January 27, 2010

She would merengue, and do the cha-cha

If it's Barry Manilow, it's got to be karaoke.

Last weekend, the Fort Greene/Cinton Hill Knit & Crochet Group held our 2nd annual Secret Santa gift exchange and holiday party at Duet 35, an AWESOME karaoke bar just north of Manhattan's 2-block Koreatown. Actually, it's a karaoke box, as they're called in Japan. You reserve a windowless private room for your party, pick up some Korean take-out (I got mine at Woorjip), settle in with a couple of microphones, songbooks (in English, Korean, Mandarin and Korean), possibly a few drinks and there you have it: instaparty.  We made our first visit there last year when we had our going away party for Brooke , and it was crazy fun, so we decided we to return.

The winter holidays can be stressful for crafters who make gifts, so we planned our exchange for after the holidays, thereby maximizing creativity and enthusiasm while minimizing burnout. The party was also scheduled very close to our girl Oiyi's birthday, so I made a cake to help her celebrate.

Red Velvet with toasted pecans.  Cream cheese frosting, yum! 

So the party was super fun, but that was no surpise. 

We ate and sang for a few hours before we got down to cake

and presents.  I've learned a couple of things since I first karaoked.  Here they are:

  1. No rap songs, unless you really know how to rap.  It's super hard to get the breathing right, and the singer always ends up huffing and puffing. You may love singing along to Kanye on the radio, but it's a bust in the karaoke box.

  2.  If you don't know how a song begins, pass on it.  You'll start off awkwardly and never recover your sense of joy and excitement.

  3. Ditto if all you know if the chorus.  Yes, it's fun to sing "I'm hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet," but there's more to Pour Some Sugar on Me than those lines.

  4. No one cares if you have a bad voice (you're not getting paid or anything), so no apologies, please.

  5. Avoid songs that have looonnnnggg instrumental interludes, e.g. Sympathy for the Devil.

  6. Avoid songs that have repetitive endings, because you'll likely peter out.  I made this mistake once at a karaoke party when I elected to sing Turn Me Loose, by the Canadian rock band Loverboy. It was bad.

  7. I do much better with duets (thank you Judy, Lissa, Angela and Rima) than on my own.  Except for Berlin.  I can tear it up with The Metro sans assistance.

  8. Consider bringing a set list with you, because for the past few days, I keep thinking of songs that I wish I'd have sung.  Arrgh!

I drew Tomo's name in the Secret Santa exchange, and while she's a very easy-going, unfussy person, she's also a rather accomplished knitter (perhaps you've seen the room she helped to knit), and I was a little anxious about what to make for her. In the end, I decided to do something she wouldn't be able to do for herself: crochet.

Pattern: Improvised shell stitch from The Encyclopedia of Knitting and Crochet Patterns
Yarn: Rowan Kid Classic
Hook: 5.0mm/H
Started & Finished: January 2010

This was my first crochet project in quite a while, and I tried out a couple of awkward or poorly written patterns before deciding to try a little imrpov, which is unusual for me.  I tend to like guidelines, rules, patterns and precision, explains in part why I prefer baking to cooking.  It drives me batty when I read teh words "season to taste," because, really, what the hell does that tell me?  However, a little freewheeling action proved to be just what I needed, and once I decided to make like Stevie Nicks and go my own way, I was very happy with the results.  More importantly, so was Tomo (seen wearing the scarf below, with Okay Knits and Emily).


I was very happy with the present Jessie made for me, and it was a decidedly spot on choice.  Unfortunately, I don't have any photos yet, but those will come. Soon! Until then, let's pretend it's 1983, shall we:

January 25, 2010

I did it before, and I can do it again!

Remember those leg warmers I made? The ones that I said changed my life?  Well, they have some company:

Pattern: Oslo Legwarmers, by Martha Merzig
Yarn: Cascade Eco Wool
Needles: 3.75mm/US5 & 4.5mm/US7
Started: January 17
Finished: January 20

I made more mistakes knitting these than I care to recount, but one major one necessitates that I wear these upside down, with the colorwork closer to the bottom, rather than at the top of the warmers.  I don't mind, however, and think it works out well that the busiest part of the warmers will be farther from the my skirt hems.

I love these so freaking much!  I wear them about the house and on the street.  The neutral and natural colors give off just the vibe I was hoping for, and the yarn yielded a cozy and comfortable result. This is my third time working with Cascade Eco-Wool and it has yet to disappoint.  Great yardage and lovely colors at a nice price.

Now, if it would only turn cold again (57 deg. in January is absolutely bonkers!).

January 18, 2010

WTF was I thinking? And a good thing.

For about a week now I have been obsessing over a Japanese crochet pattern, so the other day during lunch, I buzzed up to Kinokuniya to look for it.  If you're unfamiliar, Kinokuniya is a Japane-based book store with several outlets around the world.  I first discovered it when I worked in  30 Rockefeller Plaza, which was just down the block from their NYC store (which has since relocated).  Like many other people, I really grooved on the paper products, and ended up buying a refillable metal ring notebook and paper.  The paper was special, of course, having many, many holes along the left side, requiring that I return to the store for the next three years whenever I needed to stock up.  But that notebook and the special paper, which came in pastel shades of peach, green and blue, made me happy at a time when not much else about my job did, so I gladly made these special trips.

These days I have less of a need for paper, but I still have an appreciation for modern Japanese aesthetics, especially Japanese crochet.  It's often pretty and lacy without being twee, and they do innovative things with interesting fibers, like paper and stainless steele.  In any event, I saw a beautiful crescent-shaped scarf on Ravelry that I couldn't get out of my head, so I decided to track down the book from which it came.  I knew the name of the book and I knew that Kinokuniya had a large selection of craft books, so merrily off I went.

Only I didn't really know the name of the book. I thought it was called "3 Day Crochet." In fact, it's called "Easy Crochet, Complete in 3 Days!"

Also, I didn't have the author's name. Or the book's ISBN.  These mistakes made it impossible for the nice clerk to locate the book in the store's system.  Also, Kinokuniya has a couple hundred knit and crochet books, including special sections for lace, amigurumi and children's wear.  All in Japanese.  I tried browsing the books' covers, but there were so many and I had so little time.  I'm not sure what I was thinking, heading off, essentially to a foreign country with no map, no language skills and no real plan of attack.  So I didn't get that book, (I see Amazon.jp in my future), but I did get this one:

It is so exciting!  Poking about for a good while online (again, I can't read Japanese), I learned that it's called Motif Book, vol. 4, by Nihon Vogue (ISBN 978-4-529-04442-4, in case you're interested).  I love how it's shot and styled as much as I love the patterns, and it has me inspired to get back into crochet, which was rather neglected by me in 2009.  To wit:

Pattern: Improvised
Yarn: Frog Tree Brushed Suri
Hook: 5.5mm
Started: January 13
Finished: January 16

I've been wanting to make an airy stole in neutral colors for a while now, so this fit the bill rather perfectly.  I hate, HATE knitting with lace weight yarn, whether the needles be big or small; it makes me feel that I'm losing my mind. Crochet, on the other hand, is completely lovely with super fine yarn.  This improvised pattern is a riff on the traditional knitted feather and fan pattern, and I have to say I'm really very happy with the result. It's soft and pretty and feminine and traditional, not words I typically use to describe myself.  Perhaps that's part of the allure? The result also has a very "knitterly" look, but was done in a fraction of the time it would have taken me to knit it for real. And that, as Martha says, is a Good Thing.

January 13, 2010

Mittens: They're not just for hands anymore

These have changed my life.  I'm not joking not one little bit.
Originally intended as a gift, I freaked out at the last minute and decided they weren't right for the intended recipient. But they were right for me.

Pattern: Lulu Leggings, by Rachel Russ for Spud & Chloe
Yarn: Various fingering weights from my stash
Needles: US1/2.25mm and US3/3.25mm
Started: September 19
Finished: December 3

I honestly wasn't trying to be selfish when I settled in these for a Christmas gift, I was feeling inspired.  But sometimes it happens that I'll decide on a project for a friend, and then sometime later, usually right before I finish it, I realize that it's much more suited to my taste than to theirs (no worries, I made her something else and she loves it).  And so it went with these.

I fell for this pattern as soon as I saw it, even making a lunch hour run up to Purl  one day to purchase it.  I used almost all yarns from my stash, but I did buy a skein of Spud and Chloe Fine in Cricket.  One of the yarns that I used, the purple, was a total pain to work with.  It's super old and kept breaking, so I'd wet splice it back together when I could.  It was also pretty rough on the hands, which detratced from the fun of making these (side note: the offending yarn was blue at one time, but was one of the skeins that I dyed with grape Kool Aid last summer).  Each legging took me a week to complete, with a 2 month break in between.

Now, how did these change my life?  Well, I'm a skirt and dress person, all year long. Usually I get by with tights and my long down coat, but still, when it's 20F outside, the wind is whipping about and I'm running errands (remember NYC means no car for me), it can get cold.  But with these on, I don't feel a thing.  They are like mittens for my legs, only better, if you can imagine.  Trends come and go, but I am a leg warmer convert.  They just make sense!

(See the rabbit ear in the background?  That's right, no cable TV for me!)

Some of the gifts I made for friends last year actually were delivered to their intended recipients, like these:

Not soup crackers, but rather Pepparkakor, or Swedish ginger cookies.  I made them for Niclas, a Swede who married my friend Beth last summer and, since they live in Brooklyn now, spent the holidays away from home. I'd been reading a lot last year, on blogs and in magazines, about Swedish Christmas baking, and since I know what it's like to be away from one's family at the holidays, I thought he could use a little taste of home.  When I decided on these, I knew that I had a cookie cutter stashed away, and was pretty sure that it was of the Christmas variety.  Wrong.  My best guess as to how I ended up with a duck is that I made sugar cookies one Easter, but honestly, I have no recollection of doing so. 

These are a bit time consuming, as each batch must be returned to the refrigerator for a few minutes after rolling and cutting but baking, but they're worth it.  Simple and delicious on their own or with tea, they're also very nice with ice cream (but really, what isn't).

Here's the recipe (adapted from Saveur magazine):


3 ¾ C flour
3 t ground cloves
3 ½ t ground cinnamon
2 ½ t ground ginger
1 ¼ t baking soda
11 T unsalted butter, softened

1 C packed dark brown sugar

½ C golden syrup or dark corn syrup
½ C heavy cream
2 C confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 t fresh lemon juice
1 egg white, lightly beaten

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and baking soda; set aside. In another large bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and golden/corn syrup using a handheld mixer set to medium speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, 1–2 minutes. Add the reserved spice mixture and the heavy cream in 3 alternating batches, beginning and ending with the spice mixture, until the dough just combines. Transfer dough to a work surface, divide in half, and shape each half into a flat disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 1 hour.

 Heat oven to 350°. Unwrap 1 disk of dough and place on a floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough to a 1⁄8" thickness. Cut out cookies using the cookie cutters of your choice and place cookies 2" apart on parchment paper–lined baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, rerolling scraps. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until browned and set, about 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.

To make an icing, if you like, whisk confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, and egg white in a medium bowl until smooth. Transfer icing to a resealable plastic bag (or a pastry bag). Snip off a bottom corner of the bag and pipe icing onto cookies in a decorative pattern.


Note: I was able to make approx. 72 cookies from this batch, and the dough freezes very well so you needn;t use it all at once. Also, I didn’t have parchment, and had no problems removing the cookies from the trays, so I think you can safely skip it. Lastly, when a recipe calls for ground clove, buy ground clove.  Trying to grind whole cloves into powder fine enough for cookie dough may well drive you to drink (in which case, you should invite me over).

January 6, 2010

My Year in Review, Part III

Looking back, I can see that it's been a really lovely year. I hope that you've been able to take some time to review both the ups and downs of the past year, and that your ups far outweigh your downs. I know mine did, and for that, I feel both happy and grateful.