Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Follow me!

Unfortunately Google has decided to get rid of Google Reader, so if you've been following me through there, you can now follow me through Bloglovin' (see Eiffel Tower at right) or through Feedly. Thanks! I'll be back tomorrow with some updates. :-)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Great British Sewing Bee finale

If you're wondering who won the Great British Sewing Bee, here's the finale:

Did you like this show? Will you watch another season? (Please BBC ... make the next season longer!) Are you happy with who won?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

If you're a redhead, we're related

ginger hair


There's no question I'm a carrier of the redhead gene: my hair is auburn, my brother has carrot red hair, my paternal grandmother and her siblings all had red hair, and their Scottish grandfather certainly looks as though he could be a redhead in pictures. And while my father has dark hair, his facial hair, when it grows, is bright red!

My husband's family, however, was a mystery, but when I popped out a redhead, it became evident my husband was a gene carrier for red hair. (Since the redhead gene is recessive, both parents must be carriers for its expression.) Since O was born, I've found out that my husband's ancestors hail from Yorkshire in northern England, where red hair is fairly common.

I just read about a DNA test from ScotlandsDNA that will tell you if you carry the red hair gene. They say every person who carries the recessive gene is a direct descendant of the first person to ever have red hair. Which means my husband and I are distantly related, I guess. ;-) Six to 18 million people in the U.S. have red hair, more than any other country on earth, and there are more gene carriers here, too. I guess that's a good thing since people here don't seem to mind red hair as much as they do in other countries, where redheads are often bullied. I know my brother hated people commenting on his hair all the time ("Hey big red!" or "Where'd you get that hair?") but that was the extent of it. O was a strawberry blonde when he was younger, but now it has gotten darker and more red. People don't call him "Red" or anything like that ... they mostly tell me they wish they could get that color out of a bottle.

And boy, so do I!

Additional reading here.

The Norwegian sweater project

Norwegian Sweater Inspiration

Yes, I know this is supposed to be a blog celebrating all that's British, but let's ignore that for a minute so I can tell you about a knitting project I have planned for this summer.

Back in the 80s I owned a navy blue LL Bean Norwegian sweater that I loved with all my heart even though it was huge on me. I wore it through college, on casual days at work, even as a jacket of sorts on cold winter days -- it was that warm. I'm not sure what happened to it -- it may be packed up in a box out in our storage container -- but I've been longing to wear one again.

In the 1990s, LL Bean discontinued selling this classic sweater but, due to customer demand, brought it back a few years ago. Sadly, they seem to have changed the sweater a bit. The old sweaters had a bit of rayon in them, and the cuffs on the newer sweaters aren't as sturdy and sprongy as the old cuffs. Reviewers complain of the sweater feeling lighter and less rugged than the classic sweaters of years past.

So I've decided to knit my own this summer.

The LL Bean version is boxy -- there's no shaping around the waist -- and at my age, I do need a little shaping to avoid looking like a linebacker for the New England Patriots. Shaping will be easy enough to accomplish if I knit my own version. I was thinking of using Elizabeth Zimmerman's EPS system to create my sweater, but this will create raglan sleeves and the LL Bean version has set-in sleeves. Ideally I'd like to knit the sweater in the round as opposed to knitting it flat; stranding on the purl side is no fun. But it seems like if I knit in the round from the bottom up, I'll have to cut steeks for the armholes ... unless I figure out how to knit it top down.

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 1.19.24 PM

I bought some test wool last week when I was down at my mother's house in Mystic, some Nature Spun Sport in "blueberry" and "cream" for swatching. The blue is a little bluer than I wanted, but yarn that was marked "navy" looked almost black, so I went with the lighter color. It looks like the pattern is easy enough, a square of four rows and four stitches width. The only trick will be shaping on the sides. The LL Bean version is seamed on the sides and some of the white stitches are crowded together, so I don't think my un-seamed version will look too weird.

Hmmm. I'm never done something this adventurous before, so any advice is welcome!

Monday, April 22, 2013

What a week

Fiat 500

City Fish Market, Wethersfield

Remnants of fall in spring puddle

O and Carolina

O and Carolina

O and I spent his spring break down in Connecticut with my parents ... a couple days at my father's house on the lake, then a day at my mother's house in Mystic.

We were lucky and got a Fiat 500 from the rental car company. I was so excited to get it. And yes, it lived up to my expectations. Not only adorable, but peppy and surprisingly comfortable. Usually after an hour of driving, I have to get out and stretch my spine ... not so with this car. I was sad to bring it back to the rental company at the week's end. :( Fingers crossed I can buy one when my car-less in suburbia experiment ends in October.

On Monday the 15th I left O with my parents and drove up to Northampton, home to my alma mater, Smith College, but more importantly, home to the yarn Mecca called WEBS, which was having its anniversary sale. I spent several hours there, bummed that the wool I'd picked out for two projects was backordered, but I did find enough for other projects in the queue. Thanks to my parents for the generous Christmas gift that financed this expedition! :)

On the way back to Connecticut, I stopped at another favorite place, City Fish Market in Wethersfield to pick up some salmon for dinner. I love this place. My mom used to buy fish here when we were kids, so it's always a nice nostalgic visit.

When I got back to my father's house, I recall asking him who won the Boston Marathon. My father is a former marathoner who has actually run this marathon, but he didn't know. I went to work preparing dinner, then went to check my e-mail when I saw a couple "Are you okay?" e-mails. Panic rising, I checked the news and saw what had happened. I quickly called my husband, who works in Cambridge, and he assured me he was fine. The rest of the night we stayed glued to the television.

We cut our visit to Connecticut a little short so we could return to Boston. It's weird, but I just wanted to be home even though it felt like everything was crazy up there. We did sneak in a visit to Storrs to the UCONN Dairy Bar, got in a nice walk at Center Church Camp, and my mother treated me to the first whole belly clams of the season down at Sea Swirl in Mystic. (Sorry, North Shore folks but Sea Swirl clams are superior, nyah-nyah.)

My husband usually works late on Thursday nights, but he came home a bit early because we'd returned. I was beat from all the drama of the week so I went to bed super-early and when I woke at 7, my husband had already left for work. He works at 500 Technology Square, which is part of MIT bordering the east campus. The first thing I do when I wake is check my e-mail ... and oh no, a bunch more e-mails asking if we're okay, or specifically if my husband is okay because of what happened at MIT!!! Frantically I checked the news, then called my husband. He happened to get into work so early that he was able to get into his building before they locked down Cambridge, but the fatal shooting and carjacking the night before had happened within a block of his building. I was so grateful that he'd come home early the night before because he would have been in the thick of it otherwise!

I had some worry that he wouldn't be able to get home that night, but with the action firmly over in Watertown, he was able to leave work around noon and return home.

And that was that.

I can't bear to watch the news anymore. It disgusts me that such a fun, iconic event like the Boston Marathon was attacked like this. But the pundits and comedians all have it right: Boston is a tough city. I mean come on ... we stuck by the Red Sox for how long? The people who live here are resilient. My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones who were too young to pass. The people who were hurt and maimed will be loved and supported by not just their families, but the whole community.




Friday, April 12, 2013

Cheesy kale chips

Kale chips


A few years ago, when I was feeling really terrible, I went on a raw vegan diet. Don't laugh. I know the science behind raw foodism is complete bonkers, but I felt like my body needed lots of fresh, raw vegetables at the time and considering I don't like meat much at all and eat tons of veggies, adopting the diet wasn't such a struggle. Weight I'd been carrying around since the birth of my son dropped away, my skin glowed with health, and I felt terrific!

Then I got diagnosed with colon cancer.

The cancer was slow-growing, meaning it had been inside me long before I adopted a raw food diet, but I often wonder if that year-long foray into eating fresh, raw organic food helped in any way. Maybe it slowed the growth of those cancer cells so they didn't invade the tissue around the tumor, which would have given me a wholly different prognosis.

Or maybe the diet didn't do a damn thing.

A month ago I started transitioning back to my vegetarian diet -- lots of leafy green veggies, salads, colorful squashes, some starch, and the occasional taste of nightshade fruits (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and red peppers). I avoid gluten as it irritates my digestive system post surgery, and I'm now off caffeine (thanks to Dandy Blend) and have cut back severely on sugar (slowly getting used to stevia in my morning Dandy Blend.) I am thinking of giving up dairy, too, except that I love cheese. I would marry cheese if I could.

One treat I loved when I was eating "raw" was kale chips. I discovered cheesy kale chips in a gourmet market over in Concord. They were something like $7 or $8 for a medium-size bag and I'm pretty sure I ate the whole bag before I got home. I looked at the ingredients and decided to make my own recipe since I grew tons of kale and owned a dehydrator.

Kale chips are seriously delicious. Even though I eat real cheese on a regular basis, I think they still taste very cheesy. After about an hour of dehydrating, they fill my house with such a mouthwatering smell, I start lifting the lid to nibble on the small bits that are almost dry. (That's why the tray above looks a little sparse.)

A couple tips: you really need a heavy-duty blender to make the cheese sauce. We have a Vitamix, which turns the nuts into a creamy butter. I don't think a regular blender would work. You do not need a dehydrator, though. I've made successful batches of kale chips with my oven set at 175-200 degrees F. However, it seems to take longer to crisp them up in the oven.

Cheesy Kale Chips

1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water overnight and drained

1 red pepper, chopped roughly

2 tbsp. lemon juice (I cheat and use bottle juice sometimes)

1 tbsp. nutritional yeast (do not confuse this with baking yeast, which makes bread rise. Nutritional yeast is used by vegetarians/vegans as its rich in Vitamin B12 and has a slightly cheesy flavor.)

1/2 tsp. sea salt

Kale, approximately 12-15 oz. (I buy the prewashed kale at Whole Foods for $2.99 and use about 3/4 of the bag)

Combine all ingredients except the kale in the mixer jar. Blend on high speed until the sauce is smooth and creamy.

Place kale in a large bowl big enough so that you can toss and mix it around. Pour the sauce over and rub it into the kale. I spend about five minutes giving the kale its cheese bath.

Place the kale on your dehydrator trays. (It's okay to crowd it -- after an hour or two it will shrink up and you can rearrange everything.) Dehydrate at 135 degrees F for four to six hours until crisp and crackly. Test often. ;-)

If you try cheesy kale chips, let me know what you think.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Knitting update

Aran sweater

I've picked up the needles again, damned and determined to finish this Aran sweater. What you see in the--crappy--picture above is the back panel, the two arms (with a mistake in one of the seed stitch rows, which I let go because you'll only see it when I raise my arm), and the right side cardigan panel on my circular needles. And woo-hoo, I get to knit the button bands with the panel instead of picking up stitches. "All" that will be left is the left panel with its buttonholes, seaming the shoulders and knitting the neck ribbing, seaming the rest of the sweater, adding buttons, and I'll be done. I'm thinking traditional leather-look embossed buttons for this, though I may go for something non-traditional once I get to WEBS on Monday and am so inspired.

That's right ... the plan is a mother/daughter pilgrimage to Northampton while my son is on spring break. WEBS happens to be having its anniversary sale this month, and all their Cascade 220 is on sale. I want to buy enough in a blush pink for ... another Aran. Yes, I am crazy. But a. I've always wanted a pink Aran sweater after spotting one in Alice Starmore's Aran Knitting and b. I don't plan on knitting this right away because there's something else in the queue.

This. Isn't it lovely? Rarely do I fall in love with a knitting pattern, but I fell hard for the Modern Wrapper. I have small shoulders, which normally would have me running from a pattern like this, but the model seems to have a frame similar to mine and she looks quite comfortable in this. I even love the color and plan to knit a jewel-tone purple one for myself. Weirdly enough, I'm not a "purple person," even though colors with names like "eggplant" and "plum" are very flattering to my complexion/hair. I priced out the yarn for this, though -- 14 balls of Rowan Fine Tweed and 6 balls of Rowan Kidsilk Haze came to $130 and some change, not including shipping. Yikes!  So I may have to make a yarn substitution to keep costs within reason.

As a palate cleanser between projects, I plan on knitting a few pairs of socks. I miss my sock knitting dreadfully. My stepmother has been diagnosed with Reynaud's Disease, which causes loss of blood flow to her fingers and toes. She is now a big fan of my handknit wool socks, which keep her feet cozy warm. It's nice to have someone in my family I can knit for, especially knowing that the product will actually help her stay healthy. :-)

The second episode of the Great British Sewing Bee was posted on YouTube this morning, which I watched over lunch. Oh, I wish the show was longer than four episodes! I really like all the remaining contestants, but I guess I'm rooting a little for Ann because she's 81 and a total rockstar. One thing that bugs me about Project Runway here in the U.S. is the bias toward contestants, especially female, if they're over 40. I even noticed it with one of the most successful over 40 contestants, Laura Bennett, who was frequently called out for designing clothes that were too "matrony." I wish fashion designers would realize that not everyone wants to dress like an 18-year-old. Heck, not every 18-year-old wants to dress like an 18-year-old! Favorite line from Ann: "Can you imagine a boy in pair of jeans his mum made? No, thank you! Imagine the horror!"

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Great British Sewing Bee

Dropping in briefly here to say if you live stateside/Canada, have you checked out the new series running on BBC2 in the UK called "The Great British Sewing Bee"? I found the first episode on YouTube; the second will be airing tonight so fingers crossed we'll be able to keep up with the show. I like it a lot! The judges are firm, but kind, and I love that the clothes are "wearable," unlike the fashions that are designed and sewn on Project Runway. Let's just say that Nina Garcia's definition of wearable is far different from mine. ;-)

I was very sad to hear of Margaret Thatcher's passing yesterday. I actually saw her briefly, once, during a trip to London. I happened to be at 10 Downing Street when she was getting into her car to fly up to Manchester after the Kegworth air disaster (I just looked up the date; it must have been January 9, 1989 as that's when she gave a speech about it). I remember her hair being more red than I thought it was and she waved at the small group of us tourists as her car passed. That is it.

Today I saw my first snake of the season, a 2' long garter snake sunning itself in the path of my bike. I am so proud of myself for not freaking out and driving off the path and into the ditch. I calmly navigated around the little fellow, then stopped my bike to look at him. No pictures, sadly ... I was afraid to turn my back on the beast. ;-)