It’s Finally Spring

Spring has definitely arrived here in the Okanagan. Yesterday, there was snow in the forecast for higher elevations and we can still see snow on the hills around us but, here at the valley bottom, the forecasted temperatures call for 17ºC today and up to 25ºC in the next week. Once again, we’ll be going from winter to summer!

We’re throwing doors and windows open when we can to bring in some of that fresh air. Outside, things are growing and will be flowering soon. In the front garden, the lovage is already about 10″ tall, the poppies are even taller and the irises are following right along. The lilacs along the driveway are about to burst into leaf and flower and the garden needs tending. This year, we will be putting in a few things; the garden won’t be as large as it has been in previous years, that’s for sure, but we do want to put in a few things… peas, beans, a few tomatoes, some potatoes… things like that. I’d also like to set up a bit of a “tea garden” with a few plants I can use to make my own tea blends (i.e. chamomile, mint, and whatever else I can think of).

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In the interim, more fermentation has been happening inside. My kombucha and water kefir are both humming along now. I’ve changed my process slightly with the last couple of batches. Instead of a first and second ferment, I’ve added a step; after the first fermentation, I’m adding a flavouring ferment. The first fermentation is put into a mason jar large enough to accommodate the entire batch (a half gallon jar) and flavoured with whatever I want to flavour it with (i.e. blueberries and mango or blueberries and lavender, which I’ve done so far). I cover it and allow it to sit for a day or two before straining out the fruit and bottling the drink for its final fermentation. As much as I like the fruit, I really don’t like having pieces of fruit floating in my drink. I find I get better carbonation and the flavours mellow out better.

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Left: Mellowbuzz, made with bee pollen, chamomile flowers, and lavender flowers; Right: Black Cherry and Lemon Balm

This week, I also started a couple more ferments. I have another jar of sauerkraut fermenting on my sideboard and a jar of Beet, Cabbage, and Onion kvass in the spare room. Both were started yesterday and are already burbling away, doing what they do. On my kitchen counter, the jar of Cranberry Relish is ready to sample; I’ll be picking up some nice crackers and goat cheese to go along with it.

 

My sourdough starter continues to thrive and the bread I’m making is certainly appreciated around here. Yesterday, I made a loaf of Sourdough Raisin and Cinnamon Swirl bread; between the two of us, we’re down to half a loaf already. It has been declared a “Keeper”. It won’t be long before I make another loaf; I’ll have to pick up some Gouda cheese. One of my favourite snacks is raisin toast with Gouda cheese; they go together so well!

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I’ll probably be making another couple of loaves of Sourdough Sandwich bread this weekend; we both like it for our lunches.

Now, I’m going to get outside and enjoy the sunshine; it feels like it’s been a long time coming.

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Things Are Rotting Around Here… In A Good Way

I haven’t been blogging much lately, at least not here. That’s about the only thing, besides knitting, that I haven’t been doing. I’ve been keeping myself very busy; between soap making and things that are fermenting around here, I have little time for much else. This week, however, I’m on vacation. I’m not going anywhere; it’s my ME time, one week off while John is back at work.

Last September, I started a sourdough starter. I managed to keep it going long enough to bake some lovely breads and then I hid it away in my fridge and forgot all about it. Until a few weeks ago. I wanted to see if I could revive it and revive it I did! Over the past couple of weekends, I’ve been making sourdough waffles and bread, marvelous bread!

My favourite sourdough sandwich bread uses both yeast and starter. It’s a recipe I’ve been using for many years, since around 1975, and it has never failed me. This time, I adjusted the added sugar and salt and came up with a nearly perfect batch! According to John, I could increase the salt slightly more than I did and lower the sugar just a touch. However, it was deemed a rousing success. Thankfully, the batch makes two loaves because one loaf has already been consumed.

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Sourdough Sandwich Bread

Then, this past weekend, I made a batch of two loaves of true sourdough, leavened only with the sourdough starter. I only have a 12 ounce starter and the recipe I used, from the King Arthur Flour website, requires 12 ounces of starter. Obviously, I didn’t want to use all my starter so, over the course of a couple of days, I increased my starter until I had more than enough.

To say the bread turned out would be a definite understatement. It was, and still is, amazing. The bread has a nice tang to it, which is one of the things I love about sourdough bread, the crumb is moist and the crust is crisp. The only downside, if you can call it that, is that I should have slashed the loaves before putting them in the oven. They came out a bit misshapen but that’s minor.

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I now have one loaf from each batch in the freezer with plans to make more in the coming weeks. I think I can honestly say that these loaves equal what we can get at the grocery store and knowing that I made them feels really good!

In addition to the sourdough, I’ve also revived my water kefir and kombucha. The water kefir grains had been stored in the fridge since the beginning of winter; cold days are not the time for drinking cold, fizzy drinks. I wasn’t sure if they would come back because, honestly, I ignored them completely for nearly two months. However, a bit of sugar water and some warmth and water kefir production is back! I’ve even managed to get John to drink it on a somewhat regular basis. His favourite so far has been the cranberry kefir. Even 9-year old Ethan asks for it whenever he’s here.

I’ve just revived my kombucha and the first batch is nearly ready to bottle. I just haven’t decided how to flavour this first batch. All my frozen fruit, it seems, has been consumed by someone who likes it with his ice cream. No names will be mentioned.

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In addition to the fermented drinks, I’m also fermenting a small jar of carrot sticks. I tried a batch a couple of weeks ago but it grew mold after opening the jar. I think it was because I used dried dill and it all floated to the top; from what I could see, it was the dill that was moldy, not the carrots. I wasn’t going to take a chance, though, and tossed the whole jar. This time, I’m using fresh dill and it’s at the bottom of the jar, where the carrots are keeping it down. In another day or two, I’ll try one of the sticks to see how they’re progressing.

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I also fermented a jar of sauerkraut a few weeks ago and, this time, it turned out really well. I’m really happy with it and Trinity, our sour lover, has given her stamp of approval to the batch. Now, I need to find ways of getting John to eat it.

Today, just because I can, I’m starting a small batch of something called “Sima”, a Finnish fermented beverage made with lemons, sugar, and a pinch of yeast. It just sounded really tasty and I have all the ingredients at hand so…. why not? One recipe called it a type of mead and used honey in the recipe; the recipe I’m following uses white and brown sugar instead of honey. I thought about trying my hand at mead but the fermentation and aging times kind of put me off; it can take up to a year, according to some of the recipes I read. Around here? Not a chance! The Sima, on the other hand, could be ready within a week or two, depending on how long I allow it to age.

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I have to say, I’m really enjoying my experiments in fermentation. The fact that it produces a product rich in healthy probiotics is a bonus. Really, they just taste good!

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Year’s End

It’s the last weekend of the year, the last day of the year. I decided to usher 2017 out the door by making soap. I haven’t been making as much soap this year as I did in 2016 but I am still reading about soap and planning soap.

Yesterday, I made an experimental batch of soap that uses two kinds of lye, sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide. In my reading, over at the Soapmaking Forum, I came across a post about a dual lye soap and how using both can increase the lather in a low coconut oil soap. I decided to give it a try.

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It is now out of the mold but still quite soft and not ready for slicing yet. I coloured this one with Aztec Gold mica and it’s scented with a combination of cedarwood, rosemary, and lemongrass. It smells wonderful!

Now, I am in the mood to make another batch of soap for the upcoming year. I’ll be making a batch of Lavender & Goat Milk soap, a lovely mild, skin-loving soap that smells amazing. It will help to use up some of the goat milk languishing in the freezer. And we’ll be set for the upcoming year.

And, just because, here are a few pictures taken over the last few days. It’s definitely winter here.

 

 

Categories: Christmas, Finished, Holidays, Making Soap, Soap | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snow Day

It’s December in the Okanagan. We expect snow. We’ve had snow for the past couple of weeks. I’m okay with that. Honestly, I am.

However, overnight we received another 5-6″, with more still falling. I did make the effort to get out the door and try to get to work for a four-hour day. No. Just no. The roads are dreadful and people are driving way too fast for the conditions. At one point, I was driving at a 45º angle! Four hours of work is not worth taking my life into my hands.

And so, time will be spent working on a project I started in October of 2015 (yikes!), the Hidden Light Cardigan for John. The back is done, the front panels are done up to the arm scyes. And then, I got bored. Or my hands hurt. Whatever the reason, the bag with the pieces and needles has been languishing in my yarn stash. Yesterday, after work, I decided it was time to pull it back out, dust off the pattern (which I would have done had I been able to find it) and pick up where I left off.

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This picture really captures the colour very well.

And so, today I will be spending time listening to the weather news and working on John’s sweater.

Categories: Blogging, Cardigan, Christmas, Holidays, John's Sweater, Knitting, The Weather | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Breaky Kind of Day

It’s snowing out. We’re under a storm watch. Christmas is just days away and I’ve taken a few days off this week so I can catch up on some things. And to relax, to be honest.

One of the first things I did this morning, after driving Ethan to school was to do the dishes. John’s away for a couple of hours and I can take my time. I can be careful and do it right.

I dropped a mug. My favourite mug. The mug I was given for Mother’s Day. From my daughter and grandchildren.

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The one that says “Inspire”. They gave it to me because they consider me an inspiration. It didn’t fall far; I was washing it and it slipped. The handle hit another mug in the sink and fell off. I’m sad.

Then, while I was finishing up with the pots and pans, the cabinet to my left opened and a couple of Pyrex dishes slid out, onto our tile floor, startling me!

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Someone… not saying who… just does not know how to properly stack bowls and Pyrex, apparently. And, oh my, the noise when those dishes hit the ceramic floor! Yikes!

I think it’s time to sit down with a relaxing cup of tea and some knitting. Hopefully, nothing else will break.

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Lazy Sunday Morning

I’ve been battling a head cold this past week; thankfully, I’m at the end of it now and finally sleeping again. I really hate being sick (have I said that before?). It cuts into my ME time! So, today is kind of a lazy day for me.

And, what does someone like me do on a lazy day? Bake bread, of course. Because that’s what I do when I want to relax. Doesn’t everyone?

Today, I’ve gone back to one of my favourite bread books, “Great Bread Every Time” by Marilyn Barbe. I’m not sure how long I’ve had this book but it has to be at least twenty years.

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So far, everything I’ve made from this book has been successful and tasty. I even gave this one a big star and a couple of exclamation marks.

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I’m making, obviously,  Healthy Whole Wheat bread, which uses a combination of bran, wheat germ, oats, sesame seeds and, of course, whole wheat flour. It uses the sponge method, where you make a “sponge” with almost all the ingredients except the final addition of flour and allow that to rise for an hour. Then, the sponge is beaten down and the last of the flour is added to make the dough. The loaves are shaped once the dough is ready, then a final rise before baking.

The sponge, as it’s rising, smells so yeasty and delicious!

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And, of course, the smell of bread baking is one of the most amazing smells ever!

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Oh, and just because I could, I also made a couple of loaves of raisin bread. Just cuz.

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Shopping

I will admit it: I really don’t like clothes shopping. Sometimes, though, a girl needs to replenish her wardrobe. For instance, I usually wear jeans to work; it’s the kind of job I can get away with wearing casual clothes. I bought some skinny jeans at Old Navy last year and I’ve been wearing them a lot. However, they’re starting to wear and before they reach the embarrassing stage, I decided it was time to get myself at least one more pair.

I went back to Old Navy last week. Yeah… for about five minutes. There were way too many people and no empty change rooms. I left. Empty handed.

This weekend, I decided to try my luck at Mark’s Work Wearhouse. I found a pair of pea green jeans that fit beautifully. They’re a little on the long side but I can fix that. I also found a great pair of blue jeans in the same size. I didn’t bother to try on the blue jeans as I had tried on the green jeans. They’re the same size; one’s a straight leg, the other is a skinny leg.

Once I got them home, I thought I’d model the jeans, and the blouse I also bought, for John. The green jeans and the blouse… he liked them. Then I tried on the blue jeans. My foot went through the knees. What the??? Both knees have holes!! That’s not what I wanted! Heck, I’m buying new jeans to replace the jeans that ALMOST have holes!

When they say “Buyer Beware”, I guess they were talking to me. They’re going back tomorrow!

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It’s Been a Busy Weekend!

There are times my weekends are so busy that I look forward to my work week. Right now, at about 4:30 on Monday evening, I’m almost feeling that way. I said almost, okay? I’ve had a very productive weekend, though it didn’t feel that way at times. It was relaxing but, in looking back, I managed to get a lot done.

Just today, I finished knitting the pieces for one of another pair of slippers; this time it’s The Options Slipper pattern, not a freebie but a comfy looking slipper, another one of Kris Basta’s designs. The pieces knit up quickly and I like how the finished slipper looks. I’ll knit all the pieces before I sew mine together.

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This weekend, I managed to finish two pairs of slippers, knitted one of a pair, and almost finished knitting John’s felted clogs. I was hoping to have them finished today but won’t quite make it. I have one more sole to knit then seam together before I can felt them. I could finish them tonight but I have a little bit of a headache and don’t want to push it. Besides, the weather’s turned mild again and slippers aren’t quite as important as they were last weekend, when the temperatures were well below freezing.

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In addition to all the knitting, I put together a beef stew for tonight’s dinner and for leftovers this week. Leftover stew, with dumplings, makes a great workday lunch…. tasty and filling. I also made a loaf of Sourdough Whole Wheat and Rye bread, made with some of the discard starter that’s been waiting to be used. It turned out amazingly well, considering I didn’t have some of the ingredients the recipe called for. Seriously, I KNOW I have caraway and anise seeds somewhere in this house. Do you think I could find them? Anyway, the bread turned out really well, very tasty and should make some good sandwiches this week (if John doesn’t eat it all while I’m at work). I’ll definitely make this bread again.

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The stew turned out really well this time, too, better than my usual stew. I don’t use a recipe but this time I did things a little differently than I usually do, added a few ingredients I don’t normally add. Like what, you ask? Well, I threw in a little of my homemade apple cider vinegar and some tomato sauce. I don’t normally add those but I know that vinegar can help to break down the connective tissue in beef. There isn’t enough there that you can taste it, just a tablespoon or two. I thought the tomato might boost the beef flavour (again, just a tablespoon or two) and I was right. I can taste the tomato but it isn’t overwhelming, just an accent. All that’s left is to make the dumplings.

I had planned on making some body butter to help combat dry winter skin but, when I looked at what the ingredients were going to cost, I decided to buy a ready made, locally produced body butter. Once I got home, I indulged in a lovely, hot, candle lit bath. It was so relaxing, so enjoyable, and the scent of the new body butter so relaxing (it contains jasmine and ylang ylang in addition to a few other essential oils)… I might just have to have another bath tonight.

Categories: Baking, Blogging, bread, Cooking, Finished, Kitchen, Knitting, Slippers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Slippers

With cooler weather upon us, and still some snow on the ground, slippers seem to have become the project of the month. I have two pairs on the go, John’s felted clogs and a pair of house slippers.

The Bosnian/Siberian slippers are off the needles; all that remains is the weaving in of ends. That’s so much fun…. not. It’s one of those little jobs that only, really, takes a few minutes but it’s tedious. I’m really pleased with the slippers, though. They’re colourful and they’re cute.

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Here you can see a bit more of how they’re constructed. They’re worked from the top down and once the upper foot is at the required length, the sole is worked in short rows to the back of the heel.

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The short rows continue up the back of the heel, picking up stitches along both edges. It’s a pretty ingenious method of knitting them, really. The garter stitch fabric feels cushy and I love the contrast between the multi-coloured yarn and the blue.

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If you do decide to make these, there’s one minor change I would make; instead of using  straight needles, I’d recommend using a circular needle. It has more give. As you can see, there’s quite a bend in the knitting. The center point becomes a little awkward to work on straight needles; that said, it’s definitely doable, just easier on circulars.

I’ve also started another pair of slippers for the basket. This time it’s a pattern by Kris Basta, aka KrisKrafter. This is the Better Dorm Boot slipper pattern (available free through Ravelry). The pattern calls for worsted weight yarn, held double.

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These are going to be thick. I have one off the needles already and just draping it over my foot feels so cozy and warm. I might find myself wearing these rather than putting them in the basket for guests. The pattern, again, is an easy one to follow and well written. Again, these can be knit on straight needles but I found that, after a while, I was feeling the weight in my hands (I’m not a kid anymore, yanno?) so I switched to a circular needle instead. That made a big difference for me.

John’s felted clogs are coming along, too. One slipper is off the needles and just needs the second sole finishing. If all goes as planned, he could be wearing them by the end of this weekend.

And, speaking of this weekend….

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Categories: Blogging, In Memoriam, Knitting, Slippers, The Weather | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Knitting Kind of Day

It really is a knitting kind of day. Winter has decided to come early to our area. This week, we received a few inches of the white stuff. Pretty but, in the words of a much younger Ethan, I no like it. Night time temperatures have been hovering around -10ºC, with daytime temperatures around -1ºC.

When the temperatures are like that, it’s good to get your hands into wool. John desperately needs a new pair of slippers… again. I’ve been making him slippers almost yearly for a few years now. As long as he likes them, I’ll keep making them. This year, we’re going with a heathery brown with burgundy trim. I bought the yarn, then asked his opinion. Thankfully, he likes the combo.

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The pattern I’m using, as usual, is the Fibretrends Felted Clog pattern by Bev Galeskas, AC-33. I had to purchase the pattern because I can’t find the one I originally bought. I’m sure it will turn up somewhere but, I must say, the new version of the pattern, printed on white rather than the turquoise they used to print on, is much easier to read and follow.

At this point, I have the first sole worked, ready to start on the upper part of the slipper. It does take some concentration to knit these, which is why I only completed the sole last night. After all, drinking a glass or two of wine while knitting isn’t terribly conducive to concentration. Better safe than sorry. As the lottery corporation ads say, “Know your limit. Play within it.”

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The last pair I made… now in tatters.

I’ve also decided that we should have some house slippers handy for when Kristen and the kids (and/or whoever else) come to visit. The floors here can be chilly and, obviously, we really don’t want people leaving wet, snowy boots on in the house. A basket of slippers near the door would be a good thing. I do have a few pairs here but they’re old and they’re wearing out.

I set out to find a pattern. I didn’t want anything difficult; no felting because those are made to fit specific feet; as little sewing as possible; something appealing because no one wants to wear ugly slippers. I mean, seriously, would you wear ugly slippers?

In my Ravelry search, I came across a few patterns based on a Russian/Bosnian slipper. I downloaded three versions of the pattern and drove across town to Michaels to buy some inexpensive acrylic yarn (I want to be able to throw these slippers into the washing machine as needed without worrying about shrinkage). I came home with three skeins, one variegated and two solid colours, navy blue and dark green.

Then, last night, while John was napping, I cast on for the first slipper, in the small size for testing purposes. By the time bedtime came around, I had one slipper finished.

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Ends still need to be woven in

I’m impressed with the pattern. The whole slipper is knit in one piece on straight needles, although I did switch to a circular about half way through because the increase area at the top of the foot creates a 90º angle that bunches up a bit on straight needles. There’s no sewing up at all, only weaving in a few ends. And they’re cute. I’d wear these if my feet were cold (I like my Crocs with woolen socks) and someone offered me a pair to warm my toes.

The pattern I used is Slip Stitch Slippers by Nailya Plaskey. It’s well written, easy to follow, and turned out very well. The only small change I made was in the heel area. The sole is worked on 11 stitches from the toe to the heel; for the heel area, I decreased gradually from 11 stitches to 7 stitches, only because ankles are narrower than heels and I think it may help the slippers hug better. We’ll see.

Now, breakfast and tidying up. Then…… Knit on!

Categories: Knitting, Slippers | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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