Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Guest Post - Christmas Cookie Bake

Things have been a little crazy the past few days Chez Ninja - we had some illness in addition to our other Christmas activities that threw the household into a bit of chaos.  But, as promised, and not too late, here is the guest post crafted by CodeNinja himself, to explain the tradition that is his family cookie bake.

Merry Christmas from the Ninja family to yours, and in case you are wondering, yes, I finished the stockings in the nick of time.


And now, I give you, in his own words, CodeNinja and the Great Christmas Cookie Bake.

A Brief History of Cookie Bake

Since time immemorial, we’ve always baked cookies at Christmastime, and given them away as presents.  Growing up, I’d take in a plate to my teacher, GeekBoy (my brother - a self-selected title) would take a plate to his, and CodeMama and CodePapa would take some in to their respective offices.  When young, my brother and I would ‘help’ more than help – Mom wisely incorporated a couple of recipes where the two of us could go off and be ‘productive’.  The mouse cookies were a particular standout – they required hand-rolling and shaping for the body, with licorice tails, chocolate chip eyes, and extra little bits of dough for the ears.  Needless to say, with two young boys doing the shaping, the first tray or two would be relatively plausible – but then our nature would take over, and the mice would become increasingly mutated.  Three eyes, multiple tails, two-headed mice….later trays would not be suitable for inclusion on gift platters.  Aside from that, though, it was a fairly normal thing – we’d bake a few batches of cookies and give most of them away.

Cookie Bake Unleashed

As time went by, cookie bake began to…evolve.  Expand.  Grow.  When we hit high school, there were suddenly a lot more teachers who needed cookies.  And GeekBoy and I were able to actually help more.  By this time, cookie bake consistently involved a dozen or more batches of cookies, expanded from one day to two, and was getting into “this is sort of ridiculous” territory.  In 2001, we added a supplemental chapter to the family cookbook with the recipes we made that year.    Over the last few years, it grew even larger – featuring several days of prep work, multiple stand mixers going concurrently, and extensive use of my parents’ convection oven (which was bought essentially solely for this purpose – the ability to have 3 sheets of cookies in the oven at once.)  The last two years saw Cookie Bake exceeding two thousand cookies.

Cookie Bake: This Year’s Crop

We did end up scaling things back a bit this year – my job has been completely nuts, so my ability to help out with the prep was limited, and the rest of the family is likewise busier than normal.  Mom had to make the entire grocery run herself:
2012-12-15 09.37.29

Things got going around 10 AM, when I showed up at my parents’ place.  First up were David’s Dream Bars - one of my favorites. A full recipe involves more than a pound of high-quality chocolate (milk, white, and dark), along with coconut and pecans. 
2012-12-15 11.24.18

Once those were done, I made the fudge, while my brother started on all of the batches that needed refrigeration:
2012-12-15 12.38.24

(From left to right - hazelnut sandwiches, cranberry shortbread coins, and world peace cookies.  Not shown are the two types of spice cookies, which came along later and also needed a stint in the fridge.)

The last thing we took care of before lunch were the nutmeg logs.  At this point, we could tell we were behind schedule - the table only looked like this:
2012-12-15 14.39.53

Fortified with pizza, we started working on the rest of the cookies – starting with the Russian tea cakes.  (These are one of CodePapa's perennial favorites.)  In the last few years, we've also added a chocolate variety of these - I'd be hard pressed to decide which one I like more.

CodePapa also wound up taking a more active role than usual this year – his normal job is simply chief tasting officer and president of emergency grocery runs, but we actually handed him a cookie scoop and made him lay out the trays of peanut blossoms and molasses cookies.  As it turns out, this eventually lead to a backup that not even three sheets at a time in the oven could keep up with:
2012-12-15 17.45.06

Once we finished up with those, we basically declared ourselves done for the night - except for decorating the nutmeg logs.  These are one of the cookies we’ve been making since forever – a lightly-spiced cookie with icing on the top.  Growing up, my brother and I would spend hours making detailed decorations on a batch – writing holiday words/phrases using jimmies, arranging tree-shaped sprinkles with snowflakes falling down on them, carefully applying colored sugar in diagonal stripes to make candy canes.  We still make these every year, though we make far fewer of the extremely carefully decorated ones than we used to (and even less than normal this year - we were all kind of tired by this point!)

By this time, we were all wiped out and called it a night.  It'd been a long day of baking:
2012-12-15 19.07.53

CodeMama and GeekBoy finished dealing with the roll-‘em-out cookies on Monday, and we packed everything up over the next couple of days.  Basically all of the cookies have been given away by this point - mailed out to friends, taken in to offices, or eaten by us.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Busy busy busy

Our Christmas preparations continue.  I was so excited to decorate our tree.  I am very sentimental about my Christmas ornaments as it seems like each one has a memory.  Like these, which I brought back from my parents' house:


These are silver Reed & Barton Christmas crosses and, except for a few that have been misplaced over the years, there is one for every year I have been alive up until the last few years.  My great aunt and uncle sent them to us every year while they were alive.  I love hanging up each year and thinking, "that was the year I graduated college," or some such.  I have a lot of other ornaments that are still at my parents because I am afraid of damaging them trying to bring them back.  Over time, I'm sure I'll get them here.  But the Christmas crosses were pretty secure coming home in my carry on, so they were the first to make the trip.

Then there is this one, a handpainted ornament we bought on our honeymoon in Alaska.  I think we bought it in Anchorage from Cabin Fever, but if I recall correctly, the artist is from Homer.


Our Hallmark First Christmas Together ornament.


And we have several painted by CodeMama, which are all very precious. 


Love it.  In fact, here's some pics of a few more, because they are all so cool:




It's okay to be jealous.  But they're mine (well, ours) and you can't have them.

We have many many others that make me sigh - gifts from friends, or from each other, and also, ornaments from the yearly ornament exchange organized by the women's ministry at my church.  I have brought some form of handmade ornament every year (some more successful than others) so of course, I had to make some time to do it this year.  It doesn't take very long, actually, the most tedious and time consuming part is counting out and prestringing the beads.  I have seen kits for these around but I have a Leisure Arts booklet that I use.  The yarn is a red sparkly metallic, but I've lost the ball band, and I used #6 gold beads.

Basically, following the pattern instructions for bead placement, you knit a little drawstring bag.


Then you work it up over a glass ball ornament, and pull the top tight.


There's a hole in the bottom.


Sew it closed and voila!  All done.


I did make a little oopsie and missed a bead...but I decided not to worry about it.

Right after I finished it off and took these pictures...I knocked it off the couch and it broke.  Arrrgggghhhh!!! I was able to painstakingly undo the top of the ornament and loosen the bag enough to get it off the broken ornament, and thankfully, the yarn wasn't cut anywhere.  I had exactly one intact glass ball remaining, and you can bet I was careful with that sucker afterwards and breathed a sigh of relief once it was safely on the table at the exchange.  Gifts are assigned randomly through a series of games (none of that swapping stuff) and this is what I got in exchange:


Cute no??  (Sorry about the blur...) Very appropriate for my bakerly household.  Stay tuned next week - I may get CodeNinja to guest blog the traditional family cookie bake.

On the knitting front, progress continues.  I have some stuff I can't show, but I can show you Stocking the First, which is progressing well.


And my third pair of socks for the mission team going to the Czech republic, which is almost done.


I don't think I'm going to get the fourth pair done as I had intended, but we'll see.  The Christmas knitting has to be finished first, and then if I still have time, I'll make the 4th pair.  I'm afraid I've found these a little frustrating, because it takes 2 balls of yarn to make a pair of socks, and in every single pair of the three I've done, one ball has been fine, and the other has had blotches of one or more of the darker colors in the light areas.  I don't know if it shows in that photo, but there is quite a bit of red in the light grey areas of the sock, enough to make it look like the socks have been washed and the color bled - even though they obviously haven't.  It's annoying, but I don't have time to do anything about it - replacements won't do me any good, especially because every stupid time, it's been the second ball I used that was messed up.  I'm not reknitting three pairs of socks and I wouldn't finish before the mission team leaves, so I've pretty much just got to live with it. 

I hope everyone else is enjoying whatever holiday preparations you are accustomed to making!  I could use a little more time before Christmas and I feel like I've still got some shopping to do...but I still love it.  I did have one little incident though - of course, since we have a real tree we had plenty of needles on the floor once we finished all the decorating.  I was using our canister vac to clean some of it up when I accidentally nudged the ottoman and some leftover yarn that had been sitting on it fell off.  Before I could react I had managed to suck it into the vacuum.  Of course it got stuck in the hose and I was left trying to figure out how I was going to get a wad of yarn out of this.


At first it was pretty close to the straight end, where the hose connects to the vacuum, but in the act of looking for it, I stretched the hose out and the yarn fell out of reach.  I was lost as to how I was going to get the stuff out.  I tried pushing it out with a broom handle but that didn't work, and I didn't see how, even if I could get it down the hose, I would get it past the bended part in the nozzle.

So, I thought about it for a bit, and came up with a solution.


I used highlighter tape to fasten a crochet hook to the end of the broom handle, stuck the broom handle down the hose, and managed to pull up a few strands of the yarn, which I was able to use to pull out the whole wad.


Thank goodness it was leftovers.  It was actually all the yarn I had to pull out of the middle of the second ball of yarn for the Czech socks to get to the right place in the color repeat to start the second sock.

And now...I really need to get back to my knitting before I get behind!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Getting in the Spirit

I haven't been at my home for Christmas in a long time, and though I'm very sad to be missing out on my family's Christmas, I am finding it very exciting to get ready for Christmas at home.  I'm doing all the things I never do because I won't be here to enjoy them, and best of all, my new hubby and I are working on building our own traditions.  CodeNinja usually puts up a tree and all that, so he has some things already, and I brought some ornaments and things back from my visit to my parents.  But, there are a lot of things we don't have because we are so used to going back to our respective parental abodes for Christmas.  Some things we brought with us, but some things it just seemed wrong to take from home.  So, our childhood stockings will be hanging on our parents' mantles as usual, and I am making some for us.

It took me a while to decide on The Great Christmas Stocking Plan, but there was plenty to do in the meantime.  I decorated our mantle, we put up a Christmas tree (a real one) and decorated it with lights.  Of course, accessorizing is everything, so we did some shopping for various accoutrements that we needed.

We got a tree skirt.


And an angel.


And two stocking hangers engraved with our names.  Mine is a snowflake and CodeNinja's is a Christmas tree.  Isn't it all lovely?


I am totally going to sneak an extra set of colored lights on the top, because for some reason the top appears to have many more white lights than the lower half.

By the time we were thus fully equipped, I had consulted Ravelry, pondered stocking patterns, and deliberated (with the help of friends) over yarn selection.  I settled on Berrocco Comfort in white, green, and red.  CodeNinja's stocking will be red with green cuff, heels, and toes, and mine will be the reverse, and the white is to be used as an accent color on both. 

I looked at a bazillion stocking patterns, but none of them were right for me.  I have an intense dislike for colorwork (not the look, but the act of knitting it) and most of the other stockings that were cabled or otherwise textured, didn't seem to really lay/hang nicely due to the changing - tension isn't the word I'm looking for.  Sucking in in places?  Cables, ribbing, textured areas, all tend to kind of make the stocking either wider or narrower in places.  Yes, it could probably be blocked out, but I don't really want to spend a ton of time reblocking the stockings every year and what have you.

So I decided to wing it.  I'm using a plain vanilla sock pattern as my base, and I'll just knit a really big sock. I decided on a seed stitch "cuff" with about 4 rows in white, then as many in green as I felt looked good, and then four more rows of white, and then I would start the stockinette stitch in red.   So, having settled on a nice worsted weight yarn, (and acquiring appropriate needles, which OF COURSE, despite the size of my needle collection, I did not have) I got started on CodeNinja's stocking. 

I learned a few things during this process.
--The number of stitches I should cast on to reach all the way around my 16" circular is 80.
--Seed stitch does not work properly unless you have an odd number of stitches.  Increase by 1 to solve.  Make a mental note to cast on 81 for the second stocking.
--Color changes in seed stitch are not particularly neat.  See the sort of checkered row?


Some people might not be bothered by this.  Some might even like it.  Me?  It made me crazy.  I was fretting about it on Ravelry when it hit me.  I could do a Latvian braid there!  That would totally make a nicer transition.

I didn't really want to rip out what I had until I was sure that I would like the braid better (I was some distance further on the stocking than shown in this picture before I could admit to myself that I didn't like the color change), so I cast on for my stocking, figuring I would work the braid on it, and then if it worked out better, I would rip back the first one, and if not, I could stop and just carry on with what I was doing before.

I did the braid and, except for one mishap where I realized halfway through the second row of braid that I had miscrossed something in the first row, right at front and center where it would really show, so I had to back up and do it over again, it was lovely.


Then I kept merrily knitting along and...


There's the checkered row again.  Curses.  It's much more livable in this form, in my opinion, as it blends into the braid.  I tried to think of a way I could redo the second row so as not to get that, but I came up empty.  I could twist the strands but not purl with the white, but that seemed fraught with peril to me.

Tension was also a bit of an issue when working the braid, because I didn't want to make the braid so tight that it constricted the stocking, nor did I want it to be so loose that it didn't look good, so there was much anxiety over that.  Ultimately, though, I think the braid is really pretty and I'm going to go with this plan.  So, my pattern for the leg will be:

4 rows of seed stitch, white
1 latvian braid, green & white for his, red & white for me
Seed stitch, green for him, red for me, until I get tired of it or it looks like I have enough.
1 latvian braid in the other direction, green & white for his, red & white for me
4 rows of seed stitch, white
1 latvian braid in the direction of the first, red & white for his, green & white for me
Stockinette stitch leg until I think it's big enough.  Contrast color heel.  Foot until I'm happy with it.  Contrast color toe.

All of which has to be done in time to hang up on Christmas eve.  I can totally do that, right?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How does this happen?

I usually try to be good about knitting commitments, so that I don't make too many.  But here I am, overcommitted again.  I always count on Christmas vacation to dig myself out of the inevitable overcommitments of this time of year, but that's not happening this year.  I had a pre-Thanksgiving vacation instead.  I took several projects along with me.

1.  Galadriel's Mirror
This longtime WIP was only one chart away from being done and I just really wanted to finish it, but just as I got to the end...tragedy.
I ran out of yarn.  This rarely happens to me - I'm a tight knitter and I rarely adjust needle size from the pattern requirements (unless it's something that has to fit, like a sweater) so generally speaking, I use less yarn than a pattern calls for, and I had 3 skeins of Handmaiden Silk Twist, which has more yardage than the pattern calls for.  To top it all off, I made a mistake early on that meant my clustered stitches were only wrapped twice instead of three times.  So I really don't get how this happened.  But it did.  When I realized I was running low, I started strategizing for what I could do about it.  The pattern elements come down to a point in the last couple rows of the chart, so omitting them would have been problematic (and driven me absolutely batty forever).  The bind off called for was a crochet bind off that I knew I didn't have enough yardage for.  So, instead I did a stretchy lace bind off while working the last row of the chart.  As you can see, I came close.  So close.  But it wasn't enough.

I haven't decided what to do about this yet.  I poked around on Rav but not many people seem to have used this yarn - the only person who had completed a project did so in 2008, which is kind of a long time to keep and be able to locate your leftover yarn.  At the moment, I'm leaning toward just biting the bullet, ordering another skein, picking out my bind off (nooooooooo) and finishing the darn thing the way it was supposed to be finished.  With something this large, that is this much work...I really don't feel like it's worth it to cheat at the end.  I'm already going to have trouble overcoming my bitterness that of the 3 skeins I ordered, the first one I used was clearly a different dye lot than the other two.  I have managed to convince myself that since the change occurs right at the pattern transition, people will think I did it on purpose, and that the line between the two will not look so hard once it is blocked (the pattern texture will break it up some), but there is only so much justification I can manage on a single project. 

2.  Orphan Socks
As I think I mentioned previously, some members of my church are going on a mission trip to the Czech republic and have asked for knitted or crocheted items to donate to the orphanages they will be visiting.  I have been knitting some socks out of KnitPicks Felici self-striping yarn.  I have finished 2 pair of little girl socks.


(Look how neatly the color transition worked out on the heels of that pair.  It makes me so gleeful.  Pretend I did it on purpose.)

I'm now working on a 3rd, larger pair, in less girly colors, for boys or older girls, and I have enough yarn for a fourth pair.  These have to be finished before the mission team leaves, shortly after Christmas.

3.  Zephyr Cove
I don't know what is with my knitting mojo on this project.  I don't think I am a particularly speedy knitter, though I knit so much that I sometimes give the illusion of speed.  But everyone else seemed to race through the first part of this shawl and get to the stripe section so quickly, I wondered if I was doing something wrong.  But, I finally made it to the stripes.


I had to fudge a little bit.  The pattern tells you to repeat 4 rows a certain number of times - I am terrible at keeping count this way, so I very very much appreciated that the pattern informed you that when this was complete, you should have a certain number of stitches and have completed a certain number of picots along the edge of the shawl.  Well, when I approached the right number of stitches, I realized was at the wrong place in the 4 rows I was supposed to be repeating (wrong relative to the number of stitches I was supposed to have at that point, I mean - the next two rows were supposed to add 2 stitches and I only needed 1 to reach the correct number), and I was short 2 edge picots.  I improvised by leaving out one of the increases in the next two rows, which left me 1 picot short but with the correct number of stitches, so I figured that was good enough. 

Unfortunately, I find 2 color shawls to be a bit less portable.  It didn't help either my timing or my temper that my main color yarn ball thew up all its insides and I had to re-wind it from the outside edge.  So, while I have done a few stripes...I've only done a few.

I took another pair of socks with me (patterned, not plain) but didn't really get a chance to work on those.  They are gifts, but not for Christmas, so they are set aside for now.

I do have a fair amount of Christmas related knitting to do, for my own home and for other people.  First up on the list is Christmas stockings for my new hubbie and I.  This will our first Christmas as our own little family, and we are relatively unprepared.  I have had the same Christmas stocking since I was born, so I take these things very seriously, but I didn't feel right taking my family stocking away from my parents, nor asking David to take his from his - we will always have a place in our families for Christmas.  So, we decided the best thing to do was for us to get our own, and if I can make them, I will.  Yarn selection is my first problem - I want something enjoyable work with and to touch when you take it down off the mantle, but that will wear well and last for years.  And, of course, it has to come in good Christmasy colors.  It would also be nice if it didn't break the bank.

I looked at a number of Christmas stocking patterns, but I hate colorwork, and many of the textured patterns I looked at just didn't look all that good...so I think I am just going to wing it and make, basically, a really big sock with a foldover cuff of some kind - maybe seed stitch. 

I also have a couple of Christmas presents to finish up, and one that I haven't even started yet, a Poinsettia tam and cuffs.  I got Shalimar Breathless for the cuffs and Kid Seta lux for the lining.


Kid Seta is a bit heavier weight than called for, but there is usually some wiggle room with these brushed yarns, so I'm hoping I can make it work.  If I have enough yarn and time left over, I plan to make a scarf out of the remaining Kid Seta.

I still want to work on Firebird and Zephyr Cove - it's so much fun knitting with everyone on the forums in Romi's ravelry group and I hate to fall too far behind...but I really don't know how I can manage that much!!

Monday, October 29, 2012


I have, at last, caught up on my blocking pile.  Hurray!  Which means there's a whole lotta pretty at the end of this post, if I do say so myself.

I finished my Rosa Flora just in time.  I only had a few days of puttering around on other WIPs before the new shawl came out.  It's beautiful and, as always, very cleverly designed.  I'm using Sanguine Gryphon Gaia Lace in "Memoires des Arbres."


I've oopsed into a few stash enhancements recently. 

BFL and Silk Lace in "Aquarius" from Andrea At Bullard Farm


BFL Superwash in Autmun Red, also from Andrea


Zen Yarn Garden Serenity Lace in an exclusive colorway from Steven Be (this one was a gift)


Cashmere and Silk in Sea Veggies from Allison at Iridaceae Colorworks, who knows my weaknesses well. 


And the ingredients for a Poinsettia Tam and cuffs - Shalimar Breathless in Scarab and Kid Seta Lux in...211 (terribly creative).  You can't see it but there is a metallic thread in the Lux so it is sparkly.  It's a sport weight, which is considerably heavier than the laceweight brushed mohair Romi used, but there's always a little fudge-factor with these fuzzy yarns...so I'm telling myself, anyway.  We'll see how it works out!


Now, on to the FO's! Have some beauty shots of my unpinned Perpetua:




Rosa turned out lovely.  The color is hard to capture, but I think I finally got close - the truth is somewhere in between the various shades in these pics.  This is Ainea from Iridacae colorworks in a custom color Allison dyed just for me, me, me! (She'll dye custom orders for you too - but I'm still special).






I blocked my Lyrica Euterpe, the last muse that was still waiting attention.





My Carson shawl is still drying, but it turned out great.



Now...where the heck am I going to put all of these?

I leave you with this image of our happy married feet, snuggled in wool.