Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Where did I go wrong?

My sister and her brood are coming to stay tomorrow, and I decided to get baking so they'd have some yummy goodies to eat when they got here. There was a recipe I've been wanting to try for a while, in the 'Short Cuts' section of one of my Taste magazines. Basically you just throw together a few ingredients and voila! Something yummy. In this case, some dark chocolate, dried apricots and brown sugar (along with the requisite flour, baking soda, butter and vanilla essence) to make some chocolate apricot biscuits.

I followed the recipe, and put the biscuits into the oven to bake, and... let's just say they didn't come out looking like the picture in the magazine. I did manage to take just one non-blurry picture of my resulting... could you really call them biscuits...? I was laughing so hard it was rather difficult to keep the camera steady long enough to click the button and take a photo. I've tried them, and they do taste nice, but really, would you eat these?



Needless to say, this particular recipe will not be added to my culinary repertoire. Back to the kitchen...

Friday, 20 January 2012

Food, glorious food

I've made so many yummy things over the last couple of weeks. With a proper kitchen space, a food processor!! (thanks mum!) and plenty of time stuck at home without a car (still), my food magazine collection has been getting a good run. Just before Christmas, I sat down at the table with my hefty stack of food mags and went through each and every one, ripping out the pages of recipes I wanted to try, or keep, and discarded all the ones I had no interest in. My poor bookshelf was starting to bulge and droop with the weight of all the magazines, so I decided something had to be done about it. Of course, while I was flicking through all the pages and ripping out hundreds of these recipes, inspiration struck. Since then, I have tried everything from biscuits and puddings to stews and curries, and thoroughly enjoyed all of it.

I even baked bread! What is it about making a loaf of bread by hand from scratch that makes you feel like a superhero? I've always been a little scared of baking with yeast, as I know it can be rather fickle. I was pleasantly surprised to check on the dough after an hour and find that it had indeed risen, and even more impressed when it came out of the oven actually looking like a loaf of bread.



I was overjoyed by the fact that it tasted just like 'real' bread. But the best thing? The kids absolutely loved it :-)

I had to line my loaf tin with aluminium foil though, as both my loaf tins are looking a little the worse for wear. I grumbled a while about this (you know the old saying, 'they don't make things like they used to'), thinking that these loaf tins just hadn't lasted very well, when it occurred to me that these were a gift from our engagement party. Fourteen years ago. Perhaps it is time we got some new ones...

I have many more recipes lined up to try out over the next few weeks, and will probably keep going for a while before I start to miss the 'regular' meals, but I'm already thinking of goodies I can make for Christmas presents. I just have to remember them all come December! Now there's a challenge for my colander-brain.

Another new thing that's started with moving into this place is gardening. Ooh, just remembered I have to water my herbs! Wait there...





Okay, I'm back. Now where was I? Oh yes, gardening. Alright, so my idea of 'gardening' is more or less just weeding, but for me that's quite a huge step. I've been really good, and have weeded the garden every week since moving in here, and kept the courtyard swept and looking tidy. I've watched some lovely flowers bloom:



Although I have no idea what they are. I know I have several camellia bushes in the garden (are these a different type of camellia?) - one of the few plants I recognise (or maybe not) - and a decrepit lemon tree by the kitchen window that I think has done its dash and won't be producing any fruit for the foreseeable future.

My herbs are still alive and growing slowly, but unfortunately are far from the edible stage. (Patience.) Many people will laugh at me and my meagre attempts at 'gardening' (my sisters would find it hilarious) but I'm happy that I haven't killed anything yet - for me, that's progress :-)

Speaking of progress, the knitting is going slowly at the moment. I finished the socks for my sister:


Knit in Vintage Purls Max. They're a little on the short side because I ran out of yarn, but I rather like the 3x1 rib, so will do that again on the next pair (I have another skein of Max I bought at Knit August Nights last year that I'm looking forward to cracking into some time soon). Ugh, speaking of Vintage Purls, I just signed up for the Summer Sock Club. It's gonna be great, but eek! I wasn't going to buy any more yarn at this stage. But I just couldn't help myself. It's a sickness! Ask any knitter.

I cast on a Mandel sweater with some lovely natural Touch Yarns Merino Possum - it's beautiful to work with, very soft. And thankfully, not much in the way of shedding. I was a little concerned I'd be spending a large amount of time rubbing my nose and blowing away loose strands of possum fibre, but it seems to be pretty well woven into the yarn. Okay, so there's a little bit of shedding onto my shirt while I'm knitting, but it doesn't fly around in the air much. So yay. This is quite a slow knit compared to the last few projects (such is the danger of knitting with thicker yarns - they lull you into a false sense of speediness, then you pick up a fingering weight and BAM! Reality hits). I think its coming along nicely though, and hope to have it done in a few weeks. Although I'm starting to have thoughts of straying to other projects. Perhaps a pair of socks? Maybe casting on a shawl? Or that other worsted weight sweater I was thinking of knitting? How about that cotton short-sleeved sweater? Hmmm, I shall have to see how quickly I get bored with the acres of stocking-stitch. On the plus side, I can read at the same time, as stocking-stitch doesn't require concentration or eye focus. I'm currently reading The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale which I'm finding quite good (love my historical novels). Sadly, as it is an 'actual' book, I find it tiresome trying to find ways of holding the pages open, so I may move on to a book on Hedwig or my phone - just downloaded the last Melissa Marr book from the library, so perhaps that will do.

Just randomly, thought I'd share (I'm good like that), I got up this morning at about 4.40am for the usual nocturnal bathroom visit, and noticed the most beautiful fingernail moon (what my older sister always called a waxing or waning crescent moon) perfectly framed by the bathroom window. It had just a touch of fluffy cloud, with moonlight illumination. It really was rather lovely. I would have taken a picture, but I had just had the most bizarre bad dream involving large, shiny black spiders that looked remarkably like scorpions, and scary, creepy, fluffy attack kittens (I did mention the word bizarre, right?) and I didn't want to wander all the way down the stairs and stick my arm into the hall cupboard to get the camera. Plus, it was 4.40am and my eyes were all bleary, and I just wanted to go back to bed. If I see another one though, I'll be sure to take a picture ;-)

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Vrrrrrrmmm

That's the sound this month is making as it whizzes by. It's already the middle of January! Wow, this year is speeding along already. Gone is the general falumphing of the holiday season. The usual daily routines have settled back in to place, like my weekly trek to the library cafe on Sundays to get together with my fellow knitters and have a good ol' yak and a laugh. Much excited exclaiming over new projects, or big ongoing projects, or recently completed projects. Such fun!

I finished my Derry Raglan and Cowl, and decided after trying it on that the sweater is definitely a go, but the cowl... not so much. Perhaps the cowl would benefit from some blocking, but at this stage I think it'll just stay as a possible accessory if it gets really cold (which is unlikely up here). Still, I'm more than happy with the sweater:




Just so you know what I'm talking about re the cowl, here's a pic with it:



Meh. Looks better in the book, on the professional model (hehe, don't they all?) This photo at least shows the fittedness (is that a word?) of the sweater - my gauge was about 17.5 stitches to the inch, compared to the 16 recommended by the pattern. I was knitting the 34" bust size, and my bust measurement is 35". With this combination of factors, I ended up with a nicely fitted sweater, as opposed to the much floppier version suggested by the pattern in the book. I'm very happy with the result. I also knit the sweater about an 1.5" longer than the pattern recommendation, and the sleeves I just knit until I decided they were long enough (I like being able to tuck my hands into them when its cold). To take into account the difference in gauge, I omitted four decreases for the sleeves, so they didn't end up too tight. Otherwise, I followed the pattern exactly. The yarn is so lovely and soft. I'm wearing it as I type this, with nothing but a bra on underneath (probably TMI but oh well) and its not at all scratchy - very soft and smooshy-feeling.

I only used eight balls of yarn for both the sweater and cowl - one less than I thought I'd need. I was contemplating what to do with the two leftover balls, and by a happy coincidence, I received an email this morning from a knitter in the US who is making this exact same sweater with the exact same yarn and has found herself short by two balls. Hurrah! They shall be winging their way to her first thing tomorrow. Glad I could help out a fellow crafter :-)

I finished the cowl on Friday, and that night cast on for a pair of these socks for my sister, in the leftover Vintage Purls Max yarn that I knit my blue socks out of last year.

I'm not sure how long this will continue, but I have found myself so far this year (yes, a whole two weeks) knitting only one project at a time. Only one project on the needles, finished, before starting another. It seems a little odd. Perhaps I should just cast something else on for the hell of it?

In contrast, I have found myself reading more than one book at a time - at the moment I'm reading an Aurora Teagarden short story from the first omnibus - a book I bought my mother last year, and I started a Rizzoli & Isles novel on my Kindle while at the cafe this morning, waiting for other knitters to join me. The other day I had a vampire romance on my iPhone and a crime mystery on my Kindle. Too many options? I don't know. Either way I'm enjoying reading a lot at the moment, and am absolutely loving being able to read things so many different ways. Much as I love a good old-fashioned book (and I always will) these new-fangled devices are incredibly handy and transportable.

And oh, I just have to give you a quick update on the herby-herbs:


Aren't they looking great? Soon they'll start looking like actual plants, and not just weeds! Hopefully.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin' alive, stayin' alive

My herbs are hangin' in there. I haven't killed them yet. On the contrary:



Doesn't look like much, right? But wait, there's more:



Even the parsley's joined the party. It's grown a little more since I took this picture a couple of days ago. Lookin' good!!! Although, I have no idea how much longer they'll last. I'm doing my best to keep them alive and growing. If they last six months, I may even name them. But not yet. I have to prove to myself I can keep a plant alive for longer than two months first. Y'know, it's funny... I can keep animals alive, my children appear to be thriving, and yet, plants... they are a mystery to me...

Something else that appears to be thriving is my knitting. I finished the cutest little cricket vest for a wee babe the other day:



How sweet is this?!? It's a Sirdar pattern, in Sirdar yarn (Snuggly Baby Bamboo DK). The pattern itself was fine, as was the yarn, except for the fact that I got three knots in just two balls of the white - I haven't used all of the other ball of white or the red, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had knots hidden somewhere in there as well. Talking to a knitterly friend today, she says she had the same problem. Colour me disappointed!! I think I will write to the company. I expected better from a well-known, international brand. Their quality control sucks.

On Thursday, I cast on a sweater. Although it is summer here, the weather has been rather attrocious of late - rain, rain, and more rain. Not very inspiring for summer activities like backyard cricket and walks on the beach. Very inspiring for winterly knits though. So as soon as the wee vest was blocking, into the yarn stash I went, and settled rather quickly on the Derry Raglan and Cowl I've been eyeing up since last year, thanks to KiwiPurler over at Kiwiyarns Knits (this post specifically. And yes, I'm eyeing up the skirt too).

I've had the yarn for a little while now, although that was a mission in itself. You see, when I saw the picture of the sweater and cowl on the blog, I hunted down the book in the library. On closer inspection, I decided that I liked the yarn so much I wanted it exactly the same. So to the internet I went. A search on Ravelry (ah, blessed Ravelry, how I love thee) informed me that it was only possible to purchase in America (of course). After a few days of hunting, I finally found a store in Colorado that had enough in stock and were willing to sell and ship internationally. The transaction took place, and the yarn was sent. I waited, and waited, and it didn't arrive. There was plenty of email correspondence back and forth, until eventually it turned up back on their doorstep. It had been labelled 'unclaimed'. I was furious! Not with them of course, but with the people trusted to deliver my package to me, safe and sound. Had I known the parcel had arrived in the country, I would've been happy to pick it up, but nobody had bothered to notify me, and it was sent back. I gave myself a few days to calm down, then went and spoke to the people at the post depot, explaining what had happened, and asked very nicely for them to please make sure that it didn't happen again.

The nice ladies at the yarn store resent the package, and thankfully it arrived via courier a few weeks later. Then it sat in my stash until earlier this week. I have to say though, its lovely yarn, very soft, and not a single knot so far! Its Karabella Soft Tweed, in colour 1310 (I have it memorised - must've been all the hunting I did for it last year...) and I guess I could say it was worth the extra effort to get it. I haven't yet come across a New Zealand tweed yarn that is as soft. I'm not saying there isn't one out there, I'm just saying I haven't found it yet.

Anyway, I'm enjoying working with it so much, I've already completed the body of the sweater, and only have the sleeves to go. And the cowl of course. I should be able to wear it by the end of next week. Wonder if it'll be cold enough?

Monday, 2 January 2012

2011 Roundup featuring 'It's Alive!'

Yes indeed - It's alive!! Not Frankenstein's monster, my basil ;-) For a few days I've just been looking at this:



Excuse my 70s TV sitcom humour... ahem. I noticed this morning that things were starting to happen in one of the pots:



Can you see? Can you see it?!? The basil is starting to grow!!! Either that, or its a weed (probably the latter knowing my luck). This is very exciting for me, as I have a habit of killing any and all plants that cross my path. Be warned people - if you give me a house plant, expect it to leave the realm of the living within the month.

For now though, the seeds appear to be surviving despite the odds - I may actually have herbs on my windowsill soon! Oh, happy day.

Anyway, I thought I'd do a bit of a round-up of what I achieved in the year of 2011. Being a lowly housewife, I do not achieve greatness on a daily basis, but what I do accomplish is something I am proud of - my little personal challenges that keep me on my toes. First up, the book list:

How to Kill Your Husband - Kathy Lette
Wicked Lovely - Melissa Marr
We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
Hot Six - Janet Evanovich
Love Bites - Lynsay Sands
Ink Exchange - Melissa Marr
Seven Up - Janet Evanovich
Single White Vampire - Lynsay Sands
At Knit's End - Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Hard Eight - Janet Evanovich
Fragile Eternity - Melissa Marr
A Touch of Dead - Charlaine Harris
Tall, Dark & Hungry - Lynsay Sands
The White Queen - Philippa Gregory
Grave Sight - Charlaine Harris
The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson
Tome of the Undergates - Sam Sykes
Moab is My Washpot - Stephen Fry
Lord John and the Custom of the Army - Diana Gabaldon
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest - Stieg Larsson
The Fry Chronicles - Stephen Fry
A Tiny Bit Marvellous - Dawn French
Magpie Hall - Rachael King
The Secret Life of a Knitter - Stephanie Pearl-McPhee
Fallen - Lauren Kate
Free Range Knitter - Stephanie Pearl McPhee
Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks
How to Knit a Love Song - Rachael Herron
Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris
The Bad Beginning - Lemony Snicket
Torment - Lauren Kate
Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - Catherynne M Valente
Lucy's Kiss - Rachael Herron
The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd
Room - Emma Donoghue
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows - Diana Gabaldon
Heat Wave - Richard Castle
The World House - Guy Adams
Quite Ugly One Morning - Christopher Brookmyre
Snuff - Terry Pratchett
Honeymooning - Rachael Herron
The Vampyre; A Tale - John William Polidori
Naked Heat - Richard Castle
War Brides - Helen Bryan
Loose Screw - Rae Davies
Ethereal - Addison Moore
The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening - L J Smith
Lord John and the Plague of Zombies - Diana Gabaldon
A Bite to Remember - Lynsay Sands
Passion - Lauren Kate
Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account - Dr. Miklos Nyiszli
Pretties - Scott Westerfeld
Grave Secret - Charlaine Harris
Radiant Shadows - Melissa Marr
The Family Tree - Barbara Delinsky
All I Want for Christmas - Ros Clarke
Clan of the Cave Bear - Jean M Auel
The Tycoon's Convenient Wife - Ros Clarke

59 books. Wow, is that right? Let me count again... yep, 59. Dude, that's a lot of books. Guess you could say I like reading ;-) And people think I'm hard to buy presents for. Pfft.

There's a bit of variation in there, although I notice there's quite a few romances (oh dear). One author I got to meet in person (Lauren Kate), a few more I'd like to meet in the future (Diana Gabaldon, Charlaine Harris, Terry Pratchett, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and (ahaha) Richard Castle). One, I have knit in a competition with (Ros Clarke - Sock Madness). So many good books!! So many more to read!! Hooray for a new year!!

And on to the knitting. I decided to make up a wee collage of all the projects I completed (and got a picture of) during 2011:



Unfortunately, in order for the blog to not have a hernia and be able to actually upload the collage, I had to make it kinda small, so now you probably can't see much.

Let's break it down a bit...


19 pairs of socks, and a mini sock.


Seven garments.


Plus 27 other miscellaneous items (and an extra Deane head). Hats, mitts, shawls, toys, a freaking huge afghan... I do love me some variety.

That's a total of 54 different projects, not including the three I didn't get pictures of - a Milo vest, a vanilla soaker, and some blanket squares for the Christchurch earthquake appeal. Phew! That's a lot of knitting.

And oh, so many ideas for 2012!! Already this month I've managed to finish the shawl I didn't quite get done in time for Christmas:



This is a shawl for my mum - the pattern is Yvaine, knit in Knitsch sock yarn from the last yarn club, 'Terry's Treat'.

I'm also over halfway through a wee baby cricket vest for a friend's baby, born ten weeks ago (the recipient of the Milo vest and vanilla soakers). I was planning on getting this done before Christmas too, but the afghan took over all my knitting time, so this will be for his first birthday instead, as I am knitting it in the 1-2 years size. Pics to come soon!! It's super cute :-)

Also in 2011, I completed a quarter marathon (officially, plus a few more unofficially), ran a 15km, saw my boys turn seven and nine, got to read two of the best end of year school reports a mum could ever hope for, moved into a house with room to stretch out a bit (something we haven't had for quite a while, let me tell you!), and celebrated 11 years of marriage to the most infuriating, hilarious, caring, dorky, reliable, unreliable (yes, I know, very confusing), thoughtful man, who has come a long way since his teenage boy-racer days. It's been a wild and crazy ride watching him grow and change over the years.

This year will see my oldest son turn ten (oh my!), and who knows what else? I can't wait to find out. Onwards, 2012!!!