Saturday, November 27, 2010

little felted christmas stockings

I guess I got on a bit of a tiny stockings jag. A friend had asked about making felted stockings last year. We never got around to it then, but it's been on my mind this year so S and I did a trial run last week. Here is how we made them:

First I drew a pattern on a plastic bottle in a shape that S and I could both live with. He thinks stockings should have a big toe to hold a special something at the bottom. I prefer a long cuff, and so our end result was a bit of a compromise. The pattern was cut out with scissors—had I thought ahead, I might have spaced more carefully and been able to get 6-8 stocking shapes. Extra pattern pieces come in handy, as you can continue to make more stockings while the first ones are drying.
Besides the pattern, all we used were wool and a bowl of warm, soapy dishwater. A towel on the counter also comes in handy. Below is one of the color patterns S laid out. You can felt in a single color or in several, but many small pieces gets a little tricky, so it's a good idea to start simply. The wool is wrapped around the plastic pattern and carefully submerged it in the soapy water.
Once underwater, we agitated the piece as if washing clothes by hand. After a only few minutes of swishing and scrubbing, the wool begins to take shape.
A semi-shaped piece can be put into a ziploc bag and felted from the outside by rubbing it vigorously back and forth across a towel.
You can felt as little or as much as you like. I experimented with leaving the top of the cuff a little looser and fleecier on some of the stockings (see photo below) but generally we aimed for a denser, smoother felt.

The stocking almost always felted so well that the plastic pattern piece ended up completely encased but once the stocking had partially dried, it was easy to snip open the top with scissors and remove the pattern so it could be used again.
We made the set below in an easy afternoon, music on, stopping for little breaks here and there. These could be finished in a number of ways: adorned with more felt, beads, bells, yarn or embroidery; hung with a loop of ribbon or fabric, trimmed with straight or pinking shears. We'll make more and play with the finishing over the next month, although I am inclined to keep them as is, with very little embellishment. I love the look of the wool itself.
Felted stockings are a faster way to make a stocking advent calendar. They can also be hung on a tree or strung across a window. One can also use this wet felting technique to make pouches and cases, bowls and baskets, tea cozies and coffee cup sleeves—the pattern is simply adjusted to suit the project. If you do try some wet felting, for little stockings or otherwise, I hope you will post about it and let me know. I'd love to see it.
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Monday, November 22, 2010

little stockings advent calendar

Remember these? They were the reason for my very first blog post, as I wanted a place to post the pattern.

Lovely and artistic Sam left a comment suggesting making 24 of them into an advent calendar. This year I decided to do just that.

Knitting during music lessons and at other spare moments, I eventually made some revisions to the pattern and turned it into a printable .pdf file.

The file can be found here.

The original goal of the pattern was to be able to knit up something quickly. But it's easy to get bored doing the same thing over and over so in the end, I traded a little speed for some variation: striping and stranding, duplicate stitching and basketweaving. With last year's trial versions thrown in, there was soon a good-sized pile.
And at Michael's, we found something to hang them that seemed made for an advent. Twenty-four to a pack!
Here's how they are hanging—I think you can barely make out the dates scribbled at the top of the clothespins:
And here's all 24 of them, waiting to be filled:
I'd love to hear about (or better yet, see) your advent calendars, homemade or otherwise. Please feel free to link to your photos or blog posts in the comments.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

something new: cheesemaking

I don't do a lot of recordkeeping for homeschooling. Our calendar is there for past and future reference and after all these years, it's clear to me the kids are always learning. The two lists I keep—when I remember—are books we read (old habit) and new things we do. If the latter is sometimes hard to quantify, it's also fun to look back and see how our experiences have grown over the year.

My knitting mentor Ann had made several cheeses over the year. I had also been messaging with a twitter friend, Katharine, about learning to make mozzarella with a friend of hers…so when I saw a notice for a brie class at our Co-op, I impulsively signed up with 11-year-old S. S is a child who loves cheese so much he once ordered a platter for dessert, causing the surprised waiter to ask, "Shall I bring you a glass of port with that, sir?"

(An aside: about two weeks after the class had taken place, I finally listened to spooled-up phone messages and learned that the Co-op did not actually want children to participate in the class at all, although "he is welcome to sit quietly in the back." This is not what happened…I'm very sorry, Co-op.)

Making brie was surprisingly simple: a mixture of organic whole milk and cream is heated; culture and rennet are added; the curds are cut up to reduce the whey; and the mixture is poured into molds where it drains overnight. Because S and I were working as a team, we got one brie mold and one camembert mold for comparison's sake. We learned in the class that brie and camembert are made with the exact same recipe; the flavor is different simply because of the size of the wheel and the differences in milk and air between the two regions. Our brie is the larger, flatter cheese on the left.
After most of the liquid had drained off in the first 24 hours, we salted the cheeses and placed them in airtight containers on paper towels, flipping the wheels and replacing the paper towel frequently.
It took 10 days for a furry white rind to appear.
Two weeks after that, the rind was complete and we were able to wrap the cheeses and let them age.
Yesterday, after 70 days of aging, we unwrapped the cheese with great anticipation.
They looked quite beautiful to us, and were soft and creamy when cut.
But the flavor was off. The brie in particular was sharp and pungent, unpleasantly tangy rather than rich and smooth. C noted that the camembert was pretty close in taste, but our cheese lover S would not take another bite after his first disappointment with the brie.

According to our class notes, there are at least 12 variables which affect the taste, including how gently we stirred the curd and the consistency of temperature during affinage (aging). I suspect we did not ladle out as much curd as we might have, especially since the flatter brie was so much sharper-tasting than the thicker camembert. And who knows about our affinage variables? 

Oh well. Cheesemaking has been added to our list of new things for the year—a tiny, identifiable grain of learning in a wide and varied world.

Monday, November 8, 2010

apple hill & apple crisp

We've had so many things we've been wanting to get to lately that I casually threw out the idea of skipping our annual trip to Apple Hill, only to hear, "Aww. But we always go." It was C, my 17 year old, and you have no idea how hearing this warmed my heart.

This is how we get ready for our favorite fall day trip: we load a cooler in the trunk
pack sandwiches and audiobooks
and try to remember to keep the car door closed when loading.

What's changed over the years is the time that we leave. When the kids were small, we could head off first thing in the morning. These days...well, you work with what you've got.

Apple Hill has more than just apples.
There's a variety of fall produce, including pears
brussels sprouts
and chestnuts
You can pick apples, yes, but you can also take short hikes on trails that some of the farms have made through their properties, pick pumpkins, browse handmade crafts, fish from stocked ponds, look at the Larsen family antiques, and listen to loud Bavarian polka music while eating sauerkraut. On weekends you can watch the cider presses and apple processing machines in action. 

This year, with our late start and Game One of the World Series due to begin at 5, we opted for a pared-down drive along the scenic roads with stops at a few favorite farms. We always pick up some microbrew for D at Jack Russell Brewery
and visit Grandpa's Cellar for the special pies.
Yesterday it rained all day so the three of us pared, cored and sliced a box of Granny Smiths, tossed them with lemon juice,
and put them in ziploc bags to freeze.
Sometime this winter there come be a day so cold and rainy, we will not want to leave the house. On that day, we'll slip the contents of one of our bags into an oven, fill the house with the scent of warm baking fruit and cinnamon, and feel instantly cheered again.

Apple Crisp Topping (simplified from Baking Illustrated)

6 Tbs flour
1/4 c light brown sugar
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
5 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 c coarsely chopped nuts

Process first 6 ingredients in a food processor just to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture looks like dry sand, then cornmeal. Add nuts, then process again in a few brief pulses.

Distribute evenly over apples and cook at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees and continue baking until fruit is bubbling and topping turns deep golden brown.

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