Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Knitting Groups

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about "knitting communities".  Of course, there's Ravelry, the Mother of all online knitting communities.  (If you're not familiar with Ravelry, it's like Facebook for Knitters if Facebook was created by a really cool couple - she knits, he codes - who are committed to actually creating a sense of community and not by some ruthless Harvard grad who is more interested in stealing ideas and information for his own profit.)

But what about real face-to-face, person-to-person knitting communities?  Circles, Meetups, Groups, Stitch n' Bitches, whatever you may call them, groups of women (and men) who meet on a regular basis to knit, crochet, and spin together.  Recently I posted on a Ravelry board that there is a knitting group that meets every day of the week (except for Sundays and Fridays) in Palm Beach County.  And these are just the ones that are publicly posted.  So I set out to visit each one throughout the month of March.  Afterwards I posted a short review. 

So here it is - the end of the month and to wrap it all up, I thought I would review the two knitting groups I frequent the most: Boca Raton Knit & Crochet, The Fiber Freaks of Boynton Beach.

 Boca Raton Knit & Crochet meets every Thursday night at a Starbucks on Glades Road.  This is a moderate sized group with anywhere from 6 to 15 members on any given night.  The members are mostly women (one intrepid man) whose ages range from early thirties to beyond.  Of all the groups I've encountered in Palm Beach County, this group skews most  towards younger knitters with most members in their thirties, forties and active fifties.  But like all the other groups, there is a wide variety of skill levels (beginner to experienced) and preferred modalities (crochet, spinning, needlepoint).  Group members will often meet up outside of "Knit Nite" to visit various yarn stores (The Knitting Garden in Coral Gables is a frequent carpool destination), celebrate a holiday or birthday, or watch a movie. 

The staff at Starbucks is very friendly and accommodating (our favorite baristas treat us well).  We usually take up a corner of the store and spread out over a few tables.  There's always room to pull up another chair although the upholstered ones are usually the first to go.  Conversation is sometimes loud and bawdy (depending on the participants) but always interesting.  I always find myself looking forward to Thursday nights.

Fiber Freaks of Boynton Beach was started by two members of the Boca group who became close friends and wanted to supplement their Thursday night knitting sessions with more knitting.  They chose a roomy Starbucks near their homes and decided to invite all comers.  This tends to be a smaller subset of the Boca group - usually 4 to 6 people.  Since the numbers tend to be smaller, most members post on the group's Ravelry board as to whether or not they can make it that week.  Most arrive around 9:30A and stay until noon.  Sometimes we orchestrate an effort to meet earlier so we can snag the big table - we have an ongoing battle with a lone man who likes to hog the table and insists on keeping all the chairs for his (imaginary) friends - it's actually quite comical.

And that, my friends, is my Stitch n' Bitch Crawl.   It was fun - I got to meet some new people, saw some old friends and knit in new places.  I would urge every solitary knitter out there to try a group (or many groups).  Everyone needs friends and knitting friends are sometimes the best of friends.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Still Waters

I love pockets.  I love pockets in dresses.  And I especially love the pockets in this dress that I recently knitted up for myself.

Pattern: Still Light Tunic by Veera Valimaki
available on her website or for download via

Yarn: Knit Picks Simply Cotton Sport (100% cotton)
12 skeins (approximately 1968 yards)
colorway: Prussian Blue

Needle Size: US4

This is a top-down garment from Finnish designer Veera Valimaki.  I've often admired her designs for their clean lines and classic silhouettes.  When I saw this tunic, I jumped.  For some reason that I can't explain, I had been wanting to knit a dress for a while. 

The pockets are an integral part of the design.  I love that they add a vertical element to an otherwise bottom heavy garment.


1. I knitted the sleeves in a smaller diameter to better fit my slimmer biceps.  I also added a few inches to the length of the sleeve so that it hit right at the wrist.

2. I knitted 2 extra inches at the hem as I knew from previous experience that this cotton yarn likes to shrink lengthwise.

3. I made a detachable cowl neck.  Basically it's a big loop that I made out of 2 skeins of leftover yarn.

How to knit a cowl:

1. CO 500 stitches and join in the round.
2. Knit 2x2 rib for approximately 5 inches lengthwise.
3. Knit stockinette for 2 inches.
4. Bind off and sew in ends.
5. Drape over neck as desired.

I named this garment Still Waters as a play on the pattern name Still Light.  The yarn is a deep saturated blue flecked with grays and purples.  It's a really lovely color that makes me think of a pool of water on a gray overcast day.  I like the feel of the cotton and the way it drapes - I wanted it to be a little roomy and not too clingy.

I love knitting top down garments because it's so easy to ensure the right fit. In the end I got a great looking tunic/dress that's comfortable and easy to wear - kinda like a long cozy sweatshirt. However, tights and boots aren't so easy to wear.  I forgot how gravitationally challenged I am in heels.

The price one pays for fashion.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sweet and Salty

I love salted caramels, pretzel M&Ms, anything that deftly combines the two great tastes of  Sweet and Salty.

Lately, I have been obsessed with kettle corn.  Freshly popped corn swathed in a very light coating of buttery caramel and sprinkled with just a little bit of  salt.  The smell of it makes me swoon. How can something taste so sweet and salty, airy yet so rich all at the same time?  It's just delicious.

After a lot of trial and error, I figured out a way to make it at home.

First off, you need a special stovetop popcorn popper.  A Whirley Pop is basically an aluminum pot outfitted with a crank that stirs the contents without having to remove the lid.  A regular pot with a tight fitted lid may suffice for popping plain old corn since all you need is a few shakes  of the contents.  But add sugar and butter?  - all you get is a hot burnt mess.  Maybe like me, you already have too many kitchen contraptions.  But this one's worth it.  Get rid of that bread machine that makes subpar bread anyway and make way for a Whirley Pop.

Ingredients: have everything at hand before you turn on the stove

2 Tbsp of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of dry kernel popping corn - Orville Redenbacher's works just fine.
1/3 cup of white, granulated sugar
2 Tbsp of butter (optional)
Popcorn salt or any fine grain salt

Other helpful tools:

A large bowl to toss your popped corn
Wooden salad tongs or some other tool to help you toss that hot and sticky corn

Step 1:  Turn on the stove to high.  Set the Whirley Pop on the stove and quickly place your vegetable oil and a few kernels of corn inside it.  Close the lid.  This gets the oil to just the right temperature which will be when the first kernel pops.  Immediately turn the stove to medium hot.

Step 2: Here's where you have to move fast.  Carefully open the lid and dump in the corn, the butter and the sugar.  Close the lid and give it a good stir with a few cranks.  The sudden insertion of all the ingredients brings the heat down so that neither the butter nor the sugar burns.  Instead they both melt and then congeal into that delicious substance we know as caramel.  The vegetable oil acts to keep the butter from burning (the oil has a higher smoke point) - you can leave out the butter if you want but don't leave out the vegetable oil.

Step 3:  Crank every 30 seconds or so while things start to sizzle.  Resist the urge to open the lid - you don't want a faceful of hot oil.  Be patient as it takes a few minutes for the sugar to caramelize while the steam in the kernels builds up. When you hear the first pops,  keep cranking - more often now.  When the contents get downright furious, crank the handle continuously.  All that popped corn gets sticky and if you stop cranking, the handle will get hard to turn thus defeating its purpose.  You're almost there!

Step 4:  When the popping dies down, open the lid and shake the contents out into a large mixing bowl.  Wait 1 minute - the makers of the Whirley Pop say it helps make the popcorn crispy.  I do it mainly because I always forget to get out the popcorn salt so I have to root around in the cupboard for um, exactly one minute.  Toss the popcorn with salt - it may be clumpy at first.  I use a pair of wooden salad tongs.

Serve immediately.

 A few pointers:

Whatever you don't eat will keep for a day or so in an airtight container.  But if your kitchen is humid, the popcorn will get soggy pretty fast.  Either eat it right away or seal it up for later.

If you're making another batch, there's no need to wash the pot.  But if not, just fill the pot with some hot soapy water and the residual caramel comes right off.

If all this sounds like too much hassle, I understand.  Instead, simply invite me over for dinner, I'll bring my Whirley Pop and a good DVD. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shawl Collar Pullover

I've always loved big collars.  Maybe it's the dramatic effect.  I like something unusual framing the face.

Pattern: #23 Shawl Collar Pullover by Adrienne Vittadini
Vogue Knitting Winter 2004/2005

Yarn: Knit Picks Simply Cotton Organic Worsted (100% organic cotton)
6.5 skeins (approx 1066 yards) for a size medium
colorway: Marshmallow

Needle size: US 7

Such a classic sweater design.  I just need to add suede elbow patches to feel like I belong on a college campus circa 1950s in some short story by J.D. Salinger. Ah, disaffected youth!


Instead of knitting the collar separately and sewing it on the main body, I picked up stitches after sewing the shoulder seams together.  First I picked up 40 stitches across the back of the neck, knitted across in pattern, and then picked up 4 more stitches for each new row.

Here's a closeup of the picked up stitches.  There's a little bar along the inside seam for the first stitch picked up on every new row.

But luckily this doesn't show at all on the right side of the work.

When I got to the straight vertical portion of the collar, I picked up all the stitches in one row (3 stitches picked up to every 4 rows of knitting).  Collar with all stitches picked up:

My other big modification was to knit the sleeves directly onto the main body again by picking up stitches in a similar manner as the collar.  After knitting the cap of the sleeve, I joined all the stitches and knit the rest of each sleeve in the round.

The cotton creates a cozy soft fabric that's perfect for layering.  It doesn't keep its shape as well as wool - it stretched out a bit even after one wearing.  But it's just enough warmth for a chilly spring morning.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Green Juice

Recently, I read a few blog posts about kale smoothies.  It inspired me to get out my humble little juicer and start making my morning green juice. Granted, green juice may not be for everyone but I enjoy it and it works great for me (soothes my sensitive bowel, boosts my vitamin uptake and helps control my appetite).

Here's my basic recipe:

  • 3 kale leaves
  • 1 cup of sunflower sprouts or wheatgrass
  • 3-4 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 cored pear or apple (adjust amount for sweetness)
  • 1 peeled nub of ginger (more than 1/2 inch can get a little spicy)
  • 1/2 peeled cucumber

All these items take a trip through my low-tech hand-cranked juicer (marketed for wheat grass juicing but it can also handle modest amounts of other goodies).

And with a small amount of effort, I get a deep emerald green liquid.

This I pour over ice and sip throughout the morning.

 People have a hard time believing me when I say that it's tasty.  The fruit provides just enough sweetness and the ginger gives it a little extra kick that I like.  And despite it being nearly almost all liquid (most of the fiber gets macerated and tossed) it fills me up for the morning.  I have a glass of green juice and some green tea later in the morning and I'll all set until lunch.

If you're interested in trying it out for yourself, the Healthy Juicer is relatively inexpensive, simple to use but does require hand washing.  I got it because I didn't want to invest too much money in an electric juicer but now I like it so much that I don't think I need to upgrade anytime soon.  Just a few things to keep in mind:  use the freshest ingredients you can find.  I get what I can from my local farmers market and Whole Foods supplies the rest.  Also, never throw the fibrous waste down the garbage disposal - ask me how I know.  If you don't have a compost pile, throw it out in the garbage.  

There are tons of great Green Juice recipes out there.  Martha Stewart has one.  And so does Gwyneth Paltrow.  Experiment and see what you like.