Monday, April 30, 2007

Obligation Knitting and Mighty Fine Eats

Boo hoo, nothing on my needles is for me. Currently residing on my needles are a wrap earmarked for my mother and some socks for the boy. The wrap yarn is dreamy (Rowan Bamboo Soft) and the pattern is fast enough (Vine Lace from Barbara Walker's A Treasury of Knitting Pattens), but the color makes me ill. I hate pastel colors, but my mother wears lots of creams and whites, so it wouldn't do to make her a black and red wrap with flame patterns. I feel my creativity dying every time I pick up those needles, but I have only five more days to finish this wrap. It's crunch time. I'd much rather work on the neverending sock since the Lorna's Lace camouflage yarn makes me happy by just gazing at it.

But enough about knitting. Let's talk food! This weekend was the boy's birthday extravaganza. It started with the feast I posted about below, and it ended with a camping trip to Mendocino. I use the word "camping" very loosely, however, since we had showers and we ate out for all our meals! Among the most notable restaurants are Mendo Bistro and the North Coast Brewing Company, both in Fort Bragg.

Mendo Bistro blows me away every time we eat there. I always say that it reminds me of hip, affordable version of Chez Panisse. We had green curry mussels, peppercorn crusted pork tenderloin, chedder ale soup, and Hog Island oysters for starters. All were wonderful, with the exception of the chedder ale soup - I was expecting the chedder taste to be more pronounced, but it tasted more like a plain chicken and dumpling soup. My main course was pork belly with a root beer sauce reduction, roasted fingerling potatoes, and braised greens. It was very inventive dish that was mostly a winner, although the rootbeer sauce could've used some low notes (perhaps some balsamic or malt vinegar) because the richness of the pork belly and the sweetness of the rootbeer sauce was a bit lacking. The dessert was Not Your Momma's Carrot Cake, which was a deconstructed carrot cake consisting of a spice cake with dollops of cream cheese frosting, carrot sorbet, and carrot halwa. The presentation was stunning, the service was warm and solid, and the food is always above par.

The North Coast Brewing Company is also another winner. It's high-class pub fair coupled with some amazing microbrews. Sipping on their Blue Star and munching on a Kobe beef and blue cheese burger is not a bad way to pass an afternoon.

On our way up to the coast, we made a pit stop at Navarro Winery. This place has great white wines, and is also dog friendly (Vespa came into the winery with us even though is is under 21)! We came away with a case of my favorite wine for pairing with spicey Asian food: Navarro's 2005 Gew├╝rztraminer. We also bought a couple bottles of the Edelzwicker and their 2004 Syrah.

Sigh, I could happily live in Mendocino. There are enough hippy stores to fill my larder with ethnic ingredients and the scenery naturally lowers my blood pressure. I better start on that Mingus yarn business so we can live anywhere we want (pending a high speed Internet connection, of course).

Friday, April 27, 2007

FOs and Fire! Fire! Fire!

Muahahahahaha! Tonight is the boy's birthday party, so that only means one thing: Indian Feast! I'm slaving away (okay, fine, I'm currently blogging, but I assure you that when I am not blogging I am slaving away) on our meal. Tonight's menu, which will be enough for 10 people, includes lamb saag, tomato braised cauliflower, and basmati rice. For dessert, I bought a cake from the people who made our wedding cake, Masse's Pastries. Best. Cake. Ever. I used to hate cake until I was force fed a bite of Masse's mango mousse delight. (Sorry, I would post a picture the cake porn, but it has the boy's real name on it. After my last post, he said that he would be very upset - I'm paraphrasing here to spare your innocent eyes - if his real identity every intersected with the dog hair carding boy identity.) I am also going to make some marzipan cupcakes for his actual birthday tomorrow! Whee, I can feel the fat cells circling around me like rabid sharks as I write this, but it will be worth it!

Fire! Fire! Fire! This will eventually be a chicken liver mousse. What does this have to do with Indian food? Absolutely nothing, but the boy loves it, so I made it. Since I'm a firephobe, it took me three tries to light the congnac. It also didn't help that I was holding a camera with the other hand and flapping my other hand in the air as I screamed "Fire! Fire! Fire!"

And in knitting news, I have another FO (finished objects, for those friends of mine who aren't crazy knitters - yet). The lovely Vesparini is modeling two socks knit on size 1 needles out Trekking XXL sock yarn (colorway 166). These socks were literally painful to knit, mainly because I am an inexperienced knitting newbie who doesn't listen to other people's sound advice that I should've knit my first pair of socks with worsted weight yarn. Oh well. I love these socks and I've already cast on another pair for the boy. Since he wears size 13 shoes and he wants the top of the socks done in 2X2 ribbing, I get the strange feeling that these socks his way of getting me back for something...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Chiengora Recipe


1 dog
1 drop spindle
1 Furminator, optional (but oh so wonderful)
1 pair cotton hand carders, optional


Collect dog fur in a breathable container, like a paper bag. Sealing dog fur in a plastic bag concentrates the funk, which results in, um, funky smelling yarn. Of course, you'll wash the yarn later, but why should you have to wash your yarn several times when once should do? My fiber producer likes this process the best, but he always wants me to brush his belly. Belly fur does not make a nice scarf.

Using the hand carders, make rologs. I stink at this part, so this is the boy's job. Carding the fur orients the fibers in the same direction and removes debris. Although you don't need to do this step, it makes the spinning go so much faster. To be honest, if I was doing this by myself, I'd skip this step because I hate it so much.

To card the fur, start by charging your stationary hand card. This is just fancy way of saying put some fur onto it. (That orange ear belongs to Fifty-Fifty, my cat. )

Repeatedly brush the working carder over the stationary carder until most of the fibers are on the working carder. The hand carders should be oriented 180 degrees to each other.

Form your rolag by putting the card full o' fiber face up on your lap (it becomes the stationary carder). Starting with the both carders tip to tip, slowly, gently coax the fibers into a log. This is where I mess up every time, but the boy is quite good at this.

A very beer-worthy performance, indeed.

Ahem, where were we? Oh, yes, now we spin! I use a Schacht Hi-Lo drop spindle. What drew me to the drop spindle was its price (retails for less than $20) and its size, especially when these two factors are compared to a spinning wheel. Since I my chiengora aspirations seemed very far fetched, I didn't want to invest that much into it. Yet, this little spindle can do it all - I'm very happy with it!

There are some very good videos out there on the web on how to use a drop spindle, so I'll spare you the details and just show you a couple of pictures.

In this picture, my spindle is parked and I'm almost at the end of the rolag. Exciting, isn't it? For those of you used to spinning wool, you'll find that as you draft the fibers in your right hand, you'll need to pre-twist your fibers as you walk the twist up with your left hand. That's as clear as mud, but hopefully it will make sense as you spin. Without the extra bit of pre-twist, my fibers wouldn't lock on to each other and I would end up with oodles of 1- to 2-inch segments of useless yarn.

And now for the money shot: the yarn. It brings tears to my eyes.

Stay tuned for details on how to wash and set the twist on your one of a kind doggy yarn.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Never say never

I was convinced that I would never knit, simply being content to spin, and eventually dye, chiengora. I reasoned that I could trade conventional handspun yarn, like wool, with someone who could knit a scarf out of the Mingus yarn. Plus, formerly repressed memories of someone forcing me to knit hundreds of jingle bells for Christmas present decorations were surfacing (my mother must have taught me how to knit at some point, but I am too traumatized by being a jingle bell slave laborer to remember any details).

However, a nagging question remained: how would I know if my end product was good if I could not knit it? How would I know if my yarn was stable? Since I don't have any knit savvy friends nearby and I wanted to know for myself if my yarn was knittable, I reluctantly purchased some size 13 Addi Turbo needles for knitting garter stitch swatches.

I now present my first nice swatch of Mingus:
As you can tell, I was learning how to both knit and spin at the same time. The resulting product wasn't pretty, but it gave me hope.

A few days after I learned to spin, I had a week long vacation. My knitting needles and the cheap acrylic yarn I picked up at the drugstore had some serious bonding time. While lounging on the beach sipping margaritas, I knit my beloved cat Greaseball a scarf. As you can tell, he was just thrilled.

Upon returning back home, I was on a scarf mission. Not even Vespa, my GSD, was spared. The top scarf is a simple garter stitch scarf made from Di.Ve. The bottom scarf is a Classic Elite La Gran mohair in lupine. The stitch pattern is from knitlist.

Now, I am hopelessly hooked on knitting since there seems to be an endless variety of things to learn that do not involve jingle bells. Knitting in the round, like hats and socks, is my latest obsession.

I like to call this picture Mingus on Mingus. That little white stripe at the top is some Mingus yarn. The rest of the yarn is Rowan Cashsoft and the pattern is halfdome.

I am slowly working on the Mingus scarf - the process of collecting, spinning, washing, and eventually knitting the yarn takes a long time. Since I am a one who craves instant gratification, my needles are always have something I'm making with store-bought yarn. However, I will finish this in time for the boy's Christmas gift. There is a slight yarn malfunction in the middle of this project, but I think I'll be able to fix it later. So here it is: The Mingus Scarf.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Meet my fiber producer

My foray into spinning, and subsequently knitting, was not normal. By not normal, I mean that my mother and grandmother did not pass down the fiber arts to me. Neither did I start knitting a few years ago when there was a renaissance among my peers to knit.

My inspiration to start spinning was my dog, Mingus.

We were cocky when we, the boy and I, adopted this 80-pound fur producing machine. We already had two cats and a German "shedder" in our family, so daily vacuuming was something to which we were accustomed. What's one more dog? Famous. Last. Words. We were like Sisyphus, except our brand of punishment involved a life sentence to vacuuming our floors over, and over, and over again during a single day. The cruel joke was that Mingus would walk into a freshly vacuumed room, and in 5 minutes, reinfect it with white, fluffy tumbleweeds.

Frustrated at the amount of Mingus fur around the house, I came to the conclusion that the only way to make peace with the Mingus fur was to turn it into yarn and to start knitting ourselves garments out of them. Seriously. So, at 7:00 AM on a Saturday morning (why I was up at this hideous hour on a Saturday is beyond me), I decided that the boy and I were going to spin Mingus yarn and I was going to make the boy a Mingus scarf. When I woke up the boy to tell him about our little adventure and his involvement in it all, he nodded his head and fell back asleep.

There were two problems with this Mingus scarf plan: I didn't know how to spin and I didn't know how to knit. A little web research unearthed a place, Deep Color Studio, that conducted drop spindle lessons. The next class was the following day, so while the rest of America was watching the Super Bowl, we were happily learning how to make something useful out of all that dog fur. Why the boy still talks to me, I do not know. Thank goodness he is a good sport, and thank goodness he hates football - he still doesn't know who won the Super Bowl. (Okay, fine. I don't either.)

Since it has been over two months since I embarked on this odd journey, I wanted to blog it all so I can keep track of my fiber art projects. I also like to experiment in the kitchen, hence the "spices" in my blog title (thanks, harleymom), and I'd like to track those experiments as well.

I'll end my first post with a picture of my first project, the finished Mingus yarn. Since I've started, I found out that there is an almost pretty name for this stuff: chiengora. That's a much more marketable name than Mingus yarn! Plus, it won't cause confusion amongst the fans of Charles Mingus.


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