Friday, January 27, 2012

Everyday Socks

As always, I've got a pair of socks going. I decided to sort my sock-yarn stash in Ravelry by "date added" and chose the oldest yarn ... which happened to be a beautiful deep green skein of Dragonfly Fibers Dragon Sock - the color is Rocky Top.
Everyday socks
More than halfway there!

Mostly I wanted to show off the gorgeous color, so I chose a simple pattern. These are called Hermione's Everyday Socks and are a free pattern from Erica Lueder. The knitting is relaxing, just a simple knit-purl pattern, and they're going fast! [No, I'm not particularly a Harry Potter fan.]

I'm hoping to knit up a bunch of sock yarn this year, as it's a little silly how much I have. (Not outrageously ridiculous, but still, more yarn than I need). These are getting me off to a good start.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Bread Shaping and Why It's Wrong

So after I posted about my sourdough bread last week, Tim asked about how my loaves of bread look so tall in the oven. I took lots of photos and even some notes, and I'm going to try to explain how my bread comes out the way it does.

Incidentally, I've been reading more about artisan bread baking, and pretty much everything I am doing is considered "wrong". However! I am shaping bread this way with a goal in mind, so I am OK with it.

Let's start with the goal. I want a bread that I can make a grilled-cheese sandwich with. This means no giant gaping holes in the crumb, even though that is normally desirable.

This means that after the last rise, I deflate the dough ("wrong") when I shape the loaves. I do this by kneading the pieces a little bit ("wrong"), and shape them very tightly ("wrong"). You can see how much I've deflated the dough by comparing the shaped to the unshaped half.
Loaf Shaping
1. Last rise. 2. Cutting dough. 3. Half shaped. 4. Both shaped.

Then I let the loaves proof. They are about 2" tall here.

After they're done proofing and the oven is hot, I slash them deeply ("wrong") with my bread knife ("wrong") and spray them generously with water. Both of these things helps the loaves open up and grow in the oven.
Loaf shaping II
1. Proofed loaves. 2. Slashed. 3. Sprayed. 4. In the oven.

When the loaves hit the preheated stone in the oven, that's "oven spring" as the stone transfers lots of heat into the dough. They continue to rise until the crust hardens (which usually takes 10-15 minutes) and the moisture on the surface helps them expand. I have been opening the oven to spray again in the first 5 minutes or so of baking, but apparently this is also wrong because it lets too much heat out of the oven.
1. Growing. 2. Browning. 3. Cooling. 4. Look at the slice!

The bread comes out the way I want it - about 3" tall with a tight crumb - but as I said, this is considered "undesirable" in an artisan bread. Next time, I'll try to do it "right" and see how they come out.

This week I've been baking some very wet doughs - a ciabatta and a pizza - that must be kneaded by machine to develop the gluten and can't really be shaped much by hand. Those have turned out with a very different open structure and I am astonished things like this are coming out of my oven! But enough bread for now, I'll post photos of those later.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sourdough Bread

Right now I am blessed with time, and I have been able to whip up some truly delicious treats in the kitchen. My current obsession is sourdough bread - and other long-fermented breads.
Look into the oven - it's the bread show, starring bread!
Wheat has been getting a bad rap these days. More and more people are developing severe dietary intolerances to wheat and gluten. However, some other people are beginning to suggest that traditional bread making methods, which can include periods of fermentation over 8 hours, can make bread more digestible [for some people]. I don't feel comfortable adding to the argument one way or another - there are some nice stories and lots of scary commentary floating around online, but actual facts seem a bit hard to come by.

Seeing as we don't have trouble eating wheat, gluten, or yeast, though... bread we'll make. I love good bread and I am delighted to be able to make it at home. I am going to keep making sourdough and other long-fermented breads because of the simple fact that the flavor and texture is superior, in my opinion, to quick-fermented bread. [And hey, if there's a health benefit, great!]

I got started down this path when we received an old Le Creuset dutch oven and we could finally try the now-famous "No-Knead" bread recipe. [Okay, actually I used a very similar recipe from Cook's Illustrated.] It relies on high hydration, small amounts of yeast, a long fermentation, and baking in a covered container to keep steam in. It makes good bread. Crispy crust, open crumb, pretty tasty.
Almost no-knead bread
Then I begged sourdough starter from a friend who had some. I'd never made sourdough before. We tried one recipe from Cook's [our go-to resource these days], which came out OK.
The first sourdough loaf

The real success came from King Arthur's Extra-Tangy Sourdough recipe. Again, it relies on a long fermentation, but ditches the dutch oven for a good healthy spritz of water in the oven to keep humidity levels up. [The recipe suggests adding citric acid - sour salt - for very sour bread, but the flavor so far has been superb without it.]

Wow, just wow. This bread is deeply flavorful with a fine-grained crumb, perfect for sandwiches and - my guilty pleasure - slathering with ridiculous amounts of butter and eating it warm. We've also made some really wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches with it, and together with a homemade creamy tomato soup, it's a simple, satisfying meal. Now I'm perusing the recipes on the King Arthur website and I'm thinking about adding sourdough to all the breads I love... popovers, crumpets, English muffins, ciabatta... chocolate cake?! It makes pretty good waffles, too. [No, this blog isn't supposed to be an advertisement for King Arthur, even though it seems like it right now. I just like the recipes - and the fact that they're freely available online. The stuff pictured below I got as Christmas gifts.]

So last night, I took out the crock of starter from the fridge and fed it with flour and water.
The sourdough crock. It looks nicer than whatever Tupperware I had and is functional.

This morning, it was nice and bubbly.
The starter culture eats carbs and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. Bubbly!

Then I added a cup of starter to flour and water to make the sponge. This will ferment most of the afternoon on the counter, and all night in the fridge.
Mmm, gloppy. That whisk thing looks crazy but does a great job mixing dough!

Tomorrow I will take it out, add bread flour, salt, and sugar, and let it continue to ferment; then I'll shape it into loaves, let them rise, slash them, spritz them, and bake them. Tomorrow's dinner will have delicious bread as an accompaniment.

Notice how I don't have any photos of finished sourdough loaves? Apparently I've been so excited to eat them that I can't be bothered to take a picture first. I'll have to remedy that tomorrow.

What's cooking in your kitchen these days?

Friday, January 13, 2012


Here in the Bay Area, we're starting to get excited for Stitches West, which is coming up at the end of February. Just like last year, I'll be working in Miss Babs' booth.

Part of what I'm doing to prepare is knitting up a sample of Jaina, a sleek flowing cardigan from the winter issue of Twist Collective. I'm knitting it in Miss Babs Tierno, an alpaca-silk blend that... is just like knitting with kittens. There's no other way to put it. Silky, soft, warm... and gorgeous! I hadn't knit with it before Babs asked me to make this sample, and I'm hoping to design something feminine and lacy with it.

Nearly to the armholes

It's mostly stockinette with a few cabled details here and there, so it's easy knitting. I've been knitting at night during movies and TV. We had a marathon this week of the Man With No Name trilogy - how I love old Clint Eastwood movies, even if the dubbing is terrible!

Pocket detail
I look forward to finishing this cardigan and getting to wear it. I really enjoy drapey sweaters, and having pockets to stick my hands in. Of course I don't get to keep it, but that's okay. Stitches is still over a month away, and I have other things to knit between now and then, but I'm still excited. What are you looking forward to?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Christine's Stay-on Baby Booties

I'm at the age where it seems like everyone around me is having a baby. I won't go into how terrifying that is. We'll just stick to the knitting part - baby booties, the best quick and easy baby gift there is.

Whenever I have to make baby booties, I use one pattern. I don't try new things. I even violate my rule of 'never knit the same thing twice' [okay except maybe for plain socks] because this pattern just works.

Baby Booties
Booties knit with Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in Bittersweet and something I can't remember
It's Christine's Stay-On Baby Booties (Ravelry link here). I know very little about babies, except that at a certain point they become very wiggly and it's a chore to keep socks on them - and it's important to keep those little toes warm. These booties thwart even the wiggliest baby (or so moms tell me).

Better yet for the knitter, they use up leftover sock yarn! The pattern calls for 50g of sock yarn, but measuring suggests you'll need closer to 20g for a pair.

Booties in two colors of Miss Babs Yummy 3-ply sport weight

They're constructed in such a way that it's easy to knit the soles in a contrast color, so that's what I do. First you knit a tiny garter-stitch rectangle for the sole, then pick up and knit around to form the foot. Some short rows shape the top of the toe, then you knit in the round again for the cuff. A little fiddly on small needles, but overall it's easy. 

Baby Booties
Contrast soles, yay!
I finish my booties off with twisted cord, which is easy to make if you have a sturdy hook or a friend with a good grip.

How to make twisted cord:
  1. Cut two (or more, depending on how thick you want the cord) pieces of yarn three times as long as the desired finished length of the cord.
  2. Have someone hold one set of ends (or knot and put over a hook).
  3. Keeping the yarn pulled taut, twist until the yarn wants to knot up on itself. Twist a little more. 
  4. Being careful not to let go of the ends, fold the cord in half. It will twist up around itself.
  5. Knot the loose ends together.
  6. Smooth out any lumps in the cord.
  7. Knot the folded end.

Baby Booties
Rainbow booties from back in 2008

Do you have a go-to baby pattern? (My other one is Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket).

Monday, January 09, 2012

Moms are Wonderful

...because moms always know what you want for Christmas. In my case, that includes knitting stuff!

My mom sewed me a one-of-a-kind dpn case [possibly because she had to wrestle with the ridiculous number of excess needles in my circular case when she came to visit]. Here it is partially filled - there's lots of needles in projects right now.

Lots of space for dpn sets - and I love the fabric prints
And my mum-in-law in the UK sent these nifty KnitPro square rosewood needles - can't find those in the US!
Now to find a good project

Thanks, moms! You're the best!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Socks for Christmas

Ok, just a couple more things to wrap up last year and then I can keep moving forward.

For the Christmas knitting I did get done... it was all socks. I have a little too much sock yarn (it's not that out of hand, really, but more than I can reasonably knit up in a year or two) and I have a few people on my list who are definitely knitworthy, so socks it was.

[Feeling left out? I'm not gonna post progress photos or give too much away, but there just might be a few people due to get belated gifts.]

Plain socks for Simon in self-striping Berroco Sox...
Image 2

Almost-plain socks for Mom in a one-of-a-kind hand dye from Miss Babs...

and some skull embellishment on a gorgeous Neighborhood Fiber Company burgundy for Kel.
These are all variations on a basic 64-stitch sock pattern that I've memorized... so no real "pattern" to share here.

Was there anybody knitworthy on your list this year?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Happy New Year

I'm not usually a big "let's make major New Year's resolutions" kind of person, but I do have some goals for the coming year.

The knitting-related:
  1. Create more designs.
  2. Knit more sweaters.
And the non-knitting:
  1. Find a new day job (alas, the last one evaporated, sadly).
  2. Eat more veggies.
  3. Say "yes" to more things (this is not the opposite of "saying no" - this is so that I get out of the house more).
Because when I say "yes" more often, I get to do cool stuff like hike in the hills above Half Moon Bay and see my first ever banana slugs! (This was on Christmas day... California continues to amaze me).

Banana Slug!
Banana slug!
Those things sound pretty doable, don't you think? Here's to a happy, healthy, prosperous, creative 2012.