Saturday, November 7, 2009

True Grit

There should be a twelve step program for knitters who can't resist a new project. A recent spurt of organizing fervor has brought me face to face once again with my expansive stash. It's not just the yarn that clogs my arteries, it's the UFOs. I knew I had a tendency to be fickle, dropping perfectly good projects for the romance of the new, but there's no denying that I've got a problem.

A few weeks ago I decided to finish up several works-in-progress before starting any new ones, but it's testing my mettle. Yesterday I finished two (two!) sweaters that had been lingering in nearly-done limbo, and the urge to reward myself by casting on something new just about overpowered my resolve. Ganas! Instead, I called on my nearly non-existent will power, and picked up another sweater from the archive of abandoned projects. I did it, but it was tough.

I need a candle to light, or a mantra to chant. Or a Startitis Anonymous meeting. I'm not sure how long I can keep this up.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Miss Showgirl

This year, Greta got her Junior Earthdog title, so I needed a picture for the yearbook. I tried several times to take photos at home, but didn't wind up with anything I could use. Then, while in Portland last week for the Rose City shows, I decided to have Vavra, the great dog photographers, take some professional shots. Here's the little showgirl right out of the ring.

We had five days of shows, and a great reunion with the Northwest Cairn family. Greta got one major, so we didn't come home empty handed.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Knitting Ganas

The lust to start a new knitting project, no matter how many sit unfinished in the basket at my feet, is a powerful urge. I've heard it described as "knitting horny", but I've got another word for it. I've been calling it ganas for years. That's a Spanish term that roughly translates as desire, urge, impulse, or mood, and encompasses sex, but isn't so defined by it.

Maybe it's just that this is the first week of the new year, a time known for good intentions, but I feel like I'm really going to finish up some of the projects that are waiting for me before I launch into anything new. Binding off the birdwoman shawl on New Year's Eve felt very satisfying, and I'm ready for more. However, I'm always up against the ganas to cast on.

Here's what can happen. This past week, I was rooting around in my stash when I found a half-finished sweater that I barely remembered. That wouldn't be so surprising if it were an ancient project, but the receipt still in the bag tells me that I bought the yarn just over a year ago. This was not just any old yarn, either. It was the beautiful Satori that I bought at Artfibers in San Francisco, and loved so much that I couldn't wait to start knitting. So what happened? How did it end up in a bag in a box?

Fiber forensics tells me that I started this sweater in November of 2007. That means it would have come up against some urgent holiday knitting, like Greta's Christmas stocking and O's traditional socks. However, that's a thin excuse. There are other reasons for the mountain of UFOs in my life.

First, when something is set aside "temporarily" its ganas factor diminishes dramatically. It's partly that I have a tendency to put a project down when I've just noticed a mistake, or I need to do some tricky calculation, or I haven't decided what to do next. None of these things are helped by letting a project languish until full amnesia sets in, and the urge to problem-solve is never quite as compelling a the urge to launch into something new. Also, much of my knitting time is in the evening, after dinner and a glass of wine, while I'm watching television. I tend to save little challenges for some hypothetical free morning, when the light is good and I'm fresh. Until that moment comes, "I'll just start this other project I've been dying to begin, and...."

Another point when I'm vulnerable to knitting ganas is when I start to have an uneasy feeling about whatever I'm working on. It's that nagging idea that it won't fit, or that I'll be unhappy with it for some reason. Leaving it in limbo means I don't have to face that disappointment, and there's always a new yarn and a new idea full of the promise of perfection, waiting to steal my heart.

Given my history, I have no good reason to feel so optomistic about clearing up some of the UFOs in my life, but I do. The Satori sweater is already up to the neckline, so I'm starting to feel that other ganas to bind off. I can't wait.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


I've got that postpartum feeling after finishing a big project. The Icarus shawl has been on the needles for many months. Even though it's been sitting sidelined for much of the time, it still feels like it's been a long road to the bind off on this big red shawl.

The design gets its name from the feather-like lace pattern, and I've been thinking of it as my birdwoman shawl for the same reason. The yarn is Kid Silk Haze in the color they call Blood. I'm happy with it, though I was shocked at the fuzzy surface that erupted with the wet blocking. More haze than I expected. Still, the lace pattern shows through, and it's probably warmer now that it has bloomed into full nimbus.

This calls for celebration. Maybe I can talk the big dog into going out to dinner tonight.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Glove by Any Other Name

When the cold weather comes, I grab the gloves. Since I'm an addicted knitter, hand-warmers of all sorts have become favorite small projects, and my hands down (sorry) favorites are the fingerless "mitt" variety. I've made full-fingered gloves, but find that I'm constantly pulling them off to liberate my fingertips. The half -digit style seem to be more practical, but even those are a bit restrictive. Living in Northern California means that I don't need polar expedition handgear in the winter, so the completely fingerless version has turned out to be a good compromise between warmth and utility.

I haven't known what to call this favorite accessory of mine. It's inconvenient to lack a name for a ubiquitous part of my winter attire. Fingerless gloves has too many syllables, and seems to apply more to the half-fingered style. Sometimes they're called mitts, but I just don't like the sound. Glovelets is too cute and diminuitive. Gauntlets is better, but not quite right since it can refer to just the cuff, and has connotations of ancient armor. It's been hard to come up with a term I like.

Recently, I took a class in Sanquhar Gloves from Beth Brown-Reinsel, and I opted to make my open fingered version, partly because I'm such a slow knitter, but mainly because I knew I'd wear them more. My husband said that they reminded him of spats, so I called them Sanquhar Hand Spats, pictured here. I like that name, but there's another contender that I'm considering.

My good friend Sandy, fellow passionate knitter and sister of my heart, told me that the Sufis, Islamic mystics and dervishes, got their name from the woolen, suf, cloaks that they wore. The idea of sufis as in woolies came to mind as a handy name for my favorite accessory-without-a-name. The sound appeals to me, and so does the derivation. The fact that it isn't self-explanatory is a drawback, and someone is bound to see it as disrespectful to a beautiful and revered spiritual tradition, though I'm just trading on the older word for wool. Nevertheless, I like the name more and more as it tumbles around in my head. I'm working on a pair of sufis right now, and I'll post a picture when I'm done.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ode to a Maslin Pan...and Other Farm Wife Impedimenta

Yesterday, I sliced a heaping cup of garlic paper thin and finely julienned a cup of ginger, and then chopped five pounds of apples to make chutney. That sounds like a lot, but yielded just seven, tiny, precious half-pints. It's a recipe that I was lucky enough to get many years ago from the amazing Parsi food diva, Niloufer Ichaporia King. I cooked the chutney last night, let it sit to meld the flavors and check the seasoning, then reheated and put it in jars this morning. As I write, it's making little plunking sounds when each bottle cools and seals. I get a tiny surge of pleasure each time, like when the cork pops out of a bottle of sparkling wine. Viva!

After my complaints about how much trouble it is to make preserves, I have to admit that it's considerably easier than it used to be. I learned most of my Farm Wife skills from Gran, my father's mother, and as a result, I tend to do things the way she was taught by her mother. That puts me at least a century behind the times, with a methodology that hovers around 1895. Recently, though, I've found some handy tools that I wish I'd discovered years ago. Besides the usual jar lifters, wide mouth funnels, and other basics, several new implements have made the whole messy business easier. I'm going to share these tips with you, dear reader, since I forgot to have children, and hate to see all of my brilliant ideas go down with me when my time comes.

First, the maslin pan. I'm in love with the maslin pan. It's a stainless steel pan with a thick bottom to reduce the risk of scorching and sticking. It's wider at the top than the bottom to speed evaporation, and it has a bail, just like a bucket, and a pour spout on one side. Trying to get that last half cup out of a regular pan is tough, but with a maslin pan, so easy. It's a thing of beauty if, like me, your pulse elevates around sturdy cookware. The second tool that Gran didn't have is the silicone spatula. How did I get by before these amazing heat-resistant tools were invented? You can stir with them, and swish around the inside of the pan to keep things from sticking and the spatula won't melt. What to do with the spatula between stirs? That problem is answered by the pot clip, a little gizmo that goes on the edge of the maslin pan and holds the sticky spatula suspended over the pot, ready to use, but out of the way. Finally, the mandoline. My beloved. I started using the mandoline when I lived in Japan twenty years ago, and after returning to California, used to beg my friend Ruth to bring new ones when she would visit. Mine is a basic little"benriner", which tranlsates something like "handy thing", and it is indeed. I use it every day for slicing and grating (it makes handsome little square shreds instead of the homely stuff that comes out of a regular grater), but it's especially useful when there are gallons of fruit to slice for marmalade, or horrifying amounts of garlic to prepare, like for yesterday's chutney. As it says on the top, "Watch your fingers." I confess that I've been unfaithful to the mandoline this Farm Wife season, because I broke down and bought the slicer grinder attachments for my Kitchen Aid mixer. It's speedy, but somewhat haphazard, and I may need a little more practice with it before it competes with the little mandoline.

I've discovered that I can put links to Amazon on this blog, and they will actually give me money if anyone buys something after being directed there. I promise that it won't ever influence what I say, and I hope to have my integrity intact after doing this. Besides, you can't even get a maslin pan from Amazon. I found mine at Lee Valley, the nifty tool company, and I recommend it for your benefit, dear reader, not theirs.

There's one more modern tool I use when I make preserves. Avery, the company that makes the labels I use for the pantry, has free downloadable software that makes it easy to customize a label, and print exactly the number you need. Just remember to put the labels in the printer upside down, something I forget at least once every summer.

The biggest Calypso dog just told me that the Satsuma plums are falling off the tree. Sigh.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Farm Wife Summer

"Bought marmalade? Oh dear, I call that very feeble."
-----Maggie Smith as Constance in Gosford Park

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year, when the fruit in the orchard becomes a huge chore on its way to becoming a treasure. At our house, the morning routine requires coffee with toast and jam, and that jam has to be homemade. Alas, I do not love everything about the process.

The love:

Open kettle preserves have a flavor that can't be matched by most commercial jam, which tends to be bulked up with pectin and worse. Most of the fruit I use is from trees I can see from my porch or blackberries that grow along the edges of the vineyard. The process of making preserves is sensual and meditative. It always makes me feel connected with my grandmother, who first taught me the Farm Wife arts. When I'm finished for the season, I'm unreasonably pleased with my industry and gloat over the handsome rows of jars on the shelf. Plus, lately more aware of the part food plays in a healthy planet, there's satisfaction in the recycling of Mason jars, and the environmental plus of not shipping my jam from Bulgaria.

The hate:

The fruit ripens during hot weather. That means that turning it into preserves heats the house and makes me miserable all day. Every year, I find I've forgotten how long it takes, and how much work it is to chop the fruit and cook it. The crop always seems to hit its imperative moment when I had other ideas for the day. I either feel guilty for ignoring it, or martyred that I have to abandon my plans to stand at the stove.

Is it worth it to go through Farm Wife Summer every year? I know I'm always glad that I did it when I enjoy that homegrown tablespoon of summer on my morning toast. However, I only make as much as we need, and no more. Don't expect to find a jar under the Christmas tree with your name on it. I have a little devil on my shoulder (that couldn't be my voice, could it?) saying "Why would you go through this for people who think their own time is too valuable to spend making marmalade, or, goddess forbid, people who don't know the difference?"