Archive for March, 2013

Something Different – Lifedrawing with a Macabre Twist

A few of you know that, in addition to having too many craft hobbies and being a writer, I also draw.  I don’t live in London, but I reckon I’d be willing to make the journey for Art Macabre’s death drawing sessions.  They look SO MUCH FUN.

Images below may include some NSFW.

Blimey.

The first Opposite Pole I knitted in November took me all of a fortnight.  This latest one, intended as a (now very belated) Chrimbo gift for my MIL, took me just shy of four months!  The Ravelry pattern isn’t at all complicated, it’s enjoyable to knit, it uses very little yarn for a big result (this one used about 500g of aran weight yarn for a plus size, generously sized cardigan), and knits up rapidly when you’re working on it.

The problem was I was burnt out on the pattern.  I had quite literally just finished my own Opposite Pole when I dove head first into this one, and I really think I needed a break from knitting the same pattern for so long.

The photos here aren’t great, or true to colour (the actual yarn is much richer, much deeper and decidedly closer to blue than green), but they will suffice until I can get some better ones.

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So I missed the Vernal Equinox.  My birthday is on the 19th, so it always comes right before or right on the equinox, which generally leaves me too busy celebrating myself to remember to celebrate the longer days and the (hopefully) approaching germination of my seedlings.  But this recipe is good for Easter, or indeed for any excuse you might find to enjoy tasty, delicately-flavoured shortbread!

Mmmm shortbread...

On a teeny, tiny plate

The recipe is simple, so simple you could easily make it with kids, and versatile enough that you can vary the ingredients considerably for a whole variety of different flavours.  There are a couple of areas where it can go wrong however, and I’ll try to cover those as I go.

Equinox Shortbread Trio

Makes 24-30 portions

Shortbread is a fairly universal biscuit.  It’s rich, tasty and there are infinite variations of it.  I’ve seen so many recipes, including some incredibly complex ones involving rice flour and cornflour and eggs, but I always say the simplest is the best, and at its core a shortbread only requires four very common ingredient.  Sugar, butter, flour and a little milk.  These shortbread biscuits are a particularly nice way to celebrate the arrival of Spring, with their delicate floral lavender, lemon and earl grey flavours.  The recipe makes three batches using a 6″ cake tin or shortbread mould, with a little left over.  The great thing about these three flavours is they compliment each other beautifully, which means you can create fantastic flavour combinations out of any of them, or even all three at once.

Ingredients – Lavender Shortbread

100g plain flour

65g salted butter

40g lavender sugar sugar

splash of milk

1/2tsp vanilla extract

extra lavender sugar, for dusting

Ingredients – Earl Grey Shortbread

100g plain flour

65g salted butter

40g granulated sugar

splash of milk

1/2tsp vanilla extract

2 earl grey teabags

Ingredients – Lemon Shortbread

100g plain flour

65g salted butter

40g granulated sugar

juice of a lemon

zest of one lemon

1/2tsp vanilla extract

Recipe

Preheat oven to 160 C.

To make the lavender shortbread, blend the butter and lavender sugar together.  Add the flour and blend until crumbs form.  Add the vanilla.  Beat the mixture continuously while adding milk, no more than 1tsp at a time, until the crumbs are just barely moist enough to come together.  If the crumb is too moist, the resulting biscuits will be soft, whereas we want them to have a pleasing, crisp texture.  To test, take a small handful of the crumbs and pinch them together.  If they just stick together to form a dough, the mixture is ready.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, dust with a little more flour and roll out to about 1/4″ thick.  Grease and line your 6″ cake tin, or just grease your shortbread tin.  Cut a 6″ round out of the dough and place into the tin.  Pierce all over with a fork, and bake until just barely starting to turn golden at the edges.

Remove the tin from the oven and, using a sharp non-serrated knife, score the shortbread round into eight segments by scoring in half, then in quarters, then into eighths.  Slide the round out of the tin and turn right-side-up onto a rack, and sprinkle the top with lavender sugar.  Allow to cool.  If the biscuits are turned out onto a flat surface, the underside may turn soggy as the biscuit cools.  Turning it out onto a rack ensures the underside stays dry and crisp.

To make the earl grey shortbread, do as above, but use granulated sugar, and add the contents of two earl grey teabags at the same time that you add the vanilla.  For the lemon shortbread, omit the milk.  Add the lemon zest with the vanilla, and gradually add the lemon juice a tsp at a time instead of using milk, until the crumb reaches the correct consistency.

Allow biscuits to cool fully before serving, as they tend to still be quite soft straight out of the oven, but will harden as they cool.  Serve with a lovely cup of tea – earl grey if you like, but any good tea will do.  I quite like a cup of something herbal and refreshing with a slice of lemon with mine.

Variations

If you want to combine flavours, note that you can make lavender earl grey shortbread by simply adding the earl grey tea to the lavender recipe.  You can make lavender lemon shortbread by adding lemon zest to the lavender recipe and replacing the milk with lemon juice, and you can make earl grey lemon shortbread by omiting the milk from the earl grey recipe and replacing it with the lemon zest and juice.  You could also make a lemony earl grey shortbread by using the standard earl grey recipe, but adding some dried bergamot flowers to the mixture.  Some earl grey tea blends come with earl grey and bergamot already blended together.

For a particularly pretty presentation, candy some fine slivers of lemon peel and the heads of a few lavender flowers and press these gently into the baked biscuits while they are still cooling, or ice the shortbread with a thin, simple icing and use this to make the candied peel and lavender adhere.  If doing this, do not dust the biscuits with sugar.

You’ll notice that the three flavours each come out of the oven looking a little different, with the earl grey in particular being noticeably darker.  An attractive way to present the shortbread for an Equinox feast would be to cut a crescent-shaped segment out of the uncooked rounds and swap these, leaving the lavender with a crescent of lemon, the earl grey with a crescent of lavender and the lemon with a crescent of earl grey, pressing the edges gently together so that, when cooked, they appear as a single thing.  This could then be lightly scored, or just left whole with pieces snapped off at desired when served.

The recipes used here involve pressing the dough into a mould, but the dough is consistent enough that you could cut festive, seasonal shapes from it using cookie cutters.  Try cutting butterfly, hare, flower and egg shapes and letting kids decorate the cool biscuits with icing and candied edible flowers.

Lavender Sugar

Blueberry Lavender Sugar

Lavender sugar is ridiculously easy to make.  Simply take the heads of a healthy bunch of lavender – make sure the lavender has not been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals – and a bag of granulated sugar.  For every 100g of sugar, take about a teaspoon of lavender flowers and crumble them up, then mix into the sugar.  Store in glass jars for at least a month before using.

Hahaaa, yeah sorry guys.  My anxiety has been kind of really annoying, lately.  Not severe in itself, but it has been making me react rather extremely to even the slightest sense of personal pressure.

Anyway!  For my birthday I was given a rather lovely treat – money to buy my own custom blend from World of Wool!  I’ve been planning on buying another of my blends, and this time around I decided to work on a fairly fun project.  I wanted to design a fibre blend that looked like a raven’s wing.

You know, that lovely, oil slick of blue and purple on black.  I was inspired by a really nice looking shawl pattern over at Ravelry called In The Pink.  The pattern is knitted in parts, and has a very wing-like shape when it’s blocked.  I thought it’s look lovely in oily black yarn with a beaded edge.

The fibre I designed needed to have a deep, black colour, had to have a sheen to it, and subtle colour that showed when the light hit it.  I blended merino with tussah silk, using mostly black fibre for both, but with blue and purple added to provide the subtle colour.  I also added rainbow trilobal nylon, so that even if the inky colour didn’t show as well as I hoped, there’d still be an appealing glimmer of colour to the finished yarn.  The blend is available here, if you want to make some of your own.

It turned out exactly like I hoped!

Bomf.

The huge pile of fibre that arrived!

Can you believe that huge mound is just 500g?  The silk and trilobal are so light compared to the merino, that I ended up with much more fibre than my previous, all merino, blend.  The above mix was blended the maximum five times, but as you can see the colour hasn’t been diminished – there are clear hints of blue and purple where the light hits it.

The fibre is an absolute dream to spin.  Usually, I predraft fibre before spinning as in this youtube video, but because the silk and trilobal are so long and smooth, the fibre didn’t need that at all.  Instead, I’ve just been pulling off hanks about the length of my forearm and drafting as I spin.  I’ve also been able to achieve a lovely, even fingering weight even using my bulky ashford drop spindle.

Spun Fibre

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That little skein is only about 25 grams or so of fibre, and I’m confident I’ll end up with more than enough for the shawl when I’m done.  The great thing about not needing to predraft is I can just spin up a bit whenever I find the time.  A quick hank torn off the pile as and when I’m in the mood.  I’ve been spinning on and off all day!

I’ll be sure to keep everyone up to date on the yarn as it spins, and on the shawl once I start knitting it.

An Update

Posted: 11/03/2013 in Uncategorized

And once again, I have to apologise for the radio silence.  Things have been, well, thingy.  For dole-scum, I do seem to get quite busy!

I’m about 75% of the way through a now very overdue Opposite Pole that was supposed to be my MIL’s Christmas present, and while I don’t have photos of that particular WIP I can promise you it looks as lovely as my first, albeit in a different colour.

I’m also making something for myself out of my handspun custom fibre.  I’m using this lace scarf pattern and a bit of experimenting to try and create my own vest, creating the pattern from scratch.  This could go horribly wrong, but fortunately I’m working in merino so can at least comfort myself with the knowledge that I can shrink or stretch it a little bit if it needs it.  I’ll only have enough yarn to make the front from my handspun, and want to then use black yarn for the back.  It’s also going well!  Apologies for the terrible photo quality, but while the photo itself is terrible, that may be the first photo I’ve taken of my handspun that truly shows how deep the colours really are!Image

In other spinning project news, I have a fun custom blend planned!  I’m trying to figure out a blend that will look somewhat like a raven’s wing, with the complex rainbow colours hidden in the black.  There’s a Ravelry thread here for the discussion, which includes links to proposed custom blends that might work.  I’m still very much open to hearing your ideas!

I’ve also been very busy selling my writing for a pittance online!  It’s nothing exciting – mostly short children’s stories and the odd incredibly boring article, but it’s been a handy way to enhance my CV, if busier than I’d anticipated!

I’m sorry I haven’t been around much.  Aside from all the above, I’ve been having a bit of a wibbly down-turn mental-health-wise.  It’s nothing serious!  Just a bit of a bleh period for my ongoing anxiety/depression/panic/random guilt issues, and I’ve been trying to reduce the number of day-to-day obligations I have to turn the dial down on the stress-o-meter.  I plan to be back and posting regularly ASAP.  My birthday is coming up shortly, so that gives me a reason to cheer up!