Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Pattern for Socks

So, I knit a lot of socks.

Practically all of them are for myself, and the vast majority are worsted-weight boot socks. The benefits to wearing boot socks in boots are immesurable and discussed at length on lots of hiking and outdoors sites and blogs.  (So is the opinion that boot socks suck... but all of them are wrong ;)  While I started off wearing store-bought socks, they were expensive and rarely fit right, so I started knitting my own.

I started off with patterns I found in Patons "Pull Up Your Socks!" book I'd picked up while working at Creative Corner in Valley Junction, Iowa. The 'Hiking Socks' pattern worked Ok, and certainly did the job of teaching me the basics of making the heel flap and gusset approach work.  Still, after a couple of pairs, I started playing around with the pattern to make it fit a bit better.

After the next half-dozen pairs, I started to really get the hang of it.  The sizes allowed for in the book patter weren't nearly enough to suit me so I kept increasing the number of stitches I cast on.  I played with the details of the heel-turn reductions to get something that fit my narrow little heels properly without giving up the overall width the rest of my foot needed.  While some of the basics methods of the original pattern remained, I'd pretty well dialed in the modifications that made the sock work for me.

Then, just this week, I started teaching a sock-knitting workshop with my local knitting club and I realized that, while I might have the pattern so down in my mind I hardly realize when I've gone from doing ribbing on the cuff to reducing the gusset, that wasn't the best approach for teaching others how to do it.  So, I wrote it all down.

I've just put up on my ravelry page (linked below) my sock pattern.  It's not in pretty colors nor does it come with pictures of cute feet wearing perfectly knit, previously un-worn socks.  What it does have is a reasonably detailed description of how I make the socks that I love, with some hints and suggestions for how to make the pattern work for you.

The Lantern Moon rosewood needles I use to knit my socks are amazing and well worth the bucks you'll drop on them.  A full review of them will be forthcoming, but check them out.  For my yarn I tend to use whatever workhorse, 100% wool worsted-weight I've got to hand, but that often is Homespun from Bemidgi Woolen Mills.  It's not fancy, but it is a good, solid, basic yarn that I have depended on for many-a-project.  Again, a deeper review on it will come out shortly.

Regardless of what you choose, the pattern I use is meant for US#5-6 needles on a good worsted-weight yarn.  If you haven;t ever tried socks before, this might be a good time to give it a shot.  And if you decide you don't like some aspect or another of it, feel free to change it!  In that case, though, do me a favor and drop me a note on Ravelry.  I'd love to see what you're doing with it!

Hard Working socks are Hard Working
Basics Socks at

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stowford Press Export Cider by Westons

Thanks to Allison at the Royal Mile for posing for a photo as well as excellent service

The Royal Mile in Des Moines, Iowa prides its self on keeping a wide array of imported and otherwise hard-to-find ciders and beers available in bottles in a long set of coolers behind the bar, right below their impressive selection of whiskeys and scotches.  Having been out of the cider-tasting game for a bit, I decided to dive back in while out to dinner with a friend not long ago and ordered a bottle of the Stowford Press Export Cider by Westons.  I'd had a good sample of the Westons line of ciders while working in England in 2008, and I have find memories of the kick delivered by Old Rosie and the Westons Organic cider I had there.  Stowford Press Export is an authentic taste of the flavor and character of those hard, flat ciders from across the pond with some added carbonation to appeal more to an North American palette.

Westons is a family-owned cider-maker based in Herfordshire, England.  At least one of their ciders can be found on tap in many of the pubs scattered across the United Kingdom.  While most of their line consists of flat ciders, ciders without carbonation, with a medium- to full-bodied flavor and a high alcohol content, as high as 12% when I was there, Stowford Press is marketed in England as a light cider.  The export version I had in Des Moines was 6% ABV, lower than some of the other Westons ciders, but higher than the English Stowford (4.5%).

The cider came in a chilled bottle and a chilled pint glass.  While cold, the carbonation was enough to reinforce a crisp front end without numbing the richness of the body.  The flavor was centered around a sound apple but without some of the over-ripe overtones that sometimes accompany other Westons ciders like the Old Rosie.  As the cider warmed through the meal, the presence of the body gradually grew but never became overpowering.  The carbonation, never extreme, remained present but to the side of the body of the cider through the last drop.  In my case, the Stowford Press Export was paired with a plate of Shepard's Pie with a dark gravy, but I would expect it to go well with any savory meal of red meat.

While not as refreshing as the Strongbow Traditional that has been my mainstay for many years, Stowford Press Export Cider is an excellent choice for drinking at a measured pace or during a meal.  Having more than one or two in an evening might be a bit much, as rich as it is.  This ought not to detract from enjoying the full range of flavors this cider will offer over the course of dinner or a good bull session.  A great sipping cider that I'll be happy to have again.

Stowford Press Export Cider
16oz Bottle - $10 @ The Royal Mile - Des Moines, IA

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cider as a means of increasing productivity...

This peak also applies to productivity in a great number of fields that involve sitting at a desk... Keeping up with blog posts, however, is apparently not really one of them.

More coming soon, promise

(Special thanks to Randall, you rock.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Blackthorn Cider - Serving Suggestion

Ok, in lieu of a real post, I give you here a serving suggestion for Blackthorn cider, one of the English champagne-yeast ciders that has been reviewed previously here.

Show in the image above is a pint of Blackthorn with a (half-devoured) bowl of chili-cheese soup/stew/stuff and blue corn nacho chips. The Chili-Cheese for the chips is made by combining your favorite chili (Here Hormel's classic chili with beans) with shredded mild cheddar cheese in a ration of 2:1 or to taste. Heat the chili first before slowly adding in the shredded cheese while stirring. Making the mix in a microwave-safe resealable bowl (as shown here) will let you keep leftovers for easy reheating in the future.

The salty heartiness of the meat-rich chili smooths the taste of the cider, removing much of the edge which is present when this cider is drunk alone and enhancing the rich flavor underneath. The yeasty smell which was noted previously is also less noticeable over the aroma of the spices tomato base of the chili. While this combination does little to avoid the aftertaste, another chip-full of chili quickly douses it in favor of better flavors.

Simple, tasty, and hearty. This is a combination where each party gains by the presence of the other. A fine snacking pairing for the gamer or couch potato, it doesn't take much to make this a mean in its self. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Samuel Smith's Organic Cider

I was introduced to this gem by my friend, the lovely Trish (pictured below) on a recent visit to Kentucky. I have gone looking for it in the DC area to little success, but I'm going to keep trying. This is one that I wouldn't recommend letting get away.

Samuel Smith is a Vegan, Organic, Traditional, and about-every-other-term-you-can-use-to-identify-a-craft-beer kind of brewery located in the north of England. They make a wide variety of highly acclaimed craft beers. Mixed into their lineup, almost as an afterthought, is their Organic Cider and Cider Reserve. I remember seeing the Cider Reserve on tap in a pub or two when I was in England last year and now regret not having it then, as the Reserve is only available as a draught in England. The Organic Cider, luckily, is served in 18.7oz 'Victorian Pint' bottles. These lovely (if oddly sized) bottles of awesome are imported to US shores by Merchant du Vin, a specialist in importing foreign beers based out of Washington state.

The cider its self is a mild, dry cider with a medium body and little aftertaste. One thing that becomes immediately apparent about this brew is the amount of fizz and head it offers. Pouring a glass of this stuff puts a head on the mug to rival a Guinness under the tap. The fizz also serves the purpose of adding a sharp, clenching element to the cider. I found that a swig of Samuel Smiths between courses in a late meal did a great job of clearing the palate, the lack of aftertaste making it a clean sweep.

The medium body and mild base flavor mean that this is a cider that is probably best served just below room temperature. The great, if subtle, taste would be in danger of being numbed out of existence if it were served ice cold. The fizzy sharpness this cider opens with as it hits the mouth is similar in character to Magner's, but without the accompanying sour undertone. There is a thin bitterness that appears as it rolls over the tongue, delivering on the promise of every dry cider. At the risk of belaboring a point, the lack of aftertaste leaves the mouth with only a memory of what has taken place, and a desire for more.

I found this to be, in some ways, a dangerous cider as it went down as easily and smoothly as a glass of cool water, and with an equally quenching effect on my thirst. Instead of sipping as is proper with any quality cider or beer, I found myself knocking this back without a thought or effect on me beyond the great enjoyment it elicited. I can honestly say that I cannot think of a circumstance under which this would not be a good choice of drink to have on hand. The flavor, while not extravagant is elegant in its simplicity, making Samuel Smiths a great recommendation as a table cider for every occasion. Now I just need to find someone to sell me a case or two...

Samuel Smith Brewery Website

Merchant du Vin

Thursday, December 24, 2009

ChaioGoo Straight Bamboo Needles, Mystery Yarn, Late-Night Airports, and the Great Snowpocolypse of 2009

I have a confession to make. My next project after the hat for my Aunt Nan, I was supposed to get started on a scarf for my friend Trish. It's going to be a beautiful scarf. A lot of cabling and swapping between earthy jewel tones. Great stuff.

This has not happened. Let me explain.

I finished the Hat for Aunt Nan just as the snow was starting to descend on the DC metro area. In the morning, I looked out and saw white as far as the eye could see (excepting the big brick building across the street, that is). This seemed an opportune time to start getting things together for the Great Scarf. Then I started digging out.

First, I tried to dig out my pickup. And the surrounding street. From the fourteen inches of snow packed around it.

After I had that mucked out, I moved on to clearing the sidewalk in front of my building, as well as in front of a friend's house. Then I moved onto the storage units used by my employers. (The damage to the roll up door seen here was caused by the plow the building had hired)

All of it done with this vintage Trenching Shovel.

Through all of these adventures, I discovered that I was in terrible need of both gloves and a scarf. Also ahead of me loomed a good deal of travelling as I went home to Iowa for the Holiday. The scarf which I have in mind for Trish is going to be a mastepiece of intricatly woven color and pattern. This translates to being horrible travel knitting. All of these factors combined led me to pick up a project that was started roughly 3-4 years ago and has been languishing at the bottom of my project bag since.

The pattern is a simple 3x3 Moss stitch (knit 3, purl 3, maintain pattern for three rows, then invert) that I came up wiht mostly to play with a new yarn I found while working at my old yarn store. The yarn its self is a VERY loose 2-ply yarn made of 100% wool, completly undyed. More information, i am at a loss for, as I can no longer find the tag, the store I purchased it at is now closed, andi can't recall enough information to find out anything usefull in a Google search. Still it is a plesant yarn to work with, if a bit rough, and is taking the pattern well.

I am having to be very careful with my tension (something I have had perrenial problems with) to prevent the yarn from pulling apart, but i class this as 'Good Training' and just make on with it. The stitch its self was choosen to give the work a bit more pattern than a straight garter stitch would while still letting the work lie flat. A simple stitch like this also allows the qualities of the yarn to shine for themselves.

I started the roject on a pair of Boye US9 14" aluminium needles, but haave switched over to ChiaoGoo US9 bamboo needles, mostly becasue they are shorter and thus far easier to deal with in a Coach class seat. To be honest, I vastly prefer wooden needles over metal ones anyway, so I was biased towards the switch once I decided to pick the project up again.

ChaioGoo is a very popular brand of bamboo craft needles and accessories. I have found them in a number of large chain stores, as well as in a great many smaller specialty shops and yarn stores. They most often fill the 'budget' end of the display and are fairly inexpensive as a rule, with straight needles being found for under $5 prety much everywhere I go. I own a couple of pairs of straight needles as well as a set or two of DP sock needles made by the brand. Also, all of my circular needles bear their mark. I fear that last isn't much of an endorsement, I really don't like using circular needles, so I never want to spend much money on them.

The needles themselves are made from a coated bamboo with a polished finish. The brand and size of the needle are printed or laser-etched into the shaft near the head of straight needles and just to one side of center on the DPs. The look of the needles are fairly uniform, although quality control beyond appearance is a little more sketchy. Most retailers will accept and replace broken needles, acting as agent to the distributor to fulfill the warrenty.

In use the needles generally work very well. The finish on the needles does wear off over time, but it take a good while. Even then, the needles are generally polished enough by use to remain workable. Over time (and, on rare occations, straight out of the package) the bamboo neeldes do warm and bed to fi the hand that is using them, resulting in gently arcing needles. I have never found this to hurt whatever project I was working on with them, but it is a good example of the living wood.

The great danger with these needles is that they will split over time and use. sometimes the amount of time and use needed to cause such breakage is depressingly little. this is most frusrating for me on sock projects where I cna be cranking along the body of the foot and not notice that I've been pushing a couple of plys of yarn down an ever-widening split in my needle. Sometimes the needlws can also fail in more dramatic fashions, one DP fell apart in my hand into 4 pieces simultaniusly, leaving a bit of work to pick the stitches up again.

All in all, ChiarGoo needles are fine, inexpensive needles to perform for small projects or parts of a pattern where you don't want to pour a great deal of money down for just a couple hundred stitches. Likewise, I often give these needles away to those I'm teaching how to knit, as I still find them more comfortable than metal needles to work with, while being inexpensive enough to not be bothered if the student doesn't end up sticking with it. Not heirloom tools by any means, ChiaoGoo still makes a fully functional needle that, more often than not, will get the job done.

(The author waiting to check-in at BWI airport Dec. 22)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Original Sin

This is a cider that I remember having sampled in Minneapolis a good while ago but couldn't remember a thing about it. When I saw it on the shelf of my local shop, I jumped on it and haven't really been disappointed.

Bottled in Florida but founded and operated out of New York City, Original Sin is a very American cider in terms of management. The website for the company is pretty and flashy without giving too much information about the history of the cider. It is a very good resource for finding vendors and bars where you can buy and enjoy the stuff, though. Interestingly, the site also recommends some mixed drinks using Original Sin as well as how to use it as a cooking base. A level of sophistication not often seen in the cider realm.

The cider its self is very much an American answer to BlackThorn (Reviewed earlier in this blog). While it lacks the nearly overpowering yeasty smell that accompanies a warm BlackThorn, Original Sin does still share some of the flavor traits. I believe this is due to both of them claiming 'Champagne Yeast' as a primary ingredient. In the past, I've noticed that Champagne usually gives me a hangover out of proportion to what I've imbibed. These ciders share that trait so be well warned if you're going to binge on it.

A very dry cider, there is practically no sweetness to it at all, and only the tinge of tartness on first hitting the tongue. It is fairly carbonated as ciders go, lending it an edge, leading easily into the full flavor and body of the drink. There is a fairly present aftertaste reminiscent of apple skin. Original Sin is also a somewhat stronger cider at 6% Alcohol by Volume. This is most noticeable in the sigh after a good long pull on the bottle.

Original Sin has a firm label in my mind as a 'Meat and Potatoes' kind of cider. I have enjoyed it greatly over a fairly simple meal of traditional 'Manly' fare (read hamburger and fries) and I imagine it going very well with steak. Likewise, it was great accompaniment to a pile of chips and a bowl of chili-cheese dip while sitting on the couch. As a sipping drink all on its own, it perhaps has something still to be desired. But in the right culinary company, this is a trustworthy cider for the burly among us.