. I used Cascade 220 yarn for this and planned my snowflakes, or “stars” to be a faded color so that they appear and disappear, depending on what angle you see them at and the amount of lighting that shines on them. In the above photo they are very subtle. You can tell how huge this is on me by looking at my underarms. There’s lots of room to move around in this sweater! I could probably fit another person under it, or perhaps even shoplift if I were the shoplifting type.

I hope you’re wearing handmade sweaters this winter. I have no idea why, but it’s just fun to wear them.

Saturday is the new Friday

Yet again, having an FO, I missed FO Friday. So, now that I have absolutely nothing to do, here is my finished object:

sheephat

This is knit from the “Baa-ble Hat” pattern, which can be found here. My knitting group here in Valladolid did this as a KAL. I was so pleasantly surprised to see how other members of the group, who I have never seen do anything more than garter stitch or crocheted amigurumis, know how to knit in color. One person, a crocheter new to knitting, learned how to knit in color with this pattern. She also knit in the round for the very first time, too. Her hat came out really well and she was so proud to learn so many new things.

Knitting in color for me, as you know, is “old hat.” I whipped this up in about two days. I made the pompom with the Clover pompom maker. I have to tell you, it is really convenient and I recommend it to anyone who is shopping around for one.

Now I have to decide who this hat will be for. It isn’t exactly my style so it’s definitely going to be a gift for someone who needs to keep their head warm in winter.

Done: Autumn biscornu

I have just finished my autumn biscornu and now it is resting in its place, on my coffee table.

This one is a lot larger than the previous one I made, which is perfect because I have plenty of stuff to put on it or stick into it. The pattern is by Barbara Ana and can be found here. Here’s a warning, though: if you hate backstitching, this is not for you. As you can see in my second photo there is plenty of backstitched lettering and other little details that drive some cross stitchers crazy, such as the little black outlines to distinguish the squirrels’ teeth.

And now I’m going to cast on the Baa-ble Hat, because my knitting club is doing this as a KAL and I think it will be fun to do some color knitting for a change of pace. Also, I’m finally going to use the pompom maker for the first time. I bought it a year ago. It’s about time I got around to using it, right?

Boston Baked Beans

bakedbeans

Introduction

Knitting and crochet have slowed down quite a lot so Tuesday this week will also be “off topic.” I’m not in a slump or anything. I’ve been working a lot of hours. I’ll have nothing for WIP Wednesday. I might have something done for FO Friday if I get settled in with some cross stitch.

I usually share a recipe when I can’t discuss my crafting progress, so I decided, why not share my Boston Baked Beans recipe? I think this could be useful to some people, but especially my fellow bloggers who are uncertain about what exactly “American food” is. My English learners never fail to answer “hamburger” if I ask them to tell me an example of an American dish. After I say, “that’s not exactly a dish, it’s a sandwich,” well, nothing else crosses the learners’ minds. I’ve even been asked if we only eat hamburgers and hot dogs every day. I guess that person never saw an American TV show or a Hollywood film!

In Spain, people’s ignorance about America is completely understandable. My homeland seems to be only interested in selling Coke products as well as McDonald’s and Burger King to the entire world, helping the population to become generally unhealthier every day.

So, if you are unfamiliar with the USA and have no idea what American food is, you are just like an American, who also has no idea what constitutes American food! We Americans certainly seem to know, or act like we know, what it is, but the truth is it’s a hodgepodge of dishes from all around the world that often get hybridized or transformed, mixing together things native to the American continent with other ingredients from elsewhere. Take, for example, General Tso’s Chicken. We Americans more often consider this dish to be Chinese, but it was invented in the USA and as far as I know, you won’t find it in China anywhere. It’s American, but then again, it isn’t. It’s a mixture.

And, with all that said, why not pick a dish from New England, the region I am from in the northeastern United States? Nothing exemplifies the hybrid nature of American food more than these Boston Baked Beans. Some people say they are from Boston because of two ingredients: molasses and salt pork. Molasses, however, came to Boston from the Caribbean via trade ships, so maybe there were people cooking them this way in the islands and it traveled to America from there. The cooking method – baking – was learned from Native Americans. BBC Good Food actually published a version that is not at all even near to being what I consider to be Boston Baked Beans, but that’s OK. Make the dish any way you want.

Like most folk recipes, this dish does not require a lot of skill and the amounts can be altered to adapt it to your individual preferences. It adapts well to any old cooking method: Slow cooker, pressure cooker, oven. You don’t even have to bake them.

The Recipe

Ingredients:

1 package, usually 1 lb. or 15 oz, of navy beans (Br. Eng. “haricot beans,” Southern US English “pea beans”), soaked overnight or use the fast-soaking method (weight of beans given before soaking)

1 Tblsp. Worcestershire sauce (or more, if you want!)

1/4 cup molasses (or more, for sweeter beans)

1 Tblsp. prepared mustard (or dried mustard, if you wish)

1 onion, chopped

8 oz salt pork or a few slices of smoked bacon

Enough water to cover the beans in your cooking pot of choice

Directions:

Drain the beans and discard the soaking water. Dump all the ingredients into the pot. When you add water, just have the water go about 1 inch above the surface of the beans. You can check by placing a wooden spoon upright into the water, dipping it in until it touches the surface of the beans.

If you wish to bake them: Place them in a preheated 350 F oven and bake them, covered, for about 3 hours. It will be necessary to check on them to stir them and add more water if they dry out.

If you wish to slow cook them, set the slow cooker to high and cook for 8 hours. Again, you will need to check on them periodically to see if they need more water.

If you’re using a pressure cooker, cook the beans on high pressure for 50 minutes. Wait for the pressure to slowly go down instead of using a fast method of reducing pressure.

When your beans are done, add salt to taste. I do not recommend cooking them with any added salt. They may never get tender. The salt pork may be enough flavor enhancement, anyway.

Troubleshooting your beans:

  1. Are your beans too watery? This most often happens with the pressure cooker method. Easy solution: put them in a pot on the stove, bring them to a gentle boil, and then simmer them until the excess water evaporates and they are at the desired consistency. In fact, this is why I use a stove top pressure cooker to make mine. If they have too much water, I just cook them uncovered until the liquid is reduced.
  2. Are your beans still not done? You’ll have to cook them some more! Sometimes dried beans take longer than usual because of a variety of factors, including the age of the beans.

How to serve your Boston Baked Beans

This can be a side dish or the main course. That’s how we eat them in Maine!

Popular meats to serve with them: sausages or hot dogs, a steak, a hamburger.

Breakfast (or “breakfast for dinner”): With hot buttered toast, fried eggs and potatoes, a blueberry muffin.

As a main course: By all means, try making some Boston Brown Bread and eat it with your beans. That’s what we do in Maine, as well. When they’re served this way, some people prefer to eat them with a spoon instead of a fork.

Popular garnishes: I, like a lot of people, add ketchup to my beans along with some pickle relish.

Baked Bean Trivia

The wonderful city of Boston has the nickname “Beantown” because it was believed that this dish comes from there and because people who live in Boston and Maine, as well as other parts of New England, eat this dish regularly. Some of us make them from scratch as my recipe teaches you to do. Others of us eat them from cans. Some of us do both. When I lived in the US, like a good Mainer, I always had some cans of baked beans in my cupboard, just in case I needed them.

Sadly, baked beans come from absolutely nowhere and everywhere, so the Boston thing is partially a myth. It is true that the Boston style is present in this recipe: salt pork and molasses make these the “Beantown” variety, but it seems that cooking them in a sauce similar to this one has been done in many different places. As a matter of fact, in eastern Canada and Northern Maine, some people prefer to use maple syrup instead of the Boston-style molasses ingredient.

As far as the baking goes, that method was no doubt invented by the Penobscot Native Americans in Maine. In Maine we have a cooking method especially for baked beans called “bean hole” cooking, where the pot is buried in the ground with hot coals. Not a lot of people cook their beans this way anymore, but sometimes you can still see it happen, especially at cookouts.