Sunday, 30 October 2011

Year of Projects - October round-up

So we've reached the 4 month mark in this Year of Projects now. One third complete. So, theoretically, I should have hit 33% completion on my list, right?

Lets take a look:

Knit Projects:

1. Easy Lace Stole - in progress, but currently in time out because of snapped yarn. Probably about a third complete.
2. Thinking of You scarf - completed
3. Victorian Scarf - completed
4. Hypernova - in progress, making steady progress too, as this is my train knitting.

I get about five rows done on the way to work, and about three or four
done on the way home each day. Slow but steady growth.

5. Sojourn Falls scarf - not started. Yarn in stash, still need to order seed beads and get a cable needle.
6. 198yds of heaven - not started. Yarn in stash.
7. Ribbed Lace Bolero - not started. Have just bought some Rowan Calmer from a Ravelry destash which should be perfect for it.
8. Eleonora - not started. Yarn not chosen yet.
9. Leafy Fingerless Gloves - in progress. Maybe a quarter to a third through the first glove.

Working on DPNs is incredibly fiddly and annoying.

10. Free Rapunzel! - not started. Yarn in stash.
11. Alasse Miriel Hooded Cowl - not started. Yarn not chosen yet.

Knit Totals:

Completed: 2 (18%)
In Progress: 3 (27%)
Not Started: 6 (55%)

Crochet Projects:

1. Sweet Pea Shawl - completed
2. Crochet Lacy Wrap - completed
3. Jane Austen Shawl - completed
4. Diamonds Shawl - not started. Yarn not chosen.
5. Cherry Wrap - in progress. Four balls out of fourteen used up. Still a way to go!

This project is impossible to photograph! This is one complete back
panel, and the start of one front panel.
6. Fern Cowl - not started. Yarn in stash.
7. Phoebe Jane vest - not started. Yarn not chosen.
8. Persimmon Pullover - not started. Yarn not chosen.
9. The Pineapple Monokini - not started. Yarn not chosen.
10. Pond Friends Stacking Toy - not started. Yarn in stash.

Crochet Totals:

Completed: 3 (30%)
In Progress: 1 (10%)
Not Started: 6 (60%)

Overall Totals:

Completed: 5 (24%)
In Progress: 4 (19%)
Not Started: 12 (57%)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have finished more crochet projects than knitting projects at this stage. Crochet is, after all, faster. Even though my finished percentage is only 24%, if you add in the in progress stuff that pushes it up to over a third, so I guess I am pretty on target. Quite a few of the up-coming crochet projects are going to be quick ones, as will a couple of the chunkier knit projects. Once you take into account the fact I have other WIPs on the go as well, and not unlimited time, I think I'm doing pretty well!

Cook from a Cookbook - Steak Pie and Cornbread

A double dose of cookbook challenge for you today, as this weekend I have used not one, but two different cookbooks!

I'll start with the slightly cheeky one. I've had this Jamie Oliver book ever since the TV show first aired, because the recipes he featured on the show each week were all fantastic. 

I am ashamed to admit we've only ever cooked one of them, and it's the one I'm sharing today. Cheeky, because it's not a new-to-us recipe; this was the third or fourth time we've done it. But I don't think it's featured on the blog before.

Big pile of beef... packet of pastry.. can of Guinness....
what could it be?

It is, quite frankly, the most amazing pie we have ever cooked/eaten. Steak, Guinness and Cheese pie. You don't need the book to cook it, the recipe is available for free on Jamie Oliver's website here.

The cheese makes all the difference. You stir half of it into the beef stew before you pour it into the pie dish. The rest gets sprinkled on top to create a cheesey layer underneath the pastry lid.

I would recommend doing at least half again the amount of cheese.
You can never have too much cheese.
Mmmmmm pie.
As ever, it looks fab in the pie dish. Getting it to look fab on the plate is a different story. You end up with a pastry shape, and a plate covered in cheesey beef stew!

Very tasty indeed. Although do not make the same mistake that we did. Start cooking it EARLY. We didn't have dinner till 9pm, because I didn't start making the pie until half past five.

One of the reasons I was delayed in starting on the pie was to try out a brand new recipe. New book, new recipe, food I'd never eaten before in my life.

I got this cookbook from the book club guy that comes to my office. When I saw it there, I thought "that looks awesome", and did some investigating online. Amazon told me the book wasn't available until next January, and it would cost me £18.75. I got it this week from the book club for £8. What a bargain. It's an amazing book. When I've done a few more of the recipes in it, I'll do a proper review because it's worth one.

The recipe we chose to test out this time though was cornbread. As I say, I've never had it before, but Jamie has been going on about making it for a while now, so when I saw there was a recipe for it in my new book I had to give it a try.

You have no idea how difficult it was to find that bag of cornmeal
in our local Tesco.

Nice and simple, it mixes up really quickly (well, it does once you've finished mopping up the broken egg from the floor after you let it roll off the work surface while setting up your ingredients photo).

It's wonderfully gloopy, and wonderfully yellow.

It smelled delicious as it was baking, and looks fantastic once it's done.

Is it cake, or is it bread? Sure looks like cake...

...but you don't eat cake warm, in slices and spread with butter!

Oh lordy, it was delicious. I can't wait to make this again, and to experiment with sugar levels to make it sweeter.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Four Seasons Photo Challenge

Now that Autumn has finally arrived, I am able to say I have actually completed one of the photo challenges I set myself back in December, when I started this blog.

Admittedly, I only needed four photos to complete it! One of each season. As I started the challenge in January, I took Winter as the first season to snap.

Windscreen interior
Ice had formed on the inside of the car windscreen, it was that cold.

Then I had a very long wait for Spring! Not just for the months to turn, but for the world around me to actually start looking like the season it was meant to be, and for the right photo to present itself.

I love the contrast between the white of the flowers and the blue of the sky.
At the beginning of April I managed to get this lovely shot of the blossom on a tree by my office, against a bright blue sky.

While I'd taken lots of photos over the summer, very few of them really represented what Summer was about. So, for Summer (even though I took the photo in September, since the weather has been so crazy it has still felt like summer until just recently) I give you this:

The old Corkscrew track
The Corkscrew track on display at Alton Towers

Summer to me always heralded the return of weekend trips to the theme park, and although we never went to Alton Towers when I was young, this represents all of those theme park visits I enjoyed in the summer months.

And finally, we come to Autumn. Despite our Indian Summer lasting well into October, autumn has well and truly arrived here in the UK. The temperatures have dropped, mornings are now frosty and all the trees are turning the most glorious shades of red and gold. So, for autumn, I have chosen this:

instagram leaf
Autumn leaves have the most wonderful colour palettes, don't they.
Unlike all of my other photos, this one was taken with my iPhone camera, so I am rather pleased with how well it came out. I ran it through Instagram, but preferred the look of it on "normal" to any of the other settings! I can't wait to get my hands on an upgrade and get a better camera on the phone, so I can play with Instagram some more.

So there you have it, four seasons captured in four photographs. That's one photo challenge down. To see how I'm getting on with the others, check out the 52 Week challenge here, and the object photo challenge here.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Cook from a Cookbook - pizza burgers

After the partial success of the baked fish parcels, I wanted my next cookbook challenge to be good. Trusting the results from the last time we got it out, we opted to use the Burgers book again, and selected a likely looking recipe. Pizza burgers.

Yep, you heard me right. Pizza burgers. As soon as we saw the name in the book, we knew we had to make them.

See the traditional pizza flavours of tomato, basil, oregano and cheese. And ground beef, obviously.

We struggled a lot more with the American nature of the book this week. There may have been long discussions over how on earth I was meant to measure my cheese with a cup, and if tomato paste really did mean tomato puree, and if it did, would I need to half the measurement because I had double concentrate?

I may have looked rather foolish when I got this jug out to measure the volume of an actual cup,
before realising the jug itself had cup measurements on the side.

Like most home-made burger recipes, it really is just a case of chuck it all in a bowl and mix. In this case, beef, parmesan, tomato puree, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and fresh basil.

I love how colourful it is.

It always seems to be me who ends up drawing the short straw, and getting stuck in with my hands, forming the burgers. These ones had an extra funky step though, because once you've formed the ball, you have to somehow get the mozzarella cheese into the middle of it!

Not the easiest of operations.

Somehow, I managed to form four perfect looking burgers.

I was very concerned that the burgers would fall apart once we got them in the pan, but they held together remarkably well, and tasted delicious! The mozzarella in the middle wasn't as melty and stringy as I would have expected, but it was nice nonetheless. Definitely be doing them again!

And I'm so impressed with that last picture, I'm using it as my photo of the week for this week.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Thinking of Me - the big reveal

Ok, so I haven't really mentioned my Thinking of Me scarf since I announced it was off the needles a couple of weeks ago. When I did, it looked like this:

Crumpled, and not really showing off it's beauty.
I finally got around to blocking it! For all my previous blocking adventures, I have pinned out the piece dry and then steamed or sprayed with water till soaked, before leaving to dry. This time, I decided to do it properly, and soaked the scarf completely in the sink in warm-ish water. Then I rolled it up in a towel and walked on it a bit to get the worst of the wet out, before sliding in my blocking wires and pinning to the foam letter tiles.

Such a pretty pattern, don't you think?
I stretched it out as harshly as I could, knowing full well it would shrink back a fair bit width-wise when it came off the board.

I also didn't do so well on getting the edges straight.
Project: Thinking of Me
Pattern: Thinking of You Scarf by Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer ($6.00 USD from Ravelry or here)
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK in red; used almost exactly two balls.
Needles: 4.5mm circulars.

Notes: I was very happy with my yarn choice on this project. The Debbie Bliss Cashmerino is oh so soft and squooshy and very easy to knit with. The stitch definition is wonderful. The scarf itself is warm and feels lovely against my neck. I had considered putting this FO on the Christmas gift pile, because Jamie hadn't been too enamoured of the pattern when I first cast on, and I didn't think I really needed the scarf. But now it's finished, I don't want to give it to anyone, and Jamie agrees that it is beautiful.

I did make a couple of mistakes, but they aren't particularly noticeable. An extra hole has appeared in the early section of the wavy eyelet rib, and on two of my hearts there is a missing yarn over, so they are slightly wonky. But you'd have to be scrutinising the scarf really closely to spot those, so I doubt the average man in the street is going to notice!

It's not massively long, but sits quite nicely being wrapped round my neck once and then tied so the heart panel sits flat in front (I tried to take a picture, but it didn't come out that well).

If I had any complaints, I would say the layout of the pattern is a bit strange, with the instructions for the different sections all mixed up. You definitely need to read the whole thing through before casting on! But the explanation of all the stitches was good, the heart section is charted as well as written, although I worked mainly from the written directions. I did have to create a spreadsheet to keep track of my rows when it came to the heart chart; you knit from two different patterns at once when you get to the hearts, as the chart covers only the middle 17 stitches. But once you get your head around that, it's a breeze!

I also learned some new stitches on this one, in particular the central double decrease (slip two stitches together as if to knit, knit next stitch, pass two slipped stitches over), which was great as it features quite heavily in Hypernova, which I cast on after finishing this one! So my quest to advance my techniques with each project is still working.

I am also very much looking forward to working with my Cashmerino Aran and Chunky that I've got waiting for me further down my Year of Projects queue!

There are more FOs over at Tami's.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

War on WIPs!

Last night I fought another mini battle in the War on WIPs.

Since the Forest Lace stole is now officially in Time Out mode (after my yarn snapped, got fixed and then snapped again two rows later), I needed a new project to take with me to roleplay night. Something simple and easy, that wouldn't take too much of my attention away from the game.

I immediately thought of my poncho. This project has been buried underneath other WIPs for a while now, and hasn't really progressed anywhere. I took all the other projects out of the bag they were sharing with it (it was hiding behind the sofa along with the Cherry Wrap and the few completed pieces of Rosie the Rabbit) and did a quick recap of my progress so far.

I had 12 circles completed, three of which are already joined together from when I first started and was testing out the joining method I had devised. Good job I did that, because I have no idea where the piece of paper that I scribbled the charts on has gone. I will have to re-scribble them!

Having made the earlier decision to just crochet the circles and worry about joining them up later, I took my brown, grey and beige yarn cakes, a 5mm hook and my trusty little scissors with me to roleplay last night, and between dice rolls and snacks managed to churn out another 13 motifs!

I'm not even thinking about weaving in all those ends.

So thats 25 motifs completed out of a total required of 120. 20% complete! In order to speed up this project, I think I might set myself a target of making at least one motif a day, on top of the 13 or 14 I will be able to do at the weekly gaming session. That would be about 20 a week, giving me another five weeks till I have enough. Then another week to weave in all those ends, and a week beyond that to do the joining.. I might have this baby finished by the middle of December, and the pattern written up and on Ravelry by Christmas.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Another blogging milestone reached!

Earlier in the year I celebrated my 100th post with a blog award. A few days ago, I noticed I was getting very close to reaching another blogging milestone - 10,000 pageviews! I was fairly sure that with another post this morning, I would hit that quite easily, and I was right.

Not only did I reach the milestone, I managed to open my Blogger
dashboard at the moment I did!
A celebration is in order then. I had considered some sort of giveaway, but as my one year "blogiversary" is fast approaching, and I'm in the middle of arranging a secret swap package, I will hold off on that one until after Christmas (for my blogiversary is on Boxing Day!).

Instead, I am going to vicariously steal a blog post idea from the lovely Natalie over at Misadventures in Craft, as she did a great post on Monday analysing her blogger stats. I wouldn't have got to 10,000 page views without you, my lovely readers, so lets find out a little bit about where you come from, and how you find your way here.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of my visitors are from the United States of America (4,510 pageviews) closely followed by my British readers (3,323 pageviews). Canada (519), Germany (260) and Australia (145) make up the top five, with the rest spread across the world, as far away as Russia, Israel and Latvia!

I've written 179 post so far, so the average view-per-post is sitting at around 56 views. However, some posts are more popular than others; the most viewed post is an FO post from February, which featured several small projects including my elephant amigurumis for my work colleague's baby boy. I'm not surprised this post is the most visited, considering my most popular Google search term is elmer the elephant. There is a picture of Elmer on that post, you see, so I imagine it comes up in Google image searches a fair bit.

Speaking of search terms, my most popular ones seem to be fairly sensible and mostly knit/crochet related. I want to make a bag with hello kitty face on it unsurprisingly brings up hits on my page about my Hello Kitty bag, and tree of life crochet will take you to updates on the progress of the Tree of Life cushion I made for another little baby boy. Most of my bizarre search terms I can't see from the basic Blogger stats now, because they've only been used once or twice. My favourite search term used so far though, is still Ye Liveliest Awefulness. I smile to imagine someone searching for info on the Lovecraft stories being somewhat confused at clicking through to my blog, to be confronted with a shot of Jamie wearing his Cthulhu beard hat.

Google isn't my main traffic source though. That's Ravelry. Between the Year of Projects post threads, and the WIP Wednesday/FO Friday post threads in the Blog Hub group, Ravelry accounts for 1,249 direct links. Tami's is a close second, with 1,128; hardly surprising when she hosts the WIP Wednesday and FO Friday Mr Linky! Also, I think, the main reason why I have more American readers than British ones.

There you have it then, a snapshot of my blog's viewing stats to celebrate my 10,000th page view! Only 69 days to go till my Blogiversary! Reckon I'll hit 200 posts before that!

Cook from a Cookbook - baked fish parcels

Here we are then, slightly overdue, as I know I promised to do this last week. But weekend shenanigans got in the way of my cooking time, so the meal I intended to cook on Friday was postponed until yesterday evening.

Ok, not exactly a "cookbook" but in fairness, I have a whole folder of these
recipe cards and they are as underused as everything else on the shelf!

I actually managed to get a shot of all the ingredients in one place this time!

We've used some of these Sainsburys recipe cards before, and always had fairly decent results. Our chilli recipe, which forms a staple of our fortnightly menu rotation, comes from one of them. They rotate them quite regularly throughout the year, so you can quickly build up a little collection of them (and keep them in the handy ring binder they also produce).

Top of the list to try was this baked fish parcel recipe. For a first go, we used exactly the ingredients it suggested, which is why we've got the rather bizarre square lumps of frozen fish.

Doesn't look like fish at all. Very strange.
Previous to this, my only experience of these fish blocks was when we had a very poorly cat, and we used to make up fish, rice and peas for him to eat!

Anyway, the recipe is fairly straightforward. Make up some couscous using vegetable stock instead of water (but seriously, who just uses water in couscous anyway? How bland would that be!) and mix in some sliced red onion and chopped tomatoes.

This is as arty as the photography gets on this meal, I'm afraid.

Then make up parcels of the couscous mix with a fish block on top, in greaseproof paper and foil, and bake in the oven. It said 30 mins, but ours took 40, as the fish wasn't fully cooked when we took them out the first time. And we forgot to chop the parsley and put it on at the end, but to be honest I don't think you need the parsley anyway.

Not the most attractive of meals.

You just serve it in the parcels of foil, which makes for awkward eating too.

It was tasty enough, but now we've road tested it, when we do it again we will make some changes. Like using real fish. Don't get me wrong, with all the switching about of meals at the weekend, having the frozen fish was really, really handy. But next time we'll use real fish, from the fishmonger. And make sure we have a lemon on hand, as a squeeze of lemon juice would have really made it pop.

Next week, hopefully something a bit more of a challenge! I have the entire weekend to myself, as Jamie is away, so I shall try something more adventurous.

Friday, 14 October 2011

I Love Yarn Day

According to the Craft Yarn Council of America, today is I Love Yarn Day. Sounds awfully gimmicky to me, but since it's Friday and I don't have an FO to share (as Thinking of Me hasn't even started the blocking process yet!), I'm going to hijack this phoney day of yarn celebration to show of some of the newer additions to my stash.

First up, I know I only waxed lyrical about it two days ago, but I still can't get enough of my Wollmeise 80/20 Twin sock yarn. It's gorgeous! So soft and smooth and lovely, and the colours. My word, the colours. I have some better pictures for you.

Just imagine that the outside of my yarn cake does the pretty criss-cross thing, ok.

Look at those colours! Aren't they divine? It looks even better knitted up as well.

Not quite all of the way through the first chart now.

So pretty. And so easy to knit with! Reading the stitches is simple, and fixing it when I go wrong (only a couple of times so far!) is no big deal either. In fact, I'm so in love with the Wollmeise, that I managed to acquire another skein. One of the ladies at our knit night was doing a bit of a destash, and as soon as I spotted the Wollmeise in the list I snapped it up. There were two skeins, but I thought that would be a bit excessive. There was a bright green skein, and a bright orange/yellow one. Guess which one I went for...

The colourway is Sonne, but this is a We're Different skein.

I have no idea what it will become. I'm not interested in knitting socks with it, so it will likely be a scarf or shawl. But I'm not sure what yet. I will let it sit on the shelf for a while, until it tells me what it wants to be.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who helped me pick out a colour for my Leafy Fingerless Gloves. The decision was fairly unanimous in the end, and today in the post arrived two lovely balls of Knit Picks Palette in this gorgeous colour:

Yes, the ivy was the winner. And I am very happy with the choice, because in the flesh it is absolutely stunning. The gloves will be beautiful, as long as I do a decent job of knitting them up!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


You'd think, having been facecd last week with the full list of all my outstanding projects, that I would be content to work on them and not start any more.

You'd be wrong.

I finished the Thinking of Me scarf at the weekend and immediately started thinking about what to cast on next. It had to be a pattern from my Year of Projects list, and it had to be knit. Sojourn Falls was ruled out because my 4mm needles are still being used for Forest Lace, so it came down to a fight between Hypernova and 198yds of heaven. Wollmeise 80/20 Twin, or Rowan Pure Wool Aran. Both purple, both very pretty yarns.

Of course the Wollmeise won!

Purple and brown loveliness.

The main draw (apart from it being the fabled Wollmeise) was that to use the yarn, I had to wind it, which meant getting out my shiny new swift, which I've had for nearly a month now and still hadn't used beyond getting it out of the box to test it worked.

First hurdle jumped - the skein fits!

Because of space issues, and table height issues, it turned into a two man job. Luckily, Jamie was on hand to help out.

He manned the winder, while I kept an eye on the swift. It has a tendancy to spin too quickly, and if you're not careful the yarn catches on the loops of metal where the corners are. But for £20, it was definitely worth the money!

With my yarn cake wound and looking beautiful (the colours look even nicer in the cake than they did in the skein), I faced my next new challenge - the long tail cast on. I found a really good video online, which made the whole thing a lot easier. I did struggle with estimating how long my tail should be though, I had a real Goldilocks moment as my first was too long, the second too short, and the third is, if not just right, then right enough! I certainly wasn't going to frog and re-do 126 stitches for the sake of wasting a few inches of yarn.

Look at the amazing colours!
The photo above shows my progress after getting back from knit night last night. Four rows into the first chart, and already I am comfortable with the pattern. The third hurdle with this project is that the pattern is entirely charted. No written instructions whatsoever. Luckily, the charts are very clear, and I've got the hang of them already. It helps, I think, once you've done a few rows, as you understand what the pattern is trying to achieve. It's a lot harder to visualise a knitting chart than it is a crochet chart. At least with a crochet chart, the stitch symbols actually vaguely resemble the stitches you are going to do!

Hopefully you can see in this picture the pointy bits starting to emerge. I've done a few more rows on it since taking this picture, and it really is taking shape very quickly. I think this might be my favourite project to date!

If you haven't already cast your vote, check out my post from yesterday and help me choose a yarn colour for my Leafy Fingerless Gloves! And don't forget to head on over to Tami's to see what the rest of the WIP Wednesday crowd are working on this week!
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