Dextery: December 2007 Archives

Italian Pignoli Cookies

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The one food-blog I read weekly (if not more often) is Food Blogga. Although Susan doesn't seem to be strictly vegetarian, most of her recipes are, which I appreciate a lot. And more importantly, they all seem exquisite and are presented with anecdotes and humor. And I have to mention that her pictures are so irresistible that I want to lick my computer screen.

One recipe I've been day-dreaming of for months is her Italian pignoli cookies, which are almond paste cookies covered with pine nuts. I cracked up yesterday and made a batch, and then phone a friend at 9 PM to have tea and cookies with me. I have wonderful friends.

tea_and_pignoli.jpgMy favorite cookies are Amaretti, so I really had to try these ones as there are a mouth-watering variation on the same theme. Susan claims that her pignoli cookies are so easy to make that "even a meteorologist can do it". That is, a meteorologist with a food processor. It takes a bit more effort if you do it by hand. The challenge is to blend well the almond paste with the other ingredients because it forms lumps. Even using my hands to blend the almond paste with the sugar didn't quite worked. (But I ended with amazingly soft, exfoliated hands. It' was well worth the try!) So I put the almond paste, sugar and ground pine nut in the blender to obtain a sandy mixture. That's tricky, because a very firm dough formed under the blades and I could hear the motor forcing. Anyway, it worked well enough to blend those ingredients. I put it back in a big bowl and whisked in the egg whites, vanilla and flour. For an unknown reason (big egg whites or I ate to much almond paste in the process), the dough was too liquid to form a ball, so I added more flour until the right consistency was reached. But in the end, it really is a fool-proof recipe because it yielded a magnificent result :

And a close up :

pignoli1.jpgWhat to do with the leftover egg yolks? Mine ended in a luxurious thick eggnog.  It was improvised, but it roughly goes like this :


  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar (or more, to taste)
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 oz of good fragrant dark rum (or more, to taste)
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with a whisk. Add the sugar and whisk a minute or two. In a small saucepan, heat the milk on medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the milk is hot (but not boiling), pour some of it in the egg mixture and whisk to obtain a homogeneous liquid. Pour this mixture in the milk along with the cinnamon and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until it thickens. Add the vanilla and rum, stir well and serve.

Feather and fan shawl

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My sister in law got married this summer, and I bought a new dress for this special occasion. It was a beautiful sleeveless blue and green silk dress with subtle Chinese embroideries. Of course, I needed an equally beautiful shawl to cover my shoulders. It was the perfect excuse to splurge on luxury yarn.

I spent at least one hour at Mouliné to decide which yarn would be the perfect one for this project. Finally, I elected Louisa Harding's Impression (84% nylon, 16% mohair, color #04) because it perfectly matches the green details of my dress. Plus, I thought the shimmering bright-colored nylon paired well with the hazy neutral-colored mohair. And it was so soft. In short, it was irresistible.

I wanted a lacy shawl, but with an easy pattern I could remember and knit everywhere on the go. There were two months left before the wedding and in the meanwhile I was going to Scotland, so I knew I would have lots of time to knit in airports, trains and buses. To stay in the ambiance of Scotland, I chose a beautiful traditional pattern from the Shetlands : Feather and Fan.

feather_and_fan1.jpgHere are the instruction for feather and fan stitch pattern:

For a multiple of 12 stitches (My shawl has a pattern of  36 sts):
Row 1 : Knit
Row 2 : Purl
Row 3 : * (k2tog) 3 times, (k1 and YO) 6 times, (k2tog) 3 times*. Repeat between ** to the end of the row.
Row 4 : Knit
Repeat these 4 rows until you have reached the desired length of the shawl.

I added a 3-stitches garter stitch border on each side to keep the edges neat. This pattern doesn't tend to roll too much because it is well balanced, e.g. there are a similar number of knit and purl stitches on each side of the work.

feather_and_fan2.jpgAs you can see, row 1 and 2 make a stockinette pattern (which is on the "right" side). Row 3 is the lace row where all the magic occurs. Row 4 is quite interesting because it is knit on the "wrong" side, which makes a purl row on the "right" side. This makes a contrasting texture that emphasize the waves in the pattern and balance the fabric (keeps it from rolling). Isn't it wonderful?

I have good memories of knitting this shawl while drinking cider and listening to music in my small room in London. Nostalgia...

Baby booties

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Three of my friends are pregnant. Three! A couple of years ago, we were wild party animals (well, sort of) and now we are all settled down, serious and well-behaved. I suppose that it's a side effect of aging. Anyway, all this baby frenzy is just an excuse for me to indulge into baby knitting. (I'll get some practice before it's my turn)

sartjee_booties.jpgThese irresistibly spherical booties are Saartje's pattern. I've tried other baby booties patterns (notably one of Debbie Bliss), but these beats them all, for they are super easy to make (almost fool-proof) and absolutely cute. They will be perfect shower gifts, and I will knit spare ones for charity. Hey, even babies I don't know deserve a special something knitted with love.

They are supposed to have buttons to keep the straps closed, but I didn't chose them yet. I guess white ones would do great, but button-shopping is not high on my priority list this week.

Conference baby hat

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As I already said, last week I was at a conference. In fact, I attended various symposia for four days in a row and sitting on an straight chair for several hours listening to scientific talks is mind numbing. Buffer overflow. Need. To. Knit!

Knitting at a conference is a delicate thing because:
1 - you don't want to poke your neighbor with the ends of your long straight needles. Solution : knit with circulars.
2 - you don't want your ball of yarn to roll everywhere on the floor. Solution : choose a center pull yarn or put the ball in your handbag/packsack.
3 - you don't want to seem uninterested and impolite. Solution : knit something not too challenging so you don't need a written pattern and can still keep an eye on the power point presentation. Besides, the guy in the row in front of you is checking his emails on his laptop during the talk. How impolite is that?

I came up with this improvised baby hat for my knitting needs. I didn't bother to much with the size because it's for charity, and babies come in many different sizes so I am sure that it will fit one of them pretty well. Here it is :

conference_hat1.jpgYarn : soft acrylic baby yarn
Needles : 4 mm circulars (Addi turbo works best for this purpose)

Short and sweet instructions :
Cast on 140-150 st. Work in garter stitch for 3 cm (approx. 14 rows) to form the brim. Reduce the number of stitches in half by working k2togs, which will make the brim ruffle a bit. Joint and continue knitting in the round in stockinette for about 3.5 cm (approx 18 rows). Work 5 evenly distributed decreases every 2 rows to close the hat. Sew the brim with remaining tail. Weave in ends.

Long detailed instructions :

Using the long tail method, cast on approx 140-150 stitches (hey, you don't have the time to count precisely your number of stitches while your trying to figure out the units on an obscure graph at the same time), leaving a tail of 20 cm (will be used for finishing).

Knit in garter stitch (all knit rows) until the work measures about 3 cm (or 14 rows) . This will form the brim of the hat. Next row (RS), *k1, k2tog* across. Next row (WS), knit across. Next row (RS), *k1, k2tog* across. Next row (WS), knit across.

Next row (RS), joint and knit one row, making sure the right side of the work is facing outward.To knit in the round  with one pair of circular needles that is too long, use the magic loop method, as explained here and here. Continue to knit in the round (it will form stockinette pattern) for approximately 18 rows.

Ok, here is a more tricky part; you might want to wait until the coffee break to do it. Count the number of stitches and divide them in 5. Knit that number of stitches minus two, and k2tog. Continue in this fashion to the end of the row. Be aware to distribute these decreases as evenly as possible, so if you don't have a number of stitches that is a multiple of five, you'll have to fudge a bit so you don't end up with a section with a lot more stitches than the others. Take a look at how the right slanting decreases (the k2tog) look like. You will have to recognize them later (because of course you don't have stitch markers in your bag). OK, you can return to the conference, and be careful not to spill your coffee on that knit!

Next row : knit. Next row : decrease row, so knit until you locate that k2tog you made 2 rows earlier. Locate the stitch corresponding to that decrease, and k2tog that stitch with the stitch immediately to it's right (because it's a  right slanting decrease; it will look nicer that way). It will form a subtle spiral pattern like this :

conference_hat2.jpgContinue to alternate a knit row with a decrease row until you have about 5-10 stitches left.  Cut yarn, leaving a long enough tail to pass it through the live loops on you needles. Pull the yarn to shut the hole at the top of the hat close and make a knot.

Finish the hat by sewing the brim with mattress stitch and weaving in ends.

Oh, look who is modeling :

conference_hat3.jpgIt's sari yarn! I wonder what it's next project will be...

Mom's mitts

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My favorite hand-warmers for everyday use is an hybrid between mittens and fingerless gloves. The fingerless part is useful to manipulate my keys, bus pass, etc. while the flap keeps my fingers rather warm when I don't need much dexterity. I already have a pair of them knitted in a gorgeous alpaca yarn by Peruvian women - so soft, so warm! (Well, when the wind doesn't get through. They should make them in double-knit - that would be the ultimate hand-warmers.) I love them so much that I wanted to use their clever design to make a pair of mitts for my mom that also matches her favorite scarf. Here is the result :

mom_gloves2.jpgIt is knitted in superwash Norwegian wool (warm, soft enough, great selection of colors, washable). I used the Knucks pattern by ) to make the fingerless gloves, fiddling with the color scheme of her scarf to customize it. Plus, the double stranding of Fair Isle gives the fabric more thickness, which is appropriate for winter wear. I made a matching flap separately and sew it unto the glove. This flap starts with 1/1 ribbing to ensure a snug fit around the palm. Then, it is worked in stockinette and finishes with decreases that fit the form of a hand (duh). There is a small loop at the top of the flap so it can be attached to the cuff by a button.

mom_gloves3.jpgI gave them to her for Christmas last year and she wears them almost everyday in winter. That makes me smile every time I see them. It's nice to knit for the woman who has knitted me tons of things when I was younger.

Stash enhancement : sari yarn

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I skipped a week of blogging because I was away for a conference, but now I am back with this gorgeous new acquisition :

sari_yarn.jpgIt is a colorful yarn made of recycled saris. I just love it. I found it at the Cultural Survival Fair in Cambridge (Mass, USA) Saturday and spent a lot of time browsing through their stash, examining every skein to appreciate its own colorway and texture. I finally chose four of them and wondered since what could I do with it.

Just to have a feel of it, I decided to make a very small and quick project. I didn't find any satisfying patterns on the net for sari yarn, so I improvised this necklace :

sari_necklace1.jpg I like how it turned out, and I had a compliment on it today, so I guess that it could be of interest for those who would like to pimp their look with an original necklace or make a last minute gift using that sari yarn hibernating in their stash! It is an easy crochet project that goes like this :

Row 1 : Using sari yarn and a 4 mm crochet hook (or other size you have on hand), chain (ch) enough to go around your neck, leaving a tail of about 10 cm.
Row 2 : Single crochet (sc) all the way. Ch 1 and turn
Row 3 : Ch 5 and sc in the 3rd stitch from the beginning of the row. Continue to * ch 5, skip 2 stitches, sc * to form a loopy pattern. At the end of this row, form a loop (by chaining 4 or 5 and sc in the same stitch) that will be the necklace closure. Cut yarn.
Row 4 : Make an additional four loops (centered) by sc in a loop, * ch 8, sc in the next loop * 4 times. Cut Yarn.
Row 5 : Make the last center loop by sc in a loop, ch 10, sc in the next loop. Cut yarn.
Finishing : Attach a wooden bead (with a circumference matching the closure loop you made) to the 10 cm tail you left at the beginning of the work. Weave in ends. Block (wet it with water, lay it flat on a towel, give it it's final form and let it dry overnight).

sari_necklace2.jpgWhen I first wear it, it felt scratchy on my skin, but an hour of so later, it was soft. I hesitate to commit myself to a time-consuming large piece of garment that may end up to be scratchy, so if you have any idea of what to do with this unusual and luxurious yarn, please tell me!

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Dextery in December 2007.

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