Monday, September 26, 2011

Fall Knitting Retreat with Annie Modesitt

A lovely group of knitters representing Minnesota, Idaho, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and North Dakota descended upon a bee themed resort in rural Minnesota this past weekend. The reason for our gathering was a knitting retreat organized and hosted by the warm and witty Annie Modesitt.

The cabins and the retreat center were right on the lake shore and were super clean and spacious. We were spread between two cabins but were able to gather in one for meals and socializing and the other for the classes.

Annie's friend Kathleen, who was formerly a catering assistant, prepared the delicious meals and snacks that kept us fueled for a weekend packed with knitting.

There was plenty of socializing, project sharing, knitting book perusing and a fair amount of wine consumed. All wonderful things, in my world.

Our first morning, I took a cup of tea out to the dock that was covered in dew and drank it in the bright, early sun while the waves gently lapped at the dock. It was a good thing that I seized the opportunity that morning, as the crew came and removed the dock for the season just a few hours later.

Like clockwork: the first official weekend of fall...the wool was out and the dock was in!

The two classes included in the weekend's retreat schedule were a colorwork class and an entrelac class. I've heard great things about Annie's teaching so I was excited to be able to take classes from her. I've done a bit of colorwork and a bit of entrelac but do not feel like a master of either. It was really helpful to go through the content with Annie.

Annie lived up to the hype! She is a great teacher. Her colorwork class was so much more than I had hoped for. We went over stranding, intarsia, twining and plaid techniques, but what I really loved were the little tips and tricks Annie threw in. I came away with some ideas for joining new colors, weaving in ends more effectively and embellishing with crochet and duplicate stitch. As if that wasn't enough, Annie also gave me some tips about how to better control my gauge when I mentioned always needing to go down 2 or 3 needle sizes to get gauge. Being in control is a good thing!

The afternoon class covered the basics of entrelac. It was a helpful that I had a little background in entrelac because it is mind bending. Annie teaches entrelac using charts, which makes great sense, if you ask me. Plus, charts free the knitter up to customize the heck out of their entrelac. Once you understand the construction, you can add cables, lace, ribs, colorwork or whatever else you want to throw into those little angled grids. It really helps to knit forwards AND backwards when doing entrelac, which is what Elizabeth is practicing in the photo above while Annie watches and encourages.

During our entrelac break, we received a special delivery from Kathleen: warm, homemade apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. Delicious.

Here are my class swatches. The color craziness at the top left was intentional. We were instructed to swap bits of yarn with those around us to make some crazy looking plaid. Well, the color craziness minus the errant row of orange that happened when I forgot to change back to pink. Oops! According the Annie's request, when we make mistakes in class, we are supposed to leave them there so we can learn from them and so we can keep pace with the class. It was hard to leave it! I am a bit of a rule follower AND a perfectionist, which meant I either had to follow the rules and leave it or break the rule to satisfy my inner knitting perfectionist. Discord! You can see which side won.

Also with us this weekend was Becca. She is the super cute and smart service dog of Heather. This dog is so smart that she knows when Heather's blood sugar drops too low or, get this, is ABOUT to drop too low. Those are some skills. Becca uses her stare down skills for good while Tchazo uses his stare down skills to persuade us to let him on the bed or open the door for him.

The weather was perfectly fall-like, with a bit of chill, blue skies and crunchy leaves below my feet. It was way too nice to spend the whole weekend inside, so I headed out for walks at least once each day. My hands are a little out of practice from the lack of knitting this summer, so the walks gave my hands a chance to rest and my eyes a chance to take in some beautiful Minnesota views.

Big thanks to Kathleen, Heather and London for taking care of our needs before, during and after the retreat and for being great company this weekend. Thanks to the other retreat-goers for sharing your projects, your stories and your excitement for knitting. It is a wonderful thing to be amidst a group of competent and confident knitters. More than once this weekend, I heard one knitter tell another, "You can totally make this! It isn't too hard! It is just one stitch at a time!"

And, of course, a big, big thanks to Annie for organizing a great retreat that increased our skills and our connections to other knitters. If you ever have a chance to take a class from Annie or go on a retreat with her, do it!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pogona Shawl

Next up: My Pogona! Pogona is another of Stephen West's patterns. I tapped into my stash to harvest another skein of Fleece Artist for this shawl. I think this yarn gets along well with his patterns. No pooling! That is always a relief when using variegated yarn.

The resulting shawl isn't quite as flowing as the pattern photos make it seem, but I still like the wavy result that the extra fabric in the increase sections creates.

As with the Herbivore pattern, this shawl is easy to memorize yet varied enough to keep you engaged. I hope the friend that gets this shawl likes it!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Purple Revolution

Circular Shawls = luscious, versatile, perfect

The great thing about circular shawls is that you don't have to pick if you want your front or your back to be covered. You can have both!

Ever since making my Vortex shawl and wearing it for a while, I have been sold on this shape. If you are someone who doesn't like a lot of fabric around your neck, this probably isn't the shape for you. I like how wrapped up and cozy this shape feels.

This shawl is made from the Industrial Revolution pattern. It is made from the center out. When I got towards the edges, I was worried about running out of yarn, so I skimped on a few repeats of the last column section. Turns out I had enough and could have followed the pattern. I think it is big enough, so I am ok with the change.

Blocking out those "gear" edges meant a pin for each point. 7 pins per gear by 16 gears equals 112 pins! I think the blocking efforts were worth it, though. The gear edging strikes my fancy. This shawl is for me and I plan to wear the heck out of it, alternating between the Vortex and the Revolution this fall and winter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

SLC Herbivore Shawl

I will soon be on my way out, heading to a knitting retreat. It will be the perfect way to celebrate the first official weekend of fall! Since I have knitting on the brain again, I realized I've been holding out on you when it comes to posting my recent F.O.s. Well, I will make it up to you this weekend with a set of posts about shawls.

I love shawls. In fact, I love them so much that I very rarely wear anything around my neck that is a traditional scarf shape anymore. I find the bulk and shape of shawls much more comfortable and cozy and warm (and way more fun to knit!). I especially like shawls that are horseshoe or circular as I find those to be great shapes for wrapping around my neck and still covering my shoulders.

One of my favorite shawl designers is Stephen West. I've found his patterns to be well written with interesting shapes and construction. I love that the resulting shawls are unusual yet there tends to be enough repetition in the patterns that I can get my bearings and not have to continually consult the pattern as I knit.

This shawl is made following the Herbivore pattern. I used some Fleece Artist yarn that has been in my stash for years. This project was actually knit in January on my trip to see Becky. It made for excellent travel knitting. Somehow it took 2 weeks to knit and 8 months to photograph! Now that I have finally documented it, this shawl will be gifted to a friend.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Went to Market

Sure the farmers' market is great in the summer. But, my preferred market days are when the weather has a bit of a chill to it. The beginning and end of market seasons are my favorites. This could be related to the fact that in the middle of market season, I am usually overwhelmed by produce and have no business going to the market. The truth is, with our garden and supplements from my dad's garden, I rarely need to buy vegetables during the growing season. I am lucky that way. However, I do enjoy many of the other local goods for sale and can appreciate them best when the heat is off, literally and figuratively.

This past Saturday the weather was great for going to the market, so I headed over to the Midtown Farmers' Market. I picked up a loaf of bread from Black Paws. It was hard to choose which one to get because they all looked and sounded so good. I opted for the potato rosemary loaf so I could eat it with the Carrot Tomato Soup that I made with the last of the big garden tomatoes and so that I could properly taste a recently made batch of mustard. The jury is still out on the Bourbon Brown Sugar Mustard.

The chilly day probably didn't help the 10,000 Licks stand out, but I am glad they are selling at my local market. Such fun flavors! And, a clever business name for a Minnesota (Land of 10,000 Lakes) ice pop company.

I did not know that lemongrass can be grown locally, but was super glad to find out that it can. I have a block of tofu and some foraged lobster mushrooms in the fridge that are waiting to become ingredients in Coconut Soup with Galanga and Butternut Squash. The recipe I follow is from Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott but this one seems basically the same. So, when I saw a vendor with lemongrass for $1, I was psyched.

If I hadn't been hitting up the market on my way to a potluck knitting brunch, I totally would have had a vegetarian arepa. The Hola Arepa food truck has been getting rave reviews all over town and their black bean and queso fresco arepa sounded great. Hopefully they will be there again next time because I definitely want to try their food.

Spike was there, too. The vendor selling these dog biscuits was talking about how well behaved Spike is. I would have liked to swap dogs after what Tchazo did Friday night. He snuck into the garden and ate a ton of cucumbers. Then, logically, he proceeded to be sick all evening. He threw up inside and outside (which meant I had to jump up every 15 minutes to get him outside for another round of sickness). Yuck! I did feel bad for him though because he looked pretty miserable with his hunched posture and shivers. He doesn't seemed to have learned his lesson, though, since we caught him in the patch again the next day. A diet of white rice has helped his stomach recover and we are working on getting the garden totally fenced in.

Since I have my own harvest going on at home, I didn't buy many veggies at the market, but I did stock up on a few giant bags of onions for the root cellar. I also was glad that my favorite maple syrup vendor was there so that I could get another jug from him. This recipe for Maple-Sweetened Blueberry Rhubarb Jam and lots of batches of maple sweetened granola have been depleting my stock of maple syrup.

It is fun to be at that point in the year where I can spend my energy on making great meals instead of making great preserves to eat with great meals later. I like doing both, but much like with the 4 seasons, it is nice when things shift gears every few months.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September Swap

This time of year, if you work in education, is absolutely bonkers. I'm pretty spent by the end of the day, so it is hard to keep up with all of the non-work parts of my life. I have to admit, I have eaten some frozen dinners lately just to stay fed. That doesn't happen very often in my world. I really don't like when things get so busy that I don't have time to focus on fulfilling food. It doesn't feel good physically or emotionally when my food has to be sacrificed. But, sometimes it is unavoidable.

Despite being busy and pretty darn tired (and newly bandaged and bruised from a bike crash earlier in the day!), I didn't want to miss out on the MPLS Swappers' August food swap. I haven't missed one, yet! Here are recaps from the previous swaps: March, May, June, July, and August. Unfortunately, I felt like the frenzy that is the rest of my life right now was present at the swap, too. Setup! Taste! Bid! Swap! Done! It went by so fast! Maybe everyone else is pressed for time right now, too.

One of the tables

Salty, peppery crackers

Vanilla Cashew Cream & Raspberry Parfait

We were again swapping in the wonderful Open Arms space. Their farm plot is so plentiful this year that they had some veggies to share. If you are interested in helping them preserve, they are looking for volunteers with preserving expertise.

I have some of all of these veggies aging in my fridge and on my counter now, so I didn't need to take any home. In fact, the sight of all of those veggies raised my stress level a bit! I had a flashback to that night recently where I was making ketchup until midnight after working a long day and knowing I needed to get up early for another long day. It had to get done that night or everything would have been too far gone to salvage.

I didn't have time to make anything right before the swap, but luckily I did have things stashed away to bring. I brought 5 jars of Raspberry Rose Jam and 5 jars of dried sungold and pear tomatoes with applewood smoked sea salt. The rosewater in that jam is a great accent for the raspberries. Delicious stuff! The dried tomatoes were super savory with the addition of the smoky salt.

For my 10 jars, I swapped for:
  • a "misshapen" baguette (I ate caprese sandwiches 2 dinners in a row after the swap. Tom makes good bread.)
  • some of those crackers (they were in demand!)
  • a jar of that vanilla cashew cream raspberry parfait (I must get A-K's secret for all of her delicious cashew goods)
  • Orange Chocolate Zucchini Bread (vegan!)
  • Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies (nice and chewy)
  • Pico de Soya (cleverly named and super tasty on tostada chips)
  • Tequila Peach Salsa (I was in the mood for peaches and the salsa had a splash of tequila to make it something special)
  • Ginger Plum Applesauce (Good thing I am friends with Jamie because everybody wanted a jar of her sauce.)
  • Concord Grape Jelly (There was a low sugar version and a regular version. I opted for the regular version because it was such a classic grape jelly flavor. Yum.)
  • Strawberry Ginger Jam (This jam was just sweet enough with a nice ginger zing to it.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Que Sera

This weekend felt like a fall appetizer. The cool weather came back and my urge to knit came back with it. I have been knitting a little bit this summer, but not nearly as much as is usual for me. I did manage to finish a sweater recently. I alternated knitting this sweater with knitting things for my friends' babies and children throughout the spring and summer.

This sweater recently got buttons and has been worn twice, including once this past weekend on a lovely day trip to Stillwater with my friend Jill. Aside: Darn Knit Anyway is a nice yarn store and Stillwater is a great day trip destination.

I think this is going to be a good transitional, summer to fall sweater since it is knit out of cotton and the lace pattern makes it pretty airy. The pattern is Que Sera from Knitty. Ravelry link here and my project here.

I knit this with Knit Picks Simply Cotton Worsted which is super affordable, as Knit Picks tends to be. The armpits have been pilling a little bit so far, so I am interested to see how the yarn wears over time.

I much prefer to knit sweaters seamlessy and from the top down so that I can try them on as I go. It feels like such a gamble to knit pieced sweaters. You really don't know what the end result is going to be until you are nearly done. My luck lately has not been great as the sweaters I have made have turned out too big. Not this one! It fits snuggly. I lengthened the arms, but I may have gone an inch or so longer than needed. No big deal, though, since I can fold the cuff over when I need to get it out of the way.

I recently started another sweater, am finishing up a shawl and have a few baby knits to pair with buttons. Welcome back, knitting!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Little Less Steam

I'm starting to get distracted by the impending end to summer. I am simultaneously wanting to pack in as much "play" as I can before summer turns to fall, while also wanting to put away foods to savor during the winter. I struck a good balance last weekend between time spent in and out of the kitchen. I whittled down my to-make list to a more reasonable size and just tackled those items. Adjusting my preserving goals meant I had time away from the kitchen for yarn shopping, a picnic in the park with a friend and her little ones, a bike ride and a lunch out with a new friend. Ah, summer!

I found an apple tree on a foreclosed lot in my neighborhood. The apples have been falling and rotting on the ground. Whenever I passed by they called to me! I have been monitoring the tree for a while, grabbing an apple each time I took Jack on a walk. I planned to go get some of them when the time was right. When swap friend Holly offered to let me use her peeling, coring, slicing doo dad, I said YES, PLEASE! Jack and I headed over to the tree early one morning. While I picked apples and sipped my tea, Jack ate his share of the fallen apples. A few of the neighbors saw us but nobody said a thing! Phew!

The peeling, coring, slicing mechanism rocked my world. It is so effective! I immediately went online and bought one for myself after using Holly's. I foresee many more apple desserts in my future.

I made dried apple rings and a batch of apples preserves with the apples.

I may go back for some more apples so I can make applesauce later. I have a food mill I have yet to use and I hear they are great for applesauce making.

When I saw this Bourbon Brown Sugar Mustard recipe on Food in Jars, I was intrigued. Paul and I have been rather smitten with interesting condiments lately and he loves bourbon, so I gave it a go. I haven't ate much of it yet, but I had a taste and this stuff has a serious kick!

FYI, if you want to make this, beware that the mustard seeds are hard to grind. The recipe said to use the food processor to puree them, but all my food processor did was whirl them around and around. I ended up having to be really aggressive with my immersion blender to break them up and the mustard still ended up pretty grainy.

Another batch of dried tomatoes went in and out of the dehydrator. This batch was sprinkled with applewood smoked sea salt for a little extra interest. I think these are destined for the next MPLS Swappers food swap. They are such pretty little gems in a jar. Plus, the flavor is concentrated and so thoroughly tomato.

I've been hearing great things about freezing cherry tomatoes whole, so I did a tray of those, too. I hadn't harvested my tomatoes in a while, so when I went out to pick them, I got a mixing bowl full! I like that kind of wealth.

Our ginger syrup bottle was due for a refill. We like that stuff a lot at our house. To make the syrup, I combine equal parts water, sugar and chunks of ginger in a saucepan.

I let it boil for a bit, until it starts to thicken a little. Then, I remove it from the heat and let the ginger steep in the syrup until it comes to room temp. A quick strain and into the bottle it goes.

My dad harvested the first of the pie pumpkins and had me test them out to see if they are done. Does anyone know the trick about how to tell if they are ripe? I have begun the process of baking, portioning and freezing them (2 cups per bag). I went through the pumpkin I froze last year really quickly, so I will put more of it away this year.

I better get some knitting up on this blog soon or else I might have to change the name of it! Luckily I finished a sweater a few weeks back and some of the recent cooler days have sparked my interest to pick up the needles again.
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