Sunday, July 25, 2010

Knit Again; Second One = Better One

Having completed a second pillow cover has convinced me that my ability to combine colors and patterns can improve with practice.

Although there's more striping and fewer two-color rows on this one, and although I did use a **cough** novelty **cough** yarn, the end result is pretty good. Other than mirroring the outside patterns, so that the swirls slant in opposite directions, there's not much I'd change on this one if I did it over. I really like the way the outer patterned strips seem to float above the blurred background of the novelty yarn. The blue border makes them pop out. I'm not as crazy about the middle strip. I like the pattern and the way it works with the other chart, just not the way it starts and ends. A green border might have helped, since it would have anchored those partial swirls at the beginning and the end of the chart.

I followed a pattern for the first pillow, using an all-over fair-isle chart. The only change I made was to shorten it a few rows to make it a square (Since it was for a purse, following it exactly would have made a rectangle.) I used different colors, though. That made a huge difference. I don't like the first pillow nearly as much as I like the photo of the purse. The color changes in the pillow are too abrupt.

On the other hand, sometimes abrupt, jarring color changes are just the ticket. At least, they are if you want attention-grabbing socks.

After finishing a version of my Burning Stripes socks pattern in Mini Mochi, I can say that I'm done with striped socks. At least for a while. Although I did start out to prove that the Mini Mochi yarn makes an acceptable substitute for the Zauberball, I couldn't help "improving" the second sock. I think my irrepressible urge to change things is the main reason I don't knit socks two at a time. I don't care whether they match or not, I just want the second one to be better.

I brood over whatever I see wrong with the first one. However, rather than reknit it, I just make sure I don't repeat the flaw in the second one. In this case, I wasn't happy with the turned picot hem. When I started the first sock, I thought I had size 1 1/2 needles. Since I planned to knit the leg of the sock with size 2s, I used needles that were a little smaller for the hem facing (the part before the eyelet row) to make it lay flat after turning. Instead, after knitting the hem facing, I realized I had used size 1s. Oops, too small! My gauge was too tight, making the facing was too tight and too short. When I turned the hem, the outer, larger part bulged out.

I was careful to use the 1 1/2s when starting the second sock. That hem is perfect. It's the one where you can actually see the picot points on the top of the sock, on the left side in the photo above.

The other thing I didn't like about the first sock was the color combination. The two colorways (101 and 108) both changed to less contrasting colors at the heel, the boomerang rows less obvious. Altering the colors in the second sock provided a little more contrast between the stripes at the expense of making it look very different from the first sock.

Another difference between these socks and the pattern is that I knit all four rounds of the stripe at the heel as boomerang rounds, rather than knitting one before and one after the heel. I've been wanting to try this variation. Now that I have, I think I prefer the original pattern instructions. I also knit a smaller heel, on 34 stitches rather than 38. I don't like that mod, either. A larger heel would fit me better. Since these socks are for someone else, the smaller heel may work.

As far as the yarn, the Mini Mochi is fuzzier and softer than most sock yarns I have used. It makes a very warm and comfy pair of socks.

I've got another couple of pairs of socks in progress. For these, I'm going to knit one sock and put it away for a while, in the hope that a break will give me the patience to knit a matching pair. This is quite a gamble. Not only will I have to resist the temptation to improve the second sock, I'll have to remember how I knit the first one. Thank goodness I have my blog and my Ravelry project page to help my poor memory.

While I'm feeling grateful, I must also say thank you to all who commented on my finished sweater. I no longer respond to comments individually, but I do enjoy getting them. Thanks for commenting, thanks for reading!

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

My new, handknit, Cabled Cardigan

In honor of my actually finishing the sweater I've been knitting for over three months, I took these crazy photos.

Absolutely, wearing a wool sweater in mid-July is crazy, even at 7,300 feet. In spite of the warm weather, though, I've been having a lot of fun wearing this sweater, as long as I can take it off after the picture-taking sessions end.

The sweater has come with me to a couple of different knitting groups and to the yarn shop where I bought most of the yarn and the buttons. I'm enjoying showing it off after all the work I put into it.

The knitting was a bit extreme, at least for me with my limited experience in complex cabling. The cable patterns are fairly simple. I eventually memorized all but one of them. The difficult part was that the repeats for each were different. I had to keep three stitch counters going to keep my place. The only one that I couldn't memorize was the one I like the best, the stockinette cables on the side.
I love the pockets, too. My hands were in them in almost every shot. Even though I shortened them a bit, and even though they are a little narrower than they should be, they are still a good fit. That's a relief, since the pockets are what attracted me to this pattern in the first place.

I came across it while leafing through an old issue of Vogue Knitting. (Winter 05/06) Even though it was March in Colorado, it was still so cold that the idea of knitting this sweater was very appealing. I didn't have the right weight yarn. I didn't have enough of the yarn I wanted to use. Ignoring the obvious, I began to knit.

The knitting took even longer than I thought it would. Knitting according to pattern would make it a 36" long sweater. Since 36" would have made it more of a sweater coat on me, I shortened it to 28". That should have made it a shorter project, but I had to cast on a good deal more stitches to compensate for a smaller gauge. Then, thanks to a fellow Raveler who started this pattern at about the same time I did, I learned that the cables in the back should be mirrored. I had knit several inches of the back before this revelation reached me. I postponed the painful ripping out and reknitting until the last, then put the entire project on hold for three weeks while we went to Eureka Springs in May. By then, it was getting too big for a travel project.

I finished the sweater in June and took about a week to sew it all together.

The pattern, called simply #09 Cabled Cardigan, is by Norah Gaughan, showing her versatility. The sweaters she's designed in the past few years are marvels of ingenius shapes. There's not much shaping in this design, just beautiful cabling. The yarn is Arucania Nature Wool. It's a kettle-dyed slightly rustic wool, without dyelots or any way of matching skeins. I sorted my hanks a bit, trying to avoid obvious lines when I changed them, but I didn't try to match the pieces. The sleeves match neither the back nor the fronts; they don't even match each other. I used the most darkly mottled hanks in the back, where the color changes would be a little less noticeable.

The only modifications I made were to compensate for a vastly different gauge. There's enough stitches in this sweater for the 58" size, but it is only 42" wide.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Close to home

But not quite home. I've gotten to go a few new places this summer. One trip allowed me to hit the usual Denver hot (maybe too hot) spots.

There was the 16th street pedestrian mall--lots of stores, full of bargains. I found a bag in Gap that I thought would be great for knitting projects, but I forgot to buy it. When we went back the next day, it was on sale, 40% off! Good thing, because I've since filled it with three or four of the several projects I have on the go right now.

A walk through the state and city buildings in downtown Denver produced both scenic urban photos and a strong desire to buy shorts and t-shirts. It's summer in Colorado, even in the mountains. Our walk was hot, but worthwhile.

The real purpose of our walk was to tour the Denver Art Museum. Talk about mountain views, it's full of western paintings, among other treasures.

Getting even closer to home provided views nearly as scenic as those in the museum. This one is only a few miles from my house. It's a little cooler here than it is in Denver, but only if one stays in the shade. I've spent some of my shady time knitting small, homey projects. I finished the pillow cover I knit to practice my fair isle techniques.

I should be ready to start that fair isle sweater now. Instead, I've started another pillow.

I looked at the yarn I had left from the first pillow and couldn't stop myself. I hope this one uses up most of the leftovers. Otherwise, there might be a third pillow soon. They're quick, easy and small, the perfect summer knitting. I'm so glad I finally finished my long-term sweater project and can bounce around from one little project to another. With a little perserverance, I might have a few more finished projects by the end of the month.

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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cooking Salmon with Julia

In answer to a recent comment from one of my houseguests about "smelly" fish, this is a photo tutorial on cooking fish. Rather than e-mail a lot of photos, I've put it here for them and whoever else might want to know how to cook fish with little or no residual odor.

I saw fish cooked this way on an old Julia Child cooking show. Actually, in the show, Julia was poaching a fish. There was a french chef on the show who cooked a fish in a skillet on the stove. Since I've seen that show, I've followed his method dozens of times, with great success. Here's how I recently prepared a piece of salmon:

I use a large non-stick skillet with a lid. Size is not important, as long as the piece of fish fits into it. A glass lid is nice, but not essential. Non-stick is nice, but not essential. All that is required is a skillet with a lid.

I buy almost all my fish frozen because I think it is probably fresher than the "fresh" fish in the supermarket, which has likely been thawed by the market. The thawed fish is convenient, but I suspect that some of it might sit at the seafood counter longer than I'd like. If a fish isn't fresh, it does smell, so please be sure it is very fresh or is frozen. Frozen means it hasn't been kept too long by the store. I find it both reassuring and convenient to buy it frozen, since it doesn't take long for fish to thaw.

The package shown above represents a brand sold at our local grocery. There's a lot of different types of fish sold in this packaging. Some of them are seasoned. Those are fine--I just avoid them because I am on a low-salt diet.

To prepare the fish, I cut it out of the wrapper after it is thawed and wash it, removing any scales that might be left on the skin. Salmon is sold with the skin still on it. For this method of cooking, the skin does not have to be removed. I always put the wrapper in a small grocery bag rather than my kitchen trash can. (I'll explain why at the end of this post.)

After a little wash in cool water, I dry it with a paper towel and season it with lemon pepper. Parsley and a few red pepper flakes are nice, but optional, addition.

Meanwhile, I've put the skillet on low to medium heat and put a bit of butter and olive oil in it, about a half tablespoon of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. (I haven't measured, so I'm not sure, but I don't think the quantity matters much.)

Then I put the salmon in the skillet, skin side down, and let it cook for a few minutes. After about 5 or 10 minutes, it will look cooked, the flesh will be a lighter color and there may be drippings oozing out of it. At this point, I lift the lid and poke it with a fork. If it flakes easily and is fairly dry, I consider it done. If it is still a little soft and juicy, I leave it for a few more minutes. I like my fish well-done, but that's a matter of taste.

When it is done enough, I move the fish to a serving plate with a spatula. Then I deglaze the pan by adding a little lemon juice and stirring. The pan will be very hot and should deglaze quickly. At the altitude at which I live, the lemon juice nearly evaporates. I often have to add a little water to compensate. Altogether, though, I'm just adding a tablespoon or so of liquid.

Then I pour the liquid from the pan over the fish. No doubt this adds a good bit of fat, but that's what the french chef did. I suppose this is one serving, but K and I share this, happily pulling sections of the fish away from the skin (it separates easily) and placing it on our plates, along with our side dishes.

The side dishes at this meal were fried rice and a curry stir fry, with lots of vegetables, tofu, and spices to make them both healthy and delicious.

After dinner, be sure to put the skin and any uneaten fish parts in the small grocery bag with the fish wrapper. Then put the bag in the outside garbage bin to get it out of the kitchen. Rinse the dishes so that they are not a source of odor. That, along with keeping a lid on the pan during cooking, keeps the fish smell out of my kitchen.

I encourage you to try this cooking method with any firm type of fish. I've used it with trout and cod with good results. Tilapia, I find, is too soft for this and falls apart. Tuna does well, but I prefer it on the grill.

I hope this post encourages my "smelly fish" hating houseguests to try cooking fish again. Look for more sightseeing and knitting next.
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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Aspen and Maroon Bells

As I said in my last post, we wanted to go to Aspen before the 19th.

Despite all the snow at the pass, Aspen was lovely as usual. There were several people cavorting around the ski area on gliding parachutes, adding to the festivity I feel whenever I feel when I visit Aspen. It's a fairly large town, with lots of tourists making it busy. Although we ate downtown, we didn't spend much time in town this trip. We were determined to visit Maroon Bells before the parking was limited to buses on June 19th. In the busy summer months, you have to catch a bus to ride into the area. (Although the bus is free from downtown Aspen, K has an aversion to public transit--mostly to the waiting in lines that is part of riding airplanes, buses, etc.)

Once we parked just below the Bells, there was only one form of transit--feet! I highly recommend this wilderness area. It's beautiful, easily accessible, and peaceful. We walked farther than we have in a long while, enjoying the views and the nice trails. The red, or maroon, color that gives these mountains their name is actually more apparent on the nearby peaks.

Since this trip, I've been fiddling with the colors in a ball of Toasty Toes sock yarn, trying to figure out what suits it. I started with a cabled sock, cuff down, but found all the cables make it too tight. It won't even go over my heel. To make it worse, it is pooling. I then thought I'd try a toe-up sock, since I'd be able to adjust the fit as I knit and find a stitch count that overcomes its tendency to pool. I knit the toe twice, in Reynolds Sea Wool, but it is still too big.

Since I'm having success with the Mini Mochi version of my sock pattern, I've settled my favors on it and ripped out the Toasty Toes.

One last, iconic, shot of the Bells. One of my neighbors inspired this visit. She raved about the area when she took her family there. She was amused by her daughter, who asked upon first seeing this view, "Mom, is this real, or did they build it to look like this?" She's right, it seems too good to be true.

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