A Few Things

Thing the First:

This morning we found Candy Cane in the kitchen, sitting on the clock that usually sits under a glass dome above the cabinets.

Thing the Second:

With twenty days to go, I finally finished knitting the Vero Shawl (Rose Bower colourway) for my aunt who is always cold — and who I am pretty sure doesn’t read this blog. It will go in the mail tomorrow and will hopefully arrive on her doorstep before Christmas.

Thing the Third:

I have started on the family’s Christmas stockings. The first one, for Thing 2, is closer to the end than to the start, although there seems to be an awful lot of yarn left to go. I’m knitting this one in hand-dyed Fleece Artist Blue-Faced Leicester Aran (100% wool) in what I believe is the Red Fox colourway. I bought this yarn years ago as part of the Elmira flap hat and fingerless glove set; I knit the hat (which I still love — Ravelry pattern entry here), but I never got around to the gloves. Since this is Thing 2’s favourite colour palette, I figured the yarn would make a lovely Christmas stocking instead.

Thing the Fourth:

I made pancakes and apples for dinner yesterday. I’ve been trying to use up ingredients we already have in the pantry, and there was some pancake mix in there left over from the summer (not sure if it was from camping or the cottage). Paired with some chopped apples and with a drizzle of maple syrup on top, it made a lovely meal!

Hot Chocolate

Yesterday morning when I woke up it was a frosty -18°C (0°F) — okay, technically -17.9°C (-0.22°F), but the weather network rounded up. That felt like -27°C (-16.6°F) with the wind chill. Non-natives to the area might just think, “Well, that’s Canada for you, it’s always ridiculously cold there.” Okay, sure, it’s colder here than in many places, but not usually so early in the season. This is February weather. In November it’s generally grey and dreary, and hovers around the freezing point. Yesterday was the coldest November 22nd in the history of the city, beating the 1972 record by three and a half degrees. My friend in Whitehorse pointed out that it was a “balmy” -4°C (24.8°F) where he lives.

So I feel that I am justified in commenting on the fact that winter has come quite early to this neck of the woods. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like winter — for a while. I enjoy the changing of the seasons. It’s when the season doesn’t seem to want to change that I don’t like — either the stifling, humid days of high summer or the dragging, freezing days of the most intense part of winter. Those days when it seems like all there is to do is endure the season, not enjoy it. And it seems like that part of winter has come on pretty darned fast this year. Heck, my husband went on a ten-day business trip, and when he left it was still autumn. When he returned home, it was February.

The kids, though, don’t mind the biting cold all that much, because it means hot chocolate when they get home from school. They walk, you see, so the weather hits harder than if they just hopped on and off a school bus. It won’t be the hearty meals that they remember fondly from this time of year — at least not until they get a bit older. No, it will be that warm mug of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows while they read at the kitchen table and let the worries of the day fall away. Or perhaps, on slightly warmer days, that same mug after coming in from playing in the snow, red-cheeked and raw-nosed. How do I know that? Because it’s one of my favourite childhood memories as well.

Ice Storm French Toast

Sunday going into Monday we had one heck of an ice storm. It was possibly as bad as the one in 1986, but nothing close to 1998. Even so, 43,000 people in town lost power and the city was turned into a virtual skating rink.


Apple tree branches encased in ice.


More apple tree branches.

Now, freezing rain isn’t a new thing in this city. But this is the latest that I can ever remember it closing everything down — I mean, it’s April, for crying out loud! My kids had a “snow day” (“ice day””?) yesterday. It’s nuts.


Roofing shingles under ice.

It got even more dangerous to be outside as the day went on and the temperatures rose, causing the ice to start falling off the trees and the roofs. Some people had flying ice shatter the windshield of their car. Everyone avoided the areas around buildings and trees to reduce the likelihood of being brained. At least here in Ottawa we don’t have any super-tall buildings like the CN Tower dropping big chunks of ice onto other buildings and damaging them.

As the sun set, the ground was covered in a few centimeters of slick ice from the freezing rain, and then another layer of broken ice from the branches and buildings dumping their loads. Many of the ice chunks were bigger than my hand, and almost two centimeters thick.


Pain perdu served with sliced apples.

Right before a big storm like this, around here the things that people tend to stock up on are milk, eggs, and bread. I think this is because, with a typically Canadian mentality, we tend to have lots of food put by in the freezer or the pantry to get us through bad weather, but we tend to run out of perishables. A common joke based on this trend is that everyone wants to make French toast when the weather is stormy (a dish which is comprised primarily of these three ingredients). Now, I don’t think I’ve ever made French toast during a storm before, but I was looking for a quick and easy meal for last night, so I figured why not? I had the supplies, after all.

I’d made Egg-Enriched White Loaf (page 67, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter (2002)) earlier in the day (although I’d had issues with the amount of liquid and had to add more than the recipe recommended). I sliced that bread thickly and used the recipe for Pain Perdu on the Restigouche from page 19 of Anita Stewart’s Canada (2008) for the coating. (Yes, the book I had on reserve finally came in at the library.) I do know how to make French toast the way my parents taught me, which has rather more eggs and less milk (I used almond milk in any case), but I rather liked this new way of doing it.

Hopefully the weather will clear a little Tuesday so that my house-bound children can get to school, and this stir-crazy mom can get out of the house, if only for a coffee!

It Was Supposed to Be a Barbecue

Last night I had planned on barbecuing. It’s not really BBQ* season yet, but the snow has melted from around our barbecues (although without any grass growing yet, the ground around/under them is a morass of clay mud). The grills not being buried or frozen closed is pretty much all a Canadian needs to get started cooking in the back yard.

That being said, the temperature plummeted last night. Heck, it snowed off and on since Tuesday night, but it had hovered around freezing for most of that time. But once yesterday afternoon came around, the wind picked up and it started getting cold fast. By midnight it was -7° (-16° with the wind chill), and by morning it was -11°C and felt like -20°C. As winter temperatures around here go, that’s not too bad, but that’s really cold for April. Not only that, but the wind reached 90Km/hr gusts — you know it’s windy when you’re driving and debris is passing your car. With that wind, the cold just cut right through you… So yeah, I didn’t want to stand outside and cook. Not only that, but winds like that make it very difficult to get an even temperature on the grill!

So dinner wasn’t barbecued steak, it was pan-fried. It was very tasty pan-fried steak, though, cooked medium and tender. I served it up with a heaping side salad, which kind of felt summery if you didn’t look out the window…

* Yes, I am fully aware that what we call “barbecue” around here is what people in the southern USA would call “grilling”. We don’t really have a low-and-slow BBQ tradition around here, although those few times I have had it, it has been mouthwateringly delicious.

Ice Day

Yesterday was what we generally call a “snow day” around here, as in the winter weather was so terrible that school buses were cancelled and the kids stayed home from school. But it was really more of an “ice day”, since it had snowed the day before and then the temperature jumped up so we could have freezing rain coating that layer of snow, and then just plain old rain creating puddles on top of it all. It was a mess. It was definitely an ice storm, if not the ice storm.

With the kids home from school and it being too dangerous to really get out of the house (that being the whole reason for the bus cancellations in the first place), I found myself trying to wrangle two active children with increasingly high levels of cabin fever. The day was taken up with playing, crafting, snacking, NERF target practice, and video games. When the weather cleared up a bit, the girls went outside with their father to clear the driveway while I cooked supper (no mean feat after the plough had been by, leaving a burm of ice and slush between our house and the road).

On days like this, you really have to cook with whatever happens to be in the house. My pantry and freezer are well-stocked, and although it would likely take us weeks to even feel hungry feeding on those items alone, I was craving something a bit fresher. I Googled to find some recipes for pasta sauce that I could make without hitting the grocery store, and I found PureWow’s Spaghetti with Avocado Pasta Sauce. I thought that it would be ideal because it is a sauce with a creamy texture (which I adore), but without any actual dairy products.

I served the sauce over cooked spaghetti squash, with baked chicken legs (sprinkled with my usual garlic powder, sage, rosemary, thyme, summer savoury, and sea salt). I only realized after I took the picture exactly how unappetizing the sauce ended up looking, especially since I couldn’t toss it in the “noodles” without them falling apart. Ignoring the other gross things it could look like, the shine on the sauce makes it look like icing or a glaze, which it did not taste like at all. Flavour-wise, it was like eating guacamole, without the heat of peppers. Honestly, it was a little bit bland. I’d like to try this recipe again, but on actual pasta, with some fresh herbs thrown in (Googling has suggested basil and cilantro), and possibly some sliced cherry tomatoes.

At least dessert was a success! I heated a frozen apple pie from Mom’s birthday dinner (I always make two pies when I bake, one for the event and another to throw in the freezer for future use). When reheated from fully frozen, it usually takes about an hour in an oven at 350°F. I served the pie with a scoop of non-dairy vanilla “ice cream” for me and whipped cream for everyone else. There were no complaints on that score!

Double-Layered Tuque Pattern

I finished up a second of my extremely-warm double-layered winter hats the other day, this time for Thing 1, and I thought I’d share the pattern. It’s a pretty easy one, as such things go. It involves the basic techniques of casting on, casting off, knitting, purling, increases (k1fb — knit one front and back), decreases (k2tog — knit two together), and knitting in the round (I prefer the magic loop technique, but whatever you are most comfortable with is fine). Don’t let the seemingly long pattern deter you! It’s mostly because the pattern contains a flat-brim and a ribbed-brim version.

A note about sizing: this hat is made to fit my 23″ head with room for a ponytail or other hairdo underneath. I’m no Brent Butt (who claims to have a 27″ head), but my head’s still large enough that it generally falls outside of the women’s hat sizing category and smack-dab into the men’s. Don’t worry, this pattern is adjustable to the size that you want it; instructions are below.


Left: plain brim hat knit in Polo Stripe colourway
Right: ribbed brim hat knit in Favorite Stripe colourway

Double-Layered Tuque
Adult male size, fits 23″ to 24″ circumference head

Materials:
– one 141g (5oz), 215m (236 yds) ball of Red Heart Super Saver Stripes yarn (100% acrylic)
– for ribbed-brim hat only: scraps of contrasting yarn for stitches & pompom
– one set of 5mm (US 8, UK 6) circular knitting needles in a length comfortable for the magic loop method (I prefer 120cm/47″ or longer)

Gauge:
– 21 stitches and 27 rows in stockinette stitch = 20cm x 20cm (4″ x 4″) square on 5mm (US 8, UK 6) needles

Instructions:

Cast on:
– Cast on 18 stitches (flat brim) OR 24 stitches (ribbed-brim).
– Place half of the stitches on each half of the circular needle so as to use the magic loop method.
– Join to work in the round, being careful not to twist.
– Knit one row, placing a stitch marker after every third (flat brim) OR fourth (ribbed brim) stitch. This will divide your work into six sections.

Increase the Crown Exterior:
– First row: *Knit until one stitch before first stitch marker. K1FB on the stitch before the stitch marker. Repeat from * until row is complete. (Every row like this will increase your work by 6 stitches.)
– Second row: Knit.
– Repeat first and second rows until you have 57 stitches per side (flat brim) OR 60 stitches per side (ribbed brim)

SIZING NOTE:

This is where you can adjust for head size. Once you have established your gauge, which you can do either with a swatch or by measuring your stitches as you go, you can calculate how many stitches you will need in total. Use one of the following formulae, depending on whether you’re measuring in metric or imperial:

(Head Circumference + 2.5cm) X Number of Stitches per CM = Desired # of Stitches

OR

(Head Circumference + 1″) X Number of Stitches per Inch = Desired # of Stitches

Then, round the stitch number up to the next multiple of six. It gets a bit more tricky for the ribbed brim version, which must also be divisible by four.

Knit the Body:
– Use a piece of differently-coloured yarn or a safety pin to mark the row where the increases end.
FLAT-BRIM:
– Knit until body measures 9cm (3.5″) from end of increases.
– Remove increase marker.
RIBBED-BRIM:
– Knit until body measures 5cm (2″) from end of increases.
– K2, P2 for and additional 3.8cm (1.5″).
– Remove increase marker.

Decrease:
FLAT-BRIM:
– Divide the number of stitches on each needle by three, and place a stitch marker after each group. Knit the next round, knitting two stitches together for the two stitches before each stitch marker. There should be 54 stitches on each needle.
RIBBED BRIM:
– Divide the number of stitches on each needle by two, and place a stitch marker after each group. Knit OR purl two stitches together, depending on what that stitch should have been in the normal order of K2, P2. There should be 58 stitches on each needle.
– Use a piece of differently-coloured yarn or a safety pin to mark the row where you made these decreases.

Knit the Body Lining:
FLAT BRIM:
– Knit until interior body measures 9cm (3.5″) from decrease marker.
– Remove decrease marker.
RIBBED BRIM:
– K2, P2 for 3.8cm (1.5″) from decrease marker.
– Knit for an additional 5cm (2″).
– Remove decrease marker.

Decrease Lining:
– Divide the number of stitches on each needle by three. For the flat-brimmed hat, unless you have adjusted for size, that means each group should be 18 stitches. For the ribbed-brim hat, the number will not be even. If you have not adjusted for size, divide the stitches 19-19-20. If you have adjusted for size, try and make the groups as even as possible.
– First row: **Knit until two stitches before first stitch marker. K2tog on the two stitches before the stitch marker. Repeat from ** until row is complete. (Every row like this will decrease your work by 6 stitches.)
– Second row: Knit.
– Repeat first and second rows until you have 12 stitches per side (flat brim) OR 18 stitches per side (ribbed brim).
– Cast off, leaving a long tail.

Finishing:
– Run the tail of yarn through the cast off stitches and draw tight, tying a secure knot.
– Run the other tail of yarn through the cast on stitches and pull tight, tying a secure knot.
– Fold the lining into the exterior of the hat so that the cast off and cast on stitches touch, back to back.
– With a few stitches of one of the yarn tails, secure the two ends of the hat together at the point. Tie one tail to the other and pull them between the two layers of fabric.
– Create a pompom out of the leftover yarn (flat brim) or out of scrap contrasting yarn (ribbed brim). Stitch it to the exterior of the peak of the hat.
– About 1cm (about 0.5″) from the bottom edge of the hat (flat brim) OR along the edge of the ribbing (ribbed brim), stitch leftover/contrasting yarn every second stitch, affixing the lining to the exterior of the hat. Then run a piece of leftover/contrasting yarn through these stitches, creating a continuous line. Make sure that these stitches are not too tight, so as not to be uncomfortable around the ears. Tie off the yarn and run it between the two layers of fabric, snipping off any extra if it protrudes.

As usual, should you note any errata in this pattern, or if any instructions need further clarification, please let me know so that I can fix it and/or make my instructions more clear!