Monday, 25 March 2013

Looking for Eagles or the Colours of March

Really, that is what we were doing!   I've seen a bald eagle hunting over the nearby Thames river.  It's been seen there by several people.  Then, a few days ago, one flew over our home, low enough that it was easily identified.  It was a very majestic sight.  The next day, my sweetie saw one in a nearby field.   

On Sunday, despite feeling somewhat under the weather,  we donned some warm clothes, packed up the camera and headed out to a walking trail which is near the spot in the river where there were previous eagle sightings.   I took only one lens so I didn't have to haul all sorts of weight around.  The trail was obviously icy and the thought of slipping and landing on a camera case full of lenses wasn't really appealing. 

It was grey.  It was grey and cool.  Once again the forecast sun or high temperatures failed to appear.  However, it also meant the trail was virtually empty.  I much prefer hiking sliding on this particular trail off season as there are no bugs.   At  other times of the year the mosquitoes are both huge and numerous.

I don't think either of us figured we'd actually see the eagle or his nest, but it was rather enjoyable to be out looking.   But oh, a bit of blue sky would not go amiss right now.  The constant grey skies are getting tiresome.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


The mindless knitting on the shawl was perfect for the cold, blustery days we've been having.  It meant I could listen to the hockey game while chatting with family and without paying a lot of attention to a fancy pattern.  The shawl was large enough that it rested on my lap and kept me warm and cozy while I was knitting it.

I did have to forgo the last two rows of the bottom ruffle as my circular needle was full and there was no way that many more added stitches would fit on my needle.  I almost wavered on the top ruffle but decided to do it anyway.  I'm glad I did as it really does make the shawl that little bit different.  It was only 2/3 of the bottom ruffle stitches, so not only did it fit on the needles but it seemed to go very quickly.  The pattern is very intuitive and easy to remember, so no need to check the pattern every few minutes.

By the time I had cast off the last stitch, it was quite late and I decided to wait until the morning to block the shawl  Knowing Kevin kitten's ability to get into mischief with the project du jour, I thought it safer to keep the blocking mats and pins out of temptation.  Yesterday morning,  I popped the shawl in a sink of warm water, with a few drops of dish soap and a glug of vinegar.  I let it sit for about 20 minutes, then drained the sink.  I refilled it with like temperature water and let it sit for another 20 minutes.  Then after draining and carefully pressing out as much water as I could, I lifted what was now a monsterously heavy and large shawl out onto a heavy bath towel and rolled it until it was damp.

When I was done the shawl, I worried it was going to be too small.  However, it grew in the water and in the end, I had to only block lightly, patting it to stay within the confines of my blocking mats.  I could have easily used another 2 or 3 mats, and another packet or two of T pins to properly block this shawl.  It required no stretching, only gentle shaping.  I had to balance it on a laundry rack and a spinning wheel in order to have enough space in front of the woodstove to help speed drying on a cold, blustery day.  I did have to chase K away from it several times as the long ends dangled off the mats and he thought they were a very awesome new toy!

We had a 4 minute break in the snow, with a flash of sunshine though the bleak clouds.  I grabbed my camera and took the shawl outside for a photo shoot.  This shawl may be plain and simple, but it is comfortable and cuddly.  I'd highly recommend the pattern Milk Run Shawl and it's free too!   The only thing is that this shawl desperately cries out for an uber cool shawl pin.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Sneak forced peeks of spring

This week we've had torrential rainfall causing the rivers and fields to fill up with run off, since the ground is still frozen.  We've had an Alberta clipper system blow through, leaving us with frigid temperatures, on top of all that rain, blowing snow and icy roads.  We've had a day with a few moments of sunshine, but still cold and more snow flurries today.   Spring sure is taking it's sweet time getting here.  Last year, at this time, I was pruning raspberries, planting the peas and hanging laundry.  It will be a few weeks yet before I can get to any of those jobs this year.

The scent of hyacinth filled the room
Ruffled pink tulips
However, every year at the end of winter, like a sweet, sneak peek of spring, a few of the grocery stores carry pots of forced spring  bulbs, for only $4 or $5 each.    Oh what a glorious bit of colour and beauty which lasts several weeks.   If I'm careful, I can grow them on until the ground thaws and then plant them outside.  Sometimes I'm lucky and they'll come back the next year.  Usually it takes 2 years before they're fully established, but it's sort of nice knowing that you didn't have to compost them.  They are pretty and colourful, plus these pink hyacinths smell divine!

 I found this self striping yarn in a bin of sock yarn.  It's a little to fussy with the skinny stripes to do any sort of fancy pattern, so I'm knitting it in a plain 2/2 rib with 2 simple cables for interest.  However, the busy stripes really mask the cable.  Can you see the two cables in the sock cuff?  Just barely and I know where there supposed to be!  Good thing I didn't do a fancier pattern.  I'm working on the gusset decreases of sock one right now.
Several yeas ago, I used up a few skeins of grey Patons Classic Wool yarn to exhaust an indigotin dye pot.   I say indigotin as I didn't write down whether it was Woad, Dyer's Knotweed or Indigo proper.  I'm pretty certain it was Dyer's Knotweed, but since I didn't actually tag the skeins, I can't be certain.     It's an interesting varigated blue.  It's worsted knitting yarn so a bit thicker than I like to weave with.  I've been checking out knitted shawl patterns and kept coming back to a plain garter stitch shawl pattern called Milk Run.  Despite the hours upon hours of mindless  knitting to do the main body, I finally started it.   This is halfway through the plain knitting.  I'm just on the second last increase before I start the border.  It's used almost 3 skeins or 600 yards of yarn so far and will probably use the 4th skein before I'm done.   So it will be a heavy shawl, but warm and hopefully comfortable. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Sourdough Bread

About a week and a half ago, I mixed equal parts by volume of Kamut stone ground flour and water.  I put them in a jar, tied a piece of linen over the top and set the jar on the counter.  Each day since then, I've added some flour and water to the mixture, sometimes taking some out so that the volume of dough doesn't get too large.   This is the basic method of making a sourdough starter.  You can purchase dried starter or just hopefully capture the wild yeasts on the flour and in the air.   I like to start with a whole grain  flour as it's more likely to have good yeasts on it.  Then I switch to whatever I have on hand.

Despite my kitchen being on the cool side, small bubbles started appearing on day 3.   Sunday was a spring teaser day and my bubbling starter also decided to finally start to grow in volume.   Monday afternoon, after feeding the starter, I scooped a few spoonfuls into a bowl.  This was a very unscientific measurement but I'm guessing there was maybe half a cup or so.  There are all sorts of sourdough bread recipes which call for exact amounts, from 1 tablespoon, to 3 1/2 cups of starter.  I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter.  Less starter may mean more rising time than using a whole lot of starter.  Anyway, with my few slops of starter into a bowl, I added sort of 3 cups of flour and stirred in enough water to make a rather wet dough or sponge.  I covered the bowl and set it aside.   This morning, the sponge was doubled in size and full of wonderful bubbles.  

I added another two cups of flour, a bit of salt and a bit of sugar.  I kneaded it until became more doughlike.  Because of the long risings, gluten will develop without a lot of kneading, so when I was satisfied, I dumped the dough into an oiled bowl, covered it and set it by the woodstove for a second rising.  It was almost doubled in size 3 hours later, so I gently cut the dough into two pieces and shaped it into round loaves.  I didn't want to deflate the dough too much in handling it.  I preheated the oven and when it came to temperature, I put the bread in to bake.   I've no idea how long I baked it as I just waited until it had a good colour and then put my trusty little baking thermometer in to check the internal temp.  The first check was not done, but the second one was 195°F.  Now the bread could come out of the oven to cool.

It has a lovely chewy but crisp crust, a nice crumb and because I added a touch of sugar, it's not quite as sour which will please the rest of the bread eaters around here.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Colour Experiments with blending and spinning

I'm ready for spring!   The snow can go anytime now.  I'm tired of slogging out to the chicken coop.   I'm tired of boots and parkas, hats and mitts.   I'd really like to see the garlic sprouting, some lawn, the crocuses and even a weed or two would hit the spot.   On top of all the white outside, I've been spinning white fibre!  In a desperate bid for a bit of colour, I dug out the last few grams of commercially dyed fibre I had hidden away.  They're leftovers from my level 2 colour blending homework.  I had some red and blue.  I was pretty sure they were Corriedale fibres, so I found a bit of white Corriedale hiding away as well.  It was the perfect amount for blending.

I'd been noticing a lot of colourful and gradient shaded yarns lately.  I set out to blend the 3 fibres to see what I could come up with.    I started with white with blue, then blue with white and straight blue.  Then I went from blue with red,  to red with blue and then red with just a touch of blue.   I measured each colour grouping into two sets.  In total I had 89 grams of fibre in what I'd hoped would be two equal array of batts.

Then I started spinning with the lightest blue and went through the range of batts.  My little, inexpensive scale is not always horribly accurate and doesn't weigh to the partial gram so there was a bit of by gosh or by golly in there as I was depending on my batts being fairly equal for plying with distinct colours.  I could have done it by chain plying, but I thought that  one larger skein of 2 ply would be more versatile for using than 2 shorter, sort of 3 ply skeins.

  I ended up with 232 yards of yarn, enough for a shawlette or a pair of fingerless mitts or a hat.  I'm pretty happy with the colour shifts, especially as this is the first time I've tried something like this.  It was certainly fun to spin.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Using Accumulating eggs

I'm stuck at home today, with all previous plans cancelled because of a last minute work related issue, which required someone else have my vehicle today.   So, I turned on the tunes (Eric Church is on right now) and decided to make the best of it!  

  The lovely thing about having laying hens is that when they get going, we have lots and lots of eggs.  Since they were starting to build up, I used the most delicious egg recipe that I have, which also uses tons of eggs.  Angel Food Cake!  It uses  a dozen eggs, is easily made gluten free, is full of protein and low in fat.   It uses few ingredients and is easy to make.   This one is lemon flavoured to go with a lovely tub of ripe strawberries that were on sale yesterday.   I don't normally like to purchase out of season, imported strawberries, but sometimes they are actually ripe and the smell is so alluring!   The recipe is also super easy and because I found it on sale this fall, I finally have a real tube pan, which I purchased for $3 brand new, when I stumbled onto a 50% off of a 50% off  the already reduced price sale.

Angel Food Cake

12 egg whites
1 1/4 cup flour (I used 3/4 cup brown rice flour and 1/2 cup all purpose gluten free mix)
pinch salt
1 tsp cream of tarter
1 1/2 cup sugar - run through a food processor to make it a finer grade
1 tsp lemon extract

It's important to remember is that the mixing bowl must be really, really clean and grease free or the whites won't whip up.  Also, when separating the egg whites, it's best to break each one into a small dish to make sure that not a trace of yolk gets into the white.   When you're sure, toss it into the big mixing bowl.  That way you only risk one egg being ruined, instead of the 11 that are already in the bowl when the errant bit of yolk slips in.

Start mixing the egg whites until they get a bit frothy, then add the cream of tarter, pinch of salt, lemon extract and 3/4 cup of sugar.  Turn up the speed on the mixer and whip until they are at stiff peaks.

Blend the flour and remaining sugar together, and add to the whites in several additions, folding gently and making sure that each bit of flour is incorporated before the next addition.   

Pour into an ungreased tube pan.  Run a knife through the cake batter to make sure that there are no huge air bubbles.  ( If you don't have a tube pan, you can bake this in a 9 x 13 pan just as easily.)

Bake at 350° F, in a pre-heated oven  for about 45 - 50 minutes.  

When  you remove it cake from the oven, let it cool upside down.  My pan has little legs for this, but balancing the pan upside down on some saucers or glasses will work just as well.  The idea is to keep the cake from flattening as it cools.     Keep it upside down until completely cold.   Run a knife or narrow spatula around the outside edges of the cake and pop it onto a plate!  Super easy and super delicious and pretty much guilt free -

What do you do with the leftover yolks?  I feed mine to the beasties, but they'll freeze well, with the addition of 1/4 tsp salt for every 1/4 cup of yolks.