Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gradient Spinning Striped Combed Wool Top

Gradient spinning striped combed wool top. How's that for a boring, technical title? I'm writing this mostly because it's a post I searched for elsewhere while working on this yarn, but couldn't find already online. I'm sure other people have used this technique before, but I couldn't find another explanation. If you aren't a spinner, there are lots of pretty pictures for you to enjoy.

For me, spinning is pure color therapy, and the yarn at the end is the bonus. It's not cheaper and certainly not more practical than buying yarn from the store, but it is so delightful to look at the end result and be able to say, "I made that!"

Back in September we took a fun Labor Day trip down to one of my favorite places, Spring Mill State Park. Spring Mill is a historic pioneer village set around a huge (and still working!) grist mill. They sell cornmeal ground in the mill as souvenirs, and it is hands down the best cornmeal I've ever had.

This particular weekend they were having a small fiber arts festival, and historic reenactors were busy giving weaving and spinning demonstrations. This picture is of the beautiful herb garden, but if you look past the garden and next to the large house you can see a number of antique spinning wheels on display.

Well, I couldn't be around so much spinning without an itch to spin on my own wheel again, so I bought this beautiful Ashland Bay Merino fleece for spinning from the gift shop. The colors (!) and the price ($8!) won me over, although I didn't have any plan for how I would use it in the end.

I mean look at those colors! Purple and white and green and red and yellow, all combed together in beautiful stripes. But the problem, which I knew when I picked it out, is that when you spin fiber that has all the colors combed together like this, with vertical stripes, is that the colors mix when you're spinning the yarn. It's very different than working with handpainted fiber, which is the usual way spinners achieve variations of self-striping and gradient yarn. All the examples I could find of other spinners spinning this same fleece ended up as kind of a muddy purple. When done well, it came off as a nicely heathered mauve yarn. When mixed a little too thoroughly, it just looked brown.

Just like a good pancake batter, I didn't want to over-mix the ingredients. Instead, I took the whole fleece apart. I gently peeled off colors one large stripe at a time, and then laid them out on my kitchen island. In the end I probably separated the top into about 12-15 pencil-thin pieces. Then I sorted them by color, going from red to yellow to green to purple, as you can see in the picture. This step actually only took about 20 minutes, and took care of all the pre-drafting I'd need to do for spinning anyway.

You might ask, as did my husband, "Why would you take all the trouble to separate it by color when the colors were just combed together?" And I will tell you, "Because you still get that nice heathered effect with the other bits of color, but a great overall progression throughout the yarn." I've often seen similar things done with handpainted yarn, taking a fleece with short stripes apart to re-arrange the colors to make an over all gradient. This is just taking a similar idea to a fleece where the colors were combed together to make vertical rather than horizontal stripes.

After arranging the colors, all that's left is to spin it all up fast enough to keep those long strands of fleece out of the hands of curious children. This was the most difficult step, but helped by the fact that I did most of this spinning on a night when my husband was working exceptionally late. We're getting too old for all-nighters, but it is kind of fun to see how much you can accomplish with a little extra time. The bit I didn't spin the first night I finished the next day, so there wasn't much time for little fingers to get into my prepared fleece.

I just barely managed to squeeze all 4 oz of fiber onto one bobbin, and then turned right around and Navajo-plyed the yarn onto another. Do you like my tissue box Lazy Kate? Someday I'll get a real wooden one, but this works in a pinch.

Then I wound the yarn onto my swift, and it was the first time to see the big picture of how the stripes had turned out. Result: success!

Look at those beautiful long stripes twisted up in a yarn skein. After giving it a gentle wash in warm water to finish the yarn, I hung it to dry for a day, and then it was ready to wind into a ball. Back on the swift again, and time to measure the yardage and spin it onto my ball winder.

The same weekend I bought the fleece, my brother gave me this yarn caddy he made for my birthday. Isn't it beautiful? It has a spindle to hold a ball or cone of yarn, and a Lazy Susan with ball bearings inside to allow it to spin freely. I needed it mainly for weaving, to keep the spools of yarn from rolling wildly around on the floor, dragging against the carpet, spinning around chair legs, and collecting dust and hair as I wind hundreds (sometimes thousands) of yards of yarn onto my warping board. But it's also a gorgeous stand for a yarn cake, and I'm looking forward to knitting this pretty yarn off its pretty holder.

And finally, the yarn is all wound up! Look at those stripes! Now to decide what to do with it. I was hoping it would be enough to make the main section of a Baby Surprise Jacket for Eliza, but 230 yards won't be enough on its own. I might need to spend some time with the yarn, letting ideas percolate for a while longer before finding the perfect pattern or coordinating yarn to pair it with.

If you have any ideas of what I should make with the yarn, let me know! I'd love some new ideas. And if you've spun any yarn in a similar way, I'd be very interested to see your pictures too!

Monday, November 09, 2015

Eating Around the World - Russia

Russia. Land of snow, vodka, and depressing literature. At least, that's what I was thinking going into this week's study. After a bit of reading, I remembered there's actually a lot to like about the country and culture. So many fun stories, like The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship (more on that in another post), wonderful music (as I write this, Annie is in bed singing themes from Peter and the Wolf to her sisters), and matryoshkas! Also, the food isn't all meat, potatoes, and cabbage. Granted, a lot of it is. In fact, one of the common Russian dishes I found is Golubtsi, which is the same as the sarmale we had last week. Seeking a lighter meal, I came across this picture and knew exactly what we'd have for our weekly meal: a Russian tea!

My sister was visiting this weekend, which made our Russian tea party that much more fun. She brought our grandma's old teapot, which we used with our samovar (Russian tea urn - literally "self boiler") to serve.

I have an antique coffee urn which is very similar to a Russian samovar, so we had fun drinking tea Russian style. We used this recipe for tea, decaf, and with a fresh orange. We brewed the tea in a concentrated form in the teapot, and then diluted in our teacups with hot water from the samovar. The teapot sits on top of the samovar to stay warm, although we took ours down soon after taking the pictures so the kids wouldn't knock it off and break our grandma's teapot. That would be a tragic end to the story. The tea was delicious, and I'm not a big black tea drinker. It was almost fruity and sweet enough that the girls liked it, but they weren't entirely sold.

I'll tell you what they were sold on, was these tea sandwiches. Jenny probably ate five of them, one right after the next.

This beet salad was the centerpiece of the table: beautiful, and very interesting with the crispy fried potatoes combined with the dramatic color of the beets. It's definitely going to make a repeat appearance at our dinner table, although next time I'm only going to mix together as much as we can eat in one meal. The fried potatoes get completely lost in the salad when you're eating the leftovers.

The real star of the show was the tea in the samovar, and the tea cakes. I made Collin's favorite Russian tea cakes (the kind with powdered sugar and walnuts), and a huge string of sushki. The sushki are kind of a cross between a cracker and a cookie - very slightly sweet, and crunchy like Italian breadsticks (grissini). Both tea cakes are very dry, and not amazing on their own, but the perfect accompaniment for a hot cup of tea.

Learning about Russian tea and samovars was one of my favorite parts of geography this week. I bought our samovar a couple years ago because we needed a way to serve hot water to large groups of people for evening parties. Our tea kettle was running out of water too quickly, and an air pot was kind of boring. We bought this samovar off Ebay to have something more festive, but I didn't learn much about the way Russians use them until this week. This video on brewing tea Russian-style was especially enlightening. Apparently, before electric samovars became common, the water was boiled by a lighting a fire in a pipe inside the samovar. The fire was often fueled with pine cones, and infused the tea with a delicious outdoorsy flavor unique to old-style samovars. Mine is electric, so missing that unique smoky flavor, but it was still fun to drink cup after cup of tea Russian style, and imagine we were fortifying ourselves for the long, cold winter ahead.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Eating Around the World - Romania

After a dip into the Middle East, this week we journeyed back up north to eastern Europe, and specifically Romania. The southern detour was largely due to the abundance of tomatoes coming in at the end of the harvest, but as the weather is now turning colder, heartier northern foods feel more natural. Next week we're continuing on to Russia, and then on through northern Asia.

Our main dish was sarmale - Romanian cabbage rolls stuffed with a meat and rice filling. They actually are very similar to Greek dolmas, but flavored so differently that they become an entirely new dish. I've never made anything like them before, so that part was a fun experience for me. You blanch a whole head of cabbage in a pot of boiling water, peel off the outer softened leaves, place a raw meatball in each, and roll it up, poking in the ends. Then you tuck all those cabbage dumplings in a Dutch oven, add some tomato sauce and dill, cover it with cabbage leaves and sauerkraut, and bake low and slow all afternoon.

On the side we had mamaliga, which is indistinguishable from polenta. Have you noticed how many names this basic cornmeal mush goes by? And how much more sophisticated "mamaliga" or "polenta" sounds, compared to "hasty pudding" or "mush"? Anyway, our mamaliga was made with popcorn that I ground coarsely in our mini blender, which worked very well. I flavored it with a single piece of bacon, as I saw in some other recipes, and topped it with very thick strained yogurt, since we didn't have any sour cream.

For dessert was cozonac - Romanian sweet bread with chocolate. Usually it has walnuts too, but I didn't have any and our grocery budget was empty at the end of the month. So I found this recipe that just uses cocoa and sugar, a lot like a cinnamon swirl bread. It was good, and very beautiful, but I do hope to try it again someday with the walnuts.

If you use the linked recipe, you might have trouble following it between it being written in Romanian and with metric measurements. Here are the conversions I used to make a single large loaf:

1 1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
2.5 t. yeast
1/2 t. salt
2 T. butter
3 1/2 - 4 c. flour
3 T. each sugar and cocoa for the swirl

Inside it is completely threaded with chocolate! Next time I make it I'll use more chocolate and sugar - maybe even twice as much. And I'd love to try it with walnuts sometime as well.

In the end, Eastern European food still isn't my favorite, but it was still very fun to try something completely new. I'm not sure I'll be making this dinner again anytime soon (though Collin votes for a repeat appearance), but I'm glad we were able to try it and have a little taste of Romania.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Eating Around the World - Saudi Arabia

A few weeks ago my sister, who works as a nurse in a large children's hospital, sent me a text. She was caring for a Saudi Arabian family, and they shared a chicken and rice dish with her which she loved. But when she asked for the recipe (and she noted their English was good), they said: "Recipe? What does this word mean?"

Well, sister, I think I finally have the recipe for you here! Kabsa (or kapsa) is the national dish of Saudi Arabia, and this recipe feels pretty authentic since it's written first in Arabic and then translated for English readers. And it is yellow, yummy, and flavorful just like you described!

Although the recipe said it served 2-3 people, my pan made enough food for two meals for our family. And I'm totally fine with that, because it's delicious! I doubled the spices in the kabsa spice mix, and upped the rice to 2 cups. Instead of pulling the chicken out onto a separate pan to broil, I baked the rice and chicken together in the oven for 45 minutes. Next time I'll probably make it with boneless chicken thighs for convenience, because my whole chicken chopping skills leave a bit to be desired.

We can't seem to get away from the ubiquitous cucumber salad! The traditional accompaniments to kebsa, according to this blog post, are fresh yogurt, a spicy tomato sauce called daqous, and cucumber tomato salad. And even though we're ready for a new side dish, it was the perfect complement.

In traditional Saudi style we ate dinner on a cloth on the floor. We joked that we should really go traditional and serve Daddy first before any of us women got to eat, but how fun would that be? This meal was fun, especially after a week of reading stories from One Thousand and One Nights, and having Aladdin's Arabian Nights firmly stuck in my head.

When the wind's from the east 
And the sun's from the west
And the sand in the glass is right
Come on down stop on by
Hop a carpet and fly
To another Arabian night!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Eating Around the World - Israel

After over-extending myself last week on our Turkish dinner, I spent a bit of time re-evaluating my approach to our geographical dinners. I want to have a tangible way for all of us to understand a bit of the culture of peoples from all around the world. Last week there was a story on NPR that paralleled our geographical culinary project, about how in Budapest a group of chefs are using food as a way to help Hungarians understand and reach out to the refugees in their midst. Many of my goals with the girls are similar, except that instead of merely trying to "heal prejudice," I want these meals to be an opportunity to for our daughters to learn to love people around the world, and to pray for them to come to know the love of Christ. And also as a time to make learning fun! The girls really do enjoy these meals. Almost the first thing they ask me each Monday is what country we'll be learning about, and what we get to eat.

With all that in mind, and trying to simplify things a bit, this week as part of our study of Israel we had falafel sandwiches. That's all. It still took a bit of time and more planning ahead than I give to regular weeknight meals, but it turned out well, and it was fun. We followed this falafel recipe/tutorial almost exactly, except I used a bit more chickpeas and a bit less fresh herbs.

So much of Israeli food involves fresh produce. And look at those colors! These are the vegetables for the fresh relish. Just dice a cucumber, a red onion, and a handful of grape tomatoes...

...Mix them together, and you're good to go. This component is finished!

The sauce is made from tahini, a freshly squeezed lemon, yogurt, salt, and water. Also super easy.

The pitas were from the same recipe we used with the Greek gyros. And the falafel were a lot simpler than I imagined. Just throw thoroughly soaked (not cooked) chickpeas in the food processor with lots of fresh parsley, cilantro, and an onion, stir in some spices, let it rest for a bit, and it's ready to fry. Even the frying went better than I expected. I'm a terrible fryer, and I usually fill the kitchen up with smoke and cover the stove with grease splatters. Today neither of those happened. I still don't know why not, but I am thankful!

I was hoping we'd have time to make some Hamantaschen for dessert, but between one thing and another (involving several changes of clothes for baby and me) we ran out of time. I'm still hoping we might be able to make some this weekend. Incidentally, we watched this video of an Israeli baker making Hamantaschen, and it's the best thing I've seen all week. Watch it! But since there weren't any cookies for us tonight, we had oranges and dates for dessert instead. No one was complaining.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Eating Around the World - Turkey

Just over eight years ago, I had my last first date and my first traditional dinner date, and it all happened at a Turkish restaurant. This many years later, I can't even remember what we ate, except that there was red sauce on my dish, because I dropped some of it on my skirt and was self-conscious about it the whole rest of the evening. 

Over the next few years, we had many dinners at a Turkish restaurant, although a slightly cheaper one that specialized in pide. For about $7 a person you got a salad plate with three salads, a cup of lentil soup, and a pide or bread boat which is basically a Turkish pizza. And that whole time you got to sit cross-legged at a low table, propped up by pillows, enjoying conversation during the leisurely meal. One of the places I miss most from my hometown.

I was missing the Turquaz Cafe a little too much when I planned our menu this week, and I forgot one crucial fact. Most of the time we went to the Turquaz Cafe it was because we were having a hard week, and I needed a night off cooking and a place to relax over a fun meal. I mean, the food was excellent, but the atmosphere and time together was really the reason we went.

This meal, on the other hand, took several hours to cook, and a couple more to clean up. And, to be perfectly honest, I ended up finishing the dishes in tears at midnight. The food itself was delicious, probably even better than the restaurant version. And the family dinner was really fun, eating the food around the coffee table on the living room floor. But I'd never recommend this full menu to someone with multiple little children and a teething, fussy baby. My advice to my smarter, future self? Stick to the soup OR the pides for an entree. You're welcome.

And lest you think that a simple lentil soup isn't enough to be an entree, just give it a try. After the first bite of this one, Collin said, "This is so good. Why don't you make it more often?" My modifications to this recipe were to substitute cracked barley (whirled in the blender) for the bulgur wheat, and to add 1 T. smoked paprika to the onion/spice blend.

Shepherd's salad: chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and banana peppers, with a very simple dressing. This salad was served with almost every dinner on the trip I took to Turkey in college. I think it's kind of the Turkish equivalent of an American lettuce side salad. Not remarkable, but tasty and a good foil to the spices in the other dishes.

Pide! For these I used a combination of this recipe for the crust, and this video tutorial for the meat filling. On one of the pide I cracked eggs into the boat and baked them that way. I don't often like whole eggs (scrambled eggs rock!), but this was surprisingly good. Next time I make pide we're going to make more with the eggs.

Along with the rest of the dinner, we made ayran to drink. Ayran is basically just plain yogurt blended up with ice and water and a pinch of salt. It's a perfect accompaniment for Turkish food, especially if the food is spicy. I topped one of the pide with a hot pepper, and the ayran came in very handy!

And for dessert! This is marble halva, which is sort of like dairy-free sesame seed fudge. I made it with homemade tahini, which sounds more complicated than it is. I think it took less than half an hour to make the halva, including blending the tahini. I made a half recipe of the halva, with 1/2 c. of toasted sesame seeds and 2 T. olive oil. I ended up with three muffin-size cakes of halva, which was more than enough. Even though by the time I made the halva I knew our menu was too complicated, I would've cut the soup and salad before dessert. It's the best part of the meal for little girls, and this unusual treat was no exception.

Afiyet olsun! (Bon appetite!)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Embroidered World Map, Part 3

Lots of pictures coming with this week's update! First, a peek at the preliminary design work. Before I sew any coins on, I always sketch the design, and sometimes multiple ideas for each country so I can pick my favorite. This kind of sketching is most fun when the girls and I do it together. Here are Annie's and my sketchbooks, and Laurel's drawing paper. On my page I was trying a number of pictures for China and Spain, and Annie was copying some pictures already on the map. Laurel drew a Chinese house with a rainbow bursting from the roof.

Annie's Mexican sombrero and serape next to the one stitched on the map. I love it!

And here I am, listening to Craftlit and working on the map while my tired baby fights against sleep. I always listen to audiobooks or podcasts while I work at night, whether it's handwork or just dishes, and Craftlit is both. Each podcast episode contains chat about various crafty projects, and then a few chapters of a book with helpful notes from the former English teacher who hosts the show. 

I often find that certain projects become associated in my mind with the book I was listening to while working on it. Just looking at the project will bring back scenes and memories from the story. The baby wrap I wove while pregnant with Eliza is forever associated with The Moonstone, and at least the first part of this map is now linked in my mind with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. For what it's worth, I like The Moonstone a lot more, but I'm glad I listened to both.

So, here are the five new coins added to the map this week! First up is China, which came from my friend Anna along with a fun letter about her trip to China a few years ago. The girls and I enjoyed reading it and looking through Anna's vacation pictures on Facebook to get ideas for our map. 

We settled on stitching a part of the imperial palace known as The Forbidden City in Beijing. I hope someday we get to visit it in person!

In geography we're finishing our study of Europe, so with that and with Europe filling up, I decided to focus on finishing that continent for now. For Greece we kept things simple, by surrounding the coin with a laurel victor wreath. I thought about a meander design, but went with this one for my own sweet Laurel.

Could Spain be anything other than a charging bull? Well, actually it was close between the bull and a flamenco guitar, but the bull won that contest. I tried giving him a rose between his horns, reminiscent of Ferdinand, but it looked strange so I took it out. I still feel like he needs more color, but the silhouette is effective too.

Sometimes when I'm designing I have something in mind, but I almost always do a few image searches first. For Portugal I was initially thinking of a sailing ship, but when I searched "Portugal national symbol" I discovered the Rooster of Barcelos. I was enchanted! Even though it's a little big for a small country, I had to include it.

And finally, leaving Europe for a bit, our own United States! I picked the 1976 bicentennial drummer boy quarter for the map. The quarter makes the head of the Statue of Liberty, surrounded by celebratory fireworks. Something I (re)learned when stitching the Statue of Liberty is that the seven points of her crown stand for the seven continents of the earth. How appropriate for a map displaying coins American travelers brought back from all over the world!

Zooming out, you can see how the map is filling up! In fact, in some areas I'm having to make hard choices about which countries to include and which are going to get left out. Central America and the Caribbean are very tight, as is western Europe. Currently we have coins from 37 countries, but six of those might not make the map. Those I'm saving for the end, because I'm thinking about sewing those around the corners with some of the designs I loved but couldn't fit on the map. So, we'll have to see.

The next update will include a list of the countries we have, and a (much shorter!) list of the countries I'm still trying to find. Thanks to all of you who have joined in this project, and to everyone else following along the journey. I'm so excited to see our black & white map filling up with color and texture!