Thursday, March 18, 2010

Duncan's Hat (Still Making Stuff)

Duncan asked me to knit him a hat "with stripes." One day after school we went together to the yarn store, where he picked out three colors of Polar Fleece yarn.  He watched with keen interest as the hat grew each day, and two mornings ago he awoke to find his new hat at the breakfast table. "I love you Mama for knitting this hat for me," he gushed. I sent him off to school in his new hat. When I picked him up, Miss Anne said "Duncan LOVES that hat. He wore it all day. He wore it at lunch. He wore it during his nap." I was touched; I didn't really start the project looking for that kind of response. I just wanted to knit the kid a hat, since I'm working so hard to knit things for other people. I was more than touched; I was thrilled.

And then I looked at Duncan, who was wearing a paper bowl, painted green, upside down on his 
head - his leprechaun hat. I grabbed the Polar Fleece and his lunch box out of his cubby and drove the leprechaun home.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Little Bit of Knit

I've kept up my resolution to make stuff; here's a little of what I've been up to.

Scarf Number 3 for Duncan's Teachers (Next Christmas) - modeled by Bear-y as I had no willing models.

Here's the progress on Duncan's hat. He requested a hat with stripes, and I took him to the yarn store, where he gravitated naturally to the polar fleece, and selected green, teal and red.  I was a little horrified, but now I think they work okay together. He's interested in its progress and asks me periodically if I can knit him different things, like shoes. I'll get through the hat first, and we'll see where that gets us!

I'm not sure what's making the yarn appear neon in the first picture; it's not quite that electric. I'm getting used to knitting in the round, and I hope it will help prepare me to tackle some socks. The polar fleece feels nice in my hands, but I don't like how it feels on the needles. It also sheds a bit on my clothes; I love the way it looks knit up though so I may use it again.

Happy Saturday!  Stay dry.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Woman vs. 'Bot: Bread Throwdown

I loved my bread machine. I think we had it for about 10 years because Lorna and Vernon gave it to me for Christmas or my birthday one year, and Lorna and Vernon had been dating for less than a year at that point, and Lorna and Vernon were together at our wedding in 1999. That's a lot of episodic memory to establish that the bread machine has been around the block a few times. We have used it a LOT; I know a lot of people who say that their machines collect dust, but we are not among them.

As I've been trying to move my family toward eating more homemade, unprocessed food, I've been thinking a lot about baking bread. As easy as the bread machine is, it still takes time, and I often find myself purchasing a loaf of French or Italian or seven grain to accompany pasta or sandwich cheese on grilled cheese nights. I thought I'd drag the machine out and give it a whirl, because it had been a while. Then, I made a bad loaf of bread. I chalked it up to the yeast, replaced my yeast, and tried again. The next loaf was equally flat, dense, and almost inedible. I chalked it up to the whole wheat flour; added for health reasons, it had a bitter, rancid taste. It had been around the block a few times as well, so I replaced the whole wheat flour. I could not chance failure in the next batch. I resorted to a tried and true, basic white bread recipe. It rose and tasted okay but had a very thick crust. Having replaced all possible ingredients, I attempted one more batch of whole wheat bread; when the timer beeped, and I went to remove it from the machine, it had mixed incompletely and baked that way. It looked vaguely like lava. I wish I had remembered to photograph it because you can't begin to imagine. Half-mixed, baked, whole wheat bread is not even fit for the birds.

At this point, I established that the bread machine was just "not right." It's possible I made some ignorant error, such as putting in the pan backwards, repeatedly. It's also possible that I randomly made three or four ignorant errors in that many successive batches of bread. But I don't think so. I was left with this conundrum: I don't want to buy a new bread machine (because of the whole "not buying things I don't need" business); I want fresh bread. Reluctantly, I reminded myself that people baked bread long before there were bread machines. Not only that, but I personally have baked many successful loaves of bread in the past, sans machine.  Even, if you can believe it, sans recipe. The process of bread baking had become so grand in my head (as I sought to justify the need for a special machine to bake it) that I had lost sight of the basic process:  proof yeast in warm water; add flour; knead; let raise; shape; let raise; bake. It's not complicated; it just takes a bit of time.  It doesn't even take very much hands-on time; it just needs the patience to see it through about 4 hours of half-hearted attention.

About 20 years ago, about a decade before I acquired a bread machine, my friend Susan taught me how to make a good, basic "go to" loaf of bread. Susan is about 13 years older than me and knew things like that. She could make bread or pie crust, from scratch, without a recipe. She taught me how to grow basil and how to make pesto and how to throw together a mean tomato basil pasta. Two weekends ago, I thought I'd see if the bread recipe would miraculously come back to me. It didn't. I think time was the culprit; it was Sunday afternoon, we had already been on our trek to the grocery store, and I was in the middle of making dinner, doing laundry, and our other Sunday chores. I also threw in a cup of whole wheat flour for good measure. The bread didn't rise so much as it spread. It was edible but dense and could have cooked a bit more. Two-thirds of it made its way into the garbage. I felt a little defeated but also encouraged; it was ALMOST bread, without a machine. I wanted to make another loaf immediately, but that's the kind of thing the crazy people do, so I held off until the next weekend.

It's a great thing that I did. I tried again. I took the advice my mother has given me about knitting socks:  don't think of it in terms of a finished product; think of it as a learning experience. I decided the bread was not for Sunday night dinner; it was just a little activity to keep my mind busy while I was doing other things in the kitchen. I eschewed the whole wheat flour, took a few breaths, and jumped in. From a 20 year old memory, and from touch (knowing how bread should look and feel), I made a delectable loaf of bread; it was the bread I have been dreaming about. Maybe I won't have time to bake it every weekend, and maybe a bread machine would let me experiment more often and more easily, but I have a surefire bread recipe that lives in my head and a little in my heart (because I haven't seen Susan in nearly a decade either, but the bread brings her right back into my kitchen). That, my friends, is something the bread machine can never accomplish.

Now THAT's what I'm talking about!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shots of Duncan

It's been a while since I posted anything about Duncan so here are a few recent photos.  I have some shots from the recent snow storm and our snow man; I'll try to get them off the camera by the end of the week.  These days, the camera is met with a lot of "why are you taking my picture, Mama," and "not NOW Mama," so I have to take them when I can get them.