Read the Instructions?

I can’t blame it on dyslexia. Nope. I will be completely honest. I just didn’t read the instructions. It’s interesting what happens with a pattern when you don’t read the instruction. Um, well… sometimes the outcome can be, uh shall we say, unfortunate? Sometimes, the results can be cool and surprising.

Confession time! I have had the Nutkin sock pattern sitting in my library on Ravelry for at least a year. With all the times I looked at it you’d think that I’d have noticed what the pattern truly looks like. It’s interesting how perceptions come into play when we see things. You look, you get an impression of something. You decide whether it appeals to you or not and then you carry on, satisfied with your decision. …all based on a glance.

I had a terrible case of “startitis” that lasted me over 2 weeks before I succumbed to its siren call. On Saturday, I gave in. I pulled out my Estelle Sock Twins yarn and my sock needles and realized I left my tablet at home. Yeah, home is upstairs above the shop. It isn’t a 10 minute drive across town on bad roads or anything interesting like that. I was just too lazy to go upstairs and grab my tablet. So I pulled out my phone and logged into Ravelry. I knew I wanted to make Nutkin socks. End of story.

The screen on my phone is so tiny. That’s my excuse! It’s very much an excuse. The reality is that I really didn’t read the instructions.

So, I glance quickly at the pattern and see what appears to be a toe-up sock. (Who knows at this point whether it even was.) I see a chart and I think, “Hmmmm I thought this was a symmetrical pattern.” I still only saw one chart. I’m thinking, “Oh, I guess I just have to mirror this chart for the second side.” I know, right? Who thinks silly thoughts like that, anyway?

I have my toes knit for both socks so I can knit them two at a time. After running two month-long toe up sock knitting classes in a row, I have my stitch counts in my head for vanilla socks and I have my 56 stitches per sock neatly divided on my circular needle. Good Lord, Judy. How many pairs of socks have you knit? This pattern is gonna tighten up those stitches, just evict the dust bunnies from your brain and think for one second, girl!

But no. Dust bunnies were alive and well in my brain on Saturday morning. Yup.

So rather than increasing to a reasonable 60 stitches to accommodate that little bit of “suckage” from the pattern. I just went on my merry way, adapted the pattern for 56 stitches and gloried in my pretty gradient yarn and the lovely symmetrical pattern that was emerging happily off my needles.

I remained blissfully ignorant until I finished the heel. At this point, it was Sunday evening. I had my tablet this time and on the tablet, the photo is large enough that you can actually see the pattern. Oops. Yeah. Well, reading the pattern would have eliminated this faux pas. I realized there was a wee patterned line dividing the toe from the beginning of the pattern, first off. Oh well, both socks are the same, that’s okay. And then I realized that I was not supposed to mirror the chart. And really, what crazy universe would I have had to be in to have a pattern with a chart and be told in the pattern, “oh, yeah I was too lazy to make a mirror image of the chart for in the pattern so you go ahead and just mirror it in your mind.” It would just never happen. (I’m laughing at myself.)

Don’t get me wrong, the socks look fantastic. They are just a teeny bit too small for me, but you know what, my daughter’s feet are just a teeny bit smaller than mine and she has already claimed these socks with her own personal patriotic flag of sock ownership. So it’s all good.

Whether the socks are complete by the deadline for this blog or not, I’ll include photos of my progress. I’ll be honest, I was so disgusted with myself and my laziness in reading the pattern that I had to set the socks aside for a night or two. And there is no way I’m frogging a perfectly good pair of socks just because I (cough cough) modified the pattern.

Once these socks are complete, I’m determined to make the Nutkin pattern properly, for real, and to fit me. In the meantime these ones look very pretty and will make my daughter happy.

The Estelle Sock Twins yarn I’m using is lovely. It’s quite soft. The gradient colourway makes it fun to knit. I found myself pushing to do another round, another round, another round, because I was anticipating the change to the colour. I’m curious to see how tall of a sock I’ll be able to get out of the two matched cakes of sock yarn. I am determined to knit to the end of the balls just to see. I am fairly certain that even with the patterned knitting they should give me a decent knee sock.

Next, I think I’ll knit up a pair of Nutkin inspired knee socks for myself out of Lang Jawoll Sock Twin yarn. The hardest part will be choosing the colour… well, no it won’t. I’m a sucker for yellow sock yarn. It will be the yellow one. Yup. Maybe I’ll even read the instructions for those ones.

Maybe…

Happy Knitting!

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So Many Needles!

Knitting is a fibre art that requires the use of two needle tips at a time to create fabric out of yarn. Sounds simple… until you get to the yarn shop and see an entire wall covered in different needles. How to choose?

Single pointed Needles

These long needles are sold in sets of two; they have a point on one end and a stopper of some sort on the other end. They are available in lengths ranging from 8″ to 14″. These are used for flat knitting. When you knit with these, the weight of the item you are knitting ends up moving from the far end of one needle to the far end of the other. It makes the fine muscles in your shoulders work very hard. If you have or have had a shoulder injury, you may find that this makes you quite sore. I can only last about 10 minutes with these before I can’t take the pain any more. Circular needles are better for the weak-of-shoulder knitter. The other thing to note about these is that if your knitting is too much wider than a single needle width, you may risk having stitches drop off the needle when you set the work down. If it’s only a few stitches wider, a point protector placed on the tip of the needle will hold the stitches on.

Double Pointed Needles

These needles come in sets of either 4 or 5 needles that are pointed on both ends. These are typically from 5″ to 8″ long each and are used to knit in the round. You divide the stitches evenly among all but one needle. The last needle is then your working needle. Using that needle you knit the stitches off one other needle. The needle that you just cleared off becomes the new working needle. You continue in this manner around and around the project. This is how socks were knit for generations. To begin with it can feel very awkward working with so many needles and figuring out how to navigate around them as you go. Drawbacks include something called “laddering” as well as the fact you have 6 to 8 needle points where stitches can potentially drop. Laddering is a column of loose stitches that forms at the juncture of two needles. It looks like a ladder. It is the result of stitch tension being uneven right at the point where you switch between needles. This can be avoided by tightening the last stitch on the previous needle and the first few stitches at the beginning of the next one. You can prevent stitches falling off by using point protectors.

Circular Needles

Circular needles are made up of two needle points and a cord that connects them. You can get them either fixed or interchangeable. Fixed needles have a set size and length that cannot be changed. The interchangeable needles allow you to switch out the cords and needle tips to whatever you need for the specific project you have in mind. Circular needles can be used for all types of knitting. They are available in a multitude of lengths. The smallest ones (25cm) have very short needle tips and cords to allow you to knit in the round on a single sock comfortably. These allow you to avoid any sort of laddering as the needle holds all the stitches. The next longer ones (40cm) are intended to knit hats in the round in the same fashion. Interchangeable needles allow you to set your needle up with as long a cord or combination of cords as you like. There are connectors that allow two or more cords to be connected. If you want to knit a blanket, you can make the cord long enough to hold all the stitches without fear of them dropping off. You don’t ever have to worry that you will be missing a needle when you pick up a project that’s been sitting for a while, both tips always stay attached. The weight of the project remains centered in front of your body at all times. You don’t get the stress on your shoulders like you do with single pointed needles. I can knit for hours (the longest I knitted in one stretch was 18 hours) with absolutely no shoulder pain when I use circular needles. I personally can’t think of any drawbacks… other than wanting to own all the gorgeous sets available!

What they are made of

Needles can be made of a number of different materials. Typically we see metal, plastic, acrylic, wood and bamboo. The material you choose is going to come down to the feel you like the best. A good yarn shop will allow you to try out needles in the store to see what you prefer.

Metal Needles

Metal needles tend to be very smooth. If you have concerns about dropping stitches, these may not be the best choice for you. Also, metal needles can be a little bit noisy: click, click, click…. Would that drive you or the people around you crazy?

Plastic Needles

Plastic needles are generally in the economy range. They can be quite flexible, so you’ll want to check that before you buy them. It can be maddening to try to knit with needles that want to bend as you work. They do the job, but they don’t feel particularly nice.

Acrylic Needles

Acrylic tends to be a little smoother than plastic. They usually are just grabby enough that your work doesn’t just slide off them. It has a different feel, some people really like them, some don’t. These can be colourful and funky… which makes them fun.

Wood Needles

Wood needles are usually finished to make them smooth. They still offer a little bit of friction, more than the metal ones do. This means that the stitches don’t tend to simply slide off on their own. Wood needles feel really nice in your hands. Bamboo are just a little grabbier and are a good fit if you knit with soft tension.

There you have it! Happy Knitting!

So Many Lovely New Things!

Who doesn’t love to see new things? I’m excited to tell you about a bunch of new products that I recently added to my inventory.

Recently, I had a couple customers ask me to bring in a line of sock yarn from Lang yarns. Ooh! The colours are so YUMMY! This ombre yarn has lovely gradual colour shifts that allow for a nice tall sock. The balls are 50g, and each sold separately. One ball makes a nice tall knee sock. The colours make me think of ice cream and sorbet. I brought in nine different colourways. It is already proving popular; I didn’t even have a chance to get it onto the shelf before it started to sell. It is soft to the touch and did I mention that the colours are very pretty? I am determined to finish a couple projects before I cast on a pair of socks in this one. I know I won’t be able to resist the yellow!

Sudz cotton dish-cloth yarn from Estelle has been a big hit since I first brought it in. I initially stocked around 50 colours. Last week I added another big bunch of colourways. This economical yarn comes in 50g balls and the huge colour selection means that you will never have to be bored making dishcloths!

Knitter’s Pride Ginger Double Pointed Sock Needle Sets are in. Wow! The case is absolutely gorgeous! The DPN sets range from 2mm up to 5.5mm. If you love making socks or mittens on DPN’s you will adore this set!

Knitters are likely to be aware of the trend toward short circular needles. So the idea is that if you are making a hat, you use a 40cm (16″) circular needle for the body of it. The stitches all fit comfortably on it. You can switch to magic loop, 2 circulars or DPN’s when you decrease at the top, but the bulk of the hat is done on one short circular. This is a lovely way to knit. I now have 40cm knitting needles in both the Aero brand (which is quite budget conscious) and Knitter’s Pride Dreamz (which are an absolute joy to knit with and worth the extra investment if your budget allows).

Not only are we seeing short circulars for hats, but the latest trend is to use 25cm (10″) circular needles for knitting socks. It’s the same idea. When I first tried these out, I was determined to hate them. By the end of the first sock, I had fallen in love. It takes about a sock to get accustomed to these. The needle tips are very short and you do have to adjust the way you hold them a bit because there isn’t much tip length to anchor your hand against. I found that I needed to be very conscious of how I held them and where my hand felt uncomfortable so that I could be deliberate with what I needed to change in my hand position. This meant that I could relax my hand and the knitting went much quicker. I do find that the first 10 rounds after completing the toe (on toe-up socks) feels a little tight because the toe pulls against the stitches at first. Once you get those rounds done, that feeling goes away. I also found that if I do socks (4ply) with fewer than 54 stitches, it starts to feel a bit tight on the needles. So I only use them for adult sizes. I carry these in Knitter’s Pride Dreamz now from 2.25mm up to 5mm. Not everyone will love these, but they are worth giving a try.

I now carry a few new adhesive products. Sobo premium craft and fabric glue is a popular product that most crafters will recognize. I have it in the 2 oz squeeze bottles now. Patch Attach is another adhesive product that I have added to our line-up. I still carry Aileen’s Fabric Fusion pens and the old stand-by, Speed Sew.

I recently expanded my thread selection as well. I brought in 2 new thread cabinets that are filled with 500m spools of Mettler Metrosene 100% Polyester thread and Mettler Silk Finish 100% Cotton thread respectively. I’m excited about this. These cabinets have a really nice selection of the most popular thread colours in a nice big spool.

The expanding sewing gauge is another cool new product. This accordion style gauge allows you to easily adjust to locate where to attach buttons and buttonholes evenly on a garment or other project.

Pressing loops can be a real challenge. This set is designed to allow you to press them with ease. Whether you are making spaghetti straps for a top or a dress, or using them in your quilts or other decorator projects, this tool will make you want to think up projects just so you can use it! You’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!

Besides the typical rotary cutting tool, many crafters use the Xacto style crafting knife. I recently brought in replacement blades for this style of knife.

A new addition to our Schmetz sewing machine needle line up is the Microtex needle in 8 gauge or multipack.

When you knit a project as a gift, sometimes you just want to be sure people know that it was crafted by hand with love. I found a few new “handcrafted” cloth labels that are easy to stitch onto your hand knits and look fantastic.

Last but not least, I have brought in some new books. Most notably is “Sew and Play: Handmade Games for Kids”. This is a delightful guide to sewing games for children. It includes full instructions and patterns for games including: Capture the Tag; Monster Ball; Pancake Party; Snake Pit; Gone Fishin’ and more. With a total of 11 games, this book is a gem!

I love being able to bring in new and interesting things to expand the selection for my customers. I especially love it when I find something that enhances my knitting or sewing experience.

Happy Knitting!

Kinda Like the 70’s

I have lots of great memories of the 1970’s. The clothes (well except for Fortrel, that stuff was nasty and don’t let anyone try and tell you otherwise) the cars, the television shows, the music… One of the great things that I loved about the 1970’s was how many fibre arts were in fashion then.

Knitting, embroidery, macrame, crochet, quilting, cross stitch, needlepoint and sewing were all common pastimes.

As a young girl I found inspiration in all things fibre.

I loved to sew and I loved the peasant style blouses that had hand embroidered necklines in bright colours and designs that spoke of rich ethnic connections. I loved knitting and crochet, cross stitch and spinning. I wanted to do it all. I drove my poor parents batty in my quest to understand how it was all done and to try it all. I had a passionate drive to get to the bottom of every process. Once I was convinced I had grasped it I dove into the next challenge with a single minded fervor that simply could not be quelled. I absolutely thirsted for it!

I can hear my parents complain that I never settled into any one thing. In a way they were right.

I settled into two things: music and fibres. Everything I loved most involved those two things.

I still love all that stuff today. It just sucks that there are only 24 hours in a day. There are choices that have to be made in order to be able to enjoy the experiences I love and keep the bills paid and keep up with all that other stuff adults have the privilege of being responsible for.

Many of the skills and passions I nurtured and developed throughout my life have become all but lost arts. There was a time when sewing was considered a vital life skill. They don’t teach it in school here any more. What passes for an introduction to sewing is, shamefully, barely a glance in the direction of a sewing machine. I suppose I should be grateful, since that means my skills are actually valued now. My business relies on people wanting their items fixed but being unable (or unwilling) to do it themselves.

And yet I see and feel a resurgence of those beautiful practical activities.

The fibre arts are making a comeback in a big way.

I couldn’t be happier. And it’s exciting to see the growth of it all.

I love it when people come to my store and tell me they are just learning a fibre art. It’s exciting and I am thrilled that I have the privilege and opportunity to share my extensive experience and knowledge with them. I want to do what I can to help them to have the kind of experience that will make them want to grow, nurture and sustain these interests too.

I have been responding to this shift by expanding my selection in the store to greet the need. Little by little, what I carry is reflecting how public interest in fibre arts is growing.

It’s exciting!

It’s flint to a fire; it makes me want to embroider and cross stitch again. Perhaps it’s time for me to plan out some beginner classes to teach these methods and be the spark that ignites a passion for fibre arts in a whole new generation; even if only a few people at a time.

There are so many things now that are reminiscent of the 1970’s. The “neo-hippies” share many of the same desires of the hippies from back then, but they have so much more at their fingertips than folks did back then. There is an idealistic spirit that has persevered all along that I can relate to. Today’s hippie-leaning folk have incredible technology at their fingertips. Yet there is still the desire for simplicity, practicality, accountability and sustainability that I remember and hold dear.

I try to keep up with what’s going on, but I have to be honest. As much as I love technology, I find that the pace of change of it has begun to feel like a rat-race to me. The shifting trends can start to feel excessive and superfluous. Don’t get me wrong. I love that social media and the internet have allowed regular people like me to have this kind of platform to connect with others (many of whom we will never meet in person). As the context of our lives changes along with our new technologies it’s easy to feel out of touch with it all. It’s interesting to me, to see how differently the newer generations are with technology. It is such a natural thing to them and they don’t even realize it. The marketplace is changing. How we do business is changing. Business models that were in place since the industrial revolution are disappearing completely. Back in the 70’s there was no internet. Computers took up the entire floor of a building. If you phoned a friend and they were not home, you couldn’t leave a message for them and they had no way of knowing you had called. Back then, you could tell someone you called them 10 times without an answer and no one would know if you were exaggerating or not. LOL

In this fast-paced and ever changing world, when I find myself frustrated with all the intangibles that I have to try and keep up with, I know I can count on my wonderful fibres. (In the back of my mind, I know and I’m truly grateful that I can login to Ravelry to find patterns.)

But, I can pick up my knitting and it will be there like a solid friend. The knits will be knits. The purls will be purls. My embroidery thread will always be 6 strands thick in an exquisite rainbow of blissful colours.

And I can pick up my fibre arts project and escape to the “touch-it, feel-it” things that have remained kinda like the 70’s.

Happy Crafting

Onward! To the Ravelry 2019 Challenge

Last year I participated in the Ravelry 2018 Challenge. I set out to complete 20 projects over the course of 2018. I figured that would be a manageable number, knowing my knitting habits and my busy schedule. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I ended up finishing 33 projects. I wasn’t purposely trying to pack a lot of projects in; I feel good about that result. Good enough that I signed up for the 2019 Challenge too. At this point, based on last year’s results, I’ve conservatively set a goal of 30 projects.

During 2018 I completed the following:

  • 1 blanket
  • 1 cowl
  • 5 shawls
  • 1 adult cardigan
  • 2 toddler cardigans
  • 4 doll cardigans
  • 19 pairs of socks

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I have a couple of projects that were started that I didn’t complete yet. Notably “Alecia Beth”, a contiguous cardigan in 4 ply yarn. I hope to finish that in time for late spring when my winter sweaters and coat are too warm for the weather.

I’ve been thinking about what new things I’d like to try and knit this year. I definitely want to make a steeked, stranded colour-work cardigan. I have been looking at designs. I like the way that the colour-work wraps around those yoked sweaters that Tin Can Knits are known for.

Steeking is a construction method used to make cardigans. It’s typical of Fair-Isle and Norwegian sweater knitting. The idea is that you knit the sweater in the round like a pullover. Easy peasy! You allow extra rows of stitches in the areas where you want to cut it apart. Some people simply make a tube for the body with some extra steek rows where the sleeves will go, and down the centre front. They knit it to the full desired length. Then they knit the two sleeves separately. To put it into a nutshell, you reinforce the stitches on either side of where you plan to cut it open so your knitting doesn’t simply disintegrate. Then you cut it open. YIKES! Then you add button panels in the front (or a zipper) and insert the sleeves. Some people finish it off with a band of ribbon or a knitted band to cover up the edges where it was cut. If you use wool that isn’t super wash it is expected to felt enough along those edges so you don’t have to fuss with a binding. Some people knit the sleeves with the body so they are connected without having to steek them. I’m thinking that’s what I’d prefer.

What I don’t love about the yoked style of sweater is the neckline. To me, it always looks like it barely hangs onto the shoulder. I am not crazy about necklines that sit right at my neck either. So I’m hoping to find something that will be along these lines but with either a V-neck or a scoop neck. I could probably use short rows to shape the neckline more the way I like it. I suppose I could be brave and knit it using a pattern like the one above, but then do a steek around the neckline so I can shape the neck however I want it. That would be an option. Hmmm… for the first steeking project, that might be a little bit scary. But I figure that if I start with a child sized cardigan it should be less intimidating. Then, if I mess around with changing the neckline, it won’t be as big of a time investment (or yarn investment for that matter). Yeah, I definitely want to try my hand at steeking this year.

When thinking about what else I’d like to knit, I realized that I don’t have much in the way of toques or cowls. I’ve got some patterns in mind that I would love to knit. This time I will choose the yarn colours so that they actually look good with my coat though! There will definitely have to be some hats in my challenge list.

Obviously, I will knit socks. In particular, I have had a pattern in my queue for some time that I really want to do this year. These dirndl socks play all the right notes to thrill the German ancestry running through my veins.

Then there are these beauties:

Dornröschen schlafe hundert Jahr

I also want to get the next size up in my contiguous child’s cardigan designed and tested. I want to get the pattern cleaned up and ready to publish and I need to have at least 2 sizes to feel like it’s worth finalizing it. I may go for three but it’s such a tedious process that I might just be dreaming on that count.

I want to make a mohair shawl for one of my sisters, and a sapphire blue lace shawl for another one of my sisters. (She’s got a significant birthday coming up in 2020 and the shawl I have in mind is a huge project. I need to start it this year if I want to complete it for her birthday in May.)

I plan to participate in Tour-de-sock again this summer. That’s always a fun challenge that nets me six to eight pairs of amazing socks. I love my fancy socks. Even if no one else sees them inside my shoes. They make me feel good.

I have bits of leftover sock yarn that I might make into a net shopping bag to see how that goes. Every time I dig in my leftovers bag I’m frustrated that there isn’t enough of any of the yarns in there to make a pair of socks. This might be a good way to use some of that up. I think that will be a good mindless knit to do in front of the television in the evenings.

Oh my, I think that’s a year’s worth of knitting summed up in a 1000 words! Whee! I hope I haven’t bored you with my ramblings today. I must say that taking the time to think about what I want to make has me feeling inspired.

Happy Knitting!

 

No Resolutions Here!

Last year I confessed myself to be a bit of a New Year’s Resolution Scrooge. That hasn’t changed. So you won’t find any resolutions or lists of major life-changing goals here; I’m not gonna do it. Lately, I’ve noticed a number of articles about other people’s frustration with this particular New Year’s tradition. Just because I don’t subscribe to the tradition doesn’t mean that I’m not looking for ways to grow or be happier in my life. Over many years, I have found ways to make growing a regular part of my every day life… not just a “Hey, it’s January. I guess I should make a list of what’s wrong with me and my life so I can pretend that it’s a manageable task to fix all that stuff this year.” Ugh. Yeah, that’s really healthy and helpful… NOT! What a horrible and degrading way to think. Sheesh! Life is challenging enough without that kind of self-abuse.

Recently a friend and I were talking about what a mixed bag life can be.

On the one hand, it can be a bit of a meat grinder. On the other hand it can be beautiful and blissful and wondrous… and it can be a whole lot of in-between stuff too.

To deny the “meat grinder” aspect of life, to me is to live in an illusion. But just because life can throw a lot of really tough, horrible stuff in our path doesn’t mean we have to be sucked into a permanent vortex of negativity over it. And I think we all know that it’s really easy to get sucked into a vortex of negativity when things are rough. It feels terrible being in that place. It can be really difficult to pull ourselves out of it when we land there. The longer we wallow in it, the harder it feels to get up and out of it.

As we talked, we reflected on how important it is to be able to find ways to stay steady when challenges are threatening to pull us under. Each of us has our little tricks to help us remember what really matters in our lives. And the strong thread that wove its way through the entire conversation was that when you get down to it the only thing that really matters is Love.

What matters is the capital “L” Love that allows us to have meaningful relations and to see the foot of snow that fell overnight, and feel the wonder of nature’s indescribable beauty as we pick up the shovel and make a path to the car… and let it be okay that we don’t particularly like shoveling a foot of heavy snow. Let it be okay that in that moment we feel what we feel. There’s no need to judge that the thought of shoveling all of that might make me feel frustrated or angry. It’s even okay if some of that shoveling includes some serious grumpiness. The thing about is that once the initial feelings have their say, it becomes a choice about whether to dive into the vortex, or to take a breath and switch it up for something that feels better.

My friend and I are both small business owners.

Both businesses combine services and retail. So a lot of our conversation centered around the challenges and stresses of running a business. Winter is our busy season here so we are in the thick of it now. It’s so easy to be in a highly stressed state all the time, if we aren’t careful. The jobs have deadlines that need to be met; the work has to meet an appropriate standard. As much as most customers are lovely and recognize the value of the services we provide, there will always be some who want something, right now, for nothing and/or insist on being rude. There will always be those who don’t comprehend the costs of running a business (mental, emotional, physical and financial). Bills need to be paid, payroll has to be met. If staff members make mistakes, the business has to absorb the cost of those mistakes. It’s easy to get run ragged and it’s easy to live in a constant state of high stress.

So what to do?

Meh, life can be messy. In my experience all you can do is feel what you feel, remember to breathe and do your best to take a step back any time you start to feel off balance… And let being human be okay. It’s okay that we get angry or frustrated. It’s okay that some days are a circus of stress. I think that being able to catch myself when I start judging my reactions makes a big difference. When I can notice what I’m feeling and know that it’s okay to feel that, it helps to be able to get my sights back into a healthy perspective. I can take a breath, close my eyes and remember how good it feels to fill myself up with Love. The thing is to be deliberate. You can’t really be deliberate if you are running on auto-pilot. It means I can choose to reset my day. The less I get caught up in judging myself and those around me or the situation rather than simply assessing and adjusting my course accordingly, the smoother things tend to be. The more relaxed I can be, the better things flow and the happier I am.

The journey continues. No resolutions are necessary to keep placing one foot in front of the other. My philosophy is: when in doubt, infuse a little Love and do your best to be kind to yourself first. When you do that, it’s easy to be kind to others, whether or not they are returning that kindness.

Happy New Year!

I sincerely wish you all the very best that being human has to offer as we embark into 2019.

 

 

Merry Christmas… and my Favourite Cookies!

As promised, I am sharing another one of my traditional German Christmas recipes that has been adapted to be gluten and nightshade free. Most people with either a German or Dutch background will be familiar with Spekulatius. These cookies are immediately recognizable by the relief images baked right in them. They are crisp, light and spiced with the three “C’s” of Christmas: Cardamom, Cloves and Cinnamon. If you have tried to make them at home and found that the texture was different than (and not as nice as) the commercially made ones, you’ll love this recipe.

The secret to crisp, light Spekulatius is lard. When you use butter or margarine, they come out like any other spiced cookie, but with lard, this little Christmas gem is elevated to “Singing Choirs of Angels” cookie status. (IMHO) I am probably biased. Nope, I’m definitely biased! (As mentioned in the recipe, you can use a mixture of butter and lard, but don’t use more butter than what is recommended. You do need the lard to get the texture right.)

This Christmas cookie will always be my favourite. They take some attention to make, but only because the rolling pins and blocks that are carved out to make pictures on the cookies have to be kept well floured, yet not so well floured that you lose the picture in the process. It takes a little practice to find the sweet spot for this process. But they are so worth the effort! Any good kitchen store will have one of these rolling pins and if not in stock, they can certainly order them in for you. Well, not in time for this Christmas, but there’s always next year.

There are a couple things you’ll want to know before you get started on these. First of all, don’t substitute the lard, and don’t use artificial extracts. These are a once a year cookie and they just aren’t wonderful if you don’t trust the recipe. Also, the nuts absolutely must be ground really fine. If they aren’t, you’ll have a lot of trouble forming the cookies with the blocks or rolling pin. Don’t rush chilling the dough. It needs to be cold, especially in this Gluten Free version. Have a pastry brush (a real one, not a silicone one) on hand so you can gently brush away any extra flour from the surface of the cookies before you bake them. In the grand scheme of things, it’s easier to use the rolling pin than the individual blocks. You want the dough to be relatively thin, but there has to be enough thickness so it can fill the recesses in the blocks and rolling pin and give you that lovely relief picture that these cookies are famous for. Every oven is a little different, so watch the first batch and notice how long it takes for them to bake. Use that as your guide. The time will vary depending on how thin they are.

 

Gluten Free Spekulatius

500g Gluten Free Flour Mix (as given in last week’s blog)

1Tbsp Gluten Free Baking Powder

1 tsp Xantham Gum

250g Sugar

1 Tbsp Vanilla Sugar (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)

1/4 tsp Pure Almond Extract

1/4 tsp Cardamom

1/4 tsp Cloves

1 tsp Cinnamon

2 Eggs

200g Lard (do not substitute; though it is okay to use 150g lard and 50g butter)

100g Finely Ground Hazelnuts (Almonds are okay)

Instructions

1. Combine all dry ingredients together and mix thoroughly with a whisk.

2. On a clean counter, make a pile with the dry ingredients.

3. Make a well in the dry ingredients; put eggs in the well and mix with a fork, just enough that they won’t run all over the place.

4. Cut up the lard into small pieces and dump it, as well as the ground nuts onto the messy pile on the counter. Mix the dough, with your hands, and work it until it is smooth and uniform. Chill the dough for at least one hour.

5. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Roll out the dough with a regular rolling pin to about 1/4″ thick. Using either a well-floured rolling pin that has relief images carved into it, or wooden blocks with relief images carved in them, press images into the dough. If using blocks, take your time and use a small, sharp knife (like a paring knife) to coax the dough out of the carved portion of the block, if it gets stuck.

7. Use a knife to cut the individual images into separate cookies and arrange them on the prepared cookie sheet. Gently brush away any excess flour from the surface of the cookies.

8. Bake for about 4 minutes or until lightly golden (compared to when they started). Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

And there you have it!

I sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope that however you celebrate this season of the year, that your celebration is filled with Love and Kindness; yes capital “L” Love and capital “K” Kindness. Because really, that is all that matters.

Happy Baking and when those cookies are all done…

Happy knitting… and good luck keeping the cookie crumbs off your project!