Put a fork in it, it’s DONE

The brown crochet sweater I invented is finished. Its owner is unavailable for modeling, so I decided to don it and photograph myself. We must keep ease in mind to appreciate it to full effect: on me it has about 1 inch of ease but on the wearer it has 4 inches extra. With less roominess on me it seems to have a mysterious slimming effect on the view from the front even though the stripes are horizontal. On the back it has no effect. I look the way I do, a little too much so to my liking.

Honestly, I don’t like how this sweater looks on me with 1 inch of ease. My instincts were correct, which is nice to know, because I began the orange one for me planning on having 4 inches of ease. The wearer tried on this brown one before I washed it and dried it. It looks far better on him with these measurements.

I of course took some detail photos:

I decided to border the cuffs, bottom, and collar with a few rounds of single crochet because I didn’t like the idea of this sweater having ribbed edgings. It makes for a roomy and comfortable collar that doesn’t ride up. At the hem it ends in a comfortable and casual finish with no need to adjust or fiddle with how the sweater will ride on the hips.

I can’t wait to finish the second one in orange that I’m working on. The cooler temperatures have arrived and I want to wear it in autumn when orange, red, and yellow are in season. Even with less ease it’s a comfortable design, so I’m psyched to find out how it will feel to wear mine.

 

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Generous knitting and selfish crochet

The brown crochet top-down sweater I made up all by myself is drying. That one is for my partner. I want one, too, so I got going on it straight away, using Cascade fingering in the color way Jack O’Lantern. I’m very happy with this shade, which will show off the texture of the stitch patterns even more. I’m also happy with how the yarn feels. It’s very soft and drapes even better than the brown yarn does.

updowncrunch

I’ve also cast on the Zaria shawl for my mom, which I should have started months ago. It was going to be her birthday gift. I’m sorry, mom! I started off making a shawl from another pattern and it wasn’t right, so I searched for another one. I’m very happy with Zaria.

zaria

Right now I’m still in the garter stitch part of the pattern. The yarn is Malabrigo Sock in the color way Arcoiris. Now, only one hank of Malabrigo remains in my stash. I love making shawls and scarves with it, so I might just order some more pretty soon. For the lace section I’m going to use a light gray sock yarn which I think will show off the stitchery very nicely.

If you look at my in-progress photos often, you might notice that I have different needles. KnitPro (or Knitter’s Pride) Symfonies usually can be seen in my pictures of garments and other things while Hiya-Hiya sharp circulars are often in my sock photos. For years, Symfonies have been the only needles I’ve wanted to knit with. I like their semi-sharp tips and the feel of them in my hands. I started to change my mind about them as all-purpose when I was in the middle of my blue lace scarf. For some reason, and at least according to my subjective observation, the 3 mm Symofonies, just like the US size 2’s, have blunter tips than on the larger sizes, making increasing and decreasing a real pain. I decided to give KnitPro Karbonz a try because I needed sharper points, but not too sharp to stab myself and bleed. The Karbonz are now my favorite for lace knitting. They get the job done and, as I prefer knitting “continental” style, I don’t have to worry about accidentally stabbing my finger tips. I bought interchangeable needles in the sizes that I use most often for lace knitting. If anyone else has been looking for needles with that “just right” tip – neither too sharp nor too blunt – Karbonz could be the solution. The nice thing is that they work with the same cables as Symfonies, so if you already have KnitPro (or Knitter’s Pride or Knit Picks, all the same) cables or an interchangeable set of Symfonies, there is no need to buy new cables.

 

OT: Best recipes I’ve found and tried

I’ve decided that Mondays are going to be “off topic” (OT) days. Here we go with the first one:

I have been using the Internet now for about 20 years (maybe plus a year or two). After two decades of Internet activity I have found only ten recipes that are useful in my life. The rest of my cooking comes from recipes in cookbooks, from my mom, or my brain.

Just three weeks ago there were only nine recipes from the Internet that I would use frequently. Then, one day, I was browsing through the blog Tanglewood Knots by the awesome crocheter, Tami. She posted about a recipe for blueberry muffins. I’ve made a few batches of them and they are now going to be a new staple. Being a Mainer and formidable wild blueberry pickah – ayuh! –  I am very fussy about my blueberry muffins and I’d been using the same old recipe I got from my mom for years.

So, now that I’ve got a list of ten, why not share the most useful recipes I have ever found on the Internet? None of them are necessarily better than another. You’ll notice that they are jumbled up a little, alternating sweet with savory, chicken with beef, etc.  I did that to emphasize that there is no number 1. These are all equally excellent. By no means do I endorse any of the web sites these recipes link to, although I must confess that a couple of them are repeated. Still, I am indifferent to them. By chance they provided a recipe I think is helpful to me. That’s it.

New England Clam Chowder

I know my “chowdah.” This recipe has additional things that I like in my homemade clam chowder that is not possible to find in a restaurant in Maine. Restaurants that serve “typical” food tend to stick with the same old thing; mostly, I think, to fulfill tourist expectations. I appreciate the use of Tabasco sauce in this dish. In my opinion, it’s so much better that way. I probably don’t follow this recipe exactly as it’s written, but I always add Tabasco now. More than likely, I follow the traditional Mainah recipe in my head and dash in the Tabasco. Just so you know, having a recipe for chowder is like having a baby that comes with an instruction manual. It just doesn’t work that way. Everybody in New England does their chowder in a unique way, depending on family-specific traditions, etc. So, don’t think of this as a recipe. Think of it as a schematic. In the end, you should have a thick, white, creamy stew that tastes like clams, onion, and potato. The rest is up to your own taste.

Cinnamon-Almond Cookies

I found this one on line and later realized something stupid: I already had it in a cookbook I had never used! Apparently, it first appeared in Bon Appetite’s dessert cook book, a collection of what the editor of the magazine thinks are their best in their publishing history. I bought it and left it unused for a few years. I’ve made other things from the book since I discovered this cookie recipe was also in there. I have never been disappointed, so the cook book is sort of like the best-kept secret I hid from myself.  The other recipes aren’t my strong go-to’s, though. Anyway, these cookies are killer. They’re also convenient because the dough keeps well in the freezer. I bake off one frozen log at a time. I’m still miffed that a recipe I bought is now free on line, but if I hadn’t been googling for roll cookies, I wouldn’t have rediscovered my unused book.

Blueberry Muffins (I left the smarm off the title)

The title indicates that these blueberry muffins are “to die for.” Personally, I wouldn’t die for them, but this is the best blueberry muffin recipe I have ever tried. It has an excellent crumb. I leave out the sugary topping because I like my blueberry muffins on the tart side, as they should be, in my humble, lobster-killing opinion. In Maine we sometimes use these at cookouts in place of bread or dinner rolls. They sort of live in this gray area between sweet and savory. Warning: the batter is extremely thick. Depending on factors like egg size and weather, the batter can seem too thick and dry. Just add a little more milk (don’t overdo it) and you’re good to go. The batter should be very thick but moist enough to incorporate all the flour. Typically, a couple of tablespoons more of milk saves the day for me. For best results, stir as little as possible, even fold (totally not necessary) the ingredients together if you have the patience. That exploits the perfect crumb this recipe is uncannily able to produce. Tip: if you have a convection oven (an oven with a fan) you might need to reduce the temperature to 375 or 350 F (190 or 180 C). I have had to adjust to 180 C.

Potato Chowder

The link above doesn’t go directly to a recipe. It’s a list of 50 soup recipes. By all means, try the other soups on the list. I have and I like them. You can find the one for potato chowder at number 14 or so. I make this one a lot in autumn and winter. It’s so easy to make it only occupies four lines or so on the page. It’s my favorite in this index. According to the title, all these soups are healthy. Take that with a grain of salt. Cream and bacon, anyone?

Shredded Beef Enchiladas with Three-Chile Sauce

I make these enchiladas frequently. They are by far the best. I have even replaced the beef with chicken with a lot of success. They are not always the enchiladas I can make, however. In Spain the ingredients disappear from the local shops and supermarkets I have to deal with. The biggest challenge is finding the chilies that the recipe calls for. Currently, I’m out of stock and just need to find some chipotles again. As soon as I do, I’m making these exact enchiladas again.

Lemon Bundt Cake

I don’t like Martha Stewart, but damn does she know how to make a lemon bundt cake. It’s a lot of work (not surprising, it’s a Martha Stewart anal retentive invention) but it’s totally worth it.

Chicken Stew with Biscuits

One morning after a night out, a friend of mine and I were having breakfast and channel surfing at my house. Mid-click, the Barefoot Contessa was demonstrating how to make this dish. I got the recipe and ever since then I make this often. I don’t bother with the rolled and cut biscuits, though. I just make a drop biscuit dough. Call me lazy, go right ahead! I know. I just don’t see the reasoning behind rolling out and cutting biscuits when you can get the same effect – lower in fat no less – with drop biscuit dough. When I make chicken pot pies this is my filling of choice, too.

Pressure Cooker Chicken (I left the smarm off the title)

As the smarmy title indicates, this chicken falls off the bone. That’s supposed to be a positive characteristic to be all smug about. Beware! It is not. If it’s falling off the bone, it’s on the verge of drying out and becoming a chicken Slim Jim from a very seedy gas station convenience store. If you try this, cook for the exact time indicated in the recipe and when the pressure valve is all the way down get the chicken the heck out of the pot so it stops cooking as quickly as possible. It’s worth paying attention to the pressure cooker a little (mine beeps a lot so I know when the lid can be removed). If you are precise with the cooking time and get it out of the pot efficiently you will have a tender, juicy, and flavorful chicken. The meat will be falling off the bone, but not dry as sandpaper, and the breast won’t be falling off the bone, which is essential to be certain it’s juicy. The best part: you can have a full chicken dinner ready in less than an hour, which for me has saved the day as far as balancing work with dinner and not having to order take out, which is far less healthy than this main attraction. When I’m overwhelmed with work I serve this with quick basmati rice seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil along with a salad, as I do with my garlic baby sea bass. The seasoning combination in this recipe is also delicious, so I do not advise leaving this or that thing out. They all go together (including the paprika, garlic, and fresh lemon) to create a harmonious flavor. Note: this is one of those annoying  “gushing” recipes often found on Pinterest (UG). Just scroll through all the marketing language and skip over the pointless photos and you’ll eventually get to the recipe. The nuisance of visiting this page actually tempts me to put the recipe right here in a no-nonsense way, but I don’t think it’s good to do that since it isn’t my idea. By the way, of all the “gushing” recipes I have ever tried, this is the only one that has ever worked for me.

Very Chocolate Ice Cream

Anyone with an ice cream machine needs to try this. It’s the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever made. I make this all summer long with my handy-dandy ice cream mixer. The secret trick, as you can see from the ingredients list, is the use of cocoa powder and a small dab of whole chocolate. Usually, it’s hard to make ice cream with whole chocolate because of all the fat it contains, which messes the whole thing up because cream has even more fat. If you try to make chocolate ice cream with bar chocolate only you actually create a frozen butter that is inedible.  A little dab of bar chocolate with more fat-free cocoa powder makes it just right. If you have made homemade custard before, you can do this with ease. If you haven’t, don’t be surprised if you wind up trashing your very first batch ever. Low heat, constant stirring, and patience are required.

Homemade Sloppy Joes

I now live in a country where the sauce in the can for making sloppy Joe sandwiches is unheard of. It does not exist here. I was happy to find this recipe, which cures my occasional craving for one of these messy sandwiches. I use 3/4 cup of tomato sauce and a tsp of tomato paste instead of the ketchup. It’s healthier that way and jives with the canned sauce I remember from my childhood. When I was a kid, we had sloppy Joe’s for dinner at least twice a month. The sauce always came from the can with the particular sexist brand name I shall not mention. I think it was my mom’s go-to for when time was not to be had. She kept the cans in the kitchen as part of her busy person’s arsenal. I think even in the 1980s this was a retro-style dinner. I guess now we could consider it ancient! Looking back, this was as responsible a mom could get for prepping a hurried meal for her kids. Tomato and protein between two slices of carbs. That’s pretty balanced.

Missing: A collar and two sleeves

August is a month when my teaching responsibilities typically diminish. I have plenty of free time. I’ve devoted it all to this top-down crochet sweater.

sweater

The body is done. That means tonight I’ll be busy on a sleeve.

Just so you know, there is no pattern for this sweater. I’ve made it up on the fly. The yarn is from the shop and yarn factory El Gato Negro, based in Madrid.

A while ago I reviewed Dora Ohrenstein’s book on top-down crochet sweaters so I took her advice in the section on how to design one and just made up my own. It’s very easy to make, alternating crunch stitch with up and down stitch. In between those patterned stripes I put a round of back loop hdc on the wrong side, a round of dc on the right side, and another round of back loop hdc. On the yoke I increased in hdc on the corners except whenever I did a round of dc.

I had considered writing a pattern for this, but the yarn weight is fingering (sock) and most people don’t have access to the Madrid shop where it’s sold and so, you know, it would be a waste of my time to write it because nobody would feel encouraged to make it. Crocheters seem to me to be adventurous with their yarn choices, but still, the idea of using fingering weight yarn for a sweater would put a lot of people off. I’m toying with the idea of giving instructions on how to figure out one of these using any yarn or gauge. That would probably be useful to more people, especially since this is a unisex crochet sweater. I haven’t seen a lot of crochet patterns for sweaters like this that would be appealing to a man to wear.

I plan on making two. This brown one is for my partner. I’m going to use Cascade fingering to make one for myself. The color way is called “jack o’ lantern.” I love it.

The best part about crocheting a raglan sweater top-down without using a pattern is that it isn’t terribly important to count much. Sure, I figured out my gauge and measurements and started with a set number of foundation stitches, but after that you just increase on your marked corners on the yoke, then fold and attach the front sleeve corners to the back ones, and proceed to zip round and round to the bottom. We’ve done a lot of try-on sessions so I haven’t had to measure much as I’ve been working on it, either. I’ve got my sleeve decreases already calculated and I did count my stitches around the arm hole, so that’s it! The only planning left is to figure out how I want the collar to be.

Telegraph sweater: Done!

I finished yet another sweater. This year I have now completed six sweaters.

In case you forgot or didn’t know, the pattern is “Telegraph Sweater” by Peter Franzi and it was published in Interweave Crochet magazine.

I really like how this fits and the color is perfect for combining it with khakis, jeans, or other color pants, even my purple pants. It’s also very warm. I couldn’t wait to be done with taking photos of myself in it. I think I broke a sweat. Although the pattern calls for sport weight yarn, I got away with using fingering weight wool sock yarn by El Gato Negro.

Pressure cooker flan

This recipe is the product of a lot of experimentation. I found some recipes for flan to make in the pressure cooker and they were not what I wanted. First of all, I live in Spain and speak Spanish at home, so for me a flan is a flan and everything else is pudding or custard. Second of all, I know what a real flan is supposed to taste like because of “first of all.” I certainly do not protest against this free, open, global world that reinterprets things and reshapes them. I just want a good old flan the way I think it’s supposed to be, as do most of the people who live in my neighborhood. I want the kind you can get in Spain at a cafeteria. I also want it to be convenient to make at home. Making flan the slow way with a hot water bath is a bit tedious.

Photo Aug 17, 22 10 09

Making flan in the pressure cooker takes about 40 minutes total, from start to finish, or an hour if you’re multitasking in the kitchen or are especially slow at doing things. It’s totally not rocket science.

For equipment you need: a pressure cooker and a steaming rack that can support ramekins. Also, six 3-inch ramekins will also be necessary. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

3 eggs, medium or large are fine

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup white sugar

zest of one lemon (or half a lemon if you don’t want too much lemon flavor)

1 tsp vanilla

liquid caramel (get the store-bought kind in a squeeze bottle unless you want this to take an hour and 40 minutes)

Directions:

Squeeze a layer of caramel in the bottom of the ramekins, enough to coat the bottom. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Gradually whisk in the sugar, milk, cream, and vanilla. Over the mixture, grate the lemon zest and whisk that in. Ladle mixture into six ramekins that have the bottoms covered with caramel. Cover each ramekin tightly with aluminum foil. Add two cups of water to the pressure cooker. Insert rack. Place as many ramekins on the rack that will fit into the pressure cooker. Cover the pressure cooker with its lid and cook on high pressure for 9 minutes. When finished, allow the pressure to reduce on its own until no more pressure remains in the cooker. Repeat for remaining ramekins. Allow the flans to cool completely. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. To serve: with a knife, separate the edges of the flan from the wall of the ramekin all the way around; cover with a saucer and turn upside-down; if necessary, give the flan a few whacks and it should plop onto the plate.

Note: It is especially convenient to do this in an electric pressure cooker because it times itself, beeps when it’s finished, etc. However, if you have a traditional one to use on the stove, you can still do this, you just have to use a timer.

A can o’WIPASSessment

Now that I’ve got the naughty WIPs under control and disciplined, it’s time, on this WIP Wednesday, to open up a can o’WIPASSessment on what’s left, which are five projects plus 1 new one I started on Monday. The rest of them aren’t featured here in photos because they look the same as the last time I photographed them.

If you pay close attention to what I blather on about, you might remember that I said I would only start a new project when the crochet table cloth, the sweater, and the cross stitch pumpkin were finished. Recently I have had a conference with the WIPs and, as we now do in education, from elementary to university, an assessment was performed. Higher Education administrators who read this blog will be just thrilled to know that I prepared paperwork for this tedious – yet administratively necessary – procedure. The evaluation questionnaire, filled out by all WIPs, collected the following data:

WIP Title:

Indicate to what degree you agree or disagree with the following statement. 1 = strongly disagree 2 = slightly disagree 3 = agree 4 = slightly agree 5 = strongly agree

  1. I am necessary for use in the upcoming season.  1  2  3  4  5
  2. I am handy for this season and can be finished now.  1  2  3  4  5
  3. I am boring to work on.  1  2  3  4  5
  4. I am 3 hours or less from being finished.  1  2  3  4  5

The tablecloth is nice enough, but it’s summery and this hot season is almost over, not to mention the fact that it is pure decoration for the table when it isn’t being used. You know, it’s for “company” that comes over to sit about on a sofa for a cup of coffee or a stiff drink to chit chat. When subjected to assessment, it strongly agreed that it is not necessary for the upcoming season and strongly disagreed that it is 3 hours from being finished. Clearly, the administrative procedure has revealed that its moment is not this year so it shall vacate the back of the sofa and rest a while in the bottom of a bin in a dark closet.

The cross stitch pumpkin is good for about twenty minutes of cross stitching once a week because it’s really boring to get through and has this tedious nature about it that is quite revolting. Its prime moment for being done is in October. It is now August. I don’t have to work on it more than I’ve been working on it. Once it’s done it’s only going to get processed through the sewing machine so it’s displayable with its other pumpkin friends for Halloween. The three finished vegetables alone, in fact, could serve a decorative purpose without this fourth gourd. Its current pace of completion is just fine. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the cross stitch pumpkin strongly agreed that it is useful for the upcoming season and that it’s a bore to stitch on.

The two afghans and the Celtic Wheel cushion were going to be permitted to be in progress for a long time. So, their status remains the same. Don’t worry, though, they got a taste of the very same paperwork the others were tasked with and so very much deserved. It was not necessary to assess them, but the administration requires everyone to participate in the process even though it’s a waste of time.

I finished my “Telegraph” sweater – it’s drying now, and should be ready for supermodel photos by FO Friday – and so it escaped the assessment. To celebrate, I have started a new crochet sweater that I’m inventing on my own without a pattern. I began the project after the paperwork, so it, too avoided the questionnaire. It’s just in its very first stages:

sweater

This sweater is going to be for my partner, who is unaware of this. I have decided to keep the wearer out of the know due to a general lack of patience and a constant asking about when things are going to be finished.

You can tell that, in the past three weeks, I have devoted a total of about 30 minutes to my last cross stitch pumpkin.

pumpkin

Trust me, this pumpkin is really cool when it’s finished. I saw the photos in the magazine where the other ones you’ve seen are published. It’s just annoying to sit down with and commiserate because it’s too easy, which makes it a very dull companion. The last five minutes I spent with it I didn’t even get out the chart. Before I put it away I checked the chart and I made no mistakes. Really. That much of a dud.

Conclusion of this WIPASSessment report: It’s all a total no-duh.