Happy New Year

Hello stitch readers, and welcome to a new year in my corner of the Internet. 2023 will be memorable, I can feel it. Both kids have big plans, I have a few fun projects to look forward to, and am doing okay with my health situation, after years of feeling off… medicine is a good thing.

As expected, the holidays were a much needed break and I’m proud to say we managed to have a peaceful, uneventful time of it. There was leisurely cooking and baking, there were thoughtful presents, movie nights and crafts. We saw friends, hung out with our kids, and enjoyed the extraordinarily mild winter out at the cottage. Charlie and I (and friends) took long walks every day, mostly by the lake shore, some sunny and some foggy, all of them greatly beneficial to all parties.

And now I’m on a serious deadline, which is why this is a short installment, mostly a few pics of knitting, and maybe a recipe. As always, crafts first.

Top left: a pair of cable wrist warmers I made for my young friend T, whom I’ve known since she was 1, and seen grow into an amazing young woman, and fellow English scholar. If the pattern seems familiar, that’s because I’ve made it twice already, in different yarns ;-). The heather grey project on the right is what will become a hopefully elegant and unobtrusive sofa cushion sleeve, in double moss stitch. The socks are for my sweet A who lives in Southern California but still gets cold feet sometimes. Made to very specific instructions, these will go as high as mid calf, and hopefully will fit as a glove, after the last pair famously did not, and has in the meantime fallen victim to a well meaning, but ill informed enthusiastic washer, who threw them in the dryer… The last one was a quick hat for another young friend, R, whom I’ve also known since Kindergarten, and who is now almost done with law school (mind boggling!) and a sweet and good-looking young man. The navy blue hat should make his very blue eyes pop ;-). I love little projects like these, that are quick to finish. So gratifying to make!

As you can see, the hat is knit in what has to be my current favorite type of rib: knit 1 into back loop, purl 2, repeat. Obviously, back and front look different (see pic in the middle), and if you want to fold the brim of the hat back as I’ve done, and want the rib to be on the outside, it needs a little trick.

So, mid cuff, I made one round of purl, to mark the place where it needs to fold back, then I turned the work inside out, continuing on the wrong side of the hat, pretty much doing what I had done before: 1 knit into back loop, purl 2, repeat. This way, what was the wrong side before becomes the right side, and you only see the ribbed pattern, on the cuff and the body of the hat both. Neat, huh?

Since the holidays have seen their fair share of rich foods, the first recipe for the new year is a light, but spectacularly tasty tomato sauce, that bows to the amazing, fragrant and exotic Arabic cuisine. In this picture, you can see the way we usually have it, with fish and rice:

La Bonne Sauce Arabe

1 red onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic (or more, to taste), chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1-2 cans tomato

Salt, pepper, sugar to taste

1 TSP chili flakes

1 TSP cumin

2 TBSP capers

4-5 bay leaves

Handful chopped parsley, or cilantro, if so inclined

Olive oil

In a pan or saucepan, heat a couple TBSP olive oil and add chopped onion, then garlic and celery. Sauté until onions are translucent, then add other ingredients. Go nuts with the garlic, chili and cumin – it’s really up to you how spicy and cumin-flavored you like your food, and the same goes for the other spices.

I add more sugar than you might think, for instance, to counterbalance the tartness of the tomatoes. Also if you use the sauce to cook oven-baked fish, you’ll probably have let the fish sit in lemon juice before cooking, or add more lemon to serve, so a little more sugar can be a good idea.

Let the sauce simmer at low temperature for an hour or so, then it’s ready to use. My sweet Arabic friends assure me it’s also great with chicken, and I believe it. For chicken, I’d probably use less capers, but add some thyme, or fresh oregano, if available, for an interesting, cross-culture flavor.

Whatever you eat it with, it’ll get you raving reviews, I promise. I made it for my foodie friends for New Year’s (with halibut), and everyone was clamoring for the recipe afterwards. Enjoy!

And now I have to snap into work mode again, wishing you a productive week and great beginning of the year.

Thank you for visiting, and for reading.

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa!

Well? Is everybody feeling the pre-holiday madness yet?

Kids counting down the days, adults scrambling to get every little thing on their to-do lists done, everyone feeling pressure of some sort, sniffling and coughing all around …

This post is me trying to step on the brakes, to calm down, to give myself a breather, starting with a well-loved cookie recipe. Those of you who are RL friends have probably eaten these at my house before. Readers who don’t know me in person and followers from other countries may not even be familiar with these cutely named, crescent-shaped almond morsels:

Ladies and gentlemen, Vanillekipferl.

They are, as the name suggests, vanilla-flavored, and you can go nuts with that – in fact, there’s not really anything like too much vanilla where these croissant-shaped beauties are concerned. The dough itself is not overly sweet, and has a lovely, nutty crunch. But it’s after baking that they really get their oomph: once cooled down to hand warm temperature, you roll them in a mix of powdered sugar and vanilla powder… and the result is quite magic. You’ll see.

I just finished my first draft of the tome that had me busy since September, and I feel I need a short break from it before I start editing it in earnest. So I’ve been doing things like: putting together and posting packages for family. Finishing a last-minute hand made prezzie for my dear A, gift giver extraordinaire and best friend for decades. Composing and sending out Christmas messages for my clients. Putting together grocery lists for the holidays. Buying and decorating our tree. Ordering last minutes gifts. Having laser surgery on my foot (plantar warts, not pretty!) that still has me hobbling alongside my dog instead of properly walking him. Bookkeeping, including a series of increasingly stern past due notices to an exceptionally tardy client, so annoying. I mean, do these people not realize this is my livelihood…? It’s so disrespectful to make me chase their tails to diplomatically remind them that they’ve been owing me 900 bucks for months! Doctor’s appointments with my kid. Carpooling. Last children’s dance performance. And so on, and so forth …

I’m sure many of you must be in similar situations! My method for stopping my brain from doing cartwheels is killing the stress with kindness. Here are a few ideas that work for me, maybe you’ll find some of them helpful as well (not all of them at the same time, maybe just one or two things – you do you!)

  • Move to the kitchen. Cook a meal from scratch. Bake some bread. Make a recipe you love, or try a new one. Something nourishing you enjoy.
  • Put on music. A Christmas playlist, if you’re so inclined. Classical music. Old Jazz. Low-fi hip hop. Foo Fighters or Metallica, if that is your happy place. This is for you, and anything that has you smiling is allowed.
  • Take a mindful walk. Touch a few trees, bring home a beautiful dried leaf, pine cone, a pretty twig.
  • Run a bath using your favorite bath salt. Mine is and will always be lavender.
  • Do crafts – but not in a hectic, need-to-finish-by-Christmas kind of way. Just at your leisure. Feel the texture of the yarn, or cloth, clay, paper – whatever you enjoy.
  • Call a friend whom you haven’t spoken to in a while. How are they doing? Catch up.
  • Light candles – these last days before winter solstice are really dark, aren’t they?
  • Eat some nice and juicy fruit that has seen lots of sun – an orange, a tangerine, a cantaloupe. Relish the sun-drenched taste.
  • Go to bed really early, if you feel like it, and treat yourself to a good night’s sleep. Or stay up late, if you’re a night owl. Anything that helps recharge those batteries.

The Christmas holidays can be an emotional time, and not necessarily in a good way for just everyone. Not all of us have peaceful childhood memories, and the general cheer that society seems to expect from us once the smell of cinnamon and fir trees is in the air can get a bit much, at times. The important thing, I think, is to take good care of ourselves at this time of the year, whether we love the ding-ding-ding of Jingle Bells, or prefer removing ourselves from seasonal Western customs to do yoga or meditation when we have a few days off.

To me personally, Christmas is about love, and about trying to be kind, about making someone smile. It’s not about religion, but it’s not not about religion, either. It’s about seeing the good in people, maybe, difficult as it sometimes is. We’re all flawed, but we can try to do better. Ultimately, Christmas seems as good an opportunity for that as any.

Moving on to lighter matters! Here’s a few crafts projects I managed to wrap up, while resting my foot.

The Waffle Blanket, ends all darned in, washed and blocked (I know I sort of showed this already when it was almost finished, but it bears repeating!) – I’m really pleased with it.

The Aubergine Sweater is done! It’s my interpretation of petiteKnit’s ‚Monday Sweater‘ – with color block rib at neck, cuffs and bottom. It fits really well, and I’m so happy to have completed what in the beginning seemed like a monumental task:

Clearly, I’m not the only person in this house who is going to be wearing it, and that is as it should be.

My son had asked for black flip-top mittens, and here they are:

The secret present my friend A doesn’t yet now about is this pair of fingerless mittens:

And I’ve been making sets of crochet coasters like this one that’s in use on my desk:

They developed from my contribution to Granny Square Day in August …

… and will, hopefully, make a good present for my MIL who already has everything, twice over. The only possibility to give her something she actually likes is to make her stuff. So I do!

And that, folks, is it for today.

Thank you for reading, and for coming back – all followers, subscribers, online and RL friends – happy holidays to you, any which way you like to spend them. See you next year!

A Sick Kiddo Post

‚Tis the chicken soup season, folks – not a month has gone by since school started again that not at least one of us has been sick. What you can see up there was pretty much how last week went. There was chills and fever, there was aversion to food in general, there was snot and coughing – all the good stuff that comes with a head cold.

Having brought up two kids, over the years this has become familiar territory for me. I’ve gotten good at working on my laptop sitting up in bed, so I can squeeze in some pages in between all the Florence Nightingale-ing. In case you, too have flu patient young’uns to care for in the winter, here’s what I do to make them feel better.

1. Try and accept that you won’t be able to work your usual schedule. If you can, set up a home office situation. Take a sick day or two if possible.

2. Respective to the sickness, stock up on groceries, meds and teas. For flu, organic chicken and vegetables, lemons, oranges, cantaloupe, mango, grapes – anything that’s nice and juicy, and might appeal. We like sage tea, and my kids both enjoy honeyed hot milk. If they feel like juice, get them juice. No fizzy drinks or sodas because those irritate the throat. Flu medication suitable for kids, and massage and essential oils to help with the joint- and headaches – nobody sleeps well when they’re in pain.

3. Make chicken soup! (Short version: Set up 1 organic chicken, 2 onions, 1 clove garlic, a few slices fresh ginger, 5 carrots, 1 parsley root, 1/2 fennel bulb, 1 tomato, 2 celery stalks, bunch of parsley, salt, pepper and pinch of sugar with water. Bring to the boil, let simmer for 1 1/2 hrs. Take out chicken an de-bone and remove skin and cartilage, drain the broth, cook white rice or noodles, serve with or without meat, depending on the patients‘ preference.)

4. I let them sleep wherever they’re the most comfortable. Couch, their bed, my bed – anywhere they can sleep is fine, because sleep is what they need most. Air the room, light a candle, set them up with enough fluids, apple slices or crackers. Offer hot beverages in regular intervals.

4. Don’t let them use their screens too much, and suggest an audio book or music instead. If you both enjoy that, read to them. If they’re old enough to read on their own, let them read to their heart’s content. Get them a new book, or unearth a favorite old one they might enjoy re-reading. I must have read Lord of the Rings ten times over whenever I was bedridden when I was young!

5. Cuddles to the max! By you, by pets, by stuffed animals. Hot water bottles. Thick socks. Fluffy sleep gear or sweaters. Feeling something soft against feverish skin is key.

6. If the headaches aren’t too bad, don’t stress about media overload. If they have a fever and feel lousy as well as bored, favorite shows, movies or video games may be part of their comfort zone. I remember that for me, my Gameboy was ;-), and so I don’t mind the iPhone all that much.

7. Allow hot baths – with a soothing bath salt or supplement. The steam is great for irritated respiratory tracts, and if it smells of lavender, or lemon balm, or anything the sick child finds comforting, all the better. Rather short and hot than long and lukewarm, and then fresh PJs, a freshly aired room and a tall glass of something to drink after, to replenish what they sweated out in the tub.

8. Be available to talk. Sick kids often have stuff on their minds, and they might be more open to talk about difficult things, in a situation where they feel safe and cared for. Who knows what weighs them down – don’t miss out on this opportunity to connect.

9. Don’t be too strict with treats. If they feel like hot chocolate, go make some. If they crave frozen yogurt, give it to them. If they feel like Wonton soup, order in. It doesn’t matter, you want them to eat something they enjoy, and to get better. Even a pizza might go a long way. Don’t feel inconvenienced, they’re just feeling lousy and picky. This is not about you.

10. Find activities you can do in bed. Crossword. Sudoku. Battleship. Knitting or crochet. (During this flu round, my daughter learned how to knit (and purl!). I call that one productive bout of the flu ;-)). Journaling. Sketching. Drawing.

11. Only when the fever has gone down, even bring up school. There always comes a point when the kids‘ energy comes back for a few hours, and if it does, try and interest them in a math problem, or on catching up with history.

12. Encourage contact with friends, via phone or computer. It catches them up with what went down at school, and it’s a good opportunity to pass on notes.

13. Once they’re feeling better, try and coax them to go outside for a little. Bribe them if you have to (ice cream, fries, a treat from the bakery, a new book…). Expose them to sunshine and fresh air. It’s exercise, they’ll sleep better, it recharges the Vitamin D, which all helps them get well.

14. Don’t make them go back to school to soon – this is a common mistake for parents who are (understandably) eager to get their lives and work schedules back on track. But from experience I can tell you this can backfire spectacularly, and all too soon you’ll have them back in bed like a boomerang. Nobody wins if you rush it! Only let them go if they’re well again, haven’t had any fever for at least a day, and honestly want to go.

And that is what I know about caring for a sick kid. May it help you! Maybe you also have some piece of wisdom to share? I’ll gladly include any cool tips you have.

A few weeks more, and we’ll be celebrating Christmas. This year, it kind of snuck up on me, what with caring for the sick and working long hours. I’ve not been able to do much in the way of Christmas shopping or activities. But I have made two varieties of cookie dough, and hope we can get started with the Christmas Cookie Extravaganza soon.

During the many hours watching Brooklyn 99 over the last week, I did manage a major crafts feat, though – I’m really and truly done with the Waffle Blanket. Here it is, being put to excellent use:

As you can see, there are a gazillion threads to be darned in, and of course it still needs washing and blocking, but the crochet part is DONE. I’m really pleased with the result, even though I feel it could have been a wee bit wider, in hindsight, maybe like another 30 more stitches or so. But we’ll see how the final measurements are once it’s blocked. I’m guessing it’ll gain 5-10 cm in both length and width. With 145 x 175 cm, it’s already a perfectly acceptable size for one person (or two) to snuggle in with :-).

Other accomplishments include finishing the first sleeve of my Monday Sweater. Again, unlike called for in the pattern, I used the same size needle for both sleeve and cuff.

Also, I impulse-purchased a new gadget for late-night crafts while watching a show, useful also as a late-night reading lamp when not reading on a reader or phone: Behold the neck lamp!

I saw this on an IG post of Nomad stitches, the crochet artist whose book I translated last year, and whom I’ve been following ever since. It immediately made sense to me, because I’ve been yelled at (flare light!!!) for ruining movie night experiences more times than I can count, when forced to check on my work during a movie as it usually is way too dark to see.

It’ll also be very helpful for my next project, flip-top mittens for my son – guess what, of course he wanted black! Difficult to see clearly even in the sunlight, they’re next to impossible to work on at night, and with this, I think I’ll manage just fine.

And lastly, let me show you this bag full of happiness, which my husband will be giving me for Christmas:

A similar yarn combo as the one I used for my red scarf, this one here:

This is an Icelandic merino yarn, and a thin mohair thread. It’s enough yarn for a roomy winter sweater, which I’m greatly looking forward to starting on – but I promised myself to finish the Monday Sweater first.

And that is all for today, I think. I wanted to walk the dog before sundown (ridiculous at 3.30 p.m., but such are the days in early December), so have a lovely 2nd Advent Sunday, and a great week to come. Thank you for dropping in and reading :-)!

Playing Hooky

This morning, I took advantage of being self-employed, and after an early vet appointment that involved a somewhat unsavory procedure – dog owners: anal glands, ’nuff said! –, we went to the community forest for a quick morning walk. We weren’t the only ones around, but it’s a friendly dog owner crowd of (much to be envied!) local Berlin Dahlem residents, young moms pushing strollers, pensioners and, I guess, people like myself who can choose to do this on a weekday morning, a time which ordinarily finds me at my desk, too. But I’m certain that the benefit for both pup and me outweighed the working hour and a half I missed. I can (and will) catch up tonight.

As a Waldorf mom, I’m looking at a busy volunteer work week, as we’re gearing up for the Winter School Bazaar. It will be the first one after a three year hiatus, and many of the younger parents will be doing it for the first time. Everyone is really excited, and hopefully, it’s going to be just as crazy, busy and joyful as it was when we last did this in November 2019. I’m mostly looking forward to see the kids‘ happy faces (and even the teenagers‘ pretending to be sooo annoyed and secretly enjoying the hustle and bustle ;-), and the waffles!).

Those of you who come here for crafts might be disappointed. Although I have been working on my Aubergine sweater, there was an unraveled stitch for most every knitted one. It seems I have yet to find the balance between my vision for that sweater and the pattern. No idea why it felt wonky, but I’ve unraveled the first sleeve no less than three times, aggravating and time-consuming. First I went with the suggested decrease pace every 4th round, then I tried every 6th round, and now I’ve landed at every 8th round, which finally shaped the sleeve the way I like, but may make for a possibly too wide cuff. Or not? See what I mean?

Also, the pattern says to use a thinner needle for the cuffs, which I did for the bottom cuff at first (see exhibit below). Sadly, this turned out bunching up the rest of the body in an unflattering manner, so I unraveled _that_ again.

I figure if you’re making a sweater for yourself, you want it to actually fit your own body, right? Fortunately, the yarn is very forgiving, so I guess I’ll keep tweaking until I really like the way it looks! A true work in progress. Still, the pattern is a good one, and I’m not sorry I bought it. petiteknit, Monday Sweater, everybody.

In terms of food, I have a nice, seasonal recipe for you: it’s a variation of a good old veggie lasagna, with squash, eggplant, mushrooms and a cheesy Béchamel sauce.

Cheesy Fall Veggie Lasagna

You can make this as vegetables- or pasta-heavy as you wish. This ratio was perfect for our taste, basically three layers of everything: Hokkaido, eggplant, Porcini mushrooms and sauce, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

1/2 p lasagna sheets

1/2 Hokkaido, seeded and cut into thin slices

1 eggplant, sliced

2 Porcini mushrooms, sliced

1 liter Béchamel sauce

2 large handfuls grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic

Fresh thyme (twigs) and rosemary (chopped) to taste

First, put a single layer of eggplant and Hokkaido on a baking sheet lined with parchment, drizzle with olive oil and lightly salt. (I used two baking sheets to fit it all). Bake for 20 minutes at 200 °C. In the meantime, make the Béchamel sauce. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste. Add the mushrooms, herbs and garlic and let steep off the heat until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

Brush your ovenproof dish with olive oil. Layer in, from bottom to top: lasagna sheets, Hokkaido, eggplant, sauce, cheese, and repeat until the last layer. Finish with grated cheese and bake in the oven a t 175 °C for 45 minutes (your pasta sheets should be soft when you stick in a fork.) You want a slightly browned top.

I like it when my vegetable drawer suddenly combines in my head (and later on the plate) in a tasty and satisfying manner! This was such a happy coincidence, that resulted in a dish I’ll be making again.

Have a productive week, and thank you for dropping by to read!

Last Day of Fall Break

From my vantage point on the sofa, I’m enjoying a quiet cup of tea before everyone else wakes up. I’ve already taken the pup to the park, who promptly joined my husband back in bed after wolfing down his breakfast. Monday it’s back to school, and today the last day of not rushing in the morning. The place is quiet, the day is overcast and quite fitting for November. The forecast says 70% rain.

Yesterday I came back from the country after two weeks. While I worked, my husband, who had 2 weeks off, sorted out the garden for the winter. Being out there without the children was strange. For the longest time, that cottage was our vacation spot, our weekend retreat, the place where we spent all our free time, as a family. It’s been a minute since we’ve spent time there as a couple. I mean, there was some online, phone and Facetime parenting going on, but ultimately the days went mostly without interacting with them, and it gave me a sense of what things will be like once they move out. They’re six and a half years apart, so I always sort of had my daughter pegged as The Little One, while consciously moving through adolescence with my son, who is now 20 years old. My daughter just turned 14. While his life had always revolved around same-aged peers, she is growing up exponentially faster, it feels. Sometimes she’s allowed to join her brother and his friends for parties now (he’s a cool dude like that, and always takes her home around midnight before the older ones really let loose). I am realizing that it’s a matter of time until they’ll both be out of here, aaaaand I’ve got some serious detaching to do!

Just as with having children in the first place, nothing really prepares you for this. We’ve all seen parents take their kids to college, putting on a brave face, chins quivering, in movies. We’ve heard about the cliché helicopter moms who don’t know what to do with themselves once their offspring leaves the nest, and start aggressively Forever Young-ing (Yoga, pottery, or cougaring and/or day drinking, as the case may be). But the experience is quite another matter, I’m sure, and inconceivable for anyone whose life has revolved around their offspring for the better part of their adult life… What will I be like? Time will tell. My son always points out that I’m lucky I got the dog when I did, because it allowed him to quietly extricate himself without much ado. And he’s not wrong. I mean, he still lives here, but he’s got his own life, pretty much. We see him when we see him. Mostly for meals ;-)). But what does that mean for our daughter? Will I have to get a second dog?!

So over the last 2 weeks my husband and I spent more time together than usual. Me taking long walks over lunch is a pretty common occurrence, but him coming with me never happens during the week, him being a slave to company hours. It was nice, and although I was working, it wasn’t my usual full time, but more a matter of five, six hours a day, a comfortable pace. The thick tome I’ve been busy with for weeks now is about halfway done, and I’ve just sent the editor the first chapter so she could see how I was doing with it. The deadline is another 3 months away, so it’ll be fine, or so I hope, let’s see what she has to say.

We spent a lot of time outdoors, soaking up the Indian Summer we were blessed with (while at the same time cringing at the really low water levels in the river and lake!). Here’s a few colorful pictures of foliage and such.

Due to my reduced work schedule, I had evenings off, and therefore plenty of time for crafts. Since my last post, I made:

A red scarf for self :

A pair of birthday socks with a lurex glitter thread for the young lady

A pair of gauntlets upon request, also for her

And I put in some work on the Aubergine Sweater, which has meanwhile progressed to the sleeves stage:

Realizing that I found the first sleeve too tight in relation to the rather roomy body, I unraveled it yesterday and will decrease at a different pace than the pattern suggests. Not the author’s fault, I made the sweater baggier than she said, too ;-). If you go and invest in cashmere it needs to be just so. I had stopped working on the project in the first place because I was planning to follow her pattern and use the Italian bind-off method (new to me), but found that I didn’t like the way it looked at all. Probably my own doing because I hadn’t practiced it after watching a tutorial. Not all things that seem straightforward online are actually easy to do, surprisingly! But that’s okay, I’m happy with the good old knit-purl bind-off!

Wow, that was a lot of knitting, I’m realizing. If only I were getting paid for that, instead of for this:

But I’m not complaining. I love my work, and this book, an educational manual for aspiring writers of genre fiction (Sci-Fi, Fantasy and horror), is a lot of fun to do. It warms my nerdy heart, and it taps into my knowledge of literature and linguistics as well as into my decades long expertise of these genres in literary, cinematic and television form, as a recipient.

No recipes today, but I can tell you I made some really good risotto with wild mushrooms last weekend. Contrary to everything I was ever taught, the recipe calls for chopping them up and adding them right after the onions and rice, before wine and broth and cheese, as opposed to sautéeing them and folding them in at the very end. It’s a revelation, and I have my dear friend M. to thank whom I will henceforth bow to as the Queen of Risotto, always.

Have a lovely weekend, friends, and thank you for dropping in and reading this.

The Rat Race of Self-Employment

For the most part, I love being my own boss, working from home, being able to decide when I do what and for how long. It has served this family well, I think, that I changed my work status from employee to freelancer. There was always time to go pick up a sick child from school or drop everything to provide parental care, and accommodate anything from shuttle services to immediate problem solving to impromptu picnic dinners at the park. That said, one major downside is that when I’m too sick to work, I don’t make any money. In our country, as someone who holds a job, you get paid sick leave. This of course is not the case when you work freelance. You don’t work for a day, you may be behind on your page count. You don’t work for a week, it can mean that you’re a chapter or five behind. Who has that kind of time?!

Over the last weeks, I was battling a flu, and last week, ended up bedridden, with a fever, coughing, runny/blocked nose, massive headaches and joint pain. Walking the pup (at glacial speed) and ordering Pho soup from the Vietnamese restaurant down the street was all I could do for days. Both kids were in a similar state, and it was only over the weekend that we finally got better. This week, I got a flu shot for the first time in my life, because I’m a little paranoid now. It’s just not good business to drop out for this long. I’ve still not had Covid, and can only imagine what that would do to my productivity.

This week I’m all over catching up with work, and have made some progress, but am still behind, and I still tire easily. I’m aware that it’s not smart to put additional pressure on myself, but it’s hard not to. I’m just wired that way, I guess, from my ad agency days in the Nineties. It was a relentless, demanding work environment that seems a little absurd now, these work-life balanced days.

So that’s where my head is at: trying to acknowledge I’m a 55 year old woman whose body needs rest, and to accept that sometimes you need some time to get well again. Thank you for taking an interest in my struggles with being middle-aged ;-)).

Last weekend, I took the dog to the forest, who was so happy to run off the leash, and I trotted after him, basking in the amazing smells and beautiful fall colors.

The crafts department is something that never really shuts down here, as you can imagine, and I used the many episodes of Brooklyn 99 my daughter and I watched together last week to knit a pair of socks for myself.

On the left you see ‚my‘ color combo of the About Berlin yarn my friend and I bought together in the summer, hers were the one on the right.

Yesterday after the flu shot, I paid the yarn shop a visit, to return some leftover yarn from the mohair cardigan, and to browse a little. I’ve been thinking about a sweater in dark chocolate brown, a warm piece for the winter, maybe even a turtleneck. The owner showed me a children’s cardigan she had made, from an Icelandic merino wool combined with a delicate strand of silk mohair, which makes for a sturdy but very soft fabric. She has ordered chocolate brown for me, but I couldn’t resist taking two red balls with me to try out on a small project ;-).

I have a favorite deep red scarf (see right image) that was damaged by moths last year, and I’ve been unsuccessful in trying to find a substitute, so this might prove to be a good solution. I spent last night trying out a few different patterns and stitches, and ended up with a diagonal rib.

It has texture but isn’t too complex to make, like a cable pattern, and I think it’s going to look nice. I’m aiming for a sort of a rhomboid shape for the carf, or rather a long, narrow rectangular with rhomboid tips, if that makes sense. Not quite as narrow as the one in the picture, that’s just a swatch.

My Aubergine sweater has taken a back seat for now, because I have yet to learn how to do the Italian bind-off, a complex technique my flu-addled brain was unable to process last week, and I didn’t want to ruin it, expensive yarn and all.

Not that I’ve been up to a lot of cooking lately, but the other day, to put a few sad, forgotten plums I found in the veggie drawer to good use, I made a very seasonal and yummy crumble.

It’s very easy to make. Pit the plums and cut in half. Butter a dish. In a bowl, mix together:

100 g ground hazelnuts

100 g butter

1 egg yolk

100 g sugar

150 g flour (I used spelt)

Pinch of salt

Vanilla to taste

1/2 TSP ground ginger

With your hands, knead together to form bite-sized streusels. Gluten free friends: you can substitute the flour by using almond flour, also very good. Dust the halved plums with powdered ginger, add a bit of sugar if the plums are really tart, then put streusels on top of the fruit.

Bake at 175° C for 30 minutes, or until streusels start to brown. Enjoy with ice cream, whipped cream, or (my favorite) al naturale.

That was today’s news. Thank you guys for reading, and for checking in. May you get through the cold season without any major incident!

A Gloomy Monday

Temperature drop, rain, falling leaves – we all know what this means. Time to dig out the sweaters, swap the birks for boots, and light a candle with your tea in the mornings. Fall has arrived.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days out in the country by myself. After a weekend with my daughter and her friend, I put the girls on the train Sunday night and just stayed a little longer – advantages of a home officing and therefore available husband, and my mobile work.

Everything could have been really chill, had my family not given me a souvenir that had me coughing, sneezing and developing a violently blooming, painful lip herpes – my immune system had obviously checked out.

My daily walks in the forest left me sweaty and exhausted, but I went anyway because I felt it would be a waste not to go just because I was sick. Also there was a wonderful and rewarding surprise: the porcini mushroom mycelia had decided to wake up. I didn’t even actively search for them but rather happened upon them in unlikely places, admiring their pretty shape, then reverently and gingerly prying them loose. They’re heavy! My favorite way to eat them is sauteed as a sandwich topping, but they’re really good with anything from rice to polenta to pasta or potatoes. Porcini are my favorite type of mushroom for a reason.

This is a cacio e pepe variation to which I added slices of mushroom sauteed in olive oil with some garlic and a smidge of butter. A very seasonal, no fuss dish!

After a few days of feeling lousy, I’d almost convinced myself Covid had finally caught up with me, but tests came back negative. It’s kind of weird to not have had it yet, I have to say. By now, I don’t know many people except for us who have managed to not get it. Not complaining, just remarking that it’s odd.

Crafts-wise, I’ve done a bit of work on the Aubergine sweater. Here’s as far as I’ve gotten. The yarn is an absolute dream to knit with, and it feels soft and cozy to wear. After finishing the yoke, you put the stitches for the sleeves on hold and continue with the tube that becomes the body. It’s a long way down, all in stockinette, but for watching a show as you go, it’s perfect ;-). You don’t have to increase, or decrease, or count, just go, one stitch after the other.

Both friends whom I gave soap baggies love them, which is nice, so hopefully, the good people who come to our school Winter Bazaar in November will do, too, and buy them like hot cakes.

They’re really fun, quick and easy to make, if you’d like to try?

With a thin cotton yarn and a 2,5 mm hook, chain 30, then turn and work 1 row of SC into the chain. Chain 1.

Then work the following, alternating 1. and 2. as you go:

  1. Turn work. In the first stitch, make *1 DC, chain 1, skip 1 stitch*, then repeat between ** until you’ve reached the end of the row. Chain 2.
  2. Turn work. Make 1 row of SC in every stitch. Work the chains between the DC as stitches. Chain 1.

Continue in this manner until you’ve reached the desired length. A bar of soap should comfortably fit in when the piece is folded in half. End with a row of SC.

Fold piece in half. Fit the edges together, then close seams with SC on both sides. You should have a squarish baggie with an opening at the top. Darn in threads. Make a 30-40 cm string of twisted cord from the same yarn. Thread it through the gaps just below the top, knot and pull tight. That’s it! A great way to get rid of left over yarn.

Don’t shoot me if the tutorial doesn’t make sense to you. But if you have any questions, let me know, and I’ll try to explain better ;-).

With a prettier sundown than I’ve seen in days, I wish you a great week. Take care, and thank you for reading.

Virtual Break Room

Translating a lengthy non-fiction book is great. There’s a comfortable deadline weeks or months away. I get to work on an interesting subject. I’m relaxed because I know what I’m doing. All is, in fact, well. Until some days, it just isn’t! Since there’s no narrative to follow, only chapters/sections/recipes or patterns, sometimes I can feel my focus slip, my mind start to wander, and no amount of coffee, focusing techniques and dog-walking breaks seem to help. I’ve noticed that this happens much less when I work on fiction, probably because I get caught up in the story. So, trying to trick my mind into FOCUSING. Any thoughts on how to kick-start work discipline? I’ll wait…

And while I do that, I’ll pretend to be in a break room, chatting to you – about crafts, what else ;-).

In my free time, I’m trying to knit a perfect crewneck sweater. I bought this beautiful, soft merino and a little cashmere mix a while ago, with a vague idea of making a no frills color block and stockinette stitch sweater that goes with everything.

And since I’ve successfully managed to knit a top-down sweater following a pattern before, over the summer, I thought I’d try my hand at another one. There’s this young Danish fiber artist I’ve been following, her handle is PetiteKnit, whose work you may or may not have seen online before. She makes simple-looking, yet sophisticated knit garments, and after giving up on trying to find a free pattern I loved, I went and purchased the instructions for what she calls the Monday Sweater.

One of the selling points was that she uses short rows. For those of you who don’t know, this is a clever way of shaping certain parts of knit garments (in this case, back of the neck), much in the same way you do a heel when knitting socks. You knit the fabric on the right and on the wrong sides, and you only do the rows partially, turn the work and continue on the WS if you started on the RS and the other way round. So, that’s the principle, and I’ve been intrigued by it for a long time. I was of course scared by the math, but I figured if I used a pattern, it would do it for me.

Needless to say, I botched the first attempt, the one you see on the right! I did follow the pattern, but my stitch markers weren’t where they needed to be, which made the whole thing wonky and just wrong. Also, I decided I liked the look of the rib being a different color than the rest of the sweater, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Navy Blue for the rib, and the rest in this beautiful, deep, rich shade of Aubergine. So, last Sunday I ripped it back up, adjusted my stitch count (evidently, I’m using thinner yarn than the one used in the pattern) and began again, paying close attention to setting and moving those stitch markers this time.

So, this is the beginning of what will hopefully turn out to be a beautiful winter sweater, fingers crossed. You can see how the back of the neck is an inch or so higher than the front of the neck, right? That’s what the short rows do.

So, break time’s up. It was a very nice chat, and now it’s back to my manuscript, or else…

Have a beautiful late summer week, and thank you for reading!

Changes

This summer, we’ve been experiencing unusual heat for weeks and weeks, which we’re not necessarily used to in my neck of the woods, not without any rain at all in between anyway, and it has taken quite a toll on nature. Alarming water level drops in rivers and lakes, wildfires even here in the community forest, crops suffering, and on a personal note, not even one chanterelle mushroom.

Unused to the heat, people in Central Europe who find themselves having to work (again, personal note) feel paralyzed with it. Oddly, my own productivity didn’t suffer too badly, but I did find my eyelids drooping in the afternoons, and actually managed the odd cat nap, which I’m not usually able to do. We were fortunate to be able to spend the last week of summer break at our cottage, which meant free access to the lake at all times, a vast bonus for a quick dip in the morning, over lunch or after dinner. We were working, but the kids were roaming free for another few glorious days of late summer. At night, we caught the Perseids, which due to the little light pollution out in the country, is always a spectacular sight on a clear night. I was fortunate enough to see three falling stars, and sent three wishes to the universe. We also celebrated my lovely friend M’s birthday on a wonderful, enchanted summer evening, to the soundtrack of an old friend playing guitar and serenading her with a heartfelt rendition of one of Bob Dylan’s sweeter songs: May you stay forever young.

My last vacation weekend was spent washing and re-organizing closets, restocking cupboards and dusting off a few weeks‘ worth of untouched surfaces – as you do. Also, I’ve been experimenting with a crochet project that’s been on my mind for a few months: I wanted to make a pretty, as well as functional soap baggie, with a cord to hang on a shower curtain rod. Since we’re all trying to reduce our use of plastic, foregoing shower gels for the good old bar of soap seemed valid. This was a perfect little project to work on in between, and I tried out a few different stitches. Here’s the result.

I have yet to test run them in terms of how quickly they’ll dry – no one needs a smelly, squishy rag in the shower, however pretty the pattern. Fingers crossed. The yarn is a simple mercerized cotton like I use for the potholders, and I’ve worked with a 2 mm crochet hook.

Spending the summer together, we did our fair share of talking. One of the important topics was obviously climate change. Discussing how we might reduce our footprint a little, going vegetarian seemed like a logical as well as doable approach. So, we’ve been trying that out for a couple weeks now. It’s going well so far. Not that much has changed, truth be told, because our meat consumption wasn’t all that significant anyway. As an exemption, I’ve made the addendum to always cook chicken soup whenever someone’s sick, and when I feel my metabolically disordered body needs it, I will have meat or fish without anyone giving me a hard time for it.

Anywhoo, I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of vegetarian spreads. I’ve been making our own hummus and pesto for years, and now I’ve added baba ganoush and a really yummy bell pepper and cashew concoction to my repertoire. Here’s how I made it:

Bell Pepper and Cashew Spread

1 large red bell pepper

150 g cashew nuts, roasted and salted

olive oil

3 slices onion

squeeze of lemon

Salt, pepper

chili flakes

In the oven, roast the complete pepper, under the broiler if you have one, otherwise at very high heat, until the skin blisters and the pepper starts to wilt. Take out of the oven, put in a dish with a tight lid and let cool. When hand warm, the skin should come off easily. Put in a bowl, add a slosh of good olive oil, lemon, onion, salt, pepper, cashews and a bit of chili if you like. Puree with a stick blender. Optional additions could be: tomato paste, garlic, parsley or basil. With a slice of crusty bread, this is a very good lunch or snack.

I had fun playing with the ingredients, and I hope you will, too!

Work-wise, it looks like the next few months will be quite busy in a good and fun way, so I’d best get back to that.

If you have school children, I’m wishing you a great start into the new school year. May the kids have a productive, and an easier year that the last two have been, with no Covid outbreaks and cancelled field trips, quarantines and such. Today, it was back to school, and since my son is away too, the house seems strangely empty without any tousled sleepyheads wandering in for a late breakfast.

So, have a good Monday, a nice week, and thank you for dropping in and reading!

Post-dentist Crafts Chat

Not to bore you with health stuff – just let it be said that I get now why people pull a face and utter a hissing sound when the term ‚root canal‘ is mentioned… fingers crossed for my lower left second molar, please. I’ll know in a couple of months whether the treatment was successful.

The dentist, unfazed by anxiety patients, encouraged me to knit during treatment, can you believe it? I was working on a sock for my friend in the waiting room. The dentist commented on my knitting without looking. I explained how knitting in the round only needs knit stitches, nothing complicated, not even purl stitches, and that it calmed me – and there I was, knitting away while she was busy repairing my root canal! It really helped with my anxiety, being able to do something with my hands! These are the socks in question:

My friend A. and I had picked out the yarn together when she came to stay with us in July. It’s a luxurious mix of very soft merino with 10% cashmere called ‚About Berlin‘. There are a number of color combos to choose from, but A. gravitated towards this one right away. After today’s visit to the practice, I’m well into the second sock, so her belated birthday present will be ready soon.

And since I’m on the subject, let me share a ‚Tadahhh!‘ moment, and tell you the tale of the Ribbed Mohair Cardigan. It began, as many projects do, with an post I saw online, by lovely Copenhagen-based fiber artist Anne Ventzel. She does beautiful sweaters, with these deep raglan sleeves, boxy, comfortable designs, and she always uses high-end yarns, combining simpler wool with a thin strand of a luxurious mohair. Her work is sophisticated and cool, very inspiring to me. This is her IG profile, isn’t she amazing?

Unfortunately, neither of her designs was exactly what I wanted; I had a simple v-neck in mind, not too heavy but still cozy to wear. At the yarn shop, I ended up choosing this beautiful, fluffy cotton and mohair mix in a warm greige/caramel:

I swatched, I tried out stitches and finally went with this rib pattern:

The knitting itself was done pretty quickly, but then I got so nervous. I was terrified to ruin the whole thing. The yarn is exceptionally delicate and doesn’t take well to unraveling, which is to be expected when working with mohair. Also, I needed to figure out how I wanted the neckline to be, find buttons, and such. So I gave up for a while and stowed it away.

It must have been the wind at the North Sea in Denmark that finally cleared my head and blew away the anxiety. Last week, I bought buttons, and over the weekend I took the plunge and finished the darn thing in one long sitting. It took me a few hours with the tapestry needle for sewing the pieces together (mattress stitch), the thin needles for making the neckline, and a sewing needle because the damn holes in the stupid buttons were too small for the tapestry needle… but then finally, it was done!

Finishing projects is always such a relief to me, because I can never quite trust my luck for them to turn out nice. So today I’m just grateful and content this ended well. And that’s my knit talk for today!

I wish you a great rest week. Hope you have something beautiful on your needles. And thank you so much for dropping by and reading.