December 17, 2020

Wool singles - more hikes

I'm spinning up the last of my "good" wool sliver.  I have a bunch of mill ends, but this was the last bag of clean, well processed sliver.  There was just under 300 g of Merino in the bag.  I spun up just over 1000 yds of singles.   I dyed them using weak acid dyes, by adding each skein in order after a specific time.    I have three skeins which are different shades of the same colour.   They are destined for a woven scarf project.  

 I will using gelatin sizing on them just to be sure that they will hold while weaving.   By mixing up the gelatin double strength, soaking the warp in it and letting it dry, there is less abrasion and breakage of the singles.   The gelatin washes out easily when the finished item is soaked in warm water.   

My sweetie had a week of holidays that he "had" to take.   It was another week at home.   We did some lovely short hikes on the days that the weather cooperated.   This trail was one we'd done in the summer, but had been driven back by the mosquitoes.   They were unexpectedly thick and we really couldn't finish the trail as we weren't prepared for that many bugs at the time.     Now of course, the weather is cold.  It was quite brisk and made for a lovely hike.   We could see why there'd been so many mozzies!  There are several ponds, a very slow moving  stream and an unexpected amount of standing water.

The Ash trees had all been cut down.   It looked like they had been only cut part way through and then either pushed or allowed to fall naturally.   Many were caught up in other trees and at weird, precarious angles.  This was the best one with the fungus crawling up the trunk, like scales.

We weren't the only people there that day.  There were a number of people out there which was nice.  Everyone kept their distance but were friendly.   The best comment was from a gal out walking with her mother, who told us that "there weren't any bears"!   Since we don't live in bear country and they are rarely sighted in the area, it gave me a good set of the giggles.

 There is snow on the ground again, so it's doubtful we'll get much more hiking done until spring, but it was great weather for a week off to play outside.    Sweetie also got a lot of headway made on the last pile of maple which was encroaching on my parking spot.   I can park my cute little car safely once again!

Despite all this, there was a lot of down time, including one day which was so dark and grey, that almost nothing was accomplished, except some Animal Crossing and video golf.   I can totally understand the worshipping or celebrating of the winter solstice.   The last couple of weeks with short days can be really frustrating.   I had to be in town for 8 am, and I needed to use my car headlights, and I'm having to make sure that I'm feeding the chooks well before 4:30 pm, or they are already starting to roost for the night.  Only a few more days!

December 04, 2020

Finally, time to update!

I just cut this part scarf off the loom.   I found some Paton's Lace yarn on sale and picked some up to weave a shawl and a couple of scarves.   It's lovely in the skein, not so much in the woven fabric.   A master weaver friend told me once that if you think there is something off with your fabric, or you don't like it and don't know why, it's probably your sett.

  I definitely had the sett just a tad tight.  The fabric was too dense and felt a bit stiff.  Not only that, but the outside threads started shredding.   I've woven with this commercial knitting yarn before without issues, and know a friend who did so with lovely results, so I'm not sure what was going on with the shredding.  However, I cut off the bit that I was weaving and re-sleyed it in a crammed thread/loose thread pattern, trying to get a bit of life and whimsy into the pattern.   This has worked really well, except the outside threads are still shredding and I've not decided what to do about it.  I will either put some floating selvedges on it, or sacrifice the yarn and cut it off.   I just noticed this morning that it's awfully close to Christmas and I haven't even thought about the tea towels my kids requested.   I've not thought about the pattern, colours, any design.  The warp isn't wound and eeek.. I'm running out of time.

My Christmas cards are done.   This year instead of carving a design for block printing, I tried my hand at water colours.   I have some ancient gouache paints from previous experiments and although they are opaque, rather than transparent, like true water colours, they can be used in a similar way.   I'd like to try some real water colours and see how they differ.  However that will be for another time.  My son, who is a talented artist, declared that they were okay, and the people who received them would appreciate them.  I got a giggle out of his effort to be supportive.

We got one last hike in before it snowed again.  It was brisk out, hovering just above freezing.  It was however sunny and there was almost no wind, so it was a great day to be out.  This is a trail we haven't taken in a while.  It was a nice change to be walking on soil, leaves and grass instead of the gravel that most of the well groomed walking trails have in this area.

I've been spinning in the evenings.   I've been mainly using up bits and pieces of stash. The blue merino superwash was a bit compacted and I probably should have run it through the carder or hand carded it before I spun it.  It was a fast spin and I didn't really worry too much about it.  I was just happy to have it spun and out of the way.   

On the last nice day, we got yard work done.   I got all the leaves off the deck, the hose put away, which is a bigger job than you'd expect since there is about 100 feet of hose, maybe more, and it was frozen stiff.    The part of the roof we had redone is finished, with new eavestrough and because it's the very high part of the house, we had that eavestrough leaf guard installed - yay!  

The bad things are that the mowing deck on the lawn tractor just rotted away.  The paint started bubbling  and this spring my sweetie had to get a friend to weld part of it back together.  Now it has rusted through in multiple places, so it needs to be replaced.   However, the part has been on backorder forever,  and we aren't holding out any hope that it might available anytime soon.  Luckily it's winter and we won't need to mow the lawn for a while.   The second thing is that t is just a nuisance.  The wood guy stopped by and commented on how quickly the last load of wood was cut up and split.   My sweetie laughed and said it was a perfect load and he'd take another like that any day.   Well of course two days later, we had another load of wood, not quite as perfect though, dumped beside the driveway.  The weather hasn't been conducive to getting it processed though, so it's just sitting there, almost in my parking spot.  I can't imagine that there will be time to get it processed and stacked for drying anytime soon, at least with just himself doing it.   I could be a winter driveway decoration!




November 15, 2020

Spin, Spin, Spin

Trying again...   I managed to delete my whole post just as I was finishing up the final proof reading.   Sheesh, twice now I've done this.   The third time's a charm, right?

I've been spinning a lot the past few weeks.   I don't normally watch the telly, but I tend to spin, knit or do some sort of handwork at the same time, if I do indulge.  I have a bit of a love for British period dramas, regular dramas, panel and comedy shows.    We ended up subscribing to the streaming service Brit Box, which has meant that I've accomplished a lot of spinning. 

This is merino.  It's a two ply.  I used a commercial sliver from The Fibre Garden.   It drafted like a dream and was so easy to spin.   I could spin well prepped fibre like this all the time!  I almost didn't ply it, but left it as singles for weaving.  There was a lot of it, but since it is mitten and toque season, I thought it could be  better purposed for warm woollies.

I had about 150g of flax sliver which I spun up as singles.   The sliver is a commercial tow preparation, with some very short bits and a lot of much longer ones.   It spins quite easily.   I have found that drafting and adding the twist works a bit more efficiently if my working hand has wet fingers.   I have a cute little flax water pot which I got from a talented potter one year when I was doing my Master Spinner at Olds College.  I like having the opportunity to use it.   It was also nice spinning the flax.  It's fun to spin and different than wool.  It makes a really nice change up.

I've also been spinning up the rest of some blue cotton.   It doesn't have the lustre that this photo suggests.  It's just plain cotton.   However, my plans for an outdoor photo shoot were scuppered today when I woke up to heavy rains and wickedly blustery winds.   Instead, I just took snaps with my phone.   It is so dull and grey outside, that even by a window, I needed to use a flash.   

I will ply the cotton and pop the finished skein into my container of cottons yarns, destined to become a garment.    I've been spinning up random skeins of cotton yarns and saving them for several years now.   The aim is to have enough to make some yardage for a shirt or jacket.   I should probably take some time to see how much I've actually spun.   It would be disappointing though, to find out that I wasn't even close to the yardage I might need. I think that's why, I never actually check.

With no Fleece Festival this year, I didn't stock up on winter spinning fibres.  Since I didn't purchase much last year either, I suddenly realized that my stash is starting to dwindle!  Egads!   I'm not buying anything right now though because we needed some electrical work done in the early summer.  We also just got the roof done and that was fun.  It cost $1000 over the estimate because once again we found the previous repairs had been done in a somewhat dubious manner, although likely the least expensive way possible.  

 When they removed the shingles, they found that there was no decking or sheathing on the roof. So they had to add a layer of plywood to seal up the structure and give something to nail into.  Of course wood is almost double in price these days.   But I will have to say that the roofers were very fast and efficient.   They showed up at 7 am on the dot.  They were finished, cleaned up and out of here by 3:30 pm.   We now have a roof which will not leak and it looks great.  As a plus, I can say they did the job the proper way.   We're happy about that.

November 06, 2020

Friday morning hike

Today's weather has been amazing.  With a high of 19C and sunshine, it felt almost summery, instead of November!  This morning we took the time to take a short walk on a trail we hadn't done in a couple of years.   All the paths have been groomed and made accessible.  It made for an easy ramble. 

  However, the number of trees which have been removed made it feel like a whole new area.   I'm guessing they had to remove all the dead and dying Ash trees.  It's quite open now and much less like walking through the bush.  It's still a pretty walk though since much of the trail follows a winding river. 

 Being a weekday morning, there were few people on the trail.  We did follow the markings of what turned out to be a little 2 year old toting a huge stick, all around the trails, with his mom and a gigantic Newfoundland puppy, which weighed more than the two of them put together.


There was a lovely grassy area; a green oasis in a forest of browns.

A little pond with lots of algae and growth, looked so pretty.

   It was nice and relaxing to watch the river flow by.

There were ducks on the river.  They were in small groups here and there, rather than one large flock.  However, I didn't have my big girl camera with a good lens, only my phone, so I was too far away to get reasonable photos of the ducks.  Still, I have to say I'm happy to have an alternate camera for when I'm in unexpected situations, so I can at least still take snap shots.


October 25, 2020

Hot Air Balloon Excitement

 This morning had a tad bit of excitement.   We heard a strange  rumbling  noise and a huge shadow in the sky, flying  low and close to the house.   From the window you could see it was a very low flying hot air balloon.  I've seen hot air balloons take off up the road, but I've rarely seen them flying overhead.  One of the few times they were visible, the balloon flew right over us.  They were low enough that they ran the burner, with a definite loud whoosh and rumble.  The poor chickens  who were out, freaked and ran to the trees to hide.   

This balloon was loosing altitude quickly and was very obviously coming in for a landing.  I'm guessing it was unexpected as the field they were landing in, is still full of standing corn.

Then there was more noise and this second balloon was floating by.  It was a bit higher than the first balloon, at least in the distance.  It's difficult to tell how high they actually are from down on the ground though.   As it was approaching our house, it seemed to be dropping in altitude.  The burner made an awful racket, however, you could still hear their conversation!  That was unexpected.




The balloon ran it's burner just before it came to the big maple tree in our yard.  It was pretty spectacular to watch.  I really was hoping they knew what they were doing, and that they were higher up than it appeared from my vantage point.


This is what the hot air balloon looked like as it passed by the maple tree on the other side of the yard. As it floated by, I hoped that it wouldn't  have to land on the farm next door, as they have horses.  That would be a bigger panic issue than a few chickens and likely cause more damage than crushing a bit of field corn.

I didn't walk up the road to see what happened next.  I did watch to see if they gained altitude.   It didn't seem like it. The first balloon was packed with people.  The second one seemed to have only a couple of people on board.   I hope they had smooth landings and didn't cause too much damage though, to themselves or the fields.  


October 17, 2020

Marble Cake from 1898


Cake! Yum.  I found a copy of The Galt Cookbook, published in 1898 by Margaret Taylor and Frances
McNaught from the Department of Agriculture, Ottawa. It is a Canadian cookery book. Many if not all of the recipes are from what was the Galt area of Ontario, now Cambridge, and surrounding communities.

I found this simple recipe for marble cake, using actual chocolate. Most earlier recipes for marble cake that I've found use some other colourant, like cochineal for the secondary colours, not necessarily other flavours.  I'd been checking books as I went through them, to find a marble cake which used chocolate or another flavour, rather than colours.   Finding chocolate marbled cake was definitely a bonus.

I mixed the try ingredients in one bowl, and the wet in another.  I used a pretty standard method for making the batter.  I added the flour, cream of tarter, soda, salt in one bowl and stirred it with a wisk to mix it well.   I creamed the butter and sugar, added the egg and beat it until light coloured.   I then added the milk and vanilla.   I added the dry ingredients in several portions, mixing well between additions.

I separated out approximately half of the batter into another bowl.  I found a box of bakers chocolate, did a quick search to find the size of chocolate blocks in 1898, and ended up using two, although in hindsight, it was unnecessary.   It would have been tasty and fine with a single modern block of baking chocolate.   I stirred the melted chocolate into one half of the batter.  

I had buttered and floured two 8 inch cake tins.  I only used one.   I think that my batter was a little thick and it blobbed rather than delicately spooned into the tin.  In the end, I realized that not only would I not be able to spread this gloppy goop into two pans, but they would be very thin layers if I did
so.  I scraped the batter into the pan, best I could, first using a spoon, then a spoon and spatula and finally, just the spatula.   I had to run a knife through to try to get the two batters to settle, and then I dropped the pan lightly on the counter several times to try to eliminate any possible remaining air bubbles.

It took about 30 minutes to bake in a 350 F oven 

The finished cake is a lovely cake.   While I was worried it would be dense, it has a lovely texture.  It has a soft crumb and a flavour which shows off the butter, vanilla and chocolate perfectly.   It didn't need an icing to help it along.   It is perfect as is, although for a birthday, I'd definitely ice it

I am putting this recipe into my repeat file because it is worthy of being baked again.

Next time I would sift the flour first.  I think that would help keep the cups of flour be less compacted, helping with the too thick batter.  Or I'd add another 1/4 c of milk.

The cake is likely pretty accurate though.   I have no idea what the cost was because I had all the ingredients on hand.  Not horribly expensive though as it's a single layer cake without any large amounts of ingredients

October 09, 2020

Processing Nettles Experiment

Here are the samples of nettles processed three different ways.  The green, thicker fibre was fresh nettles, peeled and scraped with an old butter knife.  By old, I mean , I found an antique butter knife at the thrift store for 50cents and used it, as they have a straight, dull edge.  Modern butter knives, or table knives, have a bit of a taper to them, and often have a bit of a serrated edge at the tip.   That made it much more difficult to scrape the nettles, hence the antique knife use.

The whiter fibre was from the nettles that were dew retted.  I bundled them up and layed them on the ground, flipping them every couple of days.  Depending on what you read, it can take anywhere from two days to a couple of weeks to be fully retted.  I left the bundles for two weeks before I tried to process these.    The fibres didn't easily peel off of the bark, or the centre core, so I thought they may be under retted.  The colour was nice though.  

The darker fibres had been retted for several weeks more.  I'd actually sort of forgotten about them as I was busy with canning.  My sweetie asked me when I was going to use them as he needed the space where they were sitting, to stack wood.  The outer bark had totally disappeared in some places and there were fibres actually showing.   They were quite easy to peel off, however they were breaking at some of the nodes on the stems.  Rather than a creamy colour, they are grey.

I don't have any proper processing equipment, like a flax break or hackles, which would have made this a lot easier and more useful.   I had a mallet, some wool combs and medium carders.

The under retted nettles and I call them under retted because the outer bark was difficult to remove in a lot of places.   I lightly bashed them to break the pieces up, pulled out some by hand and them combed them.   Many pieces still stuck.  I combed the fibres to remove more of the trashy bits and after getting a bit frustrated, just spun them and hoped for the best.  They were fairly long, spun quite nicely, but some of the bits were stuck fairly firmly.  

The over retted nettles were very soft.  The outer bark released quite easily when combed, but there were still some fibres with bits out outer bark stuck to them.  I ended up carding these as the fibres were shorter after combing, maybe 3-6 inches long.   I spun them from the end of the rolag, with a semi-worsted forward draw.

The green fibres should have been spun before they dried out.   I had to twine and ply by hand, which is an acceptable way to make a strong cordage, rather than yarn.  If I had a spray bottle, I think spritzing them with a bit of water, covering them and letting them sit for a couple of hours would have made this much easier.  But the sample I made suggests that this would make a strong rope.  I think it would make a lovely addition to a basket making project.


September 21, 2020

Colours of September

 I dressed the loom with the Kool-aid dyed warp using the Wall of Troy pattern from Margarite Davison's green book.  It's a fairly striking pattern but still an easy pattern to both thread and weave.   I'm done the first scarf and there is another left to weave.   Progress has been interrupted by helping my son-in-law build garage doors, canning, teaching a socially distanced rug hooking class at the park, hydro issues which mean the whole electrical panel needs to be replaced and a scary and irritating trip to the car dealer for a simple service on my cute little car, where they made all the motions of masking and social distancing, except for the part where they actually did it.  

The new hens have settled in nicely.  It only took them a couple of days to fully integrate.   After months of waiting for new birds, the feed store was able to get ready to lay hens delivered two weeks in a row.   Yay, to him finding independent breeders to supply us with hens!

 These ones are laying little pullet eggs.  Pullets are young layers.  They should start off laying tiny eggs like these, and gradually their eggs should increase in size.   Sadly, some of the hybrids we've had start off laying huge eggs and it can't be healthy for them.

I found prune plums in the stores, although not at the market. They were wonderfully ripe and two containers came home with me.   They make a wonderful jam or preserve.  I didn't chop them up, so my jam has chunks of peel and fruit in it.  Normally I chop the plum halves up a bit, and then the skins seem to just dissolve completely.  Still, the jam this year is pretty awesome.  It finished to a deep reddish purple colour, from the skins.  It's so pretty.

I dragged out the blending board.  I played with some colours of commercial corriedale.   They're not quite felted and they look fine, but they were just not quite easy enough to pull off the rolags, so slightly compacted perhaps, from sitting in a drawer for however long it's been.  Still it was fun to do.  

Blogger has been switched over to the new version, which I didn't want to use whenver they first introduced it.  I liked the old Blogger format and it was easy to use.  Now I'm finding a new learning curve and having to figure out new glitches.  It doesn't seem as easy to drop photos where I want them amongst a few other things I need to figure out.   This means that my layouts and formatting may be a little off until I muddle through it all.  I'm sure it will all come together at some point.

September 11, 2020

Tomahto, Tomayto, Tomato

Over the past few years, our garden tomatoes haven't done well.   We've had droughts, blight, more blight and one year the birds and bugs got to virtually every tomato before I did.   I almost didn't plant tomatoes this year and hubby had said why bother since we rarely get to harvest any.  However, I planted 4 plants.   There was hardly any choice of varieties at the garden centres and at one place, they already looked like they were stressed and diseased. 

 Our local feed store always carries a few starter plants, with very limited varieties since they are a small store.  I was told they purchase from a local grower.  I picked up a pot of 4 paste tomato plants.  They were 90 days until harvesting, so late at ripening.   Then we had the drought and a huge issue with blossom end rot.   I dedicated my watering to the now 3 tomato plants.  I don't know where the 4th one went.  One morning it was just not there! 

some of the tomatoes harvested from this year's garden
The watering got rid of the blossom end rot.  The skies opened up and we've had enough rain to make the garden and weeds grow.  A couple of weeks ago I harvested enough tomatoes to hot water bath can 3 jars.   Thinking that the rest of the green fruit would possibly not ripen, I picked up a box of tomatoes on sale at the grocery store.  Then I harvested what I thought was a few tomatoes in the garden.   It turned out there was over 1/4 bushel of ripe tomatoes to add to my store bought bounty.

I'd purchased 3 boxes of lids last fall when they were on sale.  I hadn't realized that I'd used most of them on jams, relishes and for the little canning jar bottles of milk that end up in the guys lunch bags when they want cereal for breakfast at work. I had popped out the the local hardware store, where I regularly purchase my supplies because they are a Canadian owned store, with great service.  I had two of the employees tell me that so many people decided to take up canning and preserving this year they had no supplies left, and no idea when they'd get more in.   Hubby came to my rescue by sourcing some at another store and picked them up on his way home from a meeting.  They were expensive though at some like $4.19 a package and he brought me home 4 packages!

Tomatoes are a borderline acid food and thus with a little lemon juice added to make them safe, they can be hot water bath processed.   I've never had luck with cold pack method for tomatoes, so I use the hot pack method.  This requires heating up the tomatoes first and boiling them for 5 minutes to heat them through.  The downside is that heat and chopping start to break down the tomato pectins.  This causes the juices to release and that separation of fruit and liquid in the jars.  It's safe, just looks a bit odd in the jar.

Over 2 days, I processed 30 pint jars (500 mls) of chopped tomatoes.   Yay!

1- Scald, peel and chop the tomatoes.  Put them in a large pot and slowly bring to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.

2- Using a canning funnel, ladle the tomatoes into clean, heated jars.

3- Follow the modern directions for hot water bath processing.  This meant for me, adding 1 tbsn lemon juice to each 500 ml jar and hot water bath processing for 35 minutes, timed after the canning kettle came back to a boil after adding the jars.

4-  Let cool over night, remove the bands, wipe down the jars to make sure there is no residual bits of tomato and they aren't sticky.  Write the date either on the jars or lids.  Some people use sticky labels, but I find they are really difficult to remove when you want to reuse the jars.   I write the date on the lid so that I know that the lid has already been used.   Tomatoes don't need an identifier as well because they look like tomatoes, unlike miscellaneous purple jams and jellies :)

5- Store with the ring part of the lids removed  because moisture gets under the rings and can rust the lids on the inside, making them difficult to remove.   Also, if a seal isn't perfect, it will pop and you'll find it before you use that jar.   Without that seal, the contents will go mouldy and toxins may develop.  Nobody wants botulism from their pasta sauce!

September 03, 2020

Yellow Jacket Wasp excitement

I keep trying to write posts of things that I've done over the summer, like some natural dyeing.  However, life keeps intervening with much more interesting and important issues.   A couple of days ago, one of our chooks disappeared when they were out free ranging.   This isn't abnormal as we are in a rural area and there are chicken eating predators: raccoons, foxes, hawks, and coyotes.   We've seen all of them nearby.   When we lose a chook, I always lock up my girls for a few days, so whatever critter ate one, doesn't get another free meal.

However, we have one chook, the grey americauna, who is still skittish and timid.  Most of the other chooks get very friendly in just a few weeks, when they learn that I feed them, but even after almost two years, this grey hen just panics, hides and keeps her distance.  She does tend to go her own way at times,   so when I tried to lock them all in their secure pen in the barn, for their safety, she decided she was going to roost in the open area of the barn.  

Chooks don't see well in the dark, so you can slip in and pick up even the most skittish chook, once they've settled for the night.  We figured we'd just pick her up and pop her into the pen after she settled.  The problem was that we went into the barn too early.   She was on the window sill.  When Al tried to pick her up, she freaked and threw herself forward into the window.  The window didn't break, but it turned out that it wasn't fastened securely.   Just a couple of tiny nails, which turned out to be loose, were holding it in place.   The chook managed to pop the window right out of place. 

She flew out the open window, and as Al picked up the window, to see how to re-attach it, he started to scream and run.   It turned out that all this commotion had disturbed a wasps nest (yellow jackets), which had been built in the barn wall, 30 cm from the door, right under the window.   I got one sting this summer, as I was leaving the barn, and am amazed it was only one.  Al was lucky.  He's fast.  He got into the house and managed to find the fly swatter, get them all quickly, with only 6 or  7 stings.

Before we could get the barn window fixed, we had to do something about the wasps nest.  Al suited himself up with protective gear, and sprayed the nest two nights in a row.  In the dark when the wasps had settled for the night, I went into the barn to make sure the chooks in the pen had food and water.  I couldn't catch the grey girl though, so she was out alone for 2 days and slept in the barn with the open window.   On the third day, we had wicked rain all morning and I couldn't find her, even after the rain cleared.   I thought she'd disappeared in the night, with that open window and all.  However mid afternoon, she reappeared, quite happy to have my company.  

Al and my son fixed the window last night.  It won't come off easily as it's been secured with multiple screws!  Two nights of spraying seemed to have reduced the nest dramatically, so we didn't have wasps attacking..   All this was good because we had some new chooks coming today and we needed to get them into the secure pen.  They need to be confined to their new pen for at least a week, so that they learn where their new home is.
This morning I picked up the new ready to lay chooks, called that because someone else raises them until they're about 16 weeks old and ready to start laying.  When I opened the pen door, the grey chook, who'd been without her flock for 3 1/2 days, ran in to the secure pen without issues.   Yay!  Since I only had 3 new girls, I had transported them in a dog crate.  They easily popped out of the crate and into the pen.    They are all safe and sound now.  It made me feel very happy and content to have a secure flock, with few more chooks. 

However, I did see a wasp go back into the nest opening as I was leaving.   I'll have to keep an eye on that!

August 28, 2020

A Kool Aid dyed experiment

One of my weaving guild members is part of a study group in another town.  She recently lead a socially distanced class on "fun" dyeing.  They used Kool Aid.   You need to use the unsweetened Kool Aid drink powder in the little packets.  It's no longer sold in Canada, unless you luck out and find it at a discount or outlet store.  Last winter I found some packets at a dollar store and stashed a bunch of them for future use. 

At our last Zoom meeting, Barb had shown her results which was a huge pile of skeins that she had dyed with Kool Aid, at 1 packet to 1 ounce of wool yarn.  It was lovely, colourful and inspiring.

Not wanting to duplicate her results, I tried something a bit different.  I had picked up a packet of Guar Gum about the same time I purchased the Kool Aid packets.  Guar Gum is a thickener and one of it's many uses is to thicken dye for painting skeins.  It helps prevent the dyes from running together too much, allowing for techniques which might need more distinct lines.   I found it at the bulk food store, in the gluten free section. 

You don't need a lot of it. I used 5 ml in a litre of water.  I buzzed it up in a blender.  Since it was food grade, I didn't worry about extra equipment but used the seldom used smoothie blender in the back of the cupboard.   It was thickish, but from a couple of videos I'd watched, I thought it should have been thicker.   However, I decided to try it as it was, so if it didn't work, I had a definite starting point to work from   I divided the liquid into 7 disposable cups which had been sitting in a box for years.  I added a single packet of Kool Aid powder to 6 of the cups and left the 7th cup uncoloured, to use as an extender if I needed it.

The Kool Aid powder blended in quickly and gave fairly bright colours.   I used my acid dye syringes since I couldn't find my husbands stash of foam brushes which I sometimes use to paint fibre with.  Earlier in the day I'd wound a wool/silk blend warp for 2 scarves. I tied a tight choke tie in the middle, where the fringe from one scarf ended and the other began.  I tied looser figure 8 ties on the rest of the warp, except for the cross.  It was tightly tied too.

 I soaked the warp in warm water with about 1/4 cup of vinegar.  It's not really necessary, but I wanted the dye to take quickly.  As well, it was a lot of warp for a little dye, and I wasn't sure how diluting it with the guar gum would affect the dye to acid ratio.  I felt comfortable with a little extra security.

I used a lot of plastic wrap and ran it in long lengths, to put my warp on.  This protects the work surface to some extent but also protects the yarn when you steam it.   Since I was working on the glass topped patio table, I didn't put down any other protection on the table.  Kool Aid and Guar Gum are food safe, plus the glass table is super easy to clean.   I used syringes and spoons to paint the warp.  The syringes were discards from my husbands workplace and a friend who breeds Alpaca.  They are easily available at the farm supply store though.

Once I had the colour on, I wrapped the plastic wrap tightly around the warp threads.   I tucked one side in, around the warp and then rolled it up.   Amazingly, the guar gum did stop most of the leakage from where the plastic wrap pieces joined.   I dyed one scarf, rolled the plastic around it and then did the second one, as my table wasn't large enough to do both at once. I rolled the whole kit and kaboodle up like a jelly roll.  I popped it into a dye pot, with a steamer rack in the bottom, added a few inches of water and let it steam for about an hour.  I added water a couple of times during the process, to make sure the pot didn't run dry.   It doesn't need an hour, but my pot lid had gone missing, so the one I had to use didn't fit quite tightly enough.  This way I made sure it had enough steam time.

I turned off the stove after the steaming time was up.  I let the warp cool down overnight. If the wool yarn, or roving or fibre cools down too quickly, it will likely cause the fibre to felt up.  Since this was a wool silk blend, it could not only felt the wool, but damage the silk, if I didn't let it cool slowly.

The final colours are fun.  I'd read someplace that the purple Kool Aid was an ugly colour, but I rather like the purplish-grey colour.  The guar gum did prevent any major blending of colours from one colour to another, even if it wasn't quite as thick as I'd thought it should have been.  The warp is now on my loom, waiting for me to start weaving.

So, why did I use a wool/silk warp, luxury fibres for a Kool Aid experiment?  Kool Aid, and food colours in general (Wilton's Paste food colours work well too), act as weak acid dyes.  That is dyes which are easily fixed with vinegar or citric acid.  However, they need a protein or animal fibre to work.   The only pure wool I had was blanket wool.   I didn't have enough of any one white fibre to wind a scarf warp, let alone a warp for two scarves.   I did however have enough white wool/silk blend for the warp and the weft for at least one of the scarves.   Since I know that food colours, when heat processed at the proper temperature and time are stable, I wasn't too worried.

August 24, 2020

Jam Time

One of the largest apricots in the container
I made both Peach and Apricot jam last week.  Apricots aren't easy to find in this area for some reason, and this year has been even more difficult.  People are saying they haven't seen any.   I was lucky when my son found some and presented me with a plastic clam shell container full of these teeny, tiny apricots.   I think in other years, they wouldn't even qualify for seconds they were so tiny.  In most of them, there was more pit than fruit!

foam shows jam is not ready
I sliced them in half, took out the pits and gave them a quick buzz through the food processor, in hopes that I had enough for a decent batch of jam.   I needed 4-5 cups of fruit and I had barely 2 1/2 cups.  I popped them in the freezer and checked the shops the next time out.  I would have been happy with a few imported apricots to add.  But not a single apricot, local or imported was to be found.  

foam subsiding and jam is clear
I used them in a 19th c jam recipe which calls for equal weights of sugar and fruit.  It made a spectacular jam, albeit a very small amount.   I was hoping to have enough for Christmas presents, but all I have is a personal stash.  Better that than no apricot jam at all though.

Jam with pectin has a pretty exact process to follow and if you do it with the correct timing, and quantities, you have jam!    Making it without pectin has a bit more of a margin for error.  It's easy to over cook it and get a solid, unspreadable  mass in your jar.   Been there, done that, couldn't eat the jam :)

Apricot Jam

You start off heating the sugar and fruit.  The sugar draws out the fruit juices, very quickly making a liquid which then easily comes to a boil.   It gets quite foamy and with a small amount like this, the pectin starts to do it's gelling thing almost right away.   Once it starts to turn clear and the foam subsides, you're almost there.
I keep a glass plate in the freezer.  I pull it out when I think the jam is close.  I put a dollop of jam on it and give it a second to cool.  I run my finger through it to divide the dollop in two.  If the jam doesn't run back together, then it's ready to go.

I ladle the jam into hot jars, wipe the rims, put on new lids and rims and pop the jars into a hot water canning bath.  Once it comes back to a boil, I process for 10 minutes.  If the jars were filled correctly and I get the rims completely clean, I get to hear those lovely little pings as the jars seal.   I do like that sound.

Peach jam which is sunnier and brighter than photo shows

August 16, 2020

Cucumber Ice Cream - 1885

From the 1885 recipe book, Ices Plain and Fancy, by Agnes Marshall, comes this interesting recipe for cucumber ice cream.   Apparently cucumbers were considered light and refreshing during this time period.  This is a very adult ice cream recipe.   If you make it for your kids to try, use apple juice instead of brandy.  If you make it for your friends, use the brandy :)

I really made this pretty much as was described in the recipe.   I used one large cucumber.  It was easy to de-seed by simply running a spoon down each half before dicing it.  When it said peel of two lemons, I interpreted it as lemon zest.  I did try to find the size of Victorian lemons, but couldn't find anything definitive on lemon sizes.  I used two lemons and zested most of it, but left a bit as I thought that maybe lemons were a tad smaller then.  I added the 3/4 pint of water which is 1 1/2 cups and 1/2 cup of sugar.   I cooked it until the cucumber was soft.  I mashed it up with a potato masher.  I didn't have a tamis (which is pronounced tammy lol), which is a type of sieve.  My sieve ended up doing duty as a wading pool strainer, so I did end up using my stick blender to smooth out the mixture in the end.   I juiced the lemons, in my antique glass lemon juicer no less :), added a tiny drop of green food colour and 1/3 c brandy.   It's a little less than a wine glass, but I'm not a drinker.   I went by taste here.   At this point, I let the mixture cool. The recipe doesn't say so, but I think the instructions to freeze and finish as usual would allow for this, as it's a pretty important part of the freezing process.  Once the mixture was cool,  I added the cream, sweetened with almost 1/2 c of sugar.  I used 10% goats milk light cream because it was the only kind I could find which didn't entail a trip to a grocery store for a single item.

I used a Cuisinart Ice Cream maker.  It's electric and while I've always wanted an old fashioned crank ice cream maker, this one is quite effective and efficient.  I do like that I can turn it on and walk away, just checking it every so often.   Realistically, I probably make more ice cream because it's electric than if it were hand cranked.

This ice cream was interesting.  It was light and refreshing.  It was adult ice cream and it you'd added a full wine glass, it would have been far more potent.  It was something to be eaten in small amounts though, which makes sense when you look at the way a Victorian meal was served.  It would make a good palette cleanser between meals, but I think it would shine as an ending course for a Victorian luncheon or picnic.

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup white sugar
1 3/4 cups water
1/3 - 1/2 cup brandy
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 cups cream (sweetened to taste) I added 1/2 cup sugar here.
green food colour