Friday, June 28, 2013

Tea popsicles: unlikely but delicious

I'm an all-Canadian Red Rose girl when it comes right down to it, but in the middle of a heat wave, sometimes even I have to relax the rules. Desperate times and desperate measures, you know.

So when one of my friends suggested tea popsicles as an antidote to the hot, humid weather, I was on my way to David's Tea for the perfect iced-tea brew in a flash. I got a few iced-tea tips from the girl behind the counter (double the tea content and the brewing time, add lots of ice), and away I went with a brand-new bag of Cranberry Pear Tea in hand.

Each of the wells in the popsicle mould holds a generous 1/3 cup of liquid. I did some fake math and then winged it, adding 1 tbsp of tea and 2 tbsp of sugar (though you could use honey or whatever you fancy) to my liquid measuring cup. 1-1/3 cups of boiling water later, I was in business. A lunch plate stood in for a lid while the tea steeped...

...and I cleaned out the freezer. As you do, when popsicles are involved. I strained the tea through a strainer, picking out the berries and bits of apple and pear to add to the popsicle moulds for extra fanciness. Then it was just a matter of pouring the tea over top, snapping the lids on and waiting.

Twelve hours later: ta da!

Yep, that's an iced tea popsicle, featuring a delicious fancy cranberry. I think I could do with a bit less sugar next time, but I was pleased with the subtle flavour of the tea and the fruit. It was cool and refreshing – just the thing for a day with 90% humidity!

Now, if only I could figure out a way to dip my Peak Freans shortbread in it....

Thursday, June 27, 2013


No big news here – just a collection of small things that I've been doing, watching, listening to and reading lately. A bit of a jimble-jamble, but that's all right.

The hot weather has arrived in earnest. In the evening, right around ice-cream time, light from the setting sun bounces off the balconies across the street and into my apartment, casting long shadows.

It's not a great photo, really, but for some reason I love the way the light falls on this little collection of precious-to-me things I've gathered over the years. Each one has a story.

Knitting-wise, I'm making good progress on my Audrey in Unst sweater, although I'll be pushing it to make the KAL deadline (July 1st, midnight), I think. The short-row set-in sleeves is like a magic trick, and I'm pretty pleased with how it's turning out. The pink (SweetGeorgia in Rosebud) is slightly real life.

I waited for weeks for my copy of Knit to Flatter to arrive, and it was well worth it. Thanks to what I learned in the book, I've got a good excuse to give my cardigan short sleeves – a good figure-flattering strategy for bottom-heavy types like me, it seems. Look better and have a better chance of making that KAL deadline? Works for me!

There's a lot to like about this book – it's got a friendly, no-nonsense tone; it's non-judgmental and very supportive of all shapes and sizes (I loved the range of models they used); the hints and tips work for all your outfits (not just the hand-knit ones); and in addition to the handful of attractive patterns designed with my shape in mind, each of the other patterns includes notes for figure-friendly modifications. (There's also help with the required math. Perfect!) This is a book I'll go back to again and again.  

I did a bit of spinning with my Moosie, and wow, what a difference a good tool makes! Unbelievable. I've been too preoccupied with my sweater to do much more, but I did splurge on a little incentive...a bit of fibre. Isn't it pretty?  

Polworth + Silk in "Coal Harbour," again from SweetGeorgia. I'm going to have to be careful that I don't end up with double the stash, it seems.

In non-fibre news, I've had this song on repeat; seen Much Ado About Nothing (loved it, and that's not just my appreciation of the theatre's air-conditioning talking); and spent an evening at Another Story Bookshop, where Marianne Elliott was reading from her new book.

Zen Under Fire is the story of her time as a UN employee in Afghanistan (to put it very, very simply), and it's a fascinating account of a place – and a set of circumstances – that I can barely imagine. If I was in a book club, this would be my pick for the year.

Tomorrow, I'll pop back to share the results of what might be the best culinary experiment I've done in a while (or might be an enormous failure). Cross your fingers!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A challenge named Moosie (in which I try spinning, again)

One of the best souvenirs that I brought home from Squam was a challenge. The challenges – to meet new people, to learn new things – are the reason that I go to camp, but I wasn't really expecting one of them to come home with me. And I certainly wasn't expecting it to look like this.

"This" is a Moosie Spindle from Journey Wheel. It's a beautiful object, with a whorl made of moose antler and a shaft made of of bloodwood. Depending on your perspective, this tool could look antiquated and unnecessary, or it could look beautiful – part ancient tool, part work of art. To me, it's beautiful. 

Beautiful, but challenging. I've tried to learn to spin before, two or three years ago, but I never made much progress. Imagine getting into the driver's seat for the first time, but the car is a standard transmission and you're stopped at the front of a line of cars, headed uphill, in rush hour. That's how it felt at the time. Too many moving parts; too many ways to go wrong. 

But really, all I had to control was this: a learner's spindle made of dowelling, scrap wood and a cup hook, and some fleece. And my expectations.

I took a class, I bought a book, I watched a YouTube video or two, and I muddled along. It was winter, and I would sit down after dinner and attempt to spin while I listened to the evening news. It was difficult, and each night I'd look at the uneven mess I'd created and be disappointed in myself. After a couple weeks, I stashed the spindle and the bag of fibre away so I wouldn't have to look at them.

Back from Squam with my Moosie in hand, I thought I'd better give spinning another go. To let a beautiful tool like that sit idly by in a pencil jar, a curiosity for guests and a toy for curious kids? It wouldn't do. So, wary of ruining my new tool with my clumsy fingers and my inelegant yarn, I got out my "training" spindle and tried again.

I couldn't believe it. It worked!

It was slow going, but it worked. This time, I pre-drafted the fibre into a shape that was manageable, so I didn't have to wrangle a huge chunk of fleece while also handling the spindle. I used the park-and-draft method that's common for beginning spinners: spinning the spindle to add twist to the leader, then clamping the spindle between my knees and gradually letting the twist play out into the fibre, inch by inch, between my hands. Once I had eighteen inches or so spun, I'd wind the yarn onto the cop, and then start again. 

Soon enough, I'd amassed a fairly respectable amount of yarn.

I kept going until I couldn't spin the spindle properly anymore, and then I had to decide what to do with it. I don't possess any other spinning tools: no niddy-noddy, no bobbins, and certainly nothing in the way of plying know-how. But I couldn't let the yarn just sit on the spindle.

In the end, I wound the yarn around a piece of foam core (what would I do without foam core?) then tied it off in a couple places. I followed the directions in the book: a hot soak and a cool rinse to set the twist, and then hanging the skein, weighted, over the bathtub, to dry overnight.

The next morning I popped it onto my swift to finish drying.

And finally, I wound the skein into a hank. There's not much there, really: just 27 grams of single-ply, worsted spun (I think), Blue-Faced Leicester yarn. It's thick-and-thin, knobbly, with lots of twist, and – in this humid summer air – it still smells strongly of sheep. 

 And I love it.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Squam Art Workshops – third time's even more charming

When I sent in my $50 pre-payment for the spring 2013 session of Squam last December, it was late at night, after a night out (and half a bottle of wine) with my sister, on a whim. When I awoke the next morning and saw the Paypal receipt in my inbox I was a bit surprised.

It's one of the better spur-of-the-moment decisions I've ever made.

The weather was mostly lovely – cool enough that I got to wear my sweater (but warm enough that I could dandle my feet in the lake) and rainy enough to make sure I appreciated the sun.

Everything was in full leaf and there were innumerable shades of green to be seen. There was none of the fall colour that I grew accustomed to seeing on those hills during my September visits.

I'm not normally a huge fan of yarn-bombing, but this made me laugh. A canoe cozy! There were tiny (and not so tiny) yarn-y installations all over camp, put up by two of my cabin-mates, and they looked fantastic.

Travel mug, travel knitting, travel bag. All the essentials of life at craft camp, really. Previously, I've stayed in small cabins with only one or two cabin-mates, but this time I was in a much larger building with eight other women. It was a good group, and I'd happily stay in a larger cabin again.

Thursday, I took an art class with the awesome Kerry Lemon. It was messy and fun and I had a great time. I was impressed by the artworks of my classmates, many of whom put their talents to work and turned out huge panel illustrations. I made a teeny-tiny book, instead, bound with twigs and featuring the leaf rubbings and prints I'd made.

My second class was Shetland Lace with Gudrun Johnston, on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Gudrun was lovely and a great teacher, and I picked up a trick or two that I'm happy to have in my knitting arsenal. 

Garter-stitch based lace doesn't look like much when it's in progress, but here's a photo of the tiny shawl (below) and the lace swatch (above, with my wee book) I ended up with at the end of the day. When I make a full-sized shawl I'll get out the blocking wires, obviously, for a neat-and-tidy top edge.

Outside, knit and crochet flowers, birds and critters surprised and delighted at every turn. 

Saturday afternoon we headed to the Playhouse for the Ravelry Revelry. There was beer, cheese, cake and candy, plus all sorts of fun and games, including relay races, knitting speed trials, charity projects and more. And door prizes!

Speaking of door prizes, I won one! I couldn't believe my luck (as you'll see in the photo in my roommate Christina's blog post – scroll about halfway down – I believe the phrase is "gobsmacked").

Thanks to the generosity of the Ravelry Revelry sponsors WEBS, Anne Hanson (Knitspot) and Journey Wheel, I brought home an absolute embarrassment of riches, including: a set of Knitter's Pride interchangeable knitting needles, a pattern and the yarn to go with it, notions from Lantern Moon, and a knitting basket; the August project (pattern, custom-dyed yarn and project bag) from Knitspot's Fall in Full Colour 2012 club; and a beautiful spindle. I could not believe my good fortune.

That evening we headed to the Art Fair, which is an craft extravaganza of epic proportions. The trademark ice lanterns lit the way into a dining hall that had been transformed into a room chock-a-block with vendors selling their hand-made yarn, buttons, books, art, clothing and accessories. 

I brought home a treat or two...with all my goodies, I just barely squeaked in under the baggage allowance on the return flight. I had just enough room for the equivalent of a stick of butter!

Sunday morning I had enough time for one last indulgent breakfast and one last scenic photograph before I hopped back in the car for the long drive back to Boston. 

I enjoyed both of my previous SAW experiences, but this one had a definite "third time's the charm" feel to it. The camp experience is familiar now, so I wasn't dealing with any of the anxiety of the unknown. Also, I was lucky to make fast friends with a group of talented, funny, kind women, stellar knitters with killer senses of kind of people. I'm really not a mixed-media artist, and so I always felt a bit out of my depth at the fall sessions. At this session, where it felt as though everyone "spoke knitting," I didn't feel that way at all. Finally, this time I felt that I was able to put aside my own expectations and stop comparing my experience to anyone else's. As a result, I was able to enjoy each day for what it was, ups and downs and all the rest. 

That was all a week and a half ago, but I'm still thinking about how much fun I had and the lessons I learned. I'm already looking forward to putting in my deposit for next spring's session, but this time, it won't be an impulse move.