Tip of the Week

Monday, July 30, 2012

On the Hook: Crochet Frost Scarf

Besides knitting projects, I have a few crochet projects I am finishing.  One is a poncho with Lion Brand HomeSpun yarn, while the other is the Alpine Frost Scarf from the Best of Interweave Crochet book. You can also purchase the pattern individually at Raverly.com .

Anna's Yarn Shoppe chose S. Charles Collezione's Luna yarn, which is absolutely perfect for this project. I love the Luna yarn as it is a solid color with a bit of the metallic glitter and is a mohair-silk blend.  If you are new to crochet I would not recommend working with mohair as it can be tricky and if you make a mistake it can be very difficult to take out several stitches.  And if you use the Luna yarn in white the scarf resembles snowflakes.

The pattern itself is not very difficult once you get the stitch because it merely repeats the stitch.  We made a minor alternation to the pattern dimensions to make it more of a scarf than a scarf-wrap, which I will be adding to my raverly project page..  This will also be my first crochet project that I will need to block, but the blocking will enhance the appearance of the pattern stitches when complete.

You can follow my progress and notes as I work on the scarf at Raverly.com .  I will be posting photos as I finish the project, so stay posted for that.

Best of Interweave Crochet - Alpine Frost Scarf

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Knitting lace patterns & circular needles

Recently I signed up for a few knitting classes and two were lace or mock-cable pattern stitches (the Winter Berries Scarf).  I love looking at all the wraps, shawls, scarfs and other knitting patterns that involve lace stitches and I think "Ooh, that looks difficult".  Now, I'm only a beginner knitter and have only completed a couple of knitting patterns, so these projects will be my first attempts at lace knitting.

Here is my knitted rib stitch for a cupcake pattern.

Pieces of the cupcake, a combination of crochet and knit

Cupcake is finished

Obviously taking on a wrap or scarf in lace knitting is a huge challenge and probably not something some instructors would recommend.  For me, I understood the stitches involved and can make a knit and purl stitch.  Everything else is a variation of these two stitches.  Some I find to be tricky, like knitting behind or purling behind.  But practice makes perfect.

So far I have completed a few rows of the repeated pattern stitch for the Encantada wrap (from the book Destination Alchemy) using an Artyarn instead of the Alchemy Haiku yarn.  I love the colors and the feel of the Haiku, but felt that it might be slightly easier to work with the Artyarn for this particular pattern.  The type of yarn you use for a pattern can really make or break a pattern.  Though there is a fine line when you are on a steep learning curve.  The finer, thread like or higher percentage of mohair or angora can make it very difficult to work with if you are a beginner.  It's not easy for me to correct my mistakes in knitting as I can in crochet, but mohair can stick and make taking a stitch out (whether it's crochet or knitted, makes no difference) very difficult.

Now for circular knitting needles.  I have always seen the traditional straight knitting needles, until I asked a well-seasoned knitted, did not understand the versatility of circular knitting needles.  From our conversation, I learned that circular knitting needles are great for projects that require a large number of cast on stitches or end up with a large number of stitches made; for those with weaker wrists joints/muscles since it keeps the weight of the project in the center as apposed to one side; and can be easier to knit with since you do not have long sticks hitting your arms as with traditional knitting needles.  So if you are thinking about getting circular knitting needles, I would recommend it.  Currently I have 3 projects on circulars and I am happy with using them, though I would recommend getting interchangeable ones.  Mine are from Knitpicks, but there are may different companies that make interchangeable circular needles, and it really is a personal choice whether you want acrylic, nickel or wood/bamboo.  That's not to say you shouldn't have straight knitting needles, I still use those for some projects.

So if you are joining the Raverly or NobleKnits Olympic knitting games you should get started.  Happy Knitting.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sewing: Quick Unlined Drawstring Bag

This is a great project for beginners since it basically involves straight seams.  I find this pattern useful for many things depending on the size of your pieces of fabric.  Small squares for a quick jewelry pouch or gift bag;   Medium squares for gifts, shoes or storing other items and Large squares for large gift bags or anything that doesn't fit in the other two size drawstring bags.  It really is a versatile pattern and can be altered for the size you are looking for.

Fabric (enough for the size bag you are making)
Ribbon or drawstrings (2 pieces, each should be longer than the measurement of both top pieces together)
Matching thread

All seams are 1/4 inch


1.  Decide on the size your finished bag should be.  Add about 1-2 inches to the measurements for the seams and another 1-2 inches to each of the top sides, this will ensure that you will have enough fabric for the drawstring.  (If you have a large/wide ribbon or drawstring you may need to add more inches to your measurements)

2.  Measure and cut your fabric pieces.  Again you may cut one long piece, so when folded over it equals your desired bag size, but your drawstrings won't be threaded through or look like mine.  I cut two pieces.

3.  Iron if needed.  Pin top edges (wrong sides together) about 1-2 inches down.  Depending on the size of your ribbon or drawstring you may have to pin more than 1-2 inches.

4.  Sew along bottom edge of pinned section from Step 3 on 1 side ONLY (about 1/4 inch from raw fabric edge).  Repeat for other piece.

5.  Sew along top edge about 1/4 to 1/2 inch down from top.  Repeat for for other piece.

6.  Pin both pieces, right sides together.  Iron if needed.

7.   Sew along all 3 sides (if you cut 2 pieces).  Or sew along 2 sides if you cut 1 one long piece.  Sew from the bottom seam from Step 4.  Do Not sew above it or you will not be able to thread your drawstring through.

8.  Clip corners and turn right side out.

9.  Thread ribbon/drawstring through one side and around through the other side.  You will end up with the ends of one piece on the same side.  Repeat with the second piece, starting from the opposite end.

Step 3
Step 4

Finished Step 4 & 5

Step 7 

Step 8

Drawstring and width of top edge

Finished Sewing!

One drawstring threaded through both sides

Threading through second drawstring

It will seem odd threading the drawstrings pass the other drawstring

All Finished and ready for use!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On the needles: Winter Berries Scarf/Wrap

This pattern was introduced in one of my knitting classes and is my current (among other) projects I have started in preparation for Christmas.  At first I thought the pattern would be very complicated, but in reality the stitches are easy, it just a matter of reading the pattern and making sure you have enough repeats of the "decorative" pattern stitch. And there is no cabling in this, it is a "mock" cable the way the stitches are made. Check out the blog for this pattern and more by Marjorie D. 

You can follow my progress or add it to your projects list on Raverly.  For the ruffles I plan on using a nice glitter/sparkle yarn in combination with my main yarn to add some sparkle to the pattern.  Pictures will follow as I progress in the project.

And if you are a beginner knitter, as I am, don't be afraid or intimated by these type of projects.  It is possible to work on intricate patterns, just take your time.  Happy knitting!

Winter Berries by Marjorie D. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Yarnival: A yarn fair

Yarnival - You are not alone if you have never heard of such a 'thing'.   I found out that Boeger winery in the foothills was holding a Yarnival event.  Intriguing, right? . . . and it was an experience.  Those who love dying and spinning yarn, this is for you, but if you knit or crochet you can definitely find some hand-crafted and spun yarn for your projects.

It was interesting to see how they dyed yarns and then would take the fiber and sit and spin it.  I never really thought about how they made yarn, but have read a bit, in passing, about spinning.  Personally, I thought spinning was a "lost" art, though it seems to be making a come-back.  And why not?  If you own sheep, llamas, angora rabbits or other animals with such fur coats, then why not use the fibers to make your own yarn.  Having the ability to control the type of dyes you use and the skill to spin it makes knitting or crocheting your own projects even more unique and rewarding.  Granted spinning yarn is time consuming, but it's a hobby and an art.

Besides the vendors and yarn, you could make your way to the tasting room to taste some red or white wines.  There are a few snacks and cheeses in the tasting room for purchase and home-baked doggie treats too.  It's a dog-friendly winery, just be sure that you have your dog on a leash, pick up after it and it is well-behaved.  I love finding dog-friendly wineries, but that can change if dog owners are not responsible.  Boeger winery is also on the Western edge of Apple Hill and all the orchards, but it wasn't apple season yet, so I didn't bring home any apples.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How To: Begin your Family Tree

In taking a break from my crafty projects before I have my knitting classes, I was working on my genealogy. Some say once you start researching your family tree it becomes a life-long process, but it really depends on what your goal is.  Do you want to go back to when your ancestors immigrated to the US?  Or do you want to go back 3, 4 or 5 generations?

Whatever your goal may be, and it may change too, here are my tips for starting your genealogy.

1.  Talk to your parents and grandparents (great-grandparents if alive).  Gather all the information they may remember, stories too.  I always find family stories to be interesting, both good and bad.

2.  Go through family photos and the "boxes" of old photos that have been passed through the generations.  You may want to make copies or digital copies for your records.  Photos may also provide clues - where an ancestor may have lived, occupations, other relatives, etc.

3.  Talk to other relatives, Aunts, Uncles, cousins and the like.  Gather information and stories from them.

4.  Compile all the information you have and start with yourself on the tree.  Then fill in your parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.

5.  If you are computer-savvy select a genealogy program to help you store and sort information.   Here are a few I have tried: Family Tree, Ancestry and Legacy.  Or use the online tree at Rootsweb.com

6.  Search records at familysearch.org using the information you have gathered.  You may also try Ancestry.com (requires a fee for most records) and Rootsweb.com

7.  Be sure to cite your sources and keep records of all references you have gathered information from.  The worst thing is to not be able to cite your source or forget where you found the information.

Now you should be able to start searching for your ancestors.  Personally, I think everyone should know at least 2-4 generations of their family history for medical reasons.  Check out the link below for the Oxford's Dictionary definition and more research links from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Click here for a bonus and more research links

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sausage & Peppers and Kebabs

When the temperatures rise in the high 90's and 100's during the summer I pull out recipes to that don't require the oven or long cooking times.  It's just too hot to turn the oven on when you're already trying to keep the house and yourself cool.  Plus you will save on heating/cooling costs if you avoid using the oven in hot spells.

My first recipe was inspired by an episode of Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello - Sausage and Peppers.  Click Here for the recipe.  I used organic chicken sausages, so you can follow the recipe with substitutions.  I also halved the amount of onions and peppers since I was not cooking for a large group, as well as leaving out the Serrano pepper and tomatoes (since they weren't in season at the time).  After poaching the peppers (as the recipe states), I cut the sausages in half and grilled them for a little color and extra flavor.

Sausage with peppers, feta cheese and toast.

My second recipe involves the same Italian chicken sausage (it's great to buy the larger package and freeze it in portions).  I used another portion for making kebabs with peppers, onions, eggplant and squash.  I find kebabs are a great way to use several vegetables and leftover sausage on hand, plus it's quick and easy.

Bell peppers (any variety)
Eggplant (preferably Japanese)
Red Onion
Summer squash - Zucchini and/or Straight-neck
Bamboo skewers

1.  Soak the skewers in water for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Or use metal skewers, just rub a bit of olive oil on.

2.  Slice sausage; dice in about 2 inch pieces all other ingredients.

3.  In any order place all ingredients, alternating, on the skewers.

4.  On a heated and lightly oiled grill place skewers.  Every few minutes turn the skewers, depending on the heat temperature you will have to watch to avoid burning any side.

5.  Serve with side dishes or your choice.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pesto and a Sandwich

If you ever watch the Food Network Star you will know that they tell the contestants they need to have a story or some other personal connection with the dishes they make and present to camera.  So today I have a little story that goes with pesto and one of my favorite sandwiches.

There was a little French bistro-cafe in the Bay Area I used to go to when I was shopping in the area.  The cafe was quaint and had a simple French decor, but the food was fantastic.  My favorite dish was a pesto chicken sandwich.  The sandwich consisted of a french roll with pesto chicken, a roasted red bell pepper and a tomato.  You could easily add a piece of butter lettuce or arugula.  Something with the combination of pesto and roasted red bell peppers works.  Since the cafe is no longer in business I have decided to recreate  my own version, plus I love making pesto with fresh basil from my herb garden.  Oh and you can freeze pesto too, which is great.  I often make a large batch of pesto at the end of the season before my basil plants die and freeze it for later.  Makes a great sauce on pasta or added to other dishes.

Pesto Recipe:
about 2 cups fresh basil leaves (no stems/stalks)
2-4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup pine nuts (toasted or un-toasted)
about 2/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
a pinch of nutmeg
about 1/4 cup of Parmesan, shredded
Optional: 1/4-1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves

Chicken: (this was a great tip from my Aunt!)
2-4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 tbsp poultry seasoning
salt and pepper
1-2 tsp garlic powder or granulated garlic

Sandwich Ingredients:
1-2 roasted red bell peppers (or jarred roasted red bell peppers)
Bread of choice (dark wheat, french bread, ciabatta or sourdough)
butter lettuce or arugula


1.  Combine all ingredients, except olive oil in a food processor.  Process until all are finely chopped.  While food processor is running drizzle olive oil in.  Combine until desired consistency.  Set aside.

2.  In a Crock-pot or slow cooker place chicken breasts and seasoning.  Add enough water to cover and let cook several hours at low setting.  Once chicken is cooked through, shred it and drain water.  Set aside to cool.

3.  Combine about 1/3 cup of mayonnaise with 1/2-2/3 cup pesto.  You may alter the measurements if you want more or less pesto to mayonnaise.  Taste and adjust accordingly.

4.  Add a portion (about a cup, more or less if desired of cooled chicken  to mayonnaise/pesto mixture and combine.

5.  Assemble sandwich.  You may toast bread if desired.  Add desired amount of chicken to one slice or bread.  Top with roasted red bell pepper, tomato and lettuce (if desired).  Add the other slice of bread and your sandwich is ready!


shredded chicken

pesto mixture and chicken

open-faced sandwich version

Sunday, July 15, 2012

No-sew Produce bags

Yes, I found a no-sew produce bag project.  Actually there's very little you have to do to make this and even the novice crafter can make their own produce bags.  I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner.

It's simple.  Save the bags from the onions and garlic you buy at the the grocery store or Costco.  Remove the label, make sure the inside is clean (there are no onion peels inside) and 'poof' - you now have a reusable and washable produce bag.  So easy.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July's inspirations

It's already the middle of July and I still have so much more I want to accomplish before the end of the month.  As I try to stay cool in the heat and still complete my list of projects, I wanted to take a moment and share a few links that inspire me this month.  Don't worry I will be sharing my projects as I complete them.

I really like some of the Wire and Wire-wrapped jewelry - A Tree Necklace and X-mas tree earrings

For the fall I am loving some of the crochet and knit wraps and shawls.  I even have a few classes I am taking to expand my beginning knitting skills and learn to knit lace patterns.  Here's two of my favorites: A bamboo wedding shawl  and radiant eyelet shawl

As for sewing I have been admiring a few headbands.  This lace one which would be great for some of my lace fabric scraps.  And this fleece one for the winter, though I am not sure if I will embellish it with a flower or not.  I think the fleece headband combined with this fleece hat (in adult size) will be a perfect project to use the fabric from my old jacket.

And finally I think I need to sew up a few of these gift bags before the holidays arrive.

For now I will leave you with this beautiful day lily that was blooming in my garden.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hummingbirds: What you want to know for your garden

This spring and summer I have noticed more hummingbirds in my yard then in past years.  As a result I became very interested in reading more about hummingbirds, their migration patterns and hummingbird feeders.  The reading was interesting and insightful.

If you know there are hummingbirds in your area, you might want to read about the different types since The World of Hummingbirds says there are 356 types.  I didn't even realize there were that many.  From what I gathered I think I see more of the Ruby-throated, Rufous, and maybe Anna's hummingbirds around my house.

And hummingbirds do make chirpy noises.  I listened to several in my Aunt's tree.  The hummingbirds would sit on branches, some would chase others away, and you could hear the chirpy noises with the trill of their wings when in flight.  Quite an amazing sight, most of us only see hummingbirds when in flight.

Here's my tips for picking out a great hummingbird feeder:
1.  Glass, not plastic - This is going to be in the sun so why would we want plastic chemicals to leech into the nectar and poison the hummingbirds?
2.  Select a feeder that holds a small portion of nectar.  The larger the feeder the more likely you will waste nectar if you only have a few hummingbirds visit your garden.
3.  Do NOT buy store nectar - most have red food dye and sodium benzonate (which is a chemical preservative).
4.  Buy simple cane (white) sugar and make your own nectar.  1 cup sugar to 4 cups water.  Boil and store in a fridge for a few days.
5.  Avoid feeders that are a simple straight bottle with a stopper feeder, more often than not these will leak.

Some of my favorite designs (instead of the more traditional) include:  A feeder stake, a circle feeder, and decorative bottle feeders.

And check out this link for some ideas for your garden to attract hummingbirds.  I planted some scarlet runner beans and am hoping they will sprout soon and attract more hummingbirds to my yard besides just looking pretty in the garden.  Hopefully my beans will grow and look like this:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Quick & Easy Chipotle Aioli

Ever wonder what made that sandwich/burger or dip so good?  Sometimes it's an easy answer - Aioli.  What does Aioli mean?  Simply put (straight from the Webster dictionary): a mayonnaise flavored with garlic and sometimes other ingredients.  Simple right?  Well it is simple, so simple you can quickly whip one up for your next meal.  

There are many variations and you can easily search for recipes to make these various aioli's.  My favorite at the moment, mainly because it's spicy is Chipotle Aioli.  Here's my recipe:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1/2-1 tsp of apple cider vinegar (to taste)
1-2 tsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
abt. 1 tbsp chipotle spice OR use actual chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (to taste)
1-2 tsp granulated garlic or 1 freshly minced garlic clove
salt and pepper (to taste)

Mix all ingredients together with a spoon or whisk.  All spices are to taste, use more or less depending on how spicy you prefer. 

That's all it takes.  It can be stored in an air tight container in the refrigerator for a few days.  Spread on your sandwiches, burgers, or use as a dip.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Working in the Garden and Harvesting Lavender

All my hard work has slowly rewarded me with fresh vegetables and fruit from my garden.  A have a small bowl of sweetheart cherry tomatoes, 1 yellow straight-neck squash and a few bell peppers.  The melons have taken over the trellis and are in full bloom.  A few little melons, as pictured below are starting to grow, I can't wait to harvest fresh melons later in the summer.  My zucchini and straight-neck squash have been growing slow this year compared to last year.  I harvested several zucchini's last year before my tomatoes were even blooming, but that's not the case this year.  Hopefully I will have a nice crop to cook with later in the summer though.

There are few additions to my garden this week:  I planted a mix of sunflower seeds that I recently was given and am working on re-planting my lettuces.  The other project that has taken several days of work was harvesting my French and English lavender.  Both were basically done blooming, so I cut off all the blooms then did a bit of trimming on the plant.  It will grow back larger than it was before I trimmed it, so don't be afraid of some trimming, just don't go crazy and kill it.  After cutting the blooms, it is necessary to bundle them in about handful sizes and tie with string or vegetable twisty-ties.  Hang each bundle up in a dark, dry (can be cool) place for a few days.  Once the lavender is dried, you can use the lavender as it is or strip the blooms off and use in crafts.  French and English lavender work well because they have the lovely lavender smell, most Spanish lavenders do not.  Do not use lavender that has been sprayed with any chemicals or pesticides for culinary purposes.


Melon vines

First Eggplant

Straight-neck squash

Early girl tomatoes

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Decorative 4th of July Piece - A crafty project

I really like some of the red, white and blue or patriotic project ideas out there.  This one (click here) really inspired me to convert an old wood box into a great summer piece.  My wood box is a replica of the old-pioneer style tool boxes.  I think it was something all of my school class was given when we were studying the pioneers.  You can easily use a small crate or nail a few pieces of wood together, with or without the handle for this project.

Materials:1 wood box
paint (red, white, blue)
paint brushes
Clear gloss

1.  Make sure the wood is ready to paint.  Sand any rough parts.

2.  Using a pencil (or pen if you prefer) mark/stencil the design on the wood.

3.  Paint your stencil.  Let dry.

4.  Touch up any spots.  Let dry

5.  Go outside to spray clear gloss to seal and protect the paint.  Let dry.

Now you are ready to display and use your patriotic box for serving and decoration.  Perfect for Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day!

Family History Time - Colonial Roots & the Mayflower

If you know you have roots to the 13 original colonies and/or the Mayflower then you may want to take advantage of free records available on Ancestry.com this holiday weekend.  Here's the link 

Be realistic if you are new to genealogy.  Typing in your family tree information and finding a leaf is not always as easy as it seems.  You will need to have information on several generations in order to find your ancestors in the colonies or listed in the Mayflower contract.  However if you already know some of that information then you can utilize the records on Ancestry.com.  I know I will be filling in my Mayflower ancestry and searching for other ancestors on the other side of my tree.

Happy searching!

Ancestry.com 13 colonies Records

Monday, July 2, 2012

Tip of the Month: Summer Entertaining Tips and Tricks

It's July and Independence Day celebrations are almost upon us.  That means it's time for July's tip of the month.  Many of us turn to the outdoors to cook and entertain, but don't fret if you don't have an outdoor grill.  You can still make all your favorite grilled foods on an indoor grill.  I love my indoor grill and I avoid the hassle of propane or charcoal as well as the carcinogenics of using lighter fluid.  Yes, cooking with lighter fluid is not healthy and that's why you should use a chimney starter if cooking with charcoal.  Have you read what's in lighter fluid?  Take a look next time, you may be surprised.  Though whatever your grilling preference is, some of my tips will help you create a great meal for your holiday.

Try these tips and tricks, whether you entertain for a crowd or a few people:

1.  Keep it simple - decor and food.  I love solid, checkered or similar red, white and blue tablecloths for the 4th of July.  Check out This table-setting.

2.  Entertaining is not the time to experiment with new recipes.  Test out new recipes before the big event.

3.  Have activities for the kids.  Here's a great one to make - Pinwheels.

4.  Never press down on burgers when grilling.  I've heard this tip a few times on Food Network.  You will lose all the juices from the meat.

5.  Oil the grill and let the fish cook then turn over once, otherwise your fish will stick to the grill.  Same for indoor grill pans.

6.  Try grilling sweet potatoes for a great alternative to fries or baked potatoes.  Just slice, season with salt and pepper (you can use other spices too).  Mist with oil (brushing will work, but you use more oil that way) and grill on both sides.  You can even toss in more spices after grilling before you serve.

7.  Remember that the loud popping sounds of fireworks can scare dogs or even make them upset.  Make sure they have ID tags and consider keeping them inside during the time fireworks are being set off.  If you are away, consider pet-sitters or boarding to make sure your dog is safe while you are away.

8.  Don't leave foods that can spoil or go bad at warm temperatures in the sun or heat.  Potato salad is one example, keep it chilled so you will avoid food poisoning.  I've heard horror stories about accidents like this at people's houses.

9.  Here's a great idea for keeping tablecloths in place and still look decorative.  Table weight from rocks.

10.  Finally have fun and don't stress over every detail.  If you plan your menu ahead of time you will be able to enjoy your day.