Happy Birthday, Little Brother

My (rather late) package to my little brother arrived in the mail at his house today, so I can finally write about what I made him. My brother is a technophile, but sadly I can’t afford to buy him the latest and greatest gadgets on the market. Instead, I hope he will be happy with socks.

I knit these socks out of, um, well, I lost the ball band so I don’t remember the name of the yarn. They are a lovely hand-dyed merino sock yarn, though! They’re stretchy, comfy, and warm for this incoming winter. The pattern is a toe-up one that I devised years ago that is particularly great for using up absolutely all of a ball of yarn. First, you divide the yarn in half; then, with each ball, knit the foot, and then knit upwards from the ankle until you run out of yarn. I love it, and I keep meaning to write it down for others in a way that is actually readable. Right now, the pattern lives in my head and on the back of a slowly-deteriorating envelope. I know it’s best to get patterns and recipes out there where others can use them, so I’d better write it down soon!

This hilarious F-bomb was most definitely not a pattern of my own devising, though. This pattern was recommended to me by a friend; it’s The F Bomb by Jenifer Spock-Rank, and it’s available for free on Ravelry. I knit it out of leftover scraps of black, red, and cream Dalegarn Baby Ull. I doubled up the yarn and used a 3.0mm needle so it wouldn’t be ridiculously tiny. Those little threads you can see in the picture are actually fibrefill stuffing — that stuff sheds almost as badly as faux fur!

Teapot Herbs

A couple of months ago I was in the middle of selling a lovely Sadler “Brown Betty” teapot to a customer. I had already made the sale, had cash in hand, and was just wrapping it up in paper for safe transit. We were chatting while I packaged, and she said, “Oh, I have a teapot just like this at home, but I dropped the lid and smashed it. I just had to get a replacement.” To which I replied, “Oh yes, it’s always the lids that go first.”

And then I dropped the lid.

Of course, it fell straight down onto the concrete floor and smashed into tiny little pieces. The customer and I stared at each other mutely for a moment, and then I asked her, “So… Do you want the brown and green one instead?”

So I returned home that day with a pretty little teapot with lots of life left in it, but that is unsalable because of a lack of lid. “What am I going to do with this?” I thought. But then it occurred to me that Mother’s Day was coming up, and that my mother loves tea, so maybe I could make her something? I ended up using the teapot as a little herb planter. I planted basil inside, two different varieties.

Mom liked the gift so much that I’ve started hunting down lidless teapots to use as planters for different herbs. So far I’ve found her a metal one that obviously used to be used on an open fire, and one of those vibrantly-painted ones that’s a tea-for-one set with a pot on the top and a matching cup on the bottom. I think that after a while we’ll have a full-fledged herb garden, possibly even branching out to flowers or seasonal arrangements after a while. It really pleases me that we now have a use for these otherwise-unusable items — and now the hunt is on for more teapots to rescue. This should be fun!

Birthday Gifts

I haven’t been blogging for the last week because my illness finally caught up with me. It took me over two weeks to get over the con plague cold — which nobody else caught, which tells me that I really let my immune system get depressed through a combination of working too hard, eating crappy food, and not getting enough sleep. After a week of feeling like crap, I just had no reserves left.

Time marches forward, though, so while I was sick I celebrated a quiet birthday. Two of my friends had already bought me a rotary cutter as an early gift, but I got the gifts from my family over the weekend. My husband contributed to the “I need a new bike” fund (I got my old one more than fifteen years ago, and it has seen some heavy use). Thing 1 got me a hanging basket of flowers, pictured above.

Thing 2 got me a couple pots of annuals for my garden.

The two of them together got me Turtles Minis chocolates and some fun brightly-coloured yarn.

My parents contributed to the new bike fund, as well as buying me a new belt sander (I’d worn my old one out), a fish clamp small enough to fit in my tackle box, a guide to the essential foods of Italy, a gas mask (since I always seem to need more of them for costuming purposes), and the above-pictured camera-print pillows, which now reside in my living room. All in all, a fun birthday haul.

I plan to get back into the swing of blogging, now that I’m feeling somewhat better. Over the next week or so I hope to fill in the blanks where I wasn’t able to write, adding some backdated posts as time permits. Hopefully my energy levels will soon return to normal and I’ll be able to continue to write on my regular schedule.

Mystery Plants

Victoria Day long weekend (more commonly known as May Two-Four) is this coming weekend, which is usually the time when most people in this neck of the woods start plating their garden for summer. Mine isn’t quite ready to be planted yet. The one along the fence line needs cleaning out, added soil, and sheep manure fertilizer; the one near the house may be partially dug up so as to do some work on the foundation. Even if that wasn’t the case, I’ll be at Russell Flea all day Saturday and I’m hoping to hit the Rockland Community Garage Sale on Monday. (Yes, Monday — apparently they hold it on the holiday Monday every year.) So I wouldn’t have much time to garden this weekend in any case. I’ll try to get as much possible done next week instead.

Since I wasn’t sure how much of my garden I was going to be able to plant this year, I didn’t bother starting plants indoors for a change. Once I know how many I’ll need, I’ll just buy seedlings from a local nursery. However, I do have a few items sunning themselves on my window shelves. One of the gifts that I got from Thing 2 for Mother’s Day this year was a cute little bee plant pot made from a recycled aluminum can. When I received it, it was filled with soil and, I was assured, a few seeds.

And the seeds have sprouted! I am probably way too excited about this, but plant gifts from children often aren’t in the best shape by the time they arrive home, so their survival was not assured. I have no idea what kind of plant this will end up being, so I don’t know how much to water it or if it’s a sun or shade plant, so… Fingers crossed?

(And yes, I know that my photo is kind of hazy, like a femme fatale in an old film noir movie. I’m not sure if the lens/mirrors need cleaning or if there is something wrong with my camera/lens since I kind of dropped it on Saturday at the con. I have to give it a good once-over; I’m really hoping it’s just dirty!)

Na na na na na na na na Bat Pie!

Tonight I’m off to another friend’s birthday celebration, and I think it’s safe for me to write about his gift since so far as I can tell he doesn’t read my blog. At least, he seemed genuinely surprised when I asked him if he’d like a pie for his birthday and, if so, what kind is his favourite. He did say that fruit pies, especially strawberry-raspberry-blueberry or strawberry-rhubarb were his top-ranked. However, rhubarb is almost impossible to get this time of year (although knowing this now, I’ll freeze some in advance next year when it comes in season). And red fruits just didn’t seem dark enough for what I had in mind.

You see, my friend is a huge Batman fan, and I wanted to make him something appropriate to his fandom. After all, as LEGO Batman says, Batman “only works in black, and sometimes very, very dark grey” — although I’d go so far as to say that Adam West’s cowl was a deep purple or blue, depending on the lighting. Since I didn’t want to add food colouring to the filling, so I went with blackberry-blueberry. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001). As my father and his mother before him taught me, I made the crust using lard instead of vegetable shortening, which I’ve always been told makes the crust flakier. The filling was 3 1/2 cups of blackberries, 2 1/2 cups of blueberries, 1 cup of sugar, 3 Tbsp corn starch, and 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice.

At first I thought I might make the top crust with a large cutout so that it looked like the Bat Signal, but a friend had linked to a recipe for Rustic Cast Iron Skillet Peach Pie on social media, and I really liked how they’d made their top crust. I thought that cookie-cutter cutouts would look a bit like a cloud of bats against a night sky, which is an image used repeatedly in Batman media. Of course, the fruit filling isn’t totally flat and the bats warped a bit during baking, so they look their most bat-like from directly above. It’s a really simple technique and can be achieved using any shape of cookie cutter, although I have a feeling that the simpler the shape, the more recognizable it will be when cooked. I do have a feeling that I’ll be using this technique in the future to customize my pies. If you don’t like making crust from scratch, I see no reason why it wouldn’t work equally well with store-bought dough.

A Piece of Pie

Recently, my husband and I were playing Borderlands 2 online with another couple who are good friends of ours. At one point I had to take a brief AFK break to take a pie out of the oven, causing our friends to jokingly lament that they didn’t have pie too. At that time, their birthdays were swiftly approaching, so I promised them that I’d make them pies for their birthday. Well, their joint birthday celebration (their birthdays are only a couple of days apart) was this past Friday, so on Thursday night I had to make their pies.

I decided to make two totally different kinds of pies, and I started with a lemon meringue. I used the crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking. I’ll confess right now that I had never made lemon meringue pie before, even though I quite like it. I’d only tried a meringue once before and that failed spectacularly. I don’t know what I did, but no matter how hard I whipped it, the meringue never formed peaks at all, it just stayed runny. I was really worried that it wouldn’t turn out right.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

In the end, I’m quite proud of my first lemon meringue pie, even though I singed the topping a bit. I have got to remember that my oven heats unevenly and that I need to check on my baked goods more often. I mean, I set a timer for the minimum time recommended and then checked it with five minutes to go, and it was still a rather dark brown (I was aiming for a toasted gold). If I’d left it in five minutes longer, it would have been burnt. Luckily, the colour was only on the surface, and my friends said it tasted just fine. They served it up to their gaming group when playing D&D on Sunday night, and everyone liked it, even one person who generally doesn’t like lemon meringue. I’m wondering if that’s because I used fresh lemons and lemon zest when I made the filling from scratch, instead of using canned filling.

For the second pie I went with a fruit-filled pie, which something I’ve done successfully a million times before, just in case. I mean, given the disaster with the bitter pumpkin pie at Christmas, experience doesn’t always mean mistake-free. But I’m fairly confident that it will taste fine (especially since you can honestly completely omit sugar in most fruit pies and it’ll still be palatable). For kicks, I rolled the top crust using a laser-engraved rolling pin that I received as a gift a while back. It features the hazard symbols for poison, ionizing radiation, high voltage, and biological hazards. Something tickles me about using this on food.

What with a fruit pie crust never baking flat, it’s hard to see the design, but it is there. I also vented the crust using a 8-Piece Pie Divider for the first time, which was a gift from another friend. It is honestly the weirdest-looking gadget in my kitchen, but it works quite well. The recipe for apple-strawberry pie that I used can actually be found on the back of its packaging box — although I did use the same Purity Pastry crust for both pies, since it’s just easier to whip up one big batch instead of multiple small ones. I used leftovers of that crust, along with some extra fruit from the fridge, to make the fruit tarts that night as well.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that this baking-as-a-birthday-gift idea becomes a regular thing. As my friends and I get older, I find it harder to shop for presents, since I know the things that they really want is way out of my budget, and we all have more clutter than we really need. But food is a necessity of life. And just maybe on our birthdays we deserve to be able to elevate a basic need to something a little more special.

Smelly Socks Pattern

Way back when Thing 1 was only three years old and not reading by herself yet, her favourite book for quite some time was Smelly Socks by Robert Munsch (2004). I must have read that book to her a thousand times. I was raised on Munsch classics like The Paper Bag Princess Love You Forever, so I didn’t really mind.

Smelly Socks tells the tale of a girl named Tina who begs her grandfather to take her across the river to a big sock store to buy some fancy socks. She finds herself the perfect pair of red, yellow and green socks, and she cries, “Socks! Socks! Wonderful socks! I am NEVER going to take them off!” Of course, the longer Tina wears the socks, the smellier they get, until her friends get fed up and drag
her down to the river to give those socks a good washing.

Thing 1 wanted Smelly Socks of her very own, so I just had to knit her some. (You can see the titular socks on the cover of the the book.) Over the years, those socks were worn by both of the girls, and they still never wore out! Since they’re much too small for either kiddo any more, they’re currently stored in a box of keepsakes. I thought I would share my old pattern for the socks so that other people can make keepsakes of their own.

Smelly Socks
Preschooler size; approximately children’s size 8 CDN/US

Materials:
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Yellow 2004 OR Goldenrod 2315
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Cardinal 4418
– one ball Mandarin Petit in Green 8017
– one set of 3.25mm (US 3, UK 10) circular knitting needles in a length comfortable for the magic loop method (I prefer 120cm/47″ or longer)

Each ball of Mandarin Petit is by Sandnes Garn of Norway is 100 % Egyptian 4ply cotton, weighs 50g (1.764oz), measures 180m (196.85’), and is machine-washable (air dry flat). A different yarn of the same gauge may be substituted to yield the same results.

Gauge:
– 16 stitches and 20 rows in stockinette stitch = 5cm x 5cm (2″ x 2″) square on 3.25mm (US 3, UK 10) needles

Instructions:

Cast On:

– Using the YELLOW yarn and the magic cast-on for toe-up socks technique, cast on 24 stitches divided onto two needles (12 stitches per needle).
– Knit one round. Warning: Using the magic cast-on, the cast-on loops on your second needle will be twisted. To untwist, knit the stitches on this needle through the back of the loops on the first round only.

Shape toe:
– Round 1: On each needle, K1, M1, K to within last stitch on the needle, M1, K1.
– Round 2: Knit
– Repeat these two rounds until there are 40 stitches on your needles (divided 20-20).

Make instep:

– Knit every stitch in the round until sock measures 11cm from cast-on edge to end
to the last knit stitch.

Arrange heel stitches:

– Knit across 1st needle. The heel will be turned on the 20 stitches of the 2nd needle.

Set up short row heel:

– 1st row: (RS) K19. Move working yarn as if to purl. Slip 1. Turn.
– 2nd row: (WS) Slip 1. This will wrap the yarn around the first, slipped stitch. P18. Move working yarn as if to knit (“wrap”). Slip 1. Turn.
– 3rd row: (RS) Slip 1. K17. Wrap. Turn.
– 4th row: (WS) Slip 1. P16. Wrap. Turn.
– 5th row: (RS) Slip 1. K15. Wrap. Turn.
– 6th row: (WS) Slip 1. P14. Wrap. Turn.
– 7th row: (RS) Slip 1. K13. Wrap. Turn.
– 8th row: (WS) Slip 1. P12. Wrap. Turn.
– 9th row: (RS) Slip 1. K11. Wrap. Turn.
– 10th row: (WS) Slip 1. P10. Wrap. Turn.
– 11th row: (RS) Slip 1. K9. Wrap. Turn.
– 12th row: (WS) Slip 1. P8. Wrap. Turn.

This should yield 6 wrapped stitches, 8 “live” (unwrapped) stitches, and 6 more wrapped stitches, for a total of 20 stitches on the 2nd needle.

Turn short row heel:

– 1st row: (RS) K8. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 2nd row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P9. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 3rd row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K10. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 4th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P11. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 5th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K12. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 6th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P13. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 7th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K14. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 8th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P15. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 9th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K16. Pick up (PU) the wrap and next stitch and knit them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 10th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P17. PU wrap and next stitch and purl them together. Wrap the next stitch so that it now has two wraps. Turn.
– 11th row: (RS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. K18. Turn.
– 12th row: (WS) SL1 (double-wrapped) stitch. P19. Turn.
– 13th row: (RS) K20. Pick up one stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2.

Set up body of leg:

– Return to knittng in the round.
– 1st round:
– 1st needle: Pick up 1 stitch from the gap between Needle 2 and Needle 1. K20. Pick up a stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2. (22 stitches on Needle 1.)
– 2nd needle: Pick up 1 stitch from the gap between Needle 1 and Needle 2. K10. Switch to GREEN yarn. K9. K2 tog. (21 stitches on Needle 2.)
– 2nd round (you are now using GREEN yarn):
– 1st needle: K2 tog. K18. K2 tog. (20 stitches on Needle 1.)
– 2nd needle: K2 tog. K19. (20 stitches on Needle 2.)

Knit body of leg:
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to RED yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until red stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to YELLOW yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until yellow stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to GREEN yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Switch to RED yarn.
– K2, P2 on each needle until green stripe measures 3.5cm (1.4″) high. Cast of loosely, or using a stretchy bind-off.

Repeat pattern in full to yield a second sock. Voila!

As usual, should you note any errata in this pattern, please let me know so that I can fix it. I don’t exactly have a bevvy of test knitters to help me catch mistakes.