Archive for February, 2007

Bleak House

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

I’m not a good liar. In fact, I’m one of the unconvincing liars you’ll ever meet, so I always just default to the truth. Not because I’m morally superior to prevaricators, Lord knows, but rather because I’m excruciatingly less competent.

So here’s the truth: the atmosphere Chez Mad Dog is about as grim as it can be. We feel like Death eatin’ a cracker.
Excuse me for looking like I just lost my best friend.

Alex is, naturally, the hardest hit by Zeno’s untimely and violent demise, but none of us are exactly getting high on life this week. I certainly miss the little devil myself, but I have to say that the worst part of the last few days for me has been watching Alex suffer and being essentially powerless to ease his pain.

I haven’t experienced this particular kind of anguish since I was a kid, on occasions when I had to witness my sister suffer the disappointments and wounds of youth, situations that, as her elder sister and her self-appointed protector, I found almost unbearable. When it comes to these two people, I’d genuinely rather take the hit myself than have to sit by and see them hurt.

It is not surprising, therefore, that I have had to remind myself repeatedly to be still and allow there to be space in this house for grief. My instinct—which I know is all wrong—is to do a tap dance, buy tickets to a magic show, serve up ice cream and cake, ride around the house on a unicycle, stand on my head and spit wooden nickels…anything to distract Alex and make him feel better.

At a fundamental level, that kind of performance would only be a way to ease my own discomfort, when what Alex needs is just to be allowed to feel how he feels. Without having a clown show in his living room.

And how he feels is totally shitty, angry, shaken, and grief-stricken. Why? Because a mere 96 hours ago, he found the broken body of his cat in the street. If he didn’t feel completely awful, he’d be a monster. There’s just no way to experience this kind of loss that isn’t messy.

He’ll feel bad until he feels better. Meanwhile, I’ve buried my tap shoes in the back of the closet.

As my sister has said previously, the best thing for being sad is to learn something. What she didn’t say is that the second best thing for being sad is to buy another ball of Trekking:
I shall design a sock using this yarn and call it “Zeno.”

The third best thing for being sad is to start a summer sweater. I’m making Minnie from Rowan 39:
I foresee that this will be a good sweater for various auxiliary wedding events this summer.

I’m using Classic Silk in color 6916, Natural, which is knitting up like so:
Lovely, wouldn’t you say?

Working with Classic Silk is a wonderful experience. As a process knitter, I give it my most enthusiastic endorsement.

Back with more, and I hope greater cheer, on Friday…

Midweek odds and ends

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Shelda asked about the sock pattern I have in mind for the beaded socks.  Actually, this is a Heartstrings sock kit which I purchased from our mutual friend Carol H. a while back.  The pattern was included, and the colorway is “purple iris.”

Heartstrings sock kit

At first when I bought this kit from Carol, I didn’t think I’d make the pattern as written.  I just wasn’t too sure about the whole idea of beaded socks.  But the idea has sort of grown on me, so now I think I’ll go ahead and make them according to the pattern.

But first, I need to make myself another knitted dishcloth.  I bought this hemp yarn from Elann recently with just that purpose in mind, having heard that hemp is naturally bacteria-resistant.

hemp yarn

Now, I know that some people have lots of fun making different dishcloth patterns, but I myself just use the garden-variety, start-with-two-stitches-and-increase dishcloth pattern.  This may be because I only start knitting a dishcloth when I absolutely, positively need one, so I need to get it done as quickly as possible.

I have a week and a half before I go to the fiber retreat in Jefferson City, and it occurred to me recently that I had written on my registration that I would be putting Blue Bamboo in the gallery of student work.  Uh oh.  Guess I better pull it back out and work on it.  In typical fashion, I petered out while working on the sleeves.  I’m about two-thirds through the first one.

Blue Bamboo 2-27-07

Then, after completing the sleeves, I’ll put the leaf edging along the fronts.

Blue Bamboo swatch

Will I be able to finish it in time?  Only time will tell…. 

And, truly, I guess if I don’t, no doubt nothing tragic will occur. 

Eloge: Zeno, 2002-2007

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Zeno, openly adored cat of his primary caretaker Alex and surreptitiously loved step-cat of Ellen, died suddenly and tragically on Saturday evening, a victim of vehicular cat-slaughter. He is also survived by his canine sister, Shelley, of the home.

Zeno, resting near Shelley’s tail. Photo taken in his last days.

Although Zeno was a fairly consistently surly cat, and was known to bite at the least provocation, he nonetheless found a place in our hearts and was, along with Shelley, at the center of our household.

We already miss him terribly: we miss his habit of sitting outside my office window yowling; we miss the way he would blow us off by turning tail, hitching up his little butt, and stalking out of the room in a huff; we miss his grudging affection; we miss the sounds of murderous frustration he would make upon seeing a bird or squirrel he couldn’t hunt down and kill.

We miss his clear-eyed assessment of the Lee Harvey Oswald conundrum.

We miss his lithe and compact physicality.

But most of all, we miss his conversation. As Yvor Winters said of Hart Crane, “I would gladly emulate Odysseus and go down to the shadows for another hour’s conversation with him…” Granted, Zeno’s responses were mainly limited to “mrak” and “hell-whoa,” but the astonishing range of meaning and expression that he wrung out of those two vocalizations will long live in our hearts.

Our hearts which today are as wintry as this tree:
Our plan for the week is to cry a lot.

Our greatest hope is that he has been reunited with his derelict truck in the Great Beyond.
It ain’t heaven if it ain’t got no derelict truck.

Zeno will go to his final resting place tonight. In lieu of flowers, we ask that you feed your favorite cat a full can of Fancy Feast this evening. Zeno would have wanted it that way.

Rest in peace, Mr. Kitty.

Lemon Cake

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Yesterday I made a 9″ square lemon cake for a client.  It’s a good cake, but a bit labor-intensive.

First I made the cake.

mixing the cake

Then, while that baked, I made the lemon curd for the filling.  (If you’ve never tasted homemade lemon curd, I encourage you to scroll down to the bottom of this post and go make yourself some forthwith.  It’s a little bit of heaven on a spoon.  Why, yes, I do just eat it straight, with a spoon.  Is there something wrong with that?)

lemon curd 

When the cakes were baked, and after they cooled,

baked cakes 

I sliced off the domed tops and cut them in half horizontally.  (This process leaves the cook with some yummy cake scraps to spread lemon curd on later.)

sliced cakes

After I cut the cakes, I soaked the bottom layer with soaking syrup.  (Simple syrup=equal parts sugar and water, brought to a boil and then cooled.  Add flavoring according to the kind of cake you’re making.  For this cake I added straight lemon juice; more often I add some kind of alcohol or liqueur.)

soaking the cake 

I made the filling by folding meringue into the lemon curd along with a little bit of gelatin for stability, and filled the cakes.  The top layer got the soaking treatment, as well.

filled cakes

The cakes took a little break in the frig while I made the Italian buttercream for the frosting.  First you make an Italian meringue:  whip 8 oz. of egg whites with a little sugar, bring more sugar and water to 248 F, and pour the boiling sugar syrup into the foamed whites.  Whip until cool.

Italian meringue

Then add 2# (yes, that’s 2 pounds–don’t faint, that’s what makes it good) of softened butter and you have the most delicious, satiny, easiest-to-work-with frosting on the planet.

finished buttercream 

I put a crumb coat on the cakes and chilled them briefly.

crumb coat 

Then I frosted and decorated them with the buttercream.

frosting the cake

Et voila!  Finished cakes!

finished cake 

As easy as pie!  Er, cake.

Lemon Curd

1 cup lemon juice

Zest of 1-2 lemons

12 oz. (1 1/2 cups) sugar, divided

4 eggs

5 egg yolks

4 oz. (1 stick) butter

Bring lemon juice, lemon zest, and about 8 oz. (1 cup) sugar to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan, stirring to be sure sugar dissolves.  As mixture reaches a boil, whisk remaining sugar into eggs and yolks in a bowl.  (Don’t put the sugar on top of the eggs and let it sit without whisking–the sugar will “burn” the eggs.)

Pour about half the boiling lemon juice mixture into egg/sugar mixture, whisking constantly.  (This is called tempering the eggs, and it ensures that the eggs will not curdle when you pour them back into the boiling juice.)

Put the saucepan back on the heat and pour the egg mixture into the remaining juice mixture, whisking constantly.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook the curd, whisking constantly, until it thickens and almost reaches the boiling point. (190-195 F.)

Remove from heat and whisk in butter until it is melted.  Immediately strain curd through a fine-meshed strainer to remove lemon zest and any small cooked egg bits.  Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until chilled.  Get your spoon ready.

The Berkeley files

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Recently posted to the East Bay Craigslist housing offerings:

We are offering a free room for a woman who is willing to provide breast milk for consumption to the household. We are an otherwise vegan house but have recently read A.O. Wilson’s study of the benefits of human breast milk to all human beings of any age. This is not sexual. Neither appearance nor sexual preference are of any concern to us.

We are willing to accept one child into the house as well. We do not want to take breast milk away from a nursing child however. We also don’t need gallons of breast milk but whatever you can muster; it is a nutritional supplement for members of the house who want to partake.

The room is 10’x 15′ in a sunny house in Berkeley. There are 7 other people in the house and we live largely communally – shared food and house supplies. You must still pay for food, only rent is free. Reply to this posting and we will set up a time. Contact Dana.

Berkeley is a soul-crushing place for a satirist, I’ll tell you, because reality is constantly climbing up on the shoulders of satire and pounding it into the ground. You might be thinking that this item is somehow special or unprecedented, but there you’d be wrong. When I arrived in Berkeley four and a half years ago, I was given to understand—on good authority—that there was a group of women in town who made a daily practice of drinking their own urine. But only the first urine that they passed each day, you see, because the later emissions did not have the same life, youth, and health preserving properties.

I mean, it’s like…dude! Everybody knows that, dude. It’s, like, a proven scientific fact.

Then there was the housemate, greatly loathed (at least by me), who tried to convince everyone else in our house that what we really needed to live a long, healthy life were thrice-daily coffee enemas. When my friend Joe countered hopefully, “But couldn’t we just drink the coffee and get the same effects?”, she said, without a hint of irony, “Oh no, the enemas achieve entirely different results!”

No one, frankly, doubted that.

Now when I lived in Berkeley, I actually tried to make sense of these various aberrant behaviors. I tried to keep an open mind. I even listened momentarily when various nut-jobs free spirits suggested that I was rigid, closed-off, anti-communitarian, fascist, pro-war, and “part of the problem” because I refused to drink my own pee, shoot coffee up my *ss, or consider human breast milk a legitimate “dietary supplement” for an adult.

But today, I have only one thought, one plea: please, God, if you have any love for Your Faithful Servant, please, please, don’t ever make me live in Berkeley again.

Sock stash

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

I recently had occasion to go through my stash of sock yarn, looking for that perfect yarn to make a new pair of socks.  (Although, naturally, I am not quite done with the present pair.  But no matter…)  This made me realize just how much sock yarn I actually own.

As a sort of confessional exercise, then, I offer the following pictorial directory entitled:

Sarah’s Sock Yarn Stash

1.  Regia 4-ply Patch Antik.  5 balls=4 pairs of socks.

Regia 4-ply

2.  Elann Sock it to Me! Puzzle.  10 balls=5 pairs of socks.

Elann Sock it to Me! Puzzle 

3.  Elann Sock it to Me! Essential 4-ply.  16 balls=8 pairs of socks.  I bought all these colors with the idea of making striped socks and socks with heels and toes of different colors.

Elann Essential 4-ply

Elann Essential 4-ply 

4.  Regia Cotton.  8 balls=8 pairs of socks.  This was what I used recently for the sherbet socks.

Regia Cotton 

5.  Lorna’s Laces (rainbow) and Fleece Artist (blue).  4 balls=2 pairs of socks.

Lorna's Laces & Fleece Artist

6.  More Lorna’s Laces, with beads.  2 hanks + beads=1 pair of socks.

Lorna's Laces with beads

7.  Assorted and miscellaneous.  3 balls=2 pairs of socks.

Misc. sock yarn

The question now:  Which one shall I choose?  What do you all think?  Should I pick self-striping yarn (the easy route,), or venture out into stripes with the solid colors?  A solid pair with different-colored heels and toes?  Perhaps combine a solid with one of the handpaints in a Fair Isle or stranded pattern?

So many possibilities…

The end of time

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

While I was confined by illness to my home, I spent most of my time blowing my nose daintily into a lace handkerchief, cursing the Three Fates (not to mention the the Nine Tastes, the Five Spices, the Four Tops, and the Seven Deadly Sins…only to arrive at last at the conclusion that I temporarily hated everybody), and swilling DayQuil like a sailor on leave, but I also managed to come to the end of time:

It was far less apocalyptic than one might have imagined.

For those who are interested, the specs:
1) Just over six skeins of Malabrigo (worsted weight) in color Scarlet. So in other words, seven skeins. Those two amounts being equivalent when you get down to brass tacks. Right. So. Moving on.

2) One skein Malabrigo in color Velvet Grapes. As the contrast color, Velvet Grapes was perfect. And I’ve got a lot of it left.

3) Pattern: My own, with heavy assists from Fiona Ellis and Ann Budd. My most heartfelt thanks, ladies! Couldn’t have done it without you!

4) Needles: US size 7 32″ circular and 16″ circular Addi Natura. Renewed my love of bamboo knitting needles, my collection of which had fallen into benign desuetude.

5) A couple of episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, the entire first season of The Muppet Show, a disappointing viewing of the remarkably dull and shallow Marie Antoinette, and several hours of fine conversation.

Et voilà! Time Out of Mind.

And lo, when the sweater was finished, she began to feel better and therefore far less surly and she went forth into the world, singing and dancing and telling all who would listen of her virtual resurrection!

Fortunately, this recovery occurred in time to spend most of a day with the lovely and witty Em, the kind and talented Marc, their youngest daughter, and her tartufo:
This last-minute save did not entirely make up for missing out on much of the weekend, but it made me a whale of a lot happier than not seeing them at all.

Naturally, Miss A. was part of the proceedings:
What does a girl have to do to get a drink around here?

Alex kept a watchful eye over our smallest diner and her tartufo:
Hey, kid, you gonna eat that?

At some point shortly after this photo was snapped, Alex announced, with a note of alarm in his voice, “We have lost one-quarter of the tartufo! We have lost one-quarter of the tartufo!”

After a frantic search, the AWOL tartufo quarter was discovered wedged into a crack in the banquette, melting inexorably into a sticky, lubricious puddle between the two segments. It was unclear how this could ever be cleaned up.

Unless the restauranteur owns dogs.

And on that note, our dinner and our day out came to an end. Marc, Em, and the girls set off on their long car trip home and Alex and I—unused to the vigorous physicality and relentless inquisitiveness of small children—lapsed immediately into a coma.

We can only hope, for the sake of Marc and Em’s sanity, that the girls, buckled into their car seats and stuffed with carbohydrates, followed suit shortly thereafter.

Almost done

Monday, February 19th, 2007

The faithful and astute among you, dear readers, have no doubt noticed my absence, once again, from the blog for a week.  Once again I left my dear sister holding the blog bag.  Thanks, Ellen, for holding down the fort.  Time Out of Mind is looking magnificent indeed.

I will not bore you all with the details of my family travails and crises.  Suffice it to say that it has been a hard, hard winter, capping off a hard year.  Let us hope that spring will bring us all fresh promise and happiness.

And, moving on, my progress on the Handsome Triangle shawl.

Handsome Triangle 2-19-07

I really am almost done with it!  I have only one full pattern repeat to finish, and then the somewhat daunting task of knitting the ruffle, involving as it does an exponential rate of increase and ever-lengthening rows.  But not that many rows!  There is light at the end of this particular lacy tunnel.

Handsome Triangle detail                                          A detail.

Of course, these photos, like the shawl itself at this point, reveal only a hint of the shawl’s true personality–just a promise of what is to come.  That will only be achieved by a proper and ruthless blocking.  Hard, but necessary.  Sort of the knitting equivalent of tough love. 

I think there’s a metaphor there somewhere:  about living along, following the pattern as best you can, and having faith that someday, at some time, you’ll be able to do the hard but necessary work of unfurling your life.  Stretching it ruthlessly out to reveal its true beauty.  Trusting that what you’ve been working at, at times so laboriously and with little joy, will pay off in the end.  Hoping that the people who love and support you will be moved to remark upon its loveliness–hoping that you yourself will be able to wear it with pride and say, “I made it myself.”

I can’t wait.

At the present time

Friday, February 16th, 2007

Time has one complete sleeve and about a fifth of a second:

I knocked off Sleeve Numero Uno while I was at Woolcott with my knitting peeps, which was fortunate for my general morale, actually, because my co-worker, the lovely Kat, quite emphatically encouraged me to pick up the stitches for the second sleeve immediately after finishing the first.

Admittedly her vaguely hectoring tone may have had something to do with the fact that as I held the sweater up and admired my work on the newly-completed first sleeve, I said, “Hey, do you guys know anybody about my size who only has one arm? Specifically only a right arm?”

Here’s how Time looks (well, if you can forgive the glare and the indifferent lighting) when worn:
Not photographically ideal, I know, but this is what happens when I’m home alone.

So Time has a sleeve and—I deeply regret to report—I have a cold. Naturally, I blame my landlord, the source of all that is cold, evil, and snot-ridden in this world.

I am never a good patient, but the timing of this ailment is particularly bitter because my friend Emily is in town with her tinies, Miss A. and Miss A.’s little sister, and I’d like to be touring the greater Boston area with them instead of drinking lemon tea at home and slugging DayQuil every six hours. There has been some griping and railing against the fates. Ahem.

Alex reminded me this morning that I am “trying” when I am sick because I get into a black humor and lose perspective and even sometimes claim, in spite of massive and irrefutable evidence to the contrary, that no one loves me and that I have no friends.

I didn’t appreciate his perceptivity in this regard.

Point being, I’m going to keep this post short, seeing as I am bound to be the most “trying” and dismal sort of company you could possibly keep, even on the internets. To make up for my general surliness, I would like to compensate you with a link to the delightful film short, Maddie’s First Banana.

The director, who also happens to be Maddie’s mother, gets an amazing range of emotional response from her actress, don’t you think?

In the neck of time

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Chez Les Eskimaux, the furnace is roaring away comfortingly,
and Shelley and Zeno are luxuriating wantonly in the warmth (note how the animals have literally unfurled from their body-heat-preservative tucks and have arrayed themselves in a curiously symmetrical formation around Alex…one almost suspects that they are planning something untoward…). Meanwhile, Alex and I have finally had the courage to strip off the top two of the four layers of clothing we had become accustomed to wearing in the house.

When you’ve spent nearly a week dressed like Anne Frank going into hiding, you don’t want to de-layer too quickly. You can get the bends.

It’s true. You could look it up.

If you will bear with me this evening, I would like to backtrack a bit and say a few words about how “Time Out of Mind” went from having the Neckline of Doom:

to having a Neckline that Rocks:

As Polarbears (sadly blogless) astutely noted last week, the problem was largely too many stitches, but since I was ripping that sucker out anyway, I decided to make a couple of other modifications that I think made the whole neck element work better.

I ripped the Neckline of Doom out while I was with my knitting friends at Woolcott, mainly because if I have to frog, frogging in public lessens the incidence of cursing, weeping, howling, and making dramatic claims that I later must disavow (e.g., “I hate knitting and I never want to knit again,” and “F*ck this ribbing and the horse it rode in on”).

That sad task accomplished, I set about to build a superior neck, much like the biotechnicians on The Six Million Dollar Man in the 1970s: “We CAN rebuild him. We HAVE the technology…”

This time, I picked up twelve fewer stitches on either side of the neck. Like so:

and like so:

Since the stitches for the cable panels were live to create continuity, those were moved back from waste yarn onto the 24″ circular needle I used for the neck. I knitted seven rows in the established pattern, then continuing in that pattern, I decreased four stitches (purls) between the cable panels on rows eight, ten, and twelve—ultimately losing 12 stitches total, six in front and six in back. Those stitches were decreased at the edge of the cable panels so that they would be less noticeable.

I did row thirteen in seed stitch to lessen the roll and rumple of the bound off edge where the cables were, and then I bound off in the contrasting color.

In the final analysis, I got a much neater bound-off edge and a much cleaner-looking neckline. With a total of thirty-six fewer stitches! I also learned a valuable lesson about necks.

Less is more.
From my perspective as a feline, the same could be said about dogs.