Saturday, October 24

More autumn glory

This is why it's my favourite season. Yesterday I had a glorious walk in Shorne Woods Country Park, featuring more sweet chestnuts than I've ever seen in my life, a few greater spotted woodpeckers, and lots of fungi, including the fabulous fly agaric shown here which was growing in abundance.

Sunday, October 18

Signs of autumn

The cycling shorts and fingerless gloves are replaced by full-length tights and Goretex gloves (12 October).
First hot water bottle (15 October). We are doing our best to hold out without heating till November. Luckily our flat is quite well insulated.
First sighting of the 'ghost train' past our window (15 October) (it passes at about 11pm all lit up with ghostly lights, I think it sprays de-icer on the points).
Comfort food back on the menu: lamb shanks and mashed potatoes (tonight!)

All the same, the tomatoes on my south-west facing balcony are still ripening - much more slowly but still going red!

Friday, October 16

Nordic star socks

Well, what do you think?!

I love them!

Nordic star socks designed by Jan Malone from the Vogue Knitting Ultimate Sock Book.
I used 2.75mm needles; the orange yarn is Jawoll sock yarn, the grey is Jaeger Matchmaker Merino 4ply (sadly discontinued).

I used a whole ball of the grey and started into a second one, but only needed one ball of the orange. My tension was a bit different on the two socks - can only just squeeze the first one on, but by the second I'd obviously loosened up a bit and it's much easier to get on!

Wednesday, October 14

The kindness of strangers

Some time ago you may remember me blogging about the gorgeous Nordic Star socks I was knitting from the Vogue Knitting Ultimate Sock Book.

The project ground slowly to a halt as I realised that I was probably not going to have enough yarn to complete the socks, as I had not allowed for the extra yarn that is needed with stranded knitting.

After finishing the first sock and realising that yarn was disappearing faster than I expected, I weighed the sock, weighed the leftover yarn, ummed and ahhed, then stuck the project in the bottom of the project bag and forgot about it. Head in sand stylee.

The main problem was that one of the yarns was now discontinued (doh!) and the other is not easily available in the UK. The grey Jaeger Matchmaker Merino 4ply is a delight to knit with but discontinued, the orange is Jawoll sock yarn, also fab to knit with but a bit elusive - even in IKnit where I bought the first ball, they are very vague about when new stocks will be arriving. Although they are very certain that they will be getting more.

After the first sock had spent a few months languishing at the bottom of the knitting bag, I resurrected the project and decided that I should make an effort to make progress.

First step - get me some yarn!

This is where I really love Ravelry.

Step 1; search out who's got the right yarns in their stash in the appropriate colours.

Step 2; Narrow it down to people in the UK, and if possible, anyone who has it on offer for sale or trade.

There were at least half a dozen with the Jaeger, just a few with the Jawoll.

Step 3; the unsolicited begging letter. Take a deep breath and send private messages to a few likely candidates - some turned out to have used the yarn already or had it earmarked for an ongoing project, but I happened upon two lovely Ravellers who were happy to sell or gift me the yarn. The pictures of the lonely first sock proved useful in arousing the sympathies of these kind individuals.

Step 4; the deal!

Gabriella, aka YowlYY on Ravelry was the source of the Jaeger matchmaker. Having agreed a modest price, including postage, and then having been unable to post the package immediately because of other commitments, she kindly agreed to deliver it in person after a work trip to London. She then insisted on bringing me chocolate to make up for the fact that I'd already paid the postage! Who was I to refuse :-)
This was great because it gave us the chance to meet in person and to make a proper connection. I got to admire her Loop purchases, and we had a very pleasant chat for an hour or so.

Clare aka GingerknitsUK on Ravelry was the source of the Jawoll. She refused any payment for the third of a ball she had leftover from her gorgeous socks and we also arranged to meet up for the deal - at the fabulous Thai Cafe near my office in Pimlico in London. Clare and I met briefly last year at one of the open days at the Vauxhall City Farm, so it was great to meet again and spend longer chatting and getting to know one another and finding out what she's up to these days. She can tell you more about that, and I believe she has some fab news to share soon so check out her blog!

With the Ravelry yarn hunt working out so well, and two new friends made, I felt bathed in sunshine and kindness and wanted to show my appreciation somehow.

What to do?

My first move was to give a modest donation to Ravelry in thanks for the fab service the site provides us for free. While I know it's a proper commercial venture with advertising and all that, able to make money out of our very presence and the shopping we love to do, it really doesn't feel like I am being exploited at any level - quite the opposite in fact.

My second move was to pay the love forward, by donating to p/hop. Not only is this a great idea benefiting one of my favourite charities, but also the philosophy behind it fits perfectly with what I wanted to express.

Two individuals who were practically strangers to me had been kind enough to help me out, being generous not only with their stashes but also with their time and friendship. The hours of pleasure I got out of the process was not just the knitting pleasure and the joy of being able to finish the socks, it was the pleasure of spending time with two lovely Ravelers, and the warm and fuzzy feeling I get every time I think of how it all worked out.

If you haven't done so already, please drop over to the p/hop site and see what it's all about. There are some great patterns available for a donation of whatever you can afford, and you can find out more about how MSF is making a difference around the world by providing emergency medical aid to people affected by wars and epidemics, natural or man-made disasters, or those who have no access to healthcare.

Sunday, October 4

Pickled courgettes

There's a reason why there's a lot more cooking on this blog than knitting of late. The cooking has been very successful, the knitting less so.

The Nordic socks I've been making have been semi-stalled for a while because of other projects, and the possible imminent running-out of yarn. The latter is due to be resolved very shortly, however, due to the kindness of Ravelers, and I'll be reporting on it when it is.

The other projects have been mixed. A couple of pairs of Saartje's booties have been flying off the needles successfully for new arrivals, while a pair of mittens destined for a friend's birthday present have been a disaster. I'm not quite sure I'm ready to blog about those yet, the frustration is still too near the surface.

So instead, I've been finding more fun ways to deal with the glut of courgettes. Damn it, I don't even grow them but somehow they keep finding their way into my kitchen!

We've heard about the chocolate and courgette muffins, which are so delicious and frighteningly moreish. But this savoury solution is just as fabulous, if you like pickles. I've just tried the first mouthful this evening and I'm not sure the jarful is going to last long at all!

I used the Riverford organic recipe linked here. There's only one main adaptation - does ANYONE know where you can get yellow mustard seeds?

They obviously don't feature in Asian, African or West Indian cooking because our local high street, where these cuisines dominate, was a desert for the yellow version - plenty of brown ones however.

The cheese slicer shown above proved perfect for slicing the courgettes thinly, although not so effective on the onion, which I had to slice in the traditional way.

The slicing was about the most difficult part of the whole recipe, which is extremely simple and straightforward. Just make sure you put a bottle of tap water in the fridge the day before to soak the courgettes and onions in.

They are ready to eat 24 hours after pickling. The resulting mix is tangy, crunchy and has a lovely sweet and sour taste. Perfect to go with cheese and biscuits, slip into your burger, or add to salads.

Friday, October 2

Music alert

One of my favourite bands, Show of Hands, has a new album out soon called Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed (title courtesy of global financial crisis).

This is just a little plug to say that if you like fine melodies sung by strong male voices (not these whining indie boys), accomplished musicianship (is that a word?) and folky songs with a modern message, you will like the Hands. Add in Miranda Sykes, whom they often tour with and who has a glorious voice, and you have a dreamy combination. They even add in a dollop of humour too for good measure.

Click on the link and you can listen to extracts from some of the songs on the new album to see if you agree with me.