More Baking Memories

A few weeks ago I blogged about my desire to have mormor’s havrekjeks – oat crackers – that had thrilled me as a child.  Now that there’s a tin filled with havrekjeks on my kitchen counter, I decided to make another childhood food memory, this time from the U.S.

My mother, though a graduate of husmorskole (1952), wasn’t the least bit domestically inclined or skilled.   I have memories of an array of traditional cookies, crackers, cakes and breads mormor baked, but living in the U.S., with few exceptions (notably lemon meringue pie and cheesecake) my mother relied on store bought.

OreoA special treat was a package of Oreos, the chocolate cookies sandwiched around a sweet “cream” filling.  Developed and trademarked in 1912 in New York City, there are probably few children in the U.S. who are unfamiliar with Oreos.

Recently a man told me about his memory of Oreos.  When he was about 6 years old, he found an unopened package of Oreos in a kitchen cupboard.  After cutting open the package, he then carefully removed each cookie, separated the two halves and scraped out the filling.  Once he had emptied every cookie of its filling, he carefully returned the pieces to the package and returned it to the cupboard.  He then made a huge ball of the filling and carried it outside to eat in peace.  Conveniently, he had no memory of what happened when his mother discovered what he did.  🙂

So I made Oreos using the recipe “Chocolate Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla-Cream Filling” in pastry chef Wayne Harley Brachman’s Retro Desserts:  Totally Hip, Updated Classic Desserts from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.

Brachman’s re-creation was easy and his instructions clear.  The only ingredient I didn’t have on my shelves was vegetable shortening, so if you bake with some regularity you probably have most ingredients at hand.  The list of his ingredients included all purpose flour, unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar, butter, egg; the filling incredients included butter, vegetable shortening, powdered sugar and vanilla.

They tasted like the cookies I remembered.  The problem was that to my adult palate the cookies and filling were so sweet it felt as though my teeth ached.  I sampled one, gave two to Thor and, before he had time to grab more, boxed up the rest as gifts.  The recipients were very happy.

If you like Oreo cookies, I would urge you to pick up a copy of Brachman’s book and try!  Granted, buying a package of Oreos is quick and easy, but try making your own.  It’s easy.  (Besides, compare Bachman’s ingredient list with Nabisco’s on Wikipedia.)

If the current commercial Oreos don’t taste like what you remembered, it might not just be your aging taste.  Nabisco used lard until the early 1990s when they switched to partially hydrogenized vegetable oil (trans-fat), and then in 2006 switched again to non-hydrogenated vegetable oil.

But I like butter 🙂 – though not enough to eat a big block of the vanilla-cream filling, even homemade.

Do you re-create any “retro” desserts?

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Review: “Making Life More Beautiful: A Maker’s Handbook”

For several years I’ve been following Kate Davies’s blog, “Fabrickated.”  London-based Kate has a “real” job, but among other talents, she is a skilled and creative clothing KateBookdesigner/maker with a keen eye for assessing fashion.  Kate’s mission always seemed to share how to insert color and classic styling into the minds of those who like to make their own clothes – and those who don’t – but wonder why they might not look “nice.”  So I was not surprised by the title of Kate’s first book, “Making life more beautiful: A makers’ handbook.”

First, kudos to Kate!  She doesn’t back away from the criticality of dressing well; clothing matters.  She notes:  “They are the first thing others see when they meet us.  The viewer makes a judgement based on what you look like, even if you believe this is shallow or unfair” (p87).

Are you asking yourself is this really important?  Um, in a word, YES – if you would like to avoid an appearance that screams you don’t own a mirror and are proud of it.

Kate wrote this book for those “who want to make themselves more beautiful by understanding colour and style” (p6).  She tackles the subject without making a reader who might be weak in those areas feel depressed or embarrassed.

Kate understands – probably better than most – the pressure on women to dress a certain way, to attain a certain look, to “look good” (which is alone subjective and empty).  Yet throughout the book she urges women to celebrate their individuality, confident in their natural beauty.

Yes, Kate’s premise is that every woman has natural beauty; her goal is to help identify, acknowledge and celebrate it through a reasoned and artful use of styles and colors.  Thus Kate works to help women identify and celebrate their individuality in a way that is neither over- nor under-dressed, in a way that is comfortable and individual yet artistic and beautiful.

Kate takes a stance against lemming-like fashion waves in the book’s first section, “Beauty.”  Here she encourages the reader to “revisit survivalist theories of beauty” (p16) and instead explore “uniqueness … [that] might boost our self-esteem, and become more beautiful by celebrating our unique individuality.”   (Far more eloquent and much more focused than the “you go, girl” cry.)

To guide the reader as she searches for authenticity in her clothes (with positive words and pictorial examples modeled by real women, each of whom seems to glow with her confident sense of uniqueness and beauty), Kate breaks down and explores three key elements: natural coloring (6 of them), basic body shape (4 of them) and wardrobe/personal style (5 of them).  For each coloring, the reader learns what colors, hues, neutrals, and patterns work best for casual, work and evening wear.  For each body style, Kate shares what styles work best and, more importantly, explains why.  Her suggestions on wardrobe/personal style allow ample room for individuality.

Kate also introduces (with a nod to Dior), the “four key colours approach.”  Why?  Because Kate believes that “[k]nowing what works best will help you build your wardrobe so everything you wear enhances your personal colouring, and goes well with everything else” (p44).

Notice the words Kate uses: build (this is not about emptying your closet, running to a store and refilling) and enhance (not camouflage or change).   As I walked through airports several times this week, I paid attention to what my fellow travelers were wearing.  I wished there were someway I could direct them to Kate’s book.  [sigh]

A sensitive subject for most women is body shape.  Remember, Kate starts from the premise that the reader is already uniquely beautiful but may not know the best ways to use color and clothing to bring out and celebrate her beauty in unique and confident ways.  Thus Kate seeks to assist the reader identify her “basic silhouette rather than look at how much you weigh” so that “you can develop your understanding of what can be done to enhance your natural contours” (p50).  Kate also explains how to downplay or draw attention to various parts of one’s body for the purpose of achieving “an illusion of perfect balance” (p58), a balance that is aesthetically pleasing.

On the heels of Kate’s discussion of body shapes is wardrobe.  She briefly but critically looks at five clothing preferences or wardrobe “personalities” and then explores how to make a “capsule” wardrobe for each personality.   (A capsule wardrobe is, according to Wikipedia, “a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.”)

The second section of the book is titled “Making” as Kate hopes that her “book may also appeal to people who have never tried to make textiles or garments and would like to know how” (p6).  I do not believe, however, that this book is a good primer for beginners who want to try their hand making textiles or garments, though it will serve as a colorful, straightforward encouragement to those who would like to try that.  Kate, in fact, urges interested readers to take a class or ask a skilled friend for tutoring.  I would strongly dissuade a reader without some previous experience attempting Kate’s patterns.

I’ve been reading Kate’s enthusiastic posts about learning how to knit and was not surprised that she took to it so readily.  Her background in textile design and pattern making guaranteed she’d want well-fitted knitted garments and would have an idea of how to structurally achieve them.  That said, writing good knitting patterns is a separate skill set.  Kate’s knitting patterns would be aided, for one, by good schematics.  The schematic for the Sleeveless Jumper Pattern,” for instance, lacks measurements, and the “Colorful Yoke Sweater” has no schematic at all.  While her “Pencil Skirt” has a good schematic, undoubtedly reflecting her experience and comfort with sewed clothing design, the other sewing patterns have no schematics.

That Making Life Beautiful isn’t yet another narrowly focused “how to” book is to be applauded. Kate approaches the topic with a broad view and directs the reader toward what she could do or might try. There are no detailed, pictorial instructions on, for instance, how to cast on, sew a seam, make a double crochet or iron silk.

In the last and shortest section of her book – “Life” – Kate offers suggestions (and reasons) to establish and maintain a creative space in which to develop one’s creative senses.  She is not an isolationalist; she focuses on community(ies), both face-to-face and virtual, that are born out of neighborhoods, social media and globalization.  Better yet, she comes up with several ways creative people can connect and exchange ideas with other creative people.

Kate’s book is not a thick tome; it is 105 pages, clearly written, well laid out and filled with delightful, colorful photographs.  Throughout, Kate’s words are encouraging and positive, and her inclusion of the wonderful photographs captures the essence of “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  Her models are not professional clothes hangers but rather women she interacts with professionally, socially and/or personally.  Of varying ethnicities, ranging from teenagers to Kate’s mother, the women are beautiful, unique and hold themselves with confidence, clearly capturing Kate’s ethos of making life more beautiful.

Posted in Crocheting, Dyeing, Knitting, Miscellany, Sewing | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Summer Knitting

We have short but glorious summers here in southwest Washington state.  Granted, the temperature where my daughter lives in California is expected to reach 106F (41.1), this weekend while our high temp is supposed to be 76F (24.4C) … and it rains a lot here.  But that means everything stays green longer; it’s beautiful.

While our temperatures may not be too summery – compared to California, at least – my knitting is.  I recently stumbled upon several skeins of fibra natura’s Naturalin – a blend of 53% cotton/47% linen (100g/3.5oz 155m/170y) in a nice blue.  I’m knitting “Penelope Blouse” by Annie Dempsey PenelopeBlouseOrig… a nice top for warm weather (whenever that will be).

Naturalin PenelopeBlouse– no surprise given its fiber content – feels a bit like straw (and it’s so easy to split the 4-ply yarn while knitting!), but I think once washed a few times the blouse will soften up nicely.

I have several skeins of an alpaca-merino blend in a deep red, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for something worthy of the yarn.  I think I found it.  Those who follow Linda Marveng‘s blog know that she Cahal_Vestreleased her pattern for a beautifully-cabled vest with an origami-like structure: Cahal.  I immediately bought it.  I will have to see what my gauge swatch reveals … will the soft alpaca-merino set off the beautiful cabling?

More on that later.

In the interim, here are some pictures I took while we hiked in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.  I’m hoping the beauty of subjects will outshine the limits of my photography skills!

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Oats and Hart

Ever have those days where a childhood taste or smell memory sweeps through your body, bringing you thoughts of a sweet, warm time?  I had one recently.

I remembered sitting in my mormor’s (grandmother’s) kitchen, where, over freshly made havrekjeks (oat crackers), gjeitost (the brown goat cheese so dear to my heart), and a pot of hot tea, she asked about my day in school.  Over the sounds of our munching and sipping, she’d listen with interest as I shared my news.

GjeitostWith the memory of mormor’s havrekjeks dancing in my mind, I felt an urgent need to bake some.   I even had the red-wrapped goat cheese already waiting in the refrigerator, ready to be sliced.

I pulled out Beatrice Ojakangas’s The Great Scandinavian Baking Book and made up a batch of what she says is an Icelandic version, hafrakex.  Hmmm.  Tasty but not quite what I remembered from mormor’s kitchen.

Worse, Beatrice’s hafrakex quickly lost their crispness.  Mormor’s havrekjeks were crisp!

Husmor I carefully unearthed mormor’s handwritten cookbook.  The book is a collection of recipes and instructions from her time in husmorskole (a school of home economics) in Hidra, Norway, in 1926-27.  HusmorskoleBokHer book even has a picture of the once well-known Henriette Schønberg Erken on its cover!  (My  mother pushed me to attend husmorskole only because she wanted me away from a boyfriend.  In retrospect, I should have gone if only for that reason!)

In any event, I carefully poured through mormor’s book and found her recipe for havrekjeks, which I then made.

Topped with gjeitost, I nibbled the freshly-made crackers and sipped my tea.   That was it — the taste and smell in my memory — and the crackers were crisp!

So how to explain the differences between the two?  Both recipes use milk, rolled oats, butter, salt, flour and a dash of salt.  The most significant differences between the recipes, however, are:

  1. Mormor’s recipe calls for wheat flour, while Beatrice’s uses a combination of all purpose white and rye flours and adds a lot of crushed anise.
  2. Mormor uses hjortetalgsalt – hartshorn salt – as the leavening agent, while Beatrice calls for baking powder.  (Today hjortetalgsalt would be hjortetakk or hjortetagg salts.)
    • (En) hjort = (a) stag, (an) adult male deer.
    • Talg (in mormor’s notes only) is tallow.
    • Takk and tagg are words for antlers.

So what is hartshorn?  “Hart” is an archaic English word used in medieval times to refer to a fully matured red male deer over the age of five years.  Originally made from the ground up antlers of a hart, hartshorn is a chemical leavener commonly used before baking powder was widely and easily available.  It is chemically reproduced as ammonium carbonate ((NH4)2CO3); it is also called baker’s ammonia. Heated, ammonium carbonate quickly degrades to gaseous ammonia and carbon dioxide.  For certain recipes for a crisp cracker or cookie (e.g., Springerle, Pfeffernuesse and gingerbread), many bakers still won’t use anything else.

HavrekjeksAs I particularly like both rye and anise, I incorporate them into my now go-to havrekjeks from mormor’s recipe.  (At the end of her instructions for havrekjeks, mormor writes “stikkes over med en gaffel” so if you look closely you’ll see the havrekjeks have marks from fork tines, which allows steam to escape as the crackers bake.)

Deilig og sprø (delicious and crispy)!

If you like thin, crisp cookies or crackers, give baker’s ammonia a try.  Admittedly, after opening up and sniffing the baker’s ammonia, I gagged.  But don’t worry – the smell quickly dissipates during the baking time and you won’t taste it in your baked goods.  I was happy that my olfactory memory doesn’t extend to leavening agents or I might never have made mormor’s havrekjeks!

For some recipes using baker’s ammonia, see Recipes from a German Grandma.  If you want to try baker’s ammonia in your own recipes, according to King Arthur Flour:  “The basic rule of thumb is to use half as much ammonia as baking powder in your recipe. Be sure your cookies are thin, as the ammonia needs to bake out and isn’t able to dissipate in thicker baked goods.”

Happy baking!

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Cowls Galore

A cowl in the 21st century has changed markedly from its origin.  From Latin cuculla meaning “hood,”a cowl was originally large loose garment with a hood.  Interestingly, we learn from Wikipedia that:

Cowl_monk“Developed during the early Middle Ages in Northern Europe, they became the formal garment for those in monastic life. Originally they were worn simply to give greater warmth than would an open cloak to people who regularly spent long hours in unheated and draughty churches.”

BrambleberryCowl_nunNuns also wore cowls but under their veils  (pic from Wikipedia [sic]).

I think perhaps Sivia Harding’s beautiful Brambleberry Cowl, comes close to the original idea of a cowl — at least if it reached the floor and had sleeves.  🙂

Today cowls are almost ubiquitous in the fiber world, whether knit, crocheted, sewed or woven.  They have parted markedly from the original idea of a cowl.  Rather, they are generally hoodless and either long and often twisted to form a Möbius strip (named after German mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius), or shorter (in circumference) and worn close to the neck.

While I think the trendier youth wear the new versions of cowls quite well, no cowl pattern caught my eye or even my interest until I read a post by Whitknits  in which she featured her Willow Cowl designed by Amelia Lyon.  That, I thought, is a cowl I would wear!

After rooting around my (considerable) stash, I found many yarns that would knit up well for the Willow Cowl.  Five cowls later … maybe I got a little carried away.  (Two of these cowls, however, are earmarked as birthday presents for friends.)  I had a lot of fun with the yarns I used.

By the way, for a neater bottom edge, I’d suggest starting with a provisional cast on and then, using three needles, knitting that edge to the cowl at the appropriate row rather than stitching the hem later.  Alternatively, you could utilize a knit hem as demonstrated by Linda Marveng in her 5 Brettekant video (starting at 7:49).  (If you don’t understand Norwegian but are a skilled knitter, focus on what she’s doing, not her words.) 

Cowl_purpleThis purple hued cowl I knit from Fibre Alive’s four-ply Merino Mania (100% NZ wool, 110g/350m/385y).  I love the yarn’s crispness.

This second cowl is a not-a-surprise-birthday present for my pal K.  IMG_7164I used Zealana’s Kiwi (40% NZ Merino/30% organic cotton/30% possum, 40g/124m/135y) to knit this one.  I made some changes to this cowl as K was concerned that it would look too much like a neck brace as she has a short neck.  So I swatched a larger gauge, revised the pattern and bit, adjusting it so the cowl would fall more loosely.

IMG_7162The red superwash Malabrigio sock yarn (100g/440y) knit up beautifully for this third cowl.  (This skein was originally earmarked for a pair of lacey fingerless mitts … I may have to buy another skein for matching mitts.)

IMG_7166A couple of years ago I picked up a Lilt Sock Gradient Kit (SW merino & silk) from Black Trillium Fibres in the colorway “Tidewater.”  These yarns had been destined for a shawl but these colors, I thought, would work up beautifully into a fourth Willow Cowl — and they did!

img_7163.jpgThen I decided I too needed a cowl in blue, so here’s cowl number five in Madtosh’s Twist Light (75% merino, 25% nylon, 100g/420y/384m).

I’m done with cowls for at least a while.  Maybe … after all, I have other friends who might like one.

Brownies_TrayOh, before I forget, here’s what’s left from today’s baking — that is, after distribution among neighbors!

Backstory:  I am one of the few people I know who, though raised in the U.S., doesn’t like brownies (or fudge for that matter).  Nonetheless, I decided to bake and compare two batches of brownies, each extolled as the “best ever.”

I had the assistance of Bug, a young neighbor (and aspiring sousphone player) who happens to be great with a whisk.  (Bug has become my third grandchild when my grandson O and granddaughter F visit during school vacations.  The three of them happily roam the neighborhood on their scooters and explore the fields behind our house – popping in periodically for provisions.)

I used recipes from well-known baking sites but modified each batch both so I could use what I had on hand.  Batch 1 was adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s “Chewy Brownies” shared by The Little Kitchen.  Batch 2 was adapted from King Arthur Flour’s “Fudge Brownies.”


After the brownies cooled, Thor, Bug and I sampled and compared.  Thor and Bug preferred Batch 1 because, they said, the brownies were chewier and fudgy.   I preferred Batch 2 because it was a bit more cake-y and less fudge-y.  I’ll have to wait to get input from the neighbors.

Do you have a favorite brownie recipe?

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Hamansbrød (Haman’s Bread)

While there is no Norwegian treat called Hamansbrød (at least that I’ve ever heard of), that’s the name I gave to a sweet bread I came up with that’s a meld of three dessert traditions:  The dough is adapted from a Norwegian julebrød (Christmas bread – here’s one recipe for it), the poppy seed filling from a Jewish Hamantasch, and rolling of each arm of the braid as one would for American cinnamon rolls (which I won’t eat as I find them over-the-top sweet but my grandchildren and Thor love).  The three-armed braid shape is used by many cultures for breads, both sweet and savory.

It was a hit, and I share the pictures with you below.  (The story of how I came to make the Hamansbrød is below the pictures – along with my recipe and instructions for those who may want to try this.)



HamantashMy friend K mentioned that she always loved the poppy seed filling of Hamantaschen but not its cookie dough.  (Pic from Wikipedia) For those who may not have heard of that cookie, let The Nosher explain:

Hamantaschen are the triangular pastries associated with the holiday of Purim, when Jews read from the Book of Esther, the Megillah, and celebrate the triumph of good (Esther) over evil (Haman, who planned to destroy the Jewish people).

This Yiddish word is pronounced huh-min-tah-shun, and while technically the plural form of hamantasch, the word hamantaschen can refer to either one cookie or many.

I’ve had hamantaschen a few times, and the apricot filling was my favorite.  But if K loved the poppy seed filling, I was going to figure it out and surprise her at our next Knit & Nosh.  Here’s how I made my Hamansbrød.


1 large apple grated (I used a Fuji; next time I’ll try a Granny Smith)
42g honey
144g poppy seeds
50g sugar
zest of 1 lemon

Place the filling ingredients in a saucepan and, stirring constantly, bring to boil.  Lower the heat and continue to stir as the mixture thickens.  (I stirred for another 15 minutes as it thickened.)  Remove from heat, cool, and refrigerate over night.


6g active dry yeast
688g all purpose flour
57g butter, unsalted (and very soft)
2 eggs, beaten
100g extra fine sugar
4.5g kosher salt
180g milk
120g water

In saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to boil.  Remove from heat and add butter, salt and sugar and stir until incorporate.  Set aside to cool.

Mix together flour and yeast.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (I used my KA), with dough hook, combine water and warm milk mixture.  Stir in eggs.  On first (low) speed, add flour and yeast mixture, beating until well combined.  Increase to second speed and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic (5-8 minutes)..

Transfer dough out to an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour).

Bringing it together into a braid

Take poppy seed mixture from the refrigerator.

Line a large baking sheet (I used a large cookie sheet from USA pans) with parchment paper.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface.  With a bench knife, divide dough into three equal pieces.  Shape each into a round, cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

One at a time, roll out each of the 3 balls into a large rectangle – I think mine were about 24″ long and 6″ wide.

Spread 1/3 of the poppy seed filling onto each rectangle, leaving about 1/2” border on all four sides.  Starting with a long side, roll up each one as you would for a cinnamon roll and pinch the edges closed.

Pinch the top of the three rolls together and braid as you would for – well, for a braid!  Cover, place in a warm place and let rise for about 1/2 hour.

(Before putting it in the oven, I brushed the braid with a beaten egg and then sprinkled some decorative sugar – I couldn’t find my pearl sugar – over the top.)

Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 40-50 minutes.  I started checking the braid’s internal temperature at 40 minutes.  It should be 190 degrees when done, but it took another 8 minutes to reach the temperature.  (For the last 15 minutes or so, I put a piece of foil over the top so the braid wouldn’t brown too quickly.)

We managed to let it cool for about 15 minutes before slicing into it.  The Hamansbrød was quite tasty!

Posted in Baking, Breads, Miscellany | Tagged , | 19 Comments


It’s official: I’ve become my grandmother.  My mormor, a farm-raised woman who lived her whole life outside a little town in southern Norway, wore aprons every day.  So do I.  Madeon23rdAt any time I can be found puttering around the kitchen attending to artisan sourdough loaves, honing my weaving skills, or relaxing with knitting needles clicking under my fingers.  So when my lover-of-aprons friend E (a skilled needle woman – not so much the knitting needle kind but the sewing and needlework kind), asked if I had seen the linen wrap pinafore aprons of Deb Spofford and emailed me the link, I knew it was worth looking investigating.  (Pic to the right from Made on 23rd website.)

Deb Spofford is owner and designer of Made on 23rd in Vancouver, Washington, a proverbial stone’s throw southwest of where Thor and I live.  

I exchanged a few emails with Spofford, and soon I was on my way through the bright green rolling hills dotted with blooming trees (the dogwoods are particularly amazing this time of year), of Clark County, Washington, to visit her studio.

One word:  Wow.

IMG_7061I’m not going to repeat what you can read or describe what you can see on Made on 23rd’s website.  While all of Spofford’s work impressed me, I knew as soon as I saw them that I just had to have one of her aprons.  (Okay, two – one in teal and one in indigo.)

Made on 23rd’s aprons are marvelous.  First, Spofford uses  a wonderful weight European linen.  It is heavy enough to be durable and protective yet light enough to drape nicely.  Color choices are teal, indigo, grey and oatmeal.

ModFlower (2)Madeon23rdHem2 (2)Second, you can select a hand-blocked design or none at all.  You have a choice of a design on the pocket – Mod Flower (pic to the right), Pompom Dalia (pic on the aprons below),  or Sunflower (pic on the apron above).  Or you might oMadeon23rdHem1 (2).jpgpt for a row of  flowers on the hem – Mixed Flowers (pic on top left), or Ball Flowers (pic on the bottom left).

Next, the aprons are very easy to slip on.  I still had one on (dusted with flour), as I carried a loaf of fresh sourdough bread to my neighbors’ house.  He – a man who relies on crutches – immediately said he wanted one of those aprons because he can’t tie standard aprons behind him.  I imagine these would be wonderful for wheelchair bound people as well!

IMG_6968Fourth, they are made to be a comfortable fit for many sizes.  They are made in two lengths (but the short length was still long enough for me to wear).  A picture is often worth a thousand words …

IMG_7033In the picture to the left, I’m wearing the apron. To the right,  K (about a head shorter and two clothing sizes larger than I), models the same apron.

In the picture below K, I’ve turned around so IMG_7034you can see the cross-back.   (In retrospect, I should have worn something other than those silly patterned leggings [which I do not wear out of the house!].)

Last, and by no means least, these aprons are locally made.  Granted, they are not cheap, but you generally get what you pay for.  These are no “fast fashion” sweatshop made items, to be used a few times and discarded.

I quickly realized these aprons were to wear no matter what I was doing – baking, cooking, weaving, knitting or gardening!  Maybe I should get (dare I say, need?) one for every day of the week.

I urge you to look at the creative designs of Deb Spofford at Made on 23rd!

(P.S.  For a fun read about the history of the modern apron, click here.  If you are interested in sewing your own cross back apron (also known as a “Japanese style” apron), you may find these links useful:  Purl Soho’s Cross Back Apron; Martha Stewart’s Baker’s Linen Apron, and The Hearty Home’s Japanese Style Apron Tutorial.)

Posted in Cooking, Miscellany, Sewing, Slow Clothes/Slow Fiber | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Fun with Fibers …

Thanks to my friend K’s enthusiasm for learning anything and all things fiber, I am returning to my fiber work with the most interest I’ve felt since the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Most recently, K wanted to try dyeing.  Caught up in a fiber frenzy last year, she bought a lot of yarn.  What to do with one of her purchases – three cakes of cream colored yarn (Cascade’s Alpaca Lana D’Oro, 50% superfine alpaca, 50% Peruvian highland wool, 100g/3.5oz = 200m/219y) – flummoxed her.  K couldn’t think of anything she wanted to knit out of cream wool.  (I’d say such is the hazard of spontaneous yarn purchasing but let she who is without sin cast the first stone comes to mind!)  However,  her eyes got that dangerous spark when I suggested dyeing the yarn.  We quickly scheduled a date and time, and I readied my dye pots and supplies.

K liked the idea of dyeing so the yarn would have color variations.  To that end, I sent her an article to read and advised her not to soak her cakes of yarn (so she’d see more variation).  She arrived in a timely fashion armed with old towels, a jug of white vinegar and her cakes of yarn.  We dyed the yarn in my kitchen but, after rolling them in old towels, took the newly dyed, still wet, cakes outside to wind into skeins so they would dry more quickly inside.

I dragged our glass-topped patio table from the back porch and set up my Louet skein winder.  (K seemed pleased to use that type of skein winder for the first time too.)  Though the sun was periodically shining through the clouds that April afternoon, it was a cold, wet and windy day.  There K and I were, covered toe to head in winter gear, winding wet yarn as quickly as we could with fingers that quickly went numb.  We had to laugh at the sheer hilarity of the sight we knew we presented!  Anyone peeking over our fence would have shaken their heads at seeing two shivering ladies in their six decades giggling over wet yarn.KsYarn

K was very pleased – and rightly so – with the results of her first lesson in dyeing protein fibers!  She is so much fun to work with.

warpSoon K will learn how to warp a floor loom, specifically my 8-harness 55″ weaving width Gilmore.  I’m almost done winding the warp (8/4 Maysville 100% cotton) for a couple of rugs.  The piles of wool for wefts for several rugs have been staring at me reproachfully for the last year and a half.  K’s fiber interest has at worst put me to shame and at best revitalized me!

While I was packing up my dyeing gear, she asked questions about spinning.  I should have known her sharp eyes would spot my Schacht wheel, even though it was nearly hidden behind a big plant.  Maybe I’ll pull out some spindles for her to play with.

I am thankful that K’s curiosity and enthusiasm for all things fiber is blowing away the cobwebs of political angst that have been smothering my joy of fiber work!

As an aside, here are some pictures of recent baking … sourdough mixed grain loaves with chopped toasted walnuts and dried fruit, spelt bran muffins with dried cranberries and raisins, chocolate Devil Food’s cake mini loaves, chocolate cupcakes with applesauce instead of butter (to lower the fat content), and buttery almond mini tarts with a single fresh blueberry in each one (no lowered fats in these!).

Posted in Baking, Breads, Dyeing, Weaving | Tagged | 5 Comments

Sunny Visit

I recently returned from my visit with my daughter and her family over my grandchildren’s spring break from school.  They live in the blindly-bright and parched city of Sacramento, California.  While I brought an easy knitting project with me (a beautiful Koigu lace merino), I never picked up the needles:  The bright sunny days beckoned me.

moleHaving arrived from the cool, grey-sky, wet, emerald green environment of the beautiful Pacific Northwest (a mere 1.5 hour flight to the north), stepping outside of the airport I felt a bit like a mole squinting in the blazing California light.  Though it was still spring, for the duration of my visit I didn’t go outside without dark sunglasses, long sleeves and a big shade hat.  (My dermatologist once told me I dress like a dermatologist.)

We took one day to visit the Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I spent a lot of time as a youth in California hiking on the beaches and in the hills near the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  Later I was delighted to introduce my daughter to hours of happy tromping around these same hills and beaches.  


The olfactory memories on this almost warm, nearly windless day were incredible.  If anything, due to the land restoration projects the GGNRA is even more beautiful than when I was young.  Today I share these pictures with you.


Posted in Miscellany | 10 Comments

Humble Knitting

A few months ago I was invited to a ladies’ afternoon tea/coffee (for lack of a better term) hosted by one of my sweet neighbors.  The host told me one of the ladies there was a long-time knitter, so I introduced myself to the woman as a fellow knitter.  The woman immediately asked what I had been knitting recently.

“Washcloths,” I replied.

“Bah!” was her instant response, with a dismissive flip of the hand as she drew her self up proudly and said, “I’m knitting socks!”

Resisting the urge to slap her, inform her I tired of knitting socks long ago, or describe all the difficult, complicated  items I’ve knit over the last 55 years, I instead headed to the cake table.

Why dismiss washcloths?  Too humble?  Too utilitarian?  BAH!

Why knit washcloths?  I have never liked the thick commercially-made washcloths sold in stores in the U.S. (even if they are part of a matched towel set).  They hold too much water and/or my hands aren’t strong enough to wring them out enough so they don’t drip!  Washing my face nightly with them I would end up with my bottom of my sleeves and the top part of whatever I was wearing soggy and wet.

My grandmother always used small, fairly thin clothes for her ablutions, and I decided to follow her example.  Digging through my substantial stash, I found a partial cone of Peaches & Cream yarn 100% cotton (400g/706y), leftover from a woven waffle towel projects many years ago.  The only other cotton and linen yarns I had, however, were for rug warps, so off to the local store I went.  (It is not a yarn store per se, but it is a local – not chain or big box – store that carries some yarns.)  I selected a couple of balls of Wendy Supreme 100% Luxury Cotton 4ply (100g/267m), Eulali (100g/360m) and Patons Grace 100% mercerized cotton (50g/125m).

Utilitarian, however, doesn’t have to mean ugly or plain.  Going to my bookshelf, I pulled out several books on lace patterns, made some calculations and started knitting.  Some of the lace patterns I knit include:  Sunspots, Little Parachute, Subtle Mesh, Falling Leaf, Ostrich Plume, Lace Lattice, Old Shale, and Mini Hearts.

I found that lace Washcloths2washcloths in smooth, multi-plied thin lace weight Eulali were my favorite.  Peaches & Cream (I think it’s now Lily Sugar ‘n’ Cream) felt rough and thick, so I knit a very simple garter stitch cloth and another using a slip stitch pattern.  Yuck.  (They now sit in a kitchen drawer holding various hot pads and oven mitts.)

Washcloths1I knit probably about two dozen washcloths – keeping a dozen for myself and distributing the rest as gifts.  (By the way, a hand knit washcloth makes a lovely gift especially when wrapped around a bar of handmade goat milk soap!)  Above are two pictures of washcloths I pulled out of the cupboard as I wrote this post.  IMG_6837 - Copy

One of my favorite patterns for a lightweight washcloth turned out to be Subtle Mesh from Barbara G. Walker’s “Charted Knitting Designs: A Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns.”

For beginner lace knitters, washcloths are an excellent way to learn not just how to knit lace but to see how different lace patterns act:  Some contract much more vertically and/or horizontally, others are open and loose, some create a curvy or scalloped cast on edge, others pull diagonally to the left or right.  It’s also an excellent way to see what you might like to tackle in, say, a curtain, towel, scarf, shawl or sweater!  (Newer knitters – or knitters seeking to refresh their skills – who haven’t considered knitting pretty wash cloths may want to take a peek at strikkelysten’s blog.)

I now have a stack of lace washcloths ready for me to grab.  I have a few in the guest bathroom as well, along with some of the heavier commercially washcloths for guests who may be more comfortable with those!

Happy knitting!

Postscript:  Here’s some pics of this week’s baking!

Posted in Miscellany | 26 Comments