Summer Knitting

We have short but glorious summers here in southwest Washington state.  Granted, the temperature where my daughter lives in California is expected to reach 106F (41.1), this weekend while our high temp is supposed to be 76F (24.4C) … and it rains a lot here.  But that means everything stays green longer; it’s beautiful.

While our temperatures may not be too summery – compared to California, at least – my knitting is.  I recently stumbled upon several skeins of fibra natura’s Naturalin – a blend of 53% cotton/47% linen (100g/3.5oz 155m/170y) in a nice blue.  I’m knitting “Penelope Blouse” by Annie Dempsey PenelopeBlouseOrig… a nice top for warm weather (whenever that will be).

Naturalin PenelopeBlouse– no surprise given its fiber content – feels a bit like straw (and it’s so easy to split the 4-ply yarn while knitting!), but I think once washed a few times the blouse will soften up nicely.

I have several skeins of an alpaca-merino blend in a deep red, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for something worthy of the yarn.  I think I found it.  Those who follow Linda Marveng‘s blog know that she Cahal_Vestreleased her pattern for a beautifully-cabled vest with an origami-like structure: Cahal.  I immediately bought it.  I will have to see what my gauge swatch reveals … will the soft alpaca-merino set off the beautiful cabling?

More on that later.

In the interim, here are some pictures I took while we hiked in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.  I’m hoping the beauty of subjects will outshine the limits of my photography skills!

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Oats and Hart

Ever have those days where a childhood taste or smell memory sweeps through your body, bringing you thoughts of a sweet, warm time?  I had one recently.

I remembered sitting in my mormor’s (grandmother’s) kitchen, where, over freshly made havrekjeks (oat crackers), gjeitost (the brown goat cheese so dear to my heart), and a pot of hot tea, she asked about my day in school.  Over the sounds of our munching and sipping, she’d listen with interest as I shared my news.

GjeitostWith the memory of mormor’s havrekjeks dancing in my mind, I felt an urgent need to bake some.   I even had the red-wrapped goat cheese already waiting in the refrigerator, ready to be sliced.

I pulled out Beatrice Ojakangas’s The Great Scandinavian Baking Book and made up a batch of what she says is an Icelandic version, hafrakex.  Hmmm.  Tasty but not quite what I remembered from mormor’s kitchen.

Worse, Beatrice’s hafrakex quickly lost their crispness.  Mormor’s havrekjeks were crisp!

Husmor I carefully unearthed mormor’s handwritten cookbook.  The book is a collection of recipes and instructions from her time in husmorskole (a school of home economics) in Hidra, Norway, in 1926-27.  HusmorskoleBokHer book even has a picture of the once well-known Henriette Schønberg Erken on its cover!  (My  mother pushed me to attend husmorskole only because she wanted me away from a boyfriend.  In retrospect, I should have gone if only for that reason!)

In any event, I carefully poured through mormor’s book and found her recipe for havrekjeks, which I then made.

Topped with gjeitost, I nibbled the freshly-made crackers and sipped my tea.   That was it — the taste and smell in my memory — and the crackers were crisp!

So how to explain the differences between the two?  Both recipes use milk, rolled oats, butter, salt, flour and a dash of salt.  The most significant differences between the recipes, however, are:

  1. Mormor’s recipe calls for wheat flour, while Beatrice’s uses a combination of all purpose white and rye flours and adds a lot of crushed anise.
  2. Mormor uses hjortetalgsalt – hartshorn salt – as the leavening agent, while Beatrice calls for baking powder.  (Today hjortetalgsalt would be hjortetakk or hjortetagg salts.)
    • (En) hjort = (a) stag, (an) adult male deer.
    • Talg (in mormor’s notes only) is tallow.
    • Takk and tagg are words for antlers.

So what is hartshorn?  “Hart” is an archaic English word used in medieval times to refer to a fully matured red male deer over the age of five years.  Originally made from the ground up antlers of a hart, hartshorn is a chemical leavener commonly used before baking powder was widely and easily available.  It is chemically reproduced as ammonium carbonate ((NH4)2CO3); it is also called baker’s ammonia. Heated, ammonium carbonate quickly degrades to gaseous ammonia and carbon dioxide.  For certain recipes for a crisp cracker or cookie (e.g., Springerle, Pfeffernuesse and gingerbread), many bakers still won’t use anything else.

HavrekjeksAs I particularly like both rye and anise, I incorporate them into my now go-to havrekjeks from mormor’s recipe.  (At the end of her instructions for havrekjeks, mormor writes “stikkes over med en gaffel” so if you look closely you’ll see the havrekjeks have marks from fork tines, which allows steam to escape as the crackers bake.)

Deilig og sprø (delicious and crispy)!

If you like thin, crisp cookies or crackers, give baker’s ammonia a try.  Admittedly, after opening up and sniffing the baker’s ammonia, I gagged.  But don’t worry – the smell quickly dissipates during the baking time and you won’t taste it in your baked goods.  I was happy that my olfactory memory doesn’t extend to leavening agents or I might never have made mormor’s havrekjeks!

For some recipes using baker’s ammonia, see Recipes from a German Grandma.  If you want to try baker’s ammonia in your own recipes, according to King Arthur Flour:  “The basic rule of thumb is to use half as much ammonia as baking powder in your recipe. Be sure your cookies are thin, as the ammonia needs to bake out and isn’t able to dissipate in thicker baked goods.”

Happy baking!

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Cowls Galore

A cowl in the 21st century has changed markedly from its origin.  From Latin cuculla meaning “hood,”a cowl was originally large loose garment with a hood.  Interestingly, we learn from Wikipedia that:

Cowl_monk“Developed during the early Middle Ages in Northern Europe, they became the formal garment for those in monastic life. Originally they were worn simply to give greater warmth than would an open cloak to people who regularly spent long hours in unheated and draughty churches.”

BrambleberryCowl_nunNuns also wore cowls but under their veils  (pic from Wikipedia [sic]).

I think perhaps Sivia Harding’s beautiful Brambleberry Cowl, comes close to the original idea of a cowl — at least if it reached the floor and had sleeves.  🙂

Today cowls are almost ubiquitous in the fiber world, whether knit, crocheted, sewed or woven.  They have parted markedly from the original idea of a cowl.  Rather, they are generally hoodless and either long and often twisted to form a Möbius strip (named after German mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius), or shorter (in circumference) and worn close to the neck.

While I think the trendier youth wear the new versions of cowls quite well, no cowl pattern caught my eye or even my interest until I read a post by Whitknits  in which she featured her Willow Cowl designed by Amelia Lyon.  That, I thought, is a cowl I would wear!

After rooting around my (considerable) stash, I found many yarns that would knit up well for the Willow Cowl.  Five cowls later … maybe I got a little carried away.  (Two of these cowls, however, are earmarked as birthday presents for friends.)  I had a lot of fun with the yarns I used.

By the way, for a neater bottom edge, I’d suggest starting with a provisional cast on and then, using three needles, knitting that edge to the cowl at the appropriate row rather than stitching the hem later.  Alternatively, you could utilize a knit hem as demonstrated by Linda Marveng in her 5 Brettekant video (starting at 7:49).  (If you don’t understand Norwegian but are a skilled knitter, focus on what she’s doing, not her words.) 

Cowl_purpleThis purple hued cowl I knit from Fibre Alive’s four-ply Merino Mania (100% NZ wool, 110g/350m/385y).  I love the yarn’s crispness.

This second cowl is a not-a-surprise-birthday present for my pal K.  IMG_7164I used Zealana’s Kiwi (40% NZ Merino/30% organic cotton/30% possum, 40g/124m/135y) to knit this one.  I made some changes to this cowl as K was concerned that it would look too much like a neck brace as she has a short neck.  So I swatched a larger gauge, revised the pattern and bit, adjusting it so the cowl would fall more loosely.

IMG_7162The red superwash Malabrigio sock yarn (100g/440y) knit up beautifully for this third cowl.  (This skein was originally earmarked for a pair of lacey fingerless mitts … I may have to buy another skein for matching mitts.)

IMG_7166A couple of years ago I picked up a Lilt Sock Gradient Kit (SW merino & silk) from Black Trillium Fibres in the colorway “Tidewater.”  These yarns had been destined for a shawl but these colors, I thought, would work up beautifully into a fourth Willow Cowl — and they did!

img_7163.jpgThen I decided I too needed a cowl in blue, so here’s cowl number five in Madtosh’s Twist Light (75% merino, 25% nylon, 100g/420y/384m).

I’m done with cowls for at least a while.  Maybe … after all, I have other friends who might like one.

Brownies_TrayOh, before I forget, here’s what’s left from today’s baking — that is, after distribution among neighbors!

Backstory:  I am one of the few people I know who, though raised in the U.S., doesn’t like brownies (or fudge for that matter).  Nonetheless, I decided to bake and compare two batches of brownies, each extolled as the “best ever.”

I had the assistance of Bug, a young neighbor (and aspiring sousphone player) who happens to be great with a whisk.  (Bug has become my third grandchild when my grandson O and granddaughter F visit during school vacations.  The three of them happily roam the neighborhood on their scooters and explore the fields behind our house – popping in periodically for provisions.)

I used recipes from well-known baking sites but modified each batch both so I could use what I had on hand.  Batch 1 was adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s “Chewy Brownies” shared by The Little Kitchen.  Batch 2 was adapted from King Arthur Flour’s “Fudge Brownies.”


After the brownies cooled, Thor, Bug and I sampled and compared.  Thor and Bug preferred Batch 1 because, they said, the brownies were chewier and fudgy.   I preferred Batch 2 because it was a bit more cake-y and less fudge-y.  I’ll have to wait to get input from the neighbors.

Do you have a favorite brownie recipe?

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Hamansbrød (Haman’s Bread)

While there is no Norwegian treat called Hamansbrød (at least that I’ve ever heard of), that’s the name I gave to a sweet bread I came up with that’s a meld of three dessert traditions:  The dough is adapted from a Norwegian julebrød (Christmas bread – here’s one recipe for it), the poppy seed filling from a Jewish Hamantasch, and rolling of each arm of the braid as one would for American cinnamon rolls (which I won’t eat as I find them over-the-top sweet but my grandchildren and Thor love).  The three-armed braid shape is used by many cultures for breads, both sweet and savory.

It was a hit, and I share the pictures with you below.  (The story of how I came to make the Hamansbrød is below the pictures – along with my recipe and instructions for those who may want to try this.)



HamantashMy friend K mentioned that she always loved the poppy seed filling of Hamantaschen but not its cookie dough.  (Pic from Wikipedia) For those who may not have heard of that cookie, let The Nosher explain:

Hamantaschen are the triangular pastries associated with the holiday of Purim, when Jews read from the Book of Esther, the Megillah, and celebrate the triumph of good (Esther) over evil (Haman, who planned to destroy the Jewish people).

This Yiddish word is pronounced huh-min-tah-shun, and while technically the plural form of hamantasch, the word hamantaschen can refer to either one cookie or many.

I’ve had hamantaschen a few times, and the apricot filling was my favorite.  But if K loved the poppy seed filling, I was going to figure it out and surprise her at our next Knit & Nosh.  Here’s how I made my Hamansbrød.


1 large apple grated (I used a Fuji; next time I’ll try a Granny Smith)
42g honey
144g poppy seeds
50g sugar
zest of 1 lemon

Place the filling ingredients in a saucepan and, stirring constantly, bring to boil.  Lower the heat and continue to stir as the mixture thickens.  (I stirred for another 15 minutes as it thickened.)  Remove from heat, cool, and refrigerate over night.


6g active dry yeast
688g all purpose flour
57g butter, unsalted (and very soft)
2 eggs, beaten
100g extra fine sugar
4.5g kosher salt
180g milk
120g water

In saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to boil.  Remove from heat and add butter, salt and sugar and stir until incorporate.  Set aside to cool.

Mix together flour and yeast.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (I used my KA), with dough hook, combine water and warm milk mixture.  Stir in eggs.  On first (low) speed, add flour and yeast mixture, beating until well combined.  Increase to second speed and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic (5-8 minutes)..

Transfer dough out to an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour).

Bringing it together into a braid

Take poppy seed mixture from the refrigerator.

Line a large baking sheet (I used a large cookie sheet from USA pans) with parchment paper.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface.  With a bench knife, divide dough into three equal pieces.  Shape each into a round, cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

One at a time, roll out each of the 3 balls into a large rectangle – I think mine were about 24″ long and 6″ wide.

Spread 1/3 of the poppy seed filling onto each rectangle, leaving about 1/2” border on all four sides.  Starting with a long side, roll up each one as you would for a cinnamon roll and pinch the edges closed.

Pinch the top of the three rolls together and braid as you would for – well, for a braid!  Cover, place in a warm place and let rise for about 1/2 hour.

(Before putting it in the oven, I brushed the braid with a beaten egg and then sprinkled some decorative sugar – I couldn’t find my pearl sugar – over the top.)

Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 40-50 minutes.  I started checking the braid’s internal temperature at 40 minutes.  It should be 190 degrees when done, but it took another 8 minutes to reach the temperature.  (For the last 15 minutes or so, I put a piece of foil over the top so the braid wouldn’t brown too quickly.)

We managed to let it cool for about 15 minutes before slicing into it.  The Hamansbrød was quite tasty!

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It’s official: I’ve become my grandmother.  My mormor, a farm-raised woman who lived her whole life outside a little town in southern Norway, wore aprons every day.  So do I.  Madeon23rdAt any time I can be found puttering around the kitchen attending to artisan sourdough loaves, honing my weaving skills, or relaxing with knitting needles clicking under my fingers.  So when my lover-of-aprons friend E (a skilled needle woman – not so much the knitting needle kind but the sewing and needlework kind), asked if I had seen the linen wrap pinafore aprons of Deb Spofford and emailed me the link, I knew it was worth looking investigating.  (Pic to the right from Made on 23rd website.)

Deb Spofford is owner and designer of Made on 23rd in Vancouver, Washington, a proverbial stone’s throw southwest of where Thor and I live.  

I exchanged a few emails with Spofford, and soon I was on my way through the bright green rolling hills dotted with blooming trees (the dogwoods are particularly amazing this time of year), of Clark County, Washington, to visit her studio.

One word:  Wow.

IMG_7061I’m not going to repeat what you can read or describe what you can see on Made on 23rd’s website.  While all of Spofford’s work impressed me, I knew as soon as I saw them that I just had to have one of her aprons.  (Okay, two – one in teal and one in indigo.)

Made on 23rd’s aprons are marvelous.  First, Spofford uses  a wonderful weight European linen.  It is heavy enough to be durable and protective yet light enough to drape nicely.  Color choices are teal, indigo, grey and oatmeal.

ModFlower (2)Madeon23rdHem2 (2)Second, you can select a hand-blocked design or none at all.  You have a choice of a design on the pocket – Mod Flower (pic to the right), Pompom Dalia (pic on the aprons below),  or Sunflower (pic on the apron above).  Or you might oMadeon23rdHem1 (2).jpgpt for a row of  flowers on the hem – Mixed Flowers (pic on top left), or Ball Flowers (pic on the bottom left).

Next, the aprons are very easy to slip on.  I still had one on (dusted with flour), as I carried a loaf of fresh sourdough bread to my neighbors’ house.  He – a man who relies on crutches – immediately said he wanted one of those aprons because he can’t tie standard aprons behind him.  I imagine these would be wonderful for wheelchair bound people as well!

IMG_6968Fourth, they are made to be a comfortable fit for many sizes.  They are made in two lengths (but the short length was still long enough for me to wear).  A picture is often worth a thousand words …

IMG_7033In the picture to the left, I’m wearing the apron. To the right,  K (about a head shorter and two clothing sizes larger than I), models the same apron.

In the picture below K, I’ve turned around so IMG_7034you can see the cross-back.   (In retrospect, I should have worn something other than those silly patterned leggings [which I do not wear out of the house!].)

Last, and by no means least, these aprons are locally made.  Granted, they are not cheap, but you generally get what you pay for.  These are no “fast fashion” sweatshop made items, to be used a few times and discarded.

I quickly realized these aprons were to wear no matter what I was doing – baking, cooking, weaving, knitting or gardening!  Maybe I should get (dare I say, need?) one for every day of the week.

I urge you to look at the creative designs of Deb Spofford at Made on 23rd!

(P.S.  For a fun read about the history of the modern apron, click here.  If you are interested in sewing your own cross back apron (also known as a “Japanese style” apron), you may find these links useful:  Purl Soho’s Cross Back Apron; Martha Stewart’s Baker’s Linen Apron, and The Hearty Home’s Japanese Style Apron Tutorial.)

Posted in Cooking, Miscellany, Sewing, Slow Clothes/Slow Fiber | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Fun with Fibers …

Thanks to my friend K’s enthusiasm for learning anything and all things fiber, I am returning to my fiber work with the most interest I’ve felt since the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Most recently, K wanted to try dyeing.  Caught up in a fiber frenzy last year, she bought a lot of yarn.  What to do with one of her purchases – three cakes of cream colored yarn (Cascade’s Alpaca Lana D’Oro, 50% superfine alpaca, 50% Peruvian highland wool, 100g/3.5oz = 200m/219y) – flummoxed her.  K couldn’t think of anything she wanted to knit out of cream wool.  (I’d say such is the hazard of spontaneous yarn purchasing but let she who is without sin cast the first stone comes to mind!)  However,  her eyes got that dangerous spark when I suggested dyeing the yarn.  We quickly scheduled a date and time, and I readied my dye pots and supplies.

K liked the idea of dyeing so the yarn would have color variations.  To that end, I sent her an article to read and advised her not to soak her cakes of yarn (so she’d see more variation).  She arrived in a timely fashion armed with old towels, a jug of white vinegar and her cakes of yarn.  We dyed the yarn in my kitchen but, after rolling them in old towels, took the newly dyed, still wet, cakes outside to wind into skeins so they would dry more quickly inside.

I dragged our glass-topped patio table from the back porch and set up my Louet skein winder.  (K seemed pleased to use that type of skein winder for the first time too.)  Though the sun was periodically shining through the clouds that April afternoon, it was a cold, wet and windy day.  There K and I were, covered toe to head in winter gear, winding wet yarn as quickly as we could with fingers that quickly went numb.  We had to laugh at the sheer hilarity of the sight we knew we presented!  Anyone peeking over our fence would have shaken their heads at seeing two shivering ladies in their six decades giggling over wet yarn.KsYarn

K was very pleased – and rightly so – with the results of her first lesson in dyeing protein fibers!  She is so much fun to work with.

warpSoon K will learn how to warp a floor loom, specifically my 8-harness 55″ weaving width Gilmore.  I’m almost done winding the warp (8/4 Maysville 100% cotton) for a couple of rugs.  The piles of wool for wefts for several rugs have been staring at me reproachfully for the last year and a half.  K’s fiber interest has at worst put me to shame and at best revitalized me!

While I was packing up my dyeing gear, she asked questions about spinning.  I should have known her sharp eyes would spot my Schacht wheel, even though it was nearly hidden behind a big plant.  Maybe I’ll pull out some spindles for her to play with.

I am thankful that K’s curiosity and enthusiasm for all things fiber is blowing away the cobwebs of political angst that have been smothering my joy of fiber work!

As an aside, here are some pictures of recent baking … sourdough mixed grain loaves with chopped toasted walnuts and dried fruit, spelt bran muffins with dried cranberries and raisins, chocolate Devil Food’s cake mini loaves, chocolate cupcakes with applesauce instead of butter (to lower the fat content), and buttery almond mini tarts with a single fresh blueberry in each one (no lowered fats in these!).

Posted in Baking, Breads, Dyeing, Weaving | Tagged | 5 Comments

Sunny Visit

I recently returned from my visit with my daughter and her family over my grandchildren’s spring break from school.  They live in the blindly-bright and parched city of Sacramento, California.  While I brought an easy knitting project with me (a beautiful Koigu lace merino), I never picked up the needles:  The bright sunny days beckoned me.

moleHaving arrived from the cool, grey-sky, wet, emerald green environment of the beautiful Pacific Northwest (a mere 1.5 hour flight to the north), stepping outside of the airport I felt a bit like a mole squinting in the blazing California light.  Though it was still spring, for the duration of my visit I didn’t go outside without dark sunglasses, long sleeves and a big shade hat.  (My dermatologist once told me I dress like a dermatologist.)

We took one day to visit the Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I spent a lot of time as a youth in California hiking on the beaches and in the hills near the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  Later I was delighted to introduce my daughter to hours of happy tromping around these same hills and beaches.  


The olfactory memories on this almost warm, nearly windless day were incredible.  If anything, due to the land restoration projects the GGNRA is even more beautiful than when I was young.  Today I share these pictures with you.


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