Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Ta-daaa!

The purple cardigan made its debut! As you've no doubt deduced from the photo above, I : a) really ought to wear a slightly less revealing top with it, and b) should possibly learn how to use an iron. Luckily the second picture cunningly disguises my lack of iron expertise with a strategically placed coat:

I have no idea why I chose a mildewed wall as a backdrop. Nor why one side of my hair appears to be several inches longer than the other.

For some reason I didn't think to take any photos of the back, but rest assured that it looks exactly like you'd expect it to.

So, the boring technical bit:
Pattern: the work of my feverish imagination, loosely based on a picture of this. It's worked in a single piece from the bottom up, with the sleeves knit in the round and joined to the body at the yoke.
Yarn: 5 balls (and such a tiny bit of the 6th that I don't think it counts) of Rowan Pure Wool Aran in colour 682, "Amethyst".
Needles: 5 mm (US 8) and 5.75 mm (US 10) 29" circulars.
See that ribbon trailing redundantly across my chest? It was supposed to fasten the cardigan at the neck, just as in the Noro pictures. Unfortunately, though, I got so carried away working waist and bust shaping that the finished cardigan looked decidedly odd tied at the neck, not to mention the small problem of the ribbon constantly slipping and attempting to strangle me. In the photos the fronts are just held together with a safety pin, partly because I'm shameless like that, and partly because I genuinely believe that safety pins are the answers to almost all of life's clothing problems.

So, ribbon issues aside, is it a resounding success that I'll wear with pride? Erm...I don't think so. It's warm, colourful, and it even fits (all those years of maths finally paid off!), but it's just a bit too bulky and tricky to pair with other things. I'm pleased that I finished it, and that I learnt how to work magic loop and graft garter stitch (badly) along the way, but to be honest this poor thing probably has a very neglected future ahead of it.

P.S. For anyone who had a strange premonition that the cardboard torso blocking-technique wouldn't go entirely according to plan, I have to report that I didn't have enough cardboard to do my vision full justice. I still maintain it would work, though...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The purple cardigan is finally finished, and just a blocking away from being launched on an unsuspecting world! (And a largely indifferent one, but hey, what can you do?) As for the blocking itself, I've somehow taken it into my head that the best thing to do would be to make a 2D cardboard replica of my torso and stretch the cardigan over that while it dries. This is either incredibly cunning or incredibly stupid. As the great Nigel Tufnel said, there's such a fine line...

Anyway, stay tuned for its inevitably anti-climatic unveiling!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

How to make chocolate mousse


Ingredients:

dark chocolate
sugar
suspiciously white eggs
completely untried recipe
overweening confidence


Directions:

1) invite guest round for chocolate mousse. If possible, choose someone you don't know very well, to increase the pressure on yourself.

2) eat all chocolate not required by the recipe. This step is very important, as it makes it impossible to have another go if your first attempt goes horribly wrong. (You could, of course, achieve the same effect by eating all the surplass eggs and sugar, but this might not be quite as palatable.)

3) make mousse following recipe. Be sure to utilise as many pans, bowls and utensils as possible to maximise kitchen-hit-by-bomb effect.

4) notice that resulting dessert bears no resemblance to mousse. Decide that solution is to whisk whole thing vigorously.

4) whisk. In doing so, turn two generous portions of mousse into approximately 50ml of chocolate sauce. Sample sauce. Find that it tastes good. Eat sauce.

5) realise that guest is due to arrive in two hours. E-mail boyfriend in panic.

6) no reply. Remember that boyfriend doesn't know how to make desserts anyway.

7) write pointless yet lengthy post on the subject in the vague hope that this will somehow solve the dessert crisis.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Sugar and Spice

Proudly presenting my homemade sweet chilli dipping sauce! I'm not going to tell you how long it took me to get a semi-decent picture of it because you'd just feel embarrassed for me.

The emphasis is definitely on the "chilli" rather than the "sweet", which is just as well as I'm not really a fan of the syrupy stuff you get in supermarkets. Mine bears only a passing resemblance to the picture in the book (which looks suspiciously like the aforementioned syrupy stuff - maybe they took a few shortcuts as deadlines began to loom...), but it tastes scrumptious, and was a doddle to make, too. This is the fourth recipe I've tried from the Wagamama's books, and they've ranged from tasty to delicious - I think my stomach's going to enjoy this year! (Although, just to digress slightly, am I the only person who thought that rock salmon was a type of salmon? If you, too, were under this illusion - surprise! It is, in fact, dogfish, catfish or wolffish, rebranded by canny marketing types to make it sound more appetising. Surely this constitutes some sort of trade descriptions violation? I mean, I daresay that re-christening brussel sprouts "chocolate balls" would up their appeal a bit, but an awful lot of people would be left feeling slightly mislead. Just as me introducing myself as Giselle's younger sister might have a mystical effect on my perceived attractiveness, but would, alas, be entirely untrue.)

Anyhohow, I've got a bit of a culinary challenge looming - I have someone coming round for dinner on Wednesday who doesn't like spicy food or fish. This unfortunately rules out about nine tenths of the Wagamama's recipes, and my sad lack of a grill pan or a co-operative oven scuppers most of the rest. I was thinking of gyoza of some sort, but I'm not sure that the combination of me, time pressure and bubbling oil is a recipe for anything other than disaster...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Good things come in threes. Or possibly fours

Good Thing Number One: the return of the sorely-neglected purple cardigan! The second sleeve's done, and I've joined both to the body (dunce that I am, I really couldn't visualise how that bit would work. In fact, I'm not entirely sure even now that it's done). It's actually finally starting to look like a cardigan, rather than an ungainly mass of wool with Lebensraum ambitions, and now that the end is in sight my enthusiasm's been upped accordingly. I even had it all stashed away (the cardigan, that is, not my enthusiasm) in a bag for some S-Bahn knitting, but that never quite got off the ground, because checking my postbox on the way out what
should I find but...
Good Thing Number Two! Or maybe that should be Numbers Two and Three, because in a fit of indecisiveness I ordered both of these at the weekend. They arrived just in time, as I can now jilt my stupendously ineffective oven (I'm pretty sure I could warm food more quickly by breathing on it) in favour of my wok. My earlier comment was slightly misleading, though - the books weren't actually in my postbox; I had one of those "while you were out..." cards instead. So, obedient instruction-follower that I am (must come from adhering to knitting patterns so diligently...), I trundled off to my nearest collection point, which, the card informed me, was at 71 Manteufelstrasse. What it neglected to inform me was that 71 Manteufelstrasse was in fact an off-license. Undaunted, I had a hopeful wander round, just in case a pile of parcels was lurking behind the East European beer section, but nope, it really was just an off-license. I headed despondently into the carpark, where I stumbled upon...

Never underestimate my ability to overlook large, bright yellow things

These things are amazing! They scan the barcode on your "while you were out" card, you sign the screen with your finger (oddly satisfying), and then one of the compartments in the grey cupboard-y bit slides open, revealing - ta daa! - your parcel. Why don't they have them everywhere? I mean, if you're going to put them in off-license car parks you may as well go the whole hog and have them outside, say, post offices. Just a thought. Anyway, the whole experience was sufficiently exciting to count as Good Thing Number Four, or at the very least Number Three and a Half.

As for the final Good Thing of the day - and this will appeal to an even narrower audience than the Amazing Yellow Parcel Retriever - I've found some really good value language courses at the TU! I won't be able to start till January, but I'm going to go along for a test next week so they can sort me into a group. Hopefully it'll be a bit more rigorous than the procedure at the Humboldt, where they accidentally put me in a class alongside German teachers. (I lasted precisely one and a half days. Perseverance is severely overrated.)

ETA: I've just realised that today marks the end of my first month in Berlin! So, as a mini-overview of my time here so far, I present:

number of places lived in:
four

number of sights seen, museums visited, and tourist attractions generally patronised: none (unless the zoo counts? What a culture vulture I am)

number of new words learnt: erm, about five. I should probably try upping that rate a bit, I suppose...

number of times said "einmal Laugenbretzel, bitte": enormous, shame-inducing number

things I miss most about Britain: Sainsbury's; skimmed milk; my kitchen equipment; supermarkets which deign to open more than two tills at busy periods; wooden spoons (have you ever seen a German wooden spoon? They're weedy, half-formed, eminently snappable things! I've been cooking with salad servers); toast; Marks & Spencers lingerie department

things I miss least: the weather; public transport; the conspicuous lack of excitingly yellow parcel-retrieval machines

And just to prove that I have left the flat at least once: (click for a version you can see without the need for a magnifying glass)

The Berlin Aquarium (right and left), and on the steps of the Französischer Dom (centre)

Friday, 12 October 2007

In which our heroine finds a flaw in her plan

Damnit, it's no good - I need a recipe book! It's all very well saying I don't want to tie myself down to a Sarah-style commitment, but without religiously ploughing through a book like she did I've got much too much freedom for pickiness, as witnessed by the fact that I've just spent 45 minutes dismissing a vast number of recipes for reasons ranging from "it uses a bottled sauce" (reasonable-ish) to "it includes ingredients I haven't got in my cupboard" (unreasonable, seeing as my cupboard contains only muesli and sesame seeds), and "hmm, it's written by someone called Dougie" (scraping the barrel).

Which recipe book, though? Back in the good old Edinburgh kitchen, the South East Asian section of my cookbook cupboard comprises Harumi's Japanese Cooking (good, but a bit heavy on difficult-to-get-hold-of ingredients), three Chinese cookbooks by Linda Doeser, only one of which appears to be available anymore (not bad, but a bit too much artery-clogging deep frying to make them ideal candidates), one Thai book (very repetitive), and Women's Weekly Vietnamese and Malaysian mini-volumes (to my shame, I have yet to cook anything from the former, and the one recipe I've tried from the latter was disappointing). Nothing really leaps out. What I really need is How to Eat's Asian equivalent; a sort of step-by-step training manual that would leave me confidently cleaving things left, right and centre. Any suggestions? Or should I just brave the cookery section in my local Dussmann? (German-Asian, now there's a fusion cuisine that never really took off...)

Thursday, 11 October 2007

And now for something completely different

Why yes, now that you mention it, I am under contract with Yukata

The lull in blogging activity is a pretty accurate reflection of the recent lull in knitting chez Boffcat. Never mind second sleeve syndrome, I seem to have second-half-of-knitted-item syndrome: whenever I get beyond the 50% mark on something my fickle mind abandons it and wanders onto the next project. (This may explain why I've never quite finished making anything larger than a cushion cover.) So in an attempt to reinvigorate my attention span a bit - not to mention providing blog fodder on sadly knitting-free days - I've decided to take on a different sort of project. As you may have guessed from the picture above, it's to do with cooking.

In the normal scheme of things I love to cook, and, though my knife 'skills' would make a trainee chef avert his eyes in embarrassment, I'm generally not too shabby in the kitchen department (a friend of my boyfriend's once opined that I "could cook sh*t and make it taste good," which I assume is the sort of elegantly-phrased compliment which Gordon Ramsay bats away all the time). However, being in Berlin means that I'm roughly 900 miles from my ridiculously well-equipped kitchen. (Just to give you a bit of an idea of the difference, there's a four-shelf cupboard in my Edinburgh kitchen crammed full of spices, with a large box stashed away in a second cupboard to take care of the considerable overspill. By contrast, my Berlin kitchen - which in its entirety is only marginally bigger than the spice cupboard - contains a pepper pot. The pepper pot is empty.) As you might imagine, cooking here presents a bit of a challenge, and it isn't one I've risen to with flying colours so far. Over the last few weeks my diet's basically consisted of a) museli and b) Thai red curry.

Inspired by the wonderfully titled Sarah Discovers How to Eat, though, that's set to change. The eponymous Sarah (whose current blog is over in the sidebar to your left, and well worth checking out) used this site to record her progress as she cooked her way through every recipe in Nigella Lawson's encyclopaedic How to Eat over the course of a year. While I'm not sure I'd want to take on that much of a commitment (not least financially), I really like the idea of expanding your repertoire this way and cooking recipes you'd never normally give a chance. So I've decided to try something (very) broadly similar. To save myself from stocking up on a vast and expensive array of ingredients, this year I'll be sticking to one type of cuisine, namely South East Asian. All right, I know that that's hardly a single category, encompassing as it does all sorts of different countries, but at least many of the ingredients and cooking techniques overlap. I've cooked Asian food before, obviously (if you're in the market for a Chinese hot pot or a batch of wontons, I'm your man!) but in a fairly limited way - hopefully sticking with it for such a long time period will force me out of my comfort zone a bit. I'm not promising to be totally monogamous - I'm much too fond of hearty British soups and Indian dahls for that - but insofar as specialist ingredients are being bought and new recipes experimented with, it's Far Eastern all the way.

I feel a rice-cooker expedition coming on...

Friday, 5 October 2007

Speaking of non-identical twins...

Sleeve #1 is on the bottom, and New and Improved Sleeve is on the top. As you can see, any furtive intention I might have had of ignoring slight discrepancies between the two and using them both regardless will probably have to go out the window. My inner sluggard (isn't that a lovely word? I only just learned it, but will henceforth use it whenever possible to make up for lost time) is inconsolable. Hopefully the second New and Improved Sleeve won't take as long, though; I had to keep ripping back the first one to make the stocking stitch section longer. My arms are obviously more monkey-like than I'd realised.


On a completely different note, have you seen Kim Hargreaves's Autumn collection? I'm not usually a huge fan of her designs, but this season's are gorgeous! (Though I'm not convinced that "The Thrown Together Collection" conveys quite the image you want for an upmarket range.) My particular favourites are Rosa, Still, Beatrix (with a change or two to the collar), Hannah and Flo. The prices make me wince, though (£57 for Still, and that's not including postage and packaging! I was never under the illusion that knitting was a cheap hobby, but that's practically the GDP of a small African nation), and I'm not sure all those ruffles really lie within my knitting ability anyway. Perhaps more realistic is my new fixation on Tempting II from Knitty Winter 2005. I'm picturing a long-sleeved version, knit in a wool rather than a cotton blend, sort of like this (take that, Ravelry! I'm doing just fine without you. Though, um, if you could see your way to winging an invitation in my direction sometime soon...), but with a lower neckline as per the original pattern.

First, though, the Tweed Tunic! The knitting shop called yesterday to say that my wool had arrived, which rather scuppers the last minute reservations I was having about the colour I'd chosen. And I'm down to my last few Euros, so essentially it's a choice between picking up this wool and buying groceries for the next few days. How long do you think a person can survive on two bananas and a packet of oats?

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Which of us is the evil twin, do you suppose?

I don't believe it - I have a knitting twin! This cheery looking, but sadly blogless, knitter, made the Textured Tunic from Fitted Knits - already earmarked as my next project - in exactly the same wool (same colour and everything!) that I was planning to use (and, um, may have already ordered, in a fit of linguistic over-enthusiasm), with all the modifications I had in mind, too: adding waist shaping, making the sleeves full length, eliminating the side slits, working moss stitch borders at the cuffs and hem...admittedly she did get rid of the neckline split, which I'll be keeping; I suppose that makes us fraternal rather than identical twins. But even so, it's slightly surreal seeing it, like a sneak-preview of mine. Lovely though she looks, the overall effect is a little bit too buttoned-up for me, so I might rethink my plan to knit the sleeves straight and go for more of a bell-shape. I'm considering tipping the cuffs and hem in a contrasting colour, too. Well, when I say 'considering' I mean that the idea popped into my head approximately three seconds before I typed it (for future reference, this is what I generally mean when I say 'considering').

Ohh, and I've become just about the last person in the known knitting universe to put my name down for Ravelry! Go me! I'd somehow failed to realised that you could actually do this; I assumed they had their select group of beta testers all sorted out, and that the rest of us had to patiently wait until they opened their doors to the public. D'oh. Oh well, only 16, 295 people ahead of me in the queue (and - mwahaha! - 345 people behind me! Amazing how quickly you develop a sense of superiority about these things).

I won't bore you with a photographic update on the cardigan (I think "sleeve-in-progress" shots are the kind of thing only a mother could love), but a post without any pictures at all is a rather sorry-looking creature, so I leave you with a glimpse of the wonderful knitting shop which tempted me into ordering wool for the Textured Tunic in the first place. It's the first good yarn shop I've found in Berlin, but I hear rumours that there's one in Kreuzburg worth investigating. That's my plans for tomorrow sorted, then...

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

This post narrowly avoided having a painfully bad pun for a title

After extensive comparative tasting (I don't know, the things I do for this blog...) I can finally announce that the best Laugenbrezeln in Berlin are those from the Ditsch in the lower level of Alexanderplatz station. All Ditschs do pretty damned good Brezeln though - they bake them in open ovens in front of you, so as often as not they're still orgasmically hot when you get them. (Is it wrong to use the word "orgasmically" in reference to baked goods? Maybe the love between woman and Brezel is one that ought not speak its name.)

Anyway, my much abused stomach is now recuperating from its Brezel marathon, but my hands have come out of retirement and started knitting again! Chiefly because I finally figured out how to do magic loop, which meant I could start on the sleeves of the purple cardigan I mentioned a post or two ago. Voici!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's magic loop!

This is a commemorative picture, really, as the sleeve will be ripped out when I can muster the heart to do it. Partly because I misjudged where to start the garter stitch ever so slightly (by, erm, about two inches), and partly because I'm going to tweak the shaping a bit, so that the increases and decreases form a sort of underarm 'seam'. At the moment they form two 'side seams,' which seems a bit silly for a technique whose appeal lies in its seamlessness. Actually, though, the whole seam issue has led me to conclude that - much as I like the physical process - sewing sleeves in the round probably isn't for me. The thing is, I don't actually mind seaming sleeves. And sewing a sleeve on straight needles and then seaming it is much less time consuming than all the pushing and pulling of magic loop. Plus, if the sleeve's at all shaped you're going to get some sort of seam effect anyway, so why not have the real thing?

Still, if you've never tried magic loop - or if you have but without much success - I thought I'd share the tips I found most useful. To get you started, I'd recommend this video, but it's worth having a look at this one too, which will show you how to create a less visible join (it's actually aimed at knitters working with two circular needles, but this particular tip is just as applicable to magic loop). Both videos begin with a fair amount of spoken guff at the beginning, but bear with them! There's genuinely useful stuff buried in there.

Magic loop becomes much easier to work after you've done a few rounds and are getting into the swing of things, but to help you through those awkward early stages my top pointers would be: a) always slide the next set of stitches to be worked onto the needle before you slide the set just worked back onto the cord. This saves all sorts of confusion. And b) to avoid ladders of looser stitches forming at the joins of your work, pull especially tightly when working the second stitch on each side, rather than the first. (I have no idea why this should work, but it certainly seems to.)

In other knitting news (if 'news' isn't too grandiose a term for what is essentially me rambling), I'm rather taken with this scarf from the Autumn edition of Knitty; I have a feeling it'll worm its way onto my frantic-last-minute-whirlwind-panic-midnight-on-Christmas-Eve-knitting-list (to give my Christmas knitting list its full name), destined for an unsuspecting male or two. (I have yet to meet a man who was anything more than lukewarm at the prospect of receiving handknitted gifts from me. Fortunately this hasn't dampened my enthusiasm in the slightest.) As for the Woodins, I may have to hire someone to sit on my fingers full time and thus forcibly prevent me from abandoning all other occupations (eating, sleeping, breathing, etc) and knitting them for - I really wish I could say "my three-year-old nephew" here - myself.

Back in the present, I'm hoping to have the cardigan finished before Mike gets here so I can wear it to pick him up at the airport, but given that that's less than four days away, and that I still have almost all of both sleeves to do, not to mention re-knitting part of the back (it seems a bit baggy all of a sudden), working out how to do the yoke, grafting the underarms and finding the perfect ribbon to finish it all off, this may be one of my more wildly optimistic plans...