Entries in Sticks and Strings (27)


As Keen as Mustard

I've encountered this phrase in nearly every D.E. Stevenson novel I've ever read; after the first two, I would look for it and get a zing of satisfaction when it appeared. The vivid simile is meant to convey enthusiasm. Examples of usage:

I'm as keen as mustard for our garden plans to get underway. All of our trees and shrubs from Edible Landsaping arrived yesterday; it was like Christmas opening up all of the boxes. Here's what I took out:

Thornless Blackberries
Alpine Strawberries
Cherries (sweet and sour!)

I planted the Sea Buckthorns and a Cherry from an earlier shipment a couple of weeks ago, and we already have one length of the fence lined with rasperries. Our original Summer Yard Boy had to quit after one Saturday's worth of work; he was injured at his weekday job. But we have a replacement crew arriving home from college later this week. They'll be able to plant all these worthy items and do a ton of weeding and wood splitting besides. It's so exciting!

I'm as keen as mustard about our Needlework Group. We met yesterday at my house and had a great time. We are quite loose in our interpretation of the term 'needlework.' One woman graded papers, three did beadwork, two knitted, and one cut and ironed squares for quilting. We had great conversation and a kitchen island's worth of yummy food. Here's what I worked on (Knitty's spring surprise Arietta, in yarn I bought in Paris):

I'm as keen as mustard about the salad I made for the Group. It's long been one of my favorites; for some reason I associate it with gatherings of women. It works well for baby showers and meetings of the Relief Society, and it came to mind yesterday as I was wondering what to prepare for lunch. Adriana posted a similar recipe recently, but this one is different and delicious enough to warrant publication.

Confetti Salad
2 cans black beans, rinsed and well drained
3 cans white shoepeg corn, drained
1 red onion, diced
1 orange or red bell pepper, diced
1 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash, diced
1 small can sliced black olives
2 ripe avocados, diced
The juice of 6 limes
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the first seven ingredients in a large bowl. Put the remaining ingredients in the blender and give them a whirl. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix it well. Refrigerate for at least an hour so that the flavors can marry. Stir it up again before serving.

It's a very colorful salad; I wish I had taken a photo of it yesterday before the ladies genteelly gobbled it down. Of course, it is exponentially better with fresh corn, but we'll have to wait until later in the summer for that. It's also better if you cook the beans yourself, but it's awfully good just the way I've written it.

I'm as keen as mustard about Allene's homemade Lemon Meringue Pie. She brought it yesterday, and there was one piece left over, so I've just had it for breakfast. A little slice of heaven.

What? Put your eyebrows down. Pie is a perfectly appropriate breakfast food. Eggs, citrus, butter, and graham crackers, along with probably less sugar than is in most cereals: what could be better?

Finally, I'm as keen as mustard to finish this manuscript, so I'll sign off for now. Enjoy your day!


Dude, where's my knitting bag?

I know that panic and other strong emotions tend to bring out the California in me, but seriously. Dude. Where is it?

I last remember seeing it last Saturday--I think. Life is a blur when you are on deadline.

It's making me a little nutty. (Okay, nuttier.) Of course, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and while I always want to knit, anxiety is bringing on a downright craving.

I'm usually very organized and have great visuospatial memory. When Patrick can't find his glasses or his wallet or his keys, I almost always know exactly where they are. Essential things like my knitting bag have specific places where I put them; this is a fact upon which we all have relied in this household. Until now.

First that photo goes missing, then my all-important knitting bag. I'm worried that next to go will be my mind. Dude....

It's time for a hard-target search.


Here come a riddle, here come a clue....

First, a gratuitous photo of darling Daniel in his Mumble the Penguin suit, to celebrate that I have finally figured out how to move images around in Blogger:

I paraphrase the Talking Heads in my title because Obsession, not Love, Has Come to Town.

I know that this is true because good grief; how can it already be Wednesday again? I need a Time Turner like the one that Prof. McGonagall gave to Hermione Granger.

Here's what happens when you start devoting as many of your waking hours as possible to writing a novel. The world you've created inside your brain--the one you are struggling to depict using a laptop and all the words you know how to spell--starts becoming as real as the world all around you. Annette knows what I mean.

The other day I had the impulse to turn to Patrick and say, "You should have heard what Eugene said to Sophie today," but caught myself before revealing to my dear spouse just how psychotic I have become. Eugene and Sophie aren't real people, you see. And they aren't even the protagonists; they are somewhat minor characters in this manuscript that I have pledged to have done by May 15th.

Another thing that happens when you are writing a novel is that your blog suffers and begins to waste away. Readers start drifting elsewhere in search of more faithful and entertaining updaters. Ah, well. Maybe they'll all come back when this book is published. Or not.

Yet another phenomenon is that your family starts getting served really monotonous meals. Pot Roast; Rice, Bean & Chili Soup; Beef Stew. Anything that can a) be assembled from as many food storage ingredients as possible so as to eliminate trips to the store; b) thrown into this and then put into this for hours on end; and c) then can be made to last for not one but two dinners, is a possibility. Thank heaven for Adriana, or we'd really be in trouble.

At least knitting can still occur, on car trips and late at night when my WEUs are all tapped out and can only be replenished by watching the Mets on TV with my best friend. Here's the swatch I made for a cool little cardigan named Arietta:

I love this mosaic stitch technique; I love the designer of this sweater, Barbara Gregory. She is so brilliant that I actually obeyed her and blocked the swatch, something I've never done before. I won't save the swatch, though; I'm pretty sure I'll need every inch of yarn I've got (plus some that Carmen is giving me) to finish this. Carmen and I indulged in quite a lot of this pretty sport-weight cotton at La Droguerie when we first went there six years ago. It just goes to show you: you can never buy too much yarn when you don't have a specific project in mind. Feed the stash properly, and it will someday reward you.

Speaking of the stash, which I have reduced by quite a bit so far this year, it's about to get the equivalent of liposuction. Carmen let me know about a very worthy cause for donations of yarn you don't love any more. Interim House is a 6-month drug rehab center for women that includes teaching knitting and crocheting as part of its program. Go visit them and cheer them on. I'm going to send them a box of yarn right around May 16th!


Pride Goeth Before a Shawl

A couple of posts ago I announced my intention to knit an Authentic Victorian Shawl from a free pattern I found on the internet. It was excerpted from Beeton's Book of Needlework, first published in 1870. The above illustration is from the original.

Perfect, I thought. I went to the attic and pulled out some goodly pine-colored DK-weight merino that Carmen gave me a while back during a purge of her stash. It would nicely match the calicos I've purchased for my pioneer costumes.

The pattern cautioned against using too small a needle, so I ignored the yarn's ball band recommendation of a US size 6 and went with an 8. I knit a swatch using the two stitch patterns described, one for the 'ground,' or body, of the shawl, and one for the openwork.

The stitch patterns were easy to memorize; I was happy with the result (above), and knew that the work would look even better once I blocked it. Pleased with myself thus far, I went on to read through the directions for the shawl itself. I'll quote it for you:
When 6 such [ground] rows have been worked in this pattern, work again 9 rows of the open-work pattern, but work on each side of the 2 stripes [?], each 6 stitches wide, in the pattern of the ground; each first stripe is at a distance of 4 stitches from the edge, and each second stripe at a distance of 20 stitches. After the 9th open-work row, work again 6 rows in the pattern of the ground, then again 8 open-work rows, and then begin the ground, only continue to work on both sides of the shawl the narrow stripes of the ground pattern, the narrow outer and the two wide inner stripes of the border in the open-work pattern....

Whuddayakiddin' me?*
It's like something out of the Book of Numbers. Or Monty Python, with the orangutans and the breakfast cereals. As I read over these instructions several times, my insecurity and pride rose up from sejant to salient. The buzz in my brain went something like this:

Dude, I'm smart; I skipped fifth grade. I'm also more familiar with 19th-century English than your average bear. I've read most of what Austen, Conrad, Dickens, Hardy, Hawthorne, Collins, and all the Brontes ever published. And some Trollope. Plus the Little House books. And all that Church stuff. I've navigated my way successfully through many a modern knitting pattern. Why can't I crack this nut?

I kept at it, to no freaking avail. Well, okay.
There appeared to be two options: either use the two stitch patterns in a pattern of my own device, or find a different pattern I could understand. But the Authenticity! my pride protested. If you modify it, it won't be Authentic! On the other hand: A different pattern? Don't you mean an easier pattern? Tantamount to admitting defeat! Lame!

Fortunately, at this point I had the good sense to laugh and start talking myself out of my tree.
I'm sure Mrs. Isabella Beeton wouldn't have given two figs for Authenticity. She was an innovator in both cookery and needlework, a fiercely independent spirit whose life was cut tragically short at age 28 by puerperal fever (the Needlework book was published by her husband a few years after her death). If she were here today (after she recovered from my slapping her for writing such incomprehensible drivel), I'm sure she would encourage me to do my own thing. Don't you think?
So: I've cast on 98 stitches and started my own version--rectangular, not square--of a Victorian Shawl. I'll let you know how it goes.
*Translation for non-New Yorkers: "What, are you kidding me?"



Eunny Jang was just appointed Editor of Interweave Knits, the best knitting magazine in print! (You know how I feel about Knitty, which exists only in the ether.) Eunny is a genius--ahh, her cabling; ohhh, her steeking! If you love me and/or if you love knitting, go check out at minimum Eunny's Anemoi Mittens; her Bayerische Socks; and most fabulousest of all, her Norwegian Jacket. That jacket--be still, my heart. I hope she publishes that pattern so that I can make it myself one day. Truly, Eunny tempts me towards idolatry.

Rather than violate the first commandment, I'll let Eunny tempt me back to two-color work (scroll down a bit on that link). About four years ago, Carmen and I went to a knitting workshop with Eugene and Ann Bourgeois, co-authors of Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified. I had wanted to try one of their sweaters for a while, so I bought a kit for their Circus Sweater. I started on it, using the two-handed technique Ann had taught us (knit Continental with one hand, English with the other, at the same time--one hand for each color--it sounds harder than it is). I was going along, loving the rhythm of the technique, loving the colorway, good, good, good. Then I hit a snag.

If you clicked on the link for the Circus Sweater, you noticed that the sleeves are very big. That's great if you are young and skinny, like the model. It's not so great if you are a bit more mature and less Hepburnesque. I imagined myself in the finished product after following the directions verbatim. More Circus Tent than Circus.

To avoid this scenario, I decided to make the arms much more fitted, which worked fine for the first five inches of the sleeve. I got to the second windowpane pattern and realized that it wouldn't come out right with the reduced number of stitches I was using. I set the project aside, planning to figure out how to make it work at some point. It sat in the closet as I turned to other, less demanding, more mindless knitting projects. Sometime later, it got demoted from the closet stash to the attic stash, where it has languished lo these many seasons.

I pulled it out again yesterday, because I'd had a flash of inspiration after virtually and lurkingly consulting with Eunny. Flash: I don't have to use the pattern Ann and Eugene prescribed. I can make up my own that would fit properly. Right, right--already plotting it out on the graph paper in my brain. So now I'm all excited about the Circus Sweater again (even though I hate circuses and almost everything associated them--ewwwww, clowns--nothing scarier). I've got to get to work; fall is just around the corner! Thanks, Ms. Jang!

Another blogger characterized Eunny as our generation's Elizabeth Zimmermann. As much as it may sound like it, folks, I don't think that's hyperbole. I can't wait to see where IK goes with Eunny at the helm.
In food news, James's empanadas were fantastic last night! Luis was again our inspiration, but we used the Cook's Illustrated recipe; that magazine has never failed me. Lest I forget, I must also mention the delectability of Christian's lasagna last week. Excelsior, boys!