Saturday, April 16, 2016

Limoncello Batch #1

So the batch of limoncello I started on New Year's Day is out in the wild.

Alcohol: Everclear 190 (1 1.75l bottle)
Lemons: 20 organic from Fresh Market
Simple Syrup: 10 cups water, 7 cups sugar

The simple syrup was the problematic step. Because the Everclear was 190, instead of 151 from the recipe, I would need much more simple syrup to get the alcohol content down to something drinkable. Ben at recommends going down to 25% alcohol if you're giving it away as a gift, but I was worried that a gallon of simple syrup would make the whole thing much too sweet.

My friend A--- wisely pointed out that you can always put more simple syrup in, but you can't take it out. So I decided to double the "standard" recipe, putting in about 13.5 cups of simple syrup.

I couldn't wait for it to mellow, and tried a shot that night (February 13). The flavor was generally good, but there was a harshness underneath. The harshness did soften a bit over time, but in the end, the alcohol content of this is really too high -- the calculator puts it at about 33%. When you hold a swallow in your mouth, it burns slightly, like Listerine.

I've bottled it up, and am selectively handing out to friends to try, encouraging them to experiment with ways to offset the alcohol. A--- thinks she wants to try mixing in some whipping cream. My best success so far was with a very good Ginger Limoncello Fizz cocktail: a shot of limoncello, a shot of ginger ale, and a couple shots of seltzer.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Prayer Shawl

Mummy dust, to make me old. To shroud my clothes, the black of night. To age my voice, an old hag's cackle. To whiten my hair, a scream of fright. A blast of wind to fan my hate. A thunderbolt to mix it well. Now, begin thy magic spell.
--Queen, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"
As a kid who was fascinated with magic and spells, I loved this section of the movie and the idea of sounds and other intangibles made into ingredients. To create a magic potion, you literally mix metaphors.

The knitting project I'm working on brought this scene to mind. My library knitting group wanted to explore shawls for our February meeting, and I decided I was going to sign up for Josh Ryks' latest mystery knit-along. It was a fun evening, and Josh was great. But instead of getting into the new shawl design, my heart was captured by an old one, Urban Survival, which Josh admits is one of his favorites.

So what ingredients are going into my Urban Survival spell? The yarn base is called Fortitude, which seems like a good foundation for survival. The set I bought includes the colors "Slush" (something to be warded against), "Earl Grey" (for comfort), and "Gun Powder." While I personally don't believe that gun powder is necessary or helpful for urban survival, the friend who is the likely recipient of this shawl certainly does. I'm adding from my stash a bit of "Midnight Blue," symbolizing...what? Late night melancholy? Quiet romance?  There's something peaceful and calm--stable, solid, and subtle--about the dark blue worked into the dark gray. And playful too, like the blue in Superman's hair.

I don't believe in magic, and I don't believe my knitting is imbued with the energies of my intentions, but I find I'm enjoying the idea of casting a spell with my yarn.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Prepping for Christmas 2016

I hate shopping, and that makes Christmas an ordeal. I love my friends and family, and I love the feeling of having a gift for someone which is perfect for them. But I hate finding those gifts, and frankly, I'm not really thoughtful enough to come up with a different, perfect gift for every individual.

Arts fairs are cool, and I love supporting the independents who sell there, but it's too easy to find too many options for some people and nothing for others. When we went to Winterfair, I decided to just enjoy it rather than take on the shopping pressure: if I saw something cool, I would buy it, regardless if I had an intended recipient in mind. That's a strategy I may repeat. Perhaps not all the gifts I gave were home-runs, but none of them completely struck out.

You'd think a knitter would be at an advantage here, but I hate the pressure of required knitting almost as much as I hate shopping. (Every year, Yarn Harlot chronicles the escalating stress of her Christmas knitting. I've stopped bothering to read those posts -- she brings it on herself.) Still, knitting is impressive, and at the beginning of 2015, I resolved to knit a Christmas ornament every week, so I'd have a stockpile of little, handmade gifts. I think that resolution held up for 3 weeks, producing only a couple oak leaves.

I also had this idea that my sister and I should make limoncello and give it away in little gift bottles. My plan was to start in August. But when August finally came, I was in an emotionally wretched state from the twin blows of being offered a job I didn't want and then
not being offered the job I did want.

But it's a new year, and I've got 11½ months to prepare. Friends had scored 1.75l of 190 proof Everclear for me in the fall, and my family bought me the Microplane Zester from my Amazon wishlist. I spent the first morning of 2016 zesting 20 organic lemons while running the Everclear through a filter as recommends.

As for the knitting, I could take another stab at the "On Sunday We Make Ornaments" resolution, but I know it's doomed to failure. Maybe I could convince myself to do one knitted give-away per month?


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Things I Wish I Had More Time to Do

I need a staycation. The list of things I wish I had more time to do is getting out of hand.

Read the 4 books I have by the bed:

Crank out the designs in progress:
  • That cuff-down thing I blogged about previously
  • Instructions for the heel of that sock
  • The amazing glove pattern
  • The glove class based on that pattern

Make things
  • Finish the top-down henley (and while I'm at it, maybe the vest that's been inches from completion for 3 years)
  • Knit the gloves I started for Andrea and the fingerless gloves Robin wants
  • Make limoncello. My plan was to have this ready for Giftmas; not going to happen.
  • Knit this toy rabbit and these slippers.
  • The felted mistletoe slippers that Mike fell in love with

Clean stuff
  • The bathroom needs rigorous cleaning of all surfaces
  • The basement is a disaster

  • Catch up on the DVR, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime queues
  • Take care of Giftmas in general (decorating, shopping)
  • Get some one-on-one social time with my sister 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cuff Down Detours

I've been struggling off and on all year with a new sock design. The idea first came to me on Christmas: I noticed a picture frame that had a common decorative element I've always liked, and it occurred to me that if I cocked it slightly on the diagonal, I could easily render it in the traveling slipped stitch pattern that I favor in sock designs.

For months I charted and swatched, trying different variations of the idea. All of them were slightly "off," and for a while I thought the design wouldn't work on a sock. It was too big, traveled too quickly in its diagonal spiral to fit around a foot--I was dismayed to realize that it would probably work better on a hat.

Sneak peak
I persevered, and in late June, I saw a way forward, and pretty quickly knit up a really attractive sock, one of the best I've designed. My process is to knit one sock, making notes as I go, then start writing the pattern, making the second sock from these newly drafted instructions. This prototype pair often doesn't completely match, because I make design adjustments and improvements which make the second sock slightly "better."

And it was working. As much as I liked the first sock, the second was fantastic--until I got near the ankle. The changes I'd made to improve the design on the foot caused a problem when it got to the ankle. I couldn't solve it, and in frustration, I set the sock aside.

This morning the answer came to me: it's not a toe-up design. This sock will be so much easier to knit if constructed cuff-down.

I should have realized this earlier. In fact, I kind of did, but I was disappointed, and wanted to push through. It's possible to make this design toe up, and I can pretty easily do it myself, adjusting on the fly to make the design work on any sized foot. But that kind of improvisation doesn't fit in a written pattern. So cuff-down it is.

Back to the drawing board, which has accumulated quite a layer of dust while this design was in time out.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A New Start with Gloves

Two years ago, the father of this gorgeous yarn (go buy some!) declared that he dislikes making socks and prefers gloves. I've made gloves before, but never felt the joy. Still, Caerthan is cool, and my dork reflexes advise me to like the things the cool kids do, so I threw myself into it.

The result was the Evil Genius Glove Recipe, a fingers-down method of making gloves. It served me for awhile, and I enjoyed the process of learning about gloves--different gussets, thoughts about fit and negative ease, ways to manage the fourchettes and inevitable holes--but my joy faded pretty quickly.

What I really wanted was a game-changing trick for gloves, something that took away the annoyance and made it fun. (I once mused on Facebook about how cool it would be if a brilliant innovator like Cat Bordhi would turn her attention to gloves.)

I think I've finally found that trick. It seems to originate with Cathy Scott, who figured out that the "peasant thumb" technique of using waste yarn to create a thumb opening could be used with a gusseted thumb and even with finger connections: no casting off and casting back on. She explained the thumb technique on her blog, but it was her IPOD Gloves pattern that blew my mind. In the past month, I've made 4 pairs of gloves, and each finger teaches me something new about how this trick works.

I hope to put out my own glove pattern--a new recipe--using this technique next year. Before then, I have a lot of testing to do to perfect the fit and instructions. I'm not making any promises, but it's possible that this journey might give me something to write about on this long-dormant blog.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Don't check bags

As I've said before, what good is a blog if you can't bitch impotently about minor inconveniences?

A few weeks ago, Mike and I were flying home from a conference, and to expedite processing at the airport, I checked both of our bags together.  Later, at the gate, they repeatedly announced that they would like to check passenger's bags for free because the flight was full and space in the overhead compartment was limited.  So that was annoying:  I paid for a service they were later offering for free.

Back at work, while I was sorting through my receipts to prepare my reimbursement request, I discovered that when I checked the bags together, I was charged extra for the second bag.  I paid them $60 unnecessarily.

So I submitted a refund request, which they have just denied.

MORAL:  Don't pay to check your bags on United.  They'll probably beg you to let them check them for you for free at the gate.