Friday, April 30, 2010

Coffee and Cookies Combined!

Dear Mom,
I have enjoyed 2 glorious days off from any kind of "work" so I took the days to be lazy and enjoy the yard, the weather (knitting outside!) and baking! I baked 4 loaves of Grams' Bread, otherwise known as Mercy Watson Toast, white chocolate chip cookies that were terrible (but eaten anyway!) and then these:
Coffee Bean Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted
1 cup chocolate-covered coffee beans (purchased at Starbucks, of course!)
1 cup heath bar chips

Beat butter and shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugars, beating well.  Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; add to butter mixture, beating well.
Stir in chopped almonds, chocolate-covered coffee beans and heath bar chips.  Cover and chill dough, if desired.
Drop dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-11 minutes or until golden.  Cool 1 minute on baking sheets; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Yield:  4 dozen

These cookies have always been my favorites!!  An indulgence for me.  The kids got the white chocolate chip cookies; I ate all of the coffee bean cookies!
Much has been brewing during these past two days . . . . all of which I will share in the next coming week!  In the meantime, I can't wait to read about The Queen! And I STILL have my Alice Starmore "Reef" sweater that was properly steeked with the aid of Kim and her bottle of wine, but never finished.  It was to be for the teenager when he was 2 . . . and then the Diva . . . and then Pipsqueak  . . . . . .
Enjoy your weekend!

Slowing down, moving fast and trying to feel groovy. And some knitting, too.

Dear Mom,
Lately I have been feeling in a perpetual hurry. Mostly it is all self-inflicted and at some point this week I realized I need to slow myself down. Time to dig out some Simon & Garfunkel and remember to slow down, make the morning last. You know....Feel Groovy. Well, try to anyway.

The What I Need to Do's are colliding with the What I Want to Do's and I've become a spinning top. So much to do, where to start? I don't know why I get frantic about it, everything gets done in its time. It just doesn't always get done in the time frame that I plan on. For instance, yesterday I intended to burn off some energy getting the house clean. All was well until I found an empty retainer case (again). Apparently Patsy is concerned with her oral health, because this is the second time I've had to search for that retainer and I've lost track of how many toothbrushes we've replaced. The first retainer search ended with the retainer intact. Not so lucky this time. I scold the dog. I call the orthodontist to schedule an appointment for new retainer. While I am on the phone I decide to call Brother and ask him to till up a new garden spot. Yes, he can, right now. Outside to stake off desired location. Brother tills. Time for lunch. Brother calls to tell me something. (Can't remember what.) I ask him about making pasta. We talk about making pasta. We talk about pasta machines. We decide to make pasta, soon. I look on the internet at pasta machines. The afternoon is slipping away. On my list of Want to Do's is the Green Sweater. It has reached a point in its construction that requires me to cut the steeks and I need daylight to do this. If I don't get it done now, before the after school routine begins, it will be another day, or two, before I can do it. I stop everything and git r done. I can clean tomorrow or on Saturday when it rains.

I think the steeking process is something you might find interesting. The Green Sweater is going to be a cardigan when it grows up, but it is knitted entirely in the round in one piece, not flat or in pieces. I am basically knitting a wonky tube. To turn the tube into a cardigan with sleeves enlists the use of steeks. Steeks are basically extra stitches placed in strategic locations to be used as selvages. All the sweater shaping is done outside of these selvages. Constructing a sweater this way is faster- I can knit around in circles a lot faster than I can knit a row, turn the sweater to the wrong side, and purl back. I think most knitters can work a knit stitch faster than a purl stitch. I can, anyway. Another good thing about working in rounds is that the right side is always facing while you knit, especially helpful when working a color or stitch pattern. The Green Sweater is just plain old stockinette stitch with very little shaping and no color or pattern to keep track of. On something like this I can really get in the zone and knit at a pretty good clip.

So, back to yesterday. I had reached the point where nothing more can happen to the Green Sweater until I secure and cut the steeks. It looked like this:
a wonky tube
There are four steeks on this sweater. One at the center front, another at the neck opening, and two for the arms. 
At this point, I mark the center of the steeks with a basting yarn in a contrasting color. You can see that here:

Now for the scary part.

Assemble the necessary tools:

  1. Good light. Daylight preferred.

  2. Cheaters.

  3. Puppies sniffing at your feet are not helpful. Try to distract them, or do this when they are sleeping.

  4. Sewing machine

  5. Scissors

  6. Wine. For after you are done. I think Elizabeth Zimmermann suggests lying down in a dark room. A glass of wine is more fun.
Time to secure the steeks. There is more than one way to do this, and this time I am using the sewing machine method. This is how I did my very first steek, back in 1992, at Meg Swansen's Knitting Camp. I was smart enough, back then, to realize that I had better learn it in the presence of an expert and with supportive knitters beside me.

It seems wrong to use a sewing machine on a hand knit, but I like to use this method because there is less bulk in the selvage edge that is created. Plus, my sewing machine, Judy Jetson, likes it when she feels needed.

The tiniest possible stitch is sewed right next to the basting thread.
First on one side, then the other. Again, I use a contrasting thread so that it is easy to see. Plus, this edge will be hidden and the thread won't show when the sweater is finished.
The really scary part.
Cut the steeks. Yes. Cut that perfectly good knitting. That wonky tube is good for nothing until you cut it. Except here is the disadvantage to steeks. There is no going back once the steeks are cut. Honestly, there is no going back once you've run it through the sewing machine, because I cannot for the life of me imagine ripping out those tiny stitches and having the yarn survive. But the cutting is final.

Truthfully, this is only Very Scary the first time. Once the dizzy spell passed, I found the whole process to be liberating. I steek freely now.
So, here is Elle, modeling the sweater with the steeks cut open. The sweater has not been joined at the shoulders yet, but you get the idea.

Looks more like a cardigan now, doesn't it!

I went ahead and blocked the sweater at this point. I need to turn the steeks under and sew down some facings, and it seemed prudent for me to block first to flatten those curling edges and make the sewing down process easier. I'll join the shoulders and sew the facings and then I can start the sleeves.

So last night, I was faced with only socks to knit. Rather than do the smart thing, which would be to knit the socks or go to an unfinished project, I decided to start something new.  I cast on for this.