Episode 30: Hill and Dale

bread2This week’s episode includes the following segments: The Front Porch, Ever-expanding Skill Set, A Little Bit of Learning, and Double Happiness.







The Front Porch

wenselydaleI’m still very busy knitting the Brucie sock for the opening round of Sock Madness.  But sometimes I need a break from my US #1 needles. That’s when I go to my wheel and spin some  Wensleydale.  If you feel like a departure from Merino, Wensleydale fiber is about as far away as you can get.  A conservation breed from the English Longwool Family, Wensleydales “may be the only breed that can be traced directly to a single ancestor,” according to Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius in their Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook.  The Wensleydale I’m spinning was dyed by Ginny of FatCatKnits in the London Fog colorway.  The wool has incredible luster; the single seem translucent.  With a staple length of 6-8 inches, it can be spun with a low amount of twist.  There’s quite a halo on the spun product, but the singles are very soft.

Ever-expanding Skill Set

This weekend, I’m making several loaves of Irish Soda Bread.  Over the years, I’ve experimented with several different recipes.   I began with this recipe from Epicurious, and made some subtle changes.

Irish Soda Bread from Yin Hoo Cha Yuan

  • bread12 1/4 c. organic all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/4 c. organic whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, cubed
  • 1 c. golden raisins
  • 2 tblsp. caraway seeds
  • 1/3 c. organic sugar
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • grated rind of 1/2 orange
  1. Preheat oven 350.
  2. Sift 2 cups of all-purpose flour and next four ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Use a pastry cutter to cut butter into dry ingredients.
  4. Measure raisins and caraway seeds into a small bowl with 1/4 c. reserved flour.  Toss to coat.
  5. Whisk last four ingredients together in a medium bowl.
  6. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients, then pour in wet ingredients.  Stir about ten turns with a large wooden spoon.  Before ingredients are thoroughly mixed, add raisins and caraway seeds.  Stir a few more times, then turn out contents onto the counter.
  7. Give the dough a quick knead with a very gentle touch to make sure all ingredients are well-incorporated.  Add a bit more flour if the mixture is sticky.  Don’t overwork the dough or your bread will be tough!
  8. Shape into a large round loaf and place on cooking tray.  Cut an X 1″ deep on the dough surface.
  9. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and skewer inserted into center of loaf comes out clean.
  10. Cool.  Serve with real butter and orange marmalade.

A Little Bit of Learning

shamrockHere I’ve been thinking that making Irish soda bread is an authentic way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  It turns out that the recipe above constitutes an American adaptation of the soda bread that would have been familiar in Irish households as early as the 1800’s.  The raisins or currents in most contemporary recipes would have been considered luxury ingredients.  However, buttermilk, traditionally a by-product of butter making, would have been on hand in most households.  Also, there was a custom of putting a handful of caraway seeds in bread — a custom that made its way to America.  Read the whole story about the corruption of real Irish soda bread by Megan O. Steintrager here.  She cautions against kneading the dough.  I find that a very quick knead actually works the dough less than turning with a spoon to fully incorporate ingredients.

At Yin Hoo, mixing traditions is a way of life.  So it won’t be a surprise that, instead of Irish breakfast tea, Samuel and I enjoyed our soda bread with some delicious homemade Chai. Thanks to Linda from Delaware for posting her recipe on the Bulk Bins Cook-along board. Post your recipes, links, and photographs.  Each month, a randomly-selected participant on the board wins a free pattern on Ravelry.

Double Happiness

halcyarnThis week, I found out that I was selected  Valedictorian of  the February graduating class.  This tradition, on Dr. Kelly’s Ewe University’s audio podcast, is a lot of fun. Join the Ewe University group on Ravelry and post projects you’ve completed in March for a chance to win. My new Just My Type project bag from Halcyarn Knitting Accessories is really cool.  Colorful typewriters on the outside, groovy paperclips on the lining, and the perfect size for a small or medium project.  Check out Kris’ Etsy shop to find a the perfect project bag.


In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting. 

In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.

I liked the Irish way better.

                                                                                                                  – C. E. Murphy, Urban Shaman

Episode 29

This week’s episode includes the following segments: The Back Porch, The Front Porch, Gratitude Journal and Double Happiness.

The Back Porch

apoc3The big news since last week’s episode is . . . I knit my first sweater.  I have never felt like anything other than a real knitter.  In my opinion, if you know how to knit and purl, and follow a pattern (any pattern) on your own, you’re a knitter.  However, I do feel a special sense of accomplishment after completing this project.  And I’m thrilled to wear the finished sweater.  It made its debut just hours after the seaming was complete and it had been steam blocked.  The pattern is Apocalypta by Amy Herzog, which is found in Knitting it Old School.   I’ll be sending my copy of the book to a lucky winner.  Check out this thread on the YAYH blog on Ravelry for details.

The Front Porch

luna2Since knitting a lot in a short amount of time to complete my first sweater, I’ve been taking it slow for a few days.  One pattern that has been in my queue for awhile is Luna 2, a scarf by Reiko Kuwamura. It features some interesting color work, alternating on the right and wrong sides of garter stitch, and more German short rows.  I’ve been admiring the projects of others and now I’ve begun my own version.

Gratitude Journal

hatdonationThis week, I sent 44 hats to Click for Babies, sponsored by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome.  I knit seven hats in all, and was grateful to my colleagues and students for contributing additional hats for the cause. If you or members of your crafting group are looking for a worthy cause, consider this one. The website provides more information and links to free knit and crochet hat patterns.

Double Happiness

improvised.jarsHave you been following Sally Schneider’s blog, Improvised Life?  If you haven’t, you should be. Just reading blog’s manifesto is sure to empower you and get your creative juices flowing.  Recently, the team has added a clever article about collecting an assortment of vintage jars and using them for spices and other bulk ingredients.  It’s worth your time to a look. From recipes to craft ideas, to living well in small spaces, this blog is cleverly conceived and clearly archived.

Spices are in the spotlight this month in the Bulk Bins Cook Along.  Share links to recipe ideas, photographs of your spice collection, and other resources on the Ravelry board.

A Note about the Show’s Theme Music

1618585_813690578647791_1610690173_nMany listeners have commented on the theme song that plays at the beginning and end of each episode.  The song, Saweeet, was written by my partner and my co-inhabitant of Yin Hoo, Samuel.  The lyrics are inspired by our home, a rustic, 1922 replica of a Chinese tea pavilion. Samuel’s band, Bovine Social Club, has recorded a version of the song, and the lyrics can be found on the band website.  You can LIKE the band’s page on Facebook in order to receive notices for upcoming shows.

So often, we think that making a difference involves spending a lot of money, or investing a lot of time.  It doesn’t have to.                              

  — Morristown Fiber Fairy

Episode 28

We interrupt this sweater to bring you a podcast!  This episode features the following segments: Ever-expanding Skill Set, The Back Porch,  and Double Happiness.

Ever-expanding Skill Set

merrillIn the event of a snow-pocalypse, which is the only kind I can imagine as we limp our way out of a snowy winter here in the Northeast US, I definitely want to have snowshoes among my provisions.  This weekend, I tried snowshoes for the first time, taking a hike with my friend Kim at Merrill Creek Reservoir.  The usual population of snow geese that over-winters on the reservoir had mostly flown further south; what remained of the flock occupied a small space of open water near the tower.  We could only spy them through binoculars.  What an incredible feeling to crunch around on the icy surface above several feet of snow.  I think I want a pair of snowshoes so that I can go out any time.

The Back Porch

swing2This week I completed a swing knitting project — a scarf project from Brigitte Elliot of Skacel Fiber Studio.  This scarf employs the technique of German short rows to create gradually shifting fields of color amid solid furrows of color.  I used a US size 8 circular needle and Zitron Zeitlos, a twelve-stranded, cable-plied yarn.  The technique grew easier as I continued the knitting.  This pattern has the option for a scarf with leafy motifs at the end or a cowl that’s created by a provisional cast-on and kitchener stitch.  I chose the cowl, and completed two repeats of the fields and furrows. Blocking helps to easy the fabric and intensify the patterning.  The result is wonderfully textured and squishy.

hedgehogsDo you recall Mrs. Tiggly Winkle, the washer woman  from the Beatrix Potter stories?  I had been thinking about her ever since I heard Paula of Knitting Pipeline talk about her experience in the Lake District and her knowledge of Potter as a important force of land conservation in the UK.  I decided to make knitted hedgehogs for a colleague who is expecting twin boys.  This pattern from Purl Bee includes an excellent photo-tutorial for making the cutest, fat little hedgehogs.  I stuffed them with fluffy fiber and included a small bag of poly-beads at the bottom of each belly to keep them from rolling over.  To make their little black noses go “sniffle, sniffle, snuffle,” I pushed a bit of crinkly material into their snouts.

lentilIt has been nice to work on a crochet project over the past few weeks.  This pattern, Indian Lentils, was a gift from Andrea Delhey.  You cast on with the appropriate number of stitches to get the length you desire, then work back and forth in very long rows.  It worked up nicely in earthy Noro colors.  Check out Andrea’s Ravelry store for some clever designs.  Since I used yarn thinner than that specified, I made half-double crochet stitches rather than double crochet.

Double Happiness

cookiesOatmeal cookies without baking?  Plus chocolate? Plus coconut?  That is a good day!  I also added some chopped dried cherries.  Thanks to Linda from Delaware who posted the recipe on the Ravelry thread for the Bulk Bins Cook-a-long.  February is all about oats and we have just a few days left.  Post your recipes, photos, and links for a chance to win a pattern.  Use the #bulkbinscal when you post to Twitter or Instagram.

You can be miserable before you have a cookie and you can be miserable after you eat a cookie but you can’t be miserable while you are eating a cookie.    ― Ina Garten

Episode 27

This episode includes the following segments: Yarn Lover at Large, Ever-expanding Skill Set, The Back Porch, and Gratitude Journal.

Yarn Lover at Large

fibertrekSarah (Swenstea) is a fiber lover from way back.  She and her partner, Tyler, have embarked on a creative journey to investigate fiber, farms, and food. Together, they hope to enrich the fiber world with stories, hope and beauty. Join them as they tour the best the world fiber community has to offer from the Falklands to Norway. Fiber Trek takes you out of the rocking chair and on to the trail!  Check out this video introduction to the project and Like the project’s Facebook page.

goldeneyeIn Episode 12, Sherry of Spinner’s End Farm talked about rising money to rescue some local alpacas and introduce them to all of the other animals on her farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Shares for Spinner’s End Farm’s fiber CSA are available on  Etsy. There’s never a dull moment for Sherry and her family; follow their adventures on the blog.  You’ll want to read about Sherry’s most recent rescue, of a Common Goldeneye duck.

Ever-expanding Skill Set

valentineI’ve been working on a recipe for Oatmeal Cookies — a special recipe to share with Yarns at Yin Hoo listeners.  My idea was to take the cookies beyond the typical (add raisins) and take advantage of the interesting ingredients in the fridge and pantry.  I also wanted to cut some of the fat from traditional oatmeal raisin cookies.  Try baking these for your sweetie!  Combine your favorite ingredients, or embark on a new adventure each time you bake these delicious treats.  Use #bulkbinscal if you post a photo of your cookies to Twitter or Instagram. Or share your photo on Ravelry.

Seven Wonders of the World Cookies

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies

1/3 c. salted butter, softened
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c. canned pumpkin, mashed banana, or applesauce

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 c. quick cooking oats

Additions: Select 7 of the following and combine to equal 2 cups

dried fruit (figs, prunes, apricots, cranberries, currants, pineapple, candied ginger)
coconut flakes
grated carrot
diced apple
mini chocolate / carob / white chocolate / toffee chips / chocolate-covered dried fruit

Heat oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 c. flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.

Combine 2 c. of assorted additions. Make sure all ingredients are diced into small pieces. Toss with 1/2 c. of flour. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

Add eggs and pumpkin; beat well.

Incorporate flour, oats, and additions in 1/2 c. increments. Mix well.

Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely on baking rack.

The Back Porch

valentinoI’ve been anticipating Valentine’s Day for a few weeks as I’ve spun 4 ounces of Merino in the Valentino colorway from Ginny of FatCatKnits.  Oh my goodness, this yarn is the color of candy and chocolate — a real treat.  Yesterday, I completed chain plying.  It’s scrumptious.  I already have an idea for a project, but some other knitting needs to come off the needles first. Ginny’s colors are explosive; plus, you can order most color ways in a wide array of fibers, in four or six ounce quantities.

Gratitude Journal

nyeThis Valentine’s Day, I’m grateful for having memorized a sweet little poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.  It’s called “Valentine for Ernest Mann” and it’s one of my all-time favorites. In my opinion, this is Nye’s ars poetica, a poem in which the poet reveals her philosophy about poetry. I first heard Naomi Nye reading at the Geraldine R. Dodge Festival.  The Dodge Foundation supports poets, poetry, and teachers who wish to explore poetry with their students.

“Maybe if we reinvent whatever our lives give us, we find poems.”          

— Naomi Shihab Nye

Episode 26

This episode includes the following segments: A Little Bit of Learning, Ever-expanding Skill Set, The Back Porch, and Gratitude Journal.

oatmealA Little Bit of Learning

Some nutrition facts about oats, in the spotlight this month for our Bulk Bins Cook Along: one quarter cup of dry, unprocessed oats contains 150 calories, 13% of the daily recommended allowance for protein, and 16% for fiber.  Oats contain soluble fiber, which can help reduce risk of diabetes; they are high in beta-glucans, a type of starch that stimulates the immune system and reduce risk of some cancers. Oats contain more than 20 unique polyphenols called avenanthramides, which have strong anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-itching properties — that’s why many skin treatments include oatmeal as an ingredient.

Ever-expanding Skill Set

There’s a lively conversation happening in the Bulk Bins CAL thread on Ravelry.  You can also tweet or post photographs on Instagram using #bulkbinscal.  Kristy Lauricella, certified health coach and blogger, has a recipe for Warm Gingery Oatmeal on her blog, Creative Wisdom Wellness.

I’ve been interested in savory recipes for oatmeal, and this week I created my own version of oatmeal-crusted salmon.  I was inspired by this recipe from Epicurious; however, I couldn’t find pinhead (Scottish) oats. So, I approached the problem like I usually do: using whatever is on hand in my pantry.

oatmeal1Oatmeal-crusted Salmon

2 1/3 lb. strips of fresh-caught salmon               1/2 lemon, thinly sliced                                     juice of 1/2 lemon

1/3 c. rolled oats, pulsed in food processor   dill, salt, cayenne pepper to taste

Combine oats and seasonings in small bowl. Spoon lemon juice over salmon filets, then gently press each one into the topping to coat the surface.  Coat a cast-iron pan with olive oil and bring to medium heat.  Place several slices of lemon in the pan, then place the salmon filets on top.  Cover skillet and allow salmon to cook almost through: 5-7 minutes.  Then, remove cover and transfer the skillet to broiler for about 2 minutes, until the oatmeal is cooked through and crunchy in texture.  When serving, be sure to include the caramelized lemons from the bottom of the skillet.

aggregate2The Back Porch

This week, I completed the Aggregate, a shawl design from JimiKnits.  The result is colorful and reminiscent of a beach blanket, with bright and rich Yellow and Caribbean Blue yarn from Full Moon Farm’s Fabulous Fibers that look fantastic with the mirror effect of the pattern.  This garter stitch shawl is squishy and soft, and is perfect for playing with color.  Using double stitch made the short rows very easy to negotiate.  I highly recommend this pattern for some coordinating or strongly-contrasting yarn in your stash.

yogaGratitude Journal

This week, I’m feeling grateful for my mother’s influence over my housekeeping abilities. I’ve been keeping cabin fever at bay by organizing and adjusting home decor so that I feel peaceful, comfortable, and creative.  Mom impressed upon her daughters that taking care of our things and keeping our homes tidy is equivalent to taking care of ourselves. That is not to say that my childhood home was always immaculate.  Quite the opposite.  Each member of the family had a different interest or hobby, which meant that there were projects in progress everywhere.  But somehow, the mess never got out of control.

Here are a few of Mom’s aphorisms:

  • If it is clean, it stays clean.
  • Don’t put it down, put it away.
  • Cluttered surface; cluttered mind.

Some questions that may help you determine how to focus your energy:

  • What area of your home would really save you time if it were better organized?
  • Where do you like to rest and relax? / Where do you like to be messy / create?
  • What possessions can be donated / given new homes in order to eliminate clutter?

“A place for everything and everything in its place.”                                  

 —alternatively attributed to Isabella Beeton and Benjamin Franklin, though its origins are likely the 17th Century

Episode 25

This episode includes the following segments: A Little Bit of Learning, The Back Porch, and Double Happiness.

oatsA Little Bit of Learning

In February, oats are in the spotlight for our bulk bins cook along.  Little is known about the uses or cultivation of oats prior to the time of Christ.  What we do know is that, because of their bland flavor and susceptibility to spoilage, oats were not highly prized or widely consumed by people.  The Greeks and Romans considered oats to be diseased wheat.  Gradually, oats came to be cultivated in Scotland, Ireland, German and many Scandanavian countries — they prefer a cool, moist climate.  Oats were introduced to North America by Scottish settlers in the early 1600’s, and were first grown off the coast of Massachusetts.  George Washington sowed nearly 600 acres with oats in the late 1700’s.  Cultivation shifted to the midwest, and has declined; much of the acreage once used for oats has been re-assigned to soybeans, which are a more financially lucrative crop.  A resurgence in oat consumption began in the 1980’s, upon publication of studies which have shown oats and oatmeal to be effective in lowering cholesterol and improving heart health.

steelcutoatsThere are many varieties of oats available, so home cooks can expand their skill set by experimenting with different types:

  • steel-cut oats — kernels cut through with a steel blade, resulting in a dense and chewy texture (see photo)
  • old-fashioned — steamed and then rolled flat
  • quick-cooking — steamed and cut finely before rolling
  • instant — partially cooked, then rolled thin and dried, often combined with sweeteners, powdered milk, and flavors
  • oat bran — the outer layer of the grain, found just under the hull (most kinds of oats will contain oat bran, but you can also buy it in concentrated form)
  • oat flour
  • oat groats — unflattened oat kernels

clocheThe Back Porch

This week I completed the Fellowes Cloche by Amy Herzog.  I felt challenged by the w&t (wrap and turn) directions in the pattern, and wish that I had been familiar with the ease and versatility of the dbl-st (double stitch) and the technique of using German short rows when I was working on the brim.  However, I’m very pleased with the densely-textured look of linen stitch knitted in a single-ply yarn of alpaca, wool and silk.  The hat’s band is tacked on and hides some of the sloppy stitches.  I think this would be a good pattern choice for chunky handspun singles.

ladyalminaDouble Happiness

Have you been watching Downton Abbey this season? Can’t get enough, right?  I’m sure many knitters received a copy of  The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits as a holiday gift.  I’ve also seen and heard several reviews of the patterns in the issue.  This week, I’ve been enjoying the articles.  If you suspect you’re likely to enter DA withdrawal when the season is over, I recommend having this book on hand. The Eighth Countess of Carnarvon, Fiona Herbert, has researched the life of her predecessor, Lady Almina.  This book is an enjoyable read and contains many photographs of Highclere Castle, where DA is filmed.

consueloOn page eight of The Unofficial Downton Abbey knits, there’s a portrait of the Duchess of Marlborough, Consuelo Vanderbilt. The article, “For Richer, Not Poorer,” provides a brief overview of the Gilded Age custom, of wealthy American heiresses marrying English lords.  This summer, when I visited Marble House in Newport, RI, I saw many, many portraits and photographs of Consuelo.  Reported to be a great beauty, she often looks perfectly miserable in her frilly dresses and constricting corsets — maybe she had a premonition of her future.  Although she championed women’s suffrage,  Alva Vanderbilt was determined to land a titled husband for her daughter, who was worth about $20 million when she had her debut in 1895.  Unlike Cora and Lord Grantham of DA, Consuelo was miserable with the Duke, and eventually ended their marriage.

Oats, as defined in Samuel Johnson’s dictionary: Eaten by the people of Scotland, but fit only for horses in England.

Scotsman’s retort: That’s why England has such good horses, and Scotland such fine men!

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