Saturday, 26 November 2011


I set out this morning, in the midst of our first snowstorm of the year, to meet a friend for some shopping and lunch. I was the first one to brave my sideroad; there was untouched snow until I came to the first concession that meets our dead end. Here a set of tracks came out, and I followed them. I passed a driveway and another car pulled out, following my tracks. As I drove home, I passed a neighbour who was plowing the road with his own truck, as the municipal plow had not made it this far yet. Another neighbour was doing the same with his snowblower. It reminded me how important community is, and how much it benefits the whole when we all do our bit. As I shopped the small, independent merchants and handcrafters this morning, I felt the same sentiment. It is so important, in this age of box stores and mass commercialism, to support our local shops. Particularly for those in the handcraft business, it is important for us to support each other. Whether it’s shopping at the local cooperative, spreading the news about a local crafter, or joining a local Circle on etsy, we are supporting our own industry when we shop local and buy hand-made. Now as I sit in front of a cozy fire, the kettle is on the woodstove and I’m boiling water to make 40 Below Tea from the Boreal Forest Teas here in Thunder Bay ( I have a million new ideas in my mind (which I’m sketching in my gorgeous new leather notebook from The Fairy Garden, and just need the time (and a good cleanout of the sewing room) to put into place.

I’ve ordered more vintage silk saris for my infinity scarves, and need to get sewing. That is the plan for tomorrow when it is daylight.  I’m looking at images of Victorian Caroling Capelets and thinking this would make a wonderful winter accessory here in the north, an extra layer of warmth that doesn’t have a gap between hood and scarf for the cold, snow and wind to slither into.  For these and the matching armwarmers I’d like to make I’m looking at traditional Scandinavian and particularly Sami designs, I’m thinking the images of the hardy northerners in Lappi are a good inspiration for those of us here in Canada.

On another note, my Jordana Paige L.J. Kaelms bag came in, which will help me stay organized and make my knitting more portable!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Off topic: recipe share

Murillo Hotpot

This is based on a combination of a variety of recipes for Lancashire hotpot. According to my students’ favourite information source, Wikipedia, Lancashire hotpot is “a dish made traditionally from lamb or mutton and onion, topped with sliced potatoes, left to bake in the oven all day in a heavy pot and on a low heat. Originating in the days of heavy industrialisation in Lancashire in the North West of England, it requires a minimum of effort to prepare. It is sometimes served at parties in England, because it is easy to prepare for a large number of people and is relatively inexpensive.”

Well, I’d like to argue on two points . One, it took a fair bit of effort to prepare, seeing as how we Canadians don’t have a variety of fresh, let alone frozen, lamb or mutton to choose from, and so it was quite the task to prepare the meat. I had a 1.5 kg frozen shoulder roast, which I thawed, trimmed the excess fat from, then cubed. If I can’t find lamb or mutton stew meat next time, I may have to get creative -  either make meatballs from ground lamb or use chops and perhaps just pop them in whole, then eat them off the bone when it’s finished cooking. The second point, which is related, is regarding the cost. In the UK (at least where we stayed in Wales a few summers ago), lamb costs about half the price that we pay here, even with the exchange rate. I paid just under $30 for my roast at the local grocery store. However I love lamb, and don’t eat it very often, so it was worth it in my opinion. You could probably also use beef or even deer or moose (hmmm. And add mushrooms....) Also, despite the poor quality of the meat (I tasted it after the panfry stage and was sure the whole casserole would be a write-off), the slow cooking process made it melt-in-the-mouth tender, rather than the chewy mess it was at first.


-about 1kg of lamb or mutton (after it has been trimmed of excess fat) cut into small cubes

-1 large carrot, 1 large rib celery, 1 large parsnip, ½ large Swede (or 1 small turnip), prepped and diced

-3 onions diced or sliced (I only had ½ onion, so I also added 2 large leeks, white and light green parts only)

-about 2 tbsp flour

-2 dried bay leaves

-2 springs fresh thyme or about ¼ tsp dried

-3 large potatoes, sliced about 1cm thick

-EVOO and butter

-salt and pepper to taste

To save time, and because I have no prep space near the woodstove, I started the recipe on the electric stovetop. I added some extra virgin olive oil to each of my 2 largest frying pans. You could also add some butter for flavour. In one I browned the lamb on medium heat, and in the other I sautéed the veggie mix, again on medium heat. As drippings accumulated in the meat pan, I added them to the veggies. When the veggies were medium-soft, I stirred in the flour to thicken, making sure it was all incorporated.

I added the contents of both pans to my oval KitchenAid enamel-coated cast iron roasting dish, and mixed them together. I returned the pans to the heat and browned one side of the potato slices on medium heat (using both pans allowed me to cook all of the potatoes at once). I didn’t need to add any extra fat to the pans.

Next I added 1 pint (570mL) of hot water mixed with ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce** and stirred it in and seasoned with thyme, sea salt and Watkins black pepper. I threw in the bay leaves in and then layered the potato slices like shingles, browned side up. I added salt and pepper the potatoes and dotted them with butter.

I put the lid on the cooker and popped it on the middle of the stove top for an hour, then took the lid off and moved the cooker over to the corner of the stove where it’s cooler for another hour and a half. I’d had the stove going at a moderate temperature (2 logs, damper 1/3 open) all day and kept it at that temp to cook on. I was able to go outside and shovel the deck and driveway (the clean crisp air and the beautiful night stars made me feel less guilty about procrastinating all day until it was dark), and peek in the window once it awhile to check on the cooker.

I could have easily doubled this recipe and still had it fit in my roasting pan. This is my second time cooking with it, and I love it. I paid $39.99 at Canadian Tire (it’s one of those items that is perpetually on sale) and it is fantastic.

**The liquid took a long time to cook down, I think next time I’ll reduce the water or eliminate it altogether, and then I can reduce the amount of time it cooks without a lid as well. I’d also add a touch more Worcestershire sauce.

Laughing at myself

As I sit in front of a blazing fire with the wind howling outside (Puppy is curled up behind the woodstove in her favourite spot), I must share a tale of woe. Two projects have not yet made it onto the etsy shop, due to the fact that they were, well, epic fails. The first is based on a request from a friend, who wanted felted trigger-finger mittens like he'd seen the old fishermen wear in his home province of Newfoundland. According to my friend, "those guys could like, dip their hands in the freezing ocean, pull 'em out, and their hands would be warm and dry!". Well, this seemed like a tall order to fill, especially since their were no patterns available for what he wanted. They had to have a separate trigger finger, they had to be felted (fulled), and he wanted them for hunting season. I set about trying to combine a trigger finger mitten pattern I had in an old pattern book of patterns designed for the war effort, with various felted mitten patterns available. The first one turned out not so bad, except that I somehow misjudged (perhaps forgot altogether?) the material that would cover the base of the hand below the thumb. So I tweaked the pattern and re-knit. And somehow ended up with a highly deformed thumb/finger combination. I'd also on these two attempts experimented with knitting the ribbed cuff on BEFORE felting, using superwash wool. Unfortunately the heat from the felting process destroyed the superwash and left it with no memory. The third attempt was unfortunately not the charm, as though an improvement on the past two, the finger did not felt as much as the rest of the hand, and ended up over-long. I'll be revisiting these soon for a fourth (and hopefully final) attempt so I can get them to my friend, make a pair for the dreamy hunkster for Christmas, and get them up on the shop.

My second fail was an attempt to turn an old lace pattern that was first published in Canada in 1891 in a magazine called "Home Work" into a lace-edged toque. I was almost at the end of the lace pattern on the first attempt when I looked at my work and thought, "That doesn't look right." I then realized that I had forgotten that the pattern was written as a lace edging for long-ago forgotten delights such as hankies and lace-trimmed pillowcases. In other words, I was knitting a flat pattern in the round.
(on the left of the photo)
So I frogged it, re-wrote the pattern for knitting in the round, and started over. I cast on when I hopped in the carpool and hoped to have the edging completed by the time we got to school I was on the second last round of the lace pattern and was counting stitches when I noticed that I had somehow turned my in-the-round hat cuff into a mobius. This is not the first time I have done this, knitting in the dim light of my headlamp in the carpool. I have set it off to the side and will revisit it when I am feeling less animosity towards that particular hat pattern.

Well, it's been awhile....

Teaching, a horrible online FSL course, and a new housemate (the dreamy hunkster) have kept me busy, but finally this week I've managed to make some new items and get them up on the etsy shop. I've added two hats; same style but different colourways. I'd knit one for myself several years ago, and after having many a stranger approach me and say "You should sell those!" I decided it was time to. It's a nice simple knit perfect for the ride to work. I've also taken some time to update my shipping profiles (after getting some straight answers from Canada Post as to what shipping should consistently cost me - it was differing from post office to post office!), and ordered some new business cards that will double as packaging and tags. I don't like superfluous packaging, and have been aiming to keep mine minimal, but I did need something that looked more professional.

I've also been working on some new patterns, most of which unfortunately will be discussed in the next post. You'll see what I mean. I intend to soon be adding Hunters' Trigger Finger Mitts to the hand-knit section of the shop, and creating two new sections - Wee Ones, with baby and toddler hats, and Nordic-inspired buntings that I've spent the last 8 months or so working on (just need a successful test knit). I will also be adding Happy Housewares, including sewn aprons in cheeky patterns, hand-made rugs, and pot-holders also in a Nordic pattern that I impressed my students by graphing out myself - with their help of course.

This weekend I attended the Artisans Northwest fair in Thunder Bay with my mom, and was completely inspired. My goal is to show my items in a few local (and perhaps not so local) craft fairs next fall, which means a lot of power-producing and stocking up on items. That will be the challenge. I also attended the local Country Market, and scored some bulky yarn in delicious pinks and whites - which will be turned into a new line of hats for Wee Ones.

Also on an unrelated, but not quite so, note I treated myself to a Jordana Paige knitting bag, which should help make my work more portable and more productive. At least that's how I justified it ;)