Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July 30 – Needleworking

I'm motoring right along on this wee shawl. According to the pattern, I'm 73% finished, but I've somehow only used 54% of my yarn — they probably could have stood to include the word "light" somewhere right before "fingering weight" on the label, AHEM. I'm taking a breather to think about whether I'd like to repeat any (or all) of the sections or whether I'll just complete it as written. Might give it a good old fashioned on-the-needles blocking tomorrow to see how it looks.

In other needlework news, hexagon production has slowed to a crawl and I'm going to need to pick up the pace. Of course, why do one thing when you can do five, so I'm also looking for a nice washcloth pattern – did you know that there are thousands of dishcloth patterns available on Ravelry? Of course you did.

LOOK at these amazing lace doilies. I love it when art meets craft like that.

Also, all about tweed. So good! (This entry about community cookbooks is also great.)

Anyhoodle. That's all for now.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July 29 – Them apples

I'm captivated by this apple tree. It's in the front yard of one of the best-kept houses on my street, and this is the first year that I remember its boughs being so heavily laden with fruit. It makes me think of my granddad's backyard, and Niagara's orchards, and autumn road trips in the Annapolis Valley. I don't know what they do with the apples. I do know that they have a marmalade cat who keeps watch over the tree from the front porch.

Seven months ago, walking around in the early evening after the worst of the ice storm, I saw this tree, bent down to the ground under layers of ice. I felt that I should be afraid for it – the street was littered with branches and debris from trees that hadn't weathered the storm – but it was too beautiful. It gleamed, a beacon in the night. The street was silent but for the distant sounds of ice sliding off buildings and breaking on the sidewalks and I stood and looked for a few long minutes as the night cooled down and the mist gathered. Everything was dripping. Everything was dark.

After that winter, spring was a revelation and so too was this tree, a riot of blossoms. Then the rains came, and the sidewalk was covered in trodden, soggy petals. Then nothing but leaves, for the longest time. And now fruit. If you walk by at the right time of the afternoon, the slanting sun hits the branches just right and the apples fairly glow.

Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28 – Tasks vs. purpose

Recently I interviewed someone for an article and he said something that has stuck with me for days. I'm paraphrasing here, but this is the gist:

In your work, you often have to focus on one task or another, but you need to remember that those tasks aren't your purpose. Never forget to look at what you're really trying to do – the big picture, your real mission. Don't lose sight of it among all the smaller things you have to do along the way.

Such a simple idea, but it's the first time I've heard it articulated. It's a good exercise in gaining perspective about any work you do that involves myriad small, pesky jobs in service of a greater objective, whether that's dinner prep (fresh salsa, I'm looking at you!) or striving to raise a baby into a self-sufficient human.

It made me think that I should be a bit more mindful about what my own purpose is (well, purposes are, really). Goodness knows it's easy enough to get so bogged down in to-do lists that you forget why you wanted to do all those things in the first place. That kind of thinking is dangerous, though: if I'm not careful, next thing you know it'll be all career changes and cross-country moving trucks 'round here. Look out.

In unrelated news, how great are these temporary tattoos?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27 – Chop chop

Today was one of those days that sneaks up and surprises you: not with the rain they've been forecasting for days but with an afternoon that's dry and hot, the sort of heat that makes for a punishing walk home. Of course it would have been less onerous if I hadn't been carrying a massive red cabbage in my bag – not to mention the sack of avocados, pair of limes and the various other bits and pieces I needed for dinner. For someone who's only so-so on cilantro I sure buy a lot of it.

There are as many iterations of this dinner as there are shrimp in the sea, and the prep work dirties almost as many bowls. Here's what I did tonight:

Avocado spread: Mash an avocado with the juice of half a lime.
Slaw: Thin a dollop of mayonnaise with lime juice and season with pepper. Add finely cut red cabbage and julienned carrots; mix well.
Fresh salsa: Coarsely chop red pepper, tomato, green onions and a big handful of cilantro; combine. (This would be where you'd add minced garlic or jalapeño pepper if you were in the mood; I wasn't.) Add corn and black beans. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice to taste.
Shrimp: Sauté shrimp until bright pink; finish with pepper and lime juice.

I warmed the tortillas in the skillet – just till golden – and then layered avocado, slaw, salsa and shrimp. It was extremely messy, completely undignified and totally worth it.

For dessert, I made a bastardized version of Eton Mess: poured a bit of whipping cream into a jam jar, added a bit of vanilla sugar, and shook it till thick (whipped cream, the easy way). Then I added a big handful of raspberries and a couple smashed amaretti. Boom.

I ate it right from the jar as ominous grey clouds clotted above and thunder tumbled across the sky. The air was static with potential, and then the rain came. There's just nothing like eating dessert in the near-dark in the middle of a summer thunderstorm.

(Oh! I'm in possession of a handful of beautiful yellow plums. What's the best thing to do with them? Cobbler? Duff? Braise? Grill? Juggle? Ideas most welcome.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 26

They were calling for rain today but it didn't start till I was on my way home: sprinkles fell as the sun shone. A good-enough omen for me.

July 25 – Yesterday, today: three scenes

Friday: writing. Time disappears. First it was morning, next thing I know it's 2 pm. I've made tea, eaten lunch, made more tea: I know this because of the dishes in the sink. But mostly I've been writing. First not enough words, then too many. Now editing, crossing out big swathes of words at first (always the sentences I laboured over, the one I laid down first and used as guides for the next 700 words – they're the ones that have to go). Word count: still too many? Carve away a few more phrases. What about now? Now I'm deleting words one by one, winkling them out of their sentences the way you pry a bit of lobster meat out of its shell. Sometimes I hyphenate something just to trick the computer, but that's a type of magic you shouldn't overuse.

Deadline met, I walked up the street for gelato: my prize. I haven't been to that place for a year or so. I don't know how it stays in business, but then again, $5 for a tiny cup of ice cream? Maybe I do know. Sour cherry swirl and pistachio: I asked for the flavours in English and endured the eye-roll of the teenage girl behind the counter. They bring their Italian cousins over for the summer to work in the shop. She probably imagined a couple of months at the beach, but instead she's stuck on a middling strip of Yonge Street serving ice cream to yuppies while some Italian radio station blares, music echoing off the laminate floors and smeared aluminum table tops.

On the way home I stopped over in the park. It was full: dogs bounding through the grass, tennis courts busy, splash pad full to bursting with squealing kids. I sat on a bench under a tree and read my mail. Such mail! I sent some postcards out into the world a while back and now I'm reaping the rewards. Good mail is one of my favourite things. A breeze stirred the leaves overhead, wafting the smell of barbecued chicken my way. I headed home.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

July 24 – Momentum

Only a week left of July and it's easy to tell by the weather – suddenly there's a cool undercurrent to the air that speaks of fall days to come. There are still plenty of steamy days in the works, I'm sure, but the season is definitely on the wane. I've got a summer shawl on the needles, and I'm up to here in partially knitted Christmas socks, but my mind is on autumn sweaters. There's still so much to enjoy about this season (my god, we haven't even got to the peaches yet!) but it's hard to reign my imagination in. When the sun drops below the horizon and the weather cools off, and there's but the faintest scent of woodsmoke in the air, it can't hurt to think about worsted weight wool and the simple rhythms of a cabled sweater. No, it can't hurt at all.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July 23 – That night

One of the good things about living in Toronto, I suppose, is that it is full of little nooks and crannies that are just there waiting to be explored. Today I had coffee with a friend in the west end – I'd never have discovered that part of the city if not for her. Thanks, Carolyn! (We went to Hello, Darling – super cute.)

Much later, with dinner done and the dishes washed, all the laundry finally put away, I went for a walk in a more familiar part of town. The air was cool and the clouds that had dogged the day had mostly blown away. The sidewalks were busy and the patio at the local pub was packed, people wearing sunglasses against the setting sun. In the park next to the church, little kids played soccer.

I decided on a whim to walk home through the graveyard – if you're looking for an unlikely workout, can I recommend finding yourself in the middle of a cemetery at dusk?  The security guard rolled up in a car and told me he'd be locking the gates in five minutes, and I don't think I've ever hustled through Mt. Pleasant that fast in my life. I'm not worried about ghosts, but I'd really rather not get locked in there with the racoons and coyotes, thanks all the same.

The Beltline trail took me home. Trees arch overhead, mostly, but at one point it pops out onto a bridge that crosses Yonge Street for a hundred metres or so. In the clear evening air I could see almost all the way to the lake, the CN tower a beacon in the distance. What clouds there were, were tinged with yellow and pink; iridescent, like mother of pearl. Vapour trails crisscrossed the sky; subway trains rumbled beneath. It was a perfect summer evening.

July 22 – A tree in the afternoon

A scene from the afternoon. This tree is most obliging, subsisting as it does on a steady diet of benign neglect.

Monday, July 21, 2014

July 21 – Four things

It's late and I'm tired but I have four things to share today, all knitting related. Ish.

1. My Pebble Beach shawl is coming right along. That's it up there, on the verge of 30%.
1b. I love, love, love Helen Stewart's percentage-based, checklist-style pattern – it's easy to keep track of my progress and easy to stay motivated. I was pondering it the other morning while I got ready for work and figured out how I could make Excel help me do this for all the things I make. I can't wait to try it out with the Pi Shawl I have waiting in the wings.

2. This blanket: wow. No, WOW.
2a. Pi Shawl? What Pi Shawl?

3. With just 5 months and 4 days till Christmas, there's still plenty of time to buy me (or another knitter you love and want to impress*) some of these stitch markers. Or these. Or both, I'm not fussy.
3b. Go on, impress me with some stitch markers. You don't have to wait till Christmas if you don't want to.

4. I just got back from watching a special screening of "The F Word." (Which will be called "What If" in America because, well, you can probably figure it out, although it's worth noting that in the film the F stands for friendship. Whose minds are in the gutter?) Pretty neat to see a film that was filmed in Toronto and that's actually about being in Toronto, and especially neat because there's a scene set in the wool store where I work! So go watch it, and pretend you're visiting me there.
4b. They didn't take the TTC once in the movie – they took taxis all over the place. Fiction!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

July 20 – A scene

A quiet moment this morning: tea, crochet and a bit of peace. Sunday.

July 19 – The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework

Have you ever seen this book? I was looking for a calming bedtime read the other day (hey, some people read cookbooks in bed, this isn't that different) and I took this off the shelf. I've only consulted it a few times as a reference, but I realised the other day what I've been missing out on.

Thérèse de Dillmont was a 19th century needleworker who ran an embroidery school and eventually, in conjunction with DMC, produced this comprehensive how-to manual in 1884. If you can do it with a needle and thread, chances are it's in this book.

"Plain Sewing: Most people who open The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework will say, on seeing the title of this chapter, that this information about sewing is superfluous, especially in these days when the machine so often takes the place of the hand in sewing. But, in reality, among all the branches of needlework there is none more important than plain sewing. It is the basis of all other needlework."

Apparently the idea of using coloured threads for embroidery was once revolutionary.

"If the various kinds of embroidery are compared from the point of view of their effectiveness, the first place must unquestionably be awarded to embroidery worked with gold and silver threads."

Steel-plate engravings – as clear as photographs – provide ample illustration of every technique, from linen embroidery... crochet... knitting. Speaking of which:

"Of all the branches of needlework, knitting is one of the oldest and also one which has been carried to the highest degree of is scarcely possible nowadays to invent new stitches or new patterns."

Duly noted.

There are also chapters on macramé, weaving, mending, lace work and tatting. Each chapter has a suggested project at the end – with written directions and engraved and diagrammed instructions. You know, just in case you're in the mood to make some pillow lace of a Sunday afternoon.

At 700 pages, it's actually not great bedtime reading (ouch, my nose! etc.) but if you're a needleworker with diverse interests and a desire to dabble, it's a wonderful addition to your bookshelf.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

July 18 – Meanwhile, back at the ranch

African flower hexagon production jogs on. I've got another five waiting for the outer border, which will bring me up to 25 —about halfway. They make a pretty impressive stack on the coffee table, when is where they were the other day when my friend Carole came over. She said, "That's a lot of coasters, dude."

So I guess I've got a backup plan if this blanket thing doesn't work out.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

July 17 – Choppy waters

A long time ago, back when I lived near the ocean, someone I knew and cared for used to check in with me with five words: "Calm seas or choppy waters?"

I haven't heard that in a long time, but I thought of it today. As I listened to the news this afternoon, all I could envision were big slate-coloured waves under a gunmetal-grey sky, rolling relentlessly ashore, booming and crashing on a beach, foam gathering at the based of jagged rocks and spray filling the air. And all I could think was: not again.

Way back when I was living by the sea, everything was new. I was living on my own for the first time, working at my first real job, driving my first car. Everything felt so exciting—but it also felt so unreal, so dangerous. It was not that long after 9/11 and the American army was rolling toward Iraq. The world was on tenterhooks, and in the back of my mind was a whisper—like the first bit of breeze before a howling gale—that told me everything could come crashing down at a moment's notice.

It was too scary. In between newscasts we turned our backs on the world. We ate and drank, talked in metaphors; stayed out late at night, watching the stars from the beach while the tide rolled in.

Time passed. I moved: once, twice, half a dozen times. I changed jobs. I changed provinces. People came and went from my life and I from theirs. I sought calm seas. But out there, the gales keep raging: ground incursions roll on, planes fall out of the skies. The whisper is still there, but I don't listen any more. The part of me that used to be horrified and enraged is just weary: Another war? Another?

It's hard not to shut down completely, but being present and paying attention is important. I'm lucky to live where I live, in a place where I have food, water and electricity, where my family is safe and the most major inconvenience in my day was a 3-minute subway delay. The least I can do is bear witness.

I'm also trying to remember two things. First, the idea that we might not be able to do great things, but we can do small things with great love—or at least a little bit more kindness than usual. Second, the idea that it's darkest before the dawn. (Because a little bit of banjo helps almost everything.)

I wish you calm seas and a starry, cloudless night.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July 16 – A day

A couple of scenes from my day: working on a new shawl, and enjoying a latte at a new coffee shop in my neighbourhood. I'd forgotten coffee could taste like that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 15 – Sunshine at the farmer's market, and a cherry clafouti recipe




Lo and behold, the weather was fine for the farmer's market today. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze, and unlike last week, the farmers – and sausage makers, maple syrup vendors, beekeepers, wine merchants and donut fryers – were out in full force. 

There was a person there selling nothing but raspberries, and the scent wafting out from under his tent was overpowering: like standing over a pot of raspberry jam as it boiled down, intense and sweet. Across from him and up a bit was a lady selling popsicles: I chose Pimm's, grapefruit juice and mint. I ate it as I walked home, regretting that I hadn't bought a second one to take home for dessert.

Instead, I made cherry clafouti. The cherries I bought were tender and sweet, warm from sitting out in the sun, so ripe that I doubt they'll last past tomorrow. Better, then, to bake with them tonight. This is a treat I look forward to all winter but only make once or twice a year.

Cherry Clafouti
This is based on the recipe in The Joy of Cooking, doctored to fit what I had on hand and divided to serve two...or one, for dessert tonight and breakfast tomorrow.

1/4 lb cherries, pitted
1 egg
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp almond extract
3 tbsp flour
Dash of salt
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease two-cup baking dish; scatter cherries over bottom of dish.
Combine egg and brown sugar and beat till frothy, about 2 minutes. Add milk and almond extract; beat until smooth.
Sift flour and salt over top of egg mixture; whisk until combined. Pour batter over cherries.
Bake at 375ºF for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350ºF and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and the tip of a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Let cool; dust with icing sugar.

Monday, July 14, 2014

July 14

How long do you wait before you frog a knit-in-progress? I just went scrolling through my photo archives and found this photo, from almost exactly a year ago. That's the beginnings of a Swallowtail shawl – my third attempt, and markedly more successful than the previous two. Nevertheless, right after that photo was taken the shawl went into a bag and the bag went into a bin and I think it's still there, preserved pretty well exactly as you see it above.

Beautiful yarn, lovely pattern, and I've seen so many great versions online that I know I'd love it when I finished it. But I really wasn't loving the making of it, so much so that I I don't think I'll ever finish it. I'm starting to think that I should put it out of its misery (or me out of mine).

And yet...I'm reluctant to take it out. (Maybe I just can't bear the thought that one day I'll change my mind and start again for a fourth try.) So, what are your criteria for moving something from the knit to the hold pile, or from the hold to the rip pile (or back again)? Should I frog it or leave it?

July 13 – A tale of three socks

Last Christmas I made my family socks. Well, I made them each one sock and an IOU...and delivered their second socks in late January. (Sorry, guys.) A postmortem of my sock-knitting strategy revealed that I'd have been wise to start earlier than November, and to use something larger than 2 mm needles. Hindsight, etc.

To celebrate being finished the Christmas socks, I started a couple of pairs of socks for myself. That was six months and several projects ago; in the meantime these socks have accompanied me on any errand that might involve even the slightest bit of knitting time. Despite their omnipresence in my purse, I've been making slow progress. But I've recently been visited by a bout of finish-itis, so the socks are getting some focused attention these days.

This is Glenna's A Nice Ribbed Sock pattern in Madelinetosh sock in Tomato Soup, a souvenir skein from Brooklyn General back in 2011, using 2.25 mm needles. This is a solid bread-and-butter sock pattern and I love the yarn and the colour, even though it's virtually impossible to photograph. I just grafted the toe ten minutes ago, and I'll cast on for the second tomorrow.

This is Turtletoes self-striping sock yarn, toe-up, also on 2.25 mm needles. The pattern is a hybrid (i.e., I'm winging it) and represents my first try at the "Fish Lips Kiss" heel. Verdict so far: it's OK, if you don't mind wading through all 16 pages of instructions, 15 of which are...superfluous. That said, the second sock of this pair has been stalled at the heel set-up row for two weeks, so obviously I mind. I'm going to sort that out tomorrow, because once I clear the heel it'll be a straight shot to finishing the pair.

And what's this? Well, there's no use doing a postmortem if you're not going to heed its findings, so this is Christmas sock #1, which I cast on today at work: TFA blue label in Velvet, on 2.25 mm needles (yes, that's an entire quarter of a millimetre bigger!); a Jaywalker in training. I figure if I can knock off an inch of sock a day, between now and Christmas, I'll probably be able to steer clear of issuing any IOUs in 2014.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

July 12 – A day late

Each time I finish another of those African flower hexagons, I trim the ends and pop them into this jam jar. Too short to be useful, too long to be garbage...into the jar they go. I don't think I'll keep them forever, but I find the jumble of colourful scraps pleasing, their accumulated mass a bit astonishing.

I mentioned this casually at work yesterday – in the way that you mention something when you assume you're not the only one who does it – only to discover that yes, apparently I'm the only one who does it. Weirdness established, my motives instantly became a topic of discussion. Am I doing it so that I can weigh the scraps to see how many motifs I could have made if I'd cut shorter ends? Will I be donating them to birds to use in their nests? Will I use them to stuff a stuffed toy?

Probably not. I'm not interested in second-guessing the lengths of my yarn tails and I think the birds will do fine without me. I've got enough fibre-fill to stuff a dozen toys, so I probably won't do that either. Although I guess you never know.

No, I think the jam jar is just the most recent example of a life-long habit. I'm a collector of insignificant scraps. Movie tickets, bits of fabric, wonderful sentences, poems ripped from magazines, foreign coins, memories. Sometimes I keep them until they coalesce into something meaningful (what a moment!). Sometimes I end up throwing them out. That's OK too.

In a way, this blog is like that jam jar. Full of colourful bits and pieces – probably insignificant on their own, sometimes easy to mistake as for the birds, but taken together, something more than the sum of their parts.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

July 11 – To the city

Remember those summer nights ten years ago? If I wasn't staying in town, I'd pack my bag on Thursday night so that I could take off for the city as soon as Friday's work was over. Pop out at lunch to cash my paycheque and fill the gas tank, buy a pack of gum for the drive and ensure I had change for the bridge.

(Change for the bridge: seventy-five cents, all quarters. Once I tossed a mitt-full of nickels and dimes at the automated toll booth and watched in dismay as they ricocheted off the basket and onto the road, and I had to scrabble for change under the car as people behind me honked. After that, always three quarters, no small change.)

Partway through that summer I moved to the city and settled into a different routine. That summer – a time in-between – was a day of long, sunny days, not too hot, not too cold, with wide blue skies and all the time in the world. I lived in a tiny apartment at the top of an old house, with a little back deck way up in the trees. (And mice, too, though I didn't discover that till much later.)

What did we do on those summer nights? I remember watching a lot of Frisbee games and spending a lot of time strolling along the boardwalk eating gelato, pretending to be somewhere more exotic. Sometimes they'd be showing a movie on the wide white back wall of Pier 21 – we sat on the boardwalk watching Jaws as the water lapped the pilings beneath us. We walked to the corner store every other night or so to buy popsicles then took the long way home, crunching the ice between our teeth, the sticky juices dripping down our hands. I was reading A Suitable Boy, very slowly, a page or three a night. I sat out on the deck and watched the stars come out.

Saturday mornings (not very early) we'd convene at the farmer's market and line up for coffee, first, then bread. I always got a tiny coffee and an enormous pain aux raisins. (Priorities.) The produce arrived too slowly for my Upper Canadian sensibilities – strawberries didn't surface till July, peaches at the end of August. It was an endless sense of waiting for a harvest that never quite lived up to my expectations. (You can take a girl out of the Golden Horseshoe...) 

Even so, we feasted. We were several small households but we ate together often – sometimes several nights in a row, at one house or another. Lobster, once, on a dining room table covered in newspaper, with soft white rolls, tomato slices and potato salad. Indian food, another time. Enormous racks of spare ribs, home-made fried chicken, pizza, arugula salads dripping with olive oil. Corn on the cob. Giant plates of vegetables with big bowls of baba ganoush. Cherry clafoutis. Peach cobbler. We used to carry the kitchen table out onto the deck, angling it through the door, and sit outside long after dark, lit only by candles in tiny blue votives. We ate chocolate cake sprawled in the grass at the park. Ice cream cones from the shack at Point Pleasant, eaten while eavesdropping on the Shakespeare performance du jour.

And oh, we drank. Dark and stormys all around – rum and ginger beer – the recipe a souvenir from a work trip to Bermuda. Cold beer: Sleeman's cream ale and McAuslan's apricot wheat ale, growlers from Propeller. Bottles of wine, some better than others. I always had ice in the fridge and a bottle of rum in the pantry in those days. There was a new Joel Plaskett song on the radio and a blues club waiting for us downtown. (And time to sleep in the next morning.) 

Another time, another world. Tonight, ten years later and half a country away, I went out and spent the evening with friends: pizza in the backyard, then a peewee soccer game (well, "game"), then back on the commuter train and heading home by 9. Around me the twentysomethings were getting ready for a night out – calling their friends, snapping chewing gum, shimmying into club clothes, primping and preening in the windows that had been made mirrors by the night. As we got closer to Union Station, they pulled out their wallets and counted out coins for subway fare. Three loonies, no small change.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

July 10 – Staycation

Spent the day on Toronto Island with my sister, and as far as finding new was a solid decision indeed.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July 9 – Sometimes

Sometimes, when it's hot and the subway is crowded and people on the sidewalk are too slow or too fast and a brown layer of smog hangs heavy on the horizon, this is an absolutely terrible city to live in.

But sometimes the air is fresh and cool, and you walk instead of taking transit, and yesterday's rain cleared the clouds and left a broad cerulean sky, and if you squint your eyes just right you can pretend you're somewhere else altogether.

On days like that, this is a wonderful place to be.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

July 8 – Rainy afternoons and cherry cake

It seems to rain every Tuesday lately – my own suspicions confirmed by the damp and bedraggled vendors at the local farmer's market, who might be forgiven for starting to take it personally. After hours of showers this afternoon, the clouds rolled back and there was an hour or so of brilliant sunshine and cool breezes. I dashed out, hoping to pick up some berries, but the cloudless skies weren't enough to coax the actual farmers back to the park, and there wasn't much produce to be had. I was disappointed: Mexican chocolate and bison sausage and ice cream sandwiches are great, but they don't really work on top of your morning cereal.

In the end, I abandoned the market and wandered down to the corner store that sells fruit and flowers. At this time of year they're doing double-duty in succulents, and the sidewalk display mixes potted hens and chicks with overflowing boxes of raspberries and strawberries and big ripe Morello cherries. I bought big bags of each, sneaking cherries as I walked home through the park, fingers stained red. I wasn't too hungry for dinner.
All week I've had a craving for a bundt cake, and last night I found myself paging through cookbooks and considering a late-night trip to the store for sugar, imagining staying up late to bake a rich, almond-scented pound cake, ready to toast for breakfast. Today, though, I'm thinking about this one, which has pecans and cherries and would probably be delightful served still warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Maybe tomorrow I'll make it to the baking aisle.

Monday, July 7, 2014

July 7

My neighbourhood isn't one of the more vibrant neighbourhoods in the city – centred around the mid-town stretch of Yonge Street, populated by mid-rise office buildings and the chain stores that provide caffeine to the people who work in them, it's certainly no Leslieville or Roncesvalles or Corso D'Italia. But it does boast a few hidden gems – a decent health food store, a wood-fired bagel place, and a Book City. And boy, I love that book store.

Earlier this year, when one Toronto book store after another was closing down until it seemed we might soon not have any at all, I decided that I was finished with ordering books online or from stores that seem more interested in selling tchochkes than novels. So these days I find myself at the Book City once or twice a week, for one thing or another.

It's not a big store, but they've got a great magazine selection and they've been doing a good job of feeding my Shakespeare habit, and I'm confident they'll never deliver my purchase by drone strike. The staff members occasionally sport Doctor Who t-shirts (always a good thing, in my opinion), have definite opinions about the best sushi in the neighbourhood, and are always happy to recommend a picture book or track down an esoteric title – they special-ordered both Mo's Mustache and the new Beowulf translation for me without blinking an eye. (OK, not quite: I should have specified that Mo's Mustache is a kid's book a bit earlier in the conversation. Ahem.)

I like ordering books from them because it means I'm supporting a local business, because I enjoy the chats we have about what I'm buying, and because there's something about the wait – and attendant anticipation – that means I enjoy the book more when it finally arrives. But it was just today, when I was there to order a copy of The Subversive Stitch, that I realized that what I really like about ordering books from my local bookstore is that when they take my order info, they always spell my name right – their default is "Austen, like Jane," not "Austin, like Texas." I love that.

(Now, if only they could get the message across to the kids at Starbucks...)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

July 5 – Making plans

After weeks (well, months) of hemming and hawing and obsessing over seat sales, last night I finally booked a flight to Nova Scotia for my summer vacation. In seven years I've only missed one trip – last summer – and I'm looking forward to making up for lost time. I have a short list of must-visit places and a long list of must-visit people, and I'm looking forward to seeing those dear familiar faces, catching up on two years' worth of news. There are meals to eat and drinks to drink, games to play and babies (kids!) to marvel at, houses to admire. If previous trips are any indication, I will smile till my face hurts on a daily basis.

Going back isn't always easy, though: things have changed in the time I've been gone. Coming around a corner to discover an old beloved building has been knocked down and replaced by condos; driving downtown and getting lost because my mental map of one city has been replaced by another: on my last visit I felt those changes more keenly than I had expected to. When you have a tendency to nostalgia, it can be pretty uncomfortable when the present rubs up against the fondly (and even the not-so-fondly) remembered past. Sometimes every street corner, every highway exit and greasy diner, seems to resonate with memories, whether treasured or better forgotten.

But for all the ups and downs, there aren't many other ways I'd rather spend a week in August. A few heart pangs are a small price for happy hours with friends in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And when it gets to be a bit too much, I'll head for the ocean. After all, there's not much that an hour or two on the beach, listening to the waves, sifting through the sand for stripey pebbles, won't set to rights. I can't wait.

Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4 – This way madness lies

I've been swept up into a crochet-along at work. I tried to hold fast, but let's face it: I'll take any excuse to stock up on Tanis Fiber Arts yarn. The portability of this project is appealing, too – no big pieces to trail in your lap on a warm day.

The motif of choice is the so-called "African Flower" (why not violet? I have no idea) hexagon. There's a free tutorial available online, and some of the finished projects look amazing – in addition to afghans, there are teddy bears, rhinos, elephants, and my favourite, a dragon.

I had every intention of keeping it simple and making a baby blanket with as many squares as I could finish by Labour Day. But then I started wondering just how many combinations I could get out of my palette...

And soon I had Excel open, working it out line by line (because 360 possible combinations is about 358 too many to keep in my head). I also know that when it comes to long-term projects like this, my secret to success is to make it easy to keep track of my progress. Now I have a 6-page to-do list, which makes it both more daunting and less...nope, not less anything, actually.

Will I go for all 360? I haven't quite decided on that part yet – if I do, I'll need to start making 6 of these a day! (That might be a no, then.) Onward!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 3 – Making it up

I made a bit of progress on my Dropcloth* sampler today. The design is printed on the fabric, but the choices about which stitches to use and which colours go where are left entirely up to the stitcher – a fun exercise in not-quite-random crafting. I'm enjoying doing a little bit at a time, usually with a podcast playing in the background. (My current favourite: No Such Thing as a Fish.)

In the interest of making this into a portable craft, I dug out a little tin that I had hanging around. It's the perfect size to fit my floss, hoop, scissors and the tiniest crochet hook I own – just the thing for when my embroiderer's brinksmanship has left me with too short an end to tie a knot. I also like that it will keep everything (relatively) neat and tidy – and keep me from getting a handful of needles when I reach into my bag.

Thus organized, I can now take my embroidery with me just as I would a knitting project – though I doubt I'll work on it on the subway. (A short-lived experiment with TTC-based English paper piecing a few years ago left me ready for first-aid and a stiff drink after just two stops, an experience I'm not eager to repeat.) On the other hand, an hour on a park bench with an iced tea and my embroidery sounds like a pretty good way to spend a summer afternoon.

In non-embroidering embroidery news, I also spent a bit of time poking around for embroidery resources today. These piqued my interest:
  • Addison Embroidery at the Vicarage  – Fascinating insights on embroidery and craft, beautiful stitching, plus biscuit recipes for the after-church crowd and enough behind-the-scenes peeks at English village life to satisfy my inner BBC drama fan.
  • Nancy Nicholson – Modern embroidery designs and insights on running a small business in England. She also has an online shop. There are only 6 months till my birthday, so you should probably just order me one of everything now.
  • The Subversive Stitch seems like a book I need to read. I'll give it pride of place on my bookshelf, right next to my copy of The Subversive Copy Editor.
  • Oh! And the Metropolitan Mueseum of Art has the occasional "Tapestry Tuesday" post on its blog. (This is where we discuss the fact that the Bayeux Tapestry is actually an embroidery, and so on.) Either way – fascinating.
  • *Speaking of Dropcloth, it looks like Rebecca Ringquist is having a sale! Which is brilliant news if you're in the mood to up needle and thread. Details.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 2 – A recipe

It's hot here, and I'd rather not be cooking much for dinner these days. I've been making variations on this salad for a few weeks now. This is more of a suggestion than a recipe, and can be endlessly adapted to accommodate whatever you've got in the vegetable crisper. A handful of spinach leaves or fresh herbs is a good addition, and you easily swap out the chicken in favour of chickpeas or black beans, if you prefer. For a Mexican version, leave out the cucumber, feta and olives, and add corn, black beans and cilantro instead. If you're making this ahead, add the avocado at the last minute.

1/2 package 5-grain blend
1/3 cucumber, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup feta and olive "salad" (from the deli counter)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 avocado
1 to 2 chicken breasts, cooked, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the 5-grain blend according to package directions; drain and let cool.
In large bowl, combine remaining ingredients; add grain blend and toss to mix thoroughly.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 1 – Shakespeare in the Park

The forecast called for rain, so I had every intention of having a Very Lazy Canada Day, but then the morning's thunderstorms cleared up and the sun came out, and it behooved me to get outside. So: a trip to the bookstore, a leisurely walk to the farmer's market, and some time on a park bench, reading and eating strawberries.

I'm on a bit of a Shakespeare kick at the moment – watching "Shakespeare Uncovered" on Netflix, planning a trip to Shakespeare in High Park later in the summer, and wishing I could pop over to visit The Globe for a tour and tea. (Strawberries and a paperback will have to do for now.) Like every dutiful English student, I have a Shakespeare anthology on my bookshelf, but if you ever had to lug one of those bad boys to English class and back, you know they aren't exactly the kind of thing you can pop in your bag or crack open on a crowded subway car. So lately I've been buying these little Penguin editions: they're just $10, they have fantastic introductory essays and comprehensive notes, and they're perfectly purse-sized. It's good to read Shakespeare again – I'm reveling in the way the language fizzes and sparks. I can almost feel my brain being rewired as I read and it is wonderful.

Now it's just getting dark and I can hear fireworks in the distance. Happy Canada Day.