Monday, December 26, 2011

Daddy Hat for Christmas

Remember the baby hat from my previous post?
I received a call Tuesday evening, December 13th,  from Stacy, the recipient of the baby hat.  At the time of her call, the baby was not quite a week old yet.  Even over the phone I could tell she was all smiles and obviously elated to be a mom.  And I know from our previous conversations that her husband is every bit as excited to finally be a dad.  They are madly in love with each other and now the baby makes everything even that much more wonderful.  It’s heart-warming to be an outsider looking in on such a happy family. 
Stacy thanked me over and over again for the baby hat.  She couldn’t say enough nice things about it adding that her son wears it all the time.  She loves it so much that she got the idea to ask me to make a matching Daddy Hat as a Christmas present!   Not only did she order the Daddy Hat but she also requested three additional baby hats, one for her best friend’s newborn baby girl and two more for her son.  I feel so honored.  How could I disappoint someone like that?!  I told her I needed to check on yarn availability and would try my best to get it done in time for Christmas. I was prepping dinner as we talked so it had to be close to 5:30 p.m.   By the time I got off the phone, got dinner in the oven and looked up the phone number for the knit shop, it was 5:59 p.m. and the shop closes at 6 p.m.! 
Charlene, the Stitch In Time shop owner, picked up and I thanked her profusely.  I requested the yarn and she reassured me it was still available and even in the same dye lot.  Whew!  Since I had guests coming to visit in a couple of days, I had groceries to buy and food to make, a house to clean, and a tree to put up for the holidays, I knew I had to get the yarn ASAP.   I also had to come up with a pattern that was close to the baby’s hat since Stacy is hoping they would match.  It took a bit of searching  but I found a similar style adult-sized hat online at a fellow Raveler’s  Ravelry page that took me to her blog/website:  for the FREE pattern.  Perfect!  It’s as close as I could get without writing out my own.  The next morning, I made the trip to Howell to purchase the yarn.

Provisional Cast On (white stitches) to be removed later.

My guests visited that Friday and we had a really nice visit.  Friday after dinner, I dug right in and started knitting like a maniac.  I had never done a provisional cast on before… pretty neat trick!  We will be using that again!  I checked gauge, did a little "frogging" (rip it, rip it) and then finally got the hat started.  I finished by 10:00 a.m. Monday, December 19th -- guests, cooking, chores, errands, and all.  I got my Christmas shopping done the next day too!  Isn't it wonderful when something is "meant to be" how it all fall into place.

Daddy Hat
That Monday morning, I called Stacy to arrange for drop-off or pick-up.  She planned to be in town for the baby’s first check-up on Thursday… perfect!   Unfortunately, I had to explain that I only had the Daddy Hat for her at that time.  Regardless, she was tickled that it was done before Christmas and she planned to have a belated Christmas celebration with her girlfriend New Year’s weekend anyway, so all was well. 

But after I got my errands done and shopping out of the way, I realized I would have Wednesday afternoon to try and knock out the baby hats.  Lucky for me, Stacy changed the order to one hat for her son and one hat for her girlfriend’s baby.  The hats were completed, labeled and the box was delivered to the pick-up point.  I didn’t hear from her for almost two days which made me a bit nervous since the self-striping yarn will stripe differently on a larger item (larger stripes on smaller garments, smaller stripes on larger garments).  It was Saturday, Christmas Eve, when she returned my call to let me know she loved all the hats and how pleased she was that I got them all done!  They sure are colorful! And I can just imagine how sweet the babies are that will be wearing them!
Baby Girl and Baby Boy Hats

Here’s to warm hearts and warm heads for all!  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Winter Sunrise: Red Sky in Morning...

Chelsea Milling Company "Jiffy Mix" plant silos illuminated by morning sun

This photo was taken the winter of 2010. It caught my eye out the window as I reached the top stair on the second floor of my house.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Color and Baby Cuteness

Swim Picture
Laps in the Chelsea Wellness Pool
For the last two years I have invested 2-3 hours,  3-5 days a week exercising at the local wellness center.  I’m either in the swimming pool swimming laps, participating in water aerobics classes, working out on the equipment floor, or I’m taking floor classes in the studio.    

For at least a year and a half of that time, the bulk of these classes have been taught by a very special young lady who announced earlier this year that she was “officially pregnant” after experiencing two prior miscarriages. 

Stacy, our mother-to-be
 Needless to say, this baby is very special and we are all so happy for our mommy-to-be.  We have been there through the entire pregnancy sharing in her experiences, her doctor’s visits, her ultrasounds and her cravings for pickle pancakes with peanut butter on top.  When asked if she knows the sex of the baby we are told that they have decided against finding out in advance.  So we are all waiting with great anticipation.    

About a month ago, the facility employees threw her a pot luck baby shower and invited her long-time students to participate.  She received many beautiful gifts and commented on being so very blessed.  We feel the same.
About three weeks following the shower, we were once again in the swimming pool as our instructor taught from the deck this time one week before her due date.  The conversation changed focus when someone asked if she is ready for the “big day” which prompted a barrage of suggestions and questions.  She reassured us that the car is packed with all the necessary winter survival equipment, and her bag is packed, etc.  The exchange slowed as she called out the next exercise. 

She started up the conversation again recalling that she and her husband had taken inventory of the clothing they had for the baby and couldn’t help but notice how generic everything looked – in other words cute, even beautiful, but not much color.  One of the class members, a neo-natal nurse, suggested she hang onto the little cap they put on the baby in the hospital because it really helps them sleep.  Our instructor said she was sure she will wish she had more than one hat.  So, I piped up and said, “I’ll you make you another hat.”  Her eyes lit up with delight and she exclaimed, “Oh, I know you’ll make me a colorful one!” 
Baby hat made on my circular sock knitting machine 

My assignment… make a “colorful” but gender-neutral hat.  Since I only had a week before her due date, I got to it right away.  Luckily, I was able to make it and get it to her the day before her due date.  She had the baby early the next morning, December 8, 2011.  It’s a boy!  He was born at 3:45 a.m., weighing in at 7 lbs. 6 oz.
I feel a pair of baby socks coming on! 

The start of a hand knit baby sock

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sharing in Friendship and Food

2007 NZAK Circular Sock Machine
About once a year, several of us get together in mid-Michigan for a circular sock knitting machine retreat.  It’s always held on the weekend just before or just after deer hunting season starts, so the coordinator of the event has decided to call it “Deer Camp” -- well, at least our version of deer camp!  My knitting buddies and I stay at our favorite bed & breakfast where the innkeeper is not only a delightful hostess but she has also become a dear friend.  I think we all agree that we have as much fun together at the inn as we do at the knitting event… frankly, I think we have more fun at the inn!  In fact, we often don’t want to leave the next morning to go knit, or to go home for that matter. 
This last visit, we awoke for the second day of the retreat and sat around the breakfast table sharing everything from soup to nuts… literally!  I mean kitchen renovation ideas were flying, knitting tips were thrown around, discussions about birds, chickens, goats, sheep and rabbits and, of course, FOOD!
Thick Kale Stew With All Beef Smoked Sausage

I love it when friends share recipes.  We got on the subject of how to use various vegetables, especially those that are hardy growers into the late fall, early winter.  Well, kale came up. I’ve always been interested in kale because it’s considered one of the world’s healthiest foods.  One of the gals mentioned a stew she favored. Then she promptly whipped out her iPhone from her flannel pajama pocket and emailed all of us the recipe for Thick Kale Stew! (Thanks M! for the recipe.)  

I was very interested in the recipe since I had tried to grow kale during all of the torrential downpours last spring.  Sadly, my seedlings were all washed away.  Thank goodness I still have seeds left for next year.  But for this batch of soup, I relied on the grocery store.  It is a very easy recipe and very tasty!  It is very close to the Portuguese Peasant Soup recipes I have seen.  I imagine you could spice it up a bit if you like or use a chorizo type sausage.  I chose to add just a touch of organic apple cider vinegar to give it a little bite and then compliment it with some slightly sweet and nutty homemade honey-whole wheat bread. In our house we call a new favorite a "do over". 

A hardy bowl of kale stew with homemade bread

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sourdough Rye Bread

My first all-rye sourdough bread
It has been about a month since I made my first whole rye sourdough bread.  It’s a recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz’s book,  Wild Fermentation.  The recipe is called Onion-Caraway Rye Bread.   This is made with a homegrown wild yeast sourdough starter.  It is a bread that I would call very dense and textural.  (I almost forgot to take a picture of it before I ate it all up!!)
The all rye starter is one that I began at the end of August, 2011.  It has been fed every day and  it’s still going strong over three months later.  I keep it in the oven with the door ajar which means the light is on constantly to keep the temperature at a steady 84 degrees F (29 C).  Only once since then did I have to refrigerate it. While I was away for four days, I had to store it in the refrigerator since no one was around to feed it.  It developed an alcohol layer on top which doesn’t hurt it.  This byproduct just means the active yeasts are off-gassing and there was nowhere for the gasses to go since it was covered with plastic wrap.  When I got home, I replaced the plastic wrap with the usual paper towel and set it out on the counter to come up to room temperature.  The "hooch"  was then stirred back in and I promptly fed the starter equal amounts of water and rye flour. It's much happier now, bubbling away as expected.  

Sourdough starter from organic rye flour
In my limited experience with wild yeast sourdough starters, I have concluded that starters are much happier in a moderately warm environment as opposed to refrigerated or out on the counter in my drafty kitchen. Every time I've tried to keep mine in the 'fridge or at room temperature, which can vary greatly in my house, I experience failure.  Maybe it's just me. 
Funny, I’ve read that a lot of people name their starters.  Feed them on a regular basis and they will continue producing all of those lovely yeasties for years to come, so why not name them?  I still need to come up with a name for mine...  Roger Rye? I also have a white flour starter, maybe I’ll call her Jessica.  OK, maybe not.
For my first attempt at this type of bread, I decided to cut the recipe in half and only make one loaf to test it out. OMGosh! I wish I had made a full batch.  This was the most sour-sourdough I have ever had in my life!  After taking a bite, it rolled across my tongue and I got the sensation of all that wonderful texture from the ground rye berries, the sweetness from the caramelized onions, the sharp flavor of the rye, then the slightly bitter taste of the caraway.  When the sourdough hit the back of my tongue, it was as close to lemon juice as one can get without the lemons!  Hoo hoo hoo!   Can a sourdough be too sour?  
I ate the very last slice about a week ago.  Amazingly, after four weeks of sitting on the counter in a plastic zipper bag it showed no signs of mold. Even that very last slice was still moist.  My absolute favorite way to eat this bread is to slice it thin and toast it until it gets all of those lovely crunchy brown edges and then slather it in butter.  What a treat… as good as any slice of cake, only sour! 

I told my brother about the bread over the phone.  He was very interested and recalled dense rye bread from our childhood.  It's a type of bread our mom used to buy from the local German bakery.  It was a childhood favorite of hers, probably because our great grandmother was German (off the boat) and served it on Sundays for family dinners at her house.  My brother and I both love a good hearty bread like this so, I made more -- one for him and one for me! 
Sponge Ingredients: Caramelized onions, ground rye berries,
partially ground caraway seeds, rye starter, and a
touch of molasses to round out the sourness (or so I thought!)

The Fermented Sponge (see the bubbles?)

I delivered it to him on Thanksgiving day.  After the holidays, he reported back that, although the bread is a bit sour for his liking, he is really enjoying the bread. 

Onion-Caraway Sourdough Rye Bread - fresh from the oven
I guess I'll have to divide my starter more often to remedy the sourness issue (although I love it).  I never throw my excess starter away... sounds like some sourdough pancakes or crackers are in order!  I feel the pounds coming on already!